Clarkson on: the Porsche GT3
I can’t quite remember how we left Hannibal Lecter in the last ‘Silence of the Sheep’ film. As I recall, he’d sawn the top off Ray Liotta’s head, lost his hand and was on a plane, offering brain paté and crackers to all and sundry.
Or was he being eaten by a pig? Or was he setting fire to a man in a wheelchair?
The fact is that Lecter creator Thomas Harris only ever gave Hannibal a very small role in his first book on the subject of mass murder, but since the movie boys moved in, he’s been turned into one of the biggest baddies in cinema history. Which is another way of saying ‘milked to death’.
But even so, I understand there’s to be a new Lecter film next year in which we see the cannibal as a young man, growing up in Eastern Europe. I daresay he will eat his mother and feed his father to the dog. And then he’ll splash on a bit of exotic aftershave, and generally make a nuisance of himself in various set-pieces designed to get the audience vomiting.
We see this with James Bond too. I’m the hugest fan of 007 and know most of the films off by heart but even I will admit that while Moonraker produced the best Bond villain of them all – Michael Lonsdale – it was such a stupid story that the only way to go afterwards was backwards.
Today’s Bond films, as a result, aren’t really Bond films at all. In the early days, we had long scene-setting sequences – the carnival in Rio and the funeral in New Orleans, for instance. They were impossibly glamorous and set the films apart from other home-grown movies which mostly featured Robin Askwith peering through windows in places no more exotic than Wakefield and Plaistow.
Today though, we can go to Hong Kong for three hundred quid. We can see the carnival in Rio on a web cam. We can ski and scuba dive and do all that Bondy stuff whenever the mood takes us. Bond, thanks to Ryanair and the internet, lost his glamour.
And now, in Casino Royale, he’s lost his gadgets too. Because why give him a watch that can undo a bra strap when the world is awash with Vin Diesel and Arnie and a host of other secret agents whose watches can be used to get stones out of horses’ hooves?
So what are we left with? A bloke with a biggish packet and a triangular torso in a film that everyone agrees is pretty good. But would it have made the grade were it not for Thunderball and For Your Eyes Only? Would Casino Royale work without the history? This, of course, brings me to the new Porsche GT3 – the latest offering from the 911 franchise.
In essence, it’s a stripped out, ready-to-race version of the Carrera 2. So you get a roll cage instead of back seats and a massive fuel tank instead of a boot. You also get tyres that are nigh on slick, a spoiler big enough to serve as a landing strip for small aircraft and a ride quality with all the give and compliance of a Chechen terrorist.
This car, then, is exactly what you don’t want to find in the car park of your London flat when you have the worst hangover in the world, and you need to be in the middle of Gloucestershire for 8.30am.
"The GT3 was wrong in every way. And to compound the issue, it is, of course, a 911"
As I rode down to the basement in the lift, holding on to the walls with one hand to stop myself falling over, and my head with the other to stop it coming off, I didn’t know what sort of car my wife had left down there. Fondly, I imagined it might be a Rolls-Royce Phantom. Or maybe a bright grey Honda Legend. Or anything with wallowmatic suspension, excellent air-conditioning, and an engine that made no noise at all.
The GT3 was wrong in every way. And to compound the issue, it is, of course, a 911 – a car I’ve never liked. My relationship with this brainchild of Hitler is curious. I’ve always enjoyed driving them, apart from the 1992 RS which was horrid – and purple, if memory serves – and I’ve always admired the quality. But they’ve all failed to put their hands down my trousers and give me a squeeze. I find them as emotionless as limestone and as a result, I would never even think of buying one.
No matter. In his review in the Sunday Times recently, esteemed writer Andrew Frankel said that the GT3 is a car that you cannot drive slowly. Well, I’m sorry, but at 7 o’clock in the morning, in a horrid wet London rush hour, when you have a pile-driver in your head, trust me on this: you can. And I did. And boy, was that car nasty.
Uncomfortable, noisy and fitted with a gearbox that wouldn’t ever go into gear, along with a pair of front tyres that had been fitted with minds of their own. You can do what you like with the steering wheel, but if those Michelins snout a bit of camber that takes their fancy, forget it. You’re going where they want to go. I’m not joking. If a snow plough had left one of those little grooves in the road, I would now be writing this from the snow plough base. Because that’s where I’d have ended up.
Later in the day, when the hangover had been blitzed, then, yes, of course, the GT3 shone. It was an exciting companion on the road, as good as any Ferrari and, at a whisker under £80,000, good value too. I liked very much the way it soared to nearly 8,500rpm before I needed to change gear, and the huge traction afforded by those fat back tyres and the flat-six engine on top of them.
I even quite liked – in a ‘shit, I’m going to die’ sort of way – the moments when they lost traction and the car wiggled its hips while it decided whether to kill me or not. All this seat-of-the-pants, thrill-a-minute stuff was in keeping with the ice-white paint and the shouty styling. So, make no mistake, on the right road this GT3 is what engineers call ‘a right old laugh’.
So yes, it works without the history: if this had been the first 911, we’d love it so much we’d all want to lick its private parts. But is it better than the last GT3? Or the GT2? Or the GT3 RS? Maybe, on a track, some decimal points could split them; maybe there, among the marshals and the red and white kerb stones, the spoilers and the roll cage would look less ridiculous. But on the road, I’m buggered if I can tell the difference – any more than I can tell the difference between an Evo 8 and 9.
It is, in this respect, a bit like a Bond film. The same basic formula endlessly tweaked and fiddled with to make it ‘different’. But the fact is that, with its camber hunting tyres and no boot, and a chin spoiler that’s defeated by even the smallest sleeping policeman, it’s a bit of a Moonraker. So if I were going to buy a 911, I’d stick with the basic Carrera 2 Thunderball or the turbo Goldfinger.
Look at it this way: in the whole of cinema history, the sequels that have been better than the originals can be counted on one hand. There was French Connection II, Mad Max 2/The Road Warrior and The Godfather Part II. And that’s it. And the best Hannibal Lecter film was Manhunter – the Michael Mann original.
This article was first published in February 2007.