Jeremy Clarkson

Clarkson on the 911

Clarkson on the 911

As you may know, I have always loved the Porsche 911, in much the same way that I have always loved Peter Mandelson, mouth ulcers, Greece, marzipan, caravanning holidays, the smoking laws, British Telecom, pointlessly complicated gadgets, tea before four, Piers Morgan, sweet white wine, ramblers, liberal democrats, beards, the Boeing 777, global warming scientists, average speed cameras and, I don't think I've ever mentioned this before, the feel of a cow.
 
In other words, I have always rather disliked the 911. Jokingly, and mainly to make them go away, I always tell fans of the breed that my dislike is based principally on the fact that James May and Richard Hammond both have one. But this isn't true. James and Richard both have trousers, but I have no problem with those.

I've also argued that my dislike stems from the fact that it's really a squashed Beetle and as a result, was designed by Hitler. But this isn't really true either, if I'm honest.

So is it the styling then; the look of the thing? No actually. If you look at Porsche's recent efforts with the Coxster, the push-me-pull-you Boxster - which should really be called the Palindrome - the woeful Cayenne and that wheeled gargoyle known as the Panamera, we have to be grateful they don't ever change the basic shape. And anyway, I rather like the sit up and beg windscreen and those eager West Highland terrier headlights.

Most of all though, I've come to like the size. As other cars have swollen and become fat, the 911 has remained fairly small. That's a good thing.

No, the problem is the location of that engine. Putting it behind the rear wheels is as wrong as trying to invade Russia when you haven't closed down the Western Front. It can't work and it looks like belligerence to endlessly try to overcome the inherent problem rather than simply giving up and starting again.

Yes, putting the engine at the rear means you have more weight over the back wheels so off the line, when the tail of a car squats, that means more grip, less wheelspin and quicker acceleration. Lovely. You will arrive at the corner in front of your adversary... but then what? You will turn the wheel, there will be no weight over the front wheels, you will understeer, and if you lift off to correct that, the nose will pitch down, the rear tyres will lose grip and any attempt to correct the resultant slide will be pointless because the engine's in the back acting like a giant pendulum.

"There was a drawback to driving a 911 in the Eighties. You would arrive at your destination covered in a thick film of other people’s goz"

If you see a corner coming up in an early 911, the best thing you can do is follow these two steps:

1) Undo your seat belt

2) Get in the back

I don't remember what sort of 911 I drove first, but I'd heard so many horror stories about the wayward handling that I didn't dare go more than 4 mph. Which meant I had more time to examine the ridiculously basic dashboard, and the heater controls which appeared to be connected to nothing at all.

The first time I drove a 911 on a race track was extraordinary. Because I was a new boy back then and had no idea how to hold a slide in a Cortina, I was petrified. I felt it would be safer to try to set a lap time on a bear.

As the years wore by, I drove many different 911s and never had a single moment to worry about in any of them. But that's because I knew what would happen if I went near the limit and consequently stayed very far away from it. In much the same way that your mother always stays very far away from the edge of a cliff.

There was, however, another drawback to driving a 911 at this time. You would arrive at your destination covered in a thick film of other people's goz. It was the Eighties. Mrs Thatcher was busy, factories were shutting, the city boys had spent all the BT profits on a 911 and everyone assumed that if you had one, you personally had shut down their Dad's mine. So they hawked up a docker's oyster and spat it at you. And usually they hit me because I was going so slowly.

Eventually and thanks to Tiff Needell's kindly encouragement, I did learn how to make a car slide and hold it there. But even when I'd been doing it week in and week out for years, I still never dared try it in a 911. I'd hit a cameraman. Or a tree. Better to say I didn't like them and drive something else.

But then the day came... and it was easy.

It was brilliant. Because I no longer felt intimidated by 911s, I could start to drive them quickly, which meant I was less likely to be hit by the blizzard of spittle. But despite this advantage, I still didn't like the interior, the heater still didn't work, and the cars that worked well on the track really didn't work at all on the road.

Plus, by this stage, Porsche had started making an almost unbelievable number of variations. You had the Carrera, and the Carrera S, and the Carrera with four-wheel drive, or no roof, or fat wheel arch extensions or a combination of all three. It was all designed, I thought, to make Porsche owners even more dull.

As the beginning of this year dawned then, I admired the way the cars looked, and the size they'd become. I admired too the way many of them drove but like them? No. My prejudice was too entrenched for that.

But then along came the new GT3 and I won't dwell on the whys and the wherefores, but I loved it. Not liked it. Loved it. It had a stupid front splitter that was so low it could give a spider a haircut, scaffolding instead of rear seats and an idiotic rear spoiler which could very obviously be adjusted. No. No. No. Having a rear spoiler that can very obviously be adjusted means that someone, one day is going to ask why. And then you'll have to tell them. And they'll think you are mad.

However, despite the aesthetic shortfalls, and the fact it's a 911, this is a great car. It goes round roundabouts like nothing I've ever driven. In a test of pure handling and grip, it would be a match for anything. And it only costs £86,000. That's just shy of half what you'd pay for a Ferrari 458. Half.

I was so enamoured of the GT3, I thought I'd try some more 911s, so I started with the GT3RS. With different inlet and exhaust manifolds, this develops 15 more horsepower, the wheels are wider, so's the track, and it weighs 55lb less too. You can cut another 22lb if you specify a £1,268 lithium-ion battery instead of the standard lead-acid item but I wouldn't do that because a) you won't notice the difference and b) again, someone, one day will ask why.

I didn't like the RS at all. The GT3 rides properly. This doesn't. The GT3 has a radio and a brilliant satnav. This doesn't. The GT3 has doorhandles. This doesn't. And, worst of all, the GT3 can be used in Britain, and this cannot.

No really. It is fitted with tyres that don't work below 10 degrees centigrade. Which means, now that we know global warming is nonsense, they don't work here at all, ever. I took for a spin, in the rain in early May, and on several occasions, it was very nearly just that. A horrid car. Made for track-day enthusiasts. Or as we know them: bores.

I then tried a 911 Turbo convertible. And this was fairly nasty as well for reasons Richard Hammond explained. The 911 is supposed to be a sports car. Fitting a turbo tries to turn it into something it is not - a supercar. It felt loose and wobbly.

So it seems then that the GT3 is not an indication that after all these years, Porsche has got it right. It's just proof that if you keep on churning out endless variations of the same thing, one day, you'll get one of them right. In short. The million monkeys have finally come up with The Merchant of Venice.

Jeremy Clarkson, Column, Porsche 911, Porsche

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