911 hits seven figures

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Porsche talisman reaches production landmark | BY ANDREW FRANKEL

It’s taken more than half a century, but the one millionth Porsche 911 has rolled off the production line in Zuffenhausen. Painted in Irish green like one of 82 original 901s that were produced before the 0 turned to a 1, it is a mechanically standard Carrera S with a 414bhp, 3-litre twin turbo engine.

Fittingly it is not just the colour that relates back to the early days: like the first, the millionth car is a rear-drive coupé, has a manual gearbox and a wooden steering wheel. Other nods to its heritage include elegant instrument needles, a plaque and houndstooth upholstery. The car is going on a world tour before being retained by Porsche and retired to the museum.

In the last 54 years, the 911 has been the one constant in Porsche’s transformation from being a tiny manufacturer to the most profitable car company on earth. In sales terms today, the 911 is relatively small beer for Porsche, accounting for fewer than 32,500 of nearly 238,000 cars the company delivered in 2016. Despite being available in myriad configurations including coupé, cabriolet and Targa, with two- or four-wheel drive, as a flagship Turbo or track-honed GT3, all 911s combined are now outsold three to one by the Macan SUV.

Even so, Porsche is probably right when it insists the 911 remains “the most strategically important” car in its range. Its history is unparalleled in automotive production, its position as the most enduring, iconic sporting car there has been apparently unassailable. Not only has it been a constant presence on the road for as long as most people can remember (only the Corvette has a longer track record of continuous production), on track it has not only won every important sports car race there is, including the Sebring 12 Hours, Daytona 24 Hours and, in 935 guise, the Le Mans 24 Hours, it has also clocked up more than 30,000 victories in other races around the world, a record unapproached by any other car. And although it was not the first turbocharged road car, it was the first to use the technology successfully on an enduring basis.

The next landmark in the future of the 911 is the apparently imminent arrival of the new GT2 RS, the first time that nameplate has been used since 2010. Speculation about the new car is rife: it is rumoured that when it is unveiled this summer it will come boasting a 700bhp version of the current 911 Turbo S’s flat-six, easily eclipsing the 620bhp of its already ferociously fast predecessor. Expect Porsche to have focused very hard not just on the provision of straight-line speed but also aerodynamic downforce: the car’s body is expected to use similar aerodynamic architecture to 2015’s GT3 RS but to move the game substantially forward. Compared with the last GT2 RS, the new car is certain to adopt Porsche’s four-wheel-steering system though, despite its power output, four-wheel drive appears still to be off the menu.

One question Porsche is sure to be asked more than most is the car’s Nürburgring lap time and this is interesting, not least because the (relatively) aerodynamically uncluttered new GT3 has posted a 7min 12.7sec, more than 5sec faster than the old GT2 RS. If the new car really does have 200bhp more than the 500hp GT3 and a serious amount of downforce, there will be disappointment if the car cannot go a second a mile quicker, which is all that’s required for it to join the exclusive sub-7min club. To date and among fully homologated production road cars it has just three members with declared times: the Lamborghini Huracán Performante, Lamborghini Aventador SV and Porsche’s own hypercar, the 918 Spyder. Will the GT2 RS beat the 918’s 6min 57sec? I’d be more surprised if it did not.

One very careful owner

In other 911 news, by the time you read this a 1993 964-series 911 RSR will have gone under the gavel at RM Sothebys biennial sale at Villa Erba on the shores of Lake Como. So what? Well RSRs of this generation were rare, with just 51 built, but of these just two were constructed fully trimmed for road use and this is one of them. But the real reason RM has slapped a €2 million estimate in its windscreen is that other than the 10 kilometres required for its pre-delivery inspection, it has literally never turned a wheel and remains wrapped in its original Cosmoline wax coating. Equipped with a startlingly red interior, the RSR is presented in time-warp condition. The only pity? Unless its new owner doesn’t mind shedding huge chunks of its value the moment he or she takes it up the road, it’s likely to remain a static exhibit for the rest of time.

Demand for cars dips

UK car sales took a frightful pasting in April, thanks to new VED (Vehicle Excise Duty) regulations that came into force at the beginning of the month. Overall sales were down almost 20 per cent on the same month last year, with sales of diesel-powered cars being hit by 27 per cent. These numbers come after a record March for the industry, thanks not only to the usual surge in registrations for those wanting the latest plate, but also those wishing to avoid the rise in duty.

That said, diesel-powered cars fractionally increased their market share compared to the previous month while sales of hybrids fell as they were among the most affected by the changes. Even so, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders expects a drop of 5 per cent in total annual car sales this year relative to 2016.

BMW 8-series returns

BMW has released a teaser image of its new 8-series coupé, the first time the number has been used since the previous two-door coupé of the same name ceased production in 1999. It is likely to be shown in production form at the Frankfurt show in September before going on sale next year.

Details are not exactly thick on the ground, but a lot can be deduced. The car is likely to be positioned as a far more spacious and luxurious product than the old 8-series, and therefore provide a direct rival for the Mercedes-Benz S-class coupé that dominates the market place. The car is almost certain to be based on the same platform as the well-received new 7-series, and use its multi-material construction comprising structural steel, aluminium and carbon-fibre.

The teaser suggests a two-door, but BMW has developed a habit of spinning four-door cars off the back of new coupe programmes so don’t rule it out. A convertible is a racing certainty. So what possibility, then, of an ultra-powerful M8? Last time around BMW developed the car but opted not to put it on sale. Spurred on by thoughts of nicking sales from everything from the Mercedes-AMG S63 to the new Bentley Continental GT, I expect BMW will be less shy about giving it the M treatment.

More new old Listers

The Lister Motor Company is to build 10 road-legal continuation versions of the original 1957 ‘Knobbly’ Lister. These follow on from the 10 full race versions that have already been announced. It is the first new road-going Lister since the short-lived Storm of the early 1990s, a car conceived when the name belonged to someone else.

The new street-legal Knobbly has been modified in many respects in order to allow it to pass the British Individual Vehicle Approval tests required before the car can be registered for use on the public road. It comes with twin roll hoops, a collapsible steering column, a ratchet handbrake and road-compliant lighting. There is a choice of Jaguar twin-cam engines: you can have either a fairly standard 4.2-litre motor which promises to be tractable and well behaved, or you can have the full Crosthwaite & Gardiner dry-sumped 3.8-litre race motor, similar in size and specification to that used by Archie Scott Brown back in the Knobbly’s 1958 heyday. The bad news is that the hot engine adds £70,000 to the list price, raising it from £225,000 to £295,000.

Lister says this is just the start of its road car ambitions and an out-and-out supercar has been mooted in the past. In the meantime we wait to see whether the company will recreate the original Lister-Jaguar from which the Knobbly was born, the car in which Scott Brown won 11 of his 14 races in 1957.

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