Light Barbs : Porsche 964 993 997.2 911 RS Driven [review]

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We’re struck not once or twice, but three times in this Porsche 911 RS epiphany

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SUTD, SINGAPORE - Nothing gets Porsche purists in a tizzy like the mention of ‘RS’, a limited-run model variant whose origins can be traced to the brand’s road-legal racing homologation specials. For the uninitiated, Porsche’s great marketing coup stands for Renn Sport (or Race Sport), where an enthusiast pays more for less… less production numbers and less weight that is, as well as a cabin bereft of any excess fat and superfluous amenities; but also typically more power, so-sharp-it-cuts handling dynamics more suited for the track and the sort of street credibility that any grizzly hipster street-fashionista would kill for.

READ ABOUT OUR DRIVE IN THE 991.1 GT3 RS HERE

IF IT'S THE 991 R YOU'RE AFTER, CLICK HERE

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Of course, the most important element of all is that the RS had to be a true-blue racing homologation model. Add an air-cooled 911 or two to this recipe and it creates an explosive fusion cocktail that raises the automotive cool quotient exponentially of any gathering.

After all, as any Porsche collector knows, in the current collectibility stakes, an air-cooled in hand is worth at least five modern cars… just kidding. Or not. Let’s just put it this way, values of air-cooled 911s with good provenance are going through the roof locally, but the air-cooled RS variants are seeing a global demand spike that is skyrocketing faster than you can ask, “Do you know how much your car is worth?”

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Pre-watercooled 911, there was only ever the Carrera RS (the GT3 RS malarkey only started from the watercooled 996.2 onwards) the lineage of which was kick-started by the ducktailed Carrera RS 2.7 in 1973 (and RS 3.0 in 1974) with racy contrast coloured model script, a FIA homologation special that was intended to let Porsche go racing. Like the 964 RS that came about almost 20 years later in 1992, this diminutive progenitor was available as either a hardcore ‘Lightweight’, or relatively comfortable ‘Touring’ variant for those intending to use the cars as daily drivers.

When you consider the 991.1 GT3 RS, it’s sobering to see how the far the concept of ‘race sport’ has come since the 1970s. Today, it’s more about oversized aero-kits for maximum downforce, a roll-cage for extra rigidity, humongous tyre/rims for even better high-speed and cornering stability and naturally-aspirated flat-six engines tuned to kingdom come.

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964 Carrera RS
Due to the collectible nature of the 964 RS (it was homologated for FIA-N/GT racing), it wasn’t uncommon for enthusiasts who intended to track this generation to use the 964 C2 as a technical starting point for modifications instead. However, this particular example in ‘Touring’ spec, the only one of its kind in Singapore, has some 426k km on its clock under a single owner’s tenure since new (and that's as of August 2015)! Not only is it daily-driven in Singapore, the owner even carves up a lot of B-roads on his regular forays into Malaysia – it’s cool that a car of such provenance is driven as Porsche intended it to be, instead of living out the rest of its life as a garage queen.

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Love it or not, the distinctive Rubystone Red attracts its fair share of fans, especially among the girlies. The cognoscenti will appreciate the car’s lofty position in Porsche royalty, especially since this was the launch colour for the model in the early 1990s – it certainly doesn’t require big wings and even bigger stickers to make its mark on the roads. If you’re the sort of anorak who needs raw numbers, consider this: out of the estimated 80 ‘Touring’ models produced, only about 15 or less are in right-hand drive, and that’s a global tally.

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Although the owner has a famous penchant for speccing his driving cars without air-conditioning to save weight – contrast this to today’s frenzied ticking of options, even on supposedly lightweight models – he was persuaded to include it by none other than Eurokar Group’s Mr. Kwee himself during the ordering process, as one of the few concessions to commuting in comfort – he did however spec the single-mass flywheel that came as standard on the ‘Sport’ version. Ironically though, and to this very day, it’s not uncommon to see the owner trundling around town with the windows down in true-grit RS fashion.

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Unlike later iterations, which would come with increasingly bigger wings for greater downforce and wider bodies to accommodate stickier footwear, the 964 features the same narrow-body as the regular C2 of the era, including the rising rear spoiler and a discreet ‘Carrera RS’ badge on its pert derrière. This and the next generation 993 RS would see a gap in the application of contrasting model-name decals from the 2.7 RS, that is until the 996.2 GT3 RS resurrects it in mid-2000 to reinforce the RS’ motorsports pedigree. Even the rims are nondescript looking and share the same design as the normal alloys, but are actually made of magnesium to save even more unsprung weight. Elsewhere, thinner glass and a painted aluminium front-lid help pare-down weight.

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The tasty Aubergine/Bandung theme continues inside the cabin to create a quirky ambience, with the seat inserts echoing the body-colour. Apart from hifi and air-con, there’s nothing else to distract the driver from the task of hard-driving, especially since there are no electronic aids to save you from your own exuberance.

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Apart from a stripped-out interior (back-seats are binned), the body has also been seam-welded for better rigidity. It’s in cars like these that you appreciate how mechanical and natural everything feels, and we’re sure an experience like this is all by lost to the younger generation of drivers who need to be hand-held and nannied by electronic safety-nets and over-assisted controls.

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The physical exertion of driving a car like the 964 RS is never a chore, and your senses work overtime to make sense of the constant communication that bombards you from the dulcet, soulful song of the 3.6-litre flat-six, the steering and seat-of-pants.

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There’s a tippy-toe feeling of light-footed agility to the car’s dynamics, especially on the stock 17s, almost as though she’s always waiting to be taken in a rough and rowdy fashion, since the most satisfying (and gutsiest) way to corner with these cars was to manhandle them into a corner and then steer them out on the throttle. This isn’t your average frigid princess though, since she’ll give as good as she gets, especially if you get the weight-transfer wrong and destabilise her too much – no electronics, rear-engine, rear-drive, so good luck.

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Unlike the explosive performance of the 993 and 997.2, the 964’s state of engine tune and well-spaced ratios, coupled to its lightweight body, make it the perfect companion for city and fast-road use, which incidentally is where it spends a lot of its time – in a nutshell, there’s enough power to have flat-out fun, yet never too much that you’ll worry about doing yourself GBH in the process.

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993 Carrera RS
By the time of the 993, the RS was animated by a 3.8-litre with Varioram intake system (it could adjust the length of induction runners) mated to a six-speed stick-shift, with a compression ratio raised from the 3.8-litre in the 964’s end-of-life RS hurrah, which still featured the five-speed manual like the 3.6-litre 964 RS. As of August 2015, this car (currently one of two 993 RSs in Singapore – the other is a Speed Yellow garage queen) has been with the same owner for the past 14 years and keeps a handful of other cult-cars company.

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Like the 964 RS, it sees regular drive time and the Clubsport wing that used to overpower the proceedings has been replaced with the low-slung factory fixed wing/lid, which we feel makes for an altogether more elegant appearance, especially with the subtle front corner winglets. Like its predecessors, the 993 RS adopts weight-savings measures in the form of zero insulation, thinner rear and side windows, as well as an aluminium bonnet lid, amongst other things.

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More poignantly, apart from being the last air-cooled 911 generation, the 993 was also the last of the relatively svelte Carrera RS models before things started getting big, gnarly and wild. After all, the big engine performance figures of the water-cooled GT3 RSs also demanded a planted, sure-footedness that track warriors needed, but this meant big GT wings working with aggressive aero, huge tyres, massive brakes and even wider bodies to accommodate the footwear – to put this in perspective, the 991.1 GT3 RS uses the super-wide body of the 991 Turbo family and is now on staggered 20/21-inch rims.

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Like its Carrera RS forebears, only the driver-essentials are present: legible minimalist dials, ergonomic gear-knob, sports steering wheel, and in this particular car, race-buckets and grippy sports pedals. It’s amazing how compact cars used to be, with scarcely any space-wasting dashboard or anything superfluous to speak of.

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On the move, there’s the same mechanical music from the 993 as the 964 RS, but this changes the moment you give it some stick. The purr of the flat-six takes on a harder edge and morphs into a soulful yowl as you work your way through the six-speed transmission.There’s more potency to its acceleration than on the 964 and you quickly relish the experience of unleashing the power of the genie as you flog it to the redline.

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It no longer wants to dance as much as the 964, with the 993 feeling a lot more planted on its 18s; there’s certainly a lot more mechanical grip to go with the engine’s performance too, as it embarks on a journey of transformation into a fully-fledged track-star.

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997.2 GT3 RS 3.8
From the pictures, you can already see how the battleship-grey 997.2 GT3 RS wears its race-ready credentials proudly on its sleeve – almost like a delinquent wild-child – and there’s no missing its motorsports-inspired aero, huge GT wing, ‘race-livery’ and centre-lock wheels. In contrast to its posturing, the two air-cooleds boast almost dainty proportions and would have faded into the background if not for the 993’s striking Grand Prix White and 964’s lurid Rubystone Red. If the 964 is pert and the 993 an hourglass, this 997.2 GT3 RS has to be a Kardashian!

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The desirability of the 997.2 GT3 RS was not just in its track-honed performance, but also because its 3.8-litre (and subsequent limited run of a 4.0-litre variant) is the last of the ‘Mezger’ motorsports engines, as these would not make the transition into the 991 model. The Mezger engine was a motorsports-derived powerhouse that let the RS punch far above its weight class reliably; with the 997.2’s six closely-stacked ratios, the power delivery is near elemental from standstill much less rolling start, especially with the raging mechanical cacophony aurally assaulting the senses – you didn’t just hear it, you could also feel this palpable cloud of menace and anger as it enveloped the cabin!

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There’s liberal use of Alcantara in the cabin – gearknob, steering wheel, seats – and like the rest of the watercooled RSs, features a half-rollcage behind the carbonfibre buckets for extra rigidity. Other concessions to weight-savings include a lithium-ion battery and titanium tailpipes.

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Now on 19s, the road-going grip limits have punched through the roof so it’s more precision track instrument than recreational sportscar – you would be a fool to breach its limits on public roads – which admittedly is the RS’ raison d'être, but what’s more intriguing is how far we’ve come as far as an acceptable package for track-driving is concerned.

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However, it’s also gratifying to see that the car retains a playful edge, since there’s still the matter of the engine weight bobbing about in the rear to unsettle for your wicked jollies. It can be as naughty or as nice as you want it to be – with a specially tuned PASM suspension – since there’s a depth to its dynamic repertoire that allows you to drive clean and fast, or savour some slow, sloppy and fun.

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The 997.2 RS may have grown up and gone all track-focused, but it shows it hasn’t forgotten how to have fun. Our splash-and-dash in the 991 GT3 RS ‘big’ brother though, made for an altogether more intimidating driving experience where it was practically bristling with race-intent. It’s clear though, that Porsche has let the RS soar to even greater heights… and not just because of that giant wing either. Welcome home... PHOTOS: ZOTIQ VISUALS

READ ABOUT OUR DRIVE IN THE 991.1 GT3 RS HERE

964 Carrera RS Touring
Engine: 3600cc, flat-six, aircooled
Power/rpm: 260bhp/6100rpm
Torque/rpm: 325Nm/4800rpm
Transmission: 5spd manual
0-100km/h: 5.3secs
Top speed: 260km/h
LxBxH: 4275x1652x1270mm
Wheelbase: 2272mm
Kerbweight: 1320kg

993 Carrera RS
Engine: 3746cc, flat-six, aircooled
Power/rpm: 300bhp/6500rpm
Torque/rpm: 355Nm/5400rpm
Transmission: 6spd manual
0-100km/h: 5secs
Top speed: 277km/h
LxBxH: 4245x1735x1270mm
Wheelbase: 2272mm
Kerbweight: 1270kg

997.2 GT3 RS
Engine: 3797cc, flat-six, water-cooled
Power/rpm: 450bhp/7900rpm
Torque/rpm: 430Nm/6750rpm
Transmission: 6spd manual
0-100km/h: 4secs
Top speed: 310km/h
LxBxH: 4460x1852x1280mm
Wheelbase: 2355mm
Kerbweight: 1370kg

This Porsche 997.2 GT3 RS, 964/993 Carrera RS generations feature first appeared in Top Gear Singapore #41 (August 2015)

David Khoo
Author: David Khoo
David is a big petrolhead who has been dabbling in the car trade since 2001 and currently oversees Top Gear Singapore. His stories often take an eclectic slant from the predictable, and he's able to craft a compelling read that lets you see the cars (often old!) in a new light.

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