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Happy birthday to the oldest young car on the road

The legendary 911 sports car is what shaped the iconic 70-year-old Porsche brand more than anything else

brunch Updated: Jul 28, 2018 22:40 IST
Hormazd Sorabjee
Hormazd Sorabjee
Hindustan Times
70-year-old Porsche brand,oldest young car on the road,911 sports car
The car demands you to drive it inch perfect, with small and precise inputs of the steering, brakes and throttle

“Which is your favourite car brand?” That’s a question I’m constantly asked, for which you would think I have no easy answer. But I do. I’m an unabashed, out-and-out Porsche fan and absolutely love the brilliant cars made by this German sports car maker, more than any other. Yes, Ferraris and Lamborghinis tug harder at the heart strings with their seductive Italian flair, but once the pulse rate settles, it’s the finely-honed engineering of Porsche cars, built over seven decades, that wins me over.

Perfectly flawed

Porsche celebrates its 70th anniversary this year and looking back on its glorious past, it’s easy to see what makes the brand so special. It’s a rich 70-year-old heritage built on an exceptional breed of sports cars (and later SUVs) and unparalleled success on the race track. But the one car that has shaped the brand more than anything else is the iconic Porsche 911, possibly the greatest sports car of all time.

Rather than moving the engine in the middle or the front, Porsche engineers have fettled the car’s chassis over decades to make the principally flawed 911 handle brilliantly

The 911 stands out as the car that broke the rules and defied convention for over 50 years by steadfastly sticking to a design, which has the engine slung far out behind the rear wheels. Whilst this layout increases cabin space, it goes completely against the fundamentals of sports car design. It concentrates the weight in the back of the car and this inherent imbalance can make a powerful car tricky to handle. Rather than giving up and moving the engine to a location in the middle or the front, Porsche engineers have fettled the car’s chassis over decades to make the principally flawed 911 handle brilliantly.

The first 911 I ever drove was way back in 1990 and it was an unforgettable experience. I had a bright purple 964 Carrera 2 Cabriolet powered by a 3.6 litre, 250hp flat-six motor for a couple of days in the Black Forest. The skewed weight distribution was instantly obvious from the first corner and respect for the car was the order of the day.

Braking news

There is a particular way to drive a 911 and when you master it, the driving experience shifts from scary to exhilarating. The trick is a ‘slow-in, fast-out’ approach to a corner or to finish all your braking (and the brakes on every 911 are simply phenomenal) before entering the corner and progressively accelerate through it. The nose of the car initially goes disconcertingly light, the effect of its lopsided weight distribution, but when you accelerate hard, the 911 squats on its fat haunches to grip the road and the way it corners just blows you away.

I’ve driven many 911s over the years and with each generation they’ve gotten faster, more comfortable and easier to handle.

The Porsche has stuck to the original 911’s template and shunned any temptation to move to a mid-engine layout and that’s made it a legend

One of my most memorable 911 drives was in the Andalusian mountains in Southern Spain. I had a 911 GTS Targa, a sportier variant with an open top, and I couldn’t think of a better car to be in, blasting down empty rural roads that cut through craggy hills on that glorious sunny day. The engine had a spine tingling yowl and begged to be revved. Like every 911, the grip was simply phenomenal and the sheer speed through corners forced me to concentrate so hard that my head hurt.

The driver’s car

This is not a car you can fling around with gay abandon.

It demands you to drive it inch perfect, with small and precise inputs of the steering, brakes and throttle. What I most love about the 911 is how it genuinely rewards the serious driver, and that timeless design, which hasn’t changed in over half a century.

That Porsche has stuck to the original 911’s template designed by Ferdinand ‘Butzi’ Porsche and shunned any temptation to move to a mid-engine (and better balanced) layout like most supercars is what has made it a legend.

Hormazd Sorabjee is one of the most senior and much loved auto journalists in India, and is editor of Autocar India. Sunday Drive appears every fortnight

From HT Brunch, July 29, 2018

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