IC ON: P OR S C HE 92 4 CAR­RERA GT

Built to qual­ify the baby Porsche for sportscar rac­ing, in­clud­ing Le Mans in the early 1980s, the Car­rera GT is the ul­ti­mate 924

Evo - - CONTENTS FEATURES - Porsche’s ho­molo­ga­tion spe­cial en­joyed suc­cess at Le Mans, but how did this trans­late to the road?

A2-LITRE, FOUR- CYLIN­DER Porsche in the show­room; a 2-litre, four-cylin­der Porsche rac­ing in the Le Mans 24 Hours. How very 2017. Or not. This lit­tle red coupe doesn’t look con­tem­po­rary in the slight­est: it’s as redo­lent of late-’70s Ger­many as a free-flow­ing au­to­bahn or the crisp ana­logue bleeps and squelches of a Kraftwerk al­bum. It ac­tu­ally smells of pe­riod West Ger­man in­dus­trial thor­ough­ness, an aroma that prob­a­bly boasts a ter­ri­fy­ingly long com­pound noun all of its own.

Porsche loved to link the cur­rent flat-four 718 Boxster/cay­man and the soon-to-be-de­funct V4-pow­ered 919 LMP1 pro­gramme, but back in the early ’80s it had a much more tra­di­tional ho­molo­ga­tion car, one that did in­deed win at Le Mans, al­beit in this case a class vic­tory.

Its ba­sis was the 924 Turbo, a 168bhp high­per­for­mance ver­sion of the lit­tle 924, it­self the bot­tom rung of Porsche’s road car range. Orig­i­nally a sports car project en­gi­neered for Volk­swa­gen and des­ig­nated EA425, it was canned by VW in the mid-’70s when it had a change of se­nior man­age­ment, which left Porsche with a par­tic­u­larly acute headache. Even­tu­ally it bought the en­tire pro­gramme for a mil­lion Deutschmarks, in­clud­ing the use of the 2-litre Audi engine (of­ten rather cru­elly dubbed ‘a VW van engine’) and an agree­ment to build the car in Audi’s Neckar­sulm fac­tory. The res­o­lutely log­i­cal, front-en­gined, wa­ter-cooled, 123bhp 924 and its big brother, the V8-pow­ered 928, were the ma­chines that then-porsche-boss Ernst Fuhrmann in­tended to use to bury that smelly, noisy, rather weird car, the 911, once and for all – by 1980, in fact. Of course, it didn’t quite work out like that.

In 1979, four years into 924 pro­duc­tion, vis­i­tors to the Frank­furt mo­tor show were con­fronted with a rather spe­cial, pearl-white 924 on the Porsche stand, the new car adorned with the rev­ered Car­rera badge. In this era, ‘Car­rera’ was still re­served strictly for high­per­for­mance de­riv­a­tives, not ap­plied as a ‘given’ to even the most ba­sic 911, as it was from 1983 on­wards.

This con­cept car gave a very clear in­di­ca­tion of the forth­com­ing Car­rera GT pro­duc­tion car, save for a cu­ri­ous bon­net in­take that looked like an anteater’s snout, re­placed by a box­ier one for pro­duc­tion. The gar­ish tomato-red in­te­rior didn’t make it ei­ther – thank­fully – but the idea of a real driver’s 924, for use in am­a­teur mo­tor­sport as well as fast road driv­ing, was widely wel­comed. As it is to­day with the Cay­man GT4 Club­sport.

This was Porsche going back to its roots and its early days with flat-fours. What’s more, there

‘A real driver’s 924, for use in mo­tor­sport as well as fast road driv­ing… This was Porsche going back to its roots’

was a sur­prise an­nounce­ment: the fac­tory mo­tor­sport team would run the car at Le Mans. Af­ter a decade of suc­cess in the world’s great­est 24-hour race, this would be no out­right bid for glory, but there would be three of the 2-litre coupes on the en­try list. Porsche’s head of R&D, Hel­muth Bott, was re­ported to have re­marked: ‘If I wanted to make a Black For­est Gateau, I wouldn’t start with a bucket of sand and a bucket of wa­ter.’ Clearly not ev­ery­one had read the com­pany’s pre-show in­ter­nal PR memo…

Four hun­dred ex­am­ples of the wide-arched Car­rera GT would need to be made to qual­ify the car for com­pe­ti­tion. Power was raised to 207bhp with the aid of an in­ter­cooler mounted on top of the engine (and fed by that scoop), a higher com­pres­sion ra­tio and – for the first time on a pro­duc­tion Porsche – dig­i­tal ig­ni­tion. Glass­fi­bre was used for the arch ex­ten­sions and sills, and the car was low­ered 10mm at the front and 15mm at the rear com­pared with the stan­dard Turbo, al­though that car’s ‘lux­ury’ in­te­rior was car­ried over. They came in ei­ther sil­ver, black or red, with just 75 made in right­hand drive for the UK, all pre-sold.

There were also 59 Car­rera GTS road cars, all left-hand drive and red, fea­tur­ing fixed head­lamps un­der Per­spex cov­ers (in­stead of the GT’S evoca­tive ‘pop up’ lamps) and run­ning more boost (1bar in­stead of 0.75) to make 242bhp with 247lb ft of torque (up from the GT’S 207lb ft). Weight was re­duced in the GTS by 59kg, drop­ping the over­all kerb weight from an al­ready fairly lithe 1180kg to 1121kg. Of those 59 cars, 15 were fin­ished to Club­sport spec­i­fi­ca­tion, which meant they were lighter still (1060kg), had a roll-cage fit­ted and ran even more boost for 266bhp. Finally, there were the 19 race ver­sions, known as the GTRS, weigh­ing around 930kg, and with the lit­tle four­pot tuned to 320bhp. You’ll never mis­take the 180mph-plus GTR: its be­spoke wide pan­el­work en­tirely be­lies the size and hum­ble na­ture of the engine be­neath: it’s a mon­ster.

So the 924 Car­rera GT is very much the real

deal in the grand his­tory of the ho­molo­ga­tion spe­cial, and parked in front of me to­day it ex­udes a con­fi­dence typ­i­cally born from those cre­den­tials. The red Fuchs al­loy wheels, those over­sized, bold graph­ics, the swollen but purely func­tional arches… I am fairly hop­ping from one foot to the other with ex­cite­ment.

In­side it’s very, very dark. There are two chunky sports seats, cov­ered in a pin-striped velour that has a par­tic­u­larly ripe, 36-year-old smell. Squidgy un­der the pos­te­rior, they’re ac­tu­ally very sup­port­ive. The switchgear is res­o­lutely, al­most fa­nat­i­cally sim­ple in the best Teu­tonic style. And while the gaps be­tween the sec­tions of in­te­rior trim are cav­ernous in places, and the whole car chirps away like a cage full of bud­gies at speed, the plas­tic used has a so­lid­ity that needs to be touched to be un­der­stood. It feels as though noth­ing could wear this car out.

The first chal­lenge is find­ing a com­fort­able driv­ing po­si­tion. As any­one who’s driven a 924 or an orig­i­nal 944 can at­test, the steer­ing col­umn ex­its the dash on a cu­ri­ously low tra­jec­tory. Cou­pled with a driver’s seat that would ideally ad­just lower, the re­sult is a steer­ing wheel de­posited right in my lap. So­lu­tion num­ber one in­volves slid­ing the seat a long way aft, al­low­ing my feet to find the ped­als at a rea­son­able an­gle, but with the draw­back that my arms are al­most straight to reach the wheel. Op­tion two is to move nearer but have both legs con­torted around the wheel in a re­ally awk­ward fash­ion. Given my knees aren’t dou­ble-jointed, any heel-and-toe ac­tion will be phys­i­cally im­pos­si­ble. It’s a shame, and some­thing that Porsche only sorted with the ad­vent of the Se­ries 2 944 in 1985.

Still, it’s a Car­rera GT, and I’m not al­lowed to let a bit of knee and shoul­der ache spoil the mo­ment. The sec­ond sig­nif­i­cant rev­e­la­tion about the CGT is the dis­arm­ingly un­couth na­ture of the engine. It chunters into life and then idles with all the so­phis­ti­ca­tion of a ma­chine found in a civil en­gi­neer­ing plant yard. It’s not just an au­ral thing, al­though it would be ex­ceed­ingly char­i­ta­ble to call it anything more than grav­elly and work­man­like; it’s also the way it sends tre­mors through the bodyshell. ‘Rough’ would be harsh, but prob­a­bly fair.

Fur­ther con­fir­ma­tion of the car’s nonon­sense ho­molo­ga­tion ethos is pro­vided by the dog-leg gear­box, which re­quires quite some force to work around the ra­tios. I also make a men­tal note to re­mem­ber the pat­tern of the gate, par­tic­u­larly when mov­ing off from rest.

Let the clutch out in a sym­pa­thetic fash­ion and de­press the ac­cel­er­a­tor at low revs and the car feels as though the hand­brake has been left on. So you squeeze the throt­tle with more de­ter­mi­na­tion, and still there’s noth­ing: this is turbo lag of a mag­ni­tude com­pletely alien to a younger gen­er­a­tion.

Finally, as the nee­dle sweeps past 3000rpm, then 4000rpm, a whistling sound her­alds the ar­rival of boost and the whole car seems to lighten, as if un­chained from a great weight that it’s been drag­ging along be­hind it, goug­ing a fur­row in the as­phalt. To be per­fectly hon­est, it’s not a mas­sive kick in the back, but sud­denly the Car­rera GT feels fast and keen. While the 2-litre eight-valve mo­tor pre­dictably gets very coarse once past 5500rpm, it is un­de­ni­ably en­thu­si­as­tic to get to work.

Armed with the knowledge that it might be bet­ter walk­ing than driv­ing the CGT in a half-hearted fash­ion, I try to sum­mon as much com­mit­ment and for­ward an­tic­i­pa­tion as I pos­si­bly can to keep the engine spin­ning

‘Finally, as the nee­dle sweeps past 3000rpm, then 4000rpm, a whistling sound her­alds the ar­rival of boost and the whole car seems to lighten’

above 4000rpm at all times. The lit­tle Porsche seems to love it: it’s a beau­ti­ful, highly orig­i­nal example, owned by a knowl­edge­able Porsche col­lec­tor, and af­ter some re­cent restora­tive work feels as though it needs a few miles to shake off the stor­age blues. I swear that by the end of the day it’s a much hap­pier car.

The Car­rera GT on song feels fast – cer­tainly prop­erly fast by the stan­dards of 1981, where it must have surged past col­umns of slow­er­mov­ing traf­fic in punc­tu­ated gusts of boost. It’s also clearly a car that wants to be en­joyed in the cor­ners as much as on the straights, partly through the in­nate balance of the transaxle lay­out. In essence, driv­ing this Porsche rapidly down a twist­ing road is like painstak­ingly piec­ing to­gether a three-di­men­sional puz­zle. It’s not enough just to think about cor­ner­ing lines, brak­ing points and such­like; revs, gear choice and mak­ing a clean shift are all ab­so­lutely crit­i­cal if it’s to come to­gether, oth­er­wise the car bogs down, progress is squan­dered, and you’re left feel­ing ham-fisted.

Trou­ble is, with­out be­ing able to work the ped­als prop­erly, I just can’t seem to get a proper grip on ma­nip­u­lat­ing the CGT to be in the right state at ex­actly the right time. The unas­sisted steer­ing is very heavy at low speeds, and, while it does lighten once we’re prop­erly on the move, it weights up strongly once a sig­nif­i­cant turn is made, pos­si­bly ex­ac­er­bated by in­cor­rect ge­om­e­try, which re­mains on the owner’s todo list. The odds look long on be­ing able to

catch any slide should the tail lose trac­tion. Un­sur­pris­ingly, it’s softly sprung, but the ini­tial body roll is kept largely in check. In short, the po­ten­tial is abun­dantly clear – I just don’t feel I’ve been able to make the most of it. Driv­ing a well-set-up Car­rera GTS a few years ago – with pe­riod bucket seats for a lower driv­ing po­si­tion – proved just how en­joy­able these cars can be.

There was no way Porsche could build the nec­es­sary num­ber of cars to qual­ify the 924 Car­rera GTR for ho­molo­ga­tion ap­proval in time for Le Mans in 1980, so the cars ran as GTP mod­els. Three were en­tered by the fac­tory: a ‘Ger­man’ car, a ‘USA’ car, and a ‘Bri­tish’ car, the lat­ter driven by tour­ing car leg­end Andy Rouse and jour­nal­ist and racer Tony Dron, a for­mi­da­ble pair­ing.

All three cars gained places in the race, but the Bri­tish car com­pleted the fi­nal six hours on just three cylin­ders to fin­ish 13th. The Amer­i­can 924 was 12th, while the Ger­man car, run­ning a richer fuel mix­ture and un­trou­bled, fin­ished sixth. Dron and Rouse had been wary of engine prob­lems af­ter los­ing an engine in test­ing and con­sid­ered eas­ing off on the straights, only to be re­as­sured by the team that the is­sue had been solved. If they’d fol­lowed their in­tu­ition, Dron be­lieves a fourth-place fin­ish was on the cards, which would have been an in­cred­i­ble re­sult given the 200mph-plus com­pe­ti­tion.

In many ways the 924 Car­rera GT re­mains an enigma. Launched at the peak of what would even­tu­ally turn into a prod­uct cul-de­sac for the com­pany, it achieved largely what it was de­signed to do in mo­tor­sport be­fore quickly be­ing su­per­seded by the new Group C reg­u­la­tions for the 1980s. It also be­queathed a de­sign that was re­fined into the hugely suc­cess­ful 944, but for years it was viewed as an od­dity in the com­pany’s his­tory and val­ued ac­cord­ingly. Pre­dictably, in these boom years of clas­sic car val­ues, that’s no longer the case, and while it’s an ac­quired taste in driv­ing terms, it’s as au­then­tic a Porsche mo­tor­sport prod­uct as anything air-cooled and rear-en­gined. It’s a gen­uine, if less well known, icon.

PHO­TOG­RA­PHY by AS­TON PAR­ROT T

Left: cabin re­tained the plush, pin-striped velour seats of the reg­u­lar 924 Turbo from which the CGT was de­rived. Above: transaxle lay­out ben­e­fits the cor­ner­ing balance

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