© The Financial Times Ltd 2014 FT and 'Financial Times' are trademarks of The Financial Times Ltd.
August 20, 2010 10:00 pm
At first glance, it looks like Porsche has lost the plot entirely. Its latest version of the almost half-century-old 911 sports car comes without air-conditioning or even a radio.
Prod the side and rear windows and you’ll find they’re plastic. The sole gearbox on offer is a traditional six-speed manual – not the advanced, twin-clutch, semi-automatic, F1-style paddle shift-transmission of other 911s. Only the two rear wheels are driven, not all four – unlike other, high-spec 911s. Even the admittedly token rear seats have gone, leaving little more than bare metal.
And for this Porsche is charging, would you believe, £164,000. This is nearly £100,000 more than the basic 911 Carrera; almost £70,000 more than the devastatingly fast and infinitely better-equipped, four-wheel-drive 911 Turbo; £20,000 more, even, than rival Bentley’s super-luxurious, continent-trampling GT Speed Coupé.
Those familiar with the confusing identifier tags Porsche has allocated to successive iterations of the 911 over the decades (C2, 930, 964 and so on) will know, however, that the novel combination “GT2RS” hints at its being possessed of other virtues. And, indeed, it is. Quite simply, the GT2RS is the most powerful street-legal, factory-built Porsche of all time.
There is 611 horsepower and 516lbs/ft torque, which Walter Röhrl – the multiple world rally champion and noted racing driver who leads Porsche’s chassis development – expects will never be exceeded by Stuttgart’s iconic luxury sports carmaker. It fires the car from standstill to 62mph in 3.5 seconds, to 100mph in 6.8, to 125mph in under 10 and on to a top speed of 205mph. “I really cannot see the power of our future 911s rising above the level of the GT2RS,” says Röhrl, although he thinks there are still performance gains to be had from shaving off even more weight from the remarkably light 1,280kg of the GT2RS.
All this is being communicated while Röhrl is at our test car’s wheel, casually making it dance at ludicrous speeds around a circuit on the outskirts of the lovely Black Forest spa town of Baden-Baden. The relaxed expertise and obvious enjoyment with which he is doing it is something at which we drivers of a lesser stripe can only marvel. With more than 2G of lateral force on tap – twice what an ordinary hatchback can achieve in straight-line emergency braking – this fully road-legal Porsche’s progress is at a pace light years beyond what could (or should) be contemplated on public highways. Its sublime cornering and braking abilities, even in hands much less accomplished than Röhrl’s, provide one of the strongest arguments imaginable for the further expansion of the “track day” industry, to allow private individuals to enjoy such huge performance free of all highway restrictions.
In the GT2RS, for the first time on a road car, Porsche has blended two separate traditions. First, the “RS” designation, which has always been applied to the lightest, most agile of Porsche’s road cars.
Their leitmotif for more than 30 years has been the bare minimum of kilos, with suspension and brakes developed as much for the circuit as for the highway. Their engines shun lumpen turbos. There is a cost – considerably less power – but an arguably bigger reward: the pure, otherworldly, instantaneous throttle responses that come only from engines sucking air at merely atmospheric pressure.
“GT2”, on the other hand, basically stands for thug. In its current version, pending the arrival of the GT2RS, the £123,000 GT2 comprises 523 turbocharged horsepower-worth of four-wheeled brutality. It, too, is awesome in its handling and roadholding abilities, as befits a car whose “R” version was long a staple at Le Mans. But it is wholly uncompromising; dire and jolting in highway driving, even though its devastating straight-line performance represents, for most owners, the next best thing to a place on the 24 Hours grid.
Combining the two traditions could so easily have been a misconceived disaster. Instead, what has emerged is quite the best 911 ever to turn a wheel. And that view holds despite the GT2RS’s stellar price and hours of driving through heatwave Germany, cursing the weather, shirt sticking to torso and windows open in vain.
Ask them nicely and the specialist group of Porsche’s Weissach Development Centre engineers building the cars will, in fact, provide the buyer with air conditioning and a radio at no extra cost. But they will quietly seethe and regard such owners as wimps. This is a development team that has spent endless hours seeking to pare even the fewest of grammes from anywhere. Even the Porsche bonnet badge is just a sticker, and wings, bonnet and all minor mouldings are of featherweight carbon fibre. Putting 15kg of comfort and audio hardware back in is thus, shall we say, not quite the team’s favourite course of action.
All of which begs the question: what is the GT2RS for? The answer is multifaceted, and one in which rationality and logic are hardly to the fore. In a strictly practical sense, this is a car to be bought for the extraordinary duality of its nature.
Already rollover bar-equipped, it needs little more than a fire extinguishing system and external battery cut-outs to become one of the fastest and most intimidating of tools available to the (very) well-heeled track day enthusiast or so-called gentleman racer.
Yet the subtlety of its suspension design provides an almost unfathomable level of ride and handling comfort, such that it could tackle even Britain’s moonscape highways with aplomb and be conceived almost – heatwaves apart – as a feasible daily drive.
Like works of art, however, it will be bought also because Porsche has both chosen to make it and, seemingly, to regard it as the apogee of its 911-making skills. And linked to that, in the knowledge that no more than 500 will be built, is the near-certainty that it is a car which, in 20 or 30 years, is likely to go under the auction hammer as a collectors’ item at prices to make even £164,000 look cheap.
So Röhrl himself has a slot in the order book? Er, no. Thanks largely to his efforts, it is too fast; too mind-bogglingly capable; too likely to lead into temptation; too likely to deliver up his licence unto the Polizei. “On the road,” he grins, “I prefer to drive my ‘golden oldies’” – by which he means a selection of 911s from the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s.
A brute, a thug and an awesome roadholder
0-100mph 6.8 secs, top speed 205mph
23.8mpg on EU rural/urban test cycle
Ferrari 458 Italia £170,000; Corvette ZR1 £106,000; Aston Martin V12 Vantage £135,000; Audi R8 V10 £106,000; Jaguar XKR 75 £85,000; Nissan GT-R £60,000
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2014. You may share using our article tools.
Please don't cut articles from FT.com and redistribute by email or post to the web.