A classic case of retro fashion
Porsche’s Sport Classic harks back to past glories. But it also shows what today’s 911 could be – with a little creative attention
By Andrew Frankel
A walk around the Porsche 911 Sport Classic is a walk through the history of the greatest sports car in the world. Most notable is the Burzel rear spoiler homage to the 1973 2.7 Carrera RS – but not by much. Vying almost as closely for your attention are wheels that aim to mimic as closely as possible the ‘Fuchs’ design first seen on 911s of the late 1960s. Nevertheless, and as the Sport Classic’s creator Ingo Frenkel (no relation) is keen to point out, “Fuchs were just an early supplier of the wheel; the design was by Porsche.” Forty years on this oft-made error clearly still irks.
And there’s more. The darkened headlamp surrounds are supposed to recall instantly the 1974 911 Turbo RSR; I thought my knowledge of weapons-grade 911 ephemera bowed to few but I must confess the association had not crossed my mind. Nor did I instantly twig that the rather attractive double bubble roof was intended to recall the Panamericana concept car of 1989. Even the name ‘Sport Classic’ clearly evokes memories of the old 911SC, and there’s little doubt it would have been called ‘SC’ were the rights to that particular acronym not resident elsewhere at present.
To be honest I didn’t quite know what to expect. Because Porsche’s press material called the old 2.7RS the car’s grandfather I turned up at Porsche’s new Silverstone-based Driving Centre to meet the Sport Classic in my old 911 which, because it started life as an SC but now looks and goes like an RS, seemed in theory at least to cover the conceptual ground quite well.
The reality is rather different. The Sport Classic is no lightweight ultimate road weapon. It’s a tarted-up limited edition for enthusiasts more keen on collecting such cars than driving them. And the price is breathtakingly audacious: at £140,090 when sales begin in January, you could buy a 911 GT3 and a new S-class Mercedes with the change.
Is Porsche sinking to new depths of cynicism with this car, using the knowledge that there will always be a few punters who will pay huge money for one, just because so few will be made (total production will be capped at 250)? Or can there possibly be anything within its make-up to justify charging considerably more than double the price of an already perfectly good 911?
It depends on your perspective. At first I thought the Sport Classic was merely a 911 that had been allowed to gorge itself on the options list, but in fact there is rather more to it than this. Most other car companies faced with creating a limited-edition car might anticipate spending 12 to 18 months on the design, engineering and production challenges that resulted. By contrast, Porsche’s board gave the Sport Classic the green light back in 2006; there are all-new cars in showrooms now that were barely off the drawing board in 2006.
And, if you are interested in such matters, the attention to detail reveals the handiwork of the true obsessive. I’ll list just a few of the cosmetic enhancements I spotted, since to give them all would leave no room to tell you what it was
like to drive.
The grey colour comes from a paint used for the 356 in the ’50s and has been struck from the palette for all other Porsches, so if you fancy the same for yours, tough. The woven leather door trims are similar only to those you’d find in a Ferrari Enzo or Mercedes-Benz SLR, while not only are there Sport Classic logos embossed on the seats and specially chromed (and illuminated) kickplates, they’re on the key pouch and the handbook’s leather wallet. The interior of this wallet is trimmed in the same type and shade of alcantara as the car’s headlining, which is itself a precise match to the colour of the exterior paint, seat belts and the thread used for the hand-woven steering wheel. Brown ‘expresso’ leather is not only everywhere you’d expect but in many, many places you would not: even each individual louvre of each individual air vent right around the car is covered in tiny, immaculate slivers of handcrafted leather. And the inlaid shift pattern on the aluminium gear lever has been crafted from a special ceramic material so it will never, ever wear.
Happily there is substance behind the alleged style too. Interestingly, the ducktail – whose origins date back 37 years – actually produces much more downforce than the deployable wing aero package on a new 911, necessitating many hours in the wind tunnel shaping a front spoiler to maintain the car’s balance. Moreover this is the only 911 you can buy with wide bodywork and two-wheel drive. And if this suggests that some thought has gone into the engineering purity of the car, the fact that it can only be bought with a six-speed manual gearbox confirms it. No flappy paddles here. More promising still is a 38bhp increase in power for the 3.8-litre flat-six motor, bringing its output to 408bhp which, incidentally, is the same power boasted by the 911 Turbo 15 years ago. Sports suspension, ceramic brakes and a standard limited slip differential complete the picture.
And GT3 aside, the Sport Classic is better to drive than any other 911 on sale, brand-new Turbo included. I can take or, preferably, leave all the aesthetics because not only do they add nothing to the driving experience, I think the overall treatment makes the Sport Classic look like the most uncomfortably styled 911 since the 964 series ceased production in ’93. But the mechanical modifications have turned this generation of 911 into the car it should have been from the start.
For the truth is that when Porsche extensively updated the 911 last year, including an all-new direct injection engine, more compliant suspension and a double-clutch gearbox, the car lost much of the sense of occasion and fun upon which 911s made their name. What the Sport Classic does is put it all back and then add a slug more of its own. I can’t say I instantly felt the extra punch of the engine, but what cannot be missed is its sharper response, sweeter sound and smoother nature, and coupled with Porsche’s fabulous manual gearbox, it returns the driver to the scene of the action.
Porsche was coy about exactly what it has done to the suspension, but it works. Once more the car feels alive in your hands, yet utterly secure even on streaming wet and bumpy roads.
So what possible relevance can all this have, given that Porsche has already sold all the Sport Classics coming to the UK? Simply this: there is nothing to stop you buying a standard 911 Carrera S and adding sport suspension, ceramic brakes and even the engine upgrade, which is now an optional extra. You won’t have the wide bodywork, but that’s good news on narrow British lanes and, best of all, you can have it any damn colour you like and it won’t cost £100,000, let alone £140,000. The real point of the Sport Classic is not how good it is, but the light it now sheds on how good a normal 911 can be.
And finally a word about Porsche’s Silverstone Driving Centre. It comprises a narrow outer handling circuit within which lie various challenges including a steering pad, a split-mu hill and, my favourite, a moving plate of road which you know throws the car sideways, but not in which direction. At 20mph it’s easy to catch the back of the 911, at 25mph rather more tricky and at 30mph sadly beyond me, at least without a lot more practice… Most interestingly Porsche has nothing else like it anywhere. To say Herr Frenkel and his colleagues were impressed is putting it mildly – the Silverstone centre may be the first of its kind in Porsche’s world, but I doubt very much it will be the last.
Porsche 911 Sport Classic
Engine: water-cooled six-cylinder, 3800cc
Power/Torque: 408bhp at 7300rpm, 310lb ft at 4200-5600rpm
Gearbox: six-speed manual
Tyres: f: 235/35 ZR 19, r: 305/30 ZR 19
Fuel/CO2: 26.6mpg, 250g per km
Acceleration: 0-62mph in 4.6sec
Suspension: f: McPherson strut design – track control arms, longitudinal arms and spring struts, conical springs with concentric dampers. r: five-element multi-link axle, cylindrical coil springs with concentric dampers
Brakes: f: six-piston calipers, 350mm cross-drilled and vented discs; r: four-piston calipers, 350mm cross-drilled and vented discs
Top Speed: 187mph