ROAD TRIP: HIGHLAND FLING
Sixteen of the most significant Porsche 911s, including the one millionth unit, danced their way through Edinburgh’s Scottish Highlands.
AAMID a blaze of publicity in May, the one-millionth 911 rolled off the Porsche production line in Zuffenhausen, Germany. And to mark the occasion, Porsche celebrated in the best way it knew. No glitzy gala event with champagne, speeches and Justin Bieber; instead, this most driverfocussed of marques took a bunch of international journalists to the beautiful Scottish Highlands, tossed us the keys not just to that priceless millionth 911 but also to a whole lineup of 15 other 911 models past and present, and let us loose. Many of the older cars at our disposal were literally museum pieces – pristine examples of every 911 generation, liberated from the Porsche Museum in Stuttgart just for our benefit. Starting from the majestic and imposing Edinburgh Castle, our convoy made its way out of town via police escort past disbelieving locals, onto the motorway and then north-west through the Trossachs National Park, past whisky distilleries, mist-shrouded hills, centuries-old castles, mirror-smooth lochs, and on to the stunning, sweeping roads of the Kyle of Lochalsh on Scotland’s west coast.
The next day, we headed back southwards to the challenging Knockhill Circuit for a few banzai laps in the new 997.2 GT3, and for the chance to further indulge in the buffet of 911s on the surrounding country roads. Just putting some miles under the wheels of that millionth 911 was a unique privilege, of course. It may have been a standard Carrera S coupe and not one of the hardcore GT variants, but the factory’s Porsche Exclusive customisation department had worked its magic on it.
Finished in a retro nonmetallic Irish Green paint job (reproducing the hue of the very first official 911 presented to Ferry Porsche in 1964), it was further distinguished by old-school accents like a mahogany steering wheel rim and dashboard inserts, houndstooth seat fabric and chrome window trim. Subtle “1,000,000” anniversary logos were also scattered throughout (B-pillars, dashboard, instrument cluster) to mark this particular car’s landmark status. Not wanting to go down in history as the joker who pranged this priceless, irreplaceable car before it had a chance to take its place in the Porsche Museum, I drove it gingerly and briefly before handing it back with relief. Not that it mattered, because truth be told, it was no different to drive than other any other 991.2 Carrera S. Instead, I was
far more keen to sample some of the rarer, out-ofproduction models that Porsche had lined up for us. And what a lineup. The cars ranged from a 1967 2.0 Targa, through a 1985 preproduction example of the Carrera 3.2 Club Sport, a 1991 964 Turbo, a 1995 993 Targa Tiptronic, a 2000 996 GT3, a 2010 997 Speedster, a 2010 997 GT3 RS, to the 991-generation highlights like the 911 GT3 RS, 911 R, and the very latest, fresh-fromlaunch 991.2 GT3 (in both manual and PDK guises). And after two days spent hopping from 911 to 911 in an extended flat-6 orgy session, a handful of the Porsches stood out, the experience of driving them seared into my eternal memory. In terms of eye-openers, that 1985 3.2 Club Sport was the most surprising. I hadn’t expected much of this 32-year-old 911, particularly one as tame-looking as this, without the flared arches and gaping intakes that we’ve come to expect of the more special 911 variants. But looks deceive, because the Club Sport was in effect the GT3 RS of its era – stripped out with no air-con, sound insulation, central locking, power windows or electric seats
THERE WASN’T TIME TO STOP AT A DISTILLERY FOR A DRAM, BUT INSTEAD I ENJOYED A VERTICAL TASTING OF A DIFFERENT SORT – A SAMPLING OF EVERY 911 GENERATION THROUGH THE YEARS.
(heck, it didn’t even have rear seats), it was the most focussed 911 of its day. Its tweaked, lowered suspension, locking rear differential and higherrevving engine set it apart from the standard Carrera, too. And what a lovely, nimble device it was, darting into bends, resisting roll and gripping far more stoutly than expected. And that engine! Delightfully linear in delivery and brimming with verve, its 231bhp endowed the 1160kg Club Sport with performance that even today is a match for many sports cars. The 996 GT3 from 2000 was another revelation. The 996 surely wins the wooden spoon as the dowdiest-looking of all 911 generations, but to drive, that first-ever GT3 was a joy.
Its raspy, free-revving 3.6-litre Mezger engine delivered 360bhp and a sub-5sec century sprint time, but even more crucially, its steering was just the chattiest, most communicative helm I’ve ever held, endlessly jiggling in my hands as its weight ebbed and flowed in sympathy with the road surface and the steering input. The following generation, the 997, produced another
gem – the 997.2 GT3 RS. With the trusty Mezger flat-6 now grown to 3.8 litres and 444bhp, this was the rawest, most intense model on the drive, the uneven idle from its high-lift cams literally rocking the car at idle. The builtin roll cage and absence of sound insulation just added to the track-car feel of the RS, and to drive it was aptly visceral and all-consuming; a sustained, delicious assault on the senses. And then there was the 911 R, the most-hyped 911 in recent memory, and of all the cars on this road trip in Scotland, the one that I approached with the most scepticism. Astonishingly, my doubts evaporated within seconds of my engaging its short-throw gearshift and moving off; suddenly I understood what the fuss was all about. Designed to marry the supercar-rivalling power and pace of the 991 GT3 RS with a more road-biased, interactive chassis, and equipped with a manual gearbox instead
of the dual-clutch PDK on the laptime-chasing RS, the 911 R proved the greatest of all the 991-generation cars I sampled in Scotland.
It was simply addictive, its chassis gripping ferociously but squatting and moving about just enough to make me, the driver, feel central to the process instead of just an awe-struck passenger. It was an epic ride which Porsche took us on, over some of the world’s most spectacular driving roads, with the equally stunning Scottish Highlands as a backdrop. Unforgettable setting, unforgettable cars.
Unfortunately, there wasn’t time to stop at some of the many distilleries in the region for a dram, but instead I enjoyed a vertical tasting of a different sort – a sampling of every 911 generation through the years. What I learned was that Porsche’s icon has developed and progressed massively over the last halfcentury, with the shattering performance and grip of the latter-day cars a world away from the more modest dynamic levels of the earlier examples. But through it all, the driver-centric ethos of the model has remained unchanged, as much a part of the 911’s DNA and lineage as its unique rear-engine layout, its round, upright headlamps and its unmistakable slant-backed shape.
Porsche’s historically important 959 and 911 GT1 drove the Scottish pipe band to distraction.
The oldest of these GT3s was the most glorious on this epic road trip – the 997.2 RS in the middle.
The author thoroughly enjoyed the 32-year-old Club Sport (top) and the 17-year-old 996 GT3.
Porsche’s special convoy included a silver 993 Targa and a blue 997 Speedster.