CEL­E­BRA­TION OF THE 911

THE MIL­LIONTH ROLLS OFF THE LINE

The Province - - DRIVING - Peter Bleakney

For many pro­duc­tion cars, one mil­lion units is not such a mile­stone. Heck, VW churns out that many Golfs in a year. Yet for the Porsche 911 — the sto­ried arse-en­gined slot car that’s been steadily trick­ling out of Zuf­fen­hausen since 1964 — the one mil­lion mark is a huge deal, espe­cially since it has taken 54 years to reach this point.

But to re­ally get an ap­pre­ci­a­tion for the ef­fort — and be­fore we even start talk­ing about the green Car­rera S that rolled off the fac­tory floor for the magic num­ber — we need to look back to get some per­spec­tive on what could be the world’s favourite sports car. And the Porsche Mu­seum has obliged us, in spades.

Oh sure, we could have wished for a first-gen­er­a­tion car (’64-’69), a Car­rera 2.7 RS (’73-’74) or a 959 (as if ). But hey, the sun is shin­ing, the smooth, sin­u­ous Swabian black­top beck­ons, and who can com­plain about the 1981 911 SC Targa, a 1990 964-se­ries con­vert­ible and a 1998 996-se­ries con­vert­ible, the first of the wa­ter­cooled 911s, all sit­ting be­fore us?

Let’s go chrono­log­i­cally, for per­spec­tive on pro­gres­sion. I press the SC Targa’s stiff floor-hinged clutch to the mat, twist the key and slot the long, spindly shifter into first. The 3.0-L 204-horse­power flat­six bursts to life and set­tles into a silky idle. The unas­sisted steer­ing re­quires some se­ri­ous heft when first mov­ing off. It’s an un­canny feel­ing, sit­ting in this time cap­sule that ap­pears to have dropped in from a 1981 Porsche show­room.

Once the roads open up, this 36-year old 911 comes alive. The steer­ing gets light and com­mu­nica­tive, the en­gine sings above 4,000 rpm and, de­spite its mod­est-by-to­day’s-stan­dard power out­put, moves the 1,160-kilo­gram sports car along with alacrity.

Next up is the 1990 964-se­ries 911 Cabri­o­let in dark pur­ple, both in­side and out. Prince and Jimi Hen­drix would ap­prove. This third-gen 911 got a 250-hp 3.6-L boxer six, power steer­ing, coil springs all around (ver­sus tor­sion bars) and was of­fered with all-wheel drive and, for the first time, a four-speed Tip­tronic auto box, the lat­ter of which this car has.

In­stantly, the 964 feels faster, more mod­ern and more com­posed, yet a tad less in­ti­mate and ur­gent, much of that from an ex­tra 220 kg and the Tip­tronic that dulls the ex­pe­ri­ence, yet ad­mit­tedly re­sponds to man­ual shifter in­puts faster than I ex­pected. Ah, but that 3.6-L en­gine hauls with a thrilling, deep-chested au­thor­ity.

And on to the 1998 996-se­ries 911 Car­rera 4 Cabri­o­let. The first wa­ter­cooled 911 re­mains some­what unloved among Porschep­hiles, and I think that sen­ti­ment is un­fair. Sure, it’s not the pret­ti­est, and the cabin suf­fers from too much cheap plas­tic, but once be­hind the wheel, this 996 Cab feels 100 per cent au­then­tic 911. Its rev-hun­gry 300-hp 3.4-L howls and metes out power in pre­cise in­cre­ments, and it digs into the cor­ners and pow­ers out as only a 911 can. The 996 is the fi­nal fron­tier of semi-af­ford­able used 911s, but I wouldn’t count on that last­ing.

The next day I’m crowded into a hot, stuffy corner of Porsche’s Zuf­fen­hausen fac­tory that pro­duces the 911, Cay­man and Boxster. They’ve cor­doned off a small makeshift area for the one-mil­lionth 911 re­veal.

Fac­tory work­ers go about their busi­ness close by, tweak­ing cars com­ing off the line while glanc­ing cu­ri­ously at the suited throng.

We hear from the top brass, and Ferry Porsche’s youngest son, Wolf­gang, who is a share­holder and chair­man of Porsche AG. He re­calls tales of din­ner con­ver­sa­tion con­cern­ing the gam­ble his fa­ther’s com­pany took by in­tro­duc­ing this rather plain coupe with a rear-mounted flat-six en­gine back in 1963.

Then the cur­tain parts and out rolls a 2017 911 Car­rera S in Ir­ish Green. Wolf­gang Porsche jumps in and the media descend like buz­zards on a car­cass. This one-mil­lionth 911 pays homage to Ferry Porsche’s per­sonal 911, the third one pro­duced and painted in his favourite colour of green.

It is rear drive, has a man­ual trans­mis­sion, spe­cial hound­stooth-pat­tern seats, gold badg­ing and boasts a per­for­mance up­grade that boosts the 3.0-L twin-turbo flat-six to 450 hp. (Ferry’s 2.0-L made 128 hp.) It will tour the world this year be­fore find­ing a home in the Porsche Mu­seum.

So, there’ll be no test drive of this Porsche. But no mat­ter; soon I’m bust­ing out of Stuttgart in a sear­ing or­ange 2017 911 Targa 4 GTS. The GTS is the lat­est it­er­a­tion of the new-gen­er­a­tion tur­bocharged 911s to hit the street, and this pack­age be­stows 450 hp, low­ered ride height, wider track, sport ex­haust, and on it goes.

Thirty-six years and al­most 250 horse­power sep­a­rate this Targa from the Targa SC I drove the day be­fore, yet the essence of the ex­pe­ri­ence is re­mark­ably sim­i­lar in the en­gine’s tim­bre, the driv­ing po­si­tion, the way it cor­ners, the del­i­cate steer­ing and its sil­hou­ette.

This bal­lis­tic wedge grips like a pit bull on a postie, bangs off shifts faster than you can blink, and gen­er­ally makes a mock­ery of its pre­de­ces­sor’s mod­est lim­its while plac­ing its own lim­its far beyond the reach of most mor­tals. It’s a thor­oughly en­gross­ing, thrilling drive.

One thing is for sure, over 54 years of in­cre­men­tal im­prove­ment, the word’s most fa­mous, unique and re­silient sports car has taken Dar­win’s evo­lu­tion­ary credo to heart: Sur­vival of the fittest, in­deed.

PETER BLEAKNEY/DRIV­ING.CA

Left to right, Porsche 911s from 1998, 1981 and 1990. Af­ter 54 years, the 911 re­mains one of the world’s favourite sports cars.

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