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30 yearsof 964: C2 v RS and Turbo v Turbo-look

Modernity is what the 964 brought to the 911, it arriving on the cusp of a new decade and would, in the then-CEO Heinz Branitzki’s words, “be the 911 for the next 25 years.” It never was, nor, admittedly, was it intended to be, but in the six years it was produced the increase in technology, as well as the proliferation of models, set the template for how the 911 would evolve into the model line we recognise today.

Its massively revised structure and chassis was able to incorporate necessities like power steering, driver and passenger airbags, an automatic transmission and also four-wheel drive. It was tested more rigorously on automated test beds, was built using more modern, cost-effective production techniques and brought the 911’s look up to date, without taking away from its iconic lines.

Such was Porsche’s focus on four-wheel drive it was launched as a Carrera 4, the Carrera 2 following it into production in 1989. Over the six, short years that followed the 964 would proliferate into a model line-up including Targa, Cabriolet, Turbo and RS in the regular series models, with specials like the Turbo S, RS 3.8, 30 Jahre and Speedster models all adding to the mix. It came at the right time, too, replacing the outdated 3.2 Carrera and boosting sales for Porsche when it needed them, the Carrera 2 and 4 selling 63,570 examples, those specials and the Turbos and RSs adding around 10,000 sales on top of that.

It was a successful, important car for Porsche, but just how does it stack up today, and which one to go for? The 964 is the car that introduced the 911 conundrum, one which, in part at least, we’re going to try and settle here today. We’ve four 964s here: a Carrera 2, an RS, a Carrera 4 widebody with its Turbo-aping hips, and a later 3.6 example of the 964 Turbo. The Carrera 2, naturally, is the most available, with some 19,484 sales globally, the RS selling some 2,405, the widebody being very limited (numbers are hard to come by) and the Turbo 3.6 finding 1,427 buyers for the year it was produced.

For many the Carrera 2 is the obvious choice, but take all the numbers out of the equation and things get a little bit different. To digest it there’s a natural split, the narrow and widebody cars, which is why I’m jumping first into the slim-hipped Carreras, and specifically that big-selling Carrera 2.

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964 vs 3.2 Carrera: evolving the 911

By 1984, as the latest 3.2 was appearing in the showrooms, the 911 was already a phenomenon: it had far exceeded the impressive 15-year life of the 356 and, thanks to the passion and insight of then-CEO Peter Schutz, showed no signs of flagging. No other mass-production car conceived in the 1960s survived into a third decade. In 1982 Ford had built the last Cortina, but that car had been rebodied no fewer than four times; only the primitive Land Rover could offer the visual continuity of the 911.

The Porsche remained both profitable and near the top of the performance league. In 1984 231bhp was respectable, and on the quieter roads of those times a driver could deploy such horsepower regularly in a way quite impossible for today’s 500bhp 911s. Indeed, to beat a 3.2 you needed an Italian exotic of the type that required a mechanic in the boot, and even then it would never sustain day-in day-out 120mph use on the Autobahn.

But if the 911 was still a selling proposition, the strength of the dollar during the early 1980s making Porsche an increasingly attractive proposition to Americans, this masked the fact that it was dated. It had no power steering, a ride quality not worthy of its price bracket, no auto transmission option and byzantine heating and ventilation systems. Australian journalist Peter Robinson said in 1978: “The 911 belongs to another era. It’s showing its age and not just around the edge, so let’s put it out to pasture with the other thoroughbreds before it breaks down and has to be destroyed in front of its adoring public.”

Such antipodean directness was too much for Porsche, and Robinson later revealed that it was 11 years before Porsche would let him near another press car. Nevertheless, there were rumblings within Porsche too. Styling director Tony Lapine was a well-known 911 dissident, but Peter Falk was also critical. A man steeped in 911 development, and who before retirement produced the famous Lastenheft which sought to redefine the fundamental characteristics a new 911 should have, Falk represented the very essence of 911 integrity and tradition. After 20 years he wanted to see improvements, such as dispensing with the archaic torsion bars.

Falk’s voice did not go unheard. In April 1984 the board authorised development of the next 911, Typ 964. This would be the 911’s first step to making up lost ground. In fact, when it was revealed in 1988, the 964 looked remarkably like its predecessor. The board had stipulated that nothing was to be changed above the level of the axles. This had vastly restricted the designers, but Dick Soderberg’s skilful melding of the impact bumpers into the bodywork was widely praised, and the smooth-surfaced, technical-looking ‘Design 90’ 16-inch wheels were much admired. All of a sudden the Fuchs appeared old-fashioned…

 

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996 v 997 Turbo

If you’d been lucky enough to work as a motoring journalist in the 80’s (when budgets were generous, and launches went on for days) you’d have laughed at the proposition that the 911 Turbo would evolve into the definitive secure, all weather supercar within the next decade or so. The original 930 Turbo may have become mildly more approachable with the 1989 advent of the G50 gearbox, it’s 5 ratios making lag slightly less of an issue, but here was a car that always carried a serious sting in its tail.

A reputation cemented by a dastardly combination of short wheelbase, turbo lag, tail heavy weight distribution and strong lift off oversteer characteristics meant only the most skilled could extract the best from it, whilst many less skilled would find themselves in trouble, and a consequently broken car. Of course for some this defines the very appeal of a 930 Turbo, but for many the car proved hugely exciting but occasionally terrifying to drive – particularly if rain had fallen.

1995 marked the beginning of the evolution towards the 911 Turbo as we know it now; the 993 Turbo introducing technology that had first appeared almost a decade earlier in the seminal 959. Twin turbos delivered an even bigger, yet more manageable hit of power. Married to modern chassis technology & four wheel drive, the 911 Turbo was suddenly a car capable of covering ground with immense speed and security. And if the 993 generation Turbo heralded a new direction in the evolution of the 911 Turbo, the 996 cemented what the 911 Turbo would come to stand for: the definitive all weather supercar.

The 996 represented so much for Porsche, bringing with it the biggest revolution in the 911’s development so far. It introduced a new way of building cars (hence the commonality with its Boxster cousin), a water cooled flax six for the first time and truly modern aerodynamics; the platform would form the basis of the 911 for the next 15 years. It also formed the basis of the 911 Turbo that many regard as the optimum balance of speed, usability and purity of driving experience.

Why? It offers perhaps the perfect blend of compact dimensions (it’s little wider than a 718 Boxster), immense performance from the unburstable Mezger flat six, and a chassis which delivers a secure, communicative driving experience with a purity supposedly lost to PASM & computerized chassis control systems of future generations. Or so the accepted wisdom says….

To read the full in-depth feature of our definitive 996 v 997 Turbo test, pick up a copy of Total 911 issue 159 here or download from Newsstand. 

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