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In the details // Porsche 964 Carrera RS

In the details // Porsche 964 Carrera RS

Words and photography by Andrew Coles

Last weekend I got to have a proper play in a 964 RS. 250-kilometres on a freezing cold Sunday morning with no nervous owner sitting alongside. As far as semi-attainable automotive dreams go that’s kinda up there, at least where I’m from. I thought I’d share my thoughts a little wider here.

The car I was lucky enough to get to know was a 1992 964 Carrera RS Lightweight. 2,282 RS’ were built and these cars are pretty much road-going versions of the first Carrera Cup cars – narrow body with no wing, a seam-welded shell, magnesium wheels, Recaro bucket seats, no air conditioning or radio, no back seats, no power steering. A flywheel that’s seven kilograms lighter, shorter gear ratios, Turbo brakes, minimal sound deadening, lightweight carpets, and an extra 10 bhp. Nothing especially stands out as being outrageous, it’s a case of the whole being far larger than the sum.

First impressions? It’s stiff as hell, and not a great road car. But it’s not stiff in a homebuilt road car kind of way, it’s got that proper racecar stiffness that only comes with quality dampening and serious development. It’s the kind of stuff that would spill a takeaway coffee in a passenger’s hand, yet it has a compliancy that means it never actually finds a bump stop.

Winding it out through the gears is one thing, but it’s heel-toeing back down through them under brakes that feels marvellous. The lack of inertia in that engine is special, and the pedal placement increases the joy. The shift action is worlds away from the rifle-bolt precision of a 991.2 GT3, but the steering has a lightness and precision that is alien to modern cars. It is constantly writhing in your hands and you initially think that something must be wrong, a lost wheel weight or similar, but then you click that this is the information most cars filter out. And once you get used to that level of feedback you wonder how you ever did without it.

But here’s the problem. It’s far more honest than the current closest descendant of a contemporary cup car, the GT3 RS, in that it’s not a great road car. For better or worse, it is a road version of a racing car, and that means that you really need to be on a track, or at least a bloody smooth piece of road, to experience the 964 RS at its best. In 250 kilometres of driving I had two, maybe three, slight glimpses of its potential. It was two degrees ambient, there’s zero driver assists, it’s worth an insane amount of money and I won’t pretend I can drive a rear-engined Porsche at its limit.

But if you were going to buy the ultimate road car, wouldn’t you want one that allows you to access its magic more of the time? And if you were going to buy a race car, wouldn’t you, well, just buy a dedicated race car?

It’s kind of like when you’re driving your modified road car out to a track day, and you punt it through some corners on the drive out and it makes you smile, but mostly because you know that’s just a hint of what’s to come. I got that feeling in the 964 RS, except there was no track day to come.

And that sadly leaves most 964 RS’ in the hands of collectors, which is a shame. They’re worth enough now that few owners are prepared to seriously drive them with any aggression, and even fewer are prepared to track them anymore. You could spend half the money on a fully sorted 964 Carrera 2 and have a better road car, or you could spend half the money on a 997 Cup Car and use the rest of the budget to run it for a few seasons. So unless you want a 964 RS for its historical significance or you’re looking for somewhere safe to park a wedge of cash, why would you buy one?

I can’t say I blame anyone for doing that, economics is a bitch. Nevertheless, a 964 RS on a cold winter’s morning is everything you’d hope it would be, and I feel incredibly privileged that I got to work this out for myself.