Classic Review: 1991 Porsche 964 Turbo

Classic Review: 1991 Porsche 964 Turbo

What would you do if you rocked up at the Porsche Museum one fine Stuttgart morning to find a rare and super coveted 911R waiting for you in the car park? Only 991 of these 368kW, three-pedal special editions were actually built, so the chances of ever getting to drive one are, let’s face it, somewhat slim.

So, yeah, you’d jump at it, right? Of course you would. Well I’ll tell you what I did: after just 20km or so in that extraordinarily uncomfortable and non-adjustable bucket seat, I pulled over and spent the rest of the day piloting what is now the most lustworthy 911 derivative I’ve driven: a mint 1991 964 Turbo.

If it looks familiar that’s because the turbocharged 964 made a memorable cameo in Michael Bay’s 1995 action-comedy Bad Boys. Detective Burnett (Martin Lawrence) didn’t seem to like it all that much — “$80000 for this car and you ain’t got no cupholders?” — but his partner Detective Lowrey (Will Smith) certainly did. And I can see why, because when you’re hunting down Miami crooks in AC Cobras you need one of the fastest production cars in existence. And back in the 1990s that is what the 964 Turbo was.

For the money you couldn’t go quicker. You couldn’t look cooler either. Even today the 964 Turbo is an achingly beautiful thing to ogle, particularly from the rear where those swollen wheel arches and the tea tray spoiler dominate the view.

I never used to be a fan of the 964 series (the penultimate air-cooled 911) but today I think it’s the most successful adaptation of the original car that debuted in 1963. Simply because its modern design features, like integrated bumpers and wraparound front indicators, work with the classic cues that made the first 911 such an icon. It’s a similar story with the interior.

Structurally speaking, you get the same upright dashboard that you got in the ’70s and ’80s but it’s been updated with an airconditioning system that actually works (and that doesn’t require a doctorate in mechanical engineering), a driver’s airbag and power steering. It’s retro cool.

Being a Turbo, this one also has electrically adjustable sports seats that are, in contrast to that spine-shattering 911R, amazingly comfortable. The 964 Turbo is one of the coziest sports cars you could ever hope to pilot. These days fast road cars are all about rock-hard suspension and ultra low-profile tyres. Here it’s the opposite, which means that whenever you encounter crappy road surfaces there’s no need to grimace and wince as every undulation registers a 9.5 on your personal Richter scale. By modern standards the 964 feels a bit soft. And I like it.

So does it rocket forward with the tyre-burning enthusiasm depicted in Bay’s blockbuster? Maybe not immediately, but once you shift into second gear and that big KKK turbocharger gets on full huff, the 964 Turbo still feels properly quick.

Down an unusually long stretch of German country road the 911R remains ahead, but not by much. And when we get onto the autobahn it has no difficulty keeping up with sports cars 15 years younger — quite a thing considering that its 235kW/450Nm 3.3-litre engine is pretty much the same motor that powered the fearsome 930 Turbo back in the 1980s.

Fortunately most of that car’s scary genes have been cut from the 964 Turbo. It’s along these tight, slightly damp forest roads that I’m expecting to encounter firsthand those tales of snap-oversteer woe: the legend of the Widowmaker that delivered many a millionaire to a premature grave.

Yet even when chasing down a modern-day upstart, the Turbo stays stuck to the asphalt thanks to those wide tyres and “sophisticated” coil spring suspension system — the first time it had been used on the Porsche flagship. You even get decent ABS brakes, which is a boon on public roads and gives you one less thing to think about.

Although it’s still not a car for the uninitiated, those familiar with the classic 911 driving experience will find the 964 Turbo surprisingly easy to get along with. Be it thundering down a lost highway or carefully threading the kinks of a Bavarian back road, it operates with all the slick poise and dependability of a well-oiled multi-tool. Which is why I chose it above the 911R to take home with me. Well, in 1:10 scale model form, that it is – there’s no way I’d ever be able to afford the real thing. – Thomas Falkiner