Is there anyone out there who doesn’t think the Porsche 911 2.7 Carrera RS is a heavenly looking thing? To me it's a spectacularly good-looking car: the famous ducktail and deep chin enhancing, rather than sullying, those classic, clean 911 lines. The only debate is which colour suits it best: probably Gulf Blue, but maybe Light Yellow, or Grand Prix White with red wheels. No, blue wheels. Anyway…
The problem is, when you jump into old cars you need to do so with fairly low expectations about the driving experience, because, as we know, more often than not time won’t have been kind. Whether it’s steering or brakes or some other element of the dynamic repertoire, chances are it’ll feel lacking at best and unnerving at worst.
I held a preconception that the 2.7 RS would be an exception. Everything I’d read about it over the years implied it’s a lightweight, supremely well-engineered package that has shoved two fingers in the face of Old Father Time. This belief took a knock a while back, though. I was at a classic car dealership in London, looking at a 2.7 RS, and asked one of the team “What’s it was like?” “Terrible,” he said, “drives like a piece of…” I won’t lie, a little bit of me died that day.
Today is a chance for resurrection. We’re in Stuttgart as part of the 50th anniversary of the 2.7 Carrera RS, and there are two waiting for me. This is not a pinch yourself moment, it’s a smack yourself on the head with a mallet moment. A rare opportunity to drive an icon, and I don’t know whether it’s made better or worse by the crazy value of these things these days. With prices from three-quarters of a million to a round million for the best examples – and these two examples from the Porsche museum fall into that camp – I think they’re possibly the most expensive cars I have driven to date.
Before heading out onto the road, we met the man behind the Carrera RS’s most famous element, its rear wing. Tilman Brodbeck looks as good for his 77 years as the 2.7 RS does at 50. As a younger man he studied technical engineering, specialising in aeroplane technology and aerodynamics. Fresh out of university he joined Porsche in October 1970, working at the body test and research department. The 911 had always been too light at the front end. There had been that crude fix – sticking lead in the front bumper – but Brodbeck was challenged with finding a more sophisticated solution and headed off to the wind tunnel at Stuttgart University. He came up with the redesigned front bumper that reduced drag and as well as lift. Bingo.
Ferdinand Piech, who at the time was responsible for operations at Weissach, said he wanted it in production “immediately”. To which the purchasing department said “impossible; it takes two years to create the tooling and dies for a steel part.” So Piech told them to make it out of reinforced glass fibre. “What happens if someone hits a kerb? It’ll break and cost a lot of money to fix.” To which Piech replied, “Great, helps us sell more spare parts.” That was “typical for him,” said Brodbeck.
That went onto the 911S, but in 1972 customers who were racing 911s were complaining again; they were being beaten by BMW 1602s, 2002s and even Ford Capris. The 911s couldn’t match their cornering speed, you see. Well, being beaten by a BMW was bad enough, but being beaten by a Ford – that was unseemly, and a big problem for Porsche. Brodbeck was told he could do whatever was required to fix it, except design a new car. The solution had to be retrofittable to existing cars. He said he left the meeting and stood outside “without a clue where to start.”
At the time, Brodbeck had a rear-engined Fiat 850 Coupé that he loved. So much so, he chopped it in for the new model. This had just five more horsepower but he noticed it was so much faster, which started his engineer’s brain whirring away. The puny increase in output couldn’t be the difference, but he noticed the new car had curved-up rear bodywork with a tear-off edge. His aerodynamics colleagues thought it was just for styling, but it sowed a seed in his mind. Knowing the 911 teardrop shape was effectively an aerofoil, which created lift at the rear, he set about producing a new engine cover design.
Now, spoilers on production cars weren’t a thing in 1972. There was the Plymouth Superbird, but other than that, aerofoils were for motorsport. But working in the wind tunnel – with welding wire, aluminium sheets and, ironically, some duck tape – Brodbeck produced a spoiler for the 911 in two-and-a-half days. Apparently, it looked awful but results showed it dramatically cut the lift. To prove its effectiveness, they put the car on the Weissach test track – first without the new Frankenstein’s spoiler and then with it. It was conclusive. With it, it was much quicker, easier to drive and less draggy. The problem was the styling studio, which reacted very badly.
The German road safety regulators weren’t keen, either. What if a motorbike rider hit the back of the car? The sharp edge would cause head injuries. Discussions began and, in the end, a compromise was struck: Porsche would lower the height of the spoiler and would only build 500 cars – the number required for homologation. No one ever mentioned anything when the total number reached 1,580. The updates were also available through Porsche dealers to anyone with a standard 911 – the only criteria was you had to have the front spoiler and rear ducktail together, because they balanced the car.
There was more to the full 2.7 Carrera RS package, of course. To take advantage of the car’s new and improved aerodynamics, the team fitted bigger 215-section rear tyres – the first time a 911 had different-sized tyres front to rear. The rear bodywork was widened by 42mm to cover them, but the car's sheet metal was made thinner, as was the glass, and the sound insulation was removed to keep the weight down. The suspension was upgraded to lightweight but stiffer Bilstein components, complimented by thicker anti-roll bars, reinforced rear control arms and stronger cross members to increase the torsional stiffness of the chassis. The kerb weight was just 960kg for the Sport package, or 1,075kg if you opted for the Touring.
Hans Mezger and Valentin Schäffer developed an engine to suit. The new, fuel-injected 2.7-litre flat-six produced 210hp at 6,300rpm and 188lb ft at 5,100rpm. To achieve the increase in displacement, a thin Nikasil coating was used on the cylinders, but for everyday useability, they used the same valves and compression ratio as the 2.4. And that was that. The first Porsche road car to be developed with racing in mind, so calling it Rennsport seemed obvious. As was adding the Carrera script, which had featured on its most powerful models such as the 356 B 2000 GS Carrera GT and Porsche 904 Carrera GTS. A brand was born.
That’s the history, and next I’m about to break my ducktail duck with one of the 200 2.7 RS Sports produced: the white car with green wheels you see here. Now, I don’t know about you but being comfortable behind the wheel is, well, quite important to me. I didn’t really fit in this one. The bucket seat wouldn’t go back far enough to accommodate my long legs, and when I had the clutch down and the car in first gear, my lower leg was pinned by the gear level and my knee jammed against the underside of the steering wheel. Funnily enough, this didn’t put me at ease, and I was really concerned that I was going to get my foot stuck and crash it.
I wasn’t only worried about crashing it, but popping the engine, too. The long gear lever is like a straw in a milkshake, and every time I changed down I lifted the clutch ever so gingerly, just to be sure I was in third, not first. And no matter how I contorted my foot, I couldn’t begin to heel and toe – changing down with any enthusiasm in an old 911 without balancing blips is unnerving to say the least. So it seemed the RS wasn’t the finely honed classic I’d hoped for; that dealer chap I had talked to, the classic car naysayer, was right, then.
Well, perhaps when it concerns the driving position, but that’s not the whole story. I haven’t got to the good bits yet, and there are many. What a sweet little engine for a start. 210hp – or whatever it’s making these days – is just the right amount of power to have fun without fretting, and, because the car’s so small and the atmosphere inside is buzzing with sensations, you feel like you’re motoring even though the pace is, well, no better than today's low-end hot-hatch levels. The gearing for the five-speed ‘box is long, like it’s lever, and this Sport is a wee bit asthmatic at the top end, but the engine revs so smoothly – the lack of vibrations is properly classy.
Then there’s the noise. As I pick up the clutch the engine parps with a free-breathing dirtiness from the exhaust – deep and crisp. Then, as the revs build, the whirr of the fan comes in and the flat-six's air-cooled rawness floods in – the rawness from having no water jacket around the heads to absorb noise. It sounds so pure. There’s also the occasional piercing, rousing report as it backfires on the overrun, which is loud enough to make bystanders flinch.
The ride is firm and a little heavy-going around town, but there’s no detectable flex in the chassis and the 2.7 RS’s composure on faster roads is like nothing else I’ve experienced from this era in original form. Even the brakes are excellent. Unservoed, of course, so they need a firm press, but full of sensitivity and reassuring bite when you lean on them. The steering is slow and a bit nebulous at the start of a turn – that’s the classic 911 way – but get past that phase and the thin rim loads up delightfully against your palms. It’s like you have to charge it with lateral forces and, once brimmed, it’s exquisite: oozing feel and precision.
So despite the unnerving driving position, the Sport was everything I’d hoped for and restored this icon’s standing in my mind. And then I swapped it for the yellow Touring. Obviously, this would be more of the same, only neutered by more weight and less theatre. Except it isn't. It is even better. I fit for one thing. The Touring's seats don’t have as much side support but the runners are longer, so that pincer-movement – of the steering wheel and gear lever trapping my leg – is gone. I still can’t heel and toe the thing and the gear lever isn’t any more precise, but having some free air to use it makes selecting the wrong ratio less of a worry.
That difference is explainable – it’s just different seats – but I’m not sure how to qualify the next bit, other than we’re dealing with two old cars, and they can feel very different. The Touring carries another 115kg of metal, glass and spongy bits, but the engine, suspension and all the other important parts are the same as the Sport's. So in theory it should feel slower and ride worse. Well, the ride is on a different level. Just the same beguiling poise over low-wave compressions and crowns, but it's a whole lot more amiable over scruffy surfaces. I certainly can't detect the weight penalty here, and I can't sense it in the performance, either. If anything, the engine pulls a little more willingly to the heady 7,200rpm red zone on that famously large-diameter rev counter sitting smack-bang in front of me. It sounds just as fortifying, too, with the same flat-six churn – the spectrum of noise stretching from a bassy thrum at low revs to a metallic tinkle at the top end. It's just a delight to keep working it hard and hearing it singing away behind me.
I can’t get over how easy it is to drive, either – 50-year-old cars are meant to be pigs to drive, aren't they? Sure, the gearbox has a baggy gate but boy do the gears mesh smoothly. And maybe the clutch pedal is a bit springy but it's not heavy and the bite point is bang on the money. It’s dead easy-going in traffic. Add with those other fundamentals it gets so right – steering, brakes, ride – it’s dead easy to go quickly in, too. I’ll admit to being a bit sniffy about the idea of touring Europe in an old, air-cooled 911 in the past. Not anymore. I’d have driven this Touring to China, although I didn’t waste my breath asking what the chances of that were. If you want to understand where Porsche’s reputation for engineering depth stems from, it’s the integrity of cars like this – even down to the slick snick of the door latches and the delicately sprung lightness of the door handles. It's wonderful.
I am sure someone out there could tweak the pedal box to make heel and toe changes possible (that's a necessity) and provide a sharper, short-shifting gearbox (that would be nice). I wouldn’t change anything else about the 911 2.7 Carrera RS, though. Well, maybe the price, because I’d dearly love to own one.
Specification | Porsche 911 2.7 Carrera RS
Engine: 2,687cc, 6-cylinder, naturally aspirated
Transmission: 5-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 210 @ 6,300rpm
Torque (lb ft): 188 @ 5,100rpm
Top speed: 152mph
On sale: 1973
Price new: £7,200
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