How does a standard Porsche 993 Turbo compare with the much-rarer Turbo S? We drive two perfect examples outside Johannesburg, South Africa
Words: Wilhelm Lutjeharms
Photos: Rob Till
Isn’t it remarkable how associations of certain cars and specific events in our lives become etched in our memories? The more impressive the car is, based on your experience of it at the time, the more vividly you remember it.
My first experience of an air-cooled 993 Turbo was during the first year after I finished high school. I joined the Porsche Club in the Western Cape (without having owned a car of any kind, whatsoever), and I recollect that I turned up at the national event in my parents’ 1977 Volkswagen Kombi. Fortunately, I shared a passion for air-cooled motors — and at the very least the Kombi’s engine position and layout (flat-four) was the same as that of a 911s!
My highlight of the entire event was a passenger ride in a 993 Turbo, when its owner achieved an indicated speed of 270 km/h. Up to that point of my life I hadn’t travelled in an even moderately fast car, so the performance of the Turbo impressed me beyond my wildest imagination.
The memory might be all of 22 years old, but back then the car looked devastatingly fast, it certainly felt that fast and, for its day, it was fast. I was eager to find out how the car would stack up today, especially in comparison with its more powerful and much more sought-after sibling, the 993 Turbo S.
Released in 1995 (although a few were produced in 1994), it was the first 911 Turbo to feature four-wheel traction. It was well received by the media and buyers, and even when the 996 Turbo arrived, some unofficial in-gear tests showed that the 993 Turbo still reigned supreme in some aspects.
After all, when the US publication Motortrend tested the 993 Turbo, they achieved a scarcely believable 0-97 km/h time of 3,7 seconds and summed up the car as follows: “the bottom line of the new 911 Turbo states, unequivocally, that this is the greatest road-going Porsche ever created.” Lofty praise indeed.
Based on the 3,6-litre engine from the Carrera, the new engine (M64/60) featured twin turbos for the first time. The 993 Turbo also introduced several new technologies to the 911 range. These included electronic boost control, an exhaust monitoring system, a hot-film mass air-flow sensor and aluminium hollow-spoke wheels – the latter was a first for a production car and reduced the weight at each corner (by 23% at the front, 20% at the rear).
Shortly before the 993 Turbo’s production ended in 1997, Porsche launched its very first Turbo S derivative, unlike today when both models are launched at the same time. Offering the same principle of a near-perfect combination of performance and luxury, the S featured a host of updates that partially justified its near 50% higher price tag than that of the standard model.
The exterior of the S featured a new front bumper that incorporated a revised design with a lower lip spoiler. The rear wheel arches featured those soft and rounded air intakes, the rear wing was also different with two small side air inlets, while the two exhaust pipes featured a quartet of outlets instead of two.
The wheels, which covered yellow (instead of red callipers) were shinier, while most notably the car was lowered by 15 mm, resulting in a visibly hunkered stance with the wheels filling the arches even more convincingly than ever before.
As could be expected, there was a power increase to complement the exterior modifications. The Turbo S’s engine was based on that of the Turbo, but was simply coded with an S or RS after the engine code (depending on whether you had the 316 or 331 kW version). The most notable changes were upgraded turbochargers and the addition of an oil cooler. Porsche evidently succeeded in its aim to offer a special run-out model of its last air-cooled 911 Turbo...
When opening the doors to both cars, the carpet inserts on the cars’ door cards definitely add to the level of luxury. However, if it is a high equipment level you desire, the S ticks a few more boxes. Carbon fibre is used for the inside door handles, door cards, fascia, around the instrumentation cluster and on the steering wheel. On this specific Turbo, the lightweight material (optional at the time) features only on the handbrake lever and gear knob.
The seats are of the same design on both cars, although for some reason I feel like I sit lower in the S, which could be attributed to the differences in how the cars’ seats have worn over the years. Both cars’ steering wheels are slightly off-centre to the left (the case with most early right-hand drive 911s), and the pedals even more so, but you soon get used to their positions.
Further changes to the S include instrument dials in aluminium with inner rings in chrome, standard coloured seat belts, carpet behind the rear seats with neat “Turbo S” logos, roof liner in leather, a self-dimming rear view mirror and, if something is not covered in carbon-fibre, it is likely to be covered in leather.
Its current owner bought from this Turbo new in 1995 and it was one of the first models to arrive in South Africa. Since then he has covered an exciting 85 000 km with the car. By contrast, he bought the Turbo S, which has 50 000 km on the odo as he thought it would make a perfect addition to his collection – we are in full agreement on that score.
None of these cars are trailer queens, as both cars have been driven extensively to the tune of return trips of over 750 km apiece.
With most of the photography done and the track surface quite wet, I was eager to see how the Turbo behaves. It was, after all, labelled Porsche’s first all-weather production supercar, following the limited run of the 959.
The engine catches the moment you turn the key, and sounds only slightly subdued compared with those of the Turbo’s naturally-aspirated contemporaries.
I pull away, short sift to second gear and lean on the throttle pedal. The turbos take a brief moment to spool up, and then above 3 000 rpm the needle immediately stars swinging zestfully towards 6 000 rpm. Moments later I shift across the gate into third, and the blowing noise mixed with that characteristic flat-six note fills the cabin once more.
Red Star Raceway outside Johannesburg is a compact circuit. Even though the track measures 4 km, its corners are notoriously tight. As I approach the first corner, the centre pedal feels firm, and the braking system confidently scrubs off speed. I take it easy through the wet corners, but I have slightly more trust in the car’s grip than I would have in a rear-wheel-drive 911.
The gearshift action is relatively precise and you are never in doubt about which gear you’ve selected or into which slot you should guide the lever next. The steering is notably heavier than today’s cars, but not to such an extent that you couldn’t drive the Turbo every day. After all, the 911 was, and still is, designed to be used daily. A further testament to this is the fact that compared with its predecessor, the car’s clutch pedal travel was reduced by 15%, while pedal effort decreased by 25% thanks to a hydraulically assisted clutch.
I park the Turbo next to the S and, shortly thereafter, climb in behind the latter’s partial carbon-fibre steering wheel. It’s immediately apparent that the S has a slightly deeper exhaust note than the Turbo and, as I did with the latter, I plant my right foot in second gear. Suddenly there is a quicker and more forceful urge from the engine. It feels as if the throttle pedal is more sensitive than the Turbo’s, although that could simply be attributed to the additional power and torque delivered by virtue of the S’s mechanical improvements.
The moment I turn the wheel the S ducks into the corner with more confidence than its sibling, which has to be as a result of the car’s lowered chassis and the front strut brace. I immediately trust and enjoy every corner ever so slightly more than with the standard car and marvel at the additional push from the engine in (what feels like) every part of the rev range.
After I park next to the Turbo, the owner urges me to drive the S some more. However, common sense prevails and I decide to call it a day on a successful track outing with two supercar heroes from the Nineties. What a privilege it was to have driven them back-to-back on a track.
Fortunately there is still some 60 km of driving to be enjoyed on the highway that leads to Johannesburg. Because I drove the Turbo to the track, I opt to return home at the wheel of the S. As the sun sets and the traffic begins to clear, there is, luckily for me, ample space to stretch the S’s legs.
I select to view the boost indicator in the information screen below the S’s rev counter, and watch every time as I put my foot down how it climbs from 0 to 0,8 bar. Even by today’s standards, it feels fast. I survey the wide body of the Turbo through the windscreen and when I cast my gaze slightly lower I appreciate the smooth bonnet and front wings associated with any 993.
The S’s firmer chassis setup feels fairly pliant on the highway (and the track, for that matter), but its stiffness is apparent in the car’s interior — the cabin of the ultimate 993 emits a few more trim creaks than that of the Turbo.
After handing the S’s key back to its kind owner, I reflect on the two cars’ qualities. After a few laps on the track and, having driven the respective cars either to, or from, the track, I realise there are clear differences between them.
In terms of outright collectability, the S is undoubtedly the model to have. However, taking the current market prices of both models into consideration, the S is definitely not twice the car the Turbo is. Interestingly, the price difference in the 90s was also quite significant, and so it remains to this day.
The fact that this is a right-hand-drive version makes it even rarer, as only around 25 of these are said to have been built. One also needs to keep in mind that Porsche’s Exclusive department offered Turbo S engines with 316 kW, and that many customers chose this engine specification for their standard 993 Turbos…
But, Porsche successfully delivered an overall package that does justice to the S badge on the rear of the 993 Turbo. In terms of performance, design and driving experience it pips the Turbo for the ultimate air-cooled 911 Turbo experience, but for half the money, the latter seems a veritable bargain.
1996 993 Porsche 911 Turbo
Engine: 3.6-litre, flat-six, turbocharged
Power: 300 kW @ 5 750 rpm
Torque: 540 Nm @ 4 500 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed manual, AWD
Weight: 1 500 kg
0-100 km/h: 4.3 seconds
Top speed: 290 km/h
1996 993 Porsche 911 Turbo S
Engine: 3.6-litre, flat-six, turbocharged
Power: 331 kW @ 5 750 rpm
Torque: 585 Nm @ 4 500 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed manual, AWD
Weight: 1 500 kg
0-100 km/h: 4.1 seconds
Top speed: 300 km/h