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Porsche Speedster: true to the lineage?

  1. It might look like good value compared to the likes of the £190k+ Lamborghini Performante, but that’s pretty much the only car in the world to make this new £144,100 Speedster seem anything other than extravagant. And, unless you are a collector of rare Porsches, a total, head-scratching irrelevance, too.

    Words: Pat Devereux
    Photos: Andrew Yeadon

    This feature was originally published in the February issue of Top Gear magazine

  2. That’s because this 2011 car is as far removed from the
    original Speedster concept as it’s possible to get while staying on the same
    planet. Instead of being a stripped-down, go-faster version of an existing
    model - like all the Speedsters before it - this car has every single bell and
    whistle in the Porsche mechanical catalogue, plus some questionable cosmetic
    touches that make you wonder what its designers put in their tea every morning.

  3. The first Speedster was the 1954 budget model based on the 356. Built off the America Roadster platform and down to a price of just $3,000, it didn’t have anything that wasn’t strictly necessary to make the car go or stop. The trim was vinyl instead of leather, the seats were budget-priced, one-piece bucket numbers, the windscreen was shortened and the windows were made of plastic. It weighed just 760kg and had a power output of 55bhp, but it could just about crack the ton and make a trip to the shops feel like a lap of Monaco.

    The second model, the 1988 911 Carrera Speedster (G-model),
    stayed true to what Porsche refers to as the Speedster ‘crouched silhouette’.
    It also had a shortened windscreen and debuted the first double-bubble lid for
    the convertible top, skinny racing seats and it had a roof so flimsy you could
    almost put your finger through it. 

  4. It came in two versions - one using the regular Cabriolet
    body; the other, the exaggerated curves of the Turbo. The roof was so useless
    you had to sign a water damage warranty waiver, and the owner’s manual didn’t
    pull any punches. “The 911 Speedster was designed as a fine-weather car,” it
    said. “Certain drawbacks such as draughts, wind noise, leakages cannot be
     avoided.”

    No sign, then, of anything being therethat didn’t make the
    driving experiencemore pure, more exciting and generally more uncomfortable.
    Ferry Porsche, of course, is famous for saying “driving fun isn’t created by
    comfort”, and the Speedsters proved it. Particularly the third one in 1992.

  5. It came in two versions: standard, which did away with most
    of the Carrera 2’s luxuries; and Clubsport, which did away with them all. A
    shower cubicle with a steering wheel and pedals would have been more
    comfortable. The roof was still an afterthought, the screen was chopped down as
    per Speedster lore, and it had the double-bubble bottom. Other than a set of
    body-coloured lightweight Cup wheels, that was it.

    So, with that type of background, it would seem reasonable
    to expect the 2011 Speedster to continue the lineage by looking as spartan as a
    bathtub and come as standard with a rubber duck, for when it rains.

    But that’s not so. Seems like someone at Porsche misread the
    founding father’s quote and got it all the wrong way around.

  6. There are no options on the 2011 car, other than the choice
    of white or blue paint, which is true Speedster territory. But that’s not
    because none are available, like before. It’s because every single one possible
    to fit on an open-topped 911 has already been included, and then a whole lot
    more besides.

    Except, and this is the really puzzling bit, the ones that
    make the car go any faster than a standard GTS cabrio. There’s no GT3 engine,
    no short-throw manual ‘box.

  7. True, you get the swift-shifting PDK semi-auto switcher -
    there is no manual option - plus a limited-slip diff and the carbon ceramic
    brakes as standard. You also get the black, flat-blade Fuchs retro wheels and a
    host of exterior and interior detailing, too. On the outside, this runs to
    smoked headlight lenses, black headlight surrounds and front air intakes, plus
    some black patches in front of the rear wheels. The trademark 2.4-inch shorter
    windscreen is present and correct, as is the double-hump rear roof cover, which
    is now made of aluminium, not plastic.

  8. Inside the cabin, the Speedster spins off the taste chart
    and into a design ditch with splashes of the exclusive Pure Blue exterior
    colour everywhere you look. In a ring on the steering wheel, around all the
    leather-covered air vents, on the sides of the fully electric seats and, worst
    of all, in a chequered pattern on the front half of the seat. Ugh.

    There’s also anodised nameplates on the doorsills which show
    the series number of the car. Irrespective of when their car was built, owners
    can specify any number they want up to 356 - the number of Speedsters being
    made, geddit? - as long as no one else has already nabbed the number. The only
    two worth having are 1 and 356 though, so be quick.

  9. Talking of speed, there’s nothing you can do - on the
    Porsche price list at least - to make the new Speedster go any faster. Not that
    there’s anything terribly wrong with that, in essence. The GTS’s 408bhp engine
    with the funky new variable intake system is a superb piece of kit that is a
    pleasure to use and listen to. It just feels wrong for a Speedster to have
    exactly the same performance as a standard model. What’s the point?

    That becomes a little more clear whenyou take your first
    drive - something which the Speedster does beautifully. With the roof and
    windows down, the first time you catch the car’s reflection in a shop window,
    youcan’t stop yourself from thinking the car, for all its mission creep, looks
    great. And the added luxury starts to worm its way into your heart as well. Yes,
    the wind-blast can get extreme when you get a move on. But that’s what’s
    supposed to happen.

  10. With the manual, aluminium-framed roofup - a performance
    that takes a couple of rain-soaking minutes - in a first for Speedsters,
    there is almost no wind noise, and you get a sense that it might last more than
    a season in one piece. It also makes the car look almost better than with the
    roof down, that lowered screen height really exaggerating the car’s rakish
     profile.

  11. But then you wake up and realise it’s still not good enough. As seductive as all this untraditional luxury might be, it’s just wrong on a Speedster. I know everyone’s getting older and has a bad back, so making the car softer and sweeter, not faster and harder, makes some demographic sense. But this is a Speedster, damn it, and Speedsters should be stripped-out specials filled with lighter, less comfy kit which you have to brace yourself to drive. Not plush convertibles with every extra known to man and a dodgy interior.

  12. It’s not like Porsche hasn’t got a million other 911s it
    could sell you that already meet those criteria. A Carrera S Cabriolet with a
    personalised interior would do the trick. Or something else. Whatever, as much
    as I enjoyed driving the hand-built Speedster, it still felt wrong and
    inappropriate. I know that won’t affect how the car sells, but it’s
    disappointing to see heritage abused so casually.

    It’s a great car this, just
    a very poor Speedster, that’s all.

What do you think?

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