Let's put the '80s behind us and forgive the Porsche 911 Turbo

| 11 Sep 2013

While the modern motoring press is getting overheated at the Frankfurt Motor Show, digging deep into the cliché tombola and complaining of sore feet, at C&SC we tend to think back to previous years.

In my case specifically 1973 when a certain silver prototype appeared on the Porsche stand.

Could it really be 40 years ago that someone slapped a Turbo on the even-then-venerable 911, which it has to be said seemed to be doing OK and going plenty quick enough with a normally aspirated 3-litre engine?

What mayhem was unleashed, what cultural divisions were made. Was any car ever more revered and reviled at the same time?

By the time the Porsche Turbo slipped into the late 1980s, like Zagat's, espadrilles and white Testarossas, in the public eye it seemed to simultaneously represent everything that was good, evil and ridiculous in the world. Contemptuous and contemptible in equal measure.

I often wonder if even Porsche regretted its success, rued the hands the whale-tailed driving machine fell into… and then promptly out of as it disappeared backwards through a hedge quicker than you could say Merrill Lynch.

I have been a car nut all my life and think the 911 Turbo one of the motoring world's shining stars and guiding lights, but even I can't entirely ignore everything else in the world to the point that it isn't somehow tainted. To declare your love for a 911 Turbo as a car seems to be akin to bigging up Charlie Manson as a great singer-songwriter.

But I still want one. Surely anyone with a millilitre of petrol in their veins would want a blast in a Porsche motor sport-derived 3-litre single-turbo, rear-engined, rear-wheel-drive Porsche 911. 

Motor magazine certainly did. It called it: 'The finest driving machine you can buy.' 

Yet somehow that reputation got usurped along the way and even Porsche didn't seem to envisage its fate. After all, having launched into an era of glam rock and coming-down hippies, its 911 Turbos had been in production for more than a decade before its brilliance was compromised by its ownership demographic and the rabid tabloids hare-coursing the new privileged.

So I am delighted to note that Porsche sheepishly put out a discreet little press release to mark the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the Turbo's debut. 

Well done Porsche. After all, I've recently bumped into several ardent enthusiasts who drive a 1980s 911 Turbo and they are like the cats that got the cream.

When rehabilitation is complete, I may have to indulge myself. Until then, let's just celebrate it as a great car and jettison the cultural baggage it brings with it.

Here are some stats from that Porsche release… 

  • The original Turbo features the ‘Whale Tail’ spoiler, developed from the 3.0 RS. Later 3.3-litre cars have the ‘Tea Tray’ intercooler spoiler, identified by a flat deck area and a thick rubber lip around the edge
  • Porsche overcame the pause in acceleration in the lower engine speed range (so-called ‘turbo lag’) by charge pressure control via an exhaust bypass valve, which until then had only been used in motor sport. This complex control system made it possible to size the turbocharger so it built up more pressure at lower engine speeds and generated more torque
  • The price of the first 911 Turbo in 1975 was £14,749 in the UK
  • Production of the 911 Turbo 3.0 totalled 2,876 units by 1977
  • When Motor achieved 160.1mph during its road test of the 3.3 Turbo in 1979, the car became the fastest production car the magazine had tested to date. At 12.3 seconds to 100mph from rest, it was also the most accelerative
  • ‘Group B’ 911 Turbos finished 11th, 13th and 15th at Le Mans in 1983, winning the category outright. They were effectively lightly-modified road cars
  • The original 1973 911 Turbo concept car displayed at the Frankfurt Motor Show survives to this day: its 3.0 RS body now clothes a 3.0 RS engine.
  • 930 sales in America were halted at the end of 1979 due to emissions regulations. The model returned in 1986 with a catalytic converter.
  • When it was launched in Feburary 2000, the 996 Turbo was hailed as the ‘world’s lowest emitting automobile’ made possible by itsengine featuring four valves per cylinder, water cooling and the first use of VarioCam Plus valve timing
  • The 997 Turbo was the first petrol-powered production car to feature variable geometry turbochargers, hitherto only available on diesel cars
  • The first 911 Turbo to feature four-wheel drive was the 993-based model introduced in 1995
  • The first 911 Turbo to be available with an optional automatic gearbox was the 996-based model introduced in 2000. PDK arrived in 2010
  • 20,664 of the original (930) 911 Turbos were built, split between 3,227 examples of the 3.0-litre model and 17,437 of the 3.3-litre. Later production included Targa and Cabriolet derivatives, along with rare ‘slant nose’ models incorporating ‘pop-up’ headlamps
  • The most powerful, air-cooled, production line built 911 Turbo ever was the 993 Turbo S model of 1997, featuring 430 hp
  • Continuing the tradition of the 911 Turbo as a technology pioneer, the latest Type 991 model features the world’s first variable front spoiler – powered by pneumatic actuators depending on vehicle speed
  • The latest 911 Turbo S can lap the Nürburgring-Nordschleife in 7 min 27 secs – in 1997, the lap time for the Type 993 Turbo was 8 min 12 secs
  • The 911 Turbo had an especially prominent fan very early on: Professor Ferry Porsche drove his 911 Turbo with chassis number 930 770 088 until 16 June, 1980, for a total of 8,200 kms. Equipped with a steel sliding sunroof, air conditioning, brown leather upholstery and many other extras, this car has since been part of the Porsche Museum collection