New or old? It is a choice many of us dream about when considering a sports car. We drive two RS's of the opposite ends of the RS-spectrum… which one leaves the biggest impression?
Story: Wilhelm Lutjeharms
Images: Rob Till
It is quite a sight, isn’t it? Porsche’s previous generation RS is parked next to an example of what is currently one of the most sought-after RS models, the 993 Carrera RS.
The values of most air-cooled 911s, and many other classic Porsches for that matter, may have levelled off lately, but overall remain high. This has created a challenge for prospective 911 buyers - whether to buy a modern water-cooled 911 or a classic air-cooled derivative. Ultimately the decision will depend on your needs and what the car will be used for. Some decisions might be particularly difficult...
Most RS models have increased in value during the past five to 10 years and the 993 Carrera RS is no exception. These top-tier 911s are separated by 20 years, which is almost a light year in terms of automotive development, but which one should you consider and how do the respective cars’ driving experiences differ from behind the wheel?
Neither of these white RSs are garage queens. The day before their keys were handed to me, they were taken to Kyalami Grand Prix Circuit in Johannesburg, South Africa, to be enjoyed by their owner. The 991 was a more recent purchase, but he bought the 993 more than a decade ago. Today we will be heading to Red Star Raceway.
My adoration for the 993 RS harks back to when I was a teenager, at the time I was thoroughly fascinated by 993s – especially those derivatives adorned with the enlarged wings.
As I climb into the Carrera RS, the environment feels immediately similar to any 911 from the 1980s or 1990s. It is compact in size, the steering column is non-adjustable and the five instrument dials are clearly visible.
The driver’s seat firmly supports your upper legs, your hips and even hugs your shoulders a little. Pull the lever underneath your seat to move into your desired distance from the ‘wheel and voilà, you have your perfect driving position.
On the highway, as we made our way to the track, I was immediately impressed with the good ride quality of the RS. It is very well damped in actual fact, unlike some modern performance cars. Even at an indicated 120 km/h, I can easily have a conversation with my passenger while the RS’s rev needle hovers at 3 000 rpm.
As we arrive at the track we prioritise the photoshoot. It also gives me time to take in the details of both RS's and discuss them with the owner.
Some of the weight-saving measures Porsche incorporated in the 993 include the removal of most of the sound insulation materials, the bonnet was replaced with an aluminium panel and the side and rear windows substituted with thinner glass. The increase in engine capacity came courtesy of a bore size increase from 100 to 102 mm. Engine size was now up to 3.8-litres. Overall power increased only to 221 kW, which was marginally more than the 203 and 212 kW base 993 Carreras developed over the course of 1994 to 1998.
Thirty minutes later, when a gaggle of racing motorcycles returned to the pits from their final outing, I point the RS’s nose onto the track’s smooth asphalt.
According to the owner, the car had lived a hard life before he bought it; he’s fixed it up and restored some parts over the years. Surprisingly the car really feels solid from behind the ‘wheel, with no rattles or noises coming from any part of the car, even though it is over 20 years old and has clocked up more than 56 000 km.
The gearbox operates smoothly, and every gear is engaged with minimal effort. You are never in doubt of which gear you are in, or which gear should be next.
As I get into a rhythm with the car’s handling characteristics, I’m reminded of how nimble these earlier 911s are, especially these (lighter) 993s. 221 kW is not a lot, but as Porsche has stripped out 100 kg compared to the base 993 Carrera 2, it tips the scales at only 1 270 kg.
As a result, the car never feels intimidating, not when you turn in, or when you start to apply the power mid-corner. Heel and towing is further encouraged by the positioning of the brake pedal, which sits almost in line with the throttle pedal when the former is already pressed.
After a while I slowly gain more confidence, and I realise that the old car’s grip levels are not quite as high as I had anticipated. This could partly be attributed to the fact that we are privileged to drive new, dynamically superior sports cars every month, but this was an enlightening experience nonetheless. However, it is still a sensitive machine, and you can sense that if you are deliberately over-eager with the throttle through a corner the rear wheels will break traction. But, on this circuit, with its sequence of tight bends and relatively slow corner speeds, this 993 surprised me with its breadth of capability and the joy it offers its driver.
Moving into the 991
Stepping out of the 993 into the 991 doesn’t only take a few physical steps, but requires a purposeful mental shift.
The 991.1 generation’s footprint is larger than the 993’s and the cabin notably roomier. The exterior is dominated by the massive rear wing, prominent front splitter… and those track-inspired cuts in the front wheel arches make this the least graceful 911 road car of all time. But, if you understand and appreciate Zuffenhausen’s race and track-focused cars of today as well of those of the past, this RS’s stance will speak to you.
The modern interior of the RS is more user-friendly and accommodating than that of the '90s RS. The car is not built for touring, but you feel like you could spend several hours in the cabin while crossing continents. All the contemporary luxuries are available to you, most notably an automatic dual-clutch (PDK) transmission. The steering wheel and supportive bucket seat are set perfectly for my driving position.
I shift the PDK lever to D, and with a slight flex of my right foot the RS makes its way on to the track. As the owner has already done a few laps, the engine fluids are still at optimal temperature, so I select second gear and squeeze the throttle pedal. There is no hesitation from the engine whatsoever and notice the rev needle swing towards 7 000 rpm as the Porsche bolts into the first corner. The steel brakes work quickly and purposefully, with decent feedback; the front tyres bite as I turn in. It must be said that the whole car feels more solid and planted than the 993 version.
A longer straight opens up and I keep my foot flat, 7 turns to 8 and approximately 200 rpm before the needle brushes the 9 000 rpm mark I pull the right paddle. The intensity of this engine is something that really dominates the driving experience. You would think that as the pistons of the flat-six engine have increased in diameter over the years, the boxer would be less rev-happy, but thanks to ceaseless R&D that is fortunately not the case.
I soon start to trust the massive 265/35 ZR20 front and 325/30 ZR21 rear tyres while marveling at how much grip the RS possesses. There are no high-speed corners here, which is a slight injustice to this modern-day RS, but even through these second-gear corners the car feels phenomenal. Whereas you need to work the 993 hard by using all three pedals to make the most of a corner, with the 991 RS it is actually not any easier. As the speed, both at the braking point, through the apex, as well as corner exit is so much higher, you need to recalibrate your thinking in this 368 kW car. If you leave the PDK to its own devices, it affords you the opportunity to concentrate on your braking mark and to manage the grip level with the throttle and steering wheel.
After a number of laps, during which I spun the engine all the way to the 8 800 rpm mark on a number of occasions, I pull into our parking spot and hop out. I pull out my phone and take a picture of the two cars next to one another, as any self-confessed enthusiast would. However, my hands are slightly shaking. I’m slightly surprised: this hasn’t happened to me in a very long time. Perhaps I was nervous because it is a private car, but also because it was just so challenging and exhilarating to drive fast — it challenged my powers of concentration much more than the 993 RS.
You might assume the 991 RS is the model to choose if you are fortunate enough to be able to afford a car in this price bracket. That could well be the case. It can be used for fast track outings, not only in your own surroundings… you pack a weekend bag or two and head for Europe and you will undoubtedly be treated to a momentous road trip.
However, the same, to an extent, can be said of the 993 RS. Some drivers may find it easier to master when the car reaches the limits of its performance envelope, because everything happens at slower speeds and you receive more information from also every facet of the car. It is more compact, it has a manual gearbox and is truer to the original 911 philosophy. I’m not jumping on the 993 bandwagon, but as it was my first experience of driving the 993 RS, I came away surprised: what an honest sports car it is!
What a treat it must be to not have to choose between these two; just imagine having both these models, each representing the hallowed RS pedigree in their respective periods, in your garage.
Special thanks to Red Star Raceway (www.redstarraceway.com) for making their facilities available to us.
Porsche 911 (993) Carrera RS
Engine: 3.7-litre, flat-six cylinder, petrol
Power: 221 kW @ 6 500 rpm
Torque: 355 Nm @ 5 400 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed manual, RWD
Weight: 1 270 kg
0-100 km/h: 5 seconds
Top speed: 277 km/h
Porsche 911 (991.1) GT3 RS
Engine: 4.0-litre, flat-six cylinder, petrol
Power: 368 kW @ 8 250 rpm
Torque: 460 Nm @ 6 250 rpm
Transmission: 7-speed PDK, RWD
Weight: 1 420 kg
0-100 km/h: 3.3 seconds
Top speed: 310 km/h