The Porsche Carrera GT is – or was – arguably the world’s best-selling supercar. Initially Porsche planned to manufacture 1500 of the mid-engined targa-topped two-seaters, but the Leipzig production line called it a day at 1270. Which to even the most jaundiced-eye looks pretty impressive for a clean-sheet Le Mans-inspired £330,000 supercar that’s capable of a genuine 205mph Mind you, each one made Porsche money, and each one was sold before it was built. 'I am very happy with 1270 sales – it’s the highest number of supercars ever sold in a single production run,' says Michael Hölscher, who led the Carrera GT development team. So, how much money did it actually make? Hölscher smiles. ‘Not a lot. But enough.'
The Porsche Carrera GT is hardly the most exotic looking supercar, is it?
True, the Carrera pales in comparison to flamboyants like the Zonda and Enzo, but that’s because its looks have been determined by function. I interviewed Harm Lagaay – the Dutchman who headed up Porsche’s design and oversaw the Carrera GT - and asked how he would respond to the criticism that the car looked at best anonymous and at worst like a beefed up MR2. He looked at me disdainfully and replied that the car looked the way it did because that was the way it would function best. It was a short interview.
So let me guess – all the excitement is underneath the carbonfibre skin?
Well, if peerless engineering and exotic materials excite you, then the Carrera borders on the pornographic. As you’d expect, it’s that engine that takes centre stage. The 68-degree 5.7-litre V10, salvaged from Porsche’s aborted 2000 Le Mans programme, has a sand-cast block, which meant only three can be made in a 24-hour production cycle. And its integral cast timing chain cover means the engine will be bespoke to the Carrera GT application. Its conrods are engineered from hydroformed steel, its sump has ten pumps, and the ceramic clutch, smaller and lighter than any other road car with this level of performance, can handle up to 16000rpm – that’s twice peak power.
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Of course - the list of engineering excellence goes on. The carbonfibre engine cradle and passenger cell comprise 1000 layers, each one lovingly cut and laid into the mould by hand in a five-day process. The springs and dampers of the wishbone suspension are mounted inboard, the wheels are made from a forged alloy that’s a third lighter than magnesium, and that rear spoiler creates precisely 400kg of downforce at maximum speed, split exactly one third over the front and two thirds over the rear. 'But this is technology to bring us forward rather than tech for technology’s sake,’ Hölscher points out.
Talk me through the cabin
Like the exterior, the cabin is equally bereft of frippery. There’s your standard set of five dials and a thing-rimmed three-spoker wheel, with climate, sat-nav and audio controls mounted on the thin floating centre console, dominated by the narrow gate for the gear lever. And that high-mounted wooden gearknob – filets of varnished beechwood – tips its Le Mans hat to the balsa-topped gearlever on the all-conquering 917 racecar, although then it was used more to avoid the heat transfer from the transmission than any significant weight-saving exercise. The seating position is low and the floor-hinged pedals are perfectly placed. Forward visibility is excellent which is just as well as the leather buckets lack real adjustment. Rear visibility is pretty poor, not helped by the 70mph-activated spoiler that literally cuts rear visibility in half, and the handbrake mounted down by the left-hand sill is difficult to operate.
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Come on then, what’s it like to drive?
Brilliant. Pure, full-fat unadulterated brilliance. But you have to work hard to tap into this inspired performance. For a start that clutch is a nightmare. Being so light and with the engine having so little flyweight effect means stalling is an embarrassingly normal state of affairs. You either have to ease the clutch out at idle with your foot off the trigger happy throttle to get the Porsche rolling forward, or give it plenty of revs and drop the clutch for a tyre-smoking launch. Neither of which are perfect for everyday traffic. The low-speed ride is unflinchingly hard, the steering is nervous and the engine, which has a soundtrack controlled by a pause button rather than a key, initially feels truculent and sounds gruff. All of which combine to make the Carrera GT feel intimidating and twitchy. It’s no point and shoot supercar for the Playstation generation.
It’s only above 3000rpm that the ride, steering, chassis and engine really start to work their magic. But boy, what magic. The engine’s exhaust note suddenly sounds like an F1 car in full cry and delivers an incredible dose of eyeball flattening acceleration that just seems relentless. With just 1427kg to shift, the 612bhp engine swings with a massive performance punch that will leave pretty much everything this side of an Enzo reeling against the ropes. Remember to be gentle with the clutch but brutal with the gearlever through its narrow gate and you can machine gun your way through the gears as the Porsche homes in on its 205mph max speed with a vindictive rabidness. Oh, and the seal around the targa roof are excellent, making the Carrera GT an excellent four-season proposition.
So it’s good at the speed stuff, but what about corners?
More brilliance. One of the car’s key attributes is its forgiving chassis and superb steering that together allow you to extract the best that fabulous engine has to offer. The more speed you add, the smoother and more fluid the ride becomes, allowing you to sew a series of bends together with real precision and confidence. And the brakes are extraordinary too – the centre pedal is full of feel, so you can repeatedly lean on them hard. Body control is rock solid, the balance from the mid-engined layout is excellent and grip levels are incredibly high – breach them on public roads and if you’re lucky enough to walk away from the wreckage, it will be straight into court.
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I’ve heard it can be a handful…
You heard right. You can drive the Carrera GT at seven tenths all day – which by normal standards is still phenomenally quick – but you’d better have your go-fast synapses all snapping together if you push harder. Push the Porsche closer to its edge – the chassis and steering tell you all you need to know about grip levels and stance – and you’re aware of just how fast you’re travelling and how quick and talented you will need to be. It doesn’t, to be blunt, suffer fools gladly.
There’s no denying just how significant a mark the Carrera GT makes on the supercar map. Expletive-inducingly quick, beautifully balanced and phenomenally engineered, it’s the kind of car that will deliver the goods all day every day for the rest of its lifetime without hiccup or complaint. Hölscher reckons the biggest lessons Porsche has learned from the Carrera GT are those of materials and the weight-saving possibilities they hold for more mainstream 'We have learned from the Carrera GT programme how to work with carbonfibre, ceramics and magnesium. It’s technology that will filter down into new products,' he says.
And there is no successor in the wings. 'We don’t want one,' says Hölscher. 'We have promised customers that there will be no successor. It would kill the value of the GT overnight. But we will always demonstrate that we are a leader in technology. We know the Enzo is faster but we don’t care. We’re more concerned about dynamics and balance than outright top speed.' Just what you’d expect from a Porsche.