When 911&PW launched in 1990, the lead story in the news pages was the impending arrival of the 964 Turbo, the pinnacle of the 911 range. In order to assess the passage of 25 years of 911 development, we pitched the 964 Turbo against the current 991 Turbo. You can’t stop the 911 and you can’t stop progress.
Porsche 911 & PW 25th Anniversary Happy Birthday to us! 25-years ago the 964 Turbo was the top dog. We pitch it against the current 991. What better way to illustrate 25-years of #Porsche
progress, and 25-years of 911&PW, than by pitching the two top dog 911s of their respective eras. Enter the 964 Turbo and the 991 Turbo for an evolutionary, time travelling showdown.
“The past is a foreign country – they do things differently there.” An overused quote (the opening line of LP Hartley’s #1953
novel, The Go Between), but overused for a reason, that being its eloquence and descriptive power. Does any other line sum up the power of progress quite as well? I don’t think so.
In these days of rapid and rampant progress, subtracting 25-years from 2015 to arrive at 1990 appears to be just a short hop back in time, but truly it was a different time. Imagine going back there now? When 911 & Porsche World launched in April 1990, as a finger in the air exercise of publishing, the only way to gauge whether there would be an audience for the title was by simply doing it and putting it on the shelves of WHSmith and a few specialist Porsche dealers.
The brief was simple: To cover all things Porsche and to represent the interest and passion of all things Porsche for owners and enthusiasts. In a world devoid of any form of digital media and communication, that is how things worked. Paper, words and pictures. Copy was typed, pictures were committed to film, pages were stuck together with glue. Typesetters and compositers turned it into reality. What we can do now in seconds, used to take days. 1990 might have seemed all very modern and exciting, but if time travel were possible, anyone from the ’60s would have been able to adapt very quickly indeed. Hell, plenty of cars still had carburettors and points!
Inevitably 25-years of 911&PW, for its eclecticism, also reads like a Porsche timeline from its launch to now. We’ve followed the fortunes of the marque from near bust to a sonic fiscal boom and back again. We’ve followed each new model and have chronicled five generations of 911 from the 964 to the 991, or exactly 25-years of the 911’s timeline. No, the 911 isn’t the be all and end all of the magazine, but its constant presence creates an essential point of reference, just as it does for Porsche the company. No other sports car has been developed to the same degree as the 911, with each generation exploiting the technology of the time. For the first 25-years progress was pretty sedate, but the following 25-years, the 25-years that this magazine has been around, like the rest of the technological world, it’s been rapid indeed, thanks largely to a digital revolution that has left no part of life untouched.
So how best to illustrate this in our own little world? Well, if the 911 is the constant by which the magazine is measured, then why not gather the ultimate 911 of 1990 and wind up the KKK turbo for a bit of time travel and propel into its own future to meet its 2015 future self. Sure there’s a void in between, but all the better to accentuate the massive progress of the past 25-years. We’re going to make one giant leap, rather than a number of incremental steps. Hold on!
Fittingly, the ultimate 911 of 1990 was announced in the news pages of the very first issue of 911&PW. “911 Turbo for the nineties,” was how we introduced the 964 Turbo. Following hot on the heels of the normally aspirated #Porsche-964-C2
and C4, the Turbo featured the same aero front and rear bumper treatment and side skirts, plus 959-style five spoke ‘Cup’ wheels, that temporarily seemed so modern compared with the Fuchs of old. And big too. At 17 inches, they seemed huge. Aero wing mirrors were another improvement, but ultimately there was a feeling that the 964 Turbo wasn’t much of a leap forward over the 930 Turbo and it stuck with the 2WD drive layout, despite the 964 range being launched with a flagship 4WD version. Put it this way, there wasn’t much sense of this containing a great deal in the way of trickle down technology from the 959, which was kind of surprising looking back now, or even then, but we’ll come to that.
Whereas the normally aspirated 964 got what were essentially all new 3.6-litre engines, with twin plug heads, the Turbo rather made do with the 930 Turbo’s 3.3- litre engine and an extra 20bhp, bringing it up to a not inconsiderable 320bhp, thanks to its larger #KKK
turbo, larger intercooler, #Bosch-K-Jetronic
injection and revised air intake system. Like its 964 siblings, the Turbo also got coil spring suspension all round, with MacPherson struts at the front with aluminium transverse links and semitrailing arms at the rear.
The modernising front and rear bumper treatment deserves more than just a throwaway reference. Without having to do much to the main body shell, Porsche used the front and rear aprons to dramatic aerodynamic effect, but unlike the normally aspirated C2 and C4, the Turbo didn’t get the retractable rear spoiler, but remained faithful to the Turbo defining ‘tea tray’ lid, which rather accentuated its connection with the 930, rather than the rest of the 964 range.
There was, then, a feeling that the 964 Turbo was something of an afterthought compared with the base 964s, which were clearly a leap forward from the G-Series cars that they replaced in terms of sophistication and modernity. But that was then and this is now and 25-years into the future the 964 Turbo has rather come of age. After years in the doldrums it has been reinvented as the last of the old school, rear drive only 911 Turbos, and as such it commands a price above the 930 Turbo. And of course because it’s an air-cooled 911, that price is not inconsiderable.
Above all the 964 Turbo is a product of its time and was constrained by the engineering solutions of the day. It is very much ‘mechanical.’ Much as computers had little to do with the day-to-day production of 911&PW, they had very little to do with the development of the 964, and nor did the 964 have much in the way of on board computing power. Take out the Bosch ECU and you’ll find a few RAM chips to control the fuelling and ignition, with about as much operating power as a 2015 cordless phone. There is also what Porsche optimistically describe as an ‘onboard computer,’ which features an LED screen in the bottom centre of the rev counter, which gives basic distance travelled info, outside temp and boost pressure. There is an equivalent in the 991 Turbo, which will even display Gforce and the engine’s torque curve.
But let’s not sneer. Even if it were possible to convey such info to the driver in 1990, it probably wouldn’t have crossed the engineers’ minds. Why would it? Twenty-five years on it’s just a bit of tech froth, that would only appeal to teenagers and Nissan Skyline drivers. But that’s progress for you and the endless digital revolution, that makes all this stuff possible, some of empowering, essential usefulness, some, like an onboard torque curve readout just a gimic.
On board the 964 is a familiar air-cooled place. The interior of this immaculate example is era defining light grey. The dash is essentially a modernised version of the 1963 original, while the prominent centre console is about the only 959 feature to have made it into the 964 Turbo, and sits on top of the redundant transmission tunnel. The deep bolstered Sports seats are fabulously comfy and offer a modicum of electric adjustability, while the four-spoke ‘lozenge’ centred steering wheel is fixed in all plains. The pedals, naturally, still pivot from the floor and are offset on this right-hooker. For 911 pilots of old, it’s all part of the package, here in the modern world you objectively wonder as to how some of the 911’s quirky features could have lasted for 25 years and beyond. Even in 1990 this essentially ‘modernised’ 911 must have felt rather oldfashioned compared to the competition like the #Honda-NSX
, or the #Ferrari-348
(actually the 348 wasn’t a prancing horse, but more a lame donkey, with a gearbox full of rubble. The NSX, however, was a game-changer, held back only by its badge). But that, as we know, is all part of the 911 charm and mystique. If you have to ask, then clearly you don’t understand. Or is that just making a virtue out of a necessity?
But it could, and should have been so much different. Of course the #Porsche-959
hadn’t been forgotten. The car we could have been driving today, if everything had gone to plan, and Porsche hadn’t gone though one of its many financial blips, was called the 969 and was clearly the son of the 959, with a 370bhp 3.5-litre twin turbo engine (other engines were considered, like the V8 Indy car engine – seriously), with water-cooled four-valve cylinder heads and a sophisticated four-wheel drive system hooked up to Porsche’s own PDK transmission, or a manual ’box if the buyer preferred. The 969 was due for a #1991
launch and would happily hold 185mph around the Nardo bowl. It featured the sloped back headlights of the 959 and hoop rear wing. Sixteen prototypes were built. It would have been the pinnacle of the #Porsche-911
range and in all likelihood another form of Turbo would have slotted in underneath.
Internal machinations and costs killed the #Porsche-969
. Too expensive to build, technology not quite there yet, with a potential price tag that could have been beyond market forces and a financial crisis within Porsche, and on top of that the 969 would have launched straight into the early ’90s recession.
So that’s what could have been. It’s what the #993
Turbo vaguely became (twin turbos, four-wheel drive and a lot of the 969’s styling cues) and certainly what the #996
Turbo achieved. But the 964 Turbo? Yes, it really was something of a rush job, stop-gap model, particularly in its first 930-engined based iteration.
So, it would have been great to have been driving the stillborn #969
, and it would certainly have had rather more of a connection with the 991 Turbo, but we’re not, so let’s just get the 964 Turbo fired up. Who’s got the key?
‘Fired up’ is a bit of a misnomer. Typically it ‘churns’ into life and settles into a soft, muted idle, the turbo and the new fangled catalytic converter acting as effective silencers. The 964’s new power steering takes the heft out of steering and the relatively new G50 ’box is an ally in the soon to be forgotten and interactive art of changing gear. Those floor-mounted pedals might feel weird, but the clutch is light enough and the throttle pedal allows full foot coverage. Lifting your footing completely off the footwell to operate the brake is, well, just one of those 911 idiosyncrasies.
Off boost, below 3000rpm, it feels soft and lethargic. Get the big old turbo spinning and the fuel pumping and it picks itself up with a hard-edged vigour. Unlike some old supercars of the era, the 964 Turbo isn’t going to get blown away by a modern turbo diesel. A modern hot hatch maybe (a Golf R would humiliate it), but on boost the 964 Turbo feels like it’s got every one of those 320 horses working, although typically tall gearing (80mph in second) will see it easily drop off boost. It’s a feeling that’s accentuated by the very stiff suspension, that has the Turbo leaping about these not entirely flat North Yorkshire moors. It’s not 964 RS stiff, but it’s not far off, a product of the new to the 964 coil spring suspension, which doesn’t have quite the sense of detachment from the road surface that the G-Series cars did, with their torsion bars. The big 17in wheels and 50 profile tyres don’t help either, but those big wheels do allow massive – for 1990 – 333mm front discs and hefty four-pot calipers, that even now haul the Turbo up with impressive retardation.
In the corners and the 964 is a natural understeerer. It has to be bullied and worked to get to the apex, but then get the boost right and it launches itself out with that characteristic rear-end squat, and charges off with a turbine howl. If the corners are coming thick and fast, then be prepared to work very hard. There’s massive amounts of grip, but the Turbo doesn’t much like changing direction, so a lift at the right moment will activate the tail, but that’s a bit like juggling chainsaws. Get it wrong and it will hurt.
In today’s context it feels old-fashioned, but in an endearing sort of way. It’s got old school Turbo twitches and tendencies. You absolutely know it’s there, influencing the whole demeanour of the car. It’s either on or off. Even in 1990 it was a bit of an animal and not exactly the car that was expected. Uncouth and unsophisticated, something of a thug. But then as we know now (and what wasn’t appreciated at the time), this wasn’t the Turbo that Porsche had intended to bring to the market.
And so to the 991 Turbo. Are we travelling backward in time here or forward? Well forward obviously, but so mightily fast is the 991, and so comprehensively evolved and sophisticated, that an ability to time travel back to 1990 for a look at its predecessor, wouldn’t be a surprise. I’m sure if you were delve in to sat nav settings the time travel option would appear. Just tap in North Yorkshire Moors 1990, and in Terminator style the 991 would appear in a frisson of pulsing, arcing electricity to scare the sheep.
The 991 Turbo is progress on a massive scale, made possible by the advances in digital and engineering technology, but mainly by the former. Its whole build and design was conceived electronically, from the design process to the build process where engineering tolerances are micro managed by computer-controlled machinery. The integration of computer and mechanical is almost cyborg in nature. The machines are taking over and in the shape of the 991 Turbo, and much more in modern life, it’s very much true. We live in a time when a tiny pocket device, originally conceived to simply make phone calls, puts every conceivable piece of information, book, piece of music and visual image within instant reach. Imagine predicting that in 1990?
It’s only when you jump the void from #1990
that you realise just how extraordinary the 991 Turbo is, and how we now take all this stuff for granted. Maybe we will refuse to be astonished until cars finally shed their wheels and we start to hover everywhere, or they simply drive themselves, but the only thing that connects the 991 Turbo with the 964 Turbo is the 911 designation, its evolutionary silhouette, its engine location and the fact that it’s got four wheels and a steering wheel and still runs entirely on petrol and, come the next generation of #Porsche-911
, we can certainly expect some form of electric assistance.
There are many things that astound about the 991 Turbo, but the most beguiling and frankly mind blowing facet is just how ludicrously easy it is to make it go fast. Teleport the 964 Turbo owner of 1990 forward 25-years and stick them in the driver’s seat of the 991. They would be able to grasp the concept of putting the PDK-only transmission into drive, the rest is purely turning the wheel and pressing the go pedal. From that point on, the machine takes over. It will take a little while for 1990 911 Turbo man to actually keep up with what’s going on, such is the speed at which the modern Turbo responds to instruction, and that’s before you’ve employed any of the go faster functionality. Best save Sports Plus and Launch Control for another time.
Compared with its 25-year-old ancestor, the 991 defies any semblance of physics. It shouldn’t be able to corner like it does, it shouldn’t be able to change direction like it does. It does so because it has a raft of electro mechanical components that look conventional, but are anything but. Dampers? Yes, they look like dampers, but they’re controlled by electro magnetic valves. The roll bars? They’re electronically controlled too, stiffening to support the side of the car that needs it. The centre diff? Electro magnetic again to deliver power and traction back and forth in a nano second. The rear end steers itself, and Torque Vectoring speeds up the inside rear wheel to facilitate turn in. Hell, even the engine mounts clamp the engine tight when the going gets twisty. And all that’s before you even start to consider the traction and stability management controls and the small matter of nearly 600bhp, not far off twice the power of the 964 Turbo.
The 991 Turbo is fast, but it’s artificially fast. Like a modern fighter would fall out of the sky without its flight control systems, so modern 991 Turbo would fall off the road without all its electronic systems. They are what enables it to function and do the mind altering stuff that it’s so capable of, in the background, making modern 911 Turbo man look like a complete hero.
But that’s progress for you and there’s no going back. The 964 Turbo is like a warning from the past as to how these things used to be. It’s a quaint reminder of the pre digital age. A Sunday toy for a bit of heavy-duty mechanical interaction. The 991 Turbo is a thrilling, flying on the ground, 21st Century marvel and a fitting pinnacle of where the 911 is right now, and I know which one I’d take.
THANKS: Sincere thanks to all at Specialist Cars of Malton for the loan of the #964
Turbo, which is currently for sale. Tel: 01653 697722 specialistcarsltd.co.uk
The 991 Turbo would fall off the road without all its electronic systems.
Far left: The launch of the 964 Turbo as we covered it in the first issue of 911&PW in 1990. Left: What could have been. The sole surviving 969 Turbo prototype, a clear descendant of the 959, but canned for financial reasons.
Direction changes and grip levels in the 991 Turbo border on extraordinary. It has a raft of technological solutions geared entirely to getting it round corners as fast as possible.
Interior is similar to 911s of old, with the curve of the dashboard and placement of the air vents all following #911
sevenspeed gearbox is the command centre, with its three modes: Normal, Sport and Sport Plus.
Right: The #Porsche-991
Turbo is bristling with detail. Wheels are massive 20in, diamond polished cross-spokes, with centre lock fixings. Equally huge six-pot brake calipers clamp on to Porsche PCCB discs. Braking is awesome in the true sense of the word.
Unlike some old supercars of the era, the #Porsche-964
Turbo isn’t going get blown away by a modern turbodiesel.
Model tested: #Porsche-991-Turbo-S
Engine: 3800cc, flat-six DOHC, twin turbo
Transmission: Four-wheel drive, seven-speed PDK
Body style: Coupe
Suspension: MacPherson struts (f), multi-link rear
Top speed: 198mph
0-62mph 2.9 secs
Power: 552bhp at 6500rpm
Pale grey interior is very early ’90s. Deep bolstered ‘Sports’ seats are among the best Porsche have ever made. Cockpit feels tight and compact, but visibility is excellent.
Even in #1990
this essentially ‘modernised’ 911 must have felt rather old fashioned compared to the competiton.
964 Turbo looks terrific in white, like a refugee racer on the road. New front and rear aprons, plus side skirts and aero mirrors were a styling success. Tea tray rear wing a 911 Turbo trademark.
Model tested: #Porsche-964-Turbo
Engine: 3300cc, flat-six DOHC, single turbo
Transmission: Rear-wheel drive, five-speed manual
Body style: Coupe
Suspension: MacPherson struts front and rear
Top speed: 167mph
0-62mph 5.0 secs
Power: 322bhp at 5750rpm
Damp, cold North Yorkshire moors roads focus the mind in an old school 911 Turbo, with absolutely no driver aids whatsoever. Not that the 964 feels anything other than grippy and competent.
Left: Distinctive and huge intercooler sits on top of the 964’s 3.3-litre, air-cooled flat-six. Power is 320bhp. Clocks are resolutely analogue, while four-pot alloy calipers were considered huge for 1990.