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