My day off in a pair of classic perfect Nines
Mark Smyth experienced the Porsche 911R and its ancestor the 964 Turbo in Germany
I sat down to lunch on a beautiful summer’s day in Germany. Sat high up in the restaurant of an ancient German schloss, I perused the menu. Then I looked out of the window ahead of me. A tractor was ploughing the field but alongside it a road twisted and turned up the hill and off into the distant trees.
A hillclimb. Who needs lunch when you have access to the keys of a Porsche 911R. I wound my way back down the old stone staircase and back to the car, a car that commanded a massive premium just moments after its launch in 2016.
On the dash was a plaque denoting that it was car 000 of 991, a pre-production model, one destined never to be sold. It had red stripes, unique 911R bodywork and a six-speed manual gearbox, one of the reasons why it was lusted after by collectors around the world.
Another reason, of course, is because it is the lightest Porsche available and connected to that gearbox was the engine from the GT3 RS. And there are no turbos — it is all natural, pure.
The engine produces 368kW at a high 8,250r/min together with a torque of 460Nm at 6,250r/min. These are figures that show the 911R wants to be driven hard and fast. Porsche claims it will hit 100km/h in 3.8 seconds, but that is only a small part of the picture.
On that sun-drenched hill the 911R was simply incredible. When Michael Taylor first drove it for us, I wanted one. I will never be able to afford one but I wanted one. Now I was on a quiet country road winding up a hill and I understood just why.
The steering is perfect, the grip is phenomenal and the power delivery as you push the rev needle way up towards the red line is just mind-blowing. It accelerated rapidly, it slowed confidently no matter how hard I had to slam down on the anchors and it stuck to the road as though it was tuned in to the earth’s centre of gravity. It flinched when I wanted it to, but it was always controllable.
I can see how there might be a few who would need to go to Porsche Classic for some accident restoration, because it wants you to get the most out of it, to keep it in the upper revs where you have all that power as you pull out of the corner. It was, in a word, epic.
What it was not, was the first word in comfort. In fact earlier in the day, my colleague from the Sunday Times decided it was just too uncomfortable for his back. I understood, though: the suspension is hard, the carbon fibre bucket seats have almost no adjustment and climbing in and out is a mission in itself.
My colleague was not there for the 911R though. Tom is a classic Porsche fundi and for him it was all about one of the most famous Porsche models of all time, the 964 Turbo. Not just any 964 Turbo either. This was a 1990 model from the Porsche Museum in Stuttgart. It was a big moment when the odometer clocked over from 10,999km to 11,000km. We felt we needed to hold some sort of roadside ceremony to mark the occasion.
What Tom knew, though, was that unlike the 911R, the 964 was going to be comfortable — and he was right. I climbed into it easily, although I admit that I did so with the same reverence Ferris Bueller showed getting into the Ferrari 250 GT California in the movie. Once in that barely used seat, it was clear that the level of comfort was going to be vastly different to that of the 911R, but then so is the car.
For early versions of the 964, the 3.3l engine was carried over from the 930 Turbo, so the car we were driving developed 240kW and 450Nm of torque. That latter figure is most interesting because it is only 10Nm less than the 911R’s but the 964 pushes all that torque to the rear wheels without any electronic systems at all. No traction control, no electronic stability control, nada.
So you will understand that in the interests of not being that guy, I may have been a little more respectful of the 964 than I was of the 911R, but it was a big moment for a petrolhead.
What was amazing was the level of ride comfort that Tom had alluded to. Of the two cars, it was the 964 that I would gladly have driven out of the museum in Stuttgart, down through Europe, and then on through Africa back to Johannesburg. I was confident that the trip could be done without the need to visit a chiropractor on arrival.
The steering had a little bit of play to it and was certainly not as pinpoint sharp as that in the 911R but it was incredible for a car that is 27 years old. The pedals had no play, especially the clutch, which operated the instant you started to depress it to change. The cabin of course was immaculate, but it was also very quiet, allowing only the sound from that 3.3 turbo to intrude, an intrusion which was most welcome.
Unlike the 911R, the 964 liked to wind up its power, to let you build up the revs and build up your confidence before unleashing all its power at around 5,750r/min. The grip was superb even without all those electronic nanny systems we have today. It was pure mechanical and physical grip, providing you with feedback on everything you do. Yes, the 964 can bite but, as I say, I was not going to find out at what point.
My drive in the 964 was cut short by the need to jump in the back of the photographer’s Renault for a phone conversation with a South African minister, but I had experienced the 964 Turbo, the legend. It was a short-lived moment, but a lifetime memory.