Rennsport hero, meet Rennsport hero. But which is better?
By John Howell / Saturday, 28 May 2022 / Loading comments
Days like this don’t come around often. For sure, it’s one of those pinch-yourself-kind-of days that, well, even having worked in this industry for a while, seems a bit surreal. Yet here I am. In Stuttgart, standing in front of a very grey and unexciting-looking building tucked away in a nondescript part of town. This was a factory at one point, making furniture so I’m told, but these days it’s the place where Porsche conceals its car collection – the ones that aren’t on tour around the globe or on display in the glittery, glassy museum down the road.
It goes colloquially by the name of ‘The Shed’ I believe. Inside, it’s as exciting as the second, third and fourth coming for Porsche devotees. There are roughly 700 cars within its walls, totalling somewhere in the region of 1.5 to 2 billion euros, depending on who’s doing the sums. Ouch. How crazy is that? Even more so because the security is, well, unobtrusive. Supposedly there is some, but I can’t see it. Clearly, burglary isn’t my bag.
Not all is a sea of grey out front, though. For a start, the sun is beaming gloriously, and that’s bringing out the gloriously vivid colours of the four classic Porsche 911s lined up outside. They look so little – like a row of multi-coloured automotive ducklings. And speaking of ducks, that’s the reason we’re here: it’s the 50th anniversary of the 2.7 Carrera RS and its ducktail, and two of the cars are sporting them – a 2.7 Sport and a Touring. More on the original Carrera RS at a later date, though. Today is all about the 2.7’s younger Rennsport siblings, represented here by a 1991 964 Carrera RS in Rubystone Red and a 1995 993 Carrera RS Clubsport in Riviera Blue.
Now, the 964 RS wasn’t universally well received when it landed on the scene. I am interested to see if this was merely the pent-up expectation brought on by the mammoth 18-year wait for a replacement of the original RS; expectation that, perhaps, could never be fulfilled. Is it as bad as they said? Has time has been kind to the car? Like the original 2.7, the 964 RS was based on a standard 911 of the day – in this case the Carrera 2 – with a series of tweaks to homologate it for Group N/GT events. 2,000 were planned and a few hundred more were built. Its 3.6-litre air-cooled boxer engine produced just 10hp more that the Carrera 2. Can you believe, only 260hp in total? How times have changed. That was spun though the Carrera 2’s five-speed ‘box and a limited-slip differential.
A key part of the RS formula is shedding weight. So the 964 RS came with an alloy bonnet, thinner glass and no rear seats. There were fewer luxuries, too, with manually adjustable bucket seats, manual windows and you moved the door mirror glass by poking it with your finger. How quaint. Of course, there was no air con and even the factory alarm was left on the shelf in that quest for lightness – a hell of a risky move when you think of the enthusiastic early ‘90s joy-riding scene. At the front were bigger, 964 Turbo brakes and, at the rear, brakes from a Porsche Carrera Cup car. It also had forged alloy wheels wrapped in 205/50 ZR 17s at the front and 255/40 ZR 17s at the back. Despite those additions, it ended up tipping the scales at 1,220kg – in the region of 100kg less than the standard car.
All that sounds healthy, but then there were the suspension changes – the cause of the disapproval. Weissach lowered the body by 40mm and fitted firmer springs and tighter dampers. Was it really that bad? Yes. On the road it didn’t take me long to confirm the complaints. Germany’s roads tend to be rather more forgiving than ours, but the 964 still snuffles out the bad bits and becomes quite uncompromising when it has. This is not a car for touring in, that’s for sure. And there’s another issue that comes quickly to the fore: its steering.
There’s no power assistance, and by-crikey it’s heavy. I’m not talking about just parking-speed heavy. It’s heavy, heavy. Even when you’re up and running it takes a heave to add more than a quarter-turn of lock. I am relieved we’re just on the road today, because, were we venturing onto a track, I wonder how easy it would be, if things went wrong, to get a twirl of oppo on the go then wind it off again before you’d speared off in the direction of something unaccommodating. Before the heavy bit, it’s actually quite slack either side of twelve o’clock. Now, this is typical of early 911s and not usually a biggie. Here it is, though, because those fat front tyres exacerbate the disparity between these two phases. It makes the 964 RS quite a handful.
There’s sensation in the steering, but it’s not extraordinarily stimulating. Not compared with the best modern EPS set-ups, like the 992 GT3’s. Those that tell you good steering died when hydraulic assistance took over – then was resurrected and died again when hydraulics turned to electrics – aren’t completely correct, it seems. To top it all off, there’s very little self-centring either. Not only are you unassisted applying the lock, you have to do most of the unwinding, too. So the 964 RS might be only 1,200kg-odd but, with all this wrestling involved, it’s not a car you drive with fingertips; it needs hustling.
The driving position is a little curious as well – even for an air-cooled 911. The seats are trimmed nicely in leather and the semi-buckets pinch you at the hips. That bit is fine, but the fixed backrests are quite reclined. Now, I favour a fairly upright stance, and that’s what I’d expected in an RS. Here though I feel like one of those ‘kids’ you see in a lowered, blacked-out hot hatch: lent back at the kind of jaunty angle more suited to a chaise lounge. This leaves my two gangly limbs outstretched and gripping the typically late-80s Porsche steering wheel – the same one you got with an oval-dash 944, in fact. It seems a bit ordinary here.
I am being critical, but only because I wanted more: I wanted to love it. And there are good bits about the 964 RS. Compared with earlier 911s, the stubbier gear lever poking out of the 964’s more modern centre console has a properly defined gate – albeit with more than a few notches. Moreover, despite the classically offset pedals, I can heel and toe, which is made even easier because this is a home-market left-hooker. The brakes feel superb for a 30-year-old car, and there’s that pleasing flat-six experience to savour as well. When you turn the key, it settles into a gratifyingly lumpy idle, and while the 3.6 is surprisingly muted when you’re into the meat of the rev range, there’s no mistaking it’s an air-cooled boxer.
A very tractable one, too. It pulls decently from low revs – enough to feel flexible – but you need 4,000rpm dialled up to get it on song. Then it’s a quick but not ballistic, even when you approach the 6,800rpm red line – although that’s just fine by me. 260hp is a piffling amount today, but it reminds me of a thing called ‘enough’. When it comes to performance, the 964 RS has enough. 0-62mph in 5.3 seconds is more than enough acceleration for the road. And despite the steering and ride issues, on the flowing sections there is tremendous grip and flat-line cornering to hook you, but, at the same time, just a sense that you could get yourself into trouble finding its limits. Which leaves me thinking, as our time together draws to a close, I haven’t really gelled with the old girl. I turn to my passenger and say, “I’m struggling to love this car.”
We pull over in a car park next to the 993 Carrera RS Clubsport. As the two cars contract with tinny ticks and tocks – and a kid on a skateboard comes over to snap a few Instagrammable pictures – I look at the thoroughly menacing 993, with its huge Clubsport rear wing, and wonder will it be more of the same? Or worse? This thing looks properly motorsporty.
The blueprint for the 993 Carrera RS reads much the same as the 964’s. It had the same attention to weight saving, right down the smallest detail: the intermittent wiper function was removed, just one small interior lamp was left, and the Carrera 2’s 6.5-litre washer bottle was squished to 1.2. Overall, it weighed 1,270kg – again, 100kg less than the 993 Carrera 2. It had the same-sized 322mm discs all round, vented and drilled, with 18-inch wheels and fatter tyres (225/40 ZR at the front and 265/35 ZR at the rear). The ride height was lowered (this time by 30mm front; 40mm rear) and the roll bars were adjustable.
But a key difference was the 993’s new five-link rear suspension. This was essentially the set-up that went in the 996, and it curbed the issue that had blighted all 911s to date – lift-off oversteer. The old semi-trailing-arm layout lacked the lateral stiffness to keep the rear-wheel geometry correct when the driver lifted off – instead of resisting the oversteer, the flex would exacerbate it. The new multi-link LSA (standing for lightweight design, stability, agility) arrangement added much-needed side-on support, which has made all 911s since less twitchy.
The engine was bored out to 3.8 litres and came with bigger-diameter valves, which pushed the 993 RS’s output to 300hp at 6,500rpm. It had yet another trick bit of kit to boast about, too: the Varioram intake manifold. This optimised the motor’s breathing. At low revs the intake pipes are lengthened (by twice as much as the standard Carrera 2’s Varioram system) to help driveability and the pipes contract as the revs rise. There was a dual-mass flywheel, and the gearbox gained a sixth ratio along with double-cone synchromesh on first and second. That nigh-on halved the effort needed to engage those gears.
Just over 1,000 993 RSs were made, but only 200 or so came with this Clubsport pack – 100 were needed to homologate the 993 RS for FIA GT2 racing. The Clubsport went even further, adding the enormous adjustable rear wing, a welded-in roll cage, front strut brace, battery disconnect switch, fire extinguisher and proper race-spec buckets with six-point harnesses.
The roll cage is the sort that makes me feel even older than I am because it means sliding over the side beam with all the dexterity a half-arsed high jumper. Once that undignified bit is over, I look around and, yep, it’s basically a racing car in here. Bar some mats and a relatively normal dashboard, there’s nothing: pull-chord door releases, no headlining, and no back seats, obviously. But being a Clubsport, not even any covering where they would’ve been; just an ocean of blue metal panels and scaffolding.
I prefer the driving position, though. The harnesses are a right old kerfuffle, as always, but once they’re tight, the race-ready Recaro fits me beautifully. And sits me up straight, just how I like to be. I feel right at home here, so I start the engine and, oh boy: the contrast between this and the 964 is black hole versus supernova. It’s so loud. Wonderfully loud. Clutch up, the gearbox is clanking away behind me like every bearing is buggered. Push the clutch down and that subsides so you can hear the engine spitting and snarling away dirtily. And the car’s alive with vibrations. This is great, too. Maybe the mass damper is on holiday, because at idle it’s every bit as lumpy as the 964 RS, only with all the jitters jangling my spine. Now, I appreciate this sort of thing isn’t everyone’s cuppa, but it is mine.
Clutch down, into first and off. Straightaway the gearbox is a big improvement over the 964. It’s light but oh-so precise; not a hint of sloppiness along any plane. It simply snicks into gears with the delightful sense of cogs meshing. I think it’s possibly one of the best ‘boxes of any Porsche I’ve driven. The next revelation is the steering. Not just the feel of the three-spoke wheel, but the fact it’s assisted at last and all the better for it. Okay, you lose some of the 964’s precious feel, but all the unnecessary weight has gone and what’s left is perfectly judged. It’s also connected the moment you turn; not a hint of imprecision and I’m feeling totally at one with it straightaway. Just a kilometre or two down the road and I can sense this thing’s the real deal. Again, I turn to my passenger, this time beaming like I’ve been sniffing glue, and I shout over the commotion: “This is a lovely, lovely thing.”
It just keeps getting lovelier, too. The ride is supercar-perfect. Unlike the 964, it’s not jabbing you over every ridge or slugging you a body blow over potholes. Whoever set this car up deserves a gold star and a lollipop. It’s a chassis-engineering master class: how to square the circle of tight springs, tight dampers and tight wheel travel and end up with utter control and complete compliance. The frenetic noise reverberating around the spartan cabin might be full-on race car, but the ride is sublime.
I don’t mind the racket one bit, though. The gearbox whining away like a well-worn truck transmission, and the engine, which is undiluted and crisp, is a joy. This may sound weird, but it reminds me of an air-cooled Beetle. Hear me out. If you’ve ever travelled in one of those, you’ll remember they also have very little in the way of sound deadening and when you rev them the motor sounds like it’s chirping away on the back seat. Well, here the intensity is the same, though it’s not the tinny, flat-four parp, but six of the best uncut. You just can’t help but gun it whenever possible, although, as with the 964 RS, it’s not explosively quick – 0-62mph is officially five-seconds dead. Again, that’s enough to have fun with; enough to enjoy on an empty road without an overbearing sense of jeopardy.
My only sadness is the roads weren’t that empty. This part of the day, in this amazing car, coincided with onset of Stuttgart’s afternoon rush hour. I only had a few moments to appreciate glimpses of the finesse and accuracy plumbed into the chassis; before long we were crawling along clogged Autobahns. Even here I found elements to enjoy, mind. For all its track-focused silliness, it’s incredibly easy to drive in traffic. The clutch is light and easy to engage. The brakes – again, superb when you’re at speed – aren’t the least bit sharp in a snarl. Meanwhile, all the noise and vibrations keep reminding you, on the slim, slim chance you might’ve forgotten, that you’re in something special. Very special.
Those around me seem to think so, too. Outside, the sun still shining and windows down in the baking heat, everyone seems to be enjoying this bright blue brilliant relic as much as I am from within. And I really am. The 964 didn’t quite hit the spot, but the 993 Carrera RS Clubsport has shot straight into the top-five best cars I’ve been lucky enough to drive. It’s that good. A very niche thing, for sure, but if, like me, you don’t mind – or indeed relish – the idea of something needfully raw, which smacks of quality engineering through and though, I reckon you’d love it too. I’m still pinching myself right now, to be honest. I’ll say it again: what a lovely, lovely thing.
Specification | Porsche 911 (964) Carrera RS
Engine: 3,600cc, 6-cylinder, naturally aspirated
Transmission: 5-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 260 @ 6,100rpm
Torque (lb ft): 240 @ 4,800rpm
Top speed: 162mph
On sale: 1991
Price new: £50,000
Specification | Porsche 911 (993) Carrera RS Clubsport
Engine: 3,746cc, 6-cylinder, naturally aspirated
Transmission: 6-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 300 @ 6,500rpm
Torque (lb ft): 247 @ 5,400rpm
Top speed: 172mph
On sale: 1995
Price new: £71,500
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