964 Cabriolet driven
Can a 964 Carrera 2 Cabriolet be as fun to drive as its Coupe contemporary? Total 911 finds out during an ocean drive in South Africa
Wilhelm Lutjeharms takes an open-topped 911 on a road trip through sunny South Africa
As I press the button situated just to the right of the steering wheel, the roof lowers. In front of me is one of the best coastal roads you’ll find anywhere in the world. The weather is perfect and I’m behind the wheel of a concours-winning 964 Carrera 2 Cabriolet – this will undoubtedly be an epic afternoon. I’ve always been intrigued by the 911 Cabriolet. Is it a proper 911? Can it deliver the same level of driving enjoyment as its tin-top sibling?
First, some history. The 911 dates back to the early ‘60s, but the first 911 ragtop, the SC Cabriolet, only rolled off the production line in January 1983.
Porsche began testing the market for a possible 911 Cabriolet as late as the Frankfurt International Auto Show in 1981. It was also no ordinary 911 Cabriolet show car, however: the Zuffenhausen-based marque exhibited a unique all-wheel-drive 911 Turbo Cabriolet to gauge the market’s interest.
The interest level was high but customers still had to wait, because at the next year’s Geneva Motor Show, Porsche showed another car, this time a closerto-production convertible model based on the 911
SC. Finally making production as an SC Cabriolet for MY1983, it had been 17 years since the last Porsche Cabriolet was produced in the 356. From that point onward, Porsche has always offered buyers a 911 Cabriolet option – which brings us to this L-series 964 Carrera 2 Cabriolet.
This manual-shift model’s VIN suggests it was earmarked for the North American market – perennially one of the largest markets for 911 Cabriolets. The car currently belongs to Porsche Centre Cape Town’s Classic department, which has maintained and detailed this car to a meticulous level in the recent past. The result is that this car is in a remarkable condition, even though it has clocked up a healthy 83,000 miles. According to the Certificate of Authenticity, this Guards Red 964 was specified with optional features such as leather, air conditioning, electric windows and cruise control.
The heavy-centred steering wheel (equipped with an airbag) is not the prettiest of its kind of this era, as the older three- or four-spoke versions are much better looking. Obviously the modern radio is an aftermarket fitment and because a passenger’sside airbag was fitted in the place of the glove compartment, a new ‘box is located below this area.
Back then, the Cabriolet model was more expensive than the Coupé (as is the case today).
In the USA the Carrera 2 retailed for $58,500
(£41,504) and the Cabriolet cost $66,800 (£46,699). Interestingly, the Carrera 4 Cabriolet was a hefty $77,800 – it was the most expensive Porsche in showrooms at the time.
Porsche’s workshop manual states the rear inside wall is modified to position the pivot gearboxes and threaded fork for the convertible top’s linkage. The quoted weight of the Cabriolet (1,420kg) is 70kg
heavier than that of the Coupé. Another impressive statistic is the torsional rigidity, which improves from the 1988 version’s 7,000Nm/degree to 11,500Nm/ degree stiffness. Those are clinical numbers – however, it’s time to put the 911 through its paces.
Having never before experienced a 964 of any kind whatsoever, I’m particularly looking forward to spending the next 15 hours with this car. My trip starts just outside Cape Town during peak-hour traffic. For the first part of the journey I keep the roof in situ. Ahead of me is a 45-mile drive to Gordon’s Bay, a small coastal town that leads to Clarens Drive, one of the smoothest and most picturesque pieces of coastline-hugging tarmac that you’re likely to find anywhere on the globe.
As it is 27 degrees Celsius outside, I’m thankful for the air conditioning that’s blowing perfectly cooled air into the cabin. Stop-start traffic is the last place you want to spend time in a modern classic 911, but the clutch is not too heavy and the driving position is comfortable (while offering enough side support).
Throughout the first hour behind the wheel I’m surprised at the lack of serious scuttle shake – an irksome characteristic of so many open-topped cars. I decide to try out the cruise control and can’t help but giggle when the 964’s throttle pedal moves inward when I activate the function – that’s because it utilises an old school cable, instead of today’s electronic systems. With the two side windows up, there is also a lack of wind buffeting in the cabin. In front of the gearlever is a knob that raises and lowers the retractable rear wing. Leave it to its own devices and it will rise at 50mph and lower again when your speed drops below 6mph.
I temper my ever-enthusiastic right foot all the way towards Gordon’s Bay. However, once parked next to the cliffs jagging against the pulsing ocean, I immediately want to take the roof down and ‘stretch the 911’s legs’. Although the throaty engine sound was audible even with the fabric roof in its fixed position (and more so than in a Coupé), now I can hear that timbre even better. What a joy the gruff flat six-cylinder sound is!
Clarens Drive snakes along the False Bay coastline, but there is another short and very twisty road that heads up to a hydroelectric station. The location is often used for local and overseas’ advertisements and is littered with corners, including one of only a few hairpin turns in the Western Cape.
I marvel at the slick, relatively short throw of the G50 transmission during both slow and fast shifts. Because this 911 is left-hand drive (South Africa is
“On this road, in this car, at this time of day, the Cabriolet has to be a more suitable car than a Coupe”
a right-hand-drive country, remember) it takes a few shifts before I get used to operating the transmission.
I’m immediately impressed by how tractable the engine is, however. From 1,000rpm you can put your foot down and the engine starts pulling all the way to its 6,800rpm redline. The sensation of speed is heightened with the roof down, too. Obviously the car is not as rigid (nor as light) as a Carrera 2 Coupé but, as the road twists and turns, I’m still impressed with the rigidity on offer and how eagerly the car turns in. There are no electronic safety systems to help you out, so you need to judge how enthusiastically you dip into corners and how much throttle you can apply!
I frankly expected that the car would be floatier and less stiff. However, thanks to strengthening and the fact that the 964 was, and still is, a compact car, the 911 Cabriolet drives and handles very much like you would expect it to.
I can’t help but enjoy listening to that flat-engine sound; I am more aware of it than I would have been if I had a metal roof over my head. There is no element of the car that makes me think I can’t – or shouldn’t – drive it as hard as a Coupé.
On this road, in this car, at this time of the day, the Cabriolet has to be a more suitable car than even a focused Coupé with a roll cage and a harness – especially if you have a passenger, who could enjoy the ride with you. The Cabriolet offers something the Coupé simply can’t.
A quick look on Google Maps indicates there are still several miles of twists and turns to enjoy should I continue towards the next coastal town. With the roof and the windows down (is there any better way to experience a Cabriolet?) I feel closer and more connected to the road and the environment – which includes the smell of the ocean, as well as the engine.
Believe it or not, I’d never experienced a 911 Cabriolet before I drove the 964 version. Such a car hadn’t crossed my path and, besides, there have always been so many interesting Coupé derivatives to drive and experience.
After spending more than 100 miles behind the wheel of this 964, on a variety of roads and even through peak hour traffic (twice), I now understand the lure of these cars. It still wouldn’t feature in my dream fivecar garage, but it is an appealing 911 nonetheless.
I suspect that for many of us, the Cabriolet might not have the same dream car appeal of the Coupé but, from an aural point of view, it offers more than the tin-top. Most importantly, it is still a 911 – and thoroughly drives like one.
ABOVE The 964 Cabriolet’s roof system adds 70kg in weight over a Coupé, yet the open-topped car proves a better ally for touring
LEFT The 964 made an evolutionary step in design, featuring an active rear wing that had an aerodynamic effect on cooling