Cruise It or Bruise It

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1994 Porsche 911 Carrera

This may be the only 911 report ever written that does not include mountains of pseudo-technical manure abour rear-engined vehicle dynamics, warn that the car is tricky nd probably dangerous to drive and imply that it may well swap ends if left unattended in teh garage. In the thirty years that this literary nonsense has been going on, Porsche has sold over 350,00 of these curiosities, and I have never met a Porsche owner that thought he had a handling problem. 911s do handle differently than other cars, but the difference in vital matters such as response, traction and braking is a huge plus, not a minus. For instance, when rain hits the local track, Porsches are usually the last cars to disappear.

For most of its 30 years, the 911 and its variants have dominated racing and rallying in every event where the entrants resembled production cars. In the entire history of the automobile, no other maker, much less single model, remotely approaches this record. This success record has somehow eluded the industry geniuses at other car manufacturers who have dumped billions into front-engine rear-drive concepts inherited from their lorries and four-door sedans. Maybe the boys from Zuffenhausen with their silly lawnmower engine tucked out back have had the right answer for a two-seated sports car all along. After all, it has been a long time since a Grand Prix driver followed his engine around the track.

I have owned 911s for 25 years. The last and still current was a 78SC that at 100,000-plus miles still seems as new. Later Porsche offerings have never offered enough additional improvements to overcome my attachement for this tough old beater. Like all old 911s, the SC has a hard edge to it, a sense of urgency that makes the driver want to storm the car whenever the road opens.

The new 1994 Carrera is content at existing speed limits, and at first I didn’t like it much. (Who needs another Camry, no matter where the engine is?) But the old pizzaz is still there. It’s just that now you have a choice – cruise it or bruise it. It does both very well.

With about a 500-pound weigh disadvantage over my SC – 3,175 lbs. to 2,675 lbs., primarily due to safety paraphernalia – it takes 100 more horsepower (270 vs. 170) than the ’78 car has to lower the 0-60 mph time by one second. But this same 100 hp, helped by a much better Cd, kickes the top speed a good 35 mh to 168. Mash throttle and the new car just feels much faster than the old one.

Handling is improved even beyond the performance. The car sticks better and on rough srufaces the rear-end action featured in teh older cars is gone. The overall ride is excellent, but some porpoising can still be induced on undulating roads.

With a background in heavy equipment, I have never had trouble shifting any Porsche, and consider the gearbox in my ’78 to be just fine. The Warner synchros in later cars were more of a change than an improvement. But the new dual-cone six-speed is a slick piece of work, although with a fairly wide torque band engine, the extra gear makes little sense. For most travel, the car is comfortable in fourth, fifth, or sixth. However, it shifts so nicely that moving hte lever around between the three upper gears is a pleasant way to battle boredom on long trips. I like it.

The great and spacious 911 cabin is unchanged. This is till one of the few surviving sports cars you can get into and tell where you are after you got there. (Don a blindfold and get into an RX7, NSX, or Nissan ZX – good luck telling one from the other.) And the basic driving controls are still where they ought to be.

Accessory controls added over the years have fared less well, located in a carefree fashion wherever a hole could be drilled in the dash. Porsche has taken only a soft swing at improving this maze. Climate controls are now grouped, probably for the first time, functionally The sun roof switch is clustered on the console with other useful stuff, so the first-time 911 driver is less likely to accidentally freeze or roast. There is still enough ergonomic confusion scatttered around to placate the purist, including the damend left-hand ignition key switch. After all, when didi you make your last Le Mans start?

Night vision can be a problem on all low-slung cars. It is particularly bad when passing a truck into oncoming lights on a wet freeway. Early on, Porsche battled the problem with good windshield and headlight wipers with lots of speeds. The new car has double wiper coverage for 80% of the windshield and high-tech (read: expensive) lights that somehow manage to sllip European lighting levels and cut-offs past the ghouls at DOT.

There are many other improvements. Hydraulic valve lifters have eliminated about the only serious work my SC has required; the 15,000-mile valve adjustment. I ahve usually approached this with good spirit, a dial indicator, and my lunch. Do-it-yourselfers will now need another excuse to roll around on the garage floor.

Summed up, the new car does all of teh traditional sports car things better – much better. There is an even greater advance as a GT, where Porsches have always done well. The envelope has been greatly expanded.

Twenty-five years ago I quit my job and with my wife picked up a new 911 to drive 5,000 through most of Western Europe. It was a great trip and an even better career move. Ths car has us thinking about it again. It is the best car I have ever driven; perhaps the best I will ever drive.

Fair enough. – Glenn Herz

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