Porsche and Turbo. It's almost a love story, the perfect union between a former industrial-applied technology and the most prestigious German sportscar manufacturer. Forced induction via the exploitation of exhaust gasses wasn't invented in Stuttgart. As a matter of fact, the invention of the turbo has been attributed to the Swiss Alfred Büchi, who in 1905 patented a peculiar compressor for internal combustion engines, with the aim of increasing their specific output. Initially such technology was used primarily in aero and naval diesel and petrol engines, but in the 50ies, thanks to Caterpillar, it began to be used also on land vehicles.
The 1960ies saw turbocharging used for the first time on racing and sports cars, like Indycars and the Chevrolet Corvair. In Europe, the first turbo production cars were the BMW 2002 and Michael May's Ford Capris. The latter was perhaps the first commercially successful car to use this technology and it was the major inspiration for Porsche engineers behind what it is now known as the 911 Turbo.
After this technology was successfully tested with the monstruous Can-Am 917/10 and /30 and the RSR Turbo 2.1 in the World Sportscar Championship in the early 70ies, the 911 Turbo was put into production in Zuffenhausen. The very first production car was a gorgeous silver coupé with a red tartan interior and was gifted to Ferri Porsche's sister Louise Piech, on the day of her 70th birthday!
When it was unveiled to the press in 1975, the Turbo shook the car world from the ground-up: everyone rushed to get immediately a copy of what soon became an icon.
Perhaps the best GT Porsche had built up to that moment, it was destined to those clients that loved the luxury and comfort offered by the best sportscars of the era. The 911 Turbo has always been the car of choice for those who look for the best of the best: a success that is continuing still to this day and doesn't show any signs to stop.
The first examples, also known as 930, featured 3 and 3.3 liter displacement engines and they were known for being true monsters: power came in violently, giving the car a nervous and hard-to-tame character, not suitable for the faint-hearted. Throughout its history, the 930 didn't change too much: aside from the enlargement of displacement and the adoption of the 5 speed gearbox in 1989, it never had radical improvements. The 964 and 993 successors continued the evolution of this particular model, which arrived to produce up to 400 hp before being changed into the 996, the first 911 to be water-cooled.
It was in this very moment that the Turbo underwent a radical change. The new liquid-cooled M96/70 engine, which was derived from the GT1 prototype that raced at Le Mans, was capable of 420 hp, expandable to 450 with the optional X50 package. Also, the new 996 came with the new viscous centre coupling 4 wheel drive system as standard, an absolute first for this model.
Looking at the last 20 years of evolution of this model, we can consider the 996 as the "last" Turbo that can still offer the classic Porsche driving feeling: aside from the 4wd system, it commands the classic Porsche driving style. Due to its predominantly rear-biased weight distribution, you still have to brake late and follow a more narrower race line. The exuberance of its 6 cylinder boxer still needs to be treated properly and it's a reminiscence of the first 930. Turbo-lag is almost non-existent and the response is immediate and lightning-quick: despite being ideal on longer trips, the 996 Turbo still requires race-car driver skills to exploit its full potential!
With the 997, the Turbo continued its path on being an all-weather sportscar. Every-more powerful yet easier to drive. The 991 Mk1 has further developed this idea and the subsequent Mk2 has taken this idea even further, making it even easier to drive.
So, if we pair the 996 against a 991 Mk2, it feels like to immerse yourself in two different worlds. Although the first is already filled with electronics, it seems to be decisively analogic. It lacks the extreme refinement and doesn't have the ubiquitous controls as the latter model, yet it is surprising for its driving involvement, almost like an old-school car.
Driving the 991 feels like having all the power of an atomic bomb at your ready. Pressing on the throttle is like launching a rocket sitting comfortably in an armchair. All this power is bent to the will of the driver, who commands the turbo with minimum effort while obtaining maximum results. Despite being an heavy car, the 991 defies the laws of physics by showing an impressive agility. The excitement and the adrenaline can be alternated by calm and relaxation: just like a director of an orchestra, the driver can control moments of great tranquillity and intensity, all with the utmost ease.
The Porsche 911 has always been the most conservatively revolutionary automobile ever offered for sale. The new models make the era when you had to study specific techniques a distant memory, slowly fading away. The Turbo is the perfect example of how certain things can change while maintaining a familiar face: the monster who lived once upon a time has been tamed and talking amicably with it has become...almost obvious.