I’ve had a glorious weekend with what are fast becoming my two favorite cars.
While the 1967 Alfa Romeo GTV and the 2003 Porsche 996 911 are are decades apart in construction, they offer many of the same driving rewards to an old-car enthusiast.
The Alfa is a tried-and-true front-engine, rear-wheel-drive design. The Porsche has a rear-engined, rear-wheel drive configuration that the company has perfected over the past 50 years. In some ways, they are polar opposites.
Last Saturday, I put 150 miles on the Porsche, taking Highway 6 to Tillamook on the Oregon Coast, and returning to Portland on Highway 26. Atypically for Oregon in December, the sun was shining and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. The outside temperature was around 35 degrees in the morning, and warmed to about 45 by early afternoon.
On Sunday, in similar weather, I brought out the GTV. Checking the log I keep about the car, the last time I had driven it was in Monterey, when, after its master cylinder was replaced, I motored to the transport that brought it back to Portland.
I drove it about 100 miles, doing some scouting for the SCM 30th Anniversary Tour next July. I took Marine Drive, about 15 miles east of Portland, OR, along the Columbia River to the town of Troutdale (which bills itself as “The Gateway to the Columbia Gorge”). From there I drove on back roads to a well-known lookout point — the Vista House at Crown Point.
From this high, scenic perch, you can look up the Columbia River Gorge for miles. I always imagine Lewis and Clark taking in this view for the first time as they neared the end of their journey of exploration.
The GTV looked almost as gorgeous as the view of the Columbia River Gorge. Portland-based body-and-paint guru Tom Black recently removed and repaired some panels that had some rust on the doglegs behind the front wheels. It was hardly noticeable, but it was the last imperfection in the body, and I’m glad the car has been made right.
I’ve ordered three-point, non-retractable seatbelts for the front (the GTV has anchor points for front shoulder harnesses) and Guy Recordon will install them when they arrive.
Despite their obvious differences, these two sports cars offer more similarity in their motoring experiences that you would expect.
As the Porsche is water-cooled, it doesn’t have the characteristic clattering from the cooling fan we have come to consider synonymous with all rear-engined Porsches built before 1998.
In that way, it “sounds” more like the Alfa than you would expect. Further, as a naturally aspirated car, the power comes on smoothly, with no “Saturn V” eye-ball-popping surge when the Turbo engages. The Alfa has a similar predictable power band.
The Porsche has 330 horsepower from its 3.6-liter, 6-cylinder engine, compared to the Alfa’s 145 horsepower from the upgraded 1,779-cc 4-cylinder engine. The 911 is just faster and more powerful in every way.
While I cruised comfortably at 70 mph on gently curving roads in the GTV, when I looked down at the instrument cluster in the 911, I frequently saw an indicated 90-100 mph. I didn’t “feel” like I was going that fast; the modern technology of the 911 just allows the car to move at a higher velocity with ease.
The power steering of the 911 is slightly numb compared to the earlier SCs, but it makes driving around town easier. The non-boosted GTV offers near-perfect road feel. The thin-rimmed wheel gave me an excuse to use my string-backed driving gloves.
The seating position in both is good, with a commanding view of the road. The 911 power seat can be raised to accentuate this.
Both cars have diminutive rear seats, better used as a place to throw your jackets than for seating. But nonetheless, that space is what makes the 911 or GTV more infinitely more useful than the Porsche Boxster or the Cayman, with no in-cabin storage area.
There is no wind noise in the 911, and the climate-control is effective. I’ve had Guy install heated seats in the GTV, and with the very capable 105-series heater it has, there was no problem staying toasty.
I don’t have a radio in the Alfa, but I put a small Bluetooth speaker between the seats so can enjoy Pandora while motoring along. I’ve just had an Apple CarPlay entertainment system put into the 911, and I enjoy the modern, larger navigation screen it provides.
These cars have been on different trajectories in the market. The 911 is just a used car, and its values continue to decline from its $80,000 MSRP when new 15 years ago
In 2003, the GTV was a $20,000 car — today one in good condition will bring $50,000. As a long-time Alfa guy, it’s interesting to see our long-overlooked cars start to outperform Porsches in the marketplace.
I thought I would enjoy the 911; my Porsche friends, including Jim Schrager and Rob Sass, highly recommended a 996. What I didn’t expect was how similar its driving sensations would be to the GTV.
These are both definitive, usable sports cars, even though they were built 50 years apart. Both offer adequate rather than overwhelming performance. Both can handle any road you will put them on with aplomb.
The 911 will get you to your destination a little quicker, the GTV with a little more panache. For an enthusiast driver, that’s not a bad choice to have to make.