The brakes are exceptional, powerful and full of feel. As you come to a halt, it’s obvious that the 959 represents the ultimate — and singular — Porsche supercar if rear-engined is the only way you’d have one. Viewed in context, the 959 is a landmark car and will always be able to hold its head high in the company of the more flamboyant but relatively fragile Italian supercars from its era.
911 GT1 Evo: Race Car as Supercar
This 911 GT1 Evo “Street” looks quite different from the early race car I drove at Hockenheim exactly 10 years ago as well as the early street version I drove nine months later. The first series of GT1 road and race cars had oval headlights from the 993 and used its rear lights, too. But, within a matter of months, the revised racing and road-going GT1s coming out of Weissach had switched to the new-look front and rear lights of the 996.
Along with a few other minor bodywork adjustments, this brought the GT1’s aesthetics in-line with the 996 Carrera — thus re-establishing that all-important visual relationship between Porsche’s competition machines and its road cars. With its 996 front and rear lights, the Buck Rogers styling of this Mk. II GT1 looks truly modern and, indeed, most onlookers unfamiliar with GT1 history would be surprised to learn it is nearly a decade old.
Unlike the two supercars that bracket the GT1’s place in Porsche’s universe, the GT1 is more race car than road car. Open its massive engine cover with the special tool provided and you’ll see the extent of the 150-liter luggage compartment mandated by race regulations in 1996. One of the modifications for customer road cars was a longer compartment with a bigger access hatch. You’ll also see two 993-shaped exhaust silencers at the rear. What is not obvious, though, is that the silencers contain a second pair of sports catalysts while the primary catalysts are where you would expect to find them, about two feet aft of the exhaust manifolds. These four free-flow cats are said to be very efficient, producing minimal back-pressure while helping the highly-tuned motor meet the emissions regulations of its day.
The 911 GT1 was built to win races, not concours events — so you’ll always find imperfections in its painted carbon-fiber front and rear sections. There’s a general lack of elegance to its engine bay, as well. Yet this rough and ready approach is part of what gives the GT1 its own charm. You know this car is meant for going as fast as possible and nothing more. If you want a piece of Porsche’s motorsport legend, this is it. If you just want a car to polish and look at, the GT1 is not the one.
Climbing into the GT1 requires dexterity, as the side bars of its FIA-approved roll cage provide a fixed obstacle course that must be negotiated. Once in, however, you’ll find the racing seats clamp you in place and offer pretty good comfort. The GT1 Mk. II takes its dashboard straight out of the 993, and its non-airbag steering wheel is shared with the 993 RS and GT2. Make no mistake, though: the cabin is very much in the “race-car lightweight” ethic. The door panels are mere sheets of carbon-fiber that hold the door pulls and stereo’s speakers. You do get carpets, but you also get the sense that this is a place to conduct serious driving business.
The bulkhead is right behind the racing seats. With all black trim and no rear window, the back wall creates a claustrophobic feel you will find in no other 911. Apart from the cage around you, another clue to the GT1’s racing pedigree is the thick, black-painted steel linkage guide rod heading back from below the gearshift lever. Look for the handbrake in the normal place and your fingers quickly find this heavy-duty gear-linkage rod, which you can see transmitting your orders aft as you move the gear lever around.
The Le Mans-racer looks of the 2,535-pound GT1 make it the most visually arresting of these three Porsches, but its positively polite exhaust note will catch you off guard when someone else fires it up. While the racing GT1 produces a deeper and far louder soundtrack, the constraints of road-car legislation meant the street version had to be quieted to a level barely louder than a period 911 Turbo.
Inside the cabin, however, its sound is quite different. The powerful engine and its heavily silenced exhausts bark with a ferocity that will gladden the hearts of real enthusiasts and quicken their pulses. With the reciprocating parts working hard just behind your ears and the huge ram-air intake over your head, the stripped out interior amplifies the voice of the twin-turbo flat six. The noise is fabulous; a collection of gritty, mechanical sounds mixed with induction gurgles, the usual flat-six scream, and the whine of steel gears. At full chat, you can easily imagine reeling in the Mulsanne Straight.
The GT1’s reason for being is to go quickly, which it does with breathtaking ability. The clutch is heavy, but not unduly so. More importantly, it’s progressive and that makes it easy to get the GT1 off the line with less than 2000 rpm on the clock. As the clutch bites, revs drop to 1500 and the GT1 moves away smoothly with the familiar rattle of competition-grade steel gears. The six-speed gearbox uses the normal H-pattern. The knob itself will be familiar to 993 Carrera RS and GT2 owners.
In the GT1, however, the shifter needs a firm hand to guide it across the short-shifter’s gate. While first and second are easy to select, once you’ve pushed across the gate to find third, it has to be rammed home like a rifle bolt. It may seem like hard work for someone used to the slick, fingertip changes of a modern 911, but those who find the mastery of precision competition machines a challenge will find changing gears smoothly in the GT1 an immensely rewarding task.
The drive is enhanced by a wonderfully docile engine. While the race version I drove at Hockenheim had 600 bhp, the intercooled, twin-turbo 3163-cc GT1 motor has been detuned by around ten percent for street use. Fed by just one large throttle body rather than one ram intake per cylinder to increase tractability, the street-legal version develops 544 bhp at 7000 rpm and 443 lb-ft of torque at 4250 rpm.