PORSCHE 959 v CAR­RERA GT v 918 SPY­DER

THREE OF THE GREAT­EST PORSCHES PROVE THERE'S THREE DIF­FER­ENT WAYS TO GET TO SU­PER­CAR HEAVEN

Motor (Australia) - - CONTENTS -

Three unique 300km/h-plus supercars from very dif­fer­ent eras

THE PORSCHE 918 Spy­der is a mas­ter­piece of engi­neer­ing. It's like one of those high-end chrono­graphs that are com­pli­cated for com­pli­ca­tion's sake, watches you can gaze at for hours and won­der just how they squeezed so much in­ge­nu­ity and tech­nol­ogy into such a small case?

Your first re­ac­tion on see­ing a 918 is fas­ci­na­tion; it's just more in­trigu­ing than mere supercars. Why? Be­cause the 918 ap­pears to re­solve one of the fun­da­men­tal equations of quan­tum me­chan­ics: Com­bin­ing very high per­for­mance with elec­tric­ity, some­thing Porsche demon­strates far more ef­fec­tively than Ferrari due to the 918's fully elec­tric mode.

On bat­tery power alone, the 918 is pow­er­ful enough to silently hum­ble a hot hatch at the drag strip and can travel around 30km with­out us­ing a sin­gle drop of pre­mium. But at any mo­ment, of course, you have the op­tion of wak­ing up its 453kW 4.6-litre V8 and launch­ing into scream­ing hy­per speed mode. The 918 first leaves you lost for words with its elec­tric mode and then speech­less with its ther­mal one.

We're not here to re­lay hy­brid pro­pa­ganda, but the per­for­mance du­al­ity of the 918 is gen­uinely ex­cit­ing in the real world. The con­trast is, well, fas­ci­nat­ing. Com­pared to the Car­rera GT, the most no­tice­able dif­fer­ence is torque. And it's a big dif­fer­ence. The Spy­der's 1280Nm is avail­able in­stantly and any time you want it, whereas the GT's com­par­a­tively mod­est 590Nm is in­fin­itely more elas­tic and pro­gres­sive.

As for the ob­vi­ous ques­tion of how the 918 com­pares to LaFer­rari, it is sim­ply very dif­fer­ent. The Ital­ian hy­brid hy­per­car gives the im­pres­sion of more power – and with a com­bined 708kW it has 56kW more than the 918 – but its de­liv­ery is not as in­stan­ta­neous as the Porsche's. So it's a draw.

The other Weis­sach mir­a­cle is the 918's han­dling and chas­sis bal­ance, both achieved de­spite the extra weight of bat­ter­ies and two elec­tric mo­tors. Yes, the Car­rera GT's lighter front end makes it more lively, but the 918 re­mains very neu­tral in feel. And the front-end grip of the 918 is on another planet due to all-wheel drive, which is not so much a lux­ury but a ne­ces­sity with so much power to put down.

Com­par­ing the ac­cel­er­a­tion of the 959, Car­rera GT and 918 Spy­der is a bit like test­ing an F16 fighter against a NASA Sat­urn V rocket and Han Solo's Mil­len­nium Fal­con: They're all very fast but the mea­sure­ment of ‘fast' is very dif­fer­ent for each.

With a 0-100km/h time of 2.6 sec­onds and 18sec dead for the stand­ing kilo­me­tre sprint, the 918 al­most opens up a brand new seg­ment on the ac­cel­er­a­tion scale.

Just to put this into per­spec­tive, it wasn't that long ago that any­thing ap­proach­ing 20sec over 1000 me­tres was seen as

COM­PAR­ING THE 959, CAR­RERA GT AND 918 SPY­DER IS LIKE TEST­ING AN F16 FIGHTER AGAINST A SAT­URN V ROCKET AND HAN SOLO'S MIL­LEN­NIUM FAL­CON

very spe­cial in­deed. At these speeds gain­ing a sec­ond here and there is very hard work for en­gi­neers. It's the same for the 918's in­cred­i­ble brak­ing power. It needs just 125 me­tres to stop dead from 200km/h, nine me­tres fewer than the Car­rera GT and 13 fewer than a McLaren 650S.

But the 918 backs up these fig­ures with an amaz­ing ease of ac­ces­si­bil­ity and func­tion­al­ity. Ar­guably it is the ul­ti­mate com­bi­na­tion of the tech­no­log­i­cal shop win­dow first seen in the 959 and the sport­ing mas­ter­class of the Car­rera GT. It is a true hy­per­car mas­ter­piece.

Sam­pling the Car­rera GT's V10 af­ter the 918's V8 is like hav­ing an extra help­ing of dessert. When it's this good you never say no, but I ad­mit to be­ing a lit­tle anx­ious be­fore stuff­ing my­self with Car­rera prof­iteroles. What if this once-ul­ti­mate Porsche now feels a bit, er, long in the tooth?

It only takes a quar­ter turn of the key for at least half of this con­cern to van­ish. What a start-up, what me­chan­i­cal mu­sic! If the sound­track of the 918 Spy­der is a tad in­dus­trial, the Car­rera GT rings out clearly like the finest crys­tal glass.

The only thing that hasn't aged well is the GT's clutch op­er­a­tion. It's al­ways had a rep­u­ta­tion for be­ing ‘tricky' to master, and this is at a time when a lot of peo­ple have prob­a­bly for­got­ten that driv­ing once in­volved us­ing your left foot.

Porsche opted for a very small di­am­e­ter, twin-plate, ce­ramic com­pos­ite clutch that al­lowed a much lower cen­tre of grav­ity for the en­gine, but the trade-off was it made ma­noeu­vring the Car­rera GT awk­ward. It's not made for go­ing slowly.

The way to get around this is ba­si­cally to avoid touch­ing the throt­tle at all at low speeds un­til the clutch is fully re­leased and al­low the anti-stall soft­ware to han­dle the rest. Once you're past this foible, how­ever, you can revel in the way the GT com­bines race­car char­ac­ter­is­tics with road-car us­abil­ity.

The trans­mis­sion is a true joy and throt­tle-blip­ping, heel-toe down­changes are made even more plea­sur­able by a gear lever that falls per­fectly to hand, and is crowned by a large wooden ball that em­pha­sises the di­rect­ness and speed of the change. It's amaz­ing that this shifter po­si­tion­ing hasn't been copied by another man­u­fac­turer in these days of the ubiq­ui­tous pad­dle-shift change and it sets the GT apart.

The free-revving Porsche V10 is rem­i­nis­cent of a V12 from

SAM­PLING THE CAR­RERA GT’S V10 AF­TER THE 918’S V8 IS LIKE HAV­ING AN EXTRA HELP­ING OF DESSERT

Maranello in pre-Ber­linetta days. The sheer speed with which those revs rise and fall, com­bined with the power avail­able and the smooth­ness of its de­liv­ery, is hard to de­scribe, but imag­ine a pure-breed race­horse crossed with a pit bull ter­rier and you might have some idea of the vi­o­lence and flex­i­bil­ity.

Es­sen­tially, this 5.7-litre V10 hasn’t aged a day, even when com­pared to the V10 in a Lam­borgh­ini Hu­ra­can or McLaren’s twin-turbo V8. If any­thing it’s even bet­ter be­cause with the re­cent ob­ses­sion with flat torque curves, we’ve be­gun to for­get the plea­sure of feel­ing revs and power rise to their lim­its in a pro­gres­sive, nat­u­ral way. The GT’s V10 takes you straight to a vir­tual Mul­sanne Straight (it’s based on an en­gine de­vel­oped for Le Mans, af­ter all) in less time than it takes to write it.

Han­dling-wise, the Car­rera GT starts with an un­fair ad­van­tage – it weighs only 1470kg with all flu­ids. That makes it a light­weight com­pared to the chunky 959 (1603kg) and the rel­a­tively porky 918 (1674kg) and goes a long way to ex­plain­ing its amaz­ing dy­namism. Yes the car de­mands your at­ten­tion and lib­er­ties should not be taken lightly, but that level of fo­cus is to be ex­pected in a car like this. It’s the finest of fine arts.

Then there’s the 959. Climb­ing into it gave me a strange sen­sa­tion of be­ing a child again. Back then the very first Weis­sach su­per­car was fight­ing it out for wall space above my bed with posters of the Ferrari 288 GTO and F40 and Lam­borgh­ini Coun­tach (purists will ar­gue the Lambo is not a su­per­car, but it al­ways will be for me). The cabin is ex­actly as I’d al­ways imag­ined it, sober and sen­si­ble with lots of per­fectly leg­i­ble di­als and er­gonomics from another era – the ’80s.

Un­like the Car­rera and 918 which give you the im­pres­sion you’re strapped into the space shut­tle, the 959 makes you feel like you’re sit­ting in... a 911. Well, what ap­pears to be a 911, at least, be­cause this test car is par­tic­u­larly spe­cial.

A twist of the key fires up the 2.85-litre flat-six and the cabin fills with fa­mil­iar air-cooled Porsche sounds and vi­bra­tions, an­chor­ing the 959 in a long and very fine line of pre­de­ces­sors. If any­thing ac­tu­ally ages the in­te­rior it’s the floor-mounted ped­als – another throw­back – but you get used to those quickly.

Within the first me­tres, though, it is clear that the 959’s DNA is 110 per cent pure Porsche, with light, ul­tra-di­rect steer­ing, ex­cel­lent brak­ing, and a highly civilised pow­er­train. We’re be­ing re­spect­ful due to the age and value of the car, but when you start to squeeze the throt­tle it feels like you’re pulling back on a cat­a­pult. Grad­u­ally the tacho nee­dle winds 'round to 5000rpm then there’s an ex­plo­sion of power and torque, the sort that floors you and dev­as­tates ev­ery­thing in its way.

This 959 is a can­non ball, a bomb, and that’s be­cause it’s an ‘S’ or Sport model, one of 29 built in ad­di­tion to the 292 reg­u­lar ‘Kom­fort’ mod­els. It’s around 100kg lighter, too, due mostly

to the elim­i­na­tion of com­puter-con­trolled damp­ing, air-con, ra­dio and rear seats. The elec­tric win­dows and right-hand mirror were kept for the sake of con­ve­nience, but it does have a roll cage so it’s some­thing like a 959 GT3, ahead of its time.

This rare Porsche is one of the last three built by the fac­tory and has an up­graded en­gine with newer Motronic-con­trolled fuel in­jec­tion and big­ger tur­bocharg­ers that raise power to 419kW. It’s chas­sis num­ber 29, which Porsche lists as a 961 (the race de­riv­a­tive) and this meant a lot of pa­per­work was re­quired be­fore it could be reg­is­tered and given the model des­ig­na­tion of ‘959 X’.

It is the only 959 X in the world and its per­for­mance lev­els are much higher than the car orig­i­nally tested by Auto, Mo­tor

und Sport who recorded a 0-100km/h time of 3.35sec and 11.9sec for 0-200km/h. And with its higher power out­put, it V-maxes at 344km/h, which means this ’80s su­per­car is al­most as fast as a 918 Spy­der hy­per­car!

These three Porsche master­pieces are time­less, like a paint­ing by Da Vinci or Pi­casso, and will re­main so re­gard­less of their age. The real genius of the team at Weis­sach is con­tin­u­ing to en­gi­neer and build high-per­for­mance supercars that are eas­ily drive­able in every­day, real-life con­di­tions and this amaz­ing engi­neer­ing trip­tych is tes­ta­ment to that vi­sion.

ABOVE Car­rera GT is an old-school Porsche with three ped­als and a tra­di­tional shifter, but the tricky clutch takes some get­ting used to

OP­PO­SITE Three gen­er­a­tions of speed kings demon­strate the non-stop evo­lu­tion of supercars from Stuttgart

ABOVE RIGHT The 959’s aus­tere cabin is pure ’80s, but its er­gonomics are solid and di­als leg­i­ble; handy when you’re on the wrong side of 300km/h

LEFT When the 959 and Car­rera GT’s fuel tanks run dry, the 918 Spy­der brings out its party trick: 30km range on elec­tric power

LEFT Ul­tra-rare road-reg­is­tered 959 X based on 961 race model. Big­ger tur­bos and up­graded ECU pump up power to a heady 419kW THE 959 X V-MAXES AT 344KM/H, WHICH MEANS THIS '80s SU­PER­CAR IS AL­MOST AS FAST AS THE 918 HY­PER­CAR

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