Kyle Fortune drives Porsche’s full Speedster lineage, including the new quarter-of-a-million-pound offering. The new 991 has revived Porsche’s rich Speedster heritage. Total 911 drives it alongside its predecessors to find out if tradition has indeed been upheld. Written by Kyle Fortune. Photography by Porsche.
SPEEDSTER GENERATIONS MEGATEST: Does the 991 enrich Porsche’s Speedster legacy?
Historical context – that’s what we’ve got here. Parked outside the 991.2 Speedster launch hotel are four older Speedster generations, brought from the Porsche Museum and usually left parked. Only we’ve time to kill, so it’d be rude not to borrow them all and take them for a drive to fully indulge ourselves in the Speedster story before we’re let loose in the latest 991…
It’s unusual for a non-911 model to grace these pages, but for accuracy please forgive us this significant 356 Speedster interloper. As pretty as cars can be, this is Speedster genesis; the 911’s forbearer, powered here by a 1,600cc engine. Power is a modest 75hp or so, but it weights nearly half that of the 991 Speedster, and feels quick enough.
The idea behind it was conceived by American car importer Max Hoffman, who wanted a lowcost, high-performance model to sell in America.
Hoffman proposed stripping out equipment, the loss of the rear seats and simple buckets up front behind a removable raked windscreen. The hood was rudimentary and the sales were incredible, Hoffman’s vision helping Porsche cement its reputation as a sports car firm in the huge US market, the Speedster becoming a hugely significant model as a result.
For a car that’s in its sixth decade of being, it’s incredibly easy to drive. If vintage Porsche underline one thing, it’s that engineering has been at the firm’s absolute core since the beginning. The gearshift is unusually sweet for such an elderly vehicle, operating with the precision that’s a company hallmark. The brakes, too, are strong for this period of car, while the steering, though relatively slow-witted by modern standards, is incisive against its period competition, allowing the 356 Speedster to be hustled with real verve. It must have felt like it’d come from a different planet to US drivers in the 1950s, and its legacy can be felt in every car that follows it – and not just those wearing the Speedster badge.
ABOVE The 356 is where it all began for Porsche and its Speedster model line.
BELOW Achieving elegance through simplicity, the 356 Speedster is credited with kick-starting Porsche’s popularity in the US market.
Shown at the 1987 Frankfurt Motor Show, the Speedster Clubsport prototype was based on a 911 SC. The production car arrived in 1988, though the concept’s closed cockpit and lack of screen didn’t reach production, even if like the 356 Speedster before it that shorter, five-degree-steeper raked screen could be removed, with bolts above the door hinges allowing you to do so. The hood was, in Speedster tradition, a somewhat rudimentary affair, a rain cover if absolutely necessary rather than proper protection from the elements.
Even with the compromised weather protection, – dealers had owners sign disclaimers saying they understood it was for ‘emergency’ use – some 2,103 Speedsters were built, with all but 161 of those coming with Turbo body styling. That makes this Speedster all the rarer, being a narrow, plain Carrera-bodied example. The G-series Speedster introduced the double-bubble back hump, a visual nod to the 356 Speedster, covering the area where the rear seats would be. The weight loss was claimed to be in the region of 70kg over its Coupe relation.
All of that and the greater openness that comes as a result of that shorter screen makes the 231hp the 3.2-litre engine produces feel a bit more prodigious than it actually is. At least one Speedster is said to have left the factory with the same engine enhancements as the Clubsport’s, which would enhance it further, but even this stock car feels quick and compact. It’s agile, too, the Speedster benefitting from its reduced mass, more so in lighter narrow-bodied form here. The lineage from its 356 relation is obvious, from the slickness of the gearshift to the fine weighting and response from all the other controls. My drive is all too brief, but with the promise of a 964 Speedster to jump into next, there’s not time to dwell too much on it.
ABOVE Porsche’s first 911 Speedster shared the Carrera’s 3.2-litre flat six with G50 gearbox, benefitting from reduced mass and a lower centre of gravity.
BELOW Most 3.2 Speedsters were wide-bodied; the narrow body, as here, is very rare.
The car that Andreas Preuninger points to as being most representative of a proper 911 Speedster, the 964 mixed elements of the Carrera Cabriolet, the 3.2 Speedster before it and the 964 RS. With the paredback, lightweight interior of the RS – including the sports bucket seats, a stock 250hp from its 3.6-litre engine and the same removable, raked and shorter windscreen of the 3.2 – Porsche had hoped to build 3,000, but in the end only 936 were built. All were narrow-bodied, with the exception of 15 examples ordered with Turbo wide bodies.
If Preuninger points to it as being most representative in its technical make-up, so too is its appearance. With the 964’s fared bumpers, this Speedster is most visually relatable to its 356 relations, at least those that lost their bumpers and were campaigned around California’s race circuits.
It’s a pretty, beautifully proportioned car that revels in its compromises in the pursuit of purity. Here on the short loop of the Sardinian country roads it feels special, alert and agile, it feeling stiffer yet more composed than the G-series model before it. Of the Speedster line-up here, after the 356 it’s the car I’d like to spend more time in, and indeed it’s the one I’d like to own.
ABOVE The 964 stuck more rigidly to the original Speedster’s design ethos as a pared-back cruiser
BELOW In a reversal of the 3.2 before it, most 964 Speedsters were narrowbodied. Just 15 were produced with a Turbo body.
Palm Springs, the launch of the 997 GTS, a car I’ll always covet. Porsche brought its then-new 997 Speedster, and the reception for it was less full of praise than it was for its other end-of-line 997 model. A product of the Porsche Exclusiv manufacturer department, this is the Speedster that’s most distanced from the ethos of the original idea than any car here.
Heavier and significantly more expensive, all came with PDK transmission and plenty of equipment, it more of a demonstration of the Exclusiv department’s talents than any real attempt at a Speedster in its truest form. It felt cumbersome then, and that’s not changed in the seven years since it was launched. What’s surprising is the scuttle shake, perhaps exacerbated by the combination of the wider track and sport suspension. Porsche built just 356 of them, most being immediately squirrelled away as collectables as a result. That’s probably the best place for them, the 997 the most uncomfortable footnote in the Speedster’s long story, but one that the GT department has unquestionably rectified with the 991 Speedster, as we’re about to find out…
ABOVE A product of Porsche Exclusiv, the 997 Speedster was released alongside the revered Sport Classic.
RIGHT Just 356 were made on a numbered production run, each car’s ID printed on its kick plates and a plaque on the dashboard.
“I took a 911 Cabriolet off the line and drove it to my hot-rod shop,” admits Preuninger. That car became a mix-up of Gen1 GT3 and that Cabriolet. The result of the GT boss’ work was first shown to a select group of customers as far back as 2014 alongside the 911 R concept, which the Speedster shares a lot of DNA with. This new Speedster is a GT department model, a car which, if you take Speedsters at their most elemental, it always should have been.
Even so, Preuninger admits: “We didn’t focus on every last gram and we’re not concerned about lap times.” While that might be true, a kerbweight of 1,465kg is just 52kg more than a manual GT3. The Speedster, like the R, is exclusively manual, with no PDK being offered, saving 17kg in weight and pleasing the driving purists among us. There are the same 911 R carbon-fibre front wings, the underbody at the rear being R-derived, while PCCB is standard too.
Those early customers who saw it liked the idea of a properly raw Speedster, doing without any roof, but Preuninger and his team denied them that, fitting a hood, in part to ensure that owners actually use them rather than park them away with delivery miles in collections. And the 1,948 Porsche will build? That’s the year when the first Speedster was built.
Opening the low, neat roof is simple enough – a button unlatches the hood at the top of the lower windscreen and unclips the buttresses which then spring up from the large clamshell. The clamshell lock is released too, and the huge carbon-fibre panel – the largest Porsche has ever made, and weighing just 10kg – lifts out and back on struts, the hood simply pushed into its stowage area underneath. Pop down the cover and the Speedster is open, as it should be, the slightly steeper rake and lowering of the screen, as well as that rear, fundamentally changing the look of the 911. It’s very reminiscent of original 356 Speedsters, losing the sometimes-uncomfortable, heavy-looking rear of later 911 Speedster models. There’s also a hint of Carrera GT in its proportions, particularly that rear three-quarter view.
The black stone guards on the flanks fore of the rear wheels were a late – and necessary – addition, admits Preuninger, breaking the visual length while harking back to the G-series models. You don’t have to have them, and if you’re after an even more retro style then there’s the Heritage Pack plus a numbered, customised Porsche Design timepiece, as is the norm these days.
Forget those, though. Preuninger leans in, says to press Auto Blip and the exhaust button and go and drive it. I argue I’ll do the footwork myself and leave the Auto Blip off, Preuninger laughing and saying: “It’s better than you,” before adding, “and me…”
RIGHT A GT3/R mashup means this is by far the most dynamic open 911 ever produced for the road.
Humbled, I’ll see if he’s right as I head quickly out in search of some of the best mountain roads Sardinia has to offer.
Now familiar with the surrounds of a 992, getting back into a 991 is a bit of a shock. It’s a welcome one, however, the five actual roundels in front of me; the simpler, less dominant screen mid-dash – if optioned it’s a no-cost choice to remove it, as well as the climate control. It looks and feels wonderfully analogue in comparison, shockingly so, though uncomplicated and easy at the same time. The six-speed manual transmission has, unsurprisingly, had a little bit of work done to it, the shift tweaked to gain even greater precision and speed, making this anachronism even more appealing.
It’s attached to a development of the naturally aspirated 4.0-litre engine in the GT3 and GT3 RS. Here it’s got 510hp, a 10hp gain over the GT3 thanks to a number of revisions. They include new individual throttle valves and higher pressure fuel injection, all that allowing it to pass those strict emissions regulations that see every powertrain engineer I’ve met in the past couple of years look utterly broken. There are a pair of particulate filters on the pipework, as is now necessary, though in true GT department style they’ve been added with no compromises.
Every other application of such a filter sees the addition of weight, but here the GT department have actually removed 10kg from the system by adopting thinner gauge materials and applying a new welding technique. There are electric motors in there, too, these opening the exhaust flaps by degrees rather than the fully open or closed of conventional systems and allowing it to pass ever more stringent noise regulations.
Those flaps are instrumental in perhaps the most obvious change to the engine’s character. It generates a more cultured sound, more Italian operatic than chaotic German oompah in its tones. That is a result of a combination of the differing resonances from the thinner materials used in the structure of the exhaust, as well as the slight dampening effect you get with the hood situated over the engine. There’s no difference in the way it chases up to its 9,000rpm redline, though, the unbridled enthusiasm for revs and keenness of response completely undamaged by its requirement to pass ever more stringent emissions tests. And what an engine.
The cabin is draughty, deliberately so. If you want an open 911 without any buffeting then buy a 992 Cabriolet. In the Speedster that openness is part of the experience, adding even more to the visceral engagement and creating a more immersive, exciting driving experience that far from compromises it, but instead enhances and beguiles. There’s more of a sense of focus. It would be wrong to describe it as rawness; here it’s more of a single-mindedness that’s elevated even over its GT3, R and RS relations. With the engine howling behind, that oh-so-precise gearbox working so crisply, the Speedster is utterly bewitching to drive, and shockingly capable.
That’s perhaps not surprising given it’s essentially a GT3/R mash-up, with rear-wheel steering, active engine mounts, a mechanical limited-slip differential with torque vectoring and GT3 suspension adapted to the differing character of an open car. It rides with a taut authority and incredible control, it shocking just how composed and capable it all is. There’s no trace of shake, no obvious loss of ability thanks to the loss of a stiffening roof above. The steering is just as well-weighted, quick and faithful in turn-in, the rear as playful or as planted as you’d like and expect from a GT department car. The Speedster only betrays its open status by the rush of the wind and the greater and richer sensations that come with it.
Driving it into any of the villages that punctuate the sensational, testing mountain roads leaves you tingling with adrenaline after being wowed by its unerring agility, sensation, feel and performance on the roads leading to it. With it open you can better hear, and even smell how hard it’s been working. The Speedster is a more elemental drive, and relays a heightened driving experience because of what should otherwise be considered compromises.
As such it’s as fitting a send off as the 991 could have. Inevitably, though, and tainting its magnificence is the real end-of-era feel it brings. Even if we know the eventual 992 GT3 will use this wonderful engine and gearbox, the creeping certainty of modernity elsewhere will undoubtedly change the character of the GT cars that follow. It’s been well worth waiting for, this Speedster. It’s just a crying shame that Porsche is only building 1,948 of them.
BELOW 991’s windscreen is shorter and more steeply raked, in true Porsche Speedster fashion
There were some who thought the Speedster would be a nice money-making opportunity for a limited-build model, but to call it that is to do it an enormous disservice. It’s a properly developed GT car which transcends current ever-stricter emissions and noise regulations to provide as exciting and involving a 911 driving experience as you could possibly ask for. Sensational in every sense, the Speedster is an incredible car.
- Pretty much everything: astonishing engine, gearbox, chassis and looks
- Limited-number build, price, slight muting of the flat six’s aural character
Model 911 Speedster
Compression ratio 13.3:1
Maximum power 510hp @ 8,400rpm
Maximum torque 470Nm @ 6,250rpm
Transmission Six-speed manual
Front Spring strut suspension (MacPherson type, Porsche-optimised); some chassis mounts with ball joints; steel springs with 25mm lowering; PASM electronic-controlled dampers with two manually selectable programmes
Rear Lightweight multi-link suspension with wheels independently suspended on five suspension arms; steel springs with 25mm lowering; PASM electronic-controlled dampers with two manually selectable programmes
Wheels & tyres
Front 9×20-inch; 245/35/ZR20
Rear 12×20-inch; 305/30/ZR2O
0-62mph 4.0 seconds
Top speed 192mph
991 Speedster: Heritage Pack
There’s no Weissach Pack for this GT department special; instead the Heritage Design Package harks back to the original 356 Speedsters so loved by racers in the 1950s. It costs £15,302 for UK buyers and adds white ‘spears’ rising from the white front bumper, white Porsche scripting on the flanks, and a number circle which can be optioned with any two-number combo of your choosing via Tequipment. It also adds gold Speedster badges, a historical Porsche crest badge on the bonnet, as well as the wheel centre caps. Black-painted calipers, rather than the usual yellow, for the PCCB complete the look. It is exclusively offered with GT silver paintwork, and an indoor car cover in ‘Heritage Design’, is also included.
The interior is less overt, using a mix of Cognac leather on the seats and steering wheel top marking, the wheel centre getting a historic Porsche crest. The bucket seats have their backs painted in GT silver, as are some interior trim strips, with other highlights including black anodised stainless steel sill guards, classic Porsche embossed crests on the seat headrests, and gold Speedster badges in the cabin.
If you like the sound of the interior but aren’t sold on the outward looks you can, at no discount, delete the more flamboyant exterior elements of the package, those white-painted elements and spears, as well as the number circles and Porsche scripting on the flanks, while still retaining the gold badges and black-painted calipers. If you’re sold on GT silver that Heritage Design Pack interior compliments it beautifully, while the subtler look outside also works particularly well.