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Boxer vs. Countach vs. 911 Turbo (CAR archive, January 1976)
01 August 2012 11:00
The noise pulled faces to every window as the cars went through the villages. The sight dragged crowds to every square. Mouths gaped. Eyes stared. Fingers pointed. Children squealed. The people of the Pennines had never seen anything like this, and if they found it hard to believe then so did we, for it had taken more than a year for the dream to be realised and there were times when I for one had feared it never would. But there I was – there we all were – with the wheels solid in our hands and the throttles firm beneath our feet and the noise loud in our ears as we whipped along the roads to the moors, roads chosen with meticulous care for their ability to extract the best and worst from each of the three cars and so provide us with the answer we had sought for so long. Which one is best?
Three, four times it had almost come off in the preceding 12 months. But each time something went wrong. Once it was the Countach that left the country hours before we were due to get it. Another time it was the Porsche that was unavailable. Then a truck crashed in front of the Ferrari and the mechanic preparing it for delivery to us next day couldn’t avoid it; it was hollow compensation that he wasn’t hurt. Someone else blew the next Boxer’s clutch in an effort to determine its acceleration times, so we had to live again with disappointment. Summer faded, the five Countachs in the country were firmly in their owner’s hands and it looked as though we were going to take the Ferrari and Turbo to Switzerland – and to hell with the weather – where Lamborghini boss Rene Leimer had said we were welcome to his own Countach, anytime.
But then we found William Laughran in Lancashire. His Countach was ours, and in the end it all came together like a military operation. I went north first in the Boxer and about the time I booked into the hotel that was to be our base Leonard Setright boarded a plane for Newcastle. The Turbo was waiting for him there, and he drove it from one side of England to the other sufficiently quickly to arrive in time for a late dinner.
Photographer Franklyn and third driver Sturgess stumbled in, tired and cursing, a little later after a hard flog from London in a Toyota Land Cruiser that had been chosen in in an unfortunate moment as our back-up vehicle. Forty miles away the Countach waited in its garage. Everything was ready at last.
The Boxer and I had been together for almost a week. We had dribbled around town together and blasted down motorways at speeds approaching its maximum, and we were as close as I suspect it is possible to get to a beast with a heart as enormous and indomitable as this one.
When the 4309cc flat-12 is very cold it grunts in response to the whining starter motor. You keep the key cranked over for a few seconds. Foot pumping, and certain that you’re going to drown it: two high capacity electric pumps and four triple choke Webers dump a lot of fuel into an engine. It seems to go on for minutes. And then there’s a grunt. You pump again. It dies. You try again. 10 or 15 times it will grunt back at you like this. But you’ve been told to be persistent; and then there is a bark. A fierce, stunning bark like that of a Formula One car except that the beat that follows is steady and free from the popping and spluttering of the race car engine before it warms. Nor is the noise quite so savagely loud. But, by God, it is an awesome wail, deep and unmistakably the end product of enormous strength. Interestingly enough, it isn’t that sharp or cutting as that of the smaller Lamborghini V12. It is basso supremo, and that is why you usually tend to sit and listen to it a moment before clipping the belt on and reaching out for the spindly steel lever in its six-slot gate.
There is nothing intimidating about stepping into the Boxer and driving off. It was designed to be one of the fastest – if not the fastest road car in the world. But it was also designed to be exceptionally easy to handle in cities, for a car so powerful. The engine fits naturally into such a role. Potent – the extent of 380 horsepower at 7500rpm and 302lb/ft of torque at 3900rpm – on the one hand but so polite and…um, docile on the other, the flat-12 is happy to glide up to 2000rpm and then slip into the next gear as the Boxer trickles along with the traffic. Although it has so very much more to give, it never insists on having its throttles opened further. Nor is there hunting or harshness from the transmission; not even at 500rpm in fifth, from whence you can accelerate more rapidly than most small cars can in first.
Complimenting such a powertrain is very light and smooth steering, and while the beefy action of the clutch and the solid clonking of the metal lever in its gate mean that a certain manliness is ever-present in the Boxer, the total feel is pleasing. And then you have a cabin of considerable civilisation.
Open and airy, it provides good all-round vision considering that the Boxer is such a big (it weighs 2722lb dry), mid-engined two seater. The driving position is fine, with simple minor controls.
So blending into the snarl of city traffic with the Boxer is a smooth and simple process, you work with relaxation and confidence, getting your pleasure from the intoxicating lustiness of the engine and the ca-clonk of the spindly fever (it’s a pleasingly efficient sound, that smack as the lever goes to neutral and then fully home). While the BB’s flexibility is exceptional – even by 12-cylinder standards – and the push is strong from 1000rpm, the engine does feel a shade flat until it nears 3000rpm. The effect isn’t exactly cammy but the push in the back becomes really solid. It just goes on getting stronger and stronger until you lift off – only because the tachometer says so – at 7750rpm. The acceleration is just one long, long superlative thrust forward, so outstandingly fast and yet so undramatic too for you have plenty of time to watch the orange tachometer needle sweeping around its bi g clear dial and prepare, as it strikes the warning sector at 7000rpm, to change up the instant it kisses the solid like at 7750rpm. The nose is lifting high with the fully-unleashed power then; the nose is a magnificent bellow. A dab of the clutch, a quick tiny movement of the forearm and the lever is forward, across and into second in a flash. The speed is precisely 60mph, the revs as second gear takes up are 5400rpm – solidly I the power band – and the matching of the ratios perfect for a change so smooth it does not interrupt the surge forward. It’s the same going into third at 80mph, and into fourth at 112 and then, if the road is there, into fifth at 148mph. Our BB took 5.3secs from 100 to 120mph in further, and 7.4 seconds in fifth, running on strongly to 170mph where its progress finally began to slow down a little. That’s the maximum we’ve seen so far in a BB, but there is more to come and a friend who owns one of the first Boxers to arrive in Britain has cruised down the German autobahns in excess of 180mph. Ferrari claims 188mph, and 0-60mph in 5.4secs.
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