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Six Decades Of Speedsters at Gotthard Pass

It’s strange to think that what was once Porsche’s cheapest road car has spawned such a legacy. Where the basic 356 Speedster was inexpensive and humble, each subsequent generation has seemingly more limited and exclusive than the last. When the Speedster name re-emerged in the late-1980s as a spartan (but apparently practical) version of the 911, it was offered in fairly limited numbers. Just 823 came to the United States over a single model year. Just 800 of the following 964-generation cars were built, followed by a total of just two 993s (though there have been imitators).

The name then went into hiding for more than a decade. There were no 996 Speedsters. There were no 997.1 Speedsters. When the name re-appeared on the 997.2, the resulting car was decidedly better equipped than its predecessors. The three earlier generations had radically cut-down windscreens and tops that resembled camping equipment. The 997.2 had a power top and a slightly cut-down screen with the same rake angle as the standard car. By Speedster standards it was positively plush, even if the 911 GTS powerplant made it significantly more swift than preceding 911 Speedsters.

But lo, with the latest generation of Speedster, the GT division did things their way. Where virtually every Speedster has been equipped more simply than other models in the range, the new car is the most hardcore Speedster since the original Speedster Carrera of 1955. While a GT3 or GT2 RS might be a better tool for the track, the new 4.0-liter naturally-aspirated Speedster might be the greatest instrument of sensory stimulation in Porsche’s arsenal.

Set against the stark beauty of the Gotthard Pass, the selection of Speedsters stand with the roadway as a sign of triumph over the challenging terrain. While trains pass through a nearby tunnel, drivers in these open-top sports cars get to experience the majesty of the pass; six decades of sports car development meeting more than two centuries of engineering and architecture in a whirl of speed and style.

Gallery

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Porsche: concepts mules and prototypes

Before any new model goes into manufacture the design – in various stages of finalisation – has to go through practical testing. These vehicles are prototypes, recognisably and most often visually identical to the subsequent production vehicle.

Far less frequently these days, where more extensive research and dynamic development can be carried out with software simulations, a manufacturer experiments with a radical new idea by building some of the technology into the preceding model. These cars are often referred to as ‘mules’.

In the past, the need to keep particular experiments confidential even led to some mules wearing total disguises to fool both press and competitors.

Examples of this at Porsche include the Audi 100 Coupe, into which Weissach shoehorned the 928’s V8 and running gear; later the 928’s innards would also be built into an Opel Diplomat.

Concepts are used by manufacturers to float an idea, to test acceptability of a particular design or style. A phenomenon which in today’s homogenised and regulated auto industry has become unusual, the most successful example in Porsche history was the Boxster concept, greeted with standing ovations when it was revealed in 1993.

That the resultant Boxster – which would closely prefigure the new 911 – was so similar to the concept was a tribute to Porsche’s original design, achieving homologation with a minimum of compromises which usually dilute and sometimes completely spoil the original idea.

The real workhorses of pre-production are, of course, the prototypes, masked these days if their makers want to hide them by an astute application of chequered tape, which brilliantly sabotages visual perspective.

Of the thousands of prototypes built, virtually all of them are subsequently broken up, occasionally to the dismay of auto historians. In deference, however, to the interest they generate, Porsche has selected a handful of the more remarkable prototypes it has kept, and sometimes displays them at the Museum at Zuffenhausen…

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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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Porsche Reviews Its Five Greatest American Icons

Just five years after the war ended, Porsche started importing small batches of cars into New York City to plant its feet for the first time on American soil. News traveled quickly on a westward wind and the Californians, free from harsh weather, soon after demanded their own style of Porsche.

Now, ostensibly this video was created as a way for Porsche to celebrate American Independence Day, but there’s never a bad time to check out these totally radical race and road cars with Porsche’s incredibly quick factory racer, Patrick Long. Give it a watch!

356A 1600 S Speedster

We associate the 356A Speedster with those gruff, squinty-eyed men from yesteryear who embodied independence and individuality. Steve McQueen and James Dean, two actors who actually raced Porsches, are forever linked to this gorgeous piece of rolling artistry from half a century ago. Even though it only had ~75 horsepower, its pared-down frame made it quick and relatively cheap. Considering the prices they fetch now, it’s hard to believe that this was once one of the more affordable Porsches around.

964 America Roadster

Fast forward thirty years, and the wide haunches of a Turbo model made its way onto an open-top Carrera for those balmy Los Angeles evenings. With serious performance and a relaxed character, what better car to suit a blitz along Mulholland Drive?

A shape any red-blooded Porschephile would be happy to see.

964 RS America

For those who wanted more for their trips to Willow Springs, Porsche built the 964 RS America. Since us yanks couldn’t get the 964 RS, Porsche answered our track junkies’ calls with the RS America. Stripped and spartan, this 2,975-lb machine offered no frills but plenty of thrills.

917-30 Can-Am

This list wouldn’t be complete without mentioning this gem. A conservative estimate of 800 horsepower, a ferocious power delivery, and less than one ton of weight made this one of the most successful cars ever, and the only car to win Can-Am that wasn’t powered by a Chevrolet engine. Even the driver’s feet were positioned ahead of the front wheels! They were certainly brave back then.

To set a quick lap in of these monsters, one needed a double-dose of courage and a dash of recklessness.

934.5

Rounding out this list of greats is the 934.5—the car which ushered turbocharging into American GT racing. Though the 600-hp 934.5 was designed to run in IMSA Group 4, it was banned and instead used in SCCA Trans-Am, where it won 6 of 8 races it competed in. Following in the 917’s footsteps, this beauty changed the direction of American road racing in the 1970s and 1980s. What a wonderful path these cars paved.

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What Is The New 911 Speedster Like To Drive On The Road?

A few years ago, we discussed the idea of a GT3 Cabriolet (below). Some of us thought it was a great idea, and others not so much. It took almost five years, but Porsche finally built something that is basically the 991 GT3 Cabriolet that we asked for, but better. Consider the 991.2 Speedster a send off for the chassis. This is among the last cars to be produced on this chassis that was introduced in 2012, and in my opinion that very few asked for, possibly the best of the breed. Porsche perfected the closed-roof GT3 concept with the GT3 Touring. Cut the roof off, strip the body of some extra weight, and slam a shortened windshield on there for good measure, and you’ve got the Speedster.

17 Year Old Kid Designs The GT3 Cabriolet Porsche Really Needs To Build

It still has GT3 suspension bits and that mega 500 horsepower naturally aspirated flat six at the back, only now it has a fiddly manually-operated drop top similar to that found in the 981 Boxster Spyder. Don’t worry about the Speedster’s top, however, it’ll usually be stowed away. The Speedster is meant to be driven with the top down.

Porsche had considered selling this car with no roof at all. While that would have been incredibly ballsy, and would have dropped the car’s mass by a not-insignificant amount, it feels right to have a manual roof to continue the Speedster’s lineage as a pure track-capable road car that can be driven across the country. Lets be honest, if you had purchased a 356 from Hoffman in the 1950s, you would have wanted a roof for your 3500 mile drive home to Southern California, right?

Now, Henry Catchpole has driven every iteration of Porsche GT since the 991 series was unveiled (while I myself have not yet driven the GT2 RS). That makes him perfectly qualified to discuss the merits of the Speedster as a package. In the video below for Carfection, Catchpole will touch on just about everything you’d need to know about the Speedster’s ability to perform. Considering it came from the GT car department, it was bound to be good, but how good?

Don’t bother putting the top up. Get in. Push the Sport Exhaust button. Slam the manual gear lever into 1st. Never look back.

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