The 30-year divide 911 & Porsche World magazine is 30-years old. How do we celebrate such a milestone? By comparing and contrasting the 1990 964 with its 992 future self Words: Steve Bennett. Photography: Paul Harmer.
Happy Birthday to us!
When 911&PW launched in 1990, the 964 was the contemporary 911. 30-years on, we pitch it against the current 992 gen 911
Someone bake a cake. Your favourite (well, we hope it is) Porsche magazine is 30-years old to the issue. Yep, 1990 to 2020, it’s enough to make you feel old and, despite 30-years of technical advancements, we’re still ink and paper based, even if every other part of the process is electronically enabled and enhanced. And yes, you can of course buy a digital version for your new-fangled tablet, but most folk still prefer turning pages to swiping. Well, for the time being at least…
You don’t need me to tell you that the world was a very different place in 1990. When 911&PW launched, the compact disc was considered to be cutting edge, mobile phones were a luxury, lifestyle accessory, films came in VHS format from Blockbuster Video and Porsche’s range of cars consisted of the evergreen 911, plus the 944 and 928, both of which were pretty long in the tooth, despite soldiering on for another five years. The start of the digital revolution was some ten years away and the notion that in the future we would all carry on our person a device that could access all the world’s information in written, film and musical form, plus allow us to communicate, take pictures, videos and even date…well, the fact that we now take all this sci-fi for granted is perhaps an indication of just how rapidly the technical revolution took hold of our lives.
“In an era of 300bhp hot hatchbacks, the 964 doesn’t “ feel fast as such”
In the low-tech world of 1990, launching a magazine was all about having a hunch and then taking the leap of faith, that it would work. Marketing was word of mouth and sticking it on the shelves of WHSmith and hoping people noticed. Some months later – when the various revenue streams rolled in, or didn’t roll in – such a venture would either be a success, or rather more often, an abject failure.
And, of course, it takes someone to have that hunch and to have the creative bottle to carry it out. Even if it does mean selling their own 911 to fund it. Enter 911&PW’s founding father, Clive Househam, who unlike Porsche, is still an independent and still at the helm of a publishing co that that likes to tread its own path, thank you very much. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
So how to celebrate this publishing milestone? Well, elsewhere we’ve canvassed the great and the good of the Porsche world to establish the Top 30 Porsches of all time. But as current incumbent of the Editor’s chair, I wanted to look back at where we’ve come from and, at the same time, make the great leap forward, too, all in the space of one drive.
No incremental measures here, just two 911s separated by 30 years. Enter the 964 v 992. The 911 is the cornerstone of the magazine and of Porsche as a marque and even as a design and engineering philosophy. It’s a constant, too, so the 964 is a useful datum point Technically the 964 arrived in 1989, but its model year was 1990, making it very much the new 911 in town when 911&PW launched. Indeed, so new was it, we didn’t even get a drive into the first issue, although the incoming new 964 Turbo was referenced in the news pages. Nowadays all 911s are turbocharged, save for the GT models. And I should mention here that we were expecting to be driving the new 992 Turbo in this 30th Anniversary issue, but something called the coronavirus has stopped 2020 in its tracks, including the launch of the mighty 911 Turbo. I mention this as a future historical reference and to illustrate that not all is progress and we’re not quite so clever as we might like to think. It sure puts the poxy Millennium Bug into perspective…
Whevs, as no one used to say back then. Let’s get back to a simpler 1990 and consider the 964. Remember, this was the first major 911 update – impact bumpers aside – since the icon’s 1963 debut. New front and rear aprons, plus side skirts, added a strikingly modern take. The Fuchs had flown. Active aero in the form of the retractable rear wing was a talking point.
Torsion bars gave way to MacPherson struts and rear trailing arms, and four-wheel drive was a big talking point, albeit the only bit of trickle down tech from the mighty 959. Oh, and the engine had grown to 3.6-litres and 250bhp. All-in-all a well-timed leap into the next decade for the 911, even if much was still interchangeable with the previous gen Carrera 3.2 and the interior remained a cosy, ergonomically challenging environment.
And it’s a 964 Carrera 4 that we have here, courtesy of Paul Stephens, Porsche emporium, in classic Guards Red, Porsche’s launch colour of choice. On a G plate, it’s not quite period standard, but then show me a 964 that is these days, such is the owner temptation to replace ugly flag wing mirrors for later aero items and bland Design 90s for Cup wheels and 964 RS style intakes in the front apron. Other than that, though, the driving experience will be pure 1990, which is what counts.
2020 has yet to arrive and, when it does, in corresponding Guards Red, plus grey interior, it looks like a future 911 design concept has materialised in 3D. For years cars have been imagined this way, with exaggerated, stylised bulges and deep waistline, sleek, chopped glasshouses and monster alloys with stretched on rubber. Not anymore. Now they exist and the 992, with its familiar 911 silhouette, really brings it home. It is the 964 plus 30-years and stretched in every way from aesthetics to technology.
Time for a drive 1990 style. It’s a while since I’ve driven an air-cooled 911. Sliding into the deep bolstered Sport chair (I’ve said it, what feels like a million times, but this generation of Porsche seat is easily the best) requires a certain contortion of torso and legs, but then mine are rather giraffelike and maybe I should have chosen lighter, narrower footwear, than a pair of Timberland boots to operate the three pedals sprouting from the floor. Pedal position has always been one of the air-cooled 911’s quirks, but it takes a period of abstinence as a reminder as to its true cramped quirkiness, also not helped by the space compromises of RHD conversion and the encroachment of the 4WD transmission tunnel, robbing any space for a not in use clutch foot. Pedal issues aside, it’s like coming home to a degree and brings back memories of my long-gone Carrera 3.2.
Everything else is a reminder of just how narrow and compact an air-cooled 911 is from 1963 to the 1995 993. With a passenger on board you’re rubbing shoulders and the upright windscreen can be touched by extending a single digit from the top of the steering wheel, while conversely the stumpy gearlever requires a full stretch of the arm to move it around the five-speed gate.
“Like Porsche, the 911 is the cornerstone of the magazine”
Driving is an interactive, immersive experience enhanced by compact dimensions. As we scoot along for our photo location, many is the time the 992 has to give way on narrow lanes to oncoming, equally bloated modern traffic, while the snake-hipped 964 slips through and makes its escape, with sight lines guided by the trad 911 upright front wings. There’s a certain satisfaction to that and a nod to the notion that if a sports car is too big for a typical British Isles B road, then it’s perhaps no longer a sports car…
In an era of 300bhp hot hatchbacks, the 964 doesn’t feel fast as such. An initial charge through the gears is slightly disappointing, progress halted momentarily, but characteristically, by each long-throw shift, but away from the pure pursuit of straightline speed, the 964 still rewards. Even with front driveshafts the steering is talkative and full of hydraulic feedback. 3.6-litres means lots of torque (228lb ft at 4800rpm), which means progress needn’t be frantic. Indeed the 964 rewards a fast and flowing style, typical of 911 motoring and assisted by the rear-engined balance, which doesn’t respond well to sudden, cack-handed weight transfer, even with four-wheel drive to shift power around. On 16in wheels the passive suspension is tolerant of the local topography. It feels natural and connected, just like the 964’s controls, from the slightly rubbery gearchange to the clearly cable-connected throttle and barely assisted steering. The 964 C4’s famed understeer is there, but not to the degree that reputation suggests, although much of that was originally down to Porsche’s quite conservative factory suspension geometry. A few tweaks can make a big difference.
Mobile phone aside and a rather modern head unit, the 964 is packing virtually none of the tech that we’ve become accustomed to. Indeed, the only electronics on board are a few RAM chips in the ECU, to control fuelling and ignition. But then it’s a classic car now and serves a different function, and when it was contemporary it was as sophisticated as any other car in 1990, save for the odd top of the range Merc or BMW.
Time for the 30-year leap. First the obvious similarities. They’re 911s, they’re both the same colour, share an instantly recognisable monocoque silhouette, and have the engine hanging out the back. Functionality is broadly the same and the 992 has to perform on the same roads the 964 plied all those years ago. But that’s kind of where it ends.
Pitching 964 man 30 years into the future and it’s unlikely he’d even be able to make the 992 start. Really? Well, it doesn’t have a key as such, just a fob. That overcome, once he’s realised that you have to shove your foot on the brake pedal, while pushing the start button. Engine started, where’s the handbrake? Even those used to the newfangled electronic jobs get confused by them. That said, the 964 is hobbled by its period security system, which involves a fiddly transponder insertion… And then what about changing gear? It’s an automatic, but not as 964 man would recognise. I mean, is that stubby, emancipated little toggle really the means of forward and reverse travel?
OK, I jest somewhat. Of course, he’d get the hang of it, and in other ways the tech isn’t so revolutionary. Even a Vauxhall Astra had a digital dash in 1990, and sat nav existed on Tomorrow’s World, and planes. Likewise cruise control. But radar cruise control? What would fascinate the 964 man more would probably be the electronic systems takeover, and the combination of electro and mechanical systems, from electronic damping, steering, throttle control and that aforementioned pesky handbrake.
And then there’s the more obvious stuff, like power. This possibly last petrol-engined 911 has 450bhp from 3-litres, aided by twin turbos. A 911 Turbo then? No, that’s a whole other model, with a scarcely believable 650bhp, about the same as a 1990 GpC 962. In 1990, the just launched 964 Turbo had 320bhp, from a mildly reworked version of the original 930 Turbo engine from 1974. Things moved slowly back then, and progress was often hampered by Porsche’s sporadic financial problems. Not now, with the world’s most profitable car manufacturer as part of the mighty VW empire.
And the driving experience? Well, in this back-to-back 964 man would be mesmerised by the sheer immediacy of the 992’s reactions. Every input is rewarded with an immediate response. There is no lag between twitching the wheel and the front wheels responding, or, despite turbos, the throttle cracking open. Into a corner, and body roll is seemingly eradicated, while the 964 behind, if it’s managed to keep up, is clearly lifting a front wheel as the weight transfers to the rear, the passive dampers left to their individual devices, unlike the PASM dampers on the 992, which work together for the greater handling good. Oh, and this 992 Carrera S is pretty basic, devoid of options like active roll bars, rear steer and active engine mounts.
And what would impress 964 man the most? Well, probably the transmission. He would, obviously, be a manualist, his views on autos shaped possibly by Porsche’s contemporary Tiptronic system. And that is perhaps the biggest leap in 30 years, the transformation of transmission, from slow- witted three-speed – four if you were lucky – to seamless-shifting eight-speed boxes that make the most of the engine’s mighty power curve. We may still be waiting and wailing for Porsche to give us a manual 992, but it makes little rational sense and is really just a last act of defiance from the soon to be extinct self-shifters. Well, at least that’s what Porsche hopes, I’m sure. Time to leave the 964 and our fictional 964 man. We’re taking the 992 to some proper North Yorkshire driving roads to top and tail this story. But first to get there. And this is where the modern 911 shifts from being just a car to something almost semiautonomous.
It’s a long, 200-mile journey and if 964 man were following he’d get there just as quickly, but not quite so fresh and with only FM radio and whatever cassettes he might have for company. For myself and photographer, Paul Harmer, we are connected to a stream of information and, via the radar cruise control and on-board navigation, the 992 is doing the heavy lifting, while we catch up on a couple of months of gossip. Save for steering inputs the car pretty much drives itself from Essex to North Yorkshire. It is rather like piloting a plane. You’re not a driver, but a systems controller. And, of course, our individual devices can stream via the 992’s Apple Play system, so new music can played and discussed and unheard new tracks accessed and played via Spotify, either by an ever expanding 4/5G network or the machine’s own Wi-Fi hub. Machine? Well, it’s certainly rather more than a car. A mobile infotainment system first, a sports car second.
But, the following day, up on Blakey Ridge on the North York moors, it’s a sports car first and foremost. We’ve driven every type of Porsche on these ultra-demanding roads from 356 to Carrera GT and, save for the supercar 918 and the current GT cars, there isn’t one that could touch this 992 S for sheer speed and handling. As promised by Porsche, it’s more engaging than the 991, but that’s more from programming than mechanical prowess. The 992 rules the Tarmac with a dynamic iron fist of suspension, body control and grip, which has Harmer begging to be let out. The 911 rear end wiggle is present and correct, the front end bobbing around, the exhaust note trailing behind, smoother and more refined these days, but still unmistakeably that of a flat-six.
Fun over. What have we learnt? Well, it’s progress, innit? Just as we don’t commit pictures to film, or produce our words on typewriters and physically produce this magazine by gluing strips of copy to grids, before the convoluted task of camera ready artwork and plates for printing, the 911 has moved on, and it moves on every six years or so. Sure there’s a lot of fluff and froth, but then that’s what us spoilt consumers expect, but scratch the surface and the 911 is still there, when you need it to be. Let’s pick this up again, when we turn 40…
THANKS Many thanks to long time 911&PW collaborator, Paul Stephens for supplying the 964 used in this feature. Check out Paul’s stock and own 911 builds at: paulstephens.com
Side-by-side and the 992 looks more like an SUV. High waistline and narrow glass area give the 992 concept car styling, plus those monster 20in wheels, of course. Sobering to think that in 2020 the 992’s power and performance figures are near identical to those of an ’80s 959. Phallic manual or emanicipated toggle switch… We know which we’d prefer. Look out behind you, here comes the future. The 992 beats the 964 in every way, save for a certain tactile feel. In this envrionment the 992 becomes a sports car, with a mind-boggling turn of speed and grip. In many respects the interior design and architecture is very similar. Check out the door pulls, for example, and the sweeping dash. The 964 cabin is very narrow, though, compared to the palatial 992. The Porsche 911 1990 style in 964 guise, narrow in body – with only the Turbo getting the extra width – it can get through gaps the 992 can’t. The 992 is the current evolution of the 911 concept. No other sports car has endured for so long, while still retaining the same basic layout Left: The 911 may have aged well in 30- years, but the same can’t be said for the Editor. Below: Long and winding road…
COVER TO COVER
Issue No1 of 911 & Porsche World hit the newsstands in April 1990 and since then we’ve produced a further 313 issues, packed with Porsche goodness.
Not wishing to rush these things, the mag was quarterly, before gradually ramping up to bi-monthly and then fully monthly in 1998 after the 50th issue.
Like Porsche at the time (and for many years after), 911&PW was and still is an independent publication, with Clive Househam (the CH in CH Publications) at the helm and a hardcore of Porsche enthusiasts at the writing coalface. Virtually to a man, 911&PW operatives are Porsche owners, too, cutting our cloth accordingly from air-cooled to mostly water-cooled models these days.
The world of Porsche has changed dramatically in the 30-years 911&PW has been around, but the enthusiasm and pleasure derived from Porsche ownership hasn’t, and that’s what we’re all about.
1990 Porsche 911 Carrera 3.6 964
Model tested: Porsche 964
Engine: 3.6-litre flat six
Transmission: 5-speed manual
Body style: 2+2 Coupe
Top speed: 161mph
Max Power: 250bhp at 6100rpm
Max Torque: 229lb ft at 4800rpm
2020 Porsche 911 Carrera S 992
Model tested: Porsche 992
Engine: 3.0-litre flat six, twin turbo
Transmission: 8-speed PDK
Body style: 2+2 Coupe
Top speed: 191mph
Max Power: 450bhp at 6500rpm
Max Torque: 391lb ft at 2300rpm