964 RS v 991.2 GT3 Touring
The Touring marks a new chapter for Porsche's GT3, but has this inventive new model beer inspired by a 9H from the company's past?
Lee investigates how Porsche has looked to its past for inspiration on its new flatback GT sleeper
Porsche’s 911 GT3 has been on quite a journey of late. Just five years ago, ‘Mr GT3’ himself, Andreas Preuninger, met with journalists to talk through the company’s latest, seemingly indomitable GT3 in 991.1 guise after its public reveal at the Geneva Motor Show. The venue is a long-time happy hunting ground for Porsche to unveil its hottest GT cars.
On paper at least, the car represented something of a technological tour de force: Porsche’s new 991 was its most clinical take on a track-focused GT3 yet. With an active steering rear axle, electrically assisted steering through the wheel inside plus a compulsory seven-speed PDK gearbox, this was the do-it-all GT3, supposedly providing greatness on both road and track. However, despite this influx of tech and the plethora of inevitable Porsche acronyms describing it, journalists had just one question to ask: “Why no manual gearbox?”
Preuninger’s response, championing the merits of a clinical transmission system in a car built for performance driving, was of course perfectly sensical, yet it drew little inspiration among hacks. Surely Porsche, the company famed for its mantra of ‘it’s not how fast you go, but how you get there,’ wasn’t in the process of killing off the manual gearbox? That reaction from the press at Geneva, plus the ensuing wave of outcry from the buying public, forced
Porsche to reconsider. From there, the GT3’S story – and inevitably, its future – has drastically altered.
It began with the 2015 Cayman GT4, Porsche GT department’s first foray into fettling the company’s mid-engined, baby sports car. It boasted the usual repertoire for a car blessed with Weissach wizardry, including a tuned engine, a healthy weight reduction and, for the first time in four years, a six-speed manual gearbox.
Needless to say, the Cayman proved a popular acquisition. While there’s little doubt enthusiasts were intrigued by a mid-engined GT car built by Preuninger’s team, Total 911 also witnessed staunch Neunelfer customers ditching the ‘uninvolving’ GT3 in favour of the analogue GT4. Estimated worldwide sales of up to 5,000 units later, Porsche had well and truly got the message.
Though the GT4 proved successful, enthusiasts still coveted a lightweight, manual 911, which was cut from the same cloth. This duly arrived in 2016 with the 991 R. Considered by many to be the 911 of the decade, its only problem was the fact it was largely unobtainable, with 918 Spyder owners offered first dibs on a car with a limited production run of just
991 cars globally. The debacle sparked widespread anger among long-time buyers of Porsche GT cars who missed out in favour of the super wealthy, many of whom didn’t share that passion for the brand and who consequently flipped the R for obscene sums of money. However, Porsche was clearly getting warmer in its mission to deliver an analogue experience in a modern, blue-chip 911, but it still needed a launch that would really appeal to the masses. That car came in 2017 with the launch of Porsche’s 991.2 GT3 with Touring Pack which, for the first time since the 997 generation, would come only with a six-speed manual transmission. The Touring’s repertoire is impressive: gone is the fixed wing and PDK gearbox resplendent on that 991.1 car, replaced by a discreet, traditional 911 silhouette and, of course, three pedals in the driver’s footwell.
Sound familiar? It should do, for while the
Touring represents new ground for Porsche’s GT3 lineage, there’s evidence to suggest the company may have looked to its past for inspiration when building it. We are talking, of course, about the 964 RS.
Introduced in 1991, it was the first 911 Rennsport since the iconic 2.7- and 3.0-litre RSS of the mid-1970s (21 examples of SC RS were also built in the ’80s, though these were competition cars not permitted for the public road). While the 964 followed the early traditions set about by those first Porsche Rennsports, stripping weight and adding firecracker performance, it also broke new ground by maintaining a humble appearance disguised, in the main, as a base Carrera 2. The 964 RS,
available in super-rare Touring trim, which kept some luxuries from the Carrrera, or Lightweight, as here – is therefore the grandfather to the ideology of being a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
Resplendent here in Guards red, the 964 sits alongside its identically hued progeny in the 991.2 GT3 Touring, their colour contrasting vibrantly against the snow-covered and tone-saturated landscape around Spa Francorchamps. The Touring has been specced by its owner, Warren Gardiner, to match the 964 forebear it shares a stable with, and so there are matte-black handles and window surrounds, a black kick plate and silver wheels present on both cars. It takes less than a second to decide they look absolutely gorgeous together.
Aside from their more personalised options, there are plenty of traits clearly shared between both 911s from a design point of view. The most obvious is their classic, flowing silhouette, uninterrupted by any fixed aero addenda more familiar to their respective contemporaries.
Instead, both utilise an active rear wing to increase downforce at a given speed, a discreet Gurney flap on the trailing edge of the Touring’s module casting a striking resemblance to the delicate upturn at the base of the 964 RS’S extension. A striking black engine grille is otherwise the focal point of each car’s rump. Inside them both, a manual H-pattern gear shifter protrudes at the head of a transmission tunnel driving between two front Sports seats, the void behind them filled by nothing more than carpet over the rear bulkhead.
There is, of course, some disparity between these driver-focused 911s, the most blatant being size. The wide-bodied GT3 Touring absolutely monsters the tiny, narrow hips of the 964 RS, which looks more like a 911 Junior when parked next to the 991, such are its comparatively diminished proportions.
It is the chiselled form of the GT3’S bodywork which gives it a slightly racier appearance than the entirely innocent-looking 964. However, by contrast it is the air-cooled car which benefits from looking less bloated and more appreciably simple than its younger GT compatriot. Preferences to either will only be found in the eyes of the beholder, but we’re not here to judge merely on aesthetics. To get the full picture, we’d better compare their drive.
Though the kink of Eau Rouge and famous rise of Raidillon lay just over the shoulders of snapper Dan Pullen as he bags some early shots, our test today will take place on the flowing asphalt around Belgium’s famous Fia-approved circuit. The Touring, after all, is built with twisty roads in mind, while the 964’s 260hp is modest enough to exploit away from the track.
Having ambled to our location at the helm of the GT3 Touring, it’s time to acquaint myself with the confines of the 964 RS – which, at first, presents something of a culture shock. Compared to the sizeable 991, the 964 is a relative shoebox inside: the more upright windscreen feels like it’s sitting just past the end of my nose, and I can comfortably reach both doors from the driver’s seat. The door skins are plain and devoid of pockets, of course, with pull straps providing typical Rennsport mise-en-scene.
There’s no rake or reach adjustment on the 964’s steering wheel, so I’ll have to work around its large circumference imposing itself awkwardly in front of my knees, but favour is found with the hard-backed Recaro seat I’ve parked myself into. One of my favourite thrones affixed to the floor of any 911, these leather-covered buckets offer a great hold around the midriff (nomex-clad RS Clubsport seats are another 30mm narrower) and open up at the shoulders to provide a well-judged blend of comfort and support. The pedals, too, are perfectly positioned – left-hand-drive cars don’t possess the awkward offset blighting right-hand-drive examples. Already I just want to drive.
“It’s difficult to think Andreas Preuninger hasn’t been influenced by the 964 RS mantra when creating this Touring”
Twisting the 964’s slender key in the ignition sees the air-cooled M64/03 motor rumble to life, its deep burble on tick-over permeating right through the cabin. Only a customary rattling of the car’s singlemass flywheel – saving 7kg – interrupts the engine noise (the former halting when the clutch pedal is depressed). I select the first of this G50/10 manual gearbox’s five forward ratios, quickly find the bite point and let the car spring forward. We’re off.
There’s a wonderful simplicity about the 964 that has long endeared it to enthusiasts. Everything about the car feels so mechanical: it’s gloriously unfiltered, especially in Rs-trim, giving a ride that’s brilliantly communicative. Its steering system in particular, devoid of power assistance in Lhd-spec, is utterly marvellous, giving oodles of feel through the fourspoke wheel.
In fact, everything about the 964 RS is just built to inspire confidence – it teases you into a spirited drive. Placing the car on the road is effortlessly easy, its sublime steering, slender hips and paltry 1,220kg weight making it feel slight and nimble. A squeeze of the right foot is met with a sharp turn of pace, the 964 RS’S throttle response being legendary, and braking is taken care of by ample Turbo-spec stoppers with ABS. It’s not a car you can just jump in and thrash, though. This air-cooled Rennsport can get twitchy in response to reckless inputs, but a considered approach rewards handsomely with a car which comes alive the harder it is pushed. Surely such a feat can’t be repeated by that herculean 991 hogging the road ahead?
Sitting in its drivers seat an hour or so later, the GT3 appears at first to be a wholly different affair. You’re more cosseted here than in the 964, with bulky ‘A’ pillars, a deep dash and obtrusive centre console surrounding the driver’s electrically adjustable Sports seat. There are no Rs-spec basic door cards, and starting the Touring reveals no clattering of a single mass flywheel (Porsche says the car doesn’t need it, so never offered one). What it does share with the 964 though is a pronounced engine sound in
the cabin. The Touring is noisy, more aggressively so than the 964 RS, a significant removal of sound deadening letting that thrum of the GT3’S 4.0-litre flat six reverberate right through your ear drums.
That enthusiasts hail the Touring as a purists’ car because of the presence of a six-speed manual shifter is very much a sign of the times, for the
GT3 is still wrought with technology. Switchable maps between ‘normal’ and ‘Sport’ modes for the engine and suspension are a case in point; the 991’s steering column remains electrically assisted and active steer is still provided at the rear wheels.
Clearly there are mutations in the DNA, but the GT3 otherwise displays traits that confirm it as a modern interpretation of the 964’s ideology.
That first similarity is the gearshift. Like its aircooled stablemate, the Touring’s shift is wonderfully slick, gliding effortlessly through each gate without fuss. There’s no notchiness or recalcitrance to its movement, yet it doesn’t feel superficial either. The GT3’S steering system is resoundingly positive, too, easily marked out as one of the best of the current range. It doesn’t quite let the nose hunt for every nook and cranny in the road’s surface like the 964, but there’s a welcome level of intel being fed from the floor to my fingertips.
Perhaps the crowning resemblance in the cars’ behaviour, though, lies in their chassis. A little on the firm side around town, dial some speed into the mix and it’s clear both cars like to move around, and the Touring can be weighted up into corners in much the same way as the air-cooled RS – the only difference being the speeds at which this happens, which of course is much greater in the 991. Similarly, both cars display a tendency to feel floaty at high speed, only the Touring’s definition of high speed is again shifted on somewhat compared to the 964, it lacking the additional downforce provided by a fixed rear wing previously attached to a GT 911’s rear.
There are corresponding compromises to both cars too, the chief drawback being loudness. The 964 RS’S acoustics means it isn’t a car for long drives, while the audible smattering of stones constantly flicking up into the GT3’S arches is something you’d only readily accept in a track-focused Rennsport.
I’m also not sure if I’d rather have the 964’s pedal positioning and general lightness incorporated into the GT3 Touring’s set-up, or just the thumping 4.0-litre flat six of the 991 shoehorned into the back of the 964. Providing plenty of torque south of 4k and pulling strongly past 8 grand all the way to its redline at 9,000rpm, it is without doubt the best ever engine fitted to a 911 for the road.
No matter, for these are visceral 911s high on driver engagement, and there’s clear lineage in how they go about achieving this. Parking them back up at the end of a fun day blasting around the Ardennes, it’s difficult to think Andreas Preuninger hasn’t been influenced by the 964 RS mantra when creating this Touring. Separated by 25 years of Porsche engineering, they are blood brothers. It just goes to show, sometimes you need to look back to move forward.
LEFT Alcantara from Clubsport GT3 is replaced with smooth leather in the Touring, though all other options – including Chrono Package – are available. Black cloth seat centres are unique to the Touring, too
RIGHT Interior of 964 is pure Rennsport, with basic door skins, manual window winders, and supportive bucket seats all present
BELOW Touring’s Gurney flap is reminiscient of profile on 964 RS’S active rear wing
ABOVE There’s clear synergy between the GT3 Touring and 964 RS’S approach to a visceral driving experience