PORSCHE 959 v CARRERA GT v 918 SPYDER
THREE OF THE GREATEST PORSCHES PROVE THERE'S THREE DIFFERENT WAYS TO GET TO SUPERCAR HEAVEN
Three unique 300km/h-plus supercars from very different eras
THE PORSCHE 918 Spyder is a masterpiece of engineering. It's like one of those high-end chronographs that are complicated for complication's sake, watches you can gaze at for hours and wonder just how they squeezed so much ingenuity and technology into such a small case?
Your first reaction on seeing a 918 is fascination; it's just more intriguing than mere supercars. Why? Because the 918 appears to resolve one of the fundamental equations of quantum mechanics: Combining very high performance with electricity, something Porsche demonstrates far more effectively than Ferrari due to the 918's fully electric mode.
On battery power alone, the 918 is powerful enough to silently humble a hot hatch at the drag strip and can travel around 30km without using a single drop of premium. But at any moment, of course, you have the option of waking up its 453kW 4.6-litre V8 and launching into screaming hyper speed mode. The 918 first leaves you lost for words with its electric mode and then speechless with its thermal one.
We're not here to relay hybrid propaganda, but the performance duality of the 918 is genuinely exciting in the real world. The contrast is, well, fascinating. Compared to the Carrera GT, the most noticeable difference is torque. And it's a big difference. The Spyder's 1280Nm is available instantly and any time you want it, whereas the GT's comparatively modest 590Nm is infinitely more elastic and progressive.
As for the obvious question of how the 918 compares to LaFerrari, it is simply very different. The Italian hybrid hypercar gives the impression of more power – and with a combined 708kW it has 56kW more than the 918 – but its delivery is not as instantaneous as the Porsche's. So it's a draw.
The other Weissach miracle is the 918's handling and chassis balance, both achieved despite the extra weight of batteries and two electric motors. Yes, the Carrera GT's lighter front end makes it more lively, but the 918 remains very neutral in feel. And the front-end grip of the 918 is on another planet due to all-wheel drive, which is not so much a luxury but a necessity with so much power to put down.
Comparing the acceleration of the 959, Carrera GT and 918 Spyder is a bit like testing an F16 fighter against a NASA Saturn V rocket and Han Solo's Millennium Falcon: They're all very fast but the measurement of ‘fast' is very different for each.
With a 0-100km/h time of 2.6 seconds and 18sec dead for the standing kilometre sprint, the 918 almost opens up a brand new segment on the acceleration scale.
Just to put this into perspective, it wasn't that long ago that anything approaching 20sec over 1000 metres was seen as
COMPARING THE 959, CARRERA GT AND 918 SPYDER IS LIKE TESTING AN F16 FIGHTER AGAINST A SATURN V ROCKET AND HAN SOLO'S MILLENNIUM FALCON
very special indeed. At these speeds gaining a second here and there is very hard work for engineers. It's the same for the 918's incredible braking power. It needs just 125 metres to stop dead from 200km/h, nine metres fewer than the Carrera GT and 13 fewer than a McLaren 650S.
But the 918 backs up these figures with an amazing ease of accessibility and functionality. Arguably it is the ultimate combination of the technological shop window first seen in the 959 and the sporting masterclass of the Carrera GT. It is a true hypercar masterpiece.
Sampling the Carrera GT's V10 after the 918's V8 is like having an extra helping of dessert. When it's this good you never say no, but I admit to being a little anxious before stuffing myself with Carrera profiteroles. What if this once-ultimate Porsche now feels a bit, er, long in the tooth?
It only takes a quarter turn of the key for at least half of this concern to vanish. What a start-up, what mechanical music! If the soundtrack of the 918 Spyder is a tad industrial, the Carrera GT rings out clearly like the finest crystal glass.
The only thing that hasn't aged well is the GT's clutch operation. It's always had a reputation for being ‘tricky' to master, and this is at a time when a lot of people have probably forgotten that driving once involved using your left foot.
Porsche opted for a very small diameter, twin-plate, ceramic composite clutch that allowed a much lower centre of gravity for the engine, but the trade-off was it made manoeuvring the Carrera GT awkward. It's not made for going slowly.
The way to get around this is basically to avoid touching the throttle at all at low speeds until the clutch is fully released and allow the anti-stall software to handle the rest. Once you're past this foible, however, you can revel in the way the GT combines racecar characteristics with road-car usability.
The transmission is a true joy and throttle-blipping, heel-toe downchanges are made even more pleasurable by a gear lever that falls perfectly to hand, and is crowned by a large wooden ball that emphasises the directness and speed of the change. It's amazing that this shifter positioning hasn't been copied by another manufacturer in these days of the ubiquitous paddle-shift change and it sets the GT apart.
The free-revving Porsche V10 is reminiscent of a V12 from
SAMPLING THE CARRERA GT’S V10 AFTER THE 918’S V8 IS LIKE HAVING AN EXTRA HELPING OF DESSERT
Maranello in pre-Berlinetta days. The sheer speed with which those revs rise and fall, combined with the power available and the smoothness of its delivery, is hard to describe, but imagine a pure-breed racehorse crossed with a pit bull terrier and you might have some idea of the violence and flexibility.
Essentially, this 5.7-litre V10 hasn’t aged a day, even when compared to the V10 in a Lamborghini Huracan or McLaren’s twin-turbo V8. If anything it’s even better because with the recent obsession with flat torque curves, we’ve begun to forget the pleasure of feeling revs and power rise to their limits in a progressive, natural way. The GT’s V10 takes you straight to a virtual Mulsanne Straight (it’s based on an engine developed for Le Mans, after all) in less time than it takes to write it.
Handling-wise, the Carrera GT starts with an unfair advantage – it weighs only 1470kg with all fluids. That makes it a lightweight compared to the chunky 959 (1603kg) and the relatively porky 918 (1674kg) and goes a long way to explaining its amazing dynamism. Yes the car demands your attention and liberties should not be taken lightly, but that level of focus is to be expected in a car like this. It’s the finest of fine arts.
Then there’s the 959. Climbing into it gave me a strange sensation of being a child again. Back then the very first Weissach supercar was fighting it out for wall space above my bed with posters of the Ferrari 288 GTO and F40 and Lamborghini Countach (purists will argue the Lambo is not a supercar, but it always will be for me). The cabin is exactly as I’d always imagined it, sober and sensible with lots of perfectly legible dials and ergonomics from another era – the ’80s.
Unlike the Carrera and 918 which give you the impression you’re strapped into the space shuttle, the 959 makes you feel like you’re sitting in... a 911. Well, what appears to be a 911, at least, because this test car is particularly special.
A twist of the key fires up the 2.85-litre flat-six and the cabin fills with familiar air-cooled Porsche sounds and vibrations, anchoring the 959 in a long and very fine line of predecessors. If anything actually ages the interior it’s the floor-mounted pedals – another throwback – but you get used to those quickly.
Within the first metres, though, it is clear that the 959’s DNA is 110 per cent pure Porsche, with light, ultra-direct steering, excellent braking, and a highly civilised powertrain. We’re being respectful due to the age and value of the car, but when you start to squeeze the throttle it feels like you’re pulling back on a catapult. Gradually the tacho needle winds 'round to 5000rpm then there’s an explosion of power and torque, the sort that floors you and devastates everything in its way.
This 959 is a cannon ball, a bomb, and that’s because it’s an ‘S’ or Sport model, one of 29 built in addition to the 292 regular ‘Komfort’ models. It’s around 100kg lighter, too, due mostly
to the elimination of computer-controlled damping, air-con, radio and rear seats. The electric windows and right-hand mirror were kept for the sake of convenience, but it does have a roll cage so it’s something like a 959 GT3, ahead of its time.
This rare Porsche is one of the last three built by the factory and has an upgraded engine with newer Motronic-controlled fuel injection and bigger turbochargers that raise power to 419kW. It’s chassis number 29, which Porsche lists as a 961 (the race derivative) and this meant a lot of paperwork was required before it could be registered and given the model designation of ‘959 X’.
It is the only 959 X in the world and its performance levels are much higher than the car originally tested by Auto, Motor
und Sport who recorded a 0-100km/h time of 3.35sec and 11.9sec for 0-200km/h. And with its higher power output, it V-maxes at 344km/h, which means this ’80s supercar is almost as fast as a 918 Spyder hypercar!
These three Porsche masterpieces are timeless, like a painting by Da Vinci or Picasso, and will remain so regardless of their age. The real genius of the team at Weissach is continuing to engineer and build high-performance supercars that are easily driveable in everyday, real-life conditions and this amazing engineering triptych is testament to that vision.
ABOVE Carrera GT is an old-school Porsche with three pedals and a traditional shifter, but the tricky clutch takes some getting used to
OPPOSITE Three generations of speed kings demonstrate the non-stop evolution of supercars from Stuttgart
ABOVE RIGHT The 959’s austere cabin is pure ’80s, but its ergonomics are solid and dials legible; handy when you’re on the wrong side of 300km/h
LEFT When the 959 and Carrera GT’s fuel tanks run dry, the 918 Spyder brings out its party trick: 30km range on electric power
LEFT Ultra-rare road-registered 959 X based on 961 race model. Bigger turbos and upgraded ECU pump up power to a heady 419kW THE 959 X V-MAXES AT 344KM/H, WHICH MEANS THIS '80s SUPERCAR IS ALMOST AS FAST AS THE 918 HYPERCAR