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Rare Porsche 911 Cabriolets

Porsche isn’t one to miss a good marketing opportunity. Throughout the 54 years of 911 production, in which over a million examples of this iconic sports car have rolled out of Zuffenhausen, the company has bestowed worldwide customers with a whole host of special editions to celebrate anniversaries, milestones and notable racing achievements.

The latest addition is Motorsport’s new 935, a track-only car based mechanically on the 991 GT2 RS but styled on the revered Moby Dick of 1978. More interestingly though, there’s also a new Speedster. However, the fact it’s being built to commemorate 70 years of Porsche isn’t particularly significant, and neither is the numbered production run of just 1,948 examples. No, it’s a special-edition, open-topped Porsche.

Think about it, most special-edition Porsche 911s are Coupes. From the 930 S to the 991 Turbo S Exclusive Edition, via the 993 GT2, 996 Anniversary and 997 Sport Classic, these limited cars, often built on a numbered production run, are tin-top. There appears no specific reason for this: all body styles hail from the same production line at Werk II, and it’s not like an open-topped 911 is unpopular – in fact, widespread endearment to both the Cabriolet and Targa is such that Porsche has kept both models running concurrently since 1983. And while it’s true 911 Coupes will always enjoy a certain cache over their open-topped stablemates, what’s not to like about a special-edition Cabriolet?

To find out we’ve come to Long Beach in southern California to sample two stellar open-topped examples of rare Porsche in the 3.2 Commemorative Cabriolet and 964 America Roadster. Owned by serial Porsche owner and Total 911 subscriber Bruce Brown, these cars are used as they were intended, cruising the boulevards and carving through the inland canyons, roof down, revelling under the year-round Californian sunshine.

The cars arrive at the beach just after us, pulling off the highway and driving onto a slipway down to the Pacific Ocean, the 964’s almost V8-like thrum a striking note against the 3.2 Carrera’s more agricultural resonance. Bruce, in the 3.2, and his friend Simon Birch, piloting the 964, kill the cars and jump out, which gives us a chance to absorb both 911s as they cool off in the brisk sea wind.

First, the Commemorative 3.2. Built to honour 250,000 911s having been built, it’s sometimes referred to as the 25th Anniversary – this at a time before Porsche thought of the 30, 40 and 50 Jahre Anniversary models in the ensuing years. The 3.2 Commemorative Edition was available in either Coupe, Cabriolet or Targa body styles.

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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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Porsche 911 Cabriolet buyer’s guide

As the winter rain and snow becomes a distant memory, thoughts can turn to summer, and what better way to enjoy it than from the cabin of a drop-top Neunelfer? Few sports cars blend history, performance and engineering integrity quite like this one, so it seems like the perfect opportunity to explore the genre in more detail. Back in issue 130 we sampled the one-of-a-kind 901 Cabriolet, and although that led to development of the Targa it was ultimately the progenitor of the model that’s been with us more than 35 years and seven generations.

And whether you favour air- or water-cooled cars there’s a model for every preference. It might have become more sophisticated over those years, but the basic principle remained the same, and its first appearance also coincides with the re-birth of the 911 after a period when it seemed that it might disappear for good. So, here is our rundown of both how it developed and how to buy the best Porsche 911 Cabriolet.

SC Cabriolet

After the concept debuted at the 1981 IAA show at Frankfurt – sporting a 3.3-litre Turbo engine and four-wheel drive – Porsche undertook some hasty re-engineering to ready the production car for the 1983 model year. Sharing a basic structure with the Targa, the SC Cabriolet reverted to the regular two-wheel drive layout and was powered by the Coupe’s 3.0-litre, 204bhp flat six. More than 4,000 examples were sold in the first full year of production, proving that there was a significant demand for a 911 that came sans roof. Speaking of which, the hood was a three-layer affair made from polyester and acrylic with a separate, insulating lining, and it was fitted over a lightweight, alloy frame.

Manually operated (electric operation wouldn’t arrive until later) it was fitted with a plastic rear window that Porsche recommended be unzipped before the roof was folded away and tidied up with a neat tonneau cover. Quite expectably this new model wasn’t a cheap option, early cars arriving in the UK carrying a price tag just north of £21,000; choosing the Sport variant with larger wheels and the rear spoiler took this to more than £25,000. But Porsche had made its point, and the 911 Cabriolet has been with us ever since.

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Friends reunited: 964 Turbo 3.3 retro road test

Winter time in Yorkshire, a cold day with a piercing blue, cloudless sky and a biting wind. The low sun makes the shadows under the overhanging trees deep black and impenetrable. Driving into the glare makes those shadows deeper than ever. The scary sudden blackness, combined with the inevitable damp patches, can sap a driver’s confidence as vision is lost for a few fractions of a second, eyes struggling to adjust regardless of
the position of the sun visor or shades. Perhaps not the best of days to be re-acquainted with the Porsche 964 Turbo.

We don’t see too many Porsche 964s on the roads these days. Sadly, the escalating prices mean many have been retired to a life of suspended animation beneath a fitted cover, battery saver blinking away like a life support machine. 964 Turbos are even less common, with just over 3,600 of the 3.3-litre cars built worldwide. So the opportunity to be re-acquainted with a car I last drove when it was cutting-edge performance is something I won’t turn down, even if we won’t be getting much heat into the tyres.

The last time I was behind the wheel of a 964 Turbo was actually back in the day when it was for sale brand new in the UK. I had a reasonable amount of experience in cars, but not so much in Porsches at that time. That car was Rubystone in colour: incredibly sought after today, but back then, not so much. That’s a whole different story for another time, but I can still vividly recall my quickening pulse as I walked over to it, doing my hardest to look nonchalant. I had the usual battle with the demisting system, for those familiar with it, before driving away to find a quiet piece of road. The memories of transition from off-boost lethargy to full-blown whistling velocity are even more vivid than that paint scheme. Now, more than two decades later, will the performance still be as striking, or is it a memory I’m about to have tainted by the passage of time?

This car is considerably more muted in hue, Marine Blue looking truly conservative, but the deep shine has stood the test of time. This colour was probably a lot closer to the option that most Porsche owners will have selected in 1991. Ordered new in right-hand drive by a UK Army officer serving in Germany, and delivered to his local Porsche Zentrum, it has some useful options, such as a factory sunroof and limited slip differential, something you would have expected to be standard. The 964 Turbo body looks just as curvaceous as ever – in my view it’s the pinnacle of the classic 911 silhouette, before the Darwinian advancement of the more aerodynamic designs, beginning with the 993, that changed the unique profile forever.

The rear wheel arches have a curvaceous quality that you never tire of admiring from any angle. A rather curious original factory option choice of no Turbo badging really doesn’t hide what this car is. Time to be reacquainted. Back in 1993, the 964 Turbo was one of the first Porsches I ever drove, so the impact on my senses was especially vivid. Many thousands of 911 miles later, I’m wondering…

To read the full feature, pick up your copy of total 911 issue 161 in stores now or get it delivered to your door via here. Alternatively, you can download the issue to any digital device via Google and Apple newsstands. Fancy subscribing? Hit here to take advantage of up to 30% off as well as early delivery. 

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Classic icons: Porsche 911T v 911E v 911S

In issue 159 of Total 911 we compared the 991.2 Carrera, GTS and Turbo S, declaring them the “modern-day interpretations of the 911 T, E and S”. Now, we’re rewinding the clock 45 years to the classic originals. Meet the mainstream F-series range as it was in 1973, the final year of the ‘long bonnet’ before the impact-bumpered G-series arrived, a move which changed the 911’s look forever.

Why ‘mainstream’? Well, as Porsche enthusiasts, we all have ‘1973’ branded on our collective consciousness as the year of the first road-going Rennsport. The Carrera 2.7 RS is a fully paid-up icon and arguably the greatest 911 ever made, yet, then as now, it was exclusive and expensive. So, just as we excluded GT models from our 991.2 triple test, the RS fails to fit the brief here.

The three-tier 911 hierarchy was established in 1968, when the entry-level T (Touring) and mid-range L (Luxury) joined the flagship S (Super) – the latter introduced in 1967. At this stage, all had 2.0-litre engines and a 2,210mm wheelbase. The carburettor-fed L gave way to the fuel-injected E (Einspritzung) in 1969, when wheelbase was lengthened to 2,271mm. A year later, the flat six grew to 2.2-litres, then 2.4-litres in 1972. The 2.4 F-series models were thus in production for just two years, compared with 15 for the G-series.

The three cars gathered today – kindly sourced by Paul Stephens in Essex – all hail from 1973, and look near identical at first glance. Get closer, though, and it’s apparent there are detail differences, most obviously the colour of the engine shroud: black on the 130hp T, green on the 165hp E and red on the 190hp S. However, as those power outputs suggest, by far the biggest difference is felt on the road.

I start in the middle with the 911E: a model Paul describes as “undervalued”. This particular example is resplendent in Light ivory (colour code: 131) on polished 6×15-inch Fuchs. It’s the only UK car here, which explains the round door mirrors – both the T and S are US imports and sport rectangular mirrors – while the absence of optional bumper over-riders or chrome wheel arch trims results in a cleaner look.

The E being a right-hooker helps me acclimatise more quickly, yet there’s still much that feels alien about a 911 of this era. The hand throttle, a hinged choke lever nestled between the seats, is one notable quirk, as are floor-hinged pedals that force you to skew your legs towards the centre of the car. Unassisted steering and a five-speed 915 gearbox that’s obstructive when cold are further features that would confound drivers of modern machines – not least anyone accustomed to water-cooled 911s.

To read the full article on our Porsche 911T vs E vs S mega test, pick up a copy of Total 911 issue 161, in shops now and available to buy here or download.

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