First Impressions

911 3.2 vs. 944 S2 1
911 3.2 vs. 944 S2 2
911 3.2 vs. 944 S2 3
911 3.2 vs. 944 S2 4
911 3.2 vs. 944 S2 5
911 3.2 vs. 944 S2 6
911 3.2 vs. 944 S2 7

Seeing his S2 in person is like stepping through a time portal and emerging in 1989. “I found the car in Naples, Florida with 20,500 miles on the odometer,” reveals O’Rourke. “It had belonged to two collectors who were avid Porsche fans. The paint, interior, trim, engine bay, original books, spare tire, and the rims were absolutely pristine.” At the time, O’Rourke was on a spree and bought everything from this car to an ’84 Wolfsburg Edition Scirocco. He later came to his senses and sold off many of the cars (including a spotless Testa­rossa), but he kept the 944 and 328.

While I can’t wait to find out more about why O’Rourke is so into the S2, I open the door to the beguiling M491 first. No surprises await me inside. It’s vintage 911, and by that I mean there isn’t much between this cockpit and one in a late 1960s 911. Sure, the gauges look more modern, the seats are more accommodating — but the basic layout is identical. That same wide, oval-shaped instrument cluster, that same upright driving position, that same shift lever sprouting out of the floor.

It’s cozy if claustrophobic, particularly in all black. It does feel exceedingly well screwed together, though. The driver’s door shuts with a tching, and the interior has held up well, with hardly a wear mark in sight. Everything about it smacks of quality and has a hand-made feel.

A twist of the key ignites the 3.2-liter six under that massive rubber-lipped spoiler — a wing that, thanks to its sheer presence, still shames any Pep Boys contraption adorning the trunk of an unfortunate Civic. After firing up with a smooth flourish, the 3.2 settles down to a whirring, chugging idle. Horsepower was rated at 207 for a U.S. car like this one, torque a similarly modest 195 lb-ft.

The clutch is a bit heavy and the 915 transmission slots into first easily if a bit vaguely. 1987–89 Carreras with the G50 transmission offer a more modern, more precise shifter, but I find that the 915 feels more appropriate in an impact-bumper 911. Once underway, the heft of the clutch carries over to the steering, which is nicely weighted through sweepers but gives my forearms a workout in tighter hairpins.

The star of the show is the 3.2, which pushes this fairly light 911 out of corners and shoves it down the road enthusiastically. The flat six makes all the right noises and offers solid torque for quick progress. It whirs distinctively in the midrange and howls like a rip-saw at higher rpm.

Thanks to its wider contact patch, this M491 offers less of the fine feedback narrow Carreras do. While this is most apparent at the rear end, there’s still decent feedback and tactility at the front tires, which helps you place this wide-feeling 911 where you want it on canyon roads. After firing out of a few corners and inhaling short straights, it’s apparent that this is a car better suited to medium-speed sweepers and faster bends. Its heavy steering makes it feel slow-witted and none-too nimble. In tight turns, understeer rears it head and the front end washes wide — a sure byproduct of the additional grip provided by the Turbo-sized, 16×9 rear wheels and 245-mm tires.

There’s enough grip on hand to go very quickly, but the car’s mid-corner reflexes aren’t as sharp as I expected and would have preferred. It turns in nicely, with the front tires keying into the pavement, but it’s difficult to adjust your line through a corner once you’re committed. Attacking a succession of turns is best done with forethought. As for braking, the Turbo-sourced stoppers feel firm, so you lean on them harder — but they’re easily modulated and slow the car quickly.

Coming to a stop next to the 944 after a spirited run through the hills, I’m struck by how old the impact-bumper 911s are starting to feel, a trait that encompasses everything from their interior layout to the sound of the air-cooled masterpiece that powers them. It’s no bad thing, but it’s a sentiment echoed by O’Rourke when he returns from a stint in the 911.

Also from Issue 186

  • First Drive in 2010 GT2 RS
  • Rare one-off 1953 Phoenix-Porsche
  • Driving a 1974 RSR in the last Historics
  • How the 911 won Le Mans in 2010
  • Real 1973 RS 2.7, Hot-rodded
  • Sebring Winner Kees Nierop
  • 911 Turbo Buyers Guide
  • Early 911: Affordable Fun
  • 2011 Panamera V6 Driven
  • The Cashmere Cliff Part 3 (911 SC)
  • Porsche's Latest Parts Emporium
  • Porsche Batteries and Electrical Systems
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