911 Turbo. It’s an iconic name in the auto enthusiast community, and one that stretches back over four decades. The world’s very first turbocharged supercar landed in 1976. Its flat-6 engine made more horsepower than a Corvette of the time, and came mounted to the rear end long before Porsche knew how to perfect such a thing. It quickly earned the nickname “widow maker” after many terrified drivers learned the meaning of the term lift-off oversteer.
That reputation doesn’t seem to concern Bill, the original owner of a very special 1976 911 Turbo. After decades of enjoyment and countless modifications, Bill has accumulated over a million kilometres on his classic daily driver, making it the highest mileage Porsche 930 in the world. And yet, this collector’s dream doesn’t look or feel the least bit tired.
The heavily worked-over engine is now producing up to 667 horsepower at 21 PSI of boost. Even with a full cage, coilovers, and other performance mods, the mere thought of all that untamed power in such a primitive package is a terrifying concept. If the stock original was considered a widow maker, then this one is the reaper.
Life-threatening or not, driving in this German hot-rod is a heart-pounding experience. The bare-bones, light chassis does its best to manage the engine’s devastating grunt, but it’s a labourious task when that turbo is spooled and working its magic. When the rear tires do hook up, the accelerative force is unrelenting. It’s a thrilling, unfiltered driving experience that no modern car could ever hope to match. Which raises the question: How much DNA does a modern day 911 share with its historic predecessor? I brought along a 2018 911 Carrera 4 GTS to find out.
In isolation, the modern car (chassis code 991.2) couldn’t be mistaken for anything other than a 911. It maintains the same basic profile and styling cues that have made this sports car so iconic. Park it next to the classic model, however, and the differences become glaringly obvious. The 991.2 looks enormous next to the 930, which might as well be a toy by comparison. The same is true of the interior, where the 930’s tight, intimate, wrap-around cockpit feel is replaced in the 991.2 by a far more spacious, larger feeling cabin. There’s also a countless number of toys that are foreign to the 930, including comforts such as 18-way adaptive sport seats, a smooth operating infotainment system, and several performance-enhancing acronyms such as PASM, PSM, and, of course, PTV Plus.
A few kilometres at the helm is all that it takes to understand why this car is so cherished by enthusiasts. The 911 has an uncanny ability to combine breathtaking performance with everyday civility. Road noise is a little higher than the norm, but other than that, the overall refinement is superb. This is a sports car, borderline supercar, that you can use every day, all day, whether it be for the work commute or shopping mall run. And it can all be done without drawing unwanted attention, the kind you might get driving, say, a McLaren, or a race-prepped 1976 911 Turbo!
All 911 variants are thrilling driver’s cars, but for those who feel a bit overwhelmed by the wide range of choice, the GTS model hits the sweet spot. It combines several popular options, such as the Sport Exhaust and Sport Chrono Package, along with additional horsepower, in a value-packed package that undercuts the price of a Carrera S with similar options. With 450 horsepower and 403lb-ft of torque, the GTS is the fastest 911 you can buy short of a Turbo or GT3. It’s also available in the usual flavours, including Coupe, Cabriolet, and Targa, with the choice of rear-wheel drive or all-wheel drive, manual or PDK.
The expansive 911 range starts with the Carrera with an MSRP of $104,000. Moving up to the GTS, however, bumps that entry price to $137,800. With all-wheel drive, PDK, and a few other popular extras, not to mention that beautiful Miami Blue paint job, my tester came in at $162,490 plus fees and taxes. At that price, the $163,300 race-special GT3 starts to become a tantalizing alternative; that is, if you can actually get one.
Regardless of how you configure it, the GTS delivers one of the most enjoyable driving experiences on the market. The steering, brakes, and chassis are all tuned to perfection with laser-sharp precision. The available 7-speed PDK gearbox makes a convincing case for itself over the do-it-yourself manual with its immediate gear changes. The exhaust note is a bit less musical than the previously naturally-aspirated GTS, but the new-found torque is an acceptable trade-off. The turbocharged, 3.0L flat-6 engine delivers crisp response and neck-snapping acceleration all the way to an impressively high 7500rpm redline. And yet, despite the breathtaking performance, driving the GTS is a surprisingly drama-free experience.
Next to the visual and technological differences, the biggest change from 1976 to 2018 is the accessibility of extreme performance. Unlike the 930, the 991.2 is forgiving of driver errors and turns ordinary drivers into racetrack superstars. All that progress and refinement does come at the expense of character and involvement, but then, that’s a concession that every modern car must make. After driving these two great icons, what’s clear is that, even after all these years, the 911 continues to lead the way as the ultimate everyday sports car.