People always cite the Lamborghini Miura as the genesis of the mid-engined supercar. And, depending on where the line is drawn for what makes a supercar, that’s true. In 1966, the P400 burst onto the scene and wowed everyone – not only with its delectable looks but also its 3.9-litre V12, mounted transversely and in the middle of the car. This principle was definitely a novelty at the time, but not unique.
Porsche had built a mid-engined road car two years before that. It was the successor to the rear-engined 718 and was known internally as the 904. To everyone outside the company it was the Carrera GTS, though, because Porsche and Peugeot were still battling for control of the number zero for their cars' names. 100 examples of the Carrera GTS were originally going to be registered, merely to homologate it for racing. They sold 116 in the end, due to the demand for this little two seater. And you can see why. Hell’s bells it’s pretty. Looking at it, there’s essence of the later Dino in its squat, mid-engined stance, finished off neatly by its Kamm tail rear.
And because it was so small, the Carrera GTS weighed about half what the Miura did. We’re talking about 640kg, depending on which source you use. As a result, even with a third of the cylinders of the mighty Miura and just 180hp, the Carrera GTS would do 0-62mph in just over five seconds and max out at 163mph. As a racing car it was quick and dependable, too. The Carrera GTS won the legendary Targa Florio, along with class wins at several '64 events including Spa and Le Mans. One customer reportedly picked up a Carrera GTS from Stuttgart and drove it straight to Reims, then raced it and won. Job done.
It took a while for those GTS initials to end up back on a Porsche, though. That was when the 924 Carrera GTS appeared in 1981. This was a development of the 924 Carrera GT, which had been built to qualify for Group 4 racing. The GTS was a development of the development, if you like, built in even fewer numbers. Just 59 were made and they posted a power increase to 245hp and a range of weight-saving measures. With no sound deadening and fixed headlamps under a plexiglass panel, they'd shed 59kg from the Carrera GT’s weight. It wasn’t the most extreme 924, which was the Carrera GTR, but it was still a fairly hardcore road car, and someway from what we now think of as the GTS blueprint.
Today’s GTS models are less race car and more sharpened up road cars. And it was the 928 GTS that gave us our first taste of this next iteration of the GTS formula. The 928 GTS wasn’t a homologation special; it was a road car with a bit more speed and agility. The 928 GTS took over from the 928 S4 and GT, and you couldn’t miss it. It came with fatter arches covering 255-section rubber at the back and, underneath, larger brakes from the 911 Turbo. The extra oomph wasn’t vast but appreciable. It came from engine modifications that included stroking the 5.0-litre V8 to 5.4-litres, fitting new pistons and increasing the compression ratio to 10.4:1. This yielded 20hp more with a 51lb ft rise in torque to back it up. Plus, you could immerse yourself further into its newfound performance thanks to a standard-fit, five-speed manual gearbox.
So really, that was the GTS blueprint set. More power, better cornering, stronger braking. The benefit (or at least the intentional benefit) was always a road car with a more engaging and exhilarating driving experience. Yet it was another long wait after the 928 GTS died in 1995 for that to reappear.
The next chapter began with the launch of the Cayenne in 2002. It was known internally as the E1 and the Porsche executive board wanted to expand the range with a model that offered more performance than the Cayenne S and also undercut the Cayenne Turbo. Oliver Laqua is now the overall vehicle project manager for the Cayenne line, but he worked as a concept engineer on the E1 in 1998. And in 2004, he was tasked with realising the board's wish for a sportier model. It was code-named ‘Roadrunner’ and Laqua had some outlandish plans in mind to make the new Cayenne GTS not just lighter and nimbler but also rear-wheel drive. “We planned to dispense with the transfer case, because that alone saved another 80 kilograms of weight. And we thought about four racing bucket seats for further weight reduction and a more emotive feel” says Laqua.
The board wasn’t exactly thrilled with his grand plan. The idea of a rear-wheel-drive Cayenne fell on deaf ears, as did the prospect of one with four impractical bucket seats. But as far as the proposed powertrain went, that was greenlighted. Instead of forced induction it would be a naturally aspirated V8 petrol based on the Cayenne S. Laqua points out that “In this project, it wasn't just the power that counted; the car also had to have real throttle response”. So the team opened up the intake system and raised the output of the 4.8-litre engine marginally. It went to 405hp, which was 20hp up on the S.
This was channelled through a six-speed manual gearbox with a shortened axle ratio to spice things up further – from 3.55:1 to 4.1:1. There was an auto version available as an option, and the six-speed Tiptronic S had retuned, sportier shift points. Then the suspension was tweaked. The steel springs were combined with what, until then, was technology reserved exclusively for Porsche’s sports cars: Porsche Active Suspension Management (PASM). And they didn’t use any old Tom, Dick or Harry to set it up. They used world rally champion Walter Röhrl, who stuck the prototypes through their paces around the Nurburgring and on ice tracks in the Arctic Circle. His experience of four-wheel drive was very useful, but not for what was added, but what he told them to leave as it was.
The Porsche Traction Management (PTM) system was unchanged. Its default torque split was 38:62 (front to rear), with any ratio between 100:0 and 0:100 possible via an electronically controlled multi-plate clutch. Röhrl, who joined Porsche as a test driver in 1993, says, “If I want sportiness from all-wheel drive, then I have to make sure that I always have all four wheels under control. Not that one axle turns faster than the other. That’s where the centre differential and the locking rear differential come in handy. Otherwise, you lose all the all the power on the unloaded wheel.”
And to keep each wheel loaded there was Porsche Dynamic Chassis Control (PDCC) offered as an option – with air suspension and PASM. The anti-roll bars were connected to hydraulic pivot motors that added a countering force to prop up the body through corners. This was of major importance to Röhrl. He points out that, “Body roll is the biggest problem when it comes to driving dynamics. The weight is then only on the wheels on the outside of the corner. The inner wheels can then transmit less power; I need to prevent that. Anti-roll stabilisation was one of the most important innovations full stop; with it, you can ensure that even tall vehicles have very good handling.”
To aid this effort, the GTS was lowered. With steel springs it was 24 mm lower than the Cayenne S. The air suspension lowered it by 20 mm (over the S), but would also drop it a farther 9 mm at 78mph and another 5 mm at 130mph.
On the road, you could tell the Cayenne GTS apart from the S by its black window surrounds and wider wheel arches, which were needed to cover some fat rubber – 21-inch wheels with 295/35 tyres. The GTS also added Turbo-style bumpers front and rear, and these included larger air intakes in the nose. You could even add an optional extending double-wing roof spoiler. No individual bucket seats, though. Instead, it came with 12-way electrically adjustable sports seats, although these did at least have bigger side bolsters.
Now, of course, the GTS model line is spread over the entire range of series production models, including the latest Taycan GTS Sport Turismo. Each one still mirrors the same theme: slightly enhanced engine power, more agile handling, and visual clues to emphasise the enhanced sportiness. And it’s a great car, the Taycan GTS. Not just for an EV, but compared with any car of its type. Although, at 2.5-tonnes, like the Cayenne GTS, one far removed from the pretty little lightweight 904 Carrera GTS that started the story nearly 60 years ago.
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