Guest contributor: Juan Muñoz on driving the Porsche 911 (993) Targa (part 2 of 2)
This is part two of a two-part feature. For part one, please go here.
There was a moment in time when Porsche was facing a critical decision. It had to make a radical change to its stagnating model range and worst of all, it had to update the 911, which was beloved by the Porsche faithful but growing long in the tooth. We had always been told with every new 911 release that the latest version was still a driver’s car, but with the 993 you felt this would really be the last time that that saying held true. With the release of the 993 the evolution of a 40 year-old concept had simply gone too far, and the time had come for a complete redo.
Oh sure, maybe Porsche could have squeezed a bit of cost savings here, a bit of cost savings there, but truth be told by the mid-’90s the 911 had simply become too expensive to build. It was time to go back to the drawing board for the new 996 and make a car more in tune with the times. Cost-effectiveness was the name of the game, and such economy-mindedness would set off a series of moves that would ultimately result in Porsche earning the crown of most profitable car company in the world.
Turning our attention back to the 993, everything that was bad in the 964 was made good (with the exception, perhaps, of the windshield wipers), and all that was good to begin with was made even better. With the 996, though, the 911 had undergone a complete revolution: a new body and chassis, a new engine, and a new design language. It was the biggest change for any 911 to undergo even to this day.
When the 996 launched it was said to be as comfortable as X and as fast as Y. Everyone wanted one. And perhaps not least importantly, Porsche reached its sales targets. On the other hand, the 911 could never return to the old world, homespun charm of the 993.
It’s very subjective to talk about which 911 is the prettiest of all time, but to yours truly there is no doubt it was and still is the 993. But across the 911′s entire history, there was one body style in particular that I never ‘got’, and that to me is the Targa, the very car we test drove for this feature. One of the reasons I disliked them with an even greater passion was the tiny 16″ wheels that Porsche had installed for the purpose of (to paraphrase) “preventing rattling and violent shaking from the glass roof”.
As you can see, our tester – with larger, sexier Turbo Cup wheels fitted – is politically incorrect as far as Targas go. And we simply love the car all the more for it. You may still not love the Targa, but there’s no doubt the wheels did wonders for the stance. It shakes your senses alright, but in a very different way than the one in which Porsche warned it would. Nevertheless, you might still be biased by the fact that open-roof cars suffer from a lack of rigidity that its fixed-roof variants don’t. I was.
With torsion rigidity figures still on my mind, I sit in the car and suddenly realize how very different it is from the Ferrari. The seating position is worlds apart! The Porsche seems much more “touring car” than race car, with a very vertical windshield and an upright view out the window. You really could tell that 40 years passed with nary a change to the body design. The Ferrari is a delicate piece of engineering, but from within the Porsche’s cabin, the car stimulates the senses (albeit in a very different way) even before the engine is started: the array of various gauges before you, the view from the mirrors that hypnotically invite you to focus on the bulbous rear wheel arches rather than the traffic behind them (which will only become smaller in those very mirrors, anyway).
The engine has outstanding thrust even at lower revs, leaving other cars in a cloud of dust— including the F355. In addition, this particular 993 was fitted with the shorter-ratio gearbox than the more efficiency-minded gearboxes installed in 1997 and later models.
If I had to single out just one feature for praise it would be the Porsche’s sheer brutality. You can feel its raw power pulsing through the steering wheel as it worms its way deep into your soul. You need to be committed – the Porsche’s clutch is not for the indecisive – but once you get used to it, the rest of the driving experience is awesome.
Speaking of the pedals, it would only be fair to mention the one in the middle. Talk about braking feel! The 911 is justly known for its excellent brakes, but only after you’ve tried them do you realize that there is nothing that can match their invincible feel— at least on the road (leaving open the possibility that perhaps some faults can be found on the track).
We were told that the alignment had just been done on this car, but not even that prepared us for the astonishing handling of this machine. The car has just a hint of understeer in corner entry and a delightful oversteer when powering past the apex. It is a joy to drive. How nonsensical and wrong it would be to install stability control in a car like this. When the limits are as exploitable and natural as they are in the 993, only a driver error of catastrophic proportions would make such nannies necessary, and few inexperienced drivers would be so naïve – or so one would think – as to push their luck in an old school 911.
And what about that torsional stiffness issue with regard to the Targa? After repeat hard cornering I can only say that those concerns are simply a non-issue in road driving conditions. If anyone had concerns that the car lost part of its character with the loss of its fixed roof, those concerns can be laid to rest. And here’s an unexpected bonus about the Targa: the open roof fed more air into the car’s cabin than even the Ferrari!
Is the 993 a technological tour de force? Far from it, but that’s hardly an issue since it doesn’t need to be. It is so good that one wonders why Porsche ever wanted to make the 996 (yes, yes: their shaky financial situation at the time). That hint of raw brutality combined with a complete sense of control thanks to its nimble and communicative chassis is found in very few other cars.
The most fascinating commonality between these two cars, the 993 and F355, is that they were manufactured at a technological point in time when cars were properly designed and engineered, but the heavy-handed (and just plain heavy) nanny state hadn’t yet taken hold as is the case today.
The 993 left me speechless. I wasn’t expecting it to be anywhere near this good.
And yet, yet— at the end of the day, I simply can’t get the Ferrari out of my head. I can barely put into words my reason for preferring the Ferrari, but they fall along the lines of the emotions that it produces when you’re in the upper part of the rev counter while listening to the uniquely metallic snick of the shifter as it moves through its gate. These intangibles are something the Porsche simply cannot reproduce. And that is why I pick… the Ferrari.
Words and images: Óscar Martínez and Juan Muñoz
This article originally appeared on 8000vueltas.com. Special thanks to Jorge Azcoitia for the translation from Castilian.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Motoring Con Brio.