The 1992 sales year was a time of savage regrouping for Porsche. In Britain, Germany and the USA, Porsche directors were assassinated as sales figures tumbled. In the UK, total sales amounted to less than one thousand units (945), of which 332 were accredited to the evergreen 911 (30 in lightweight RS specification). The 968, successor to the 944, attracted just 156 customers.
For 1993 Porsche is fighting back, as can be seen by the innovative Boxster design unveiled at the Detroit Show. And there's the promising, lighter (by 110 lb), cheaper (by £4572) 968, the CS. The acronym stands for Club Sport, not - as one of my more cynical colleagues had it - 'Clutching at Straws'.
The CS concept is a lot less radical than the 911 RS we tested (alongside the 911 turbo), but you do lose the back seats in favour of a very practical flat load space. A large number of electrical motors (for windows, mirrors, rear wiper, alarm and central locking) have been ditched, along with automatic heat control, a cassette holder, selected sound proofing, centre console storage space, air bag and the luggage compartment cover. Other details include a lower rated alternator and a smaller capacity battery. If you select air conditioning, then the electrical system - including a simplified loom - has to be uprated back towards standard specification.
Paring off the weight has not been entirely painless. Some items - such as the rear wiper and automatic heater control - were missed in the monsoon conditions which blighted our trial run. Compensations included the featherweight Recaro racing seats that also feature in the 911 RS. For no extra cost, you can specify that the back of the competition seat is a colour match for the five external paint options, a subtlety developed by Porsche's UK racing team.
Porsche Cup wheels, in 7.5 and 9jx17 dimensions, are a standard fitment. These carried 225/45 and 255/40 Yokohamas on our test car, which had a 20mm lower ride height (obtained simply via the front coil springs, with the rear torsion bars adjusted accordingly).
There are sportier suspension setting options, all the way up to the full race standards developed during AFN's 1992 racing programme with the 968. These can be combined with bigger brakes. We stuck to the standard ex-factory layout for this wet day, and were delighted with the results. As with the seats, prospective customers should try the options before deciding; ride and seat comfort for long term use on an already sporting vehicle are such personal selections. Potentially, a suitable choice could be transformed, quite literally, into a pain in the bottom. Porsche recognises as much by offering a standard 968 seat as a no-cost option.
The Guards Red demonstrator came without the obese Club Sport script that is another personal choice, but did boast the standard Porsche immobiliser that is your only defence against the scum who are now allowed to steal wheeled property with little fear of retribution. Porsche's immobiliser features a miniaturised version of the Vecta key found in the latest Ford Cosworths, but does not need to be left in the lock.
Snuggling down into the competition seats, we prepared to be entertained on a day with enough standing water to accommodate a power boat. Engine power remains as standard (240 bhp, 80 bhp per litre) from the large (three-litre) four-cylinder, but such weight removal can be expected to improve performance, even if Porsche has not officially made any such claim.
Independent tests in Britain and Germany (where the car is currently over £32,000 . . . how times change!) have established a 150-plus mph maximum in the unaltered top (sixth) gear. This is accompanied by 0-60 mph in a whisker over six seconds and 0-100 mph in around 15. Since fuel consumption is likely to be softened by the loss of kerb weight, you can expect a regular 24 to 26 mpg.
Porsche has improved press access to its cars considerably since it hit the recession. MOTOR SPORT has sampled at least seven examples of the 968 since the launch. Normally, we would not expect extra experience to change our opinions significantly, but in the case of the 968 the CS has completed a conversion from apathy to positive enthusiasm.
Porsche Cars GB maintains that nothing much has changed, but the six-speed gearbox and enormous (104mmx88mm, 2990 cc) four-cylinder now seem much smoother and more co-operative than we remember from the original launch. From 1500 rpm to the 6600 redline, this unique combination strides forwards at an exciting pace that almost made me forget the charms of the old 944 turbo/five-speed alliance.
I never doubted the 968's high standards of handling and grip, and the UK introduction confirmed that safety and pleasure had been efficiently combined. In the CS version, a replacement steering wheel, large footrest and those all embracing seats mean that you are superbly seated to take control. I never expected to attach such sentiments to a descendant of the 944. The Club Sport astonished us by retaining much of its poise in soaking conditions, but it does love to travel sideways, whether or not you have the optional Torsen limited slip differential (£891.83).
The pleasant surprises continued with an excellent ride (the spring rates are not increased over the standard product) and noise levels that only become markedly more abrasive than standard over concrete motorway sections. The engine and gear ratio sextet will allow a genuine 100 mph at some 4000 rpm, so the CS is a practical long-distance mount as well as a B-road sprinter.
The standard braking layout, with minimal interference from the excellent ABS, was appreciated almost as much as the outstanding power steering feedback in such slippery conditions.
By now, you should have the gist of my overall impressions.
From start to finish we loved it. It's a pure driving delight.
The price tag (£28,975, against the standard car's £33,547) should be enough to tempt most potential 968 customers.
The fact that it is also a better driving experience should lead to the factory being embarrassed by many more orders than the 30 placed so far to meet the UK dealer allocation.