964 Turbo 3.3
It's more than than two decades since Total 911’s Neill Watson drove a 964 Turbo 3.3, so is the reality as good as the memory?
The 964 Turbo was the ultimate Porsche of the early 1990s, but what’s it like to drive today?
Winter time in Yorkshire, a cold day with a piercing blue, cloudless sky and a biting wind. The low sun makes the shadows under the overhanging trees deep black and impenetrable. Driving into the glare makes those shadows deeper than ever. The scary sudden blackness, combined with the inevitable damp patches, can sap a driver’s confidence as vision is lost for a few fractions of a second, eyes struggling to adjust regardless of the position of the sun visor or shades. Perhaps not the best of days to be re-acquainted with the Porsche 964 Turbo.
We don’t see too many Porsche 964s on the roads these days. Sadly, the escalating prices mean many have been retired to a life of suspended animation beneath a fitted cover, battery saver blinking away like a life support machine. 964 Turbos are even less common, with just over 3,600 of the 3.3-litre cars built worldwide. So the opportunity to be re-acquainted with a car I last drove when it was cutting-edge performance is something I won’t turn down, even if we won’t be getting much heat into the tyres.
The last time I was behind the wheel of a 964 Turbo was actually back in the day when it was for sale brand new in the UK. I had a reasonable amount of experience in cars, but not so much in Porsches at that time. That car was Rubystone in colour: incredibly sought after today, but back then, not so much. That’s a whole different story for another time, but I can still vividly recall my quickening pulse as I walked over to it, doing my hardest to look nonchalant. I had the usual battle with the demisting system, for those familiar with it, before driving away to find a quiet piece of road. The memories of transition from off-boost lethargy to full-blown whistling velocity are even more vivid than that paint scheme. Now, more than two decades later, will the performance still be as striking, or is it a memory I’m about to have tainted by the passage of time?
This car is considerably more muted in hue, Marine Blue looking truly conservative, but the deep shine has stood the test of time. This colour was probably a lot closer to the option that most Porsche owners will have selected in 1991. Ordered new in right-hand drive by a UK Army officer serving in Germany, and delivered to his local Porsche Zentrum, it has some useful options, such as a factory sunroof and limited slip differential, something you would have expected to be standard. The 964 Turbo body looks just as curvaceous as ever – in my view it’s the pinnacle of the classic 911 silhouette, before the Darwinian advancement of the more aerodynamic designs, beginning with the 993, that changed the unique profile forever. The rear wheel arches have a curvaceous quality that you never tire of admiring from any angle. A rather curious original factory option choice of no Turbo badging really doesn’t hide what this car is.
Time to be reacquainted. Back in 1993, the 964 Turbo was one of the first Porsches I ever drove, so the impact on my senses was especially vivid. Many thousands of 911 miles later, I’m wondering
whether this car will still cut it, or whether my rosetinted glasses will be needing a polish.
I always enjoy starting an air-cooled 911 with the door open, I feel there’s no point in wasting that gruff engine note. This one doesn’t disappoint, the usual slight hunt up and down before settling into its early generation ECU warm-up mapping, fast idle booming back off the wall beside me. Door closed with that industrial-strength build quality, the feel of the 964 gearshift is as tactile as ever as I select first and rumble out through the Yorkshire town of Malton. As the roads open out, I’m surprised at just how quiet the engine note is. Masked by the turbocharger and intercooler, I don’t recall these cars being quite so muted and civilised.
Out on to the open North Yorkshire Moors, and a squeeze of the throttle reminds me of something I had forgotten. 2,000rpm in third, there’s not a whole lot happening. 2,500, still not much going on, and I’m beginning to wish I’d gone for second gear now. The needle passes 3,000rpm and finally some significant progress, which quickly turns into that push in the small of your back that characterises early generation, single-turbine Porsches. Now we’re moving.
I’m forgetting, of course, that this 3.3-litre engine is almost a direct transplant from the previous 930 Turbo. Having owned a four-speed 930 Turbo, that power delivery is nothing new to me. However, sitting in the mildly updated 964, I’d momentarily forgotten that the 964 Turbo engine isn’t based on the then-new M64 3.6 litre. That came later, as Porsche initially responded to customers who lamented the end of the original 930 Turbo and were asking for a new version as soon as possible.
As the tail squats, the previously muted engine note changes to something more in keeping with my mental 964 Turbo database. That combination of distant whistle, exhaust bark and induction noise all confirms I cannot be sitting anywhere other than in a 911 Turbo. The mid-week traffic is light, and we make good progress to our photo location. The open corners encourage full use of the road width to exit the bends with the minimum of steering angle, keeping the car flat and winding up the boost. Pushing the rear tyres harder into the cold winter road surface, the dashed white centre line moves from side to side beneath our feet as we take the optimum line. There’s better rhythm to the drive now, as the open bends make it easier to stay on boost, and the car falls into its natural stride. I’m enjoying this much more now, suddenly remembering to slow as we reach our shoot location.
Waiting for photographer Chris to arrive, I reflect on how today’s drive compares to my previous memories of that Rubystone car, plus how, with hindsight, this car fits into the 911 Turbo bloodline. We are more than two decades on and my own driving experiences have moved on, as has technology. Am I disappointed? In truth, I was a little underwhelmed initially. My memories of that ballistic drive in the car back in 1993 was one of life’s great driving experiences. My recollection was of being fired off the deck of an aircraft carrier, pulling three-figure speeds and thinking, “I really don’t know how I will explain this away if it goes wrong.” It was exhilarating, thrilling and also more than a little naughty in truth.
Today, I’m older, wiser and have driven far more cars, including a whole generation of newer twinturbo Porsches such as the 996 GT2 and latest 991. So there is, inevitably, a slight tinge of a memory that has now altered slightly. I’m coming to the
“That combination of distant whistle, exhaust bark and induction noise all confirms I cannot be sitting anywhere other than in a 911 Turbo”
964 Turbo from a different place today, the car now a classic and highly collectable. In that context, the car is a very desirable 911 in my view. As a collectable car, it will be driven less often, so any owner would wish for a sense of occasion and anticipation when opening the garage door, disconnecting the battery saver and throwing the dustsheet into the corner.
This car will indeed give you that.
My newer impressions of it fit perfectly into the Darwinian evolution that the Porsche 911 is so famous for. A better chassis than the 930, no torsion bars to consider and powered steering that takes out some of the old kickback make low-speed corners easier, but without removing that unique feel we all love so much. My 930 memories are mostly of a fourspeed car that could be immensely rewarding – but frustrating in equal measure. Slow corners would need first gear far more than you might think, and there was always, always turbo lag.
Engineering that engine into the 964 chassis moves the game along to the next stage for sure. Some of the frustrations are long gone, the car without a doubt easier to drive with the improved chassis and steering. Remaining behind is much of that period dashboard layout, with the more upright windscreen giving a lovely view of the front wings, though inevitably creating a little more wind noise on the A pillars. More importantly, they give the 964 the classic silhouette that soon evolved away.
Best of all, the challenge is still there. The challenge of ensuring the boost is building at just the right moment on the corner exit, taking the angle out of the steering to keep the car flat, driving more on boost than on RPM, making the tail squat down without creating understeer at the front, ever aware that if you do get it wrong, the punishment can at times be spectacularly significant. With the replacement 993 Turbo being all-wheel drive, this was expected to be the final incarnation of a rear-wheel drive Turbo – before Porsche realised the sales appeal of something intimidating and built us the GT2 series to intensify the Espresso experience.
I remain a 911 Turbo fan. As much as I love the high-rpm howl of the GT3 that stirs the hairs on my neck as much as anyone, for on-road driving there is something really quite addictive about that mid-range punch in the lower back that a turbocharged 911 gives. Slower traffic becomes simply a minor irritation, overtaking dispatched with an efficiency that, to others, could appear to be slightly ridiculous, and is indeed a factor to bear in mind when seen by the wider public in these cars in this era of the dashcam.
In its day, the 964 Turbo indeed epitomised what Porsche were trying to achieve with the forcedinduction Porsches. Cars that were thrilling to drive when needed and devastatingly effective on the road, while still being docile enough to drive every single day. Even today, two decades on, you would be perfectly comfortable throwing some bags into this car and driving across Europe to the sunshine of Paul Ricard or Monza all in one hit.
I’m far from disappointed to be meeting the 964 Turbo again after all this time. If anything, it tells me more about myself. It reminds me how, as many of us would quietly admit, we had the optimism of youth and a large degree of smoke and mirrors about our driving talents when young that is impossible to get away with in today’s continually filmed and photographed roads. The 964 Turbo hasn’t got any slower over the decades, it’s just that I have changed, as you probably have. Very soon, these cars will be gone forever from new car price lists. I can imagine something clinical like Marine Blue appearing on a Porsche Mission E price list, but somehow not Rubystone.
ABOVE Interior of the Turbo is updated in line with 964 range, including four-spoke steering wheel and presence of small centre console between front seats
ABOVE Wide-bodied 964 makes for great road holding through corners, even if its comparatively hefty weight pegs back its performance capabilities