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

Total 911 - - Contents - Writ­ten by Wil­helm Lut­je­harms Pho­tog­ra­phy by Kian erik­sen

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

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