James and the Porsche 911
There are few distractions more engaging, and less harmful, to a man returning from the pub than half an hour on the Porsche Car Configurator.
Go to any Porsche dealer's website, click on ‘build your Porsche', pour a stiff one and settle down to undo all the good work that the Herr Doktor has done over the years making the 911 the supercar of discretion.
Let's take the basic 911 Carrera. In Britain that's just under £62,000, but you can pretty much double that, after a couple of doubles yourself, with a bit of vigorous right wrist action. Electric seats, interior carbon, coloured instrument dials, special leather, metallic paint, aluminium highlights, carbon trim, extra badges, a bigger radio. It goes on and on and on. It's hours of knockabout no-family fun and less damaging than a lot of other stuff on the internet, unless you accidentally click the ‘contact my dealer' button.
It's amazing just what an appalling hash you can make of a 911 in cyberspace. Anything goes - Nordic Gold paint with Ocean Blue leather, wood on the centre console and carbon on the dash. Any faintly professional dealer would try and talk you out of this sort of thing - they may have to sell it again one day - but it's yours if you want it. I often see a 911 drive past and think ‘Crikey, he'd had a few when he specced that up'.
The other night, when there was no one left to play darts with, I had a go at the GT2. This is less interesting. Although I was amazed at how many colours can be had on this car - I'd always assumed they were red or white - the fact is that there is only one type of wheel available, although Porsche will paint them black for £1,000. The interior is either black or grey, you can have a carbon-fibre steering wheel and a few things like that, but on the whole it's pretty difficult to cock-up the GT2.
"It’s amazing just what an appalling hash you can make of a 911 in cyberspace"
But then I drove it, and decided they'd already cocked it up at the factory. It was a wet evening in the countryside, and within a few miles I was revisited by the ghosts of all those bores who, on the occasion of my first drive in a 911* back in 1991, warned me how it would ‘bite back' if I wasn't very careful. I drove around in abject terror then, and now I was doing the same.
In fairness, the problem was mainly with the tyres, which were some sort of semi-slick things designed to make the owner feel more important, or perhaps less impotent. You'd be mad, frankly, because as soon as the road is even vaguely slimy 95 per cent of the GT2's 530hp stays in a sealed box marked No. That makes it a bit of a waste of money at nearly £130,000.
The GT2 is also a bit clunky, mechanically, and mine had the scaffolding in the back. After 100 miles I decided it was a silly car and gave it back, driving away instead in a standard Carrera 2 S.
Now I have one of this car's direct forebears, a 1984 3.2 Sport, the banker's 911, and the comparison is interesting. Mine is a dinky little plaything, trimmed and equipped with that old-school Teutonic disregard for frippery. It's a sports car, nothing more.
Four generations on, the 911 looks to have become something of a gin palace. It's put on 300kg, it's another size up, it features things that aren't strictly necessary and the heater works. It's a miracle that the idea has survived at all, because with the best will in the world the engine is in the wrong place and only stays there out of bloody mindedness. That and because whenever Porsche tries putting it somewhere else everyone loses interest.
But in relation to its time, the new 911 is the same car as mine; better, in fact, because it's less apparent than the whale-tailed 80s model. All the old cliches about the 911 still ring with remarkable truth; it really is practical, it really is as fast as many more compromised cars, it is properly made and it will be relatively cheap to run over a long time. I liked it so much I gave it a rinse before handing it back.
The Carrera 2 S has a mere 385hp and will go from 0-60 in a yawning 4.5 seconds, but in every real-world respect is far superior to the silly bugger GT2 while being no less, and possibly more, of a 911. Better still, if you keep it simple it comes out at not much more than half the price.
I'm thinking in terms of the pale metallic green with a plain black interior. But now I'm going to have a huge scotch.
*It was a 964 Carrera RS, if anyone’s interested.