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?

Total 911 - - Contents - Writ­ten by Neill Wat­son Pho­tog­ra­phy by Chris Wall­bank

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

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