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Friday, May 3, 2013

The new 911 Turbo: Brutally fast, but not a brute anymore

The first Porsche 911 Turbo went on sale in 1975. The car quickly became a classic. Its light weight and the relatively high output of its turbocharged engine (260 hp) made for exhilarating performance with a 5.2 s 0 – 60 mph acceleration time and a 153 mph top speed. These numbers are still very good today. Back then only ultra-exotic European machinery and some straight-line-only American muscle cars were capable of such performance.

The 1978 version reached the magic 300 hp number, further establishing a permanent spot in automotive history for itself. The car was so strikingly different than anything else on the road, that it was instantly recognizable, even from a fair distance. The massive “whale tail” rear wing and huge rear wheels made the car’s stance so powerful and mean that you felt instant respect for the machine.

The air cooled engine produced amazing sounds at high rpm. I know some grown men who weep into their beers to this day when we start talking about the beautiful music of an air cooled 6-cylinder Porsche boxer engine.

The car’s road manners only enhanced its quirky but manly character. Its powerful engine was positioned way, way in the back of the car. As a result the car would accelerate and brake like nothing else in the world, but its twitchy handling gave it a reputation of a car that would separate capable drivers from the metro-sexual-Louis-Vuitton-on-Yorkville types.

If you went into a corner too fast and lifted the gas pedal to slow down (a natural reaction for most drivers), the rear end would immediately step out, sending you into the ditch, the guardrail or over the cliff tail first. Against your instincts, you had to stay on the gas, but if you gave it too much, the tail would step out again. You had to control the slide with the gas pedal and counter-steer at the same time, fine tuning the balance between the throttle and the steering wheel through the corner. The excessive turbo lag made that even more difficult, because you had to make sure the turbocharger wouldn’t kick in or stop force-feeding the air into the engine mid-corner.

Other than that, the car was great!

The new 911 Turbo, although more powerful and faster than ever (560 hp, 2.9 s 0 – 60 mph and 198 mph top speed for the S version), doesn’t come close to the glory of the original. Nor is it as manly. With its polished looks and tamed character, it’s more Pierce Brosnan than Sean Connery or Daniel Craig - still has a licence to kill, just not as much character.

Don’t get me wrong: I still like the new car, but the vast majority of its drivers will be wearing Canali, rather than racing suits or jeans, and that makes it a status symbol, not the bad-ass, full of attitude and untamed macho monster we loved so much.

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