Driving 6 Generations of the Porsche 911 Turbo on Track

The Evolution of the Porsche 911 Turbo

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Words: Chris Tio

I received two very interesting calls in quick succession that soon led to an epic experience that ultimately resulted in the maturation of certain perspectives of mine. I have always been known as a slightly rabid advocate of classic air-cooled Porsches and have been rumored to be behind several hate mails disparaging newer water-cooled technology. (I’m joking!)

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The first Porsche 911 Turbo nicknamed the 930 to distinguished itself from the normal 911 and the latest generation 991 Turbo S, the continuing evolution of race technology for the road.

The first call I got was from my Editor-in-Chief Carl Cunanan who waxed excitedly about the latest Porsche 911 turbo, or more creatively called the 991.2. He had recently returned from the launch that was done at the Kyalami track in South Africa. The second call was a teeny bit more interesting. It was from a good friend from way back who loved Porsches. We started by discussing the recently launched 991.2 and ended up with an evil thought. In order to finally settle all debates, and just because it was something extremely fun to do, why not organize a comparison of all turbo generations? A comparison that would settle once and for all the question: which is the best turbo generation?

The wheels were soon set into motion and we were soon off to the Clark International Speedway with five seminal Porsche Turbos in tow, as well as one very skeptical Editor-in-Chief. Leading our discrete convoy was the best example of the original Porsche turbo, the iconic 1989 930 in grand prix white. The last year of the 930 carried the best features, most notably the strengthened G50 5-speed transmission, as well as the most horsepower you could pack in the 3.3 intercooled mill. Following rapidly behind was a beautiful but menacing white Porsche 993 Twin Turbo, the first of the AWD twin turbos and arguably a street version of the mighty super Porsche, the legendary 959. Three very rapid water-cooled Porsches soon followed in quick succession. A silver 996 X50 Turbo, a black 997 Turbo S and a silver 991 Turbo S (Yes, I have written the factory about creating a naming department so we don’t have to memorize all these numbers. I’m joking but I should!).

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The Porsche 964 Turbo  3.6 was the last single turbo in rear wheel drive form. It is considered to be the king of the 930 consideration, highlighting the frantic excitement of massive turbo lag couple with rapid and rabid acceleration

But before you start counting and wondering what’s missing, the best was reserved for last. The legendary Porsche 964 3.6 turbo in attention-grabbing yellow was waiting for us at the track, having been trailed in just like the royalty that it is. And soon, tingling with excitement, we were at the track with all generations of the 911 turbo represented.

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I was giddy as I was just handed on a silver platter the perfect opportunity to finally swing Carl over to the dark side, to convince him that Porsche lost its way when bean counters forced the factory to join the rest of mankind in water-cooled technology. Until, in a cruel twist of fate, it was somehow decided that we would switch. I was told that I would only handle the comfort of the water-cooled turbos and Carl would explore the idiosyncrasies of the older air-cooled brethren. It was also an interesting pairing, the oldest versus the newest in the 930 versus the 991. The 964 versus the 997, and the 993 versus the 996 (you see the need for a naming department?). This was going to be the start of a very strange day, at least for me.

I gingerly approach the silver 991 Turbo S. From afar, it seemed to wear the smile of a Ferrari with the rear of an Aston Martin. It seemed to wear the familiar lines of a Porsche 911 and yet something seemed off. Maybe I was thrown off by the sheer size difference between the 991 and the 930. The 930 to me never seemed to be a small car but looked absolutely dainty next to the 991.

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Examining the key soon had me wanting to call out and ask for assistance, as instead of an extruded shape of thin metal, I had a small black device.

Sitting in the cockpit, I gingerly placed the device on the tray as I frantically searched the dash for a button to start the car. Failing to do so, and suddenly becoming conscious of the expectant eyes of an audience, I instinctively glanced at the traditional left-hand side and spotted a slot for the device. I inserted it after debating which end goes in first, and awaited for it to start. Then, in an embarrassing head palm moment, I twisted the key and the 991 Turbo S came alive.

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I eased unto the track and up to the rear of the beautiful but menacing shape of the 930. I stepped on the brakes and to my horror, the engine stopped. Turning red with embarrassment, I lifted my foot off the brake and got startled by the engine coming back to life. Then in a huge roar, I heard before I saw the 930 hunker down and explode down the track. Caught by surprise again, I flicked the shifter to drive, muttering how I was about to be embarrassed by my Editor-in-Chief; I stomped on the pedal and took off. And then…I was there…right behind the 930, frantically remembering to brake but also not to brake too hard. I was stupefied, I instinctively knew that the latest turbo was fast, but fast enough to shatter all my illusions of the 930 was not what I had expected.

As this was my first time on the track, I was valiantly trying to identify the right lines, braking points, as well as frantically remembering every piece of advice that I had been given or had read. Until I realized something I should have already known. The 991 was good, I mean really out of the world good. No, okay, it was amazingly perfect. It compensated for my amateurish attempt at playing racecar driver and just flat out outdrives my driving skills. The car made me superhuman, and upon settling down and getting used to my newfound invincibility, I glanced at the face of my Editor-in-Chief, clocked his sweat thru the open window of the 930, and lazily adjusted my temperature control as well as switched on the music.

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I could get used to this!

Soon we pulled in, me, with a newfound appreciation of the leaps in technology that Porsche had accomplished with this car. It instills so much confidence in the driver, giving him the belief that he can accomplish all the lines of his racing heroes. All this while being totally cosseted in comfort, it was surreal. The 991 Turbo S was definitely the supercar for today’s world. I say this with a parting glance at the carbon fiber trim subtly hiding two-cup holders.

Next up was I in the menacing black 997 Turbo S versus my hero, the 964 turbo 3.6 in stunning yellow. I glanced with envy at Carl, ruminating at how I wanted to exchange places. I was so lost in my thoughts that I failed to notice that we were up and running.

The black 997 Turbo S was very familiar. For a second, I didn’t even realize that I was in a newer Porsche. The seating position, steering feel, and even the sound brought me back and reminded me why I loved Porsches. Everything felt like an extension of myself, literally point and shoot, but with massive power. It was new but yet, it felt like a classic Porsche experience, giving me the illusion that I was more in control than the car.

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I chased after the 964 and once again, one of my heroes was slain. As much as I ached for the sheer legend of the 964 3.6, the 997 turbo S was just driving nirvana. So new and yet so intimately familiar. I once again reached over to adjust the temperature control and change stations on the music while enjoying the look of sheer concentration in Carl’s face as he wrestled with the 964 turbo.

pzp_5181-copy It was magical.

And yes, after parking, I checked and found two-cup holders also discretely hidden away by the passenger’s side.

Last up was the car I least looked forward to driving, the unwanted, strange-looking face in a Porsche, the unfairly underappreciated 996 Turbo in X50 guise with a manual transmission. This was going up against the extremely appreciated and rapidly becoming even more expensive, 993 turbo.

I have a confession to make. I secretly want a 996 turbo.

Why? I can always justify and state that I have always admired the legendary Metzger turbo engines that have powered many winning turbo race Porsches. Or just simply state that the strange look was actually perfect for me, the proportions and stance reminding me of something from the age of the Jetsons.

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Ok fine, you called my bluff, I wanted one because they are severely undervalued and heck, 420 bhp and 560 Nm of Torque in a car that costs less than a new entry- level German car will make any enthusiast want one. There is one thing special in what I was about to drive; the X50 package means that this particular 996 turbo has 450 Bhp and a staggering 620 Nm of torque. And did I mention that it’s got a manual transmission?

I was about to have my mind blown.

Maybe it was because of the manual transmission. Somehow I had reserved my smiles per minute for driving the 996. There was just something so visceral about being able to slot a gear in place and have jet power propulsion back it up. I was whooping and shouting as I rowed the gears and just having the time of my life. It was fast, rapid, confidence-inspiring and yet, raw, violent, and surreal all at the same time. And if I secretly wanted one before, I now was shouting out my desire to everybody who cared to listen.

I soon entered the pit, heart pounding, and eased the 996 turbo to a stop.

4f8a7695-copyWhat a glorious day!

Until I saw the three lined up together, the 89 930, 964 3.6 and 993 turbo, all staring back at me with disdain and scorn. I glance around with a look of guilt and had to ask myself, was I truly a convert? I reach down into my deep library of air-cooled memories and moments for answers. And a consistent burble kept splashing out at me, reminding me of how much I loved the air-cooled 911s. About how much I loved how they demanded so much of a driver and how much pride they instill in one’s abilities, or the shame from the lack of it. It was the driver’s car of choice.

I move quickly away from the trio of water-cooled sirens and proudly announced that the air-cooled 911 turbos were still the best. This immediately provoked a deep discussion among everyone present, one that was settled by, strangely enough, a totally unrelated but completely relevant question.

Which Porsche turbo would each one drive home?

 

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Soon, all of my purported air-cooled allies evaporated as a show of enthusiastic hands went up for the grand prize of being able to drive the newest turbo home, the 991 Turbo S. The 964 3.6 was carefully loaded up a transporter. Everyone started to make a beeline for the 997 Turbo S as well as the 993 Turbo. I longingly glance at the 930, and reluctantly, with a heavy heart, asked my Editor-in-Chief if he wanted to drive the 996 turbo home with me, leaving the sole, unlucky guy to cautiously nurse the 930 home, all 3 hours from Clark to Manila in varying road and traffic conditions.

As for me, I sat comfortably, adjusted the temperature control, switched stations of music to drive to, and settled in for a comfortable drive, enjoying with deep satisfaction the epic day I just had.

Sigh, water-cooled. Who knew?

Paying it forward with Porsche

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Words: Carl Cunanan

I have to say I laughed when I saw Chris ‘s face when the new 911 just stopped. It’s supposed to, of course. The start-stop function is a key component in the hunt for improved efficiency and emissions numbers. It had never happened to him though, and it was quite fun to watch. It was also pretty cool to see him come to the realization that we were having a nice relaxing drive at speed. In the older Porsches, he was used to his arms flailing and sweat would be pouring down.

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I am not a “newer is always better” type by far, most especially with cars. However, it is very hard to intelligently deny that modern cars perform better, more efficiently, and more safely that before. High speeds are more stable, swerves are more manageable, and accidents are more survivable. All this, of course, comes at a cost both literally and figuratively: increased complication and computer control. Tuning is now the key point for many of these serious sports cars. The engineers spent decades making them more predictable and now they tune in the individuality. On one hand, that may be artificial. On the other hand, what is more important to us as human beings? Our software or our hardware? Consider tuning as our attitude and determination.

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The 930 Turbo was the car I was dying to drive, the mythic widowmaker. The boyhood-into-adulthood dream. Built with insane acceleration and only a slight understanding of traction when you get on the gas. This model was particularly special because of the G50 transmission, which made it far more drivable and survivable (if you were properly smooth on the clutch, gas, brake, steering, shifting in your seat…) because it had one more gear than most. When the boost came in, I was expecting to see God or the wall behind me. I drove it fast but gingerly on the curves, and straightened it out as soon as possible so I could roll on the gas quickly and for as long as possible. And yes, it is fun. And scary. But it is scary in a way now because you have to keep track of all the little things, which you really weren’t doing before. In this car, at speed anywhere near a curve, even just thinking about getting off the gas could turn you sideways and you could really feel that. I love this car, truly, madly, and deeply. But, I am way quicker round a track and safer in the modern 911s and most people will be including racecar drivers even if you discount the actual speed differences capable. So, I love the 930 Turbo, but I probably wouldn’t drive it much.

 

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The next car I hopped into was a bright yellow 964 3.6. This was even scarier, that 3.6 came out for only one year as earlier models of this body style/model number used the same engine as the 930s. This is something Porsche still does today by the way, using the uptuned crazy engines for the hottest rides even as more advanced engines are in the pipeline. Also, this car was still a full rear-wheel drive 911 Turbo and it was so with the largest engine ever. Next gen went all-wheel drive, so this car was particularly light of tail. You needed to be way more careful here if you wanted to keep things going straight. Yes, there are drivers that can get things sideways with regularity and yes, this car in the right hands can be remarkably quick and docile. But remember that this was the time when a car like this on the road was barely legal and almost financially irresponsible. So with power increases more than perhaps that sweet but dated handling could handle, this was again something I would much love but rarely drive anywhere but on a racetrack.

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Moving on, we came to the 993, the car that is perceived to be by air-cooled enthusiasts to be the ultimate turbo. This was the last air-cooled 911 Turbo and also the first 911 Turbo to put power out to all four wheels. With the increased ability to utilize traction on all corners, this car was more drivable and more confidence-inspiring than the previous models while still giving you the boost hit that you so longed for. It came on the heels of the awesome 959 and it pre-dated the use of all-wheel drive in all turbo 911s, though right now, all the 911s are turbocharged. Though not exactly a daily driver for anyone but the most devoted, the 993 Turbo was most like the more modern cars. If we look at all these early 911 Turbos together, there are several things we see across the board. For one thing, they were all built like tanks. You don’t get the feeling you are driving old cars, you get the feeling you are driving old racecars. They obviously don’t have all the modern conveniences, but they seem far tighter and far better sorted than anything this age should be. Another thing you see is that they become increasingly more realistic for use in regular life, and this will continue with the more modern cars. They are surprisingly simple in their beauty, simple lines and simple operations are able to produce a thing of beauty whether moving or not. But no, they are not for everyone or everyday. One thing that I still can’t wrap my head around was the fact that they had electric seat adjustment. It seemed completely out of place in a car so purposeful and raw. But then, what may be considered raw in terms of numbers and brute force may also be considered the perfect dance partner for those well-schooled in the proper arts. This is almost always the case for the hottest 911s. The car is just better than the driver.

dsc_7553-copyAs we moved to the newer cars, we clearly see continuation of the trend. Porsche has said a couple things lately that seem very in tune with what they have done both historically and more recently. For one, they said they were no longer going to play the horsepower game and would instead concentrate on maximizing all the different forces and systems involved in making Porsches do what they need to. Basically, do what is needed to get the performance desired, which increasingly means having a wider range of drivers and driver abilities get behind the wheel. The 911 Turbos after the 993 became increasingly precise while also increasingly powerful. The rather dangerous tail-happiness that we really do enjoy became mitigated by more modern suspension technologies and the moves made to balance the cars themselves a little better (dare we say make them handle more like those pantheons of modern balance, the Cayman and the Boxster?) as well as all the computer power keeping them sorted and straight. It can be argued that they almost went too far, as the outgoing 911s (991 first generation) were docile (relative to Porsches) enough that some buyers began trying to get their 997s back. That would be mostly for frisky-tail feel though, as the new 991s will be quicker for most. This is answered by the latest 911 991 (the new generation 991.2 that was on the C! cover recently and is technically a 2017 model) which is a major reworking of systems in spite of the minimal model-name change. The latest 911 Turbo is friskier than the last, more pointable and more fun. It has the exuberance of youth tempered by the wisdom of racetrack years.

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When you ask real Porsche enthusiasts what you should buy for your first Porsche, the intelligent answer is almost always “buy the best you can with what you want.” In spite of the fact that the designs and the directions are seriously monotheistic in general, the individual years, models, and cars are surprisingly, well, individual. This brings us to the other thing Porsche has been saying lately, that certain systems are more for the driver that wants classic or historic driving experiences. Manual transmissions, they say, are for those that want that type of drive and feel. What’s the quickest though? Always the newest. And even the guys who graciously and generously put together this amazing field of cars say that yes, Porsche would always make the incoming car significantly better than the previous one. This is all possible because of the breadth of modern cars that previously would only go to the most technically capable and daring drivers. Now there’s a Porsche to suit almost everyone, and that doesn’t yet include the vintage and classic market.

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Having gone through all of the 911 Turbo models in a very short amount of time, on road and on track, we find that the enthusiasts and the Porsche company itself are surprisingly in tune with each other. They might not agree on that, or on a lot of things (increasing size, electronically-supported steering, water cooling, turbocharging, increasingly mid rear-engines) but the truths and the passions seem to hold. 911 Turbos are unique products no matter what era they are from.