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Thursday 27th August 2009


PH HEROES: PORSCHE 911 TURBO

Matt Rigby gets to know the ultimate bedroom wall decoration of the 'me' decade

There's something about the Porsche 911 Turbo that taps into the very core of what makes a car look fast. And I'm not talking about some namby-pamby, sophisticated four-wheel drive nonsense. I'm talking about the original, whale-tail 930 Turbo. The car that in poster form, along with the equally horny Lamborghini Countach (and not forgetting the 'tennis girl'), probably did more in the 1980s for Athena's profits than all its other products put together.

The epitome of eighties performance
The epitome of eighties performance

Perhaps it's because I'm of a certain age and was one of those kids with images of 911 Turbos plastered all over their bedroom wall, but for me the look of the 1980s 911 Turbo captures the essence of fast car design more effectively than anything that has come before or since.

Riggers considers stealing a wonderful machine
Riggers considers stealing a wonderful machine
As a 911 Turbo poster child it is therefore with a considerable amount of anticipation that I am standing next to an immaculate Slate Grey 930 with the keys to it in my hands.

Despite the fact that the original 911 Turbo was one of the defining products of the 1980s, the car was actually revealed to an unsuspecting public at the 1974 Paris motor show and was on sale as early as 1975.

By the time Porsche got around to building the 1989 F-plate car you see here, the 911 Turbo was a fifteen-year-old design and not long for this world. The engine had grown from 3.0 litres to 3.3 litres, power was up to 296bhp from 260bhp and, for the 1989 model year, the Turbo got a fifth gear ratio.

3.3 litres and 300bhp of turbocharged fun
3.3 litres and 300bhp of turbocharged fun
Even so, time was almost up for the first incarnation of the 911 Turbo: the new-generation 911, the 964, was already out and the stock market crash of 1987 had hit sales of the 911 Turbo - a car much beloved of the red braces yuppie brigade - hard. The final full year of production was 1989 and, although a few examples dribbled onto the global market in 1990, this has got to be one of the last UK-spec cars.

As I step across the low, slim sills and lower myself into the narrow but immaculately stitched seats, the age of the design is immediately apparent. There are switches scattered all over the dashboard and cabin in a genuinely hilarious haphazard fashion, the upright windscreen feels as though it's a few inches from my nose, and the spindly gear lever sprouts straight from the carpet. It's all a far cry from the efficient, logical modernity of contemporary rivals such as the new-for 1989 Mercedes SL or BMW 850i, let alone the futuristic-yet-practical Honda NSX that was doing the rounds of international motor shows in 1989.

Whale of a tail equals whale of a time
Whale of a tail equals whale of a time
It only takes a few miles on the road to begin to understand the 911 Turbo, though. This car is all about engineering integrity, not the nth degree of ergonomic simplicity. This particular car has done 74,000 miles and, although that's not a lot over the course of two decades on the road, it feels as though it has done half that mileage. The seats, carpet and steering wheel are hardly worn, there's not a rattle or squeak to be heard, and the drivetrain feels like it's hewn from well-oiled rock.

At first, driving the 930 is an exercise in forgiving its flaws. But once you get over the offset pedals, uncomfortable heat soak and laggy power delivery - it feels like a 1.8-litre Mondeo until the turbo begins breathing hard - the 930 reveals a much more modern character.

911 not as much of a handful as you might expect
911 not as much of a handful as you might expect
The gearchange is slick and sweet and, once you've stomped on the floor-hinged accelerator pedal for long enough, the gorgeous-sounding 3.3-litre flat six really begins to chuck the 911 down the road with some vigour. If you're prepared to be more vicious with throttle, clutch and gearchange than we were, you can hit 60mph in a little over five seconds, and flat out the 911 Turbo will touch 162mph.

In other words, if you're prepared to work hard enough and keep the turbocharger on song, the 930 is still quick enough to keep with all but the fastest modern machines.

The 911 Turbo's reputation as a car prone to spit you into a hedge backwards might put you off exploring the car's upper limits, but persevere; treat it with respect and the 911 Turbo demonstrates a surprisingly high level of ability when you get to a corner.

Interior still immaculate after 20 years
Interior still immaculate after 20 years
One thing that helps here are a seriously solid set of anchors. Ventilated discs were almost unheard of before Porsche put them onto the 930 in the late 1970s and these, in combination with plenty of grabbing power from the four-pot callipers, haul the 930 up with confidence and ease from some pretty big speeds.

Once you've wiped off enough speed, the key to cornering in a 911 Turbo is the time-honoured slow in, fast out method. Pitch it in too quickly and the heavy engine slung out behind the rear axle will make you intimately acquainted with the wildlife of your local hedgerow. Turn in gently, however, allow the car to settle at the rear, and use the prodigious torque from the turbocharger and stunning traction that only a rear-engined, rear-drive car can provide, and the 930 will fairly catapult you out of the corner, with grip and traction to spare.

It's a car of contrasts, the original 911 Turbo. The thoroughness of its engineering is remarkable, but the layout of its cabin is so laughable it ought to win a Perrier award. It has a reputation as a bit of a ditch-hunter, but treat it with respect and it still feels fast, grippy and capable. It's also a car that mixes the air-cooled charm and general idiosyncrasy of an old-school 911 with enough power, ability and creature comforts to keep drivers used to 21st century performance cars thoroughly happy.

930 manages to live up to those outlandish looks
930 manages to live up to those outlandish looks
Two decades years after it disappeared from my bedroom wall, the car that I idolised is still as exotic and alluring as ever. They say you should never meet your idols, but I'm glad I've had the chance to drive an original 911 Turbo. The only problem is that as a child I was happy with the poster. As an adult I want one on my driveway.

 

 

 

Author: Riggers