Driving – Getting to grips with the car that saved the 911 – the Porsche Carrera 3.2. JJ heads to Shropshire to see if the Supersport really is super. The Carrera 3.2 kicked off the mock-Turbo era but it’s more significant as the 911 that saved the dynasty. Words John-Joe-Vollans. Photography Jonathan Jacob.
HOW PORSCHE SAVED 911
The car that saved the 911? We get to grips with the Porsche Carrera 3.2. Carrera 3.2 propelled Stuttgart into the future we reveal how.
The brand-new Porsche 911 992 is not only its parent firm’s most lucrative model, it’s the most profitable new car of 2019. Stark contrast to the climate in which the Carrera 3.2 emerged 35 years ago, when this archetypal sports car was fighting for its very survival.
The 1970s and early 1980s began with the Porsche 917’s domination of endurance and Can-Am competition, and ended with buyers avoiding showrooms. All but Porsche loyalists deemed the 911 too old-fashioned, a view shared by some Porsche high-ups. Essentially it was a 21-year-old design overdue for the chop.
‘THE STEERING CHATTERS AWAY LIKE A LONELY PENSIONER TO A COLD CALLER’
A plan to broaden Porsche’s model range started to bear fruit in the 1970s when the Volkswagen partnership gave rise to the Porsche 912, then the VW-Porsche 914, and finally the Porsche 924 for the entry-level buyer – but what about those after a premium Stuttgart express? That role would be filled by the Porsche 928, and the sports car enthusiast would be satisfied by the Porsche 944. It was all worked out in a typically neat German fashion and would allow the 911 to retire in 1982.
So, what went ‘wrong’? Good though these other Porsches were, none embodied quite as many talents as the old 911 so it was decided to keep it in production. The Carrera 3.2 that resulted was very different from the 911 SC it replaced, and changed the direction of the 911 forever.
Was that new direction better than the old one, though? Let’s find out…
‘Nice Turbo mate’ comes the call from across the petrol forecourt. I’ve been on the road for three hours already (it’s only 9am) so I don’t immediately gather that this is aimed at me. I’m about to correct him and explain that the Guards Red beauty I’m currently pumping full of premiumis actually a Supersport, but I think better of it. ‘Cheers mate’ is my inspired retort. If he’d have looked a bit closer under that enormous rear spoiler he’d have seen a Carrera rather than a Turbo badge, the main giveaway that this Porsche isn’t one of the infamous blown 930s.
‘ON SOME WIDER ROUTES, OUT OF THE CONFINES OF THE VALLEY, THIS 911 RADIATES TRACTION AND STABILITY’
Mistaken identity is of course largely why this car’s original owner ticked option M491 back in 1988. ‘Turbo-look’ – or Supersport as it became known here in the UK – had been available since the new 3.2 Carrera arrived in showrooms in 1984. If you couldn’t stretch to the full-bore Turbo 911 930, or simply preferred to exit a corner facing the same way as you’d entered it, then the Supersport made for a perfect alternative. You got all the visual impact of the-widow-making 930 plus some of its chassis goodies like bigger brakes, thicker roll bars and revised rear trailing arms, but you kept the peachy 3.2-litre naturally aspirated flat-six engine.
Fill-up complete, snapper Jonathan and I retire to a café next to the forecourt to talk through our route over a strong coffee. It’s been raining heavily overnight and it shows no signs of lifting, but we’re here now. ‘Here’ being just off the A49 on the edge of the picturesque Carding Mill Valley in the Shropshire Hills.
My attention soon wanders from Google Maps to the red Porsche in my periphery, still visible out of the large café window. The Carrera 3.2 – especially with Turbo addenda – has a silhouette that’s up there with the most evocative in motoring, even in Targa guise. It’s that outrageous rear wing that dominates your gaze of course. Only mildly less overt are its wraparound front and rear bumpers that fold into comically flared wheel arches.
‘YOU GOT ALL THE VISUAL IMPACT OF THE 930 PLUS SOME OF ITS CHASSIS GOODIES’
This 911 seems to teeter between delicacy and devilishness, especially in this uber-desirable shade of red. The familiar Porsche ‘surprised frog’ front end morphs into a steroid-pumped rear. It’s not as clean and traditionally ‘pretty’ as an early 911, but it’s a damn sight meaner. With a break in the weather creeping onto Jonathan’s radar app we decide to risk it. Jumping into the Supersport’s re-trimmed ‘tombstone’ seats I notice the addition of red pinstriping to their edges that links the cabin with the exterior. Otherwise there’s not a lot of colour in here, just a flash of orange from the needles on the huge and evocative Porsche dials. The rest is an undistracting mass of black plastic and leather.
The door closes with a stereotypically German ‘thunk’ and a moment later there’s a whirling hum from the back that heralds the stirring of a Porsche flat-six. This might be a late-1980s Porsche but it’s the final evolution of the original 911. This was the last generation to carry a 911 factory designation, the entirely new 964 taking over in 1989. That means it feels like a classic Porsche to drive. It’s a thoroughly analogue experience that, to be honest, takes me a little by surprise. The first few miles in this Carrera feel like hard work. The pedals are floor mounted and offset to the left, which places the brake pedal where the clutch would ordinarily be. Not ideal, but it’s a right-hand-drive-only quirk that’s fairly easy to acclimatise to.
However, twin this with a brake pedal that’s much higher than the throttle – ruling out heel-and-toe downshifts – and I’m not immediately put at ease. The steering wheel seems enormous, no doubt designed to lessen the effort of shifting the unassisted rack that’s piloting those wider Supersport tyres. At speed the steering weight is fantastic (more on that shortly) but when I’m negotiating junctions and petrol forecourts it quickly becomes a chore. Thankfully the gearchange is a joy with an ideally placed stick for the slightly over-upright driving position. As a late- 1986 car, this Supersport is fitted with the heavily updated Getrag G50 transmission.
Just enough effort is needed to move the stick across its relatively long gate to achieve the desired ratio. Each change comes with a hugely satisfying series of click-clunk movements that reassure you beyond any doubt that you’re ‘in’.
After negotiating the perilously narrow road leading out of the Carding Mill Valley into the Shropshire Hills proper, I’m at last starting to tune into the rhythm of this 911. There are plenty of idiosyncrasies to the controls that need a degree of sympathy and patience to overcome, but once the process is committed to muscle memory, things fall into place. The Carrera 3.2 doesn’t immediately dazzle with exotic supercar theatrics like a Ferrari 308, or exude the one-size-fits-all synergy of a Honda NSX: instead it slowly impresses with its huge reserve of talent, once you’ve reset your expectations.
On some wider routes, out of the confines of the valley, this 911 radiates traction and stability. Now I’m able to see what this Porsche is really capable of. As the revs build, the engine note climbs above the background fan chatter and the trademark air-cooled flat-six sound pricks up my ears. Any petrolhead worth their salt should get goosepimples upon hearing this noise, which is surely one of the finest engine notes ever.
It doesn’t just sound quintesentially Porsche either, it gets along the road in an equally unique fashion. As speed climbs, the back of the car digs in as the nose raises slightly. There’s a rich mid-range roar from the back which transforms, almost Honda VTEC-like, as the tacho enters the top of its sweep. Here the unmistakable snarl becomes a war cry that’s been heard across the world’s roads and circuits for nearly 60 years. It’s the payoff I’ve been hoping for all morning and I can’t help but smirk.
Showing the Supersport a few curves causes that smirk to break into a full grin. The steering wheel (still a little on the large side) chatters away like a lonely pensioner to a cold caller. It combines with a taut chassis that’s perfect for pressing plenty of speed through bends. It only starts to come unstuck if there are rough surfaces mid corner. These fidgets can upset the car, but whatever you do don’t lift! The old-911 pendulum effect might not be as pronounced with the Supersport as it was in earlier iterations but it’s still very wise to treat it with respect. Getting on the power early usually sets the car up for drama-free power out of a bend.
Driving this 911 on twisty hill-top roads, even in this weather, is deeply rewarding because of the car’s quirks, rather than in spite of them. It’s a machine that you have to work hard to master – and who doesn’t relish a challenge?
The Modern Classics view
For some, the 911will always be a bit too sensible. If you love cars that perpetually keep you on edge and never allow you to relax, then the Supersport isn’t for you. It might feel a lot older and inherently more mechanical than even its immediate successor, but it’s still eminently useable, once you become accustomed to its foibles. The in-your-face Turbo visuals are actually at odds with its true nature. So it’s all mouth and no trousers then? Absolutely not. In fact, the Supersport might just be the ideal driver’s 911 of its generation. The performance is accessible and strong, and can be fully exploited on the road, even if your surname isn’t Röhrl or Ludwig. The Turbo additions are more than just skin deep and they help to create a surprisingly forgiving and fun performance car.
If driving everywhere flat out isn’t your thing, then the Supersport also has you covered. Come on, just look at it. There are few more visually striking 911s in existence. Every time I look at it all I can hear is INXS’s Need You Tonight playing on a loop. If the 1980s could be distilled into a mechanical silhouette then it would certainly look an awful lot like this. That era has never been cooler than it is right now, and the 930 Turbo surely tops the charts for desirability.
But if you can’t stomach the six-figure sum needed for even the leggiest Turbo, or you prefer to use your Porsche rather than stick it in a temperature and humidity controlled environment until its price doubles, then even the £50k you’ll have to pay for a decent Supersport starts to look like good value.
Porsche 911 Carrera 3.2 Supersport
Engine 3164cc, 6-cyl, DOHC
Transmission RWD, 5-speed manual
Max Power 228bhp @ 5900rpm
Max Torque 209lb-ft @ 4800rpm
Top speed 149mph
What to pay
Journos used to hate this dash layout. Fan noise pronounced at low speed. JJ was eager to rest his tea on the spoiler. No, that is not red paint on that barrier. Not original but very nice all the same. Every 911 must have its Fuchs. Not many caravans on this road. The M6 is in a terrible state these days.
WHERE WE WENT
Directly due west of Birmingham are the Shropshire Hills. An area of outstanding natural beauty, this undulating county straddles the border between England and Wales and offers some remarkable views, pretty villages and largely empty roads. We started our drive on the A49 that intersects the region.
The Carding Mill Valley is well worth a stop. The adjoining Long Mynd boasts steep valleys and escarpments that rise to 1693ft above sea level. If you fancy a break from driving, there’s a scenic walk down the Mill Valley to a waterfall easily accessible from the National Trust carpark. Back on the road, take a left off the A49 just after the village of All Stretton and you’ll find yourself climbing into the real Shropshire Hills. Routes here are pretty narrow with mixed visibility but there are a few stretches that are a delight for those driving small nimble ‘chassis’ modern classics. Take a right at Picklescott for a nice pub lunch at The Bridges, then head back to the A49.
I BOUGHT ONE
‘I found this Supersport in need of some TLC in Somerset. The car was viewed then purchased and arrived the following week. The leather seats and trim were in need of some repairs. Next came the steering wheel, which was completely shiny. The car went to Porsche Centre Solihull for a health check and ended up costing me a full engine rebuild. It drives really well now and the 3.2 engine has a great tone. Many enjoyable weekends have been had since.’