Then & Now: Porsche 356C & 911 GTS

Then & Now: Porsche 356C & 911 GTS

That’s not a real Porsche,” intones my friend Tony Vaughan. He motions to our shiny Sapphire Blue test unit with disdain. The man has a fine collection of cars hailing from the iconic Stuttgart-based manufacturer. I am unqualified to dispute his assertion, other than to point out the polished crest on the nose.

With his knowledge of and experience with the air-cooled stars from yesteryear, any argument would only leave me blabbering incoherently. Truth is, putting together an evaluation relating to anything wearing the 911 moniker makes my palms sweat. The technical minutiae of things can be tricky to remember. What if I confuse the series codes? Can I stomach the ridicule from my peers? Will I have to find another job? Darn it, Porsche, why do your cars all look so similar in the first place?

Thankfully, my Porschephile colleague Thomas Falkiner has never called me out on my ignorance. His ability to weigh-in on the nuances of models in the lineage is enviable.

When my turn came to sample the 991.2 Carrera GTS coupé, I figured that a simple side-by-side comparison would help kick-start my education. As you can tell from the pictures, one is old and one is new. Wait a second. Or is it the other way around?

Silliness aside, the 356 was the precursor to the 911. Featured here is iteration C — the two versions that preceded it were dubbed A and B. Production started in 1948 and ended in 1964. This final evolution of the 356 had cutting-edge innovations such as disc brakes at all four corners. The model owned by Tony has been restored to concourse standards. You might have seen it at a classic car event, alongside his 1962 356B and 1965 911L.

Everyone thinks this, but to verbalise the contrast is utter sacrilege: it sounds like a Volkswagen Beetle. No coincidence, of course. The novelty of hearing one putter away in reality is quite endearing. With its skinny tyres, Tony’s car scampers effortlessly up the narrow path onto the fairway at Steyn City for our photo shoot. The considerably heavier GTS clambers more gingerly. Parking abreast offers a proper demonstration of the dimensional growth that has taken place, where the new car dwarfs its cute forebear.

A new product is always going to cast a light on the deficiencies of predecessors. Obviously, comparing the two would be grossly unfair. But evaluating the 991.2 in the context of its peers … well, that’s another story. You see, like the Volkswagen Golf or BMW 3 Series, the 911 is considered the archetype of its category. The product that rivals try to dethrone.

And for many, the opportunity to drive this Carrera GTS will reset the barometer. Forget how well it excels in the real world, with its decently-sized front trunk, clear sightlines from inside and impressive refinement, the drive is what it’s all about. That word “balance” is often used in contemporary 911 road tests for good reason.

From the linearity of its power delivery (despite using a turbocharger) to the crisp, precise steering character, the whole package speaks of thorough engineering – with no idiosyncrasies. As for the engine being in the wrong place? Well, I think the electronic aids have remedied those old 911 reputations for pendulum-like waywardness. Six decades from now, when an all-electric 911 pulls up alongside at a charging station, we might wistfully recall the days of “real” Porsches like this. Ah, progress. – Brenwin Naidu (Pics: Waldo Swiegers)