993 Turbo: A hero you can meet

1w ago


WE are always told not to meet our heroes but, the inevitable disappointment that such an event may cause serves as little deterrent. In the heat of the moment, who wouldn't want to meet their heroes? Talk with them or shake hands with them? How dare we question their greatness by suggesting they could underwhelm us, mere mortals?

Yet, disappointment is, mostly, inevitable. They're not as tall, or handsome, or strong as you think they are. Not as intelligent or well versed as you thought they were, at least not as much as when they were behind a teleprompter or in print. Perhaps the handshake felt lacking, something is missing in your mind, and you'll never be able to see them as you did before.

Once in a blue moon, though, your heroes are as special as you think they are. With this I introduce the 993 Turbo, a hero you can approach.

What could the 993 be other than a hero? It has been described numerous times as the best 911 by an array of magazines. Purists talk highly of the air-cooled motor and manual gearbox pairing with good brakes and OBDII, they think it's some sort of holy grail: This is what you want out of a 911, this is the margarine of classic cars.

So, this 911 has a lot to live up to, and visually at least, it's not striking enough to evoke it's legendary status. It looks like an old 911, and that's kind of it. Maybe the huge, plastic spoiler suggests it's something special, but everything else is understated by today's standards, today's hyper-marketable design that seems inescapable.

The 993 came at a crossroad for Porsche and Germany itself. This car was released shortly after reunification started; I bet that if you dug deep enough into the earlier models you'd find some "Made in West Germany" stickers on the parts.

This car also came out in the same decade that the first fully computer-designed jet liner, the Boeing 777, turned into a common sight in international airports. In a way, it came of an era that wasn't looking for heritage or the past; enthusiasts paranoid about manuals disappearing and engine downsizing would be seen as foolish conspiracy theorists.

The 993's challenging conception can be seen through the styling cues and mechanical features it is endowed with. It's the first 911 Turbo with AWD and twin turbocharging; inevitably compared to the 959. The 993 might be aircooled, a old-school choice, but it was also one of the first production cars to come with the OBDII system; which made ECU upgrades and diagnostics a lot easier. Well, at least compared to OBDI cars. The AWD system, supposedly inherited from the 959, had a smart distribution, to balance the compromise between steering response and traction.

That's where the true creativity of the 993 emerged; the compromises it had to make given the available capital at Porsche, and the available technology at the time. The 993's panels are bloated and slightly shapeless because, even with Tony Hatter's best efforts, the car had to comply with regulations and physics, it had to be slippery, it had to feed volumes of air to the huge turbochargers, and it also had to live with 90s manufacturing capabilities. The 993 was a hand built car, certainly, but over 60,000 were made, and mass produced panels couldn't be bothered with the delicate creases and shapes designers can carve into cars today. In the end, it's a simple, somewhat timeless design.

Even if the 993 was surrounded by compromised decisions, the car feels focused, and absolutely self obsessed. Fuck comfort, fuck quietness, fuck safety, and fuck highway-centric gearing. Tell engine response to fuck off too; you'll only have oodles of lag from this engine; which sounds like a malfunctioning vacuum cleaner. In the company of a modern supercar, for instance a 458, the Porsche pales in comparison. But like other modern cars, the 458 reeks of marketing bullshit.

It may sound counterintuitive, but, the same user UNfriendliness that disadvantages a 993 makes it feel special. It never tried to cater to anyone except those ready to make sacrifices in comfort and usability in exchange for performance. Clearly, flexibility is fantastic, but it dilutes performance cars. The experience is made vague to appease a wider audience. In a sense, if a 458 is a Marvel movie, the 993 is a Marvel comic; much more analogue, much more focused. No manettino switch, no MR dampers, no backup camera, and pillas thin enough to break like chopsticks.

Modern cars like the 458 try to protect you from your stupidity a lot more than a 993 does, and mistakes in a 993 are expensive, uncomfortable, unavoidable, and generally invoke a sense of death unless you treat the 993 with kind of respect the 458 could only dream of from its drivers. Only time can give us this sort of contrast, though. Playful anecdotes of chasing liter-bikes down B-road slowly turn into cautionary tales of the dangers of the 993 by the owner.

The passage of time is what makes me suspect some people are worried about very young drivers in very powerful cars. It's easy to dismiss these old people as ignorant and emasculating, and in turn they'll dismiss us as inexperienced and stubborn. For me, age isn't a linear measurement of maturity: the era a person lives in when they generate their habits shapes their world views, and their maturity.

Whichever way you feel, the truth remains that the 993 cannot be trusted like a modern car. While both a 993 and a 458 need to be approached with care, as they're enablers, the 458 rarely feels dangerous enough to question the types of speeds you can reach in it. The 993 makes you question yourself much more often in that regard, even when driving at a pace some would consider pedestrian nowadays.

The driving experience is hard to explain. This car doesn't hide what it is. For someone my size the low slung cabin is hard to reach and the interior is uncomfortably small. You can feel the hard suspension, and by modern standards the seats aren't supportive at all.

The ignition switch is to the left of the driver like in other Porsches. The clutch is heavy, long, and unforgiving. The gearshift is vague and has a long, sweeping travel. Modern cars have better shifters admittedly, at least when it comes to the throw. But it has a nice feel to it, and to be honest this isn't supposed to be a track weapon like the GT2 or RS models. I hope those had better shifters. Otherwise the shift and clutch are competent and otherwise mostly irrelevant.

I like the steering wheel a lot. It might be huge and the rudimentary airbag looks like a leather wrapped pillow but the thin rim is a delightful departure from the overly sporty, girthy wheels we've come to expect nowadays. It's welcoming, and seems like an honest detail about the car.

The system itself is, well. It's communicative enough, feels heavy and uneager to turn, has a horrible turning circle and it isn't as delicate as something in a Ferrari. At higher speeds many of these issues disappear; it becomes direct and precise once you get going. The shadow of the AWD system does leave its mark however. This isn't a track car after all.

The handling is a point of praise. Keeping in mind I'm not exactly hammering down the B-roads and testing the limits in such a classic car, some details still sort of show. It handles well enough for, even for a 20 year old car, and it even feels more planted than newer cars. The tires are shit in this particular car, and the AWD system's gremlins show through those. In an era of smart torque vectoring and complicated traction systems it feels rudimentary. Under hard acceleration you can feel the front end lose grip, and it's even accompanied by a measure of torque-steer. The rear end on the other hand is well planted until you start asking ridiculous things from it.

Despite the mounting shortcomings, the car makes up with a rigid, compliant chassis, understeer is unnoticeable if smart throttle application is used and oversteer only comes when provoked. I've been told that once the rear slips it's hard to control though. Since the engine is hung behind the rear axle I can imagine that stopping a tankslapper is particularly tricky and unintuitive. It's hard to handle for sure, but with the right driver even with all of this power and all the shortcomings it can prove to be a precise car. It's a bit like an aerodynamically unstable fighter jet; designed that way so that it would be easier to maneuver even if it requires a cluster of computers to stay airborne.

The 993 might only have an ECU, but the rough edges that shine through the playful chassis and eager motor show an ability to upset, or reset the handling status of the car thanks to things I catalogued as defects earlier. This can only be achieved by an ace driver, and the 993's limit is where the deft hand of an experienced and fearless one can come in and make it a truly special car.

I keep comparing it to a 458, and it might seem unfair. But the 458 was a revolutionary car in it's own right, the first Ferrari of it's kind not to be offered with a manual transmission, a truly beautiful design that Ferrari had been unable to achieve since the 355, and a masterfully executed implementation of driving aides. The 458 is only 14 years younger than the 993. It may seem like a long time, but ask yourself how fundamentally different a 2004 Camry is from a 2018 model, or even an M2 from an E46. Looking at these two there seems to be an astronomical leap forward engineering wise, and both seem to be truly timeless in their design.

Porsche and Ferrari started converging at some point, back when the 959 came out it was seen like the brilliant computer age gizmo and the F40 as a purist dream. Now Ferrari seems to be deeply enthralled into bleeding edge technology as Porsche sells low volume specials focused on driver involvement like the GT3 touring, the 911R, the GT2, the GT4, and the 911 Ts like hotcakes, and then getting angry at collectors that flip them for a profit.

I digress,

Was I disappointed by the 993? On the contrary. I was shown that, to some people, the thrill of driving is intertwined with the dangers of driving a machine that is very clearly temperamental and will kill you if you overstep your bound. Nowadays we take safety and speed for granted, the 993 is a humbling reminder that it is an inanimate object; to it life and death don't exist. You're just a fleshy bag of meat.

Usually we're sheltered from our body's brittleness. But behind the wheel of a 993 Turbo, you need to deal with it.

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