Monterey, California—After green-lighting its 918 Spyder concept for production, Porsche is presenting the car at the annual car week in Monterey.
Last night, we had a chance to walk around the 918 with Porsche design head Michael Mauer — and hear the car fire up. Mauer, who once got stuck designing trucks for Freightliner, says it’s far easier to design “something you actually want to drive” — and it’s pretty clear that he wanted to drive the 918. And he has, albeit at limited speeds. That’s because the concept car is not yet ready for anything beyond relatively low speeds (recall that the Boxster Concept could only be coasted down a hill for motion photography). While the concept car can be driven under the power of its full-race, 3.4-liter RS Spyder V8, it is far from being sorted. Porsche will be conducting “photo drive-by opportunities” for the media on a private road in Monterey County later today, but we’ll have to wait some time before driving a 918 in earnest. Until then, we can only guess what 500 normally-aspirated horsepower and another 200 or so electric horses might feel like.
Walking around the car, it seems both more compact and better proportioned than Porsche’s last supercar, the V10-powered Carrera GT. It has a more voluptuous shape, as well, one that’s far more hourglass than prototype racer. While some of the car’s details — square headlights, Audi-ish taillights and busy rear bumper — didn’t win us over in person, either, many others did. The front clamshell is marvelously sculpted, its softly shaped high fenders cut by strong definition lines before the plunge to meet the low hood. The topside central radiator exhaust vent takes a cue from those used in GT2s and GT3s, but is Porsche’s best execution to date. Mauer is hopeful that the one-piece clamshell will make it to production, and we can see why: Cutting it up to add a smaller hood would kill the surfacing. While the delicate fender surfacing continues at the rear, it is overwhelmed by a Tesla-like decklid, boomerang wing supports, and a busy rear bumper.
Two Porsche executives offered explanations for why the 918 differs from the Carrera GT in not showing its engine through the decklid, one of them saying the V8 sits too low in the chassis to make much of an impression, the other noting that showing off a powerful engine isn’t as acceptable as it once was. The latter is an interesting peek into Porsche’s current discussions, though the huge side exhausts indicate those discussions are ongoing. Mauer is interested in keeping the side pipes but knows that drive-by noise standards may not allow Porsche to do so.
The headlights are another interesting feature. Mauer says that he was inspired by the basic shape of the stacked headlights seen in 917Ks, but that he altered the idea, squaring it somewhat to work with his favored four-LED setup. The large, multi-spoke centerlock wheels were missing the clear covers they featured at the 918’s world debut. When questioned, Mauer chuckled. “If I am honest, they have been (temporarily) lost!” The clear discs were designed to be removed according to customer preference, and he suspects some will like the car better without them (we do). The clear covers — and the wheel design itself — are meant as a reference to Porsche race cars of old, as Mauer liked the central dishes seen on 935 and 956/962 wheels.
Of course, things will change. Mauer says the car will probably get real side mirrors rather than the current cameras. The windshield is too low, as are the fairings (check the top of the headrests). There is no provision for a top, as the side windows end well short of the fairings and there is no provision for a rear window. The Carrera GT ceramic composite brakes look tiny behind the 21- and 22-inch wheels, and the rear tires will probably end up wider than the current 295s. Inside, the rising center console is a clue to the fact that the 918 is built on a modified CGT tub, while the pedals and pedal box are a dead giveaway.
Still, it’s a concept car far more finished than most. Not only does the 918 run and drive, a peek into its wheel wells reveals reasonable finish in places the camera won’t see. Things like weather seals around the doors and windows not only exist but are well executed, and the frameless-window doors sound better when shut than the similarly frameless doors on a production Volkswagen EOS do.
The 918 designation is also a highly interesting choice. When Porsche put the Carrera badge on its basic 911 starting in 1984, the name — which means “race” — was never again as special as it once was. By the 1990s, Porsche’s move away from numeric model designations was complete. Or, almost complete. Ironically, the Porsches with numeric designations are the special ones these days, whether they’re limited-edition “911s,” GT2s, or GT3s. Or 918s.
Mauer is a big fan of the 918 Spyder designation and says that he will fight for it. The passionate designer’s eyes brightened at the idea that the moniker could leave the door open to a 918 coupe down the road. May we suggest a 918K?