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Porsche at 70: a 911 family road trip

Published: 28 May 2018

► A road trip through the Highlands
► We drive 356 to GT2 RS
► 
And bring our own 996

Porsche turns 70 in 2018, and we’ve marked the occasion in the June 2018 issue of CAR with 36 pages devoted to the Stuttgart marque.

But two weekends ago, Porsche celebrated the landmark in its own appropriate way – with a convoy that blasted for hundreds of miles through the Scottish Highlands, running a good chunk of the North Coast 500 in the process 

The occasion wouldn’t have been complete without the Porsche 356, the car that started the Porsche road-car dynasty in 1948. Porsche brought the Porsche Club GB’s 356 up to Inverness, complete with unintentionally perfect ‘ALBA’ numberplate. 

Doing it on a budget: our trusty 996

They also included a selection of mouth-watering new 911s – GT3 RS, GT2 RS, GT3 manual and 911 Carrera T – and invited a few guests on one condition: that they brought their own Porsche. Thankfully, in September last year, I bought my first Porsche, a silver 996-generation 911 3.4 Carrera. I was in. There’ll be a proper introduction to my car – and how to buy something similar – in the July 2018 issue. Safe to say, I’m very happy with it.

I headed to Scotland with the wife alongside, obviously so she could have a lovely time, and because her presence allowed me to drive the flash new stuff along the route without leaving my car somewhere in a layby.

That my generation 911 is the cheapest you can buy quickly became apparent when we arrived at the Novar Estate near Inverness on Friday afternoon. The other guests had turned up with a brace of 964 RSs (the first of the hardcore 911s that came after the ‘classic’ 911 was discontinued in 1989), a classic 3.0 SC, a 993 Carrera (the last air-cooled 911), and a 997 GT3, the last with the fabled and motorsport-derived Mezger flat-six… one guest was even running in his brand new 911 GT3.

Some 911s were closer in value to mine – a 997 Carrera and a 996 Carrera 4S – but there was still a solid £10-20k in it, so I felt pretty chuffed that my 911 didn’t actually look out of place.

In at the deep end: driving the GT2 RS

Nonetheless, it seemed sensible to jump straight in the most expensive, most powerful 911 ever made to get some context on the first leg of the journey. The GT2 RS costs £207k and it’s more than twice as powerful as my car – and ten times punchier than that 60bhp 356 – with 690bhp. It’s an absolute monster.

We headed out on a damp A9, and quickly found ourselves on the more sinuous A835, a convoy of about 15 of us flowing down the road and alongside lochs that reflected the mountains above like perfect mirrors. All of Porsche’s GT division steering precision and chassis tactility feels present and correct in the GT2 RS, but the mid-range wallop adds some serious attitude – and scare factor – over and above the GT3 models – there’s 553lb ft at 2500rpm for heaven’s sake! It’s not a difficult car to drive, but my god that extra shove gets your attention when you unleash it all.

Top of the NA mountain: a steer in the GT3 RS

When I switched into the new GT3 RS at Gairloch – just the £141k, 513bhp and 347lb ft @ 6000rpm –it felt stiffer and even more precise than the previous GT3 RS that was also on hand for back-to-back tests, and still sensational, but it also immediately felt lighter and somehow more nimble than the GT2 RS, despite a similar chassis set up. That its searing, naturally aspirated power delivery was more progressive and manageable also endeared it to me.

The sun had toasted off that early morning damp by now, and the roads were really stunning, even more remote than before with breath-taking views out over Loch Ewe that feeds into the Atlantic. We skirted the coast at Laide and Mungasdale and ran up above deserted beaches, and by the time we reached Ullapool, I knew I’d take the GT3 RS over the GT2 RS if I were spending the money. Nice choice to have, though. 

The Grandaddy: read about the 356 in this month’s issue

As the group re-assembled in a hotel car park, grabbed a coffee and swapped stories of their own cars, I pored over the 356. It’s a beautiful example, owned by Porsche Club GB and fully restored in Heron Grey paint, and with a full mechanical rebuild too – including engine, gearbox and suspension – all having taken place in the last six years. CAR’s James Taylor drives a 356 for our Porsche special this month and summed up its significance: ‘jump behind the wheel… and you can absolutely see and feel the very special DNA still at play in Porsches today.’ Spot on.

Back in the 996

I swapped into my 996 for the next leg, my wife reluctantly taking to the passenger seat. She’d already driven and enjoyed my car, but on these roads and running in this company, she had the proper 911 epiphany – and sent me a link to a much more expensive Carrera when we got home. Result! Just need to get her in a GT3 now (and find some money down the sofa). 

That stretch of road from Ullapool to Kylesku was sensational, and even though my car felt understandably slower and softer and floatier after the RS models, it was still a great drive. The deserted A894 swooped over the terrain with a fairly coarse but far from unpleasant texture that streamed information up from the front tyres and through the jiggling steering, and my car still felt quick and rasped and howled evocatively when I wrung its neck towards 7000rpm.

Forget tucking your cars up all year long, this is what it’s about.

We ran in convoy at a good pace, that classic 3.0 SC behind, the Carrera T up front, seeing very little traffic, rarely having to worry about junctions. When we stopped for lunch at Kylesku, we looked out over Loch Gleann Dubh, which appeared to have been filled from the tap, so clear was the water. 

Carrera T: an argument for forced-induction

I spent the last leg in the new Carrera T, marvelling at the epic spans of the Kylesku Bridge and the Tongue Causeway. The Carrera T was an enjoyable drive too – we often complain about the four-cylinder turbo engines in the 718s, but the flat-six turbo is a great motor and the sharper T really helps to showcase it at its best.

Fantastically low-set seating position too. I spent that afternoon chasing a GT2 RS at a good if far from reckless pace, and listening to its driver get on the throttle before the monstrous wing suddenly got much smaller and the RS spat itself at Orkney. Credit where it’s due, too – our group was led by the 60bhp Porsche 356, and I wasn’t exactly agitating for an overtake! 

The road trip finished at Dunnet Head lighthouse, the most northerly tip of the Scottish mainland, which sticks its head up just a little further than John O’Groats. Our group had driven until the road ran out – the perfect way to celebrate 70 years of a brand that’s all about driving.

Read more Porsche reviews here

By Ben Barry

Contributing editor, sideways merchant, tyre disintegrator

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