The year is 1992 and Porsche is on the ropes. Recession has hit the carmaker hard and while glitzy, powerful versions of its cars had been a beacon of conspicuous consumption in the decade before, wealth is neither something people can or want to shout about anymore.
CEO of Porsche Cars North America Fred Schwab put it perfectly when describing the imminent disaster facing the company: ‘I remember the movie Wall Street, where the arrogant young executive gets accused of insider trading,’ he said. ‘An older gentleman comes up to him and says, “Man looks into the abyss and nothing stares back. It is at that moment, man gets character.” That was when we at Porsche were able to start getting our character.’
Porsche had lost its way somewhat, and the new 968 – which the company somewhat desperately claimed was 83% new over the 944 – was getting slated by the critics. It was dated, slightly dull and uninspiring. But unbelievably out of this mess came something good, Porsche was able to miraculously recapture what it was that had made it great in the first place.
The firm tried to rescue the situation by appealing to the Porsche enthusiast, someone who arguably it had neglected somewhat over the past few years, as well as attempting to bring to the market something more affordable. In December 1992 the 1335kg 968 ‘Club Sport’ was wheeled out – five grand cheaper and because most of the luxuries had been binned, 50kg lighter. In fact because of the standard ‘lux’ pack on UK cars it actually ended up shedding between 100 and 110kgs.
Almost accidentally Porsche had just created one of the best cars it had ever built. It was an instant cult classic, harking back to the seventies with its coloured wheels and ‘Club Sport’ script down the side. You may have lost the back seats, some sound deadening, electric mirrors and windows, central locking and some speakers, but the trade-off where proper Recaro fixed-back buckets and 17” wheels from a 911.
There was the same 240bhp three-litre twin-cam four-cylinder – the most powerful naturally-aspirated four-pot in a production car at that time – and there was a 10mm drop in the suspension. Zero to 60mph took 6.1 seconds, a slight improvement over the standard car, and top speed was 158mph. Thanks to a lack of safety equipment (the airbag had been ditched for starters) the car didn’t go on sale in America, instead staying in Europe and Australia.
It may not have been a huge sales success but it began the rebuild of Porsche’s reputation as a builder of serious drivers’ cars. Autocar named it best handling car of 1993 and although only 1,923 found an owner everyone seemed to be talking about them at the time.
To find out what all the fuss is about I headed down to Eporsch (
), a Porsche specialist tucked away in Chertsey, Surrey. When I arrive, owner Roly Baldwin leads me through the front door of an unassuming premises into what is an Aladdin’s Cave of beautiful second-hand Porsches. At the front is a black 968 Club Sport which ironically stands out from other CSs because it doesn’t have the no-cost option painted wheels or side decals. It looks smart - purposeful, low and nicely proportioned.
Climbing inside you notice that space is at a premium for a tall driver like me and this isn’t helped by the fixed-back Recaros that keep you very upright. But pulling out into the traffic I’m surprised at how easy the 968 CS is to potter around in as I hunt out some proper roads.
Its reputation suggests this is a hardcore road/track car, but it doesn’t feel like that to me. The ride is firm but soaks up the bumps admirably and the CS is incredibly tractable around town. As I pull onto a quieter piece of road that curves off through a tunnel of trees I’m wondering whether this car may not be as focused as I had hoped. But I'm wrong.
The moment you nail the throttle something strange happens. The world around you disappears and you see nothing but the road ahead. The seating position is just right, the Recaro fixing you straight ahead. The small steering wheel is perfectly placed. The throttle response is instant. The power delivery is linear and strong.
The 968 CS focuses your mind in a way few other cars can, it feels like a racing car and for a second you are thundering down the Mulsanne Straight. Then it gets better. Turn the wheel as you enter a bend and you discover steering feel that you thought no longer existed in a road car. The steering feel in the CS is fantastic, the end.
This is a car that you control and everything is set up to make sure you do your job as best you can. The car stays virtually flat through bends, and even around roundabouts, thanks to a lack of weight, but it is controllable and doesn’t feel like it will snap away.
The lack of sound deadening makes the four-pot sound good too - throaty and old school - but never overpowering. Bizarrely there is a smidge of the GT40 a drove a few weeks ago about this car. It feels honest and mechanical – it feels like a real sports car from the days when men smoked cigarettes during pit stops.
The speed that can be consistently carried in a CS belies its modest performance stats. This car is about driving pleasure anyway, not bags of grip that will only let you find the limits at crazy speeds. The chassis is perfectly balanced too with a delicacy that makes it accessible to virtually anyone. It feels special, exotic even, and for less than £30,000 new (and £12,000 now) it seems like a bargain.
Where are all the cut price CS Boxsters now? Performance these days is often measured on outright speed and Nurburgring lap records but the CS makes these things seem rather insignificant. So out of recession came perfection? Perhaps there’s another 968 CS just round the corner…