Five Classic Trials Porsche 911S
The 911S is considered to be the sweet spot for Porsche’s rear-engined star, but this one has a secret that keeps the thrills high and prices low
When California started passing the world’s most restrictive emission legislation in the late 1960s, most European manufacturers accepted their American offerings would be drastically slower than their domestic cars. Not so Porsche. Not willing to slow its cars down, it enlarged the 911’s engine, first to 2.2 litres and then to 2.4 litres in 1971. When further legislation saw impact-absorbing bumpers added in 1973 however, many considered the 911’s original lines to have been corrupted. To the enthusiast driver today, these bumpers make little difference, but it’s hard to argue that this brief period from 1971 to 1973 forms a sweet spot in 911 history. Short of limited-run specials like the Carrera 2.7 RS, this makes the 911S (the S being the top-of-the-line offering) of this precise period the ultimate 911 – and thus ultimate Porsche – in the eyes of many.
The car we have here is a 1972 911T that has been upgraded to S spec at considerable expense. The front splitter is the first clue, but it’s in the engine compartment where the most significant differences lie. Starting the 911 up however, there’s no clue to this. With the enlarging of the flat-six, Porsche was able to extract more performance from the 911 while simultaneously increasing its driveability. As a result, the idle is steady, and when you set off at low revs, the engine is happy to be sensible, unlike the highly-strung engines previous versions of the S were fitted with. The engine is never quiet, but under 3500rpm it’s only a little louder than a Volkswagen’s humble flat-four.
Drop a cog, however, and it is entirely different. From 4500rpm to the red line, the engine sings in a way even V12 owners would be impressed by, and it’s not bark without bite. Straight line acceleration is exhilarating and beyond what you’d expect for the car’s power output, thanks to both its lightness and the traction afforded by the rear engine layout. Initially, the gearbox is the limit to progress, as the change suffers from a long lateral throw and the linkage is far from tight, so you end up racing through the gears between cumbersome changes. Familiarity no doubt helps here, and an hour or so of learning goes a long way. That said, it’s never an enjoyable gear change.
Despite the considerable performance, one of the most impressive things is how playful the car feels. The light, direct steering is no doubt the major reason for this. Whereas most sports cars’ front wheels are weighed down by a heavy engine, the Porsche feels like a city car, such is the agility of its steering. In fact, the 911’s steering wheel could really do with being smaller – it pinches the legs and the gearing provided by the large diameter isn’t necessary. Of course, the downside of all this is that the lightness becomes thoroughly unpleasant at higher speeds, but the front spoiler goes some way to remedying this. It’s not just the steering, though, the pedals are reasonably light too (though their floor-hinged nature is jarring, betraying a Volkswagen ancestry) and while the gearbox isn’t the tightest, it is never heavy.
All of this combines to create a machine that is at once a serious performance car, yet one that isn’t intimidating, oppressive and heavy like so many of its contemporaries. For as much as the rear-engine layout of the 911 is far from ideal for the handling, Porsche’s stubbornness to make it work is echoed through the rest of the car. The 911 refuses to make the compromises which Ferrari or Jaguar thought necessary for a car of this nature. This is doing things the Porsche way and the ultimate 911 is, in many ways, the ultimate sports car.
FIVE CLASSIC TRIALS 1972 PORSCHE 911S
Instruments are well laid out in the classic Porsche way, but the steering wheel and gear lever are both uncomfortably close to the driver’s legs.