November 2, 2010 11:34 PM |
Posted By: Alex Cox
Rated 4.0 out of 5.0 by 1 member
“Ass-engined Nazi slot car” is what P.J. O’Rourke called them. Eight months ago I went out to buy a Lotus Elise and came back with a 30 year-old Porsche 911 SC. What happened?
Well, in part I fell for the looks of the thing. To my eye the SC is one of the best looking of the 911 variants. It’s lost some of the delicacy of the earlier models but gained a little useful muscle mass in return. The trademark flared haunches have arrived but have not yet become something for Fergie to sing about. The prominent wings, evocative of the torpedo tubes on a WW2 PT boat from the driver’s seat, provide the classic 911 ‘face’. The unbroken curve from the top of the windscreen down to the rear bumper is a note of beautiful stylistic simplicity. The SC’s shape in general escapes the dilution that came later to incorporate ever more toys and safety equipment.
But the driving experience is also key to the SC’s appeal. No, the 911 doesn’t have any of the air intakes, the various gills, slots and carbon appendages that would allow me to deploy active downforce on the way back from the shop with some milk. But, when you turn the key you are introduced to something even better.
Now, even at idle, an old 911 generates a wonderfully menacing bass-thump. In fact I was childishly delighted to have it set off the car alarm on a neighboring Toyota in a car-park last week. But when it hits 4500 rpm, you realize that this is the only speed to use. Approaching a tight 25 mph motorway exit, you get your braking out of the way, then change down early, from 3rd into second, pausing slightly on your way through neutral so the gearbox has time to decide that it will indeed let you have the gear. You have to request your next cog from this car, gentle backwards pressure on the lever until you’re approved. You can feel the rear tyres hook up, the back of the car hunker down a shade and then as you feed in the power, the wailing starts...It’s not a big car, the 911, and at moments like this the sound and weight of that flat-six seem to dominate the cabin.
We’ve all been ‘educated’ to know that a rear-engined Porsche is now about as dangerous as Miley Cyrus. We know it’s no longer the tail-snapping handful it once was, but perhaps a small part of us wishes it might still be. When the car has the engine note of a baleful demon held captive behind the rear seats, and comes from the days before Porsche Stability Control, it’s like getting to look behind the mask for a second. Like stroking one of those ‘tame’ lions that have been raised by humans and which once in a while will remember that you could be food.
Sure, inside there’s a world of idiosyncratic Germanic wonder. Heater controls start on the floor, work their way up to decorate the cassette storage thing and manage to annex part of the dash for good measure.. The wiper controls are on a stalk and on a little twisty knob above one of the dials and the pedals stick up out of the floor. But that doesn’t matter. Someone once described older 911s to me as being like small aircraft. When you start them up or drive slowly, they grumble and vibrate and make you sweat because there’s no power steering and first gear’s a sod when cold. Then you get a little heat into the systems, your speed comes up, the vibrations seem to cancel each other out, the steering lightens to become a tactile delight and you’re flying.
Part of the reason Porsche endures as an automotive icon is not because it’s cars are always the most beautiful or the most exclusive but because you can feel the engineering. We want Porsches because the DNA from cars built to win the most dangerous road races ever run, cars at home on the Mulsanne straight and cars that emerged from days in the African desert is part of your car when you approach that tight exit ramp on a wet Monday night. Or it could be that I just like yellow cars.