Reader Jim Hughes lives out Steve Mcqueen Le Mans fan­tasies with a 911 2.7RS Tour­ing

Even from afar, Alfa en­thu­si­ast Jim Hughes showed an un­der­stand­ing of what makes a Car­rera RS spe­cial, so we ar­ranged for him to try one for real

Classic Cars (UK) - - Contents - Words RUSS SMITH Pho­tog­ra­phy XISCO FUSTER

If you mea­sure en­thu­si­asm by how early some­one turns up for an event, then Es­sex-based elec­tri­cian Jim Hughes scores pretty highly for ar­riv­ing a full 45 min­utes ahead of our agreed start time at Bices­ter Her­itage, now es­tab­lished as the epi­cen­tre of the Bri­tish clas­sic car in­dus­try. Then again, the car he’s set to drive to­day has al­ways pro­vided a great source of en­thu­si­asm – from own­ers, jour­nal­ists, and even the var­i­ous pro­fes­sional rac­ers who back in the Seven­ties chose to drive them on their days off. As you’ve doubtlessly al­ready noted, to­day’s treat is a 911 2.7RS Tour­ing, one of just 94 right-hand-drive ex­am­ples orig­i­nally sold in the UK. Even bet­ter, the Bahia Red car that’s been pro­vided for us by Pen­dine His­toric Cars is an un­re­stored 71,000-miler that’s al­ways been cared for by Porsche spe­cial­ist Aut­o­farm and never raced or ral­lied. This is go­ing to be about as close to the pure RS ex­pe­ri­ence as you can get. Jim’s own ride is aus­pi­cious for a good day too – hav­ing an Alfa Romeo Br­era S as a daily driver marks him out as a prop­erly in­ducted car-guy. But why does a com­mit­ted Alfa en­thu­si­ast want to drive a 911? Turns out it goes way back. ‘I have al­ways ad­mired the 911 from a dis­tance, but like many other en­thu­si­asts I’ve had limited op­por­tu­ni­ties to ex­pe­ri­ence one up close. My first real taste of one came as a pas­sen­ger in my un­cle’s old 1989 Car­rera 3.2. I was at the im­pres­sion­able age of 14 and that car was pure theatre with its Fuchs al­loys and gi­ant whale tail.

‘I loved that car, but alas was only able to go out in it a few times be­cause my un­cle quickly sold it af­ter things got a lit­tle tail-happy on the way out of a cor­ner and my aunt called time on the Eight­ies icon. To be fair, she was in the car at the time and also washed my un­cle’s un­der­wear af­ter­wards, so she might have had a point.’

That’s even bet­ter – en­thu­si­asm tem­pered by aware­ness of the 911’s han­dling re­al­i­ties. Now we’ve killed half an hour chat­ting, the guys at Pen­dine have ar­rived and opened up their old mu­ni­tion store show­room so we can meet the car. Jim ap­proaches it with a pal­pa­ble mix­ture of re­spect and awe, cou­pled with a broad smile. ‘The 911 of this era looks so good, still in the car’s purest form with­out too many add-ons, just the duck­tail and ‘Car­rera’ graphic stripe. I’m re­ally look­ing for­ward to this. There’s an aura around clas­sics and for me it’s in all the de­tails; just lit­tle touches like the han­dles and switches and so on that mark them out as spe­cial. I to­tally see my­self hav­ing one even­tu­ally. In the­ory I am cur­rently sav­ing for an Alfa GT Ju­nior, but be­tween get­ting mar­ried and buy­ing a house I’m not get­ting very far with that at the mo­ment.’

Once Pen­dine’s James Mitchell has cleared a cou­ple of E-types out of the way the RS fires on the but­ton and emerges into day­light

‘The 911 of this era looks so good, still in the car’s purest form with­out too many add-ons, just the duck­tail and the ‘Car­rera’ stripe’

‘Han­dling is even more im­pres­sive than the pace. You re­alise the RS isn’t fight­ing you, it’s help­ing you’

with that un­mis­tak­able 911 sound­track echo­ing off the Blast House’s tiled in­ter­nal walls. We don’t have far to go to­day be­cause we’re mak­ing use of Bices­ter Her­itage’s handy lit­tle test track. It will mean that Jim can get plenty of the driv­ing ex­pe­ri­ence with­out wor­ry­ing too much about pit­ting a half-mil­lion-pound car against Ox­ford­shire traf­fic. He’s no stranger to tracks ei­ther, hav­ing a part-share with a cou­ple of friends in a Clio Tro­phy track car.

But to­day is about the 911 RS and Jim’s keen to get be­hind the wheel. ‘It’s very func­tional, in the Ger­man way – it does its job. But I ac­tu­ally find it com­fort­ing to get into a car with so few dis­trac­tions, not much more than a steer­ing wheel and a tiny gear lever. It’s just you and the car. I sup­pose some part of me thinks it could be a bit more spe­cial, but be­ing a bit of an Alfa nut I do some­times get car­ried away with style over sub­stance.’ He ad­justs the seat, buck­les up and grips the wheel. ‘Well, there are those weighty, heavy-duty seat belts too, which are a bit like har­nesses. They add to the car’s sporty as­pect. I feel a bit like Steve Mcqueen sat at the lights; that’s how I’m imag­in­ing my­self. And I still can’t quite be­lieve this is hap­pen­ing. I’ve al­ways like this fea­ture fran­chise in the mag – it’s good to hear a reader’s point of view of a car – sim­pler in some ways.’

Af­ter a quick brief­ing from James we’re off, and Jim is quick to get to grips with the RS. ‘It’s so smooth and easy to drive. James said the gearchange was a bit vague but I’m not find­ing that so, I’m find­ing them all al­most with­out think­ing. The brake pedal travel is a bit long though, which catches you out at first. There’s plenty of stop­ping power there, it’s just fur­ther down in the footwell, harder to find than on most cars. On the other hand, there’s a lot more feel and mod­u­la­tion than you get in a mod­ern car, where the pedal is usu­ally in­stant and a bit of an on and off switch. I pre­fer this.

‘What re­ally im­presses me is the sheer pace. In a car this age you don’t see that com­ing; you could call it “smack in the face fac­tor”. It’s a real sur­prise how quick it is, how much it wants to rev.

‘Then there’s the han­dling, which if any­thing is even more im­pres­sive than the pace. At first it was a bit nerve-wrack­ing hit­ting the lines for cor­ners – it’s lively, it’s twitchy, it fish­tails around a bit, and it’s not mine. Then you re­alise the RS is not

fight­ing you, it’s help­ing you; 911s have al­ways had that rep­u­ta­tion for snap over­steer if you’re not care­ful, but in this one it’s so for­giv­ing its tail ac­tiv­ity isn’t scary, it’s some­thing to play with. Sud­denly it all makes sense and is so ob­vi­ous how you can go into a cor­ner, back off a lit­tle so it turns it­self into the apex then you power through. The trick is strik­ing the right bal­ance in how much you lift or press the throt­tle pedal. That’s ad­dic­tive, and the more you do it the more you feel what the car can do. Then you set about find­ing your own lim­its, so I’m glad we’re alone on a track and not a coun­try lane. Once you get the knack it’s some­thing you want to keep do­ing. If you’re a clas­sic car sales­man, that’s the ideal shot to sell the car for you. I’m hav­ing the best fun ever. I’ll have to tell my wife we’re not buy­ing a house, we’re go­ing to live in a car­a­van and have one of th­ese.’ Jim’s only jok­ing of course. I think...

It’s all been quite a Stuttgart love-in so far, surely there’s some chink in its ar­mour that the Ital­ian car fan has picked up on? ‘Well it is hot in here, de­spite the en­gine be­ing be­hind us. There doesn’t seem to be much in the way of ef­fec­tive ven­ti­la­tion apart from open­ing the win­dows.’ Which is fair com­ment, but we are still in the midst of 2018’s long sum­mer heat­wave, and with the tem­per­a­ture in the high 20s any­thing with­out air­con is strug­gling.

‘The other thing is that – for me at least – the seat’s not quite as sup­port­ive as you need for chuck­ing the car about. It looks good, and has side bol­sters, but is not as snug and grip­ping as a mod­ern sports seat. I am get­ting a bit of back­ache com­ing on. I guess it’s that clas­sic thing, the re­al­ity of the age of the car. Say­ing that, I have to ad­mit the seat in my Br­era is not that much bet­ter.’ A ques­tion I for­got to ask ear­lier, dis­tracted by the talk of his un­cle’s Car­rera 3.2, was whether Jim had been a 911 virgin be­fore to­day. ‘No, but it was just one drive in a far more mod­ern one, a friend’s 996 C4S on coun­try roads. Com­pared to this, that felt a bit big­ger and quite dif­fer­ent in the way it han­dles, but it should with four-wheel drive and mod­ern tech­nol­ogy. I wrote about that ex­pe­ri­ence for an on­line magazine. It felt like a great car but this is the best fun ever. Peo­ple would pay a lot of money for this kind of ex­pe­ri­ence.’

Back on the track, Jim is get­ting ever bolder in ex­plor­ing the RS’S han­dling,

and fi­nally the car hum­bles him, the tail step­ping out on an un­tidy exit from the sec­ond cor­ner, then flick­ing back the other way. There’s barely time for me to raise an eye­brow, but Jim catches it well and is quick to re­as­sure: ‘OK, I’ve found my limit – I’ll leave it there. The back re­ally steps out when it goes. I’m re­ally en­joy­ing this, but very aware the car has far more abil­ity than I do. If I could have it on a track for a full day it would be ex­cep­tional; I could learn a lot more about driv­ing one, it’s prop­erly test­ing my abil­i­ties.’

What im­pressed us both was how for­giv­ing the RS was, even at the limit. Rather than the ter­mi­nal snap we might have ex­pected, the com­bi­na­tion of com­pli­ant sus­pen­sion and rel­a­tively nar­row tyres with a de­cent amount of side­wall pro­duced a re­sponse more akin to a pow­er­ful front-en­gine/rear-drive car. It took us right back to Jim’s ear­lier com­ment about the car not fight­ing but help­ing you. And af­ter that sur­pris­ingly gen­tle re­minder, Jim is even more in tune with the 911, driv­ing more smoothly and get­ting right in the groove. ‘I’m start­ing to fall in love with it more and more; it has a dan­ger­ous amount of ad­dictabil­ity. As well as the per­for­mance as­pect, what has started to dawn on me is that ev­ery­thing still works per­fectly, and that’s not al­ways the same with some­thing like Bri­tish cars, es­pe­cially of this age.’ Not to men­tion Ital­ian ones, though I do, as the owner of an Alfa Spi­der of sim­i­lar vin­tage.

Another thing we are both in agree­ment on is that we now un­der­stand the rea­sons be­hind the vast price tags th­ese RSS have be­come sad­dled with. Th­ese had gen­uine out-of-the-box race- and rally-win­ning abil­ity, and any­one who still thinks they are over­hyped prob­a­bly hasn’t driven one.

To bring our­selves back to earth, cool the car and bag some ‘nor­mal’ driv­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, we tour the Bices­ter Her­itage site for a bit. James is feeling re­flec­tive. ‘This has been fan­tas­tic, and has re­ally left me want­ing one – if not a 911 RS then another clas­sic that I can en­joy. The most mem­o­rable thing about the Porsche, at the risk of re­peat­ing my­self, is the way the tail pushes you round into cor­ners. I had thought that would be some­thing I found dis­con­cert­ing, but it ac­tu­ally turned out to be re­as­sur­ing and con­fi­dence build­ing. In some ways it’s like my Clio track car but in re­verse. It is so com­pli­ant too, and al­ways feels so com­pletely in bal­ance. Per­fec­tion is prob­a­bly the right word for it. I would def­i­nitely give the 2.7RS ten out of ten.

Thanks to James Mitchell at Pen­dine His­toric Cars and Tiggy Atkin­son at Bices­ter Her­itage.

Cabin’s sim­plic­ity and lack of dis­trac­tion put an in­stant smile on Jim’s face

Dash­board dom­i­nated by a rev counter tells you the 911 is se­ri­ous Com­pared to Jim’s beloved Al­fas, this is pure min­i­mal­ism

Jim learns that a 2.7-litre flat six in the tail can be big fun Our reader finds the 911’s cor­ner­ing bal­ance just as sweet as its rep­u­ta­tion sug­gests Russ and Jim check what 210bhp looks like

The RS gave Jim a gen­tle slap on the wrist; now he has even more re­spect for it

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