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…
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