Inheriting the 924 from Audi, Porsche found itself with a sound but unexciting coupe struggling to earn its badge. Something Had To Be Done…
Porsche’s 924 Carrera GT was built in small numbers in 1980 to cure an image problem, and so successful was it that it has become a sought after classic. Even now, a really pristine example will fetch its original price of £19,210, and would willingly show its potential as the first Porsche four-cylinder production model to reach, and hold a genuine top speed of 150 mph.
The Porsche 924 on which the Carrera GT was based was not a bad car, but that is a latter-day verdict. When it was introduced in 1976 it created a new market for Porsche in the “affordable” range, but at the same time it offended the die-hard Porsche enthusiasts, not least because it was powered by a four-cylinder engine of Volkswagen origin. Not just VW, but it shared the same block as the LT light commercial power unit, a fact that earned it eternal damnation!
Alright, it was harsh in the upper ranges, but it was torquey and economical, and made the 924 a very good cross-country model. Better, though, was the 924 Turbo which reached the British market in 1979, and best of all was the range topping Carrera GT which was produced and sold in 1980.
Just 406 were made, of which half were reserved for the German market. Britain was allocated 75 with right-hand drive (a real breakthrough!), and the remaining 125 were sold in other European markets, principally France, Italy, Switzerland and Austria.
The 1,984 cc turbocharged engine produced a full 210 bhp, or 105 bhp per litre, which made it easily the most powerful engine of its capacity.
Acceleration was almost explosive once the KKK turbocharger was properly wound up, and performance was virtually the equal of the contemporary Porsche 911: the 0-60 mph acceleration time was 6.5 seconds, it would reach the ton in 15 seconds, and could even accelerate from 80 to 100 mph in 5.8 seconds, in fourth gear. These figures were not bettered until the 250 bhp version of the 944 Turbo came along eight years later.
Standard equipment in Britain included tinted glass, electrically operated windows and exterior mirror (only one of these, to reduce drag!), and a Panasonic sound system. Extras included air conditioning, and 16-inch ‘slab’ wheels, instead of the popular 15-inch (or 16-inch) diameter Fuchs forged aluminium wheels.
The use of the Carrera name, emblazoned on the polyurethane front wheel arch, could only mean that the GT was intended for competition. The model was revealed at the Frankfurt Show in September 1979 and went into production the following summer, immediately after a three-car debut at Le Mans.
Derek Bell, Tony Dron and Andy Rouse were to have driven the ‘British’ entry, but Bell was moved sideways to share the ‘American’ car with Al Holbert. Peter Gregg, who was supposed to be Holbert’s partner, was hurt in a road accident close to the circuit, sustaining concussion that indirectly brought his career to a close. It was Bell’s first real acquaintance with Holbert and in fact his first Porsche ‘works’ drive, so the event really marked a turning point in his career.
Of the three Porsche Carrera 924 GTRs at Le Mans, only the ‘German’ entry of Juergen Barth and Manfred Schurti reached the finish safely, in sixth place; the other two burned exhaust valves and finished, smokily, in 12th and 13th positions.
Following the production of 406 Carrera GTs between August and December 1980 (the UK production cars were delivered in the latter three months), 59 evolution GTS models were made in the first quarter of 1981, with 245 bhp in standard form or 275 bhp in Club Sport trim. Derek Bell still has a very nice example of the Club Sport, which gives great pleasure today.
These were followed by 19 GTR models which were virtually replicas of the 1980 Le Mans cars but with an extra 55 bhp, thus making 375 bhp, and weighing 945 kg. Andy Rouse and Manfred Schurti drove one at Le Mans in 1981, finishing 11th, but attention was more focussed on a similar car, a Porsche 924 GT Prototype, which had a 2.5-litre balancer shaft engine… a prototype of the 944 Turbo, in fact.
Porsche’s styling director Anatole ‘Tony’ Lapine was responsible for the 924 Carrera GT’s ‘wide body’ look, first seen in Frankfurt. Polyurethane, that wonderful bounce-back flexible material, was used for the front and rear arches, and also for the aerodynamic front and rear deformable panels.
The Carrera GT retained the Turbo’s fourslot nose panel but this now fed an air-to-air intercooler, while a cold air scoop surmounted the NACA duct, simply to lower under-bonnet temperatures.
The brakes, suspension parts, steering and Porsche 5-speed gearbox were all carried over from the 177 bhp 924 Turbo, and the car was lowered by 10mm at the front and by 15mm at the rear. The windscreen was bonded in place, and the drag coefficient was kept down to 0.34 despite the fitment of wider, 71 rims.
The Carrera GT’s kerb weight of 1,180 kg was perhaps a little disappointing, since the use of aluminium for the doors and bonnet was reserved for the GTS, which was 60 kg lighter.
Thanks to the intercooler, though, the temperature of the charged air was lowered by 50°C and this improved the combustion characteristics by a calculated 15%. The compression ratio was fixed at 8.5:1, a high figure allowed by the sophisticated antiknock control. Siemens developed the digital ignition system, said to give exceptionally accurate spark control.
Acceleration off the line impressed everyone who drove the Carrera GT, and that’s hardly surprising. A terrific surge of power was unleashed in first gear, although the dog-leg shift from first to second took some mastering; the ‘shove’ was pretty impressive in second and third gears, as well, with maxima of 55 mph and 88 mph.
Pirelli P7 tyres offered masses of grip, though on 71 rims they transmitted a good deal of road feel and tended to tramline and yield to irregularities. The seats, straight from the 911, were superbly shaped for fast motoring, and comfortable. The ventilated disc brakes were from the 911, too, and were extremely effective.
The steel body was galvanised, as were all Porsches by 1980, and a well maintained example could still be almost as good as the day it was made.