The Porsche 911SC Sport

The Porsche route to perfection is by way of never-ending development, a refusal to lapse into a complacency when the ultimate goal seems to have been achieved. The men of Zuffenhausen have  no compunction about changing models annually to incorporate further improvements form their perfectionist boffins at Weissach. If the outright performance graph of 911s shows a slightly downward trend, such dulling of the razor-edge has always been accompanied by improvements in flexibility and driveability. And while aficionados may rue the passing of such performance versions as the 2.7 Carrera RS, Porsche can always rebut accusations of across-the-board emasculation of the flat-six engine by quoting the 40 b.h.p. power increase to (300 b.h.p.!) of the new 3.3-litre Turbo.

Such honing to perfection at the cost of slight “softening” pertains particularly to the 1978 911SC series. The SC’s 180 b.h.p. 3-litre flat-six engine has 20 b.h.p. less than last year’s Carrera 3.0 which it supersedes. Equally correctly, the Porsche brochure has it that the SC has 15 b.h.p. more than last year’s model: it refers to the 2.7-litre, 165 b.h.p. 911 Lux which the SC supersedes too in a rationalisation programme. The SC has much more in common with the Carrera: the same bodyshell with flared arches, automatic interior heating control, high-pressure headlamp washers and the 2,994 c.c. engine. Maximum power is developed at 5,500 r.p.m., against 6,000 r.p.m. for the Carrera 3.0 and the torque curve is better than the Carrera’s throughout the range, peaking at 195 lb. ft. at 4,100 r.p.m., against 188 lb. ft. at 4,200 r.p.m. Additional modifications for the 2978 model include servo assistance for the 11.3 front, 11.6 in. rear, ventilated disc brakes, a Bosch contactless ignition system and belt-driven air-pump to comply with future emission standards. The Bosch continuous injection system is retained for this air-cooled, aluminium, horizontally-opposed engine, with its six individual finned “pots” and heads, 95 mm. x 70.4 mm. bore and stroke and single, chain-driven overhead camshaft per bank.

The SC comes in two versions, the standard SC and the SC Sport and the test car appeared in the latter guise. Additional equipment on the Sport includes: a front air-dam and a resilient “wing” on the engine cover; forged-alloy, 16 in. diameter wheels, six inches wide at the front, seven inches rear, shod with 205/55 and 225/50 section Pirelli P7 tyres respectively; gas-filled Bilstein dampers all round; body-hugging Recaro seats; and a Porsche/Blaupunkt stereo cassette radio unit with electrical aerial. This sporting specification adds about £1,500 to the SC, to make the Sport just £1 under £15,000. Both versions have electric sunroofs and windows as standard. Targa alternatives are offered at exactly the same price for lovers of fresh-air.

From the precision smoothness of the trigger on the door handle, to the solid thump of the closing doors, to the immediate deep-throated purr on the turn of the key on a freezing morning, 911 HUL, the familiarly registered Porsche demonstrator, gave the traditional Porsche message of engineering integrity. But now there is more. Once the 911 was a Spartan car. Nowadays it is modestly luxurious, with deep, soft carpets and, in 911 HUL’s case, most effective, tasteful, black and white, pin-stripe cloth seat centres to contrast with the white paintwork. The shape of the facia has changed little in 14 years, but now there are more knobs, fresh-air vents in the centre and neater instruments, still with the big tachometer taking pride of place in the middle of the five-dial cluster, the most important instrument of a free-revving, hard-driven Porsche. Gauges for fuel level, oil pressure and temperature and the level of the oil in the dry-sump tank (to be read at tickover), a clock and a 150 m.p.h. speedometer fill out the binnacle. The Sport’s small, thick-rimmed, leather-trimmed, Turbo-type steering wheel obscures sections of the instruments.

There is a lockable glove-box and each door has open and lidded stowage compartments and a turn-knob locking device to combat the Continental Porsche thieves. For additional security, pull-catches for boot-lid, engine cover and petrol filler flap are located within the cockpit. For security of a different kind, this long-life Porsche has a galvanised steel structure with a six-year guarantee against corrosion, carries a 12 month, unlimited mileage general warranty and requires servicing only once every 12,000 miles; life for the Porsche owner is no much less complicated and costly than for owners of other super-cars.

Excellent ergonomics give immediate confidence behind the almost vertical, fixed position steering wheel and the Sport’s clinging Recaro seats inspire that marvellous feeling of being part of the car. One of the many ways in which this practical Porsche scores over mid-engined super-cars is in having first-class, all-round visibility, with no dangerous blind-spots. It is this feature as much as anything else that makes a Porsche so much more usable and relaxing, a super-fast car that adapts readily to mundane city commuting and parking. This visible lip of his Sport’s rear spoiler is a positive asset to reversing into parking spaces.

Above all else, though, the 911SC Sport is a car for a fast driver’s sublime enjoyment. The sweetness of this latest engine specification is uncanny. The test car’s flat-six burst into song instantly, more readily than that of a Carrera 3.0 I used at the end of 1976 and without as pronounced a see-sawing of revs on cold tickover. From cold, drive-away was clean and smooth, the Bosch injection giving accurate enrichment. Those lost 20 b.h.p. have nipped the tip off the Carrera 3.0’s phenomenal acceleration–instead of being v.b. quick, the SC Sport is simply b. quick! Only those who trade-in a Carrera for an SC are likely to complain too much about performance in the region of 0-60 m.p.h. in 6 ½ seconds, 100 m.p.h. in 18 seconds and a maximum of over 140 m.p.h. There was fractionally more time to snatch the gear-lever through the lower gears before the engine hit the rev.- limiter  at 6.800 r.p.m. (the tachometer is red-lined from 6,300 to 7,000 r.p.m.). Speeds in the ideally spaced gears at 6.300 r.p.m. were 37 m.p.h. 65 m.p.h., 94 m.p.h. and 118 m.p.h. Where the SC gained over that Carrera was in flexibility from the softer sounding engine (for which an improved silencer is partly responsible). For such a fast car it was unbelievably docile, smooth and refined, happy to pull down to 1,000 r.p.m. in fifth and pull away cleanly.

Porsche reputation for somewhat hit-and-miss roadholding and handling has gradually been transformed by putting more and more rubber on the road, so that the person who finds the limitations of the SC Sport’s remarkable Pirelli P7s is either exceptionally skilled or very foolish. Yet the maxim for fast, smooth Porsche motoring remains as always: slow in, fast out. Too much “welly” into a wet corner particularly sets the front understeering: if the pace isn’t too much, lifting off will bring it to heel; if you’re too far over the limit, you’ve got a problem, for lifting off then can bring an abrupt change of direction. The challenge of driving a Porsche smoothly on a balanced throttle is part of the pleasure of Porsche motoring and handled properly the SC Sport is a staggeringly fast, relaxing and safe vehicle. Every road characteristic feeds back through the superb steering and stiff, low-profile Pirellis.

The SC Sport’s suspension is identical to that of last year’s Carrera Sport, save for a small reaer roll-bar revision. Torsion bars all round, McPherson struts at the front and semi-trailing arms at the rear are the recipe as always. What amazed me about the SC Sport was the improvement brought about by the P7s, the Bilstein shock-absorbers and spoilers compared to the standard Carrera 3.0, which paralleled suspension-wise with the standard SC. The Carrera had been soft and very twitchy and with so much power needed treating with great respect indeed. The SC Sport felt so much tauter, more stable and responsive. I wish I had been able to try the same specification in Carrera guise: that lovely engine must have made it a desirable car indeed for fast motoring. However, I cannot complain about the cross-country capabilities of the SC Sport, in which I was able to put 150 miles into two hours on A and B roads in the wet, with never a moment’s apprehension. What is more, I was as relaxed and untired at the end of the journey as at the beginning–the SC Sport is that sort of car.

Any misgivings I might have had about Porsche ruining the legendary braking sensitivity and performance by fitting a servo (another case of pandering to the US market, I suspected) proved to be practically unfounded. True, the sensitivity has lost a few per cent, if the non-servoed system is marked at 100 per cent, but the progression remains excellent, the stopping power probably unchanged, though feeling superior because it is achieved so much more effortlessly. “Effortlessly” is really a wrong choice of word, for this is not an over-servoed, lightweight system: heavy braking from high speed demands a sensible amount of muscle power. Taken to the ultimate, the front brakes lock first, but this is not a characteristic which will intrude in normal, fast driving, even in the wet. The servo scores in subtly reducing the effort required in give-and-take motoring, a sensible concession to the increased frequency of brake application demanded by today’s denser traffic conditions. It adds even more charm to the Porsche dual personality of fast road burner/docile town car. The one drawback is that the servo intrudes into the luggage compartment.

Another concession to ease of driving has been to modify the clutch pedal’s spring assistance so that its action is smoother and ore progressive than the earlier assisted type, introduced for the 1977 model year, I think. As always, the clutch pedal needs depressing fully for easy gear-changing and this demands something of a long stretch for short-legged drivers like myself.

One unwelcome piece of Porsche tradition has disappeared in the SC. Drivers familiar with Porsches will notice immediately that the familiar rattling transmission noise at low road speeds in high gears has been eradicated completely, after years of research into the problem. The secret is a new Porsche-designed rubber torsion damper in the clutch drive plate, which replaces the earlier Guibo damper. Associated with this are the new nodular cast-iron pressure plate and clutch housing. At last it is painlessly possible to utilise the full flexibility of the flat-six –and what better time to possibly most flexible of all the many versions of this remarkable engine?

Once upon a time, Porsches were known for having one of the sweetest gear-chances in the business. Such quality went by the board with the introduction of the later type gearbox, with fifth on a dog’s leg up to the right and first to fourth in conventional H-pattern. In fact the sweetness of change varies from atrocious to good with the number of miles on the odometer. Second gear was almost impossible to engage on the 1,000-mile-old Carrera 3.0 I had at the end of the 1976; at change of the road-test SC Sport was loosening up nicely at just below the 9,000-mile mark. The gate is wide, first is a long stretch away and strong spring resistance must be overcome to engage fifth, a bias which lines the lever up positively for the third/fourth plane.

Porsche have tried their best over the years to overcome the inherent difficulties of achieving consistent heater performance from an air-cooled engine. The latest automatic system is a great improvement, but far from perfect; as always, the Porsche owner has to learn to live with its inadequacies, even though these inadequacies are less than they have ever been. The system is supposed to keep constant the temperature dialled on a knob between the seats, and whilst this works when engine demands are fairly consistent, it can’t cope with the change form slow-moving traffic conditions to high-speed work. Porsche drivers usually find a happy medium for the temperature setting and acclimatise themselves to it; pleasing fussy passengers is a different matter! Four slide controls plus the temperature know make for complication. With two occupants the test car misted-up easily in conditions of heavy rain, but the screen demister proved effective. The rear screen has two-stage selection of its heating elements–full depth or half depth–and a wiper, but not washer.

I think Porsche must have turbocharged the windscreen wipers, they are so powerful! The fastest of three speeds has the blades sweeping across the screen almost fast enough to catch the drops before they splatter. The three speeds are controlled from the steering column and a separate knob on the facia controls a variable-speed intermittent facility. High-pressure water jets clean the headlights when the screen washers are operated with the headlights switched on. Two gallons of the necessary liquid is held in a container filled from a flat shared with the petrol tank filler in the nearside front wing. There is no danger of confusing the two fillers!

The bigger, more powerful engine made the SC Sport much thirstier than the 911 2.7 I tested in 1974. While the consumption of the smaller engined car never fell below 21 m.p.g. and wold rise to the mid-20s, this 3.0-litre car swallowed juice at the rate of 16-18 m.p.g. The picture is improved by its partiality to two-star petrol, to the usual surprise off pump attendants. A sensible range is ensured by the 17.6-gallon, burst-proof tank in the front “boot” floor.

After enthusing so eulogistically about the brutish Aston Martin Vantage in last month’s issue, I feel almost guilty that i cannot instil a similar sense of excitement into this Porsche road-test. The reason is part of the Porsche 911’s strength. There was no element of surprise in that this latest fuel-injected 911 should be simply superb; it was just as expected –maybe better-by a motoring journalist who makes no bones about his enthusiasm for the traditional Porsche concept. It makes no song and dance about its performance: it simply goes, rapidly yet not searingly fast, and keeps on going, smoothly, satisfyingly, relaxingly from the morning’s first turn of the key, in a fashion which is, well, Porsche, there is no other worked for it. You either love the characteristics and learn to bow to them and appreciate them accordingly, or you hate them and buy something else. There are two such distinct camps, even amongst top-class racing and rally drivers of my acquaintance. Those who love them think they are tremendous value, those who hate them feel they are overpriced. For my own purposes, which include a lot of London driving, I found the flexible 911SC Sport to be the best 911 road version yet, although there were occasions on the open road when I itched for the extra urge of the old Carrera or Turbo. Potential customers can make up their own minds, if they are prepared to join the queue! – C.R.