Back in 1994 I had my first 911 experience. It was a Grand Prix White 1989 964 Carrera 2 with a blue leather interior and a manual gearbox. I was 21 at the time and surprised at how easily the car could be driven in normal traffic, but reveal a totally different personality when provoked. Those memories were the start of a love affair with the 911 Porsche - and with the 'base' Carrera in particular - that has showed no sign of waning.
So it was no surprise to the team that I wanted a 911 to take to the Wilton House supercar day a couple of weeks back, and while colleagues debated their options, I had already contacted Porsche UK in my best grovelling tones. When news came back that a GT3 was available for a few days, it was tough trying not to look to smug...
True to all 911s the GT3 looks fantastic, and in my opinion all the better without the graphics and larger spoilers fitted to the current RS version. Against the cars begged and borrowed by colleagues for Wilton House, the GT3 was at the lower end of the performance scale with 435hp - if you can ever call 400-plus hp the lower end of anything. That said, a weight of 1395kg meant I could theoretically nudge 200mph and get to 60 in 4 seconds down the A303 towards Salisbury (if I wanted to, officer) and that's fast enough for me. The 3.8 six sounds as glorious as ever; in fact it was far louder and more raw-sounding than I had expected, and having almost 320lb ft of torque tucked away at the rear of the car meant a reminder of why I love the 911 so much was never more than a dab on the throttle pedal away.
Whenever a new car lands in the PH car park I always have a good look around it before getting in, and the GT3 has plenty of things to admire. The low front splitter, the centre-lock wheels with sticky tyres, the big rear spoiler (but not too big) and that GT3 badge at the rear all work so well that it looks like a Porsche Cup Car with number plates. Inside, Porsche sent us a car with snug lightweight sports seats (£3,130) and a very racy roll cage (part of the no-cost Club Sport Package that also delivers a six-point harness, fire extinguishers and preparation for a battery master switch), but in front of you it's all standard 911 fare. No fuss, no frills, no LEDs or unnecessary gauges, Porsche gives you what you need and nothing more. Isn't that how it should be?
Time to knock-off work, and as with every new 911, the car proves fantastic to drive under everyday conditions. My first GT3 experience is commuting from Middlesex into SW London in the pouring rain during a Friday evening rush hour. Unexpectedly for a 200mph car, the GT3 manages traffic like a hatchback without complaint (slightly heavy clutch aside). The wipers work well, the climate control keeps the windscreen clear, and I can even see what is behind me. Show me another car that is so capable, but works as a daily driver. I even feel comfortable in the rather extreme-looking seats, don't spin off into a hedge, and manage to pop into Waitrose to get a few bits on the way home. Best of all is that other road users react positively, and even let me out at junctions.
But although it's a surprisingly docile shopping car, it's the performance offered by the GT3 that's really astounding - and the way it makes such a lot of that enormous capability available so easily to those of us gifted with sub-Rohrl level driving skills.
At the risk of sounding clichéd, the acceleration is relentless, and every time you approach the redline the next ratio provides the same fierce burst of speed. To slow you from the (all too quickly) gained pace you can rely on the rather expensive (another optional £5800) ceramic composite brakes, which work at an immense rate without fade, from any speed. Although primarily aimed at track use, not only do these brakes excel on B-roads, but they work just as well in stop-start traffic too once you've acclimatised to the pedal's amazingly immediate response. In fact all you need to worry about is whether the car behind you can slow at the same rate - they are truly phenomenal and would feature on the options list of my own GT3 without a second thought.
In corners, the car stays flat and provides a huge amount of grip. We all know that the GT3 can hang its tail out with the best of them, but it needs provocation to do so. The level of natural traction on offer is incredible and very confidence-inspiring at fast B-road speeds, where the level of feedback through the steering and suspension means you always feel you know how the rubber is 'making out' with the road surface.
Speaking of tyres, the GT3 is fitted with Michelin Sport Cup tyres that seem to heat up very quickly and become sticky to the touch, collecting all manner of road debris before throwing it into noisily into the arches giving even more of a race car feel. I've heard reports of these tyres being less effective in the wet, but at least they felt perfectly secure when travelling along the motorway during monsoon condition weather. There is no doubt that these tyres really excel on warm dry tarmac, though.
In summary, and as a 911 enthusiast to the core, the 997 GT3 is by far the best car that I have driven to date, and it will take a very special car to knock it from the top spot. For me, it's the sort of car where any excuse to go for a drive just has to be taken, and when you aren't driving the chances are you'll be staring at it from the window.
Nigh on 200mph pace, world-class handling, race-inspired looks and a car you can use every day without compromise? It's an unbeatable combination even at the £100k 'my' car was spec'ed-up to, and I want one so badly it hurts. Will that 'base' 911 Carrera ever feel the same again..?