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Finding Porsche's best road car - Porsche 911S vs 993

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Convention has it that the 1973 2.7 Carrera RS is the best driver's car Porsche ever made. But what about the 2.4S or the later 993? Time to find out.

Of course, we’d all like a 2.7 Carrera RS. It goes without saying – I’ll take mine in Tangerine, please – but prices for these cars have effectively doubled in the last few years. That’s what happens when a car is repeatedly acclaimed as one of the best driver’s machines ever made. People start to take notice, and the values go up.

So, whereas a few years ago you could have bought a nice RS for maybe £70,000, you’re now looking at £150,000 or more – a right-hand-drive Lightweight version made a cool £220,000 at H&H’s Buxton sale in February this year (and it was finished in Tangerine, too). That puts them out of the reach of all but a few lucky individuals; the rest of us have to cut our cloth to suit our pocket. Which is how the Octane editorial team – forever on the look-out for today’s top buys – came up with this month’s cover feature.

What, we argued over a few drinks in the Wollaston Arms, was the best 911 after the 2.7RS? And which was the best value? Two candidates immediately sprang to mind. Of the classic pre-’74 911s, the 2.4S is the nearest in performance, its 190bhp fuel-injected engine giving away just 20bhp to the 2.7RS. But if you cast a wider net to include all the air-cooled 911s ever made, then the last-of-line 993 represents fantastic value for money and is reputedly a great drive, too.

With the help of two enthusiastic 911 owners, we headed to the wide open spaces of Wales – and the bright lights of Cardiff – to put our theories to the test.

To be honest, I didn’t care very much about how Paul Madden’s Metallic Green 2.4S would drive. I just knew that I coveted it because it looked so utterly fabulous. The so-’70s Porsche colour of Metallic Green is original, and it suits the 911 perfectly.

Paint aside, the 2.4S is desirable for several reasons. But first, as Jennifer Aniston used to say in those TV ads, the science bit.
 
The ‘S’ model had been introduced in 1966 – ‘S’ standing for Super – as the hot version of the 911, upping the standard 2.0-litre engine’s 130bhp to 160 by means of bigger valves, a higher compression ratio and two Weber 40IDS carburettors. A good start.

Over the next few years, Porsche made it even better, by switching to Bosch fuel injection in 1968, and then progressively enlarging the engine to 2.2 litres in 1969, and 2.4 litres – actually 2341cc – in 1972. The 2.4S developed 190bhp at 6500rpm, which is just 20bhp less than the 2.7RS; although the RS did have rather more torque, at 188lb ft compared with the 160lb ft of the S.

Enough facts and figures. Paul Madden’s car is a 1972 2.4S, instantly recognisable to Porsche aficionados by the oil tank filler cap located in the wing behind the driver’s door – a feature unique to this model year. Porsche had relocated the engine’s oil tank in its never-ending quest to improve weight distribution, but since the filler cap was now easily mistaken for a petrol cap – with predictable, if not hilarious, results – they moved it back under the engine lid for 1973.

Another giveaway that this is a 1972 car is its discreet chin spoiler. The 911 had a relatively slippery shape but it also acted like a wing: air passing over the top had further to travel than it did underneath, giving rise to negative pressure, particularly at the rear. At this stage, Porsche didn’t worry about the rear end – you had to be cornering really fast for it to be a problem – but adding the little chin spoiler reduced front-end lift by almost 40 percent.

The lack of a rear spoiler certainly gives the 2.4S the edge over the RS in appearance terms. The Carrera’s ‘duck tail’ was added for a very good reason but it did nothing aesthetically for the 911’s shape. Unadorned, its simplicity means you appreciate the details all the more, from the tiny slatted horn grilles inboard of the front side lights, to the beautifully curved and polished door latches, to the super-slim anodised alloy window frames. It all looks so delicate.

That impression is carried through inside the car, where a slender gearlever sprouts from an almost-flat floor. The four-spoke steering wheel is thin-rimmed, and narrow screen pillars mean the cabin feels light. The car is compact by modern standards but it seems spacious inside, helped by the absence of a transmission tunnel and a general lack of fripperies. You do get electric windows and a sunroof in this RHD car – remember when an opening sunroof was considered the height of luxury? – but the one place Porsche really went to town was the instrument display, which comprises five big dials right in front of the driver.

Settle into the sports seats – an option fitted to this car when new – and twist the key. It’s an interesting experience. You expect fuel-injected cars to run perfectly smoothly from cold but the 2.4S is a little ragged first thing, and there’s even a hand thottle down beside the handbrake so you can keep
the revs up until it warms through. The soundtrack is complex: a mixture of fan whine, mechanical clatter and thrum, and a wet plishy-plashy sound that’s curiously reminiscent of a big, low-compression sidevalve. One thing it’s not is quiet; 993 owner Paul Truckle is amazed how noisy the 2.4S seems in comparison with his own car.

Pulling away from our Cardiff hotel, the morning after a night of ‘guerilla photography’ outside the Welsh Assembly Building – fortunately, the local CCTV operators must have decided terrorists wouldn’t roll up in a brace of 911s – the 2.4S is untemperamental; although most of the power comes in high up the rev band, there’s enough torque to trickle the car through city traffic without rowing it along on the gearlever.
 
In fact, if the 2.4S has a flaw, it’s that the gearchange has a rather springy feel. It has a conventional H-gate, with fifth out on a limb to the right, but – on this car at least – you need to give the lever a little sideways twitch as you snick it from third to fourth. Once learned, no problem: but attempting to force the lever into a slot is doomed to failure. Like any precision instrument, this 911 requires a sympathetic touch.

Travelling in convoy to our photo location in the hills above Crickhowell, there’s not much chance to extend the 911 so Paul and I pass the time in conversation. He gives me the potted history of his car: sold new to a Greek shipping magnate in central London, it later suffered the indignity of being painted Guards Red, like so many ageing 911s in the 1980s, before being bought and restored on Paul’s behalf by a then-young restoration outfit, Early 911. The car required extensive metalwork but the quality of the rebuild was superb and it still looks and feels in concours condition, five years and 15,000 miles later. Paul even uses it on track days – ‘it only really comes alive above 5000rpm,’ he says.

This healthy attitude extends towards urging me to take the car off and play with it for a while on the fast moorland roads around us. I don’t need much encouraging. As Paul has already suggested, you really have to wind up the flat-six to extract its real performance – and to enjoy the unique sound of that Porsche motor howling and wailing through the Welsh hills, the low-speed clatter now transformed into a zinging snarl. From 3000rpm it feels merely brisk and it’s not until you broach 5000, 5500, 6000rpm that the engine finds its second wind and starts to pull fiercely.

It’s not just the engine that’s working hard; the driver must do so, too, for driving the 2.4S quickly is as much a physical challenge as a mental one. The non-assisted steering is fabulously communicative but loads up significantly in tight corners, and you start to feel the effort in your shoulders after a while. Slow in, fast out is the mantra; these early cars run on comparatively skinny 185-section tyres all-round, demanding a high degree of anticipation when you’re pressing on in unfamiliar territory. But then, that’s how you should drive any car, not just a 911, and the Porsche never feels the slightest bit tail-happy on these dry roads.

More of a worry are the grazing sheep that dot the roadside for miles in each direction, oblivious to traffic. Fortunately the 2.4S has disc brakes all round: an emergency stop caused by one such errant ruminant proves that the 2.4S pulls up quickly and neatly without locking the front wheels – which is more than can be said for a Toyota MR2 travelling in the opposite direction. The sheep was quite unconcerned, of course.

Thrumming into the hilltop car park in front of a waiting photographer and rapidly chilling pair of Porsche owners, I’ve rarely wanted to hang on to a car so much. But it’s time to skip forward a couple of decades and try a very different 911, the 993 Carrera.

Self-employed software engineer Paul Truckle owned a Porsche Boxster and (briefly) a 930 Turbo before he bought this 993 four years ago. It’s not an everyday driver and he occasionally wonders whether he should sell it, but says he thinks he’d come to regret doing that. I think he’s right.

Porsche had been going through a tough time when the 993 was introduced in, logically enough, 1993. Sales had been plummeting since the late ’80s and there was even talk of a takeover by Volkswagen or Daimler-Benz. The revival started when Dr Wendelin Wiedeking was appointed as chief executive in September 1992. By adopting Japanese haiken practices to reduce costs and improve quality, he got it back on an upward slope – and the new 993 marked the start of a revival in Porsche’s fortunes.

It was always considered a stop-gap, however. Porsche had taken the air-cooled flat-six as far as it could go in terms of juggling power output with increasingly stringent emissions legislation, and knew that the only solution was to adopt liquid cooling; the air-cooled engine was simply becoming too hot. The plan was to introduce the all-new, water-cooled 996 in 1996. Meanwhile it needed a replacement for the 964 of the late-’80s, which had been criticised for its uninspiring handling and NVH issues.

For a stop-gap, the 993 was a resounding success. Styled by Briton Tony Hatter, it looked elegant, with headlights faired back into the wings; paradoxically, those laid-back headlamps increased the resemblance to early 911s by emphasising the simplicity of the overall shape once again.

A little drama was introduced at the back with wheelarches that swelled over the rear wheels in the manner of an old-style 911 Turbo. In fact, those swellings were necessary to accommodate the wider track that was a corollary of an all-new rear suspension. For the first time ever, the evil spectre of lift-off oversteer had been effectively exorcised.

The solution was deceptively simple. Porsche’s engineers devised a new light-alloy subframe with coil-and-wishbone suspension; cleverly, the wishbone mounts were set up to reduce squat and dive under heavy braking, and to allow a little wheel toe-in when drive torque was reduced – in other words, to lessen a tendency to oversteer if the driver lifted off mid-corner. The double-wishbone set-up also virtually eliminated wheel camber changes in the same situation.

Mechanically, the 3.6-litre engine was carried over from the 964 but heavily reworked – every part was new, said Porsche – so it revved more easily, gave more power (272bhp) and was easier to service; while a new six-speed manual gearbox was made standard alongside the optional Tiptronic four-speed auto.

Paul Truckle’s car has the manual ’box and two-wheel drive; the four-wheel-drive Carrera 4 was introduced in 1994. 1995-on cars had ‘Varioram’ engines, with variable inlet tracts to improve mid-range torque, but Paul’s 993 pre-dates that – ‘I test-drove a couple of Varioram Carrera 4s but this pre-Varioram 2 just felt more spritely,’ he says. After driving it, I can believe him.
 
First impressions aren’t great, however. The car is so understated that it almost seems bland, a look that’s emphasised by the chunky Cup alloys. Things go further downhill when you discover an interior in a dark blue shade strongly reminiscent of a mid-’80s 928, seemingly intended to make plastic trim look even more like plastic.  It’s comfortable inside but also noticeably cluttered when compared with the 2.4S, having grown a centre console over the intervening years. The dash has an identical layout to the ’70s car’s, which is rather appealing, but curiously the steering wheel seems to be offset an inch to the left.

That’s all the carping you’re going to hear from now on, however. To put it simply, this is just a great car in every respect. Start it up and you’re greeted with a discreet, smooth-sounding, bassy engine note with just a hint of a sporting edge to its fuel-injected purr. The gearchange is short and positive without being in the least heavy; the steering power-assisted but only enough to be comfortable.

In fact, the greatest compliment you can pay the 993 is that nothing stands out to interrupt the harmony of the car as a whole. You don’t particularly notice anything about the steering, brakes, gearchange, ride or handling because they all work beautifully together, leaving you to get on with your driving. Whether you’re pottering along on autopilot or feeling in the groove and really flying, the 993 fits in with your mood. It is a Porsche for everyman, every day.

That doesn’t mean it’s not exciting. The power-to-weight ratio is not hugely different from that of the 2.4S – 190bhp and 1075kg of the early car plays 272bhp and 1370kg of the 993 – but the bigger engine is much more torquey. It feels the genuinely quick car it is, and, while it sounds comparatively subdued in normal driving, it develops a character of its own when being worked hard, reminding you that you are, after all, driving a Porsche.

OK, so perhaps it doesn’t ultimately have the involving feel of the 1970s car, but the truth is that it’s also far less tiring to drive quickly. The ride is firm without being crashy and this 89,000-mile car feels as solid as it did when it left the factory. German cars are sometimes criticised for being too efficient but the flipside of that perfectionist approach is that they encourage the serious driver to concentrate on driving as smoothly as possible. And that can’t be a bad thing.

We haven’t so far mentioned money. As you’d expect, the more modern car is now far more affordable than the classic. You can find decent, average-mileage examples of the two-wheel-drive 993 privately from £17,000, and even paying the extra for peace of mind from a dealer shouldn’t cost you more than £24,000-28,000.

Such as, for example, the well-respected Yorkshire outfit Specialist Cars of Malton. ‘Lots of people call the 993 the last “proper” Porsche,’ says SC’s Mark Mullen. ‘They were really well built, and made in fewer numbers than the 996, which was more of a mass-market car.
 
‘Mechanically they’re very strong and there’s little to worry about in terms of corrosion. I always check the panels below the front and rear screens, the wheelarch lips and the stays for the rear bumpers – if these rust, the bumper goes floppy – but that’s about it. Mileage is fairly irrelevant, although suspension bushes and shocks may need replacing after 60,000-70,000 miles.

‘The most desirable non-turbo 993 is a Varioram manual coupe, but colour doesn’t seem to affect value particularly – I recently sold a Carrera 4S very easily that was painted Viola, a lurid purple shade!’

Having his 2.4S repainted in its original Metallic Green seemed a brave choice on Paul Madden’s part five years ago but has paid off since: ‘Back then everyone wanted metallic silver,’ says Nick Moss, who restored the car. ‘Now, they are are going for the bright period colours.’

In fact, Paul’s car has proved a sound investment all round. Nick values it at  £75,000-80,000, which reflects the fact that the S models are rare: only 1750 coupes and 989 Targas were made in the 1972 model year, and slightly fewer for 1973.

‘UK buyers always want the “fastest” version, hence the 2.4S,’ explains Nick, ‘although I personally prefer the free-revving nature of the 2.2S and its dog-leg ’change. Either way, it’s a fact that the S is the only 911 that makes financial sense to restore at present. But there aren’t many about.’

The main problem with old 911s, of course, is rust – as Nick says, ‘anyone who tells you there is no rust in their 911 just hasn’t found it yet’. So, while it is perfectly possible to buy a nice-looking S for less than the cost of a properly restored car, chances are you will simply be deferring expenditure.

If I had the resources, I wouldn’t begrudge for a moment paying the money for a car like Paul’s. But I’ve realised I would probably get more real-world driving pleasure from a 993 at one-third the price. And it’s not often that you’ll catch me saying that about a ‘modern’ – the 993 is that good.

Thanks to car owners Paul Madden and Paul Truckle; to Nick Moss at Early 911 (www.early911.co.uk); and to Mark Mullen at Specialist Cars of Malton (www.specialistcarsltd.co.uk).

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