Renault 5 Turbo 2 ‘Factory 185’ vs. TVR 420 SEAC, Aston Martin V8 Vantage Zagato Volante, Chevrolet Corvette ZR-1 C4 and Porsche 911 Turbo 3.6 964

2018 Jonathan Jacob and Drive-My EN/UK

Our pick of five rabid accelerators make up the most varied and exciting ways to buy your way to 60mph in just five thrilling seconds. Words Sam Dawson. Photography Jonathan Jacob.

The Accelerators. The best 5-second heroes for £12-200k PLUS Tony Southgate on mastering thrust. ‘You’re perpetually on a knife-edge. If you can master it, you’ll probably make for a half-decent rally driver’ Chevrolet Corvette ZR1, Porsche 964 Turbo 3.6, Aston Martin V8 Vantage Zagato Volante, TVR 420 SEAC, Renault 5 Turbo 2


Five very different ways to 60mph in five seconds – but which one’s right for you? The Accelerators A diverse selection of five-second 0-60 sprinters from Renault, TVR, Aston Martin, Chevrolet and Porsche go head-to-head. But which one’s for you? PLUS – competition-car design guru Tony Southgate on the challenges of the Eighties’ acceleration revolution.

The best 5-second heroes for £12-200k

The best 5-second heroes for £12-200k

By the time you’ve inished reading this sentence, all the cars you see here could have gone from stationary to 60mph. The Renault 5 Turbo 2 185, Porsche 964 Turbo 3.6, TVR 420 SEAC, Aston Martin V8 Vantage Zagato and Chevrolet Corvette ZR-1 are all specialists in their own field, yet none were rivals. And yet, in the Eighties, all had unique reasons for making a rapid getaway, be it incorporating Le Mans-racer tech to vanquish Italian rivals, bending racing rules to breaking point in order to win a championship, injecting sportiness back into a range of stately grand tourers, hiring Lotus in order to be taken seriously as a supercar player, or just winning rallies. Let’s drive them all, and relive that performance-car revolution.

The best 5-second heroes for £12-200k

The best 5-second heroes for £12-200k


Renault 5 Turbo 2 ‘Factory 185’

The Audi Quattro is often credited with inventing the Group B car, but that only told half the story. Four-wheel drive aside, it was a bit of a dinosaur, rooted in the Group 4 era. Most Group B front-runners followed the earlier Renault 5 Turbo’s lead – a space-efficient short-wheelbase hatchback monocoque as a basis, rear seats replaced with a frenetic turbocharged engine, steel panels swapped for lighter glassfibre and aluminium. The result combined wheel-at-each-corner agility with the huge torque increases enabled by turbocharging, and having pioneered it in Formula One, Renault was best-placed to exploit it. Would the Lancia Delta S4 or MG Metro 6R4 exist were it not for the 5 Turbo?

However, unlike the other cars here today, a 5 Turbo wouldn’t do a five-second 0-60 run in standard form, for reasons which complicate the buying process even today. The Renault Sport performance catalogue included rally-derived tuning options including the ‘Factory 185’ engine. Most 5 Turbos to emerge from Dieppe were built for homologation purposes, with the mere potential for truly high performance. The original owner of this one, however, ticked this option for clubman-rally levels of power. It amounts to an extra £20k in today’s market.

Renault 5 Turbo 2 ‘Factory 185’

Renault 5 Turbo 2 ‘Factory 185’ road test

The 5 Turbo makes a remarkably convincing baby supercar despite being based on a hatchback. Like Gerard Welter’s Peugeot 205 a generation later, Michel Boué’s 5 design is a proportional masterpiece, the sloping rear tilting the visual weight of the car towards the centre. Renault marketed the three-door as a coupé, making it the perfect canvas for Bertone’s supercar artist Marcello Gandini to sketch flared arches, air-scoops and spoilers.

It’s a bit more down-to-earth inside, the Group 4-homologation Turbo 1’s bespoke Bertone interior, which still helps the earlier car command a 30-percent premium today, ditched in favour of parts-bin pragmatism in the Group B era. I ire the engine, wait for the temperature gauge to stabilise, slot the slick gearchange into first, raise the revs to 3000rpm to clear the turbo-lag, leap of the clutch and force the accelerator pedal deep into that gold carpet. Tiny 1397cc engine shrieking under load behind the seats, skull thrust back against the headrest, wafer-thin doors helping the five-second 0-60 sprint make itself felt with blood-letting intensity, followed by Gatling-gun overrun on throttle lift-of.

The sense of total commitment to the cause of speed doesn’t let up when you’re cruising. It doesn’t take long to realise that in order to get the best out of the Renault, you have to think almost solely in terms of rpm and turbo-boost. Allow the revs to fall below that magic 3000rpm barrier and you’re left with a 1.4-litre shopping car. Keep it on the boil, stabbing it towards its 6000rpm redline, and it feels genuinely capable of devouring a Ferrari 308. But in order to pilot a 5 Turbo as quickly as rally ace Jean Ragnotti, you have to keep it on-boost through corners too.

First, make sure it’s properly set-up – years of being undervalued compared with other homologation rivals like the Lancia Stratos mean many have been neglected and bodged, so make sure it’s sporting the right de Carbon dampers and non-aftermarket wheels. Thankfully doubling values over the last ten years – especially among French collectors – mean they’re usually better looked-after nowadays, albeit a rarer sight in British dealerships. Having learnt my lesson bogging it down in third gear through a hairpin, I attack a series of snaking S-bends. Third works well for these, but my accelerator foot is paralysed with fear at half-travel. The bulbous tyres seem to generate plenty of grip, but move the accelerator up and down by millimetres and the car twitches and squeals mid-bend. With a 2340mm wheelbase and rear-wheel drive, it’d be near-impossible to rescue from a spin, but you could easily provoke it into one through lift-of oversteer or badly-judged boost increase.

You’re perpetually on a knife-edge in a 5 Turbo. If you can master it, you’d probably make for a half-decent rally driver.

Owning a Renault 5 Turbo 2

‘You have to forget all the usual rules of driving classic cars and treat a Renault 5 Turbo quite harshly in order to get the best out of it,’ says Oliver Melliard, whose business Melliard of London ( specialises in the French homologation specials, and where this example is currently for sale. ‘They’re fundamentally robust though – the engine is a mass-produced block at heart. But what gives them a sense of fragility is their sensitivity to set-up. With the wrong tyre pressures, for example, their handling can be lethal. The De Carbon dampers suffer with age but they’re rally parts, designed to be swapped at service stops, so they can’t be repaired, and you can’t buy new ones. But it needs them to handle properly, so you need to get the originals re-gassed. ‘The best examples of these cars nowadays come from Germany, where buyers tended to buy them fully-specced with more power and kit.’


Engine 1397cc in-line four-cylinder, ohv, Bosch K-Jetronic fuel injection, Garrett T03 turbocharger

Max Power 185bhp @ 6000rpm / DIN

Max Torque 160lb ft @ 3250rpm / DIN

Transmission Five-speed manual, rear-wheel drive

Steering Rack-and-pinion

Suspension Front: independent, unequal-length double wishbones, torsion bars, telescopic dampers, anti-roll bar. Rear: independent, unequal-length double wishbones, coil springs, telescopic dampers, anti-roll bar

Brakes Discs front and rear

Weight 970kg

Performance Top speed: 128mph; 0-60mph: 5sec

Cost new £15,300

Classic Cars Price Guide £22,000-£70,000 (Without factory-fitted 185 kit)

Renault 5 Turbo 2 ‘Factory 185’

Renault 5 Turbo 2 ‘Factory 185’ The 5 Turbo 2 needed keen driver and Renault’s performance catalogue for best performance: rollcage, lightweight Gotti alloys and clubman-level power were all optional extras



Oulton Park, April 26, 1986. It’s the first round of the BARC Production Sports Car Championship. Privateer competitors in ex-Le Mans Porsche 935s and Ferrari 512 BBs look forward to another year trouncing plucky tuners in British sports cars. And that includes what looks like Chris Schirle’s bright yellow TVR 390SE from the previous season, now wearing a massive rear spoiler. That’ll give the Morgans and Marcoses some bother, so long as its V8 doesn’t blow up again. The supercar pilots didn’t smirk for long.

Steve Cole’s TVR 420 Special Equipment Aramid Composite was up to third place in the space of as many laps. One lap later, it snapped at the rear bumper of the leading Porsche. By the time the TVR’s differential gave up on the 18th lap, it had been making convincing lunges for the lead. By the end of the season, it had won nine races and made the podium at another five.

TVR 420 SEAC road test

Fellow competitors got angry, claiming TVR was contesting a privateer championship with a works team. Grounds for a ban were quickly found – not enough examples of the TVR 420 SEAC had been manufactured with Kevlar bodies to homologate them for racing. Schirle’s ‘works-supported’ team withdrew and TVR went on to create the Tuscan Challenge in riposte.

Luckily, our car today is one of the few Kevlar SEACs. The reason for the production deficit was because it was a difficult material to work with on a road car, the flat planes of bodywork often rippling and bowing in the middle. Neither the Kevlar nor the equally awkward rose-jointed suspension of the early cars amount to a premium for today’s buyer, a reflection of the way they continue to frustrate the ownership experience. But it all contributed to a 300bhp car with a kerb weight of 1170kg – and with a huge rear downforce-wing, lush-glazed nose and steeplyraked windscreen, it was slippery for a roadster. For a few brief months before Porsche unleashed the 197mph 959, the 420 SEAC’s five-second 0-60 time and 165mph-plus genuinely vied with the Lamborghini Countach and Ferrari 288 GTO in the world’s fastest production car stakes. Yet there was no exotic engineering under the bonnet, just raw Solihull muscle. It all adds up to a remarkably cheap supercar – as the wedges continue to be overlooked in favour of curvier Nineties cars, TVR’s mightiest Eighties offering still struggles to break the £20k mark.

Yet it doesn’t feel cheap, the traditional long-legged TVR interior boasting swathes of leather and high-quality wood. And the savagery of the V8’s race-informed bore and stroke, coupled with a body sculpted by aerodynamic science and chemical engineering, means it is genuinely comparable to those Italian supercars. Violent is the word that springs to mind. It’s a visceral, howling, angry car that bucks under its own hard acceleration and writhes into corners, the smooth wheel-rim racing through my fingers. I can see the tiny speedometer in my peripheral vision, and its needle is licking wildly as though it’s actually a gauge measuring throttle pedal angle, so linear is the SEAC’s torque delivery, unfettered by excess weight or drag.

But ultimately, it’ll scare you sensible. I find myself entering bends at 80mph – a speed that seems slow compared to how absurdly easy it makes three-figure velocity on straights – and a sudden gale of understeer howls through the front undercarriage. It’s a combination of simple physics – the car’s lightness merely emphasises the engine’s mass in the nose – and 245/40 VR17 Pirelli P-Zeros plus that massive downforce wing excessively aid rear grip. It’s necessary though – engineer Schirle once removed it from the racer in search of ever more speed on track, and Cole returned to the pits a lap later declaring it ‘undriveable’.

So before long, you’re forcing yourself to think like a racer in order to avoid doing anything unwittingly dangerous. Accelerate only on straights or once a clean corner exit is visible. Brake in straight lines and remember there’s no ABS to help keep you out of the scenery. Keep gearchanges measured and deliberate on the hefty, long-throw gearbox. It’s rewarding once you get it right, but it’s a nervous, intimidating driving experience from a very serious supercar – one that should perhaps be regarded more as Britain’s GTO rather than some overgrown kit car.

‘A howling, angry car that bucks under its own hard acceleration and writhes into corners’

Owning a TVR 420 SEAC

TVR specialist Paul Jackson runs Amoré Autos and has owned several 420 SEACs. ‘Originality is important with SEACs because of their variable specification. Only the earliest cars had the full complement of Kevlar in the bodywork and race-derived rose-jointed suspension, making them 200kg lighter and better-handling than identically badged later cars. ‘Kevlar is a temperamental material to work with, and repairing a small crack involves blending in a glassfibre mix, which makes it heavier. The materials are 50 per cent more expensive than regular glassfibre, and require more time and expertise to ix.

‘The 4.2-litre engine is a North Coventry Kawasaki-tuned Rover V8. Make sure it has an ‘NCK’ stamp on the bottom of the block. It has a wider bore than a standard Rover 3.5, but the commonality of parts elsewhere means it’s no more expensive to rebuild – and most will have been by now.’


Engine 4228cc V8, ohv, Bosch L-Jetronic fuel injection

Max Power 300bhp @ 5500rpm / DIN

Max Torque 290lb ft @ 4500rpm / DIN

Transmission Five-speed manual, rear-wheel drive

Steering Power-assisted rack-and-pinion

Suspension Front: independent, double wishbones, coil springs, telescopic dampers, anti-roll bar. Rear: independent, lower wishbones, driveshaft as upper link, torque arm, coil springs, telescopic dampers

Brakes Discs front and rear

Weight 1130kg

Performance Top speed: 165mph; 0-60mph: 5sec

Fuel consumption 17mpg

Cost new £31,000

Classic Cars Price Guide £6000-£15,000

 TVR 420 SEAC road test
TVR 420 SEAC road test – Before the 200mph club arrived, TVR 420 SEAC was one of the world’s fastest cars. Bored-out Rover V8 generates 300bhp within 1170kg car; interior spacious and luxurious.

‘A howling, angry car that bucks under its own hard acceleration and writhes into corners’


Aston Martin V8 Vantage Zagato Volante

The Aston V8 Vantage was a supercar of the old school. Firepower derived from downdraught Webers, aerodynamic improvements made by blanking of grilles and scoops. Aston flirted with the idea of mid-engined supercars – 1980’s Bulldog was reminiscent of the Maserati Bora, but it remained a concept. Aston contested Group C, but no roadgoing AMR racers followed. Then Aston boss Victor Gauntlett happened upon a sleek Zagato concept, the Zeta 6, at Geneva in 1983. It used light weight, truncated proportions and smooth aerodynamics to turn Alfa’s GTV6 into a serious performer. A plan was hatched to do the same with the V8 Vantage, echoing the DB4GT Zagato. Fifty orders were taken on the emergence of a stylist’s sketch.

Looking at this Aston Martin V8 Vantage Zagato, I can see why some of those creditors were initially disappointed. The angular, bumperless nose is more Audi Sport Quattro than pretty DB4, and that ski-ramp bonnet-bulge looks like a hot-rodder’s backyard bodge. But look closer and there is elegance – the Lagonda referencing tail and tiny bumperettes, as well as evidence of performance engineering in the form of meticulous lush-glazing, with elements like headlamp covers, windscreen edges and door mirrors lowing seamlessly. Aston’s standard Vantage was stuck in a world of chrome windscreen trim and whistling rain-guttering.

Climb aboard and you’re greeted with a remarkable meeting of Aston and Zagato values. The angular instrument cluster and diagonal motif in the door cards is typical of the bold, striking Italian supercar interior design of the era. But the polished timber, dazzling chrome and pungent leather that’s more saddlery than couturier reeks of a British aesthetic of stud farms and Jacobean drawing-rooms. Crucially, it’s supremely comfortable and the ergonomic driving position is reminiscent of the TVR’s.

The V8 soundtrack is familiar yet amplified via a freer-lowing exhaust system as well as the lack of roof in this Zagato Volante – one of just eight Vantage examples built. It lunges forward with intoxicating fury, a hard-edged crackle thrashing from the tailpipes. I’m still relaxing in my armchair – it hasn’t forgotten how to be a proper Aston V8 – but the car itself is behaving like a TVR.

Blackpudlian comparisons surprisingly continue into the corners. The use of lighter-gauge aluminium, ditching the rear seats and paring back the overhangs liberates the previously-hefty Vantage of 277mm and 168kg, and concentrates its weight between the axles. In tight bends, it pivots with a faithfulness, predictability and immediacy alien to any Aston since the DB4GT, with only the shuffling of the de Dion-suspended rear a reminder of the DBS-derived chassis’ age. It’s 30mm slimmer than a V8 saloon too, and feels easy to place in corners. It doesn’t take long behind the wheel to feel confident enough to take liberties in corners in a manner you wouldn’t dream of doing with the TVR.

It’s geared for spectacular performance – 0-60 in 4.8 seconds and on to 185mph – but this doesn’t help on B-roads. The colossal 395lb ft lulls you into thinking you can carry complexes of tight bends in third gear, but it judders in protest as the revs sink towards 1000rpm. Shift down and second is too peaky when playing at 30-60mph. It’s difficult to rein in at the end of straights too – like the TVR – but unlike a Ghibli or Daytona, squirms alarmingly under hard braking.

Still, I can’t help but think that the Zagato marked the moment of Aston’s true post-oil-crisis renaissance. Vantages and Lagondas kept the lame alive, but the Zagato proved it was possible to create a compact, sporty Aston that retained its trademark luxury. It’s the ethos that sired the 1994 DB7 and 2003 AMV8, brought the marque back to GT racing, and invigorates Aston’s spirit today.

Zagatos have never been cheap, so they haven’t suffered shoestring maintenance like some V8s and Virages. However, years spent locked up in speculators’ collections can generate astronomical recomissioning bills if the engine or suspension needs rebuilding, but you’ll be spending a six-figure sum to enter the Aston Zagato club at any viable level anyway. Given the lower state of tune of the standard, blanked-grille Volante, it doesn’t command a premium over a Vantage coupé, but a Vantage Volante like this costs in excess of two mint-condition hardtop Zagatos.

Owning an Aston Martin V8 Zagato ‘They’re actually fairly bulletproof for a high-performance supercar, and the handling is phenomenal,’ says Roger Bennington of Stratton Motor Company, who likes his Vantage Zagato so much he bought it back for a second time. ‘It’s a V8 Vantage X-Pack at heart, mechanically identical except for the carburettors and a freer-breathing exhaust system giving 20bhp extra. By the time it came out, Aston had ironed out all the bugs. Lack of use makes them suffer – brakes in particular.

‘They are very rare – only 50 were built, and just eight genuine Vantage Volantes – most Zagato Volantes were standard V8-spec. The lighter-gauge Italian aluminium body dents easily, but it’s no more expensive to repair than standard V8 bodywork. The plastic parts are harder to come by – I bought one of the last front bumpers from Aston for mine, you’d have to get replacements specially made now.’


Engine 5340cc, dohc per bank, four Weber 48 IDF3/150 carburettors

Max Power 432bhp @ 6250rpm / DIN

Max Torque 395lb ft @5100rpm / DIN

Transmission Five-speed manual, rear-wheel drive

Steering Power-assisted rack-and-pinion

Suspension Front: independent, unequal-length double wishbones, coil springs, telescopic dampers, anti-roll bar. Rear: de Dion tube, Watts linkage, trailing arms, coil springs, telescopic dampers

Brakes Discs front and rear

Weight 1650kg

Performance Top speed: 186mph; 0-60mph: 4.8sec

Cost new £125,000 (1988 coupé, Vantage Volante on special order for undisclosed sum)

Classic Cars Price Guide £60,000-£200,000 (standard Zagato Volante or Vantage coupé)

‘It hasn’t forgotten how to be a proper Aston V8 – but the car itself is behaving like a TVR’

Compact V8 Zagato was Aston’s first true sports car since the Sixties. Vantage Volante has unslatted headlights. Engine more powerful than standard Vantage, but downdraught Webers necessitated awkward bonnet bulge; interior combines British and Italian style themes


Chevrolet Corvette ZR-1 C4

The FIA’s Group B regulations were always meant to form a racing series as well as a rally class. Because of the cost of building homologation runs, it only resulted in a few BMW M1s and Porsches at Le Mans. However, in IMSA’s parallel American jurisdiction, which didn’t need homologation specials, the near-identical GTO class ran wild with silhouette-bodied sports cars scrapping behind GTX-class Group C doppelgangers. The US tuning industry boomed for the first time since the Sixties.

Chevrolet embraced the opportunities presented by IMSA. Its Corvette was banned from production-class SCCA club- racing in 1987 for exerting TVR 420 SEAC-like dominance. Behind the scenes, parent company General Motors had swiped Lotus from beneath expected buyer Toyota’s nose following its 1986 stock-market lotation. A Corvette GTO won its class at the 1988 Sebring 12 Hours, and in October a GTO-inspired road car was unveiled to the press – the Chevrolet Corvette ZR-1. Lotus’ Tony Rudd had actually been working on the ZR-1 since 1986. The antiquated pushrods of the 5.7-litre small-block V8 went in favour of Formula One-derived quad-overhead camshafts. Lotus recalibrated the springing and damping rates. A six-speed manual was the only gearbox available.

Seen ‘in the glassfibre’ the Corvette ZR-1 has remarkable, unanticipated presence. The widened bodywork, flaring out to contain massive 315/35 ZR17 tyres at the rear, and the way the smoked lenses of the revised lush-glazed light clusters seem to blend seamlessly into this one’s black bodywork give it the look of a spaceframed, one-piece silhouette-bodied racer. Today, it’s the only thing that can really complicate ZR-1 ownership – while it’s just as reliable as the mass-produced C4 and shares much of its componentry, ZR-1 body panels aren’t available of the shelf like most C4 bits, so any damaged ones ideally need repairing rather than replacing. Star-cracks can help you negotiate a bargain.

Open the door and you lower yourself into a high-silled cockpit that’s part racing tub, part F-14 Tomcat. Turn the ignition key and the dashboard lashes into bright, digital life like an Eighties arcade game, although the engine just gives of a subdued purr. Get it underway and, remarkably, it feels quite compact. The view down the bonnet is more curvaceous and Stingray-like than it appears from the outside, and the sharp peaks of the wings make it easy to place on twisty roads. It handles them well too – the power steering is very light and lacking in fine feedback, but it’s as immediate and intuitive in its responses as a Lotus.

For a 385bhp V8 the LT5 is remarkably docile and quiet at low speeds. Accelerate hard though, and it’s a different story. The quad-cam engine gives of a fiery scream – high-pitched, not brittle like an Italian V12, but not the traditional loose and bassy bellow of a typical American V8. The road and the yellow digits lashing up in the middle of the instrument cluster become a frenzied blur. Get it on a motorway and 100mph is absurdly, effortlessly easy. So’s 150. Then my right hand rests on the chunky gearlever and I realise I’m only in the fourth of its six intergalactically long ratios. It doesn’t run out of heave until 186mph, having cleared the 0-60 dash in 4.2 seconds. That makes it faster than an Aston that was four times its price when new and ten times its price now. When you think about its racing pedigree, this performance surely warrants comparison with the likes of the 959 and 288GTO.

And yet you can buy a mint Corvette ZR-1 for less than £20k, provided you can find one. Buying privately in the UK or Europe is your best bet – they’re highly-prized in the US and shipping duty makes them poorer value than finding an original import, and dealers will charge £20k or more for mint low-mileage examples. You’re not getting a sophisticated engine carried by a chassis that can’t quite cope – the front-mid configuration gives it the balance of a Lotus Excel, with body control and powerful braking to match. Only the hollow-feeling plasticky dashboard finish undermines it. But this car is all about IMSA GTO-style performance and handling for the road, and it’s also capable of taking on some of the best European supercars of its era.

‘0-60 in 4.2sec makes it faster than an Aston Martin that was four times its price when new – and ten times its price now’

Owning a Chevrolet Corvette ZR-1

‘It’s a genuine supercar that can be fixed with a set of spanners – probably the last of its kind you can say that of,’ says Chevrolet Corvette ZR-1 owner Alan Lewis. ‘Aside from the engine, it’s pretty-much all standard Chevrolet Corvette C4, and therefore mechanically simple. Lotus designed the engine, but it was built by Mercury Marine and subjected to the durability testing regime it used for powerboats, where it was redlined from idle. It has thicker internal castings than the standard Chevrolet small-block V8, so despite having more complicated valve gear, it’s probably more reliable than the standard Corvette. I’ve driven this car all over Europe, including high-speed German autobahn runs.

‘The electronic adjustable damping system often fails, but most owners just disconnect it. ZR-1 replacement body panels are hard to come by and expensive though.’

Chevrolet Corvette ZR-1 C4

Engine 5732cc V8, dohc per bank, Delphi Multec electronic fuel injection

Max Power 380bhp @ 6000rpm / DIN

Max Power 370lb ft @ 4500rpm / DIN

Transmission Six-speed manual, rear-wheel-drive

Steering Power-assisted rack-and-pinion

Suspension Front: independent, double wishbones, coil springs, telescopic dampers, anti-roll bar. Rear: independent, parallel trailing arms, transverse leaf spring, lower link, driveshaft as upper link

Steering Power-assisted rack-and-pinion

Weight 1560kg

Performance Top speed: 186mph; 0-60mph: 4.2sec

Fuel consumption 18mpg

Cost new £36,035

Classic Cars Price Guide £9500-£18,500

Forget ‘Yank tank’ clichés – this is a sharp-handling 186mph supercar created by Lotus. Sophisticated V8 uses F1 and powerboat technology. Interior cheap but looks futuristic


Porsche 911 Turbo 3.6 964

It’s odd that the Porsche 911 has become so inextricably linked with Eighties culture. True, it became an unimaginative visual-shorthand status symbol whenever a film producer wanted to pair a showy arriviste with wheels to match, but Porsche seemed indifferent to its success. Production-class racing efforts were focused on the 944, international recognition was won with the 962, and the Group B rally 959 served as a technological showcase. It might have received a displacement increase here, a new gearbox there, but the 911 and its Turbo sibling remained torsion-bar-suspended, Seventies-rooted anachronisms, no matter how popular they were in the showroom.

However, during this time a new 911 was designed. Codenamed 964, it kept the rear-engined, air-cooled principles, but applied the smoother aerodynamic profiling, coil-sprung MacPherson-strut suspension, anti-lock braking, power steering and four-wheel drive of the 959. With a more capable chassis than its predecessors, it would be could handle much greater performance. A new 250bhp 3.6-litre flat-six engine was developed, and upon its eventual release in 1989, the new normally-aspirated 964 Carrera 2 produced the same performance figures as the old 930 Turbo.

The old 3.3-litre unit, its harsh characteristics smoothed over with modern anti-lag measures, was carried over from the 930 to create a half-hearted range-topper. But behind the scenes the Porsche 964 Turbo 3.6 seen here was being developed – a 911 with 959 performance. Because of the effects of the early-Nineties recession on Porsche’s sales, development of its 360bhp ‘M64’ engine had been repeatedly put on the backburner. In the end, it was available for just 12 months – mid-1993 to mid-1994. With just 1437 built, it’s one of the rarer and more sought-after 911 variants today and this is reflected in its pricing – although the Porsche market has softened lately, Turbo 3.6s having peaked just beyond £200k a few years ago, the £180k you’ll pay now for a rust-free low-miler is still four times what they were worth ten years ago.

It doesn’t take long behind the wheel of the Turbo 3.6 to realise how far removed it is from the previous-generation 911. The intimate, hyperactively talkative steering is gone, washed away by 225/40 ZR18 Pirellis up front and a thick-rimmed wheel. However, in place of the old 911’s jiggly nervousness, there’s confidence-inspiring solidity, endless grip and a sense of imperviousness. A stable launch platform, set for a relentless assault on the horizon. Take your first foray into the 3500rpm-plus boost zone and it’s clear that this is no longer merely an overpowered 911 kicked into supercar contention by its turbocharger, but comprehensively devised to operate on another plane altogether, with Ferrari 512TRs and Lamborghini Diablos in its sights. It’s conceived with the same sense of flamboyant irrationality as well – it would have made more financial sense for Porsche to have abandoned this car to concentrate on the new 993 instead, but it persevered with its development for three years simply to make a point.

Problem is, it suffers from the same issues as the Italians at lower speeds. Kept of-boost by short-shifting, the old 930 could still be treated like a sports car on tangled roads that’d leave a Testarossa flailing. The 964, its wheels widened in the name of grip, is too broad to feel wieldy on B-roads. But it’s incredibly urgent and you need to stay alert – the rear end will still try to overtake the front if you take a tight corner too hard.

Stick to supercar behaviour though, and the Turbo 3.6 rewards in a way its Italian rivals don’t. It’s slick, smooth, easy to see out of, even economical compared to a V12. There’s a decent amount of luggage space too, so you can imagine making a long trip, taking pleasure in rapidly covering ground. It’s a supercar for grown-ups. It doesn’t howl with fury like a TVR or an Aston. It gathers speed in an understated, progressive way, the whistle of the turbocharger signalling the subtle but massive accumulation of torque. The ABS allows confidence not present in its predecessors when progressively slowing from such massive speeds too.

It didn’t take long for Porsche to eclipse the 964 Turbo 3.6 with a plethora of 993 variants in a more economically stable era – but they existed in the shadow cast by the McLaren F1. The 964 Turbo 3.6, however briefly, once shone brighter than all its rivals, and guided the concept of the practical supercar into a new era.

‘There’s confidence-inspiring solidity, endless grip and a sense of imperviousness’

Owning a Porsche 964 Turbo 3.6

‘They often clock up huge mileages – it was a supercar you could use, far more so than its rivals,’ says owner James Taylor. ‘And it still retains those qualities today – interiors are hard-wearing, and they’re very mechanically reliable so long as they’ve been properly serviced. That said, they will rust eventually – though not as badly as previous generations of 911 – and are prone to minor electrical faults, such as battery drains. The ignition cuts out if it’s kept idling for too long, harming the battery when restarted. They’re from an era of dodgy aftermarket immobilisers and stereos too.

‘They are one of the great collectible 911s. Even in a time when Porsches were relatively mass-produced, fewer than 1500 Turbo 3.6s were built, and it was a proper engineering tour de force, not a special edition. As a result, they’ve shot from under £50k to almost £200k in a relatively short time.’


Engine 3600cc horizontally-opposed six-cylinder, sohc per bank,

Bosch K-Jetronic fuel injection, KKK K27 turbocharger

Max Power 360bhp @ 5500rpm / DIN

Max Torque 384lb ft @ 4200rpm / DIN

Transmission Five-speed manual, rear-wheel drive

Steering Rack-and-pinion Suspension Front and rear: independent, wishbones, MacPherson struts, coil springs, telescopic dampers, anti-roll bar

Brakes Discs front and rear

Weight 1470kg

Performance Top speed: 174mph; 0-60mph: 4.8sec

Fuel consumption 21mpg

Cost new n/a (special import)

Classic Cars Price Guide £100,000-£180,000

964 Turbo 3.6 feels more stable than its predecessors – and much faster; 360bhp engine took Porsche four years to perfect. Quality interior offers calm amid the 174mph fury.


The Big Test The five-second club

It almost seems unfair to try and compare these cars. They were built for such different purposes and environments, from hurtling of the mark at the raise of a marshal’s hand and dancing through hairpins against the clock in the case of the Renault, to vying deliberately for world’s fastest supercar honours against all economic odds with the Porsche. However, there are three cars here in which their sub-five-second acceleration abilities – and the lengths their manufacturers went to in order to achieve it – speak of far greater significance. Our three front-engined V8 bruisers from Blackpool, Newport Pagnell and Bowling Green, Kentucky. And two of them are absolute bargains. Aston Martin’s performance and prestige was never in doubt prior to the release of the Vantage Zagato, but it took the Zagato to prove it could also challenge its Italian competitors in the driver’s-car stakes. In retrospect the Virage which replaced the old V8 in 1989 was a brief and distracting misfire – the popularity of more compact, concentrated Astons from the Nineties onwards ultimately proved the success of the Zagato’s formula. The Astons which followed it are better value for money, but the marque has never quite been the same since the Zagato first emerged.

The TVR 420 SEAC shocks with its sense of seriousness. I can’t help but think that had it been homologated as a Group B racer and banned from Le Mans rather than Croft it would have garnered more respect through its infamy and be better known. As it its, it’s a forgotten gem, waiting to be discovered by supercar drivers drawn from outside TVR’s traditional ownership pool, and they’d be spending a fraction of their usual budget too.

However, there is one car here which doesn’t just succeed, but excels on every level – the ZR-1. Perhaps if it wore a Lotus badge on its nose, people would have paid it more attention outside of its homeland. But the raw facts remain – the cheapest car here is also the fastest, best-handling and most reliable. Added to that, it is as impervious to the rigours of regular use as a Volvo estate, has motor sport pedigree as formidable as any Porsche, outlandish styling inside and out, and performance on a par with a Ferrari 288 GTO. Go out and buy one now before anyone else notices.

Thanks to: RS-Williams (, the Osprey Group (, Philip Raby, Sports Purpose

(, Marc Byrnes, Mark Walpole, and Paul Jackson at Amoré Autos (

Amongst this diversity of rapid rivals, one car noses ahead of the rest – and probably not the one you suspect…


Tony Southgate the science of speed

The designer, whose career spans Sixties F1 to Le Mans prototypes via Group B rallying, explains the Eighties performance leap – and how engineering physics kept up.

‘Tyre technology was responsible for the Eighties performance car boom,’ says Tony Southgate as he reflects on our quintet of five-second rockets. ‘They were getting wider and wider for a start, but in the late Seventies tyre companies started working with manufacturers to design rubber for specific cars, rather than constructors just buying them of the shelf. One of the most crucial of these was Renault – the 5 Turbo was a very brave move, but Michelin was basically paying half the costs of the project so it could develop its tyres using the car.’

Renault’s gamble worked, and as the Group 4 rules gave way to Group B, soon nearly all competitors were pursuing the strategy of an adapted hatchback monocoque with mid-engined configuration and lightweight construction. Although his background was in Formula One, Southgate was working at Ford when this revolution occurred, and he was tasked with designing something to counter the likes of the Renault – the RS200. ‘Formula One is straightforward compared to rally car design!’

Southgate laughs. ‘A rally car has to perform on snow, sand, tarmac, gravel – sometimes all on the same stage, so you need something that’s both grippy and lightweight. Ford was very conservative, had just been using lighter, more powerful road cars, and had arrived at the Escort RS1700T, with rear-wheel drive and tubular spaceframes front and rear. With the RS200, we started with the mid-section of a three-door Sierra, so we could reuse things like windscreen glass – 117 parts were reused in total – and the front and rear was redesigned by Filippo Sapino at Ghia for better aerodynamics. Tested in a wind tunnel, it generated positive downforce – most road cars generate lift and downforce measures merely limit it.’

‘Weight distribution that aids acceleration can actually hinder cornering’

Ford almost dismissed the use of lightweight composites. ‘The management couldn’t comprehend that an aluminium-GRP honeycomb structure could survive a rally,’ explains Southgate. ‘I had to build demonstration sections to squash in front of them, and they couldn’t believe how vastly superior they were to steel. Even then they ended up compromising by bonding a sheet of steel to the underside, but even then we could have used Kevlar, like TVR did with the 420 SEAC.

‘In motor sport requiring a fast standing start – not Group C, but certainly F1 and rallying – you need grip of the line, minimising wheelspin. That’s where the wide tyres come in, but the advantage of grip runs out soon. Once you’ve cleared the threat of wheelspin, weight distribution becomes more important. You need weight to be concentrated over the driven rear wheels. The Porsche 911 is superior in this respect, probably the closest road car in terms of weight distribution to an F1 car. Although you can also shift weight rearward by ramping the differential.

‘The problem is, weight distribution that aids acceleration can hinder cornering – if you’re oversteering, you’ve failed. On the BRM P180 I experimented with 30/70 front/rear weight distribution, moving the water radiators to the rear; previously it had been 35/65. It won just one race, a fluke, but while it was OK in a straight line, it was difficult to get round corners because the nose was too light. Realistically, 32/68 is as much as you’ll get away with, but on a road car the ideal – as exemplified by the TVR – is 50/50 for controllability.’

Nearly all the cars in our test sport spoilers, and lush-glazing on elements like light clusters and windscreens, but how effective is this? ‘Although low drag coefficients only really show at much higher speeds than 60mph, aerodynamics are still important to low-speed acceleration,’ says Southgate. ‘When we tested the Ford C100 Group C car at Paul Ricard, it was spinning its wheels coming out of a first- or second-gear 40mph hairpin. A change in size of the vertical rear Gurney lap from just a quarter of an inch to half an inch stopped the wheelspin.

‘This sort of thing is largely psychological on a road car – but on track, drivers are acutely aware of aerodynamics. It’s like a switch, they can feel it coming on and of and calculate the numbers – if you can generate 200lb more downforce through a corner by going 15mph faster, you’ll do it. Then you’ll search for 500lb – if you’re brave enough. But then the next element to give up will be the tyres – hence why they’re developed together.’ Tyre technology is in some ways more crucial in the USA, where IMSA cars like the Corvette GTO competed on high-speed oval tracks. ‘At Daytona, when you get to the banking of the track, the tyres suddenly take on a lot of extra load. You need to anticipate this, working with tyre engineers to avoid sidewall squash, and cars set up for American circuits need slightly higher ride heights to stop them bottoming out, and you’ll need far more downforce than Le Mans with its 200mph straights.

‘And of course, the most crucial motivating factor of all in motor sport engineering is beating Porsche.’

RS200 started life as a mid-engined Sierra. Ford board was sceptical of composite body.

Above, clockwise from top left: Ford C100 Group C car benefitted massively from slight Gurney flap adjustment; racing cars such as Southgate’s Can-Ams shifted weight to the rear; wingtips crucial in cornering downforce; radical BRM P180 had 70% rear weight bias Below: P180 cutaway showing rear-mounted radiators.

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