F-se­ries T v E v S

They rep­re­sent the fi­nal it­er­a­tion of the cov­eted long-bon­net 911, but what’s the dif­fer­ence be­tween the T, E&S mod­els? To­tal 911 sam­ples the en­tire F-se­ries range to find out…

Total 911 - - Contents -

How do the top, mid­dle and en­try-level F-se­ries cars dif­fer from a driver's per­spec­tive?

In the Novem­ber is­sue of To­tal 911 we com­pared the 991.2 Car­rera, GTS and Turbo S, declar­ing them the “mod­ern-day in­ter­pre­ta­tions of the 911 T, E and S”. Now, we’re rewind­ing the clock 45 years to the clas­sic orig­i­nals. Meet the main­stream F-se­ries range as it was in 1973, the fi­nal year of the ‘long bon­net’ be­fore the im­pact-bumpered G-se­ries ar­rived, a move which changed the 911’s look for­ever.

Why ‘main­stream’? Well, as Porsche en­thu­si­asts, we all have ‘1973’ branded on our col­lec­tive con­scious­ness as the year of the first road-go­ing Rennsport. The Car­rera 2.7 RS is a fully paid-up icon and ar­guably the great­est 911 ever made, yet, then as now, it was ex­clu­sive and ex­pen­sive. So, just as we ex­cluded GT mod­els from our 991.2 triple test, the RS fails to fit the brief here.

The three-tier 911 hi­er­ar­chy was estab­lished in 1968, when the en­try-level T (Tour­ing) and mid-range L (Lux­ury) joined the flag­ship S (Su­per) – the lat­ter in­tro­duced in 1967. At this stage, all had 2.0-litre en­gines and a 2,210mm wheel­base. The car­bu­ret­torfed L gave way to the fuel-in­jected E (Ein­spritzung) in 1969, when wheel­base was length­ened to 2,271mm. A year later, the flat six grew to 2.2-litres, then 2.4-litres in 1972. The 2.4 F-se­ries mod­els were thus in pro­duc­tion for just two years, com­pared with 15 for the G-se­ries.

The three cars gath­ered today – kindly sourced by Paul Stephens in Es­sex – all hail from 1973, and look near iden­ti­cal at first glance. Get closer, though, and it’s ap­par­ent there are de­tail dif­fer­ences, most ob­vi­ously the colour of the engine shroud: black on the 130hp T, green on the 165hp E and red on the 190hp S. How­ever, as those power out­puts sug­gest, by far the big­gest dif­fer­ence is felt on the road.

I start in the mid­dle with the 911E: a model Paul de­scribes as “un­der­val­ued”. This par­tic­u­lar ex­am­ple is re­splen­dent in Light ivory (colour code: 131) on pol­ished 6x15-inch Fuchs. It’s the only UK car here,

“The 911T might be short-changed on pa­per, but it rarely feels that way on the road”

which ex­plains the round door mir­rors – both the T and S are US im­ports and sport rec­tan­gu­lar mir­rors – while the ab­sence of op­tional bumper over-riders or chrome wheel arch trims re­sults in a cleaner look.

The E be­ing a right-hooker helps me ac­cli­ma­tise more quickly, yet there’s still much that feels alien about a 911 of this era. The hand throt­tle, a hinged choke lever nes­tled be­tween the seats, is one no­table quirk, as are floor-hinged ped­als that force you to skew your legs to­wards the cen­tre of the car. Unas­sisted steer­ing and a five-speed 915 gear­box that’s ob­struc­tive when cold are fur­ther fea­tures that would con­found driv­ers of mod­ern ma­chines – not least any­one ac­cus­tomed to wa­ter-cooled 911s.

In a 1972 road test, Amer­i­can mag­a­zine Car and Driver de­scribed the 2.4-litre flat six as hav­ing “the tone and tempo of an en­raged Volk­swa­gen”. It’s cer­tainly noisy, yet glo­ri­ously so: breathy, busy and man­i­festly me­chan­i­cal. With 60mph ar­riv­ing in 7.9 sec­onds, per­for­mance is brisk rather than blis­ter­ing, but the E doesn’t make you work for it. Max­i­mum torque of 206Nm ar­rives at 4,500rpm, so you can stay in fourth gear on flow­ing B-roads, mak­ing swift, re­laxed progress with­out the need to hit high revs.

Al­low me a mo­ment to wax lyri­cal about steer­ing. If you’re used to mod­ern EPAS, driv­ing a clas­sic 911 is like trad­ing your Xbox rac­ing game for a go-kart. The wheel – a gor­geous af­ter­mar­ket Momo item here – feels so di­rect and com­mu­nica­tive; you can al­most ‘think’ the car down the road. You do need to keep your brain en­gaged, though – with no slack (or ‘sneeze fac­tor’, to bor­row the in­dus­try term) built in, even tiny in­puts al­ter the Porsche’s cor­ner­ing stance.

Paul, who used to own a fully re­stored S and now has an E, con­curs: “The best thing about F-se­ries 911s for me is they’re very light and tac­tile on the steer­ing. There’s so much feed­back, and although you have less power than later cars, there’s also less weight. They’re fab­u­lous to drive, but set-up is cru­cial: get­ting that right makes a huge dif­fer­ence.”

It cer­tainly feels like Porsche got it right with the E, but I have two 911s left to drive and – lest we for­get – a ver­dict to reach. Edi­tor Lee dan­gles the keys for the beau­ti­ful 1973 S and I grab them greed­ily. Who wouldn’t? The fact that our next stop is a former air­field, the lo­ca­tion cho­sen for cor­ner­ing pho­tos, only serves to seal the deal. If this nar­row-body Rs-lite can’t shine here, it cer­tainly won’t clinch the top spot.

I set­tle into the leather Re­caro sports seat and im­me­di­ately spot the rev counter. Lo­cated front and cen­tre in tra­di­tional Porsche style, the red paint starts at 7,200rpm, some 400rpm higher than the E. That aside, the S’s in­te­rior is the same: fo­cused and func­tional, yet cer­tainly no case study in er­gonomics. The only other point to note is the chas­sis num­ber, stamped on the near­side wind­screen pil­lar in this left-hand-drive Amer­i­can car.

“The E has con­sid­er­ably more power than the T, and more torque lower down than the S”

Head­ing out on busy A-roads, it’s hard not to feel slightly un­der­whelmed at first. The S has an ex­tra 25hp and is 0.9 sec­onds quicker to 62mph, yet it doesn’t seem any punchier through the gears. The key, of course, is the torque curve, which now peaks at a lofty 5,200rpm, thanks to a spikier cam and higher 8.5:1 com­pres­sion ra­tio. In traf­fic it feels fid­gety and up­tight, a caged an­i­mal burst­ing to break out, so I ig­nore Google Maps and take a de­tour across coun­try.

Now, on me­an­der­ing, sin­gle­track lanes that prob­a­bly haven’t changed since 1973, the S sud­denly makes sense. And how! The low win­ter sun fills my mir­rors as I blast be­tween bends, the snarl of the air-cooled flat six bounc­ing off the hedgerows. With space to fi­nally stretch its legs, the S comes alive, the steer­ing wheel danc­ing in my hands, each gearchange punc­tu­ated by a fre­netic rush to the red­line.

Com­ing back to Paul’s point about set-up, it’s ev­i­dent that the gear­box is much slicker in this re­cently re­con­di­tioned car: an ap­par­ently small point with big ram­i­fi­ca­tions for the driv­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. The 915 is a ’box you have to ‘learn’ at the best of times, but a good one is a thing of de­li­ciously ana­logue joy – and more sat­is­fy­ing than any PDK will ever be.

Cor­ner­ing for the cam­era through a long left­hander, the S feels planted and con­fi­dence in­spir­ing, its stan­dard 15mm front and rear anti-roll bars help­ing keep un­der­steer in check. Push a lit­tle harder and, inevitably, you’ll feel the tail go light, but that near-tele­pathic steer­ing means you can cor­rect way­ward be­hav­iour quickly and – with a bit of ex­pe­ri­ence – in­stinc­tively.

The pale sun is al­ready kiss­ing the hori­zon as I swap into the 911T. Owner Steve has joined us for the road trip, and the prospect of test­ing his im­mac­u­late pride and joy on damp, soon-to-be-freez­ing roads is a daunt­ing one, even if this is the least po­tent car here. Thank­fully, Steve is a life­long Porsche en­thu­si­ast who be­lieves clas­sic cars should be driven. “I’ve had an Out­law-style 356, a 911 SC and a 964 Car­rera 2 mod­i­fied to RS spec,” he ex­plains, “but this is my favourite. It’s such a thrill to drive, and just bril­liant through the lanes.”

I’d take his word for it, but that’d be pretty sloppy jour­nal­ism. And be­sides, I’m keen to see how the bot­tom rung of the F-se­ries lad­der stacks up against its more il­lus­tri­ous sib­lings. Can a car with less than half the power of a 718 Boxster re­ally cut it on today’s roads?

Be­fore we con­tinue, it’s worth point­ing out that this 911T prob­a­bly has a lit­tle more than 130hp. As a late US car, it was orig­i­nally fit­ted with Bosch

“With space to stretch its legs, the S comes alive, each gearchange punc­tu­ated by a fre­netic rush to the red­line”

K-jetronic fuel in­jec­tion (adopted across the whole

911 range from 1978 on­wards) but has since been con­verted to car­bu­ret­tors. How­ever, the We­ber 40s here un­leash a few more horses than the stan­dard Euro-spec Zeniths, as does a Scart stain­less steel ex­haust. “It’s too loud for track days, though,” ad­mits Steve.

The big­ger pipe sounds fan­tas­tic in my ears as I fire up this fi­nal flat six. The rev counter here is red­lined at just 6,500rpm, while the quoted 0-62mph time is 9.0 sec­onds – near a whole sec­ond be­hind the E, and two from the S. No mat­ter: ra­zor-sharp throt­tle re­sponse and a will­ing engine that de­liv­ers peak pulling power at 4,000rpm do much to com­pen­sate. The 911T might be short-changed on pa­per, but it rarely feels that way on the road.

Vic­tory for the un­der­dog, then? It might be nice to think so, es­pe­cially given the huge dif­fer­ences in price. A shabby right-hand-drive T could be yours for £50k (£40k for a LHD car), while the best might cost around £100k. That com­pares with a range of £70k to £130k for an E, or £100k to £200k for an S.

For Paul, the sweet spot is the mid­dle-rank­ing

911E – “And that’s why I own one”, he jokes. “The T clearly looks the part, and is very flex­i­ble low down, but a mild cam and lower rev limit make it feel short of power when you ex­tend it. The S ob­vi­ously has brag­ging rights, plus it finds a real sec­ond wind at the top end. It’s hard to get the most from it, though. That leaves the E, which has con­sid­er­ably more power than the T and more torque lower down than the S. It’s the best op­tion if you in­tend to use your early 911 on typ­i­cal UK roads.”

Paul isn’t wrong, but I’m go­ing to dis­agree with him any­way. There are no losers here, but my win­ner is the 911S. Yes, it’s less suited to reg­u­lar use, but on the right roads (or a con­ve­nient lo­cal air­field) it just feels so sub­limely spe­cial. The engine is the an­tithe­sis of today’s tur­bocharged mo­tors: a free-revving fire­cracker that does its best work be­yond 5,000rpm. And while it costs twice as much as a T, it’s also less than half the price of a 1973 RS.

I’ll leave the fi­nal word to Car and Driver, which once con­cluded its F-se­ries 911 group test by say­ing: “The thing is, if you’re hooked on Porsches (and you ei­ther are or you aren’t, no­body is am­biva­lent) there is nowhere else to turn... there is no sub­sti­tute.”

Amen to that.

above This 911T rides lower than stock, with thicker anti-roll bars pro­vid­ing bet­ter road hold­ing through turns. Gold let­ter­ing on deck­lid is a throw­back to ear­lier mod­els

From TOP Black horn grilles fea­tured on F-se­ries cars; Round wing mir­ror is part of UK spec­i­fi­ca­tion; Green fan shroud is a hall­mark of the 911E

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