Th­ese days, it’s al­most a con­di­tioned re­sponse; our re­ac­tion to the red on purest white, to the squir­ley script and the un­adorned, rounded slope-backed shape. It’s a kind of height­ened ex­pec­ta­tion about what that means: it’s an RS, a Porsche, a 911 – only more so. All were ho­molo­ga­tion ex­er­cises. In 1972, it said Car­rera, and woe be­tide any­one who let the duck­tail cute­ness lull them into think­ing this was any­thing less than a Group Four rac­ing dom­i­na­tor. In 1984 with the 911 SC RS, it didn’t ‘say’ any­thing – just that pure white on the 20 cars needed to go Group B ral­ly­ing.

In 2003 it said GT3 RS, in ei­ther red or blue, and with wheels to match. Af­ter three decades of the tra­di­tion, you knew that this meant lighter, leaner, keener and more alert. And prob­a­bly, a lit­tle bit faster. The RS of ’03 was the less-is-more ver­sion of Porsche’s lat­est in­car­na­tion of the 996 GT3, which had not long taken over from the first of this higher-per­for­mance evo­lu­tion, launched in 1999. All of the GT3 blood­line traced a lin­eage back to rac­ing aris­toc­racy, and the RS, with its stripped-down de­meanour, brought you even closer to the track cars.

There’s some­thing of a puzzle if you look at the spec sheets side by side; the pared-down edi­tion weighs more or less the same as the full-fat ver­sion. On this RS, we’ve got a car­bon bon­net with a light­weight badge that is sim­ply a sticker. We’ve got a poly­car­bon­ate rear win­dow and no back seats. But then, the stan­dard GT3 had no back seats ei­ther. You’ll also find that the hot-driv­ing ver­sion gets a lit­tle bit hot­ter still – the air-con is gone. For ex­cite­ment’s sake, you might not care that some of the sound­proof­ing has also been chucked out. And any way, the ra­dio’s gone too. In an RS, you want to drive harder than your av­er­age 911 pi­lot, so you hope the weight has gone into things that mat­ter. Look­ing be­hind the seats, you’ll see that it has – a thick cross-braced roll cage in the rear.

Look­ing around the cabin of the ’03 car re­minds me of its 1970s for­bear; bucket seats, full straps and that half cage. The sim­i­lar­ity is hope­fully be­cause both were de­signed with al­most iden­ti­cal in­tent, rather than con­trived

nos­tal­gia. The dash in both was, and is, fairly stan­dard road car – sport­ing chic, though more min­i­mal the first time round. I’m lik­ing the body-coloured trans­mis­sion tun­nel, brushed metal de­tails, and grey suede with red stitch­ing. I’ve just no­ticed that this car has a ra­dio, though I don’t think I’ll want it to­day. In any 911, you want to hear that flat six.

If you’ve come straight from old-school and air-cooled, the sound from the back of the GT3 RS won’t be a shock, but it is... dif­fer­ent. The 996 was the first of the liq­uid-cooled cars. So there’s that veil­ing of the higher fre­quen­cies. It’s less thrashy. Some of the hot­ter 911s could make you won­der if the en­gine bay was lined with tin. In this, there’s a mod­ern bou­tique-ex­haust/sports burr in­fused with that low, slightly asym­met­ric boxer bur­ble. But yes; it’s still a Porsche ‘six’, and when it moves away there is still that (al­beit more muff led) di­a­logue be­tween en­gine and trans­mis­sion. And the odd ex­tra­ne­ous whine.

The GT3 line boasted what be­came known as the Mezger en­gines. Hans Mezger had been de­sign­ing Porsche mo­tors for al­most four decades, but this lump was a gen­uine dry-sump unit, with its ori­gins in the pow­er­plant he de­signed for the air-cooled 911 GT1 Le Mans car. It was also a sim­i­lar motor to the one found in the 962 pro­to­type. But where that en­gine was able to in­dulge in ex­otic cylin­der heads, the M96/72’s four-valve heads were de­rived from those of the still rar­efied (and wa­ter-cooled) 959. So some se­ri­ous and di­rect mo­tor­sport lin­eage here.

With some mar­ques, such pedi­gree comes with a cer­tain de­gree of ‘at­ti­tude’, but this is a Porsche and it feels any­thing but highly strung in the first few miles. There’s a won­der­ful con­nect­ed­ness be­tween throt­tle and en­gine, with a lively re­sponse in the revs – like the more ex­otic Car­rera GT – that re­minds you this car has a low-mass f ly wheel. The RS also has a dif­fer­ent clutch to the stan­dard GT3. All the geartrain con­nec­tions feel very me­chan­i­cal, but very smooth and nicely en­gi­neered.

That bal­ance be­tween un­re­fined sports car and so­phis­ti­cated GT is set dif­fer­ently in ev­ery 911, but no mat­ter how much leather you put in them, there’s still the faintest lin­ger­ing trace of maxxed out Vee-Dub hot rod. Talk­ing of hot-rod­ding; the bolt-on Nismo-style big wing gives a hint of where this one is go­ing – none of that dis­creet, speed-sen­si­tive el­e­vat­ing spoiler malarkey – just slap that sucker on and you’re good to go.

Un­der that big car­bon fi­bre blade is a very retro-look­ing, duck tail-like fin. But again this is a thor­oughly mod­ern ap­pendage; it’s an air


col­lec­tor, which uses pres­sure build-up to keep feed­ing air to the ‘bay at high speeds.

But maybe it’s not a great idea to go all out and get too fa­mil­iar with the ma­chine un­til you’ve felt your way around it. It is a 911 af­ter all and like all its older sib­lings has its en­gine where no one in their right mind would want to stick a large weight on a sports car – one big pen­du­lum. One of the model’s chief para­doxes has been the de­sire – al­most need – in any new it­er­a­tion, to be a true old-school 911 while still push­ing the tech­nolog y for­ward.

I’m lik­ing the fact that the car still feels small. And I’m still sit­ting on the f loor with f loor-mounted ped­als and shift­ing a f loor-mounted gear shift – you know – one with con­nect­ing rods and stuff. Like the older cars, ev­ery­thing here is close; the gear shift hard by your thigh, and the rel­a­tively large, tac­tile steering wheel be­tween your knees.

The RS’s steering is one of the car’s most en­gag­ing as­sets. It’s meatier than a stan­dard GT3, again en­hanc­ing that track car feel. You seem to feel ev­ery nu­ance of the road’s sur­face through it, and yes, the tar­mac will now and again lure the front wheels into fol­low­ing ruts and cam­bers, but the car’s re­sponse to your in­put is ver y di­rect and its turn-in to bends is im­me­di­ate. Its ac­cu­racy, cou­pled to this Porsche’s al­most un­canny grip on the as­phalt, gives you huge con­fi­dence in the ma­chine.

The six-speed man­ual gearbox too is like­wise pre­cise and beautifully-weighted. The shift is al­ways quick to the right cogs, the en­gine’s power­band so eas­ily ac­ces­si­ble. Does it do that 911 thing where the car is pretty un­in­ter­ested un­til 4500rpm? There’s a lot less of that. The big torque sits lower in the rev range than the stan­dard car, some 370Nm at 4250rpm. But of course, it does get ex­po­nen­tially more lively as you pile on the revs. And the motor gets more ex­otic, more track car-like in its tone.

Go down a gear, drop your right leg and the RS quickly be­comes a fiercely rapid ma­chine, though rarely is it try­ing to get away from you. Your whole con­cen­tra­tion can be fo­cused on the line, con­trol­ling the Porsche with tight, smooth, from-the-shoul­ders ges­tures, never wrench­ing the car from you, even in tight turns.

A great thing about a 911, and more acutely this RS, is how it bonds with vary­ing roads; the fu­ri­ous build up of power you can un­leash on long, arc­ing A-road curves, the pro­gres­sive bite of the brakes – the car keep­ing its bal­ance, and the weight-shift­ing, duck­ing and div­ing along B-roads. Though not so much div­ing – the new, firmer sus­pen­sion has dialled that out. But there’s still great weight-poise-an­gle man­age­ment with the throt­tle – mak­ing the nose bite just be­fore the turn, or push­ing the car

al­most into a drift over the apex.

It’s that level of in­ti­mate, nu­anced con­trol that makes the RS the most in­volv­ing Porsche of its gen­er­a­tion.


The RS achieves a cu­ri­ous feat which only a small band of ma­chines man­age to achieve. It’s some­thing to do with things un­fold­ing rapidly yet never hap­pen­ing too fast.

In tak­ing ever more lib­er­ties in spool­ing out the power in the twisty lanes, the rear end at last de­cided to take a slightly dif­fer­ent line to the front. Not with the alarm­ing ‘catch this, sucker’ at­ti­tude of the 1970s Turbo, but more with an in­stinc­tive ‘this is how we’re do­ing it’ you’d sense as an ice skater when you know you’ve po­si­tioned yourself to drift slightly. You know it be­cause your legs are con­nected to your back­side and to your gut. And in that same way – rub­ber-to-steel-to-- rump – you feel the GT3 RS and the lin­ear pro­gres­sive­ness of its ges­tures.

That sums up the RS-ness of the ma­chine. It’s not the power. In fact, if you look at the spec sheets (again), this thing isn’t re­ally any faster than the stan­dard GT3. It’s the con­nect­ed­ness, the in­volve­ment and thereby the in­ten­sity of the ‘me­chan­i­cal’ driv­ing ex­pe­ri­ence.

Did I still long for an air-cooled 911? De­spite the older models’ oc­ca­sion­ally slightly bonkers de­meanour and the fa­cial ex­pres­sion of an am­phet­a­mine-fed frog, I once reck­oned no new 99-what­ever would ever take their place. But this 996 ‘spe­cial’ man­ages to re­tain al­most all the qual­i­ties of the air-cooled cars while be­stow­ing tech which, largely, only en­hance its char­ac­ter and abil­i­ties.

Good grief; out of all the vari­ants gone and those yet to come... could this be the per­fect driver’s Porsche 911?

BE­LOW Red al­loys a bit too much? You won’t care be­hind the wheel.

ABOVE A tug on the hand­brake to get the back round? – No not in a 911. RIGHT Rob for­goes The Archers for flat­six mu­sic.

ABOVE GT3 RS can trace its DNA back to the 959 and GT1 Le Mans win­ner.

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