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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 It came at the right time, too, replacing the outdated 3.2 Carrera and boosting sales for Porsche when it needed them, the Carrera 2 and 4 selling 63,570 examples, those specials and the Turbos and RSs adding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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30 years of 4WD: Power to the four

Power to four or two wheels is a debate that’s gone on for 30 years now. That’s 30 years with the 911, anyway, since the 964 arrived in 1988 when ‘Carrera’ accompanied by a ‘4’ entered the lexicon of Porsche speak. Porsche is celebrating that 30 years of four-wheel drive using that 964 C4’s introduction as a useful line in the sand, snow or any other traction-limiting surface of choice to hang an anniversary off.

We all know that Porsche’s four-wheel drive didn’t start with the 964. Indeed, the Lohner-Porsche electric car of 1900 drove all four wheels via hub-mounted electric motors. Then, in 1947, Ferdinand Porsche built the Lohner-Porsche Type 360 Cisitalia Grand Prix racing car, its 12-cylinder supercharged engine able to drive all its wheels via an all-wheel drive system.

It would be motorsport again – specifically the Group B rulebook – which would see Porsche embrace four-wheel drive. The effectively open rules saw Porsche’s CEO Peter Schutz and head of research and development Professor Helmuth Bott throw every available technology and more at its revolutionary 959 hypercar. That it was four-wheel drive is no surprise, with Audi’s Quattro having already demonstrated the effectiveness of four-wheel drive on the world’s rally stages. Porsche’s new super 911 had to feature it.

Prototype testing underlined the effectiveness of driving all four wheels, Porsche developing the 953 for the 1984 Paris-Dakar rally. This heavily modified 911 ran a mechanically controlled 4×4 system and during three weeks and over 13,000km it dominated, René Metge and co-driver Dominique Lemoyne winning the famous race.

That 953 was the evolutionary step to the 959, which was first shown in concept ‘Group B Studie’ form at the 1983 Frankfurt Motor Show. The 959 would take the development of four-wheel drive to another level altogether. It remains a hugely complex and sophisticated system to this day, featuring what’s referred to as PSK (Porsche-Steuer Kupplung – roughly translated as Porsche control coupling) four-wheel drive system. It is unusual as it allows instant torque splits while driving, either automatically through its computer control or manually selected for various conditions.

Using an output shaft from the front of the gearbox, drive was pushed to the front axle via a prop shaft to a front differential via a multi-plate clutch. It is the 959’s multi-clutch arrangement that is unusual, it replacing a more common centre differential. Featuring six pairs of frictional plates, each controlled by hydraulic pressure and managed by the 959’s electronics, the system needed the wheels to run at differing speeds to work in normal conditions. Thus the 959’s front tyres have a rolling radius around one per cent larger than those at the rear. Should slip be detected at the rear wheels, or differing wheel speeds in corners, the clutches would engage accordingly, transmitting torque to the front axle.

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