Driving the classics: the 964 Turbo
We get behind the wheel of some of Porsche’s milestone cars. Well, someone has to do it ...
The door unlocks with the alien twist of a physical key, opens with a tactile click, shuts with a mechanical clunk. The old analogue world is immediately intoxicating, the more so thanks to hand-stitched leather and crisp, solid switchgear.
The key seeks out the ignition barrel, stage left of the fixed, wide diameter wheel. Dash lights appear and blink out, pumps whirr and tick. And then, in the shadowy corner of Zuffenhausen’s private underground car park, an original 964 Turbo thumps into life.
The tribe turns up at the doors to the museum at first light, to be greeted by an amiable security guard who lets us in, drops some keys into our hands and waves us off towards the basement. Here we find the museum’s very own 964 Turbo, the original 3.3-litre car that normally sits on display alongside other milestone models in its jaw-dropping collection, parked up in a bay by the entrance. Gleaming, menacing, under low neon strip lights. Its tank full of fuel.
When the tribe was invited to the secretive Freunde Luftgekühlter Boxermotoren it was Christmas come early – a bus to Weissach couldn’t have dulled the excitement of that day. But Porsche likes to do things properly, which, today, means arriving in an air-cooled icon of our own.
The 964 was a significant leap for Porsche, developed during the mid-1980s to replace the final G-Series cars with something considerably more evolved and technical for the demands of modern performance motoring. Power steering, optional four-wheel drive and Tiptronic transmission, coil springs and shocks – this was an almost completely new car, revised and rethought in every way. Yet still every inch a 911.
Out back was an all-new air-cooled 3.6-litre flat-six that revved to a little shy of 7,000rpm, generating 244bhp and 310NM of torque. Performance was comparable to the outgoing 930 Turbo, while tractability and were refinement were in a different league.
A year later, in 1990, Porsche unveiled this, the new Turbo, at the Geneva Motor Show. The latest performance flagship, this car was tasked with the unenviable challenge of replacing, and improving upon, the definitive 1980s supercar. To make matters trickier still, Porsche’s engineers had not had time to develop a turbocharged version of the new M64 3.6-litre engine, so had been forced to return to the 930’s less sophisticated 3.3-litre unit.
An extensive overhaul of the already highly-evolved 930 powerplant managed to significantly reduce the infamous turbo lag while increasing both power and refinement. The 964 Turbo’s 315bhp would whisk it to 62mph in 5.0-seconds dead and on to a top speed of 167mph. And that despite an increased kerbweight of 1470kg.
Out on the road today, perhaps the most striking initial impression is just how easy this generation of Turbo was, and is to drive. Gone altogether is that sense so prevalent in the G-Series models of an old car renewed. The 964 feels thoroughly modern, without sacrificing that vital 911 lineage, with its sit up and beg driving position, bluff dash and floor hinged pedals.
Everything is instantly recognisable as a 911 in the truest sense, and yet the controls are light, the engine refined, the sense of steadily increasing speed offset by an unprecedented level of quiet, luxury and comfort, aided and abetted by a full leather interior, plush carpets and various unexpected electronic ancillaries. Power steering yes, but also ABS, air con and even airbags.
Along the autobahns the Turbo mingles with rapid commuter traffic almost thirty years its junior without discernible effort. And a firm dab of right foot reminds you that there is still performance to spare.
Away from the hustle and bustle, onto the winding rural roads that plunge into the Black Forest, the Turbo’s alter ego readily emerges. Modernised as it may be, there is work to be done in a 964, the gearbox demanding a physical authority long forgotten by today’s cars and drivers. That floor-hinged throttle needs a firm prod, and as the revs build angrily, mechanically, behind you and the turbocharger thrusts you up the road, it’s a test of mettle to search out the evident acres of available grunt.
And despite our protestations of modernity, it’s essential to remember that the 964 Turbo was a witness to the collapse of Communism. Pushing it through a series of tricky off-camber corners, with significant drops on either side of the road and no shortage of on-coming cars, it’s easier to recall the intimidating reputation of the not-long-hence 930 than to feel any real relationship to the 21st Century 911 – a mild anxiety heightened by this car’s particular provenance: almost as fresh as the day it was born, the odometer reads just over 11,000km. It’s barely run in.
During the course of our long day with the 964 Turbo the tribe mixed with Porsche’s friends of the air-cooled engine, experts to a man, all of whom loved ‘our’ car for its incredible condition and relative rarity – a little over 3,500 were made in three years – its perfect period colour scheme and its significance as a bridge between Porsche’s old and new world orders.
The long way home to the Stuttgart allows for further exploration and appreciation of this car’s remarkable depths. Easy through the urban crawl, its steering light and precise, the 964’s compact dimensions are another aspect of older 911 ownership absolutely lost to the modern driver. Yet inside, the driving position is superb, the cockpit ergonomics a faultless exercise in common sense.
On the move again, confidence building, the narrowness of the 964, even in Turbo trim, makes it exceptionally easy to place on the road, its steering and chassis endlessly communicative without being intrusive. Accelerating hard through second, third and fourth, the power delivery is remarkably linear considering this engine’s infamous ancestry, and the sense of speed, the thrill and fear of it, a world removed from today’s heavily cosseted performance cars.
Back off the throttle mid-corner and the weight transfer is immediately evident, but keep it balanced, turbo spooled, and both traction and acceleration on exit is incredible. It’s easy to see how the addiction starts, the twin challenges of rear engine and turbocharging demanding a deft touch and a healthy degree of commitment that, tricky as it is to get right, could not be more compelling when you finally do.
Only a shortage of time, and a marked sensitivity as to the importance of this particular car, can rein in what is rapidly turning into one of those drives of a lifetime. As the sun drops behind tall pines and the air cools dramatically on a perfect autumn evening in southwest Germany, it’s time to head home.
Back beneath the museum, the engine falls silent in the near empty basement car park. The driver’s door shuts for the last time, the locks drop. It’s with a very real sadness that we make our way back upstairs, to hand over the keys and call a cab. We probably won’t be doing that again. We would happily do it forever.