Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Demonic possession is an optional extra

Andrew Frankel
There is a vital piece of equipment missing from this £79,540 Porsche 911 GT3, and without it I’m not sure the car is safe to use on the public highway.
It’s a hand that pops out of the steering wheel the moment you start driving like an idiot, and slaps you sharply across the face. It wouldn’t cost any more than traction control to engineer and, believe me, it would be a far more effective safety feature.
I’m trying to put my finger on exactly what it is about the GT3 that makes little red horns break through your scalp every time your backside hits its rock-hard bucket seat, but driving it slowly just doesn’t seem to be possible.
It’s not just its raw power; every Ferrari made today is substantially more powerful than this, yet I don’t feel the smallest desire to drive them fast in less than ideal conditions. But I couldn’t resist the temptation the GT3 put my way, despite weather that made the roads more suitable for a powerboat than a fast car.
I think I may have the answer. What makes the GT3 unique among Porsches and extremely rare among all cars is its ability to double your pulse rate. You might believe the same could be said of all cars bearing the shield of Stuttgart, but sadly this isn’t so.
You only have to look at the way most Porsches are driven to know that driving has nothing to do with it: they are bought because their owners believe a Porsche will make their friends and colleagues think more highly of them.
But these people would never buy a GT3 anyway, not when they could have a 911 Targa 4S with a nice big sunroof and comfortably safe four-wheel drive for similar money. They would hate the GT3 for its stiff ride and thin seats, its bloodhound propensity for following road cambers, and its truly challenging wet-weather handling. And if they ever had it demonstrated to them what it could really do on the right road (or, preferably, track), they’d probably wet the road themselves.
This is because the GT3 is a thinly disguised racing car. Its origins are so rooted in the track that Porsche will supply your GT3 ready to race with a roll cage, a six-point race harness, a battery master switch and a fire extinguisher for no cost other than the deletion of two thorax bags and the door bins. Then, at least in theory, there would be nothing to stop you slapping some numbers on the side and entering it in any race for which it was eligible.
What’s particularly interesting is that while most racing cars are horrid to drive on the road, this one’s reasonably well behaved, at least until you push it harder than it cares to go. I drove it in heavy rain on part-flooded roads, and despite it wearing Michelins that appeared to have more in common with the slicks on Fernando Alonso’s Formula One car than anything you’d connect with road use, it was easy to contain — until I turned off the traction control.
Then, the entertainment on offer was of the decidedly adult variety. It’s not that it will throw you off the road with no warning, but if the tail does start to slide wide on a sodden surface, you’d better be ready. If you’re not quick and accurate with your correction, you will be riding home in a recovery truck with a somewhat dented ego.
I elected not to push my luck: this is the only functioning GT3 that Porsche has at its disposal, and the idea of ringing up the chap who’d booked it next and telling a Mr J Clarkson that he can collect the car from a hedge somewhere outside Swindon just didn’t appeal to me.
Besides, the GT3 is just as enjoyable to drive in a straight line as it is through the bends.
Because it is extremely light — absurdly, it weighs a smidgeon under 40kg more than a Peugeot 207 GT hot hatch — and because the 3.6 litre 415bhp engine sits right over the back wheels, it explodes away from rest, even in the wettest conditions. Despite a slow and frankly disappointing gearchange, it still needs a mere 4.3sec to hit 62mph, and the same amount of time again to take you to the very threshold of 100mph. If you’re interested, it will carry you on to a stirring 193mph.
More impressive still is the quality of its performance. The engine is the greatest one used in any Porsche today, including that in the more powerful, but softer, road-oriented Turbo. It’s engaging and responsive below 4000rpm, whereupon the exhaust note appears to drop an octave and double in volume — which is all the warning you get before you’re slammed violently into the backrest of your seat.
With shorter, closer gearing its acceleration would be even more visceral, but even with the ratios as they are, the first time you change gear at 8400rpm the memory of it will live with you for ever.
It is just as well that the GT3 is such an uncompromising sports car, because it would make a useless tourer. Not only have the rear seats been removed to save weight, but it has a 90-litre fuel tank instead of the usual 64-litre item — just in case you want to do some serious long-distance racing in it. This means its boot is little more than half the size of a Fiat Panda’s.
And those of you thinking that £79,540 doesn’t sound like so much to pay for a landmark Porsche, remember that the base-model GT3 is pared to the bone. If it were my GT3 I’d also want carbon-ceramic brake discs (£5,800), carbon-fibre seats (£3,130) and navigation (£1,921), which would bring the total to a painful £90,391. And that’s being restrained.
But I reckon it would be worth it. In this world, where reality is less valued than perception, it’s a rare treat to find a truly honest car. If it looks like a hard-driving, sharp-focus, no-prisoners kind of car, that’s because it is precisely that.
Put it this way: there isn’t another Porsche on sale that I’ve driven and would rather have. But then again, I am only partly unhinged. For those who are complete strangers to common sense, there’s always the even more extreme GT3 RS. This model is lighter to the tune of 20kg, quicker to 62mph by 0.1sec, and some £14,740 more expensive.
Sitting here, it’s hard to see the point of it, but then I’ve not yet driven the car. I’ll let you know next year.

Original Source: TimesOnline

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