Porsche’s test engineers frequently head to South Africa’s Western Cape region to put development cars through their paces. We explore these roads in two iconic 911s...
Words: Wilhelm Lutjeharms
Images: Charles Russell
As we position two iconic 911s from the 1980s and late-2000s at the foot of Cape Town’s Table Mountain, we have no idea that in only a 45 minutes’ drive from here a delegation of Porsche engineers are also getting ready for a day of testing.
Several manufacturers prefer to conduct their hot-weather testing programmes in South Africa’s Western Cape. The multitude of disguised test vehicles that can be spotted in the province (and country, for that matter) in the summer attests to the lengths companies go to make sure everything has been tried and tested before a product is unveiled under the bright lights of the next car show. And Porsche is no exception to this rule.
In the recent past Porsche has flown international journalists to South Africa to test their upcoming cars. There are several places on the globe where Porsche AG could conduct hot-weather testing, so why does the Zuffenhausen-based company choose the Western Cape as the location for its tests? There are several reasons, as we are about to discover...
A very enthusiastic Cape Town-based collector has allowed us to take two of her 911s out on these roads. She has a number of 911s in her collection but these cars represent two of the finest models that Porsche produced in the 1980s and late-2000s.
She bought the red 930 Turbo (with its 3.3-litre engine) several years ago, while the first generation 997 GT3 RS followed thereafter. “I think the 930 Turbo is one of the prettiest cars of all time. I love the tea tray spoiler and I thoroughly enjoy the way its exhausts pop and bang,” she says. “I’m also very happy I got the RS. It handles beautifully and I really like the colour on this example. I’m a firm believer that an RS should be a specific colour.”
As the sun starts peeking around the edge of the wondrous mountain we pack up before embarking on the first stretch of today’s planned expedition. As most of Cape Town’s residents are still sleeping we set off with the hopes of not waking anyone but given the 930’s rorty exhaust note it’s a fruitless pursuit. For the first half of the trip I choose to drive the 930 and as we depart along the mountain road heading through Cape Town’s affluent upper urban areas the pops and bangs from the exhaust tips make me laugh – they’re anything but subtle.
The driver’s seat is comfortable and supportive, considering the car’s age. The former’s quality can be attributed to the chair’s deep and soft bottom cushion. I potter along the thinly scattered traffic and enjoy seeing the orange RS with its low, black front spoiler in my rear-view mirror – it certainly looks the part.
The 915 gearbox in the Turbo is one of the most solid examples I’ve experienced to date. As expected, you can’t rush gear changes but each shift is more positive and direct than those of most examples I’ve driven in the past. Throughout the whole morning it also did not graunch a single change, which is unusual for these ’boxes.
It is a 60 km drive to Gordon’s Bay, which is situated on the east side of False Bay. While driving on the highway I learn to appreciate the split personality of this 930/66 engine; you can let its revs drop as low as 1 200rpm in second, third or fourth gear and when you put your foot down the engine doesn’t stutter, it will simply start to pull slowly and surely. This is partly owing to the 431Nm of torque the engine delivers.
However, with second gear selected, I put my foot down at 2 000rpm and watch as the needle climbs steadily towards 3 000rpm. Past that point it starts to pull more strongly and at 4 000rpm it positively surges all the way past 6 000rpm, thanks to the added boost. Make no mistake, the 930 still feels appreciably fast today. And, of course, there is also the sheer joy of seeing those widened arches fill the side mirrors!
After a quick stop at the fuel station for a caffeine fix (also an excuse to use the RS’s wing as a tray table), we continue towards one of the most picturesque and challenging roads in the Western Cape. Clarens Drive (or the R44) snakes along the coast from Gordon’s Bay to Rooi Els and then continues up to the popular holiday town of Hermanus – which is best known for its annual whale festival. It would be easy to just continue on the route but there happens to be a short piece of road that heads up the mountain towards the hydroelectric power station. Although only three miles in length, it’s always worth a blast because there are several well- sighted corners, a 180-degree hairpin, and the view from the summit is quite breathtaking. Oh, and there’s a rock face that ricochets engine noise back into the cabin. The whistling sound from the turbocharger in the 930 is a constant, and an eminently pleasant reminder of the car you are driving. However, as I start to drive a little harder, the Turbo engine and exhaust soundtrack drown out the whistles from the blower.
I quickly remember that at 4 000rpm the engine kicks really hard, so I either stay below that marker or make sure the steering wheel is pointing straight ahead when I pass it. The rack is quick to react, and also gets heavier the further you turn the wheel, which amplifies the information you receive from the tiller.
We head inland past Somerset West towards Stellenbosch – considered the heart of the South African Winelands. I’m still in the Turbo and marvel at how comfortable it is to drive on the open road. As is the case with today’s 911 Turbo, it really ticks the boxes as both an everyday driver and also a purist’s sports car when you need it to be.
Outside Stellenbosch there is a particular stretch of road that is revered by the local motoring fraternity. Leaving Stellenbosch towards Franschhoek, the latter also offering one of the finest mountain passes in the country, Helshoogte Pass offers two lanes in both directions with ten fast corners. The surface is as near as perfect as you’ll find in the area, and after we’ve saved the necessary images on photographer Charles’s memory card, it’s time for me to swap keys.
I’ve never driven a 997 GT3 RS but, like most of you I’d wager, I have read countless articles about the car. If focused road cars tickle your fancy, there are many aspects about this car that will excite. The main one is probably that, unlike the Turbo, it doesn’t tick several boxes at once – it ticks just the one. If that is not enough to grab your attention, the 3.6-litre engine, which delivers 305 kW at a high 7 600rpm, should. The roll-cage and transmission-tunnel cover mirror the exterior hue – it’s a veritable ‘orange-fest’. Once you are seated, you immediately feel like you are an integral part of the car: the bucket seats are fairly comfortable but hold your torso firmly in place.
The Alcantara-clad steering wheel and gear lever further contribute to the race car aura, and there’s no way not to notice that scaffolding in your rear-view mirror. As the engine is already running, I press the Sport and suspension buttons. When you have limited time with a car like this, it’s best to experience it in maximum attack mode. My first shift is abbreviated, but I cannot help but smile as I pull and push the stubby gear lever through the slick gate. You can almost change gears merely by flicking your wrist – each throw is that short and precise.
At around 100 km/h, I flex my ankle and the engine picks up revs more quickly than I expected – even in fourth gear. As it turns out, at motorway speeds you don’t need to change to a lower gear to pass slower moving traffic. Maybe from sixth to fifth, but otherwise there’s a strong push from the engine even below 4 000rpm.
The steering wheel delivers a near-perfect level of feedback, to such an extent that I find it more accurate than the 930’s setup. However, the RS was not built to be enjoyed at low rpm, so while in second gear I put my foot down and the revs immediately build towards 5 000rpm. From here I can’t remember what happened next as there is no hesitation from the free-revving engine. Within seconds it zings past 8000rpm. A quick shift into third, foot flat, and my ears absorb the ‘whaaaaaaarrrrppp’ coming from those evocative exhaust pipes. I feel like I want to yelp and thump the steering in excitement. It is such an intense and pure driving thrill, and more importantly, exactly how I thought this car would be.
Shod with 235/35 ZR19 tyres up front, larger 305/30 ZR19s at the rear, and tipping the scales at 1375kg, this GT3 RS’s lateral grip is high, although I do hold back through the corners. As we complete our photography we head back to Cape Town, but that means negotiating the pass one final time in the RS. Even if you are not a heel-and-toe guru you can always just blip the throttle before a downshift. The result is a quick, loud (for a road car) and mechanical flat-six bark before you select the next gear. As traffic starts to build up towards Cape Town, I again realise how appreciative one should be of the Western Cape’s roads.
The Western Cape offers a plethora of driving enthusiast’s routes; exploring any 911 on these fine stretches of road is conducive to the creation of long-lasting memories. Matching a sports car to a perfect stretch of road is an experience enthusiasts will savour. With every time that Porsche’s engineers descend on the Western Cape’s roads, we can rest assured that the development of the firm’s next sports car will take another leap forward...
Specifications – 997 Porsche 911 GT3 RS
Engine: 3.6-litre, flat-six cylinder, petrol
Power: 305kW at 7 600 rpm
Torque: 405N.m at 5 500rpm
Transmission: 6-speed manual
0-100 kph: 4.2 seconds
Top speed: 310kph
Kerb weight: 1 375kg
Specifications – 930 Porsche 911 Turbo
Engine: 3.3-litre, flat-six cylinder, turbopetrol
Power: 221kW at 5 500 rpm
Torque: 431N.m at 4 000rpm
Transmission: 4-speed manual
0-100 kph: 5.4 seconds
Top speed: 257kph
Kerb weight: 1 350kg