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Porsche 993: the 911 that had to succeed

In retrospect, it’s easy to say Porsche’s mistake was its decision to keep the G-series 911 in production for 15 years, but from the company’s point of view, through the early 1980s the 911 was selling ever more strongly.

Regular updates and revisions ensured it remained at the top of the performance stakes. The robustness which made it a car you could count on day after day meant that despite its archaisms, it was still the ultimate road and track sports car.

However, within Porsche it was also a source of frustration to many of its engineers and designers keen to modernise it, dispensing, for example, with the torsion bar suspension and introducing assisted steering and a less idiosyncratic ventilation system. Journalists in other respects always well disposed towards the 911 observed it was becoming increasingly an enthusiast’s car, lacking broader appeal and depriving Porsche of a wider market.

The 928 launched in 1977 was supposed to address the GT segment of the market, but by the time the Vorstand had approved the next 911, Typ 964 in April 1984, sales of the 928 were already in decline. The 964 itself was a radical step in engineering terms – a completely new chassis and suspension which allowed fitment of ABS and assisted steering, a larger and more potent flat six, and four-wheel drive.

A conservative board, however, would not permit the designers to change anything above the axle line, which meant the 964, despite its revised front and rear bumpers, looked remarkably similar to its predecessor. Moreover its four-wheel-drive, such an innovation when Audi introduced the Quattro in 1981, was no longer a sensation, and early 964 buyers were able to confirm what the magazine testers had found, that Porsche’s fixed 2:1 rear/front torque split made the latest 911 an uninspiring understeerer.

The rear-drive C2 911 appeared a year later, but by then the damage had been done: in a generally morose market, and one which had halved in the US, clearly the 964 would not be the model to rescue an increasingly beleaguered Porsche.

A rolling of management heads saw new blood brought into the company. A former Weissach R&D engineer named Ulrich Bez was enticed from BMW Tech to become engineering boss, and he appointed his chief designer at BMW, Harm Lagaaij, another ex-Weissach man, to reinvigorate Porsche styling. These two were the impetus behind the next 911: the 993.

Bez was particularly critical of the 964’s crude ride and the C4’s handling, and Lagaaij’s remark when he arrived at Porsche’s design studios in October 1989 that there was “nothing going on” has gone into the history books. Work on 911 Typ 993 would start within weeks of the 964 C2 reaching the showrooms.

This time, a chastened Vorstand, which had pensioned off its managing, engineering and styling directors in short order, was prepared to offer Bez and Lagaaij more licence, and the pair took as much advantage as their still-constrained development budget permitted. 

Nevertheless, the new 911 represented a challenge: how could the new 993 retain its defining ‘Neunelfer-ness’ yet be endowed with a more modern appearance and wider appeal? 

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Fast Porsche Speedster

“The engine was the spare, well, it was what became the spare engine; it had been the primary engine in HR2, the 962 which I raced. It was the Daytona engine,” says Bruce Canepa.

It isn’t every shop that has such an engine going spare, and when Las Vegas casino owner Gary Primm contacted Canepa about the disappointing 1989 911 Speedster he’d just had delivered, the stars aligned.

Primm had driven his Speedster about 100 miles and found it lacking, calling Canepa to ask: “What can we do with this thing? It’s boring, and slow,” Primm and Canepa having collaborated previously on an AMG build.

It didn’t take Canepa long to figure out what to do with the Speedster. He admits: “They were pretty underwhelming. They had no power, they had a Turbo chassis, which was almost too much car for the motor, and they were flexy.”

He thought for a while before fixing on the idea of a 934 for the road. “Really, the nicest thing about Primm and a lot of my customers is he just let me build what I want,” says Canepa. “He didn’t really know what a 934 was. I said ‘we’re going to put on 934 flares; they look cool. We’re going to make it look like a Porsche race car, but with no roof on it.’”

The result is sitting in Canepa’s showroom in Scotts Valley, California. I’ve been poring over it for over an hour. Even here among Porsche rarities of
the like you’ll seldom see outside Porsche’s own Stuttgart Museum, the Speedster is a knockout.

G1 Guards red, because that’s how it was delivered to Canepa (all of Primm’s cars are red), the build is so beautifully executed it could easily be a factory car, albeit a very special one.

The deep front splitter has its outer cutouts filled by running lights behind Perspex, and the remaining three large intakes are pure 934 race car. In the unlikely event that the front bumper left you guessing, this is a Speedster unlike any other. Those 934-proportioned flared arches front and rear, covering 17-inch, three-piece BBS alloy racing wheels, leave little doubt.

Those punctured rear wings feed intake air into the engine, this Speedster taking the idea of a Turbo-bodied Speedster to its ultimate incarnation. Only unlike the standard cars, the visuals are more than matched by the mill…

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Turbo v Carrera: 930 3.0 vs 2.7 MFI

After the swing of the 1960s, the 1970s are often lambasted, wrongly viewed as a decade of energy crises, political upheaval and scandal. The reality is that while the 1970s might have been a turbulent decade, they were also arguably a turning point in the modern world. 

Those energy crises did raise global concerns over consumption and, unsurprisingly, the car was in the firing line, particularly in the US. Increasing legislation for fuel economy and emissions, as well as safety, demanded change. That created problems for Porsche with the 911.

The 911s of 1970’s America would feature detuned engines to pass economy standards, EU and RoW cars largely escaping those, though those US regulations would have a pronounced impact on how the 911 would look. 

From 1973 onwards US domestic and imported cars had to survive a 5mph collision without any damage to the headlights, engine or safety equipment. The 911’s bumpers had to change, with the US regulation demanding innovation.

The G-series bumpers were born, revolutionising the 911’s look and ensuring it would pass not just the 1973-onwards regulations, but also the later zero-damage standards that would come into force over the next decade. 

Porsche evidentially thrives on the challenges posed by regulation, and those US rules forced the company’s hand changing the 911’s look. The styling department is credited as being responsible for those iconic bumpers, under then-director Anatole Lapine and a team consisting of Wolfgang Möbius, Dick Söderberg and Peter Reisinger. 

In contrast to so many rivals’ hastily devised, somewhat awkward efforts, Porsche’s solution to the regulations was beautifully integrated and simply engineered. Larger, higher, body-painted bumpers with neoprene rubbing strips were adopted, to which functional ‘bellows’ which compressed on impact were fitted.

The bellows were a neat solution which allowed the bumpers to move as much as 50mm, and were attached to collapsible steel tubes on European cars and hydraulic shock absorbers on US cars. The new bumpers were instrumental in the relocation of the battery, too, the now single battery being located in the luggage compartment in front of the left-hand front wheel, improving the weight distribution.

The rear would see a similarly styled wrap-around bumper hung off a complex aluminium extrusion, the lightweight metal adopted to keep additional mass at the rear to a minimum. Above the rear bumper Porsche adopted a reflective red band, joining the rear lights in with a styling element that’s largely pervaded the 911’s rear visual signature ever since. 

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Porsche Index: 997 Turbo S

History and spec

The Gen2 997 Turbo was an exceptionally accomplished sports car, and we’ve sung its praises many times within these pages. Improving upon such a special recipe was a tall order for the engineers at Zuffenhausen, yet they did exactly that, creating an instant classic.

With just 2,000 made, production amounted to virtually half that of the regular 997.2 Turbo, and those few lucky buyers would have been very impressed with their new purchase.

There was still the same 3.8-litre motor beneath the engine cover, but it had been fettled to produce 530hp and 700Nm of torque – an increase of 30hp and 50Nm respectively. Most of that increase came from turning up the wick on the pair of variable-geometry turbochargers, maximum boost now raised from 1.0 bar to 1.2 bar.

Still directly injected and equipped with VarioCam Plus variable valve timing, the latter had been revised on the intake side and the air intake was fashioned from a carbon weave.

Drive was sent to all four wheels via the seven-speed PDK transmission – Sport Chrono Plus was standard, which meant the addition of launch control – and there was the usual blizzard of driver assistance acronyms in the form of PASM, PTM (Porsche Traction Management) and PTV (Porsche Torque Vectoring).

Despite all of the enticing technology, outright performance wasn’t markedly different from its non-S stablemate, mere fractions of a second shaved from the major benchmarks meaning just modest gains were on offer.

Not that it wasn’t explosively fast as it stood, 0-62mph reeled off in 3.3 seconds and 195mph beckoning if you had the space and nerve. So it had the pace, but reasonably there was a question – one asked in some contemporary road tests – over what buyers were really getting for their additional £17k.

Well, had the buyer ticked the box marked ‘S’ when it came to ordering their 997 Turbo they would have discovered it also came with PCCB brakes as standard, fronted by ‘RS Spyder’ centre-lock wheels. And on top of the already lavish Turbo specification their new purchase boasted the likes of adaptive Sports seats, a six-disc CD/DVD system and a choice of exclusive interior trim colours.

Whether all of that could be viewed as money well spent is open to question, but with the 991 all set to take centre stage this ultimate expression of the 997 Turbo would have been very hard to resist.

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Porsche 991 hybrid test drive

The internal combustion engine doesn’t realise it’s there,” says Chuck Moreland, owner of Elephant Racing. You might know the company – it’s a specialist in Porsche suspension – but here Moreland’s talking about the flat six in an early 991.1 3.4-litre Carrera.

Specifically, he’s talking about the Vonnen Shadow Drive, Vonnen an Elephant Racing offshoot that’s developed a hybrid 911 before Porsche itself. If it was going to be done anywhere outside Weissach, then it’s hardly surprising it was here.

Vonnen is in California, specifically Silicon Valley, the absolute global heart of innovation and technology. Moreland explains how it happened: “It was a case of us sitting around talking among ourselves and thinking, ‘hey, wouldn’t it be great if…’. And then we started exploring different ideas of how you might hybridise an existing 911 platform.”

That was three years ago. Today we’re standing around an engine and gearbox, looking at the axial flux electric motor that Vonnen has developed with a European supplier, sandwiching it between the two.

If that sounds familiar, it’s exactly what Porsche will do with the 992 to hybridise it, only it’s left space inside the gearbox to do so. With the 991 there’s no such luxury, so Vonnen had to get clever with the space it had.

It’s been a quick development cycle, especially considering this wasn’t Vonnen’s first solution. Initially Vonnen tried pushing electrically generated drive back into the gearbox via the front-axle output shaft on a 996 Carrera 4.

Moreland says: “That was more a proof of concept, but we learned a lot from it, and we recognised that there was real opportunity for improving. The biggest issue was that the torque was being added on the output shaft of the transaxle, so we weren’t taking advantage of the gear-reduction capabilities from the gearbox.”

Buoyed by the potential, Moreland went all in, saying: “Okay, cost be damned, what if we wanted to make this thing rip? What would we do?” And so we went back to the drawing board and this is what we dreamed up, and it basically addressed all the issues that existed with this car. And that’s how we got where we are.”

Squeezing an electric motor between the engine and transmission adds 26mm in length. That’s required some modification of the structure fore of the gearbox to allow clearance, the electric motor replacing the flywheel, as well as the starter motor,  and taking over all the functionality of it, including stop-start, if fitted. The batteries powering it are situated in the luggage area, robbing it of some space. 

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