20 Years of Supercars

When Excellence Magazine debuted, Porsche was just getting started on true supercars. We Drive all three—the 959, 911 GT1, and Carrera GT.

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February 4, 2007

In recent years, Porsche has become a prolific creator of variations on a theme. The number of “911” Carrera, Boxster, and Cayman derivatives now available demonstrates a slick, dedicated approach to the concept of platform sharing. This is clever business strategy, and it has won the company both enormous profitability and a secure future.

It’s a far cry from leaner times, when Porsche’s model range was sparse and more easily defined. What was as clear then as now, however, is that a flagship model at the top of the range is vital for image-building. A limited-edition supercar with unique looks, performance, and technical innovations to showcase the company’s capabilities never does any harm. The 959, 911 GT1, and Carrera GT all pioneered new technologies or showed how existing materials and technologies could be honed to a finer point. They are the result of three succeeding decades of design and technological advances in Porsche’s development of the supercar genre. Each of these cars represents a uniquely different philosophical approach to the supercar as it has evolved over 20 years. And each of them sold into wildly differing market conditions…

The 959’s heyday was the crazy classic-car boom of the late 1980s, when rare cars changed hands for sums that made stockbrokers weep on the trading floor. Pity, then, that a car’s engineering excellence and dynamic abilities were almost irrelevant against this backdrop of bluster. The development costs for Helmuth Bott’s 959 were staggering. While the car was clearly based on the 911, it introduced highly advanced all-wheel-drive, twin-turbocharging, and height-adjustable suspension — all fully developed for production and street use. Porsche lost money on every 959 it sold, though speculators were able to make a tidy profit.

Production numbers for the 959 vary. When we asked Porsche for its numbers, it said 16 prototype and 21 “Vorseries” (pre-production) 959s were built in 1985. For 1987, 106 Comfort models and seven Sports were built. For 1988, one Sport and 149 Comfort models were built for the Rest of World market — in addition to 29 Sport examples intended for U.S. consumption. According to Porsche, a total of 329 examples were produced between 1985 and 1988 — making the 959 far rarer than the coveted 1973 Carrera RS 2.7.

It’s not nearly as rare as the 911 GT1, however. When this thinly veiled race car appeared ten years later, Wall Street was quite a bit calmer. The street versions of the GT1 and similarly conceived Mercedes-Benz CLK GTR did eventually find homes — but not as easily. Porsche says it built two street-legal GT1s for homologation in 1996, followed by 20 1997 models and just one 1998 street car. Interestingly, Porsche built as many road-going GT1s, at 23 total, as racing GT1s. The latter totaled 12 for 1996, six for 1997, and five for 1998.

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The GT1 was a different kind of supercar than the 959. In the decade between these ground-breaking cars, Porsche’s financial struggles meant it didn’t have the money to develop a dedicated road-going supercar. Some of the spare cash it did have was diverted into motorsports activity aimed at maintaining the company’s image. Homologation for racing is always an excuse to build a road-going derivative of a race car, a process personified by 1973’s RS 2.7. And so, in 1996, Porsche announced a street-legal version of its forthcoming GT1 race car. Loosely based on a modified 993 tub and using the same basic engine block shared with the Turbo and GT2, a technical connection between the race cars and the mass-produced road cars was made. The company also got a viable, image-building supercar.

The Carrera GT debuted in 2003 amidst a flurry of other supercar launches. Where the 959 was an exercise in technical complexity and the 911 GT1 was a thinly veiled race car, the C-GT made its bid for superiority with a simple layout and advanced materials technology. Production ceased in early 2006, after 1,270 examples had been built — so it’s obvious which Porsche supercar is the commercial success story.

Porsche’s mainstream models have yet to benefit from technology developed by and for the Carrera GT in the way they did as a result of the 959. That’s because the C-GT’s carbon-fiber construction, extensive use of magnesium, lightweight trans-axle, and PCCC ceramic clutch are all still far too expensive and difficult to produce for normal production models.

959: Technological Wonder
No production Porsche of the 20th Century showcases innovation as readily as the 959. This was the first production all-wheel-drive Porsche, and it pioneered much of the technology that would find its way into the 964 Carrera 4 and 993 Turbo. A more spectacular technical tour de force in its time than the contemporary Ferrari 288 GTO, the 959 still fascinates today.

Made in an era before carbon-fiber was all the rage, the 959 still used pioneering construction materials. While its inner structure was essentially the hot-dip galvanized steel shell from the 911, its front fenders, sills, roof, and rear bodywork were made from Aramid Kevlar or fiberglass-reinforced epoxy resin. The door and hood skins were pressed aluminum. Compared to the 911, significant time was spent on the aerodynamics. Features like true flat-bottom lower bodywork helped the low-lift 959 achieve a 0.31 drag coefficient, a stunning achievement in an era when supercar aerodynamics were disgraced by the 0.30 Cd of family sedans like Audi’s 100 and Mercedes’ E-Class.

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While twin-turbocharging makes a lot of sense for any engine with two cylinder banks, all production Porsches with forced-induction up to 1986 used a single KKK turbocharger. The 959 broke the mold. Not only was it the first Porsche to use two turbos, it arranged them in a sequential layout. The left-hand K26 turbocharger was tasked with building boost up to 4000 rpm and, by 2500 rpm, it provided 14 psi of boost. An intricate system of cut-in and relief valves was devised to use the boost from the first K26 to simultaneously accelerate its counterpart on the other side of the engine so that, by 4300 rpm, each turbo was responsible for 50 percent of the charge-air pressure. Past 4300 rpm, maximum boost was limited to 13.5 psi.

The basic engine was closer to a competition engine than the 3.3-liter flat six in the 911 Turbo. With water-cooled heads, dual overhead cams, and four valves per cylinder, the 2.85-liter 959/50 flat six was its own animal. Where the most potent contemporary production 911 had 330 bhp (in Turbo LE form), the 959 was good for 450 bhp and 367 lb-ft of torque.

The 959 featured four-channel ABS, active tire-pressure monitoring, speed-dependent adjustable dampers, and — on the Comfort version — ride-height control. The 959’s AWD system was an electronically-controlled variable system that could adapt to different road-surface conditions or the driver’s wishes via selected programs optimized for different scenarios such as dry weather, rain, snow, or “terrain.” Cruising on a dry road, the torque split is 40/60 front/rear, going to 50/50 on slippery surfaces. Under hard acceleration, 80 percent of the power is sent to the rear wheels — making full use of the rear-engined 959’s traction advantage.

With optimum grip off the line, Porsche quoted a 0-62 mph time of 3.9 seconds, 0-125 mph in 14.3 seconds, and a top speed of 197 mph. These were spectacular numbers at the time and they’re still impressive nearly 20 years later. In a famous top-speed shootout organized by Auto Motor und Sport and Road & Track in 1988 and won by Ruf’s CTR, the factory’s top-speed claim for the 959 Sport proved to be right on the money.

Today, the 959 looks small, stubby, and a bit bulbous next to its lower, wider, and younger compatriots. Yet its relatively diminutive size is a reminder of just how big and unwieldy modern supercars have become — at least as far as daily use on real-world European roads is concerned. In the quest for more speed and downforce, wide-track stability, and the space to optimize flat-bottom aerodynamics and crash technology, the supercars of today have become far longer and wider.

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If you own a 911 from this period, you’ll feel right at home in the 959’s cabin. It’s only as large as a sports car needs to be. The first 959 I drove back in 1989 was the 3,593-pound Comfort version, and I recall its three-color leather seats were incredibly comfortable. The rarer Sport version — which is what we’ll drive today — featured sport-tuned suspension in lieu of the Comfort’s ride-height adjustable setup, which could increase ground clearance from 120 mm to 150 or 180 to clear driveways or other low obstacles. The 959 Sport also deleted the passenger-side mirror, rear seats, full-power front seats, air-conditioning, power windows, central locking, and some sound deadening. The deletions removed some 220 pounds, but the 3,373-pound 959S can hardly be considered light — even by modern standards.

The Porsche Museum’s red 959 Sport features superlative cloth sport seats. And, once you’re seated, it is time to twist the ignition key. The twin-turbocharged flat six bursts to life eagerly with the distinctive whirr of 450 horses waking up, ready to roll. The gearbox feels a lot like a five-speed G50 gearbox in a late 911 Carrera 3.2 — short and positive. However, the 959’s six-speed uses a dogleg pattern, with first to the left and down. The clutch is heavier than the Carrera 3.2’s, as well, because it must absorb the extra torque.

A slow lap of Malmsheim’s test track perimeter to warm the fluids and get used to the controls and their reactions brings memories flooding back. At a moderate pace, this car is so “eighties 911” that — apart from its AWD mode selector, center console, and gauges — you wouldn’t know you aren’t driving a 911 Turbo.

Until you push the throttle to the floor. Thrust is strong, but not as seamless as you might expect. Even though the 2.85-liter flat six has the advantage of sequential turbocharging, it still isn’t as instant as the later twin-turbo Porsches. Typical of turbo cars from this era, low-end response is initially sleepy. The horses are awake, but they don’t snap to attention. No, they trickle in progressively until you pass 4000 rpm. Then, suddenly, it’s time to go.

An unrelenting thrust pushes the 959 towards the horizon with real determination until it’s time to grab the next ratio. Still, while 450 bhp was a lot in 1988, it isn’t as mind-boggling in 2006. Not with four-door sedans from BMW and Mercedes churning out over 500 bhp — and with 480 bhp on tap in the 997 Turbo. Seen in the harsh light of the early 21st century, the 959’s rate of departure feels brisk but not overwhelming. Its soundtrack is similar to a 1980s 911 Turbo, so no surprises here.

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Turned into a bend at speed, the Sport understeers noticeably less than a 959 Comfort. In fact, a few years back, I witnessed one of the driftmeisters from Auto Motor und Sport getting this very 959S pretty sideways in a long drift for the camera through the stadium section at Hocken-heim. The power-assist steering is medium-weighted and you can feel its resistance increase as you push deeper into a turn. Fully committed, the 959S moves around a lot more on its suspension than a modern Porsche does — and is more affected by weight transfer, too. Keep it smooth, though, and you will clearly feel the obvious transitional period when you drive through understeer and move the tail out into power oversteer.

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.

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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.

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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.

The single-plug ignition and sequential fuel injection is controlled by a Bosch M5.2 engine management system, which helps to give the GT1 superb and nearly lag-free throttle response despite its modest 8.5:1 compression ratio. Pickup is keen even from low revs, and the GT1 feels far more responsive and faster than the heavier and less powerful 959S. Driving at modest speeds in third gear is no chore, and, on the open road, driving one gear higher than you might in a 993 Turbo makes for smooth progress and less chance of inducing traction problems on wet or bumpy surfaces.

Ironically, the docile nature of the GT1’s flat six is what makes the car seem slower than it actually is. The official figures from Porsche stated 0-62 mph in 3.7 seconds, 0-100 mph in 7.2 seconds, and an electronically limited 194-mph top speed. The latest 997 Turbo can almost match these numbers with just 480 bhp, but they were spectacular for a street-legal car in 1997 — and lightning fast by any standard.

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However, the subjective feel of a car is just as important. The smoothness and linearity of this 911’s torque curve means that, rather than receiving a truly massive punch in the kidneys with each shift like you might in a car with more turbo lag, the GT1 street provides a long, hard blast of acceleration that’s only punctuated by five gear changes.

Braking is something this car handles just as well. The rotors are 380-mm discs like those found in the race cars, but are vented steel rather than carbon. The alloy calipers are the same, though, and these have eight-pistons each in front and four-pistons each at the rear — linked to ABS. Fitted with street pads, their stopping power is simply awesome. It’s the sort of race-car deceleration that will have your eyeballs popping out on organ stops — with the seatbelt threatening to leave permanent marks on your chest. Porsche says the brakes have a maximum performance on the order of 2000 bhp and, thanks to the Bosch ABS, that means 60-0 mph takes just 2.5 seconds.

The downforce generated by the GT1’s spoiler package works extremely well when you’re going fast — effectively doubling the weight of the car at 124 mph. At lower speeds, you must rely on sheer mechanical grip and common sense. The former is prodigious, the latter up to you. Body roll seems almost non-existent and the tires’ grip is so great that you’d have to be suicidal to exceed the limit of adhesion on a public road. In a steady state cornering test, the limited-slip differential pushes the forward 295/35ZR18 Pirellis P-Zeros progressively wide. Fortu-nately, there’s plenty of feedback from the power-assisted steering setup.

It takes a heavy, determined right foot to break the 335/30ZR18 rear tires loose. When they finally do let go, you know about it — and you’ll want to rein it in quickly. Limited steering lock means that, once you reach a certain angle of sideways, a spin is essentially unavoidable.

So how fast can you really drive a 911 GT1 safely on public roads? The answer lies not in its performance but in common sense. The low-speed ride is very firm, the ground clearance minimal, and the huge front tires want to follow every groove and camber in the road. So you must concentrate on guiding the steering wheel more than you would in a normal performance road car. The ride is firm at low speeds, but go faster and, as if by magic, it gets better. So does stability. Fast autobahn sweepers can be taken with a level of confidence you’ll find in few road cars.

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The GT1 is a long and wide car and suffers the usual problems of big mid-engined supercars, especially on narrow country roads. Although it hardly rolls in corners, the GT1’s physical width works against it on smaller roads. Intro-duce bumps or tight bends and a well-driven Carrera or a fast hot-hatch would easily embarrass it. But on wide, smooth roads with sweeping bends, the 911 GT1 would be a speck in the distance — while rewarding you with the unique sensations only top-flight racers experience.

That the 911 GT1 is a fantastic car, a Porsche that gets better the faster you go, is inescapable. But that is its liability, too. On most public roads, its raison d’etre can’t sensibly be applied. Even if you live close to an autobahn, you’d have to pick your window carefully to avoid the frustration of getting tangled up in traffic. Ideally, GT1 owners should live within reasonable distance of a race track to really get their money’s worth…

Carrera GT: Materials as Technology
Porsche’s background is very strongly rooted in motorsports. But while the 959 was derived from a Paris-Dakar rally car and the 911 GT1 “Street” is a road-legal homologation special, the Carrera GT has no direct competition pedigree.

What is clear from the basic forms of the 959 and GT1 are constraints imposed by a 911 basis. The 959 is essentially a 1980s Carrera/Turbo under its skin with a sophisticated AWD system and a raft of other technologies in tow while the GT1’s need to look like the 911, even a little, dictated its visuals almost as much as the wind tunnel did. No such parameters hindered the evolution of the Carrera GT. It was as “blue sky” a road-going supercar project as any design team could ever wish for. That said, Porsche has never denied that its Carrera GT concept was derived from a “what might have been” Le Mans challenger whose budget was channeled into the Cayenne SUV project instead.

One advantage of the true clean-sheet approach is that the Carrera GT is more focused and less compromised as a road car when it’s compared to the 911 GT1. It’s also the only one of the three to offer removable roof panels, making it two cars in one in the best Porsche Targa tradition.

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One area where the Carrera GT scores heavily — not just against its two brethren but also against almost every other contemporary supercar barring the Pagani Zonda — is in the perfect execution of its detailing and build quality. Stunning attention to detail and peerless build quality are just two of the delights of Carrera GT ownership. It makes the older Porsche supercars feel basic and workmanlike by comparison. That said, the 959 also had no peers in this department in its era. Its chief rivals were cars from Lamborghini and Ferrari with build quality that shouldn’t be mentioned in the same breath as “959.”

Open the driver’s door and you’ll see that the carbon-fiber weaves match up from panel to panel. When I attended the pre-drive Carrera GT tech preview at Weissach in May of 2003, I thought many of the suspension and lightweight magnesium castings would make fabulous conversation pieces in home or office. The Carrera GT’s carbon-fiber chassis is so spectacularly detailed and finished that you really need two C-GTs to fully appreciate the depth of the chassis’ perfection — one with bodywork for driving and another without bodywork so you can marvel at the details.

If the GT has one foible, it is the small-diameter, lightweight ceramic-composite PCCC clutch, which hasn’t endeared itself to owners who aren’t always highly skilled, dyed-in-the-wool enthusiasts living near open roads. That said, none of those on the staff of Excellence find the clutch to be too much of an issue. If you can master the clutch in a normal Porsche, you can learn to drive a GT with patience and new muscle memory. In the meantime, just remember to let the car roll before you ease into the throttle. Once you’re moving, there are no issues whatsoever.

The driver’s seat of a Carrera GT, with the open road beckoning, is pure heaven. The seat and steering wheel have enough adjustment. Since six-foot-five Walter Röhrl can find a comfortable driving position, anyone else should be hard pressed not to. Looking around, there are no pretentious “Start” buttons or aircraft-style flick switches to light up the ignition. Just twist the key and the 5.7-liter V10 fires up instantaneously, with a yelp that portends a completely different driving experience from any previous road-going Porsche.

With 612 bhp at 8000 rpm and 435.5 lb-ft of torque peaking at 5750 rpm, the 3,146-pound Carrera GT blasts from zero to 62 mph in just 3.9 seconds and reaches 100 exactly three seconds later. Keep the throttle pinned for three more seconds and the needle will sweep past 125 mph on its way to a top speed of 205+mph.

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The Carrera GT carves a big hole in the air. Like all supercars that see the far side of 200 mph, the big intakes that feed the radiators, brakes, and aerodynamic aids to keep the Carrera GT from flying also prevent it from being blessed with an ultra slippery drag factor. A Cd of 0.39 is the number Porsche quotes, but unerring stability over 200 mph is a serious issue. Back in 2003, when we first wrung out the Carrera GT on a two-mile main runway at a former Russian airbase in East Berlin, our test car rocketed from rest to a data logger-indicated 198.75 mph. The car was still accelerating perceptibly when we passed the marker peg indicating the safe braking distance to prevent us from shooting off the end of the runway. Riding shotgun to Röhrl the next day, editor Pete Stout would see 208.94 mph flash briefly on the same Motec data box…

Braking is something the Carrera GT does exceptionally well, too. The ten runs we did in each direction involved braking hard from nearly 200 mph back to around 60 mph at the other end of the runway, proving the massive PCCB ceramic brakes are up to the task. It was a virtuoso braking performance that few, if any, supercars would have been able to match.

In one respect, the GT reminds us of a modern jet fighter. Inherently, it has to be slightly unstable to be as sharp-witted as it is, and it uses electronics to reign in its excesses at the absolute limits. When Walter Röhrl gave us an on-limit handling display — one lap of a test course with the traction-control system on and one with it off — Röhrl had to muster every ounce of his considerable driving skill to keep things together without the electronic aids. You could tell he was really working. Porsche calibrated the C-GT’s slightly PSM-like traction-control system to allow a fair bit of slip at the driven wheels before the electronics jump in to save you. It was obvious that the car was much faster and smoother through the course with TC on.

Röhrl is quick to praise the system and confirms that the Carrera GT is faster with its traction-control system armed. He says he always uses it on the Nürburgring — where the Carrera GT’s sheer speed leaves no margin for error. His seven-minute, 32-second banzai lap there, done in an early Carrera GT on its standard Michelin street tires, is indicative of the car’s speed and handling prowess on the most demanding race track in the world.

Driving the Carrera GT at more normal speeds on public roads is still a tremendous experience. All of its controls are relatively light and highly positive, with a synergy that only the best cars of any type exhibit. And yet, despite its eagerness to change direction, the Carrera GT never feels darty or nervous below the absolute limits. Its power steering is highly descriptive of the road’s surface yet doesn’t kick back unnecessarily. The steering loads up in fast turns, but not quite as much as the 959’s or GT1’s. The six-speed gearshift is a delight, with positive throws that require only a fingertip’s effort to complete. Side to side, it’s a short shifter. Gate to gate, the reach is longer — but oh so sweet.

Another measure of sweetness comes from one of the most incredible engines ever to power a road car. The normally-aspirated V10 is a willing revver, its super-light flywheel and ceramic clutch endowing it with a level of pickup that no normal street motor, let alone one with the burden of forced induction, can hope to match. Blip the throttle at idle and revs rise and fall instantly. Kill the ignition and the V10 doesn’t merely spin down, it stops — the instant you turn the key counterclockwise.

Apply throttle on the fly and the V10’s sharp throttle response and the inherent torque of 5.7 liters translate the low mass of this carbon-fiber supercar into serious forward motion. Amongst cutting-edge speed machines, only Ferrari’s Enzo and Pagani’s Zonda produce the same electric response. Of course, both of those supercars are also relatively light and have big, normally-aspirated motors.

The soundtrack that accompanies the C-GT’s leap for redline in each gear redefines the meaning of the term spine-tingling. The sound of a sheet of silk being ripped by a rapier in slow motion amplified through a 1,000-watt pro sound system behind your head is a rough approximation of what reaches your ears. It’s an awesome, intoxicating sound, but because of its lower volume and higher bass content, it has none of the pain-inducing frequencies and volume that accompany the scream of a V10-powered Formula 1 race car testing nearby.

In the final analysis, while the 959 and 911 GT1 both provide their own driving thrills, it is the Carrera GT that is the most polished and synergetic as a total driving experience. That Porsche created nearly 1,300 examples of its Carrera GT boggles the mind — and makes us wonder at what the next installment of the Porsche supercar story might be like…

Three Tenors, One Winner
It’s been interesting and refreshing to revisit the 959 and GT1 after driving them when they were freshly minted. I can be as nostalgic as the next enthusiast and I’ll be the first to admit that, sometimes, I wish things were just as I remembered them. But this does not apply only to cars. In the world of photography, for instance, many still rate Leica Rangefinder cameras highly. Like the RS 2.7, an old Leica was the pinnacle in its era. But time has moved on.

While modern equivalents may not offer quite the same feel or design purity, they are often better built, better performing, and usually — but not always! — more reliable. The 959 looks and feels old by today’s standards. Its handling, grip, and straight-line performance are shaded by the latest 997 Turbo, a far less expensive car to buy and maintain. In fact, even by 1996, the 993 Turbo had already shown its venerable predecessor the way home in many respects. That said, the 959’s size and docile nature means you can use it as a frequent driver. And you should, if only to keep its complex systems exercised.

Due to its competition pedigree and lower head count, the GT1 will always be special. If it’s the pure sensation of a competition car you crave, this is the Porsche supercar for your garage. A decade on, this Le Mans refugee is still the most outrageous looking Porsche road car of all time — and for another Porsche to steal the visual thunder of the Carrera GT takes some doing. Certainly, the GT1 was the car more spectators gravitated to when we arrived at Malmsheim. In fact, a German TV crew filming a hot-rod show wrapped up and turned its attention our way. The GT1 was suddenly flavor of the month.

Pressed to choose one of these three Porsches to drive away with after driving them back to back, it’s the scream of the Carrera GT’s V10 you’d hear fading into the sunset. Of the three Porsches in this face-off, it’s the one that appeals most and on several levels. The GT looks best with its roof panels off, while its build quality and fabulous detailing make it a car you can enjoy without even leaving the garage. The C-GT can be a haven when you need a short respite from the daily grind.

Some people approach car ownership with their hearts, others with their heads. I’ll admit that I tend to look at build quality, detail design, and engineering purity objectively first. If the pedals in a car are not properly arranged for heel-and-toe work, it’s a deal-breaker. More than almost any other manufacturer, Porsche gets these objective things right. But on this day, the Carrera GT was the also the car that provoked the strongest positive emotional response from me.

Driving should be a large part of what the supercar experience is about, and when you start the Carrera GT’s charismatic V10 and roll onto the throttle, it’s impossible to come back without a huge grin. Overlaid by the best soundtrack, the most inspirational drive of the lot made five stars in the rapture department. All this really is enough to make the Carrera GT the very best Porsche supercar of all time. Until the next one, of course.

Also from Issue 153

  • SPECIAL: 20 Years of Excellence
  • SPECIAL: 911 3.2 vs. 968 vs. 986 2.5
  • eBay 911 SC Driven 3,865 Miles Home
  • Ferry’s First: Type 64 History and Drive
  • 2007 997 GT3 RS Road Test
  • 2007 997 GT3, GT3 RS, and GT3 Cup
  • 1996 993 Carrera RS Replica Drive
  • Market Update: 1989-98 911s
  • 1973 911 Carrera 2.7 RSL Drive
  • 1972 916 2.4S Drive
  • Ultimate 911E hot rod
  • 2006 ALMS Wrap-Up
  • IMSA GT3 Cup
  • 356 Restoration Part 18
  • Tech Forum: 20-Year-Old Porsches
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