997 Sport Classic v 991 50th Anniversary
Anniversaries come upon us thick and fast, and car manufacturers commemorate the most significant ones with limited editions. We pay due diligence to a special pair, the 997 Sport Classic and the 911 50th Anniversary 991
Some limited edition 911s are just badge specials, but not these two. The 997 Sport Classic was just that – a classic, while the 50th Anniversary 991 marks a very special birthday
There’s an element of selfindulgence here, because these two special edition coupés happen to be amongst my favourite 911s; slightly quirky, somewhat idiosyncratic, and they are a nice fit for a back-to-back feature. I’m talking about the 997 Sport Classic, inspiration for much dalliance and heart searching (shall I, shan’t I) as to what to do with my own 996, and the 991 50th Anniversary model, celebrating half-a-century of the 911. For a closer appraisal, we’ve come to visit the JFD collection at Kontich, Antwerp where they currently reside.
Patron of the collection is BBB, our Best Belgian Buddy, aka Johan Dirickx, the tailout king. But, given his appetite for classic 911 RSS and penchant for travelling sideways in them around sundry racetracks and rally stages, these two cars are a strange choice. We’ll discover what the attraction is in the course of our conversations, but first up, let’s pin down the specs.
Starting with the slightly older of the two, the 997 Sport Classic deliberately set out to evoke, if not recreate, the company’s illustrious history, rather like the 991R. Johan’s is one of just 250 cars built, introduced at Frankfurt in 2009, on sale from January 2010 and priced at £140K in GB. Most obvious references to an era that’s by no means bygone are the ducktail engine-lid spoiler, the pair of retro racing stripes over the roof and front lid, Zagato-style doublebubble roof, while the front panel is bereft of splitter, but retains minimal lower air scoops sculpted from the valence, plus black grilles. Is it Two-tone? It’s certainly one of The Specials as far as limited editions go. The aerodynamic profile of the sills is different from standard, and there are vents behind the rear wheelarches to disburse hot air from the brakes. Lights are subtly different front and rear, while the stone guards on the leading edges of the rear wheel arches are in matching grey. The fuel cap purports to be classic alloy, and the doors are also in aluminium. The Sport Classic runs on 19in factory-made Fuchs alloys, shod with Pirelli P-zeroes, 235/35 ZR19 on the front and 305/30 ZR19 on the back, and the offset of the front rims manages not to look too shallow. The Carrera S 3.8-litre flat-six develops 23bhp more than standard, giving 403bhp, achieved via mods to the intake manifold, airflow and special exhaust system with split twin tailpipes. It's coupled to a short-shift six-speed manual gearbox rather than an overly modern PDK ’box, enabling top speed of 187mph, while 0–62mph takes 4.6sec. Under the ducktail lives a carbon airintake box that’s described as a Porsche Exclusive Power Kit, and it’s refreshing to see something a bit different inside a modern Porsche engine bay. Anachronisms are all very well, but not at the expense of safety
and efficiency, so the 997 Sport Classic is fitted with decidedly non-classic ceramic composite brakes. It’s also equipped with a limited-slip diff, and suspension consist of PASM with 20mm lower ride-height and wider rear track. The body is 44mm broaderbeamed, and finished in Sport Classic Grey with pale grey stripes that deliberately underplay the racing allusion, so pale in certain lights that you can only just make them out. It may be wilfully retro, but it’s certainly nothing like as ostentatious as the early ’70s RSS it aims to celebrate. The Espresso brown leather and tweed cabin is also agreeably different to standard fare, and the Recaro seats are comfortable and supportive, while the basket weave upholstery is echoed in the door panels, so the impression is of a largely brown interior. It’s also got a proper handbrake lever. The paired grey racing stripes are echoed on the gear lever knob and the rev counter too. Surprisingly, the dinky rear seats are present as well, and the 911 Sport Classic legend is embossed in the head rests, scripted in chrome on the door sills, while on the glovebox it reveals that this car is number 069 of the 250-off limited edition run.
Johan’s fancy was captivated by this entire package: ‘the day the Sport Classic was announced, I thought, “what a beautiful looking car,” the colour combination, the different interior, and the double-bubble, the ducktail, the Fuchs wheels, so it was the whole picture that pleased me. At the time Porsche did a publicity shoot putting the Sport Classic together with a ’73 2.7RS which was kind of amazing because the Sport Classic didn’t have anything to do with an RS. It was contrived, because in the brochure and publicity stuff you have the Sport Classic and the 2.7 RS side-by-side. But I thought it was a fabulous looking car and so I thought I would order one. Then I heard about the price and it was over E200,000 euros, so about E60- or E70,000 euros more than a normal Carrera 2 even, so I let it go, but as time passed the more and more I thought it was a beautiful car. It was one of the Exclusive Department’s first experiments to make a short run series. Then a friend told me about a Sport Classic for sale at the Porsche Centre in Stuttgart with 15,000km, which means it’s a car you can use, and that’s what I wanted to have, and the value was at its lowest level, a huge drop from the new price.’ Having bought the car, Johan had the factory’s Exclusive Department buff out a couple of flaws in the paintwork to get it back to pristine condition, and reproduce a “Genesis” book about the car which the original owner had ordered but had become separated from the car. This factory visit proved even more fruitful when an artwork of the car emerged which had been done when the first owner bought the car.
Johan now owns both examples of the 997
that he aspired to: the Sport Classic and the 4.0 RS. ‘In my opinion, the 4.0 RS and the Sport Classic are the two 997s you want to have, and I’ll keep both because they are beautiful and distinctive. The Sport Classic is the touring car, the car to go to the South of France in, whereas the 4.0-litre RS is the track car, the one you’re going to take to Francorchamps to enjoy yourself and drive back on the road. That’s the way I look at the Sport Classic, it’s more the bourgeois car compared to the racing bias of the 4.0 RS.’
The 991 50th Anniversary is another story. It’s preceded in the pantheon of 911 birthday honours cars by the 25th Anniversary 3.2 Carrera of 1989, the 964 wide-body 30th Anniversary from 1993, and the Turbo-fronted 40-Years 996 Celebration of 2003. It’s also a little bit outside the normal realm of what Johan would go for, not having the RS suffix that embodies the majority of cars in the JFD Collection. The 394bhp 3.8-litre flat-six is carried over unchanged from the Carrera 2, augmented by an optional power-kit. It’s based on the broader Carrera 4S body with wider track and consequent suspension changes, including re-programmed PASM, styling tweaks include Sport Design mirrors, 20in Fuchs-inspired wheels – and they are the brashest aspect of this party girl, which is, otherwise, rather understated; cue darkened headlight bezels and chrome highlights across the engine cover, and that covers the external birthday gift trappings. Whereas the Sport Classic retains the 997’s more rotund front wing contours, those of the 991 Anniversary are suppressed, and that tends to support the Sport Classic’s retro aspiration. The 911 50th Anniversary cabin features special stitching and hounds-tooth check, with “50” logo on the headrests and dashboard, and a limited-edition plaque confirming it is number 1678. Dials are black with green numbers, and I note it’s done just 5536kms. It was registered to Johan on May 19th, 2014, with a scant 8km on the odometer. He was originally considering buying just one special edition 991 for the JFD Collection, and the 911 50th anniversary seemed like a sound idea. ‘Fifty years of 911 was a sensible choice, and when I bought it I also ordered the Genesis book so the car is complete. It’s got the power kit and 7-speed manual gearbox and ceramic brakes.’ With 1963 examples built, representing the first year of 911 production, that was quite a big number compared with 250 Sport Classics, though the 996 Celebration model offered in 2003 was also limited to 1963 cars, in the same way that the 986 Boxster S 550 Spyder 50th Anniversary model from 2003 spawned 1953 examples. Johan believes Anniversary 911s are becoming quite sought after: ‘I think all the cars found customers, and now, people are starting to search for them, especially when they have a power kit and a manual gearbox. At the time when I was going to buy one, everybody said, “you need a PDK,” but I didn’t want a PDK, and that’s why I ordered the manual gearbox, and there are very few cars built with that combination of manual gearbox and power kit, especially in Europe. In the US, every car had a power kit, but then again, they almost all had a PDK, too, but European buyers at least had the option.’ Now, a couple of years on, Johan has also bought a 991R as well. That says much for Porsche marketing acumen, when this
classic RS connoisseur par excellence, who brooks no nonsense in matters 911, can be tempted by modern special editions. He bought the car through Porsche Centre Gelderland. ‘Basically, they ordered the car and I had a factory delivery, and that was pretty easy to arrange in Holland, with no fuss at all, and no delivery charge, whereas in Belgium everything is complicated.’ And now, does he feel the same degree of attachment to the 991 Anniversary car as he does the 997 Sport Classic? ‘The thing is, as I bought it new I have a kind of commitment not to sell it, but actually, if somebody came by and wanted to buy it, I would sell it, because now I have the R, I don’t actually need another special edition 991.’
Johan believes that too many special editions devalue the concept of what they are meant to be celebrating, and make them seem trite. When Ant and I were photographing 928s at the Porsche Museum recently, another special edition – the Millionth 911, no less – was doing duty on the concourse where Porsche marketing exec Conny von Bühler slotted winners of a local newspaper competition into the driving seat – most appeared to be non-drivers, let alone familiar with the controls of a 911. But I digress – here’s possibly the ultimate special edition – the one-off Millionth car. In Irish Green, too. Amazingly, they let them drive it, and people were revving the hell out of the engine. Johan is sceptical. Badged as the 1,000,000th 911, he observes, ‘we will never know whether that was the millionth or the millionth-and-one car; I’m sure they have four or five cars like that lined up, just in case they smack one up. It will be in the region of the millionth 911, that’s for sure, but I’m not convinced that it is exactly the millionth car off the production line. But I like that colour combo and interior with the wood veneer and hound’s tooth seats. It’s a good PR stunt, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they made a small series of Millionth cars – about 20 of them, like they did a green one with a ducktail for the presidents of the Porsche clubs.’ Porsche is very creative with special editions, but he thinks the moment will come when people have had enough of them. ‘You remember that last December they made the Le Mans 991, a red, white and black car with the red stripe in the Le Mans livery of the 919? You might as well buy yourself a white car and put on the decals yourself and get the wheels painted black. But with the Sport Classic you have something a bit special: at least you have new pieces of bodywork like ducktail and double-bubble roof, and that makes it different, but I don’t see the point of having a Le Mans edition, unless you are totally obsessed with Le Mans or you have a taste for Martini! We’ve come a long way since the Martini striped 924 of the ’70s, and I think that Porsche should make a little bit more effort than just putting some decals on a car and saying it’s a limited edition. It’s too easy.’
Perhaps, but on the other hand they have been diligent when it comes to creating standout models. Apart from strands of engine capacity, body types, trim levels and technical specifications, they have gone for the bullseye when making special versions of the 911 – the RSS, the Jubilee cars, the GT2 and GT3, and it’s feasible that without these tantalising short runs and the publicity they generated that Porsche might not yet have reached a million 911s. As Johan says, ‘you do need those limited series, be it for racing or to sell, to make people feel they want to have something special, and all those things put together are very seductive.’ And the upgrades that create special editions do
provide targets for one’s own personal modifications.
We cruise out into the arable countryside south of Antwerp. The Sport Classic has now logged 32,000kms. How does Johan rate its handling? ‘I never actually put this one on a track, so I never drove it sideways, but it’s a good street suspension set-up; I don’t think it’s a great track suspension because it will be way too soft. I see this car a little bit like the evening opera tour: you go to the opera and have something to eat and drive back home. A car for special occasions, and it’s very well suited for that; it’s got the beautiful almost bespoke interior that’s only made for one series.’ It’s a superb driving position, arms bent and close to the wheel, a taut ride, though not bouncing overly on the bumps, and secure handling. From the outset, it’s beautifully responsive on the throttle, accelerating without drama but still going hard, and there’s a different exhaust note as I ease through the gears. Johan believes the exhaust note changes over time: ‘after 10,000km, some things in the exhaust start to burn in, then you have a different sound to what it started off as, and I’m almost sure that you would not get away with the sound restrictions that you have now when the exhaust is open.’
Time to try the 991/911 Anniversary. At idle, the soundtrack is soporific. Does it stand comparison with the GT3? ‘The GT3 is much peakier, though this has a much more usable power band, whereas the GT3 you have to really go into the higher revs. So, it’s like a touring car.’ Some touring car, though it does have decent air-con. At 3500rpm the power kicks in, bringing with it a different exhaust note, and it emits a lovely popping on the over-run in Sport Plus. The chassis is a bit stiffer and the throttle response is a bit faster and dropping down to a lower gear it blips the rpm, faking a heel-and-toe double de-clutch. The 991 is smoother, and you sense the evolution logic of the 911 better in the 991 model than you do in the 997, which is closer to the 996 than it is to the 991. The Sport Classic is more challenging because it’s livelier than the Anniversary. The 991 suspension manifests itself at different levels depending on the road surface, and is very efficient. There’s not a lot to choose between the two cars, engine-wise; it’s more to do with the feel of the brakes and the chassis, and it’s clear that the Sport Classic is the sportier model – still more Grand Touring than track car, though.
We chase up and down the country lane for the cameraman’s benefit, and I conclude that the Sport Classic is the one with the sexier personality. Johan concurs, up to a point: ‘so it should be, the wilder exterior, yes, the interior, probably; but driving, I would say the 991 Anniversary is a bit more efficient, more planted. Brake horsepower wise the Sport Classic scores with 403bhp over the 50s 394bhp, while the Sport Classic is slightly lower-geared than the 991 too. So, the car that evokes the classic 911 is the more raucous party animal than the one that’s actually celebrating its anniversary. For me, lost as I am in the imagery of RS ducktails and Zagato doublebubble roofs, the choice is clear: I’d have the Sport Classic. But maybe in the real-life drivability stakes, the 991 has the more valid claim to celebrate the 911’s birthday. Still, any excuse for a party: so, many happy returns to the specials. PW
Ducktail a classic nod to the past and a styling tweak that works in the present. The Editor would like it said – because he’s writing the captions for this feature – that the 911 Sport Classic is one of the best handling modern 911s he’s ever driven
The 911 Sport Classic saw the return of the Fuchs wheel
Super subtle does it. Sport Classic is finished in Sport Classic Grey, with pale grey stripes. So pale you can barely make them out! Bodyshell is from Carrera 4S but Sport Classic is rear drive only
It’s very brown inside, and perhaps what you can’t entirely tell from the picture is that it’s almost entirely leather clad. Even the coat hangers on the rear of the seats are covered in the stuff. Power kit equipped engine puts out 403bhp
Size of the 991 over the 997 is apparent in this rear view. We know which we prefer. Below: 50th Anniversary 911 got Fuchs style wheels rather than real thing