That was the calling card of the best of the older,
air-cooled Porsche 911s. And that is the of the 911
GT3, a car that recaptures all of the spirit and downright on-the-edge fun that
were slightly blunted in the search for refinement and manners that resulted
in the modern water-cooled 996 series. Don’t get us wrong: the new 911
Carreras are great driver’s cars, and far better cross-country tourers
than the previous-generation versions ever were. But, in the GT3, the exhilarating
rawness of earlier years is revived.
Emphasising the point, Porsche bills it as a road car suitable for track use.
Memories of the banshee wail and involving chassis of the first GT3 we tested
– published in January 2000 – had us waiting in eager anticipation for
the latest, more powerful version. We weren’t disappointed…
The most obvious difference between the newcomer and our last test car was
the lights. As on all new 911s, the previous “fried egg” headlamps
have been replaced by the slimmer all-clear units that first made their appearance
on the current Turbo. There’s also a new rear wing and skirts to achieve
better aerodynamic balance at high speed. And, something of a nightmare on bumpy
South African roads, ride-height is even lower, exposing the black chin spoiler
to even more danger than its vulnerable predecessor. Fortunately, the unit is
held on by practical plastic clips, and is easily replaced if damaged.
Porsche claims a drag coefficient of 0,30, identical to that of the old model.
But lift on front and rear axles has been reduced, improving high-speed stability.
The suspension – struts up front, with a multi-link Weissach axle at the
rear – has been retuned to provide greater ride comfort. But springing is
still 20 per cent stiffer than on a current Carrera. The forged wheels are lighter
and wider than previously (8,5J in front and 11J at the rear), and tyres are
Michelin Pilot Sports, the ompound specially formulated to favour grip over
longevity, so expect to replace rubber (235/40 ZR18 fronts and 295/30 ZR18 rears)
fairly frequently if you’re going to extend engine and chassis regularly.
Brakes are cross-drilled inner-vented steel units, the fronts having a diameter
of 350 mm and featuring six-piston fixed calipers. The rear discs measure 330
mm, and use four-piston calipers. Carbon-ceramic brakes (not fitted to the test
car) are optional.
The competition-derived normally aspirated engine has always been central to
the GT3’s exciting character. Based on the dry-sumped 3,2-litre turbocharged
unit that took the 911 GT1 to overall victory in the 1998 Le Mans 24-hour race,
the aluminium block of this unboosted derivative has hugely oversquare bore
and stroke dimensions of 100 and 76,4 mm, resulting in a capacity of exactly
3 600 cm3. For the latest iteration, the forged pistons and titanium connecting
rods and valves have been lightened, and Porsche VarioCam variable inlet valve
timing, as well as Bosch’s latest Motronic ME 2.8 management system,
installed. The compression ratio remains at 11,7 to 1 – meaning one should
run at least 98 octane fuel to extract the best performance, though we found
the test car performed pretty impressively on Engen 97 unleaded.
As a result of the changes, peak power has been boosted from 265 kW at 7 200
r/min to 280 kW at 7 400 – that’s 77,8 kW per litre, well over the
yardstick 100 bhp/litre mark – with maximum torque up from 370 N.m to 385
at 5 000. At the same time, the ratios of fifth and sixth gears (in the otherwise
identical manual gearbox, which has the same meaty-but-slick shift-feel we enthused
about in its predecessor) have been lowered slightly, allowing – as we found
in our performance testing – the drivetrain to get over the “hump”
into the 300-plus top speed range more easily than was the case with the previous
car. The extra outputs also whittled several tenths off the zero to 100, and
standing kilometre times. Splash oil lubrication of the transmission, along
with an external cooler for the transmission fluid, makes the car even better
suited to its dual road-race role.
But, unlike traditional RS 911s, the GT3’s cockpit is reasonably well
equipped. Standard items include front and side airbags for driver and passenger,
a CD/radio, remote alarm/immobiliser, central locking, electric window-lifts
and electric mirrors. Air-conditioning is a no-cost option. There is no traction
control, but the brakes are equipped with ABS.
Seats are buckets, with their composite shells upholstered in leather, and
feature only fore-aft adjustment. They grip the body tightly, but are surprisingly
comfortable on longer journeys. Getting in and out involves some thigh scraping,
though. There are no proper rear seats, just carpeted shapes.
Out on your favourite twisty road is where the new GT3 really delivers. Though
the suspension is a touch more absorbent than the old model’s, the ride
is firm, even uncomfortable, on rough surfaces. But the car’s wieldiness,
unerring feedback and sheer balance, allowing you to make the finest adjustments
with steering and throttle, are more than adequate recompense. It’s a
car that stimulates the senses, communicating every move through the seat of
the pants, soles of the feet, and tips of the fingers, while titillating the
eardrums with the engine’s throaty roar as it spins towards the 8 200
r/min limiter. As one tester commented: “Bring it on! Forget the radio,
who cares that it’s actually a bit noisy?” And forget about four-wheel
drive and fancy electronic driving aids: this is a precision driving tool that
rewards judiciousness and skill.
It’s also a rocket in a straight line, and significantly quicker than
the original version. On the test strip the ice white test car sprinted to 100
km/h in 4,65 seconds (0,33 seconds faster than its forebear), cut 0,73 seconds
off the kilometre time, and blasted past 300 with relative ease. In typical
Porsche fashion, the wheel moves around, telegraphing every nuance of the road
surface at high speed. Grip it lightly, and the car tracks its own median course,
however, as stable, yet communicative, as any car we’ve taken into the
higher speed ranges.
But, thanks to VarioCam, the real improvement is in flexibility. Accelerating
from 40 (amazingly, the engine is quite tractable at this speed) to 140 in fourth,
for example, takes just 13,77 seconds, compared with the previous car’s
14,46. Pick-up is also more rapid in the slightly lower fifth and sixth gears.
Braking, too, is first class, in line with Porsche tradition. The 10-stop 100-to-0
average of under three seconds speaks for itself, but what really impresses
is the car’s ability to stop repeatedly from close to 300 km/h without
the slightest sign of distress. There is some brake squeal, however, the usual
bugbear of performance stopping systems.
And, along with the performance, the GT3 gives truly impressive economy. Our
fuel index – an estimate of overall fuel-thirst in enthusiastic driving,
was 15,38 litres per 100 km. In fact, the test car’s readings never strayed
much above this figure, even during performance testing. Sadly, though, right-hand
drive cars have to do with a 64-litre tank instead of the 89-litre unit fitted
to left-hand drive models. So local drivers will have to contend with a limited
range of 416 km, according to our estimate.