My day off in a pair of clas­sic per­fect Nines

DRIV­ING IM­PRES­SION/ Mark Smyth ex­pe­ri­enced the Porsche 911R and its an­ces­tor the 964 Turbo in Ger­many

Business Day - Motor News - - MOTOR NEWS -

Isat 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.

A CER­E­MONY

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.

RIDE COM­FORT

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.

THE STEER­ING IS PER­FECT, THE GRIP IS PHE­NOM­E­NAL AND THE POWER DE­LIV­ERY IS JUST MIND-BLOW­ING

SU­PERB GRIP

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.

Driv­ing through the Ger­man coun­try­side in the Porsche 911R. Left: The legendary icon that is the 964 Turbo and a pos­si­ble fu­ture icon, the 911R.

The 911R was a pre­pro­duc­tion model bear­ing the num­ber 000/991.

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