It is unlikely that even the most ardent Porsche fan
would have predicted, in the mid 1960s, that the company
would still be producing a car with its engine, ‘in the
wrong place’, over 40 years after the first 911 rolled off
the production line.
But that is exactly what has happened; the latest 997
model 911 may not have the snappy handling of some of its
predecessors, and its engine may be water rather than air
cooled, but it is still resolutely hung out low over the
rear wheels, giving the 911 its trademark rear-biased weight
But we are not interested in modern 911s in the context
of The List. 996 and 997 models are the preserve of city
boys and the nouveau riches, who are more interested in the
ostentatious display of wealth that owning a modern 911
represents than the unique lines of the earlier cars. The
911s that have gained their place on The List stretch from
the early 1960s models, through to the 1970s Carrera RS, and
are largely distinguished (apart from the RS) by their
chrome detailing, and the absence of the ugly impact bumpers
of the late 1970s cars. We will refer to these as ‘classic
A cursory glance at the opening scenes of the Steve
McQueen film Le Mans will dispel any doubts as to why these
particular 911s have earned their place on The List.
McQueen’s car, resplendent in period colour, just looks and
sounds cool in a way that a modern 911 cannot.
To some extent, McQueen’s car, and any classic 911, has
attained some of this coolness through its retro charms, but
this is not the whole story; even at the time of the film,
the 911 had an aura of specialness, of being a connoisseur’s
car, around it. This, to bring in Plato’s theory of forms,
is the archetypal 911; all others are just imperfect
imitations of it, where Porsche has played with the shape,
either from external pressure to conform to regulations, or
from the internal desire to modernise.
Unless you are driving a Carrera RS, or its race
derivative, the RSR, don’t expect a classic 911 to deliver
the same sort of straight line performance as a 996 or 997.
Although all of the classic models are significantly lighter
than their younger relatives, the engines are smaller and
less technologically advanced, and it is only really the S
and Carrera RSR models that are what a modern driver would
term as ‘rapid’.
Reach a corner, and your progress will be largely
dictated by the age of the car you are driving.
Although the exterior changed little during the 1960s and
early 1970s, small alterations to suspension settings and
weight distribution mean that the earlier cars are
significantly more prone to very abrupt lift-off oversteer.
Of course, every 911 will do this to some extent, due to its
unusual rear weight bias, but it is much more pronounced in
the early cars.
Whichver 911 your are driving, though, there is no doubt as to where the weight is situated. Before turning
into a corner at speed you always need to ensure that you
have effectively transferred enough weight forward to
counteract the natural tendency for the light front end to
understeer. Similarly, on the exit of corners, although the
rear bias enables good traction from the rear wheels, you
need to feed in the power progressively to avoid giving the
heavy rear too much sideways momentum. Being optimistic with
your turn-in speed, or over-enthusiastic with the throttle
will only result in the car taking on the form of a thrown
hammer, where the head is eager to overtake the handle.
But none of this detracts from the experience of driving
a classic 911. In fact, it is deeply satisfying to be able
to adapt one’s driving technique to the demands of the
vehicle, and the rewards of feeling the car balanced
perfectly on the limits of adhesion are always worth the
To use a final comparison with modern Porsches, a 996 or
997 GT3 may shout to the world that the owner is a person of
discernment when it comes to choosing a car that will enable
them to travel as quickly as possible either on road or
track. It does not, however, reveal anything about their
aesthetic judgement. On the contrary, a classic 911 will
always discreetly inform the cognoscenti that the owner is
an aesthete of exquisite taste who is able to utilise his
driving skills to obviate some of the quirks of handling
inherent in the car’s character. After all, character is
what makes the world interesting.