Every true petrolhead has, at some point in their car-loving life, come across the question, ‘what would you do with your last gallon of fuel?’. It’s a more complex inquisition than you may first think. One final droplet, one last opportunity to indulge in your idea of motoring nirvana, whatever that may be. In truth, the answer to this question probably says more about one’s own automotive preferences than anything else. Personally, my last gallon (98 Octane Super Unleaded, in case you were wondering) would be sparingly siphoned into only one place: the tank of a Porsche 911 GT3 RS 4.0.
Most of you will already be familiar with its credentials, but if not here’s a little refresher. Launched in 2011, Porsche built only 600 examples as a swan-song to the out-going 997 model line. Yet it was so much more than a simple goodbye; rather it was a chance for Porsche to let a lucky few experience the fruits of their success on track, on the road. Stroking the motor meant it grew from 3.8 litres in the ‘standard’ RS to 4.0 litres (hence the name), but the real cherry on top was the crankshaft borrowed from the 911RSR racer, making the powerplant a fitting last hurrah for the motorsport-derived Mezger flat-six, as Porsche’s future GT-models would make use of a new direct-injection six.
Porsche's decision to launch the 991 GT3 without the option of a manual transmission surely has a much to do with used 4.0 RS prices...
Mated to a manual gearbox and bereft of frivolities such as glass rear windows – opting for plastic instead – the 4.0 RS was the antithesis of a motor industry that sought efficiency instead of excitement, and its emphasis on purity and performance was duly noted by the motoring press, winning countless performance car of the year trophies. It’s hero status was seemingly cemented when Porsche announced that the next GT3 – the 991 – would do away with a clutch pedal completely, offering only the double-clutch PDK transmission instead, and even employing electricity to assist with steering duties. The 4.0 RS, then, would be confined to the history books as the purest iteration of the pinnacle of Porsche’s road car development.
Now, I fully understand that my desire to spend my last few petrol-fuelled moments at the helm of a track-refugee, accompanied by the pinging of stones against a carbon bonnet reverberating in a near-bare cabin may not be shared by all. Some may, I imagine, choose to traverse treacherous terrain behind the wheel of a Series 1 Land Rover Defender, or lovingly steer a Ferrari Daytona against a backdrop of Frank Sinatra’s voice and the sky-blue water of St. Tropez. What I don’t imagine, however, is anyone choosing to spend their last few motoring moments being soothed by the quiet cabin of an electrically-powered vehicle. Granted, the ‘last tank’ analogy doesn’t quite apply here – the fact that electric motoring doesn’t rely on energy that will surely be extinguished in the not-too-distant future being its most obvious advantage.
Yet, this, I think, still raises an important point when discussing the application of electricity, particularly with regards to cars whose purpose it is to quicken the pulse. I have no qualm with fully electric cars that intend to merely get one from A to B – electricity for mobility, if you will – but when sports cars, the cornerstone of exciting automotive experiences, employ batteries and the like, the picture becomes less rosy. Of course, the performance benefits of electric power are non-negligible – instantaneous torque and the ability to augment power delivery in places where 'normal' internal combustion engines wheeze away provide amazing solutions to problems that have plagued engineers for eons.
But, when it comes to performance cars (the truly great ones at least), outright speed is far from the only priority. Driving a sports car is an experience characterized by the senses – the feel of an alcantara-clad steering wheel in hand, the sensation of a car devoid of excess weight pivoting around your hips and, crucially, the sound of pistons firing and fuel being ignited. All these senses seem to be curbed when heavy batteries making sounds akin to a muffled food blender are introduced into the equation. At this point, I wouldn’t be surprised if someone raised a hand and shouted “but what of the ‘Holy Trinity’?!”. Yes, they show us that electricity can be used in ways that enhance the driving experience in these ‘sensual’ terms and ultimately have a hand in creating the peak of modern performance cars, but they also show us that this can only be achieved when batteries and KERS systems play second fiddle to dirty, great petrol engines. What’s more, the hybrid systems in these cars serve the sole purpose of providing greater performance with the added efficiency being a pleasant bonus - after all, the LaFerrari doesn’t even feature a full electric mode.
What of the new Honda NSX? Well, if I had a penny for every time someone called it a ‘mini-918 Spyder’ I may actually be able to afford one, but the comparison seems to suggest that the case is no different here: e-motors augmenting not-so-e-engine. So while it introduces hybrid performance technology to the masses, its target market is more David Coulthard than David Attenborough.
Granted, I will most likely retract every one of these statements in a few years when technology supersedes my naïve expectations and creates a true electric sports car in every sense of the word. Until then, I’ll leave you with a quote that aptly sums up the dichotomy of electricity and performance cars – “it’s not how fast you go, it’s how you go fast”. Now, if Mr. Musk could offer his services, my fuel seems to have run out…