Perhaps more than any other badge on any other car, Porsche’s ‘RS’ moniker sets the bar ludicrously high. Ever since it was used to homologate a 2.7-litre 911 50 years ago, every single Renn Sport Porsche has been out-of-this-world brilliant. It almost goes without saying that a 718 Spyder RS is going to be superb; anyone who’s already tried a 992 GT3 RS is counting down the hours to another go. RS doesn’t go on saloons or SUVs because it’s reserved only for the ruthlessly hardcore, unflinchingly focused road racers that Porsche still does better than anyone else. That’s why they’re so special.
Everyone will have a favourite, of course, but you could be confident of a 997.2 GT3 RS being near the top of a lot of lists. As well as representing a host of significant firsts for the GT3 - it was the first RS with a wider front track as well as rear, plus extra power - it’s a huge deal in the history of the 911 as well. With the very exclusive 4.0 RS that came in 2011, this is the end of manual-only, Mezger-engined 911s with hydraulic steering. The switch from 997 to 991 wasn’t quite as changing-of-the-guard momentous as was the end of air cooling, though it was a big step change. After this car comes a bigger 911, then with turbocharging, four-wheel steer, standard automatics… you can understand why some loyalists picture a line in the sand.
And that’s before encountering it. If the 997 seems like the perfect amalgamation of traditional appeal and modern ability on paper, it doubles down on the perception in reality. Everything just seems so right, less delicate and more serious than the older 911s while still simpler and cleaner than the paddock refugees that followed. You wouldn’t change a thing: this is the size a GT3 should be, the stance a GT3 ought to have, the ideal blend of roadgoing 911 with RS race car. It’s not exactly a criticism to say that later 991s and 992s have become even more track-focused - that’s precisely the point of them - but presented with a 997 it’s hard to care about the newer cars at all. With the sun out and the road clear, there’s not anything you’d swap it for.
The interior of this particular one - Porsche GB’s press car since 2010, in fact - is barren, stripped of both PCM infotainment and air con (both no-cost options at the time) which means nothing but absolute concentration on driving. And daydreaming. And why it’s so hot all the time. The fundamentals, however, are spot on: seat where you want it, wheel where you want it, the pedals perfect. There are zero distractions, right down to a buttonless wheel, and a total obsession with the important bits of driving fast, which is very cool. Even if you won’t be.
There’s so much going on the first few miles of driving a GT3 RS that it’s hard to know what to concentrate on. Cars have made huge strides in terms of refinement over the past decade and a bit, so a car that was raw a dozen years ago feels almost overwhelming. The powertrain chunters and valvegear gnashes, the clutch and gearbox are as tolerant of nonsense as nightclub bouncers, and the front end just bobs every now and then like a nervous tick. A 992 might as well be a Taycan by comparison - this is a properly visceral, intense old Porsche.
Knowing you won’t have it easy makes you unconsciously raise your game to meet the car. It’s not the sadistic, pain-is-pleasure kind of driving associated with roofless, doorless track cars, more that the GT3 RS requires concentration to access its very best. It just - just - stops short of being crazy hard work, while undoubtedly offering up more than commensurate reward for the effort, which is completely addictive: you want to feel that rush of being in control of a great car doing great things again and again and again.
In 2023, 450hp is Carrera S power and 317lb ft is Boxster territory; a PDK will always be a good ally for making the most of those outputs and is noticeably absent here. Crawling in traffic, merging onto slip roads, approaching roundabouts all require some thought that - to be honest - is seldom needed in a new car. Even the manuals rev match. The driver is integral to the experience in every single part of every single drive; good job the 3.8 is such a richly absorbing car to be a vital part of.
This has a very different feel to later RS GT3s; where those cars always yearn for a track to really knuckle down, capable away from it but never truly content, this is just about usable, exploitable and enjoyable on the road - the last of its kind. Yet still with considerable circuit smarts in reserve. It comes down once more to that feeling of perfectly judged compromise: it probably didn’t seem that way in 2010, but a dozen or so years later this feels like the right size, the right speed, the right firmness and the right challenge for making the most of at every opportunity. That wonderful flat-six feels exciting from 5,000rpm, so you don’t feel compelled to hit 8k every time; the weight and satisfaction of every gearchange, especially if you get it right going down, is a joy at whatever speed. A 997 isn’t taking up the whole lane and thumping over cats’ eyes every minute, even if the rear tyres here are a chunky 325-section, so B roads aren’t too small. As a new car, a GT3 RS can’t have too much grip; now on later Cup 2s (not launched until 2013), you’d maybe trade a bit of sheer adhesion if it was a regular road car and not a dedicated track toy.
To be honest, though, you’ll be so wrapped up in the drive that it’ll cease to matter. It’s seldom that fast cars feel this cohesive, every single part working in perfect harmony with every other to completely enthral the driver. The brake pedal needs a firm push, but the feel is exceptional; the front end needs some patience compared to later cars, but the steering tells you everything; the dampers permit just enough slack in their ruthless approach to feel the weight move; the response and the character of the engine ensure total immersion, with those rare forays to 8,500 indelibly thrilling.
It is that all-consuming nature that assures the 997 icon status. Anything good that happens in this car, from a downshift to a perfectly clipped apex, is your responsibility; anything that’s less than perfect will be your fault, too, yet such is the clarity of communication on offer that you’ll soon know what to change. Certainly, it's best to consider traction and stability control as last chance help rather than the very clever assists they are now; there’s still a bit of fear factor here, for sure. There's a palpable sense the RS would continue to challenge, reward, beguile, excite and amaze for many, many years to come, as you learn how to get the best from it (and then be less scared of it).
This could probably be said about a raft of old 911s, too, only this comes with the performance of a 21st-century Porsche GT product baked in as well. The 997.2 is idiosyncratic and curious like an old rear-engined Porsche, while also thrillingly fast and freakishly tough like the latest breed of track day royalty. None of this car’s 33,000 miles will have been easy, yet it feels fit for another 300,000 - the only squeaks, rattles and groans come from the flesh and bones in the driver’s seat.
Often it can feel like the Porsche GT car legend needs no further embellishing, but there are undoubtedly some cars that stand out among a very special few. This is unequivocally one of them. If maybe a tad reductive, just look how much a GT3 RS like this one still costs: the more powerful, more capable, even higher revving 991 can be bought as an approved used Porsche for £140k with just 10,000 miles. There’s not a 997 available for any less than £175k, over a decade since the last one was made. And while a 992 RS might serve to make a 991 look not quite as capable because of their similarities, nothing new from Porsche stands to compromise this as an end-of-an-era epic. It felt like the zenith of traditional 911s was special in period; time has only served to further cement its legendary status.
SPECIFICATION | 2010 PORSCHE 911 GT3 RS (997.2)
Engine: 3,797cc, flat-six
Transmission: 6-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 450@7,900rpm
Torque (lb ft): 317@6,750rpm
0-62mph: 4.2 seconds
Top speed: 193mph
On sale: 2010-2012
Price new: £104,841
Price now: from £165,000 (May 2023)
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