|05-11-2010, 09:32 PM||#1|
Drives: 540 RWHP
Join Date: Aug 2009
Clarkson on the 997 GT3, “I’ve never wanted a Porsche. Now I do”
Something strange is going on in this country. In the run-up to the general election David Cameron was constantly accused of being unfit for office because of his excellent education at Eton and Oxford. Isn’t that like suggesting an athlete should be barred from the British Olympic team because they are “too fast”?
It was much the same story with Nick Clegg. People loved him ... right up to the point when they learnt he had been educated at Westminster and Cambridge. Somehow, that immediately precluded him from being any good at anything. It’s hard, really, to understand what the critics are suggesting. Do they think that a fat and idiotic woman from Mansfield would make a better leader because she is thick? Or am I missing something?
And so it was with the vulgar subject of money. There was a time, not that long ago, when no one in this country ever spoke about how much anyone earned. I remember once being in a Swedish tank when all of a sudden the captain turned and asked: “Right. How much did you make last year?” I couldn’t have been more taken aback if he’d asked me how often I had @*&% &^%.
Now, though, things are different. We are told, often, that the director-general of the BBC earns more than £800,000 and that this is an obscene amount of money. Right. I see. So what should he be paid? Half that? A quarter? Is £50,000 acceptable? To someone on the minimum wage, probably not.
Doubtless the bitter and the twisted looked at all those multi-millionaires in this newspaper’s recent Rich List and thought: “How can any one man possibly have a fortune of £1 billion?”
Why shouldn’t he? It is no skin off your nose. At the very least, you don’t have to sit next to him on a plane. And anyway, if the government took all his money away and distributed it evenly among the rest of the population, you’d be £16 richer and he’d be wondering why he spent his whole life working so damn hard.
He did. One thing I’ve noticed over the years is that if you drive into London at 6am, half of the cars on the roads are Porsches and Astons. Whereas if you go in at ten to nine, they’re all Renaults. Simple solution, then. You want a nice car? Get up earlier and do more work.
This opinion no longer washes, though. I appear to be in a minority of one. People still want to be rich, but they don’t want anyone else to get there first; a point that becomes blindingly obvious when you try to pull out of a side turning in an ice-white Porsche 911 GT3.
Now I should make it plain that I have never let a 911 out of a side turning, either. Not because I despise the man who’s driving it, but because I have always despised the car, a machine born of an original idea by Hitler. The engine was in the wrong place, the handling was suspect, the styling never really changed and the air-cooled noise made me think I was in Martin Bormann. Plus, Richard Hammond has one.
I will admit that since Porsche moved the powerplant forward and began using water to cool the block, rather than air, things have improved. In recent years I’ve even admitted a grudging respect for the way these throwbacks drive. But I’ve never liked the 911. I’ve never thought of owning one. They were, you might say, a bit like Margaret Thatcher. You could admire her but at no point did you think: “Mmmm.”
To be honest, I wasn’t expecting the GT3 to be any different. I was even a bit worried about writing a review of the damn thing because there are only so many ways you can say the same thing.
Sure enough, it was immediately annoying. The nose is so low to the ground that it scooped half the gravel off my drive and could not be driven over a sleeping policeman, even at 1mph. What’s more, the rear seats have been replaced with scaffolding (said that before) and the ride, at low speed, was horrific. Not as bad, I admit, as it is in my Mercedes CLK Black.
But terrible nevertheless. Of course, you imagine that these things are necessary evils in a car built mainly for the track. Aha. Not so. The track car in the 911 line-up is the GT3 RS — pay attention at the back. The normal GT3 is a sort of halfway house. It even came with halfway-house tyres — semi-slicks that made me deeply grateful that we were having the driest April since Jonathon Porridge began.
So you have the scaffolding and the hard ride and the low nose but you also have, as standard or on the options list, cruise control, air-conditioning, satellite navigation and iPod connectivity. This, then, is a luxury fighter plane. A class-1 offshore liner. A diamond-encrusted AK-47.
And I was facing a long drive in the damn thing. I looked around the yard for something else to take, but, having established the motor mower was out of fuel, settled with a reluctant sigh into the deeply bucketed front seat of Porsche’s mixed bag of nonsense.
The first thing I noticed was that as the speed increases, and it increases at a fair old lick, the ride seems to soften. The car feels less stiff, less as though it is determined to shake your arms out of their sockets. At normal speed you would even describe it as comfortable. If you keep on accelerating, things get awfully hectic. You need to be going very fast for this to happen, though. Chasing-a-superbike fast.
Back in the real world, with the biker in a hedge, wiping his bottom, the 911 is also very quiet, despite the fitment of aluminium doors and an engine cover made of a lightweight synthetic material. You could live with this car, I thought. Obviously, I couldn’t, because it’s a 911, but you could.
On the Top Gear test track, it was a disappointment. Around the corner we call Chicago, almost all cars will lurch into oversteer as the camber changes. But not the GT3. It understeered. A lot.
Despite this, I enjoyed the man/machine interface. Unlike lesser 911s, it had no direct injection, and the gearbox was a standard six-speed manual. It even made proper engine noises, rather than the tricksy exhaust bellow from, say, an Aston Martin.
As the miles wore on, I started to think that maybe I could live with this car. And then I started to wonder how it would be possible to not live with it. I was falling in love. It’s the steering, mainly. It’s beyond fabulous. I know of no car that makes bends such an undiluted joy. The other day I deliberately drove through Milton Keynes simply because it has lots of roundabouts.
Then you have the little things: the sat nav that’s so damn easy to use, the enormous range between fill-ups, the extraordinarily low price for what you get and the speeds that can be achieved. And then there’s the shape. As is the way with girlfriends, once you start to like the character, you begin to see handsomeness even when there is none. At the very least, you have to say this is the best-looking Porsche, and to judge by the company’s recent efforts, I’m glad the nincompoops in the design department haven’t tried to change it.
It’s not just the looks that grew on me, either. In the past I’ve always preferred Ferraris because they are built with passion, not precision. But now, I dunno, I found myself appreciating the quality of the Porsche. No one ever bought a Ferrari thinking: “That’ll see me out.” But you could with a 911.
I shall finish with one more observation. In the Eighties, 911s were bought by City boys who simply wanted a car to show off their wealth. The big Breitling had not been invented then. This is why, I guess, other road users hate them so much. Because there’s an assumption the bloody thing is being driven by Fred Goodwin. Or some other sod who’s paid too much.
But today things have changed. Today 911s are generally driven, I’ve noticed, by grey-haired, sensible people who need some common sense in their lives but who at the same time cannot live without the extraordinary feel of that steering. It’s a bug, and I fear I have it too. I want a GT3.
Clarkson’s verdict: “I’ve never wanted a Porsche. Now I do”
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