SARDINIA, Italy – There's a straight section of asphalt ahead. Roof down, second gear and throttle pinned. The rev needle rises urgently, building to an almighty crescendo at 9 000 r/min. I depress the heavy clutch and slot the next ratio home to repeat the performance. The island scenery becomes a blur as the wind-rush over my head reaches hurricane status. The Porsche 911 Speedster is more than a car, it's also a musical instrument that allows its driver freedom to compose their own melodies. The result is pure driving theatre.

Background

The idea of chopping the roof off a 911 is not the most appealing one ... to me, at least. Firstly, there's the engineering challenge of strengthening the body and chassis to regain some of the lost stiffness, all without adding too much mass. Secondly, the classic roofline of the 911 is a large part of its appeal. When I laid my eyes on the latest iteration of the Speedster, though, my opinion changed.

What helped was that Porsche decided to bring along four previous versions of the Speedster, including the original 356, (pulled from its museums) for a static display. From where I'm standing, none of the other Speedster models embodies the elegance and style of the 356 better than the new version. Gone is the back-pack style rear deck lid of earlier Speedsters with the rear now lower and neatly integrated. It's truly a stunning piece of design creating a very special two-seater 911 (there is some storage space behind the occupants).

Lightweight body and GT3 powertrain

The Porsche is not based on the recently launched 992-series 911 but is rather the swansong of the previous 991 generation. Take the wide-body cabriolet, add some bespoke carbon-fibre panels (including the deck lid, bonnet and front fenders, to name a few) and marry it to the race-proven 4,0-litre flat-six also doing duty in the GT3. The result of the weight saving is the Speedster is just 42 kg heavier than the GT3. Did I mention that a six-speed manual gearbox is the only transmission option (with an auto rev-match function)? You're starting to get the picture; this is no clichéd hairdresser’s car. Rather think of it as a 911 R without a roof...

 

 Manual roof

What is also manual is the folding roof. To raise and lower the canvas section a button must first be pressed to release the latches keeping the roof in place. Thereafter, the driver needs to get out of the vehicle to lift the vast (gas-spring assisted) deck-lid and fold the tiny canvas section into a cavity behind the front seats. Because the material roof section is small, it fits in front of the roll-over protection hoops. It's an easy exercise and can be completed in under 20 seconds. According to a Porsche spokesperson, this would not happen often: “Whereas cabriolets sometimes drive with their roofs down, the Speedster sometimes drives with its roof up”. Well said.

Engine changes

Eagle-eyed readers will spot the power output of the engine is up 7 kW (to 375 kW) from the unit that does service in the GT3. The reason for this a new exhaust system, individual throttle bodies, a 250 bar injection system (up 50 bar) and tweaked engine calibration. This powerplant deserves a spot in the all-time great naturally aspirated engines, but more about that in a bit.

Styling and setting off

Walking up to the car, it soon becomes obvious the Speedster exudes feminine beauty thanks to its elegant, flowing lines. Get inside, however, and the picture starts to change. Fire up the engine and you're greeted by that famous flat-six bark and mechanical idle. Next, you depress the heavy clutch and move the gear lever with a meaty action to first. Pulling away takes some practice as the clutch is not keen on slipping and the low-inertia engine is prone to stalling when using little throttle input. Still, after a few attempts, it becomes second nature. Do we drive too many automatics these days?

Driving experirence

The ride is firm in comfort mode but just about liveable on a daily basis. The bumpy roads of Sardinia did not do well for the firmer setting, which we suspect is calibrated for billiard smooth roads or the racetrack. The engineers did a great job with the chassis as I did not once feel the sort of scuttle-shake tremor that often plays havoc with many roof-less vehicles.

Warm up the Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tyres and the mechanical grip of the car is phenomenal. Turn-in is sharp and the linear power delivery of the engine means the driver can precisely measure the input upon corner exit so as not to overwhelm the rear tyres – not so easy in a turbo-engined sportscar. The Speedster also features the four-wheel steering system of the GT3 but I found it results in a slightly unnatural feeling through very tight bends when the rear end takes its own line. In short, the handling is still brilliant and not far short from its hard-topped cousin when judged on the road.

Summary

What the Speedster does is take all the desirable aspects of a GT3 (or 911 R) and add yet more drama to the package thanks to the open-air experience. The minimalistic approach is refreshing with not a single button sited on the steering wheel. Even the infotainment system is optional. The idea is to take the driver back to the era of the 356 in spirit, but include sledgehammer performance.

Unfortunately, all of this does not come cheap as the list price is over R5-million. The question to be asked is this: is the Speedster worth the R2m-plus premium over a standard GT3? Probably not if evaluated objectively but what it offers is exclusivity and a piece of Porsche heritage (the Stuttgart firm celebrated its 70th anniversary in 2018). Regardless, the 1 948 (also the year the 356 won its first race) owners can count themselves very lucky indeed...



FAST FACTS

Model: Porsche 911 Speedster
Price: R5 161 000
Engine: 4,0-litre, 6-cyl, petrol
Power: 375 kW @ 8 400 r/min
Torque: 470 N.m @ 6 250 r/min
0-100 km/h: 4,0 seconds
Top Speed: 310 km/h
Fuel Consumption: 13,8 L/100 km
CO2: 317 g/km
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Maintenance Plan: 3-year/100 000 km driveplan