White knuckles. On the steering wheel. On the nondescript shifter. Reaching for the inexplicably complicated HVAC controls. I was probably – no, definitely – gripping everything way harder than necessary. This was not the fastest car I’ve ever driven. Or the sketchiest. Or the cross-set between the two, that distinction belongs to my 150,000 mile Dodge Neon SRT-4. But this Porsche 911 was my first rear-engined experience, I was driving hard, and I was terrified.
There is no disclosure for this review. A family friend, Adam, appreciated the few reviews I’ve done and offered the opportunity to “drive the shit out of” his 50k-mile Porsche 911. I begrudgingly obliged.
I’ve never been a Porsche fanboy. I’ve also never thought of them as overgrown Volkswagen Beetles, as some opinions famously go. I guess my feelings about the Porsche 911 have always been excessively neutral. I’ve always known that they were iconic, that they’ve changed less than the Nissan Tsuru (here’s a picture of it in 2016, unchanged from 1991), and that they have long been a performance benchmark. I’ve never been that interested in learning about them. They were a little boring, to be honest. A little complex and nuanced, but I knew the basics: rear wheel drive, rear-engined, simplistic, visceral. The gentleman drivers car, although that’s not very descriptive. It was even known as The Widowmaker, for a time. How’s that for descriptive.
What is it?
The Porsche 911 is a model that dates back to
1964 1963 (I was one year off from the top of my head, not bad for not caring about them) when Porsche looked to develop a successor to its 356. I’ve always thought that ‘successor’ is an odd term, seeing as their styling was so incredibly different. The 356 reeked of the 1950s; everything was round and futuristic, with big steel wheels and shiny chrome bumpers. It was a Beetle for the new age, I guess. I don’t really know. But the first generation Porsche 911 was sexy. It smelled like 60s speed. It had big, round fenders (read: butt) and tail-lights that would not look at home on a mid-century racecar, which was a nice thing from a developmental design perspective.
So what the hell is a Carrera? I’m going to google it right now and tell you, because I’ve never known. Oh – that makes sense. It’s a Spanish word that means ‘race’, and another opportunity for me to start rolling my ‘r’s in casual conversation. Apparently, legend goes that Porsche did well in a race in Mexico in the 50s, and decided to personally commemorate its sports cars that way. Porsche still uses it on the rear end of 911s today. It’s a nice word, I’m game. Let’s move on.
Why does the Porsche 911 (especially the 993) matter?
The Porsche 911 proceeded to dominate the German sports car market for 6 largely-unchanged generations. It used a simple and repeatable formula: a rear wheel drive, rear-engine layout with minimal driver-assistance technology. This allowed it to stay a raw, engaging sports car while its contemporaries ballooned into Touring cars to appeal to a wider market. The Porsche 911 stayed true-to-form, attention requisite and dangerous. It’s also very obviously quite iconic. If you show someone uninterested in cars a profile shot of a 911, chances are they’ll at least recognize it as a Porsche. Here, try it out with a nearby friend or lover. I’ll wait, I’m patient.
But what about the Porsche 911 993? It wasn’t the most-new Porsche, or the biggest discrepancy in design in the history of the model. In fact, it was lauded as being a return to form after the divisive 964 model, which was infallibly 80s in nature. The significance of the Porsche 911 993 lies in what it doesn’t change; it has been regarded by many as the final true Porsche 911. It was the last model to receive the pure, air-cooling method of loud fans instead of the water-cooled radiator that followed. It exuded mechanical excellence, and in the eyes of some, superiority. It was the last of a very specific, remarkable, long-standing breed.
This is tough to discuss for a Porsche 911. There’s not much new that can be said. The design of the car is beautifully simple, and unmistakeable. New generations and special editions have added and removed various touches of its overall character, but this base-model Carrera has a shape relatively unchanged from 33 years of development. It is one of the only models that would be easily recognizable to someone who woke up from a Woodstock-induced coma. One could argue that it hasn’t changed much because it was essentially perfected at birth. It is fully driver-focused and German; every inch serves a specific purpose and is meant to improve the driving experience. And don’t get me wrong, I appreciate that. But lets try to poke some holes in an old ass design.
The short front and rear overhangs are actually, now that I’m actually looking at them, are a little unbecoming. They look like a person whose forearms are too short for their biceps and hands. It’s a trait that may be important as a drivers car (spacing out the axles as much as possible) but is a little awkward in profile view. The wheels are absolutely classic though. Don’t try to talk shit about those.
That paint though – holy shit. I don’t think I’ve ever seen more beautiful, consistent, and interesting paint on a car. The images capture about 1/10th of everything happening there. It was blue in some light, green in others, and impossibly mixed whenever it received a passing glance. It felt alive, and contributed wildly to the 90s feel of the car itself, and affected the way that your eyes followed the classic, Porsche 911 lines.
My favorite aspect of the overall look is the flow of movement from headlight to taillight. It’s smooth like water. The lines blend together and blend together, ending in a gorgeous bisecting red line of brake light. This is something I view as an improvement. The decision to connect the taillights like this adds a modern, futuristic look to a classic piece of design. Like painting a Robocop visor on the Mona Lisa. I dig it. But this is all stuff I’d seen my whole life on the road and had plenty of time to analyze and judge. I’d never been inside a Porsche 911 before.
Let’s start by addressing this terrible picture that I took of the door. There’s nothing interesting about the image. It’s purely documentary. I need to slow down and focus on what I’m photographing. That said, it had some really nice use of mixed materials. The soft two-tone leather, complemented by the deep blue alcantara. I forgot to get another picture of the door sills, but they were incredibly boring. You can see from there that there’s just nothing happening. I think door sills are integral to good cabin design because, apart from the side of the seat and the door handle, they welcome you into the car. That’s something that deserves more attention.
I think I redeemed myself with this edgy shot. I two parts love, one part hate these gauges. There were a lot of them, all beautifully circular. And they were pleasantly minimal, in a German sort of way. But they were boring, convoluted, and not worth trying to understand while driving above 5mph. If one of those lights were to come on under hard driving, I would have had no idea what to do. Most of them had symbols I had never seen before. As a side note, the clock was directly to the left of the speedometer, in a slightly smaller circle. What? Why? Just so that Porsche engineers don’t have to think about somewhere else on the dashboard to stick a clock? Gauge cluster real estate is valuable, they could have put more driver-pertinent information there, or just spaced out the existing information and made it easier to understand. It felt gimmicky. And the German commitment to efficiency in engineering would never intentionally make a gimmick.
In a few words, the cabin was barren. The backseats were unusable – even for family friend’s skinny middle/high school children. The buttons were stupid and poorly labeled. The HVAC control was nonsensical and blew the faintest distinction of air. I guess all the air in the Porsche 911’s general vicinity was was being used to cool that flat-6 engine. There was very little beauty, or even continuous design, to the car’s interior. I was ready to be underwhelmed. I didn’t expect much. And it was still a bummer. But you know what was crazy? None of that shit mattered at all.
Alright, time to get into it. I wrote every other part of this review first because I was… well, I was a wuss. I was afraid of upsetting purists (god forbid a purist read anything I’ve ever written), afraid of being unkind to the memory of the car or the experience, or afraid of not effectively conveying how the car made me feel in an interesting or engaging way. This was also the first car I’d had the blessing to review with some hard driving. I was very gentle with the only other performance car I’d driven for the purpose. I’d never talked about this stuff before! Alright, alright. Let’s go. It started off like a roller-coaster. I backed out of the driveway and started down the neighborhood road thinking huh, this isn’t crazy! What’s all the fuss about? And then I merged onto 2222, dropped it into second gear and aaaaaaaaaaaaAAAAA!
This thing fucking rocks. Like, really, really, really rocks. It was unlike anything I’ve ever driven. I had driven the hills and twists of 2222 and City Park Road at higher-than-legal speeds in other cars – the site of my first and only speeding ticket, the day after high school graduation, actually – but nothing had ever felt like this. I’m going to stay away from clichés after this, but the Porsche 911 was pushing me more than I pushed it. My parents were nice enough to buy me a performance driving course for my 18th birthday (pre-speeding ticket, no correlation, I promise Mom) and I used every memory of that training while following the road lines of 2222 in this car. Every turn was incredible. Every downshift was a reward for a successful lift at the apex. I was in heaven. Scary, dangerous heaven.
It was what driving a car should feel like. And good God, it was frightening. It was an open invitation to push the car harder, take the next turn faster, and run at consistently higher RPMs for longer periods of time. I haven’t read about the ideal power band for the flat-6 engine in this car, but 5,000-6,000 RPM created a sound from the rear of the car akin to my dog when I give him an especially juicy peanut butter bone. A little too much pleasure to be appropriate for the situation. The Porsche 911 didn’t purr, it moaned. All the while, the fan flaps furiously; the exhaust yells at you in fluent German. To make matters worse, it constantly encouraged you to keep it in this state. And this was before I’d even gotten comfortable with it.
The real fun – and fear – came after turning around and heading down City Park Road. I’d received the continued blessing to push it harder, so I did. 55 miles per hour on a one-lane road was where I started to understand the difference of a rear-engined car. I never understood what a reviewer meant when they called a car ‘squirrelly’, but I get it now, so I’ll try to explain. Squirrelly is the feeling that makes your butthole pucker when you lift off the throttle and feel, for a moment, that the rear wheels haven’t quite found their place on solid ground. They need a moment to settle back into their comfort zone, like my dog when I give him an especially juicy peanut butter bone. It’s a feeling that makes your left foot vibrate in-time with the clutch, while your right foot deliberates between hard throttle and hard braking. It’s downright intoxicating.
This 22-year-old Porsche 911 was the sole greatest thing I’d ever driven and I was fully addicted. And this isn’t even people’s favorite model. What the hell else have I been missing? Every single thing about the interior that had left me disappointed had completely vanished from memory. It was all wholly irrelevant in the context of association with the most incredible, superlative-laced driving experience I had ever had. I crave more of it every single day, which brings me to my next point.
Would I daily?
Are you kidding me? Anyone with the opportunity and not taking advantage of daily-driving a Porsche 911 of any kind is making a massive mistake (no offense, Adam). The very thought of having this mind-numbing adrenaline even just in traffic is maddening. In the words of Liz Lemon, I want to go to there. I would give almost anything for the opportunity. You should too. I am a changed man. I’ve seen the light. I’m a fanboy. A Stuttgart Sycophant. I want it like Turbo wants an especially juicy peanut butter bone. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go live vicariously through someone actually living this experience.
Heather Kruger says
Awesome article AJ!!
Will Hancock says
Great review – as someone who has been a fan boy for a long time and the proud past owner of a C2s Cab 996 with a PDK. I can tell you nothing compares. I have driven 500k plus cars and I would rather drive a 911. I am always looking to find a Targa 4S in Gulf Blue. Also I think a really funny story you should read is how the 911 got its name.