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

Classic Car Weekly (UK) - - THIS WEEK -

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.

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