We’re always told not to meet our heroes. The inevitable disappointment that such an event promises serves little deterrent; in the heat of the moment, who wouldn’t want to see a hero? Talk with them, or shake hands with them? How dare we question their greatness by suggesting they could disappoint us?
Yet, shamefully, most reactions are of disappointment: They’re not as tall, or handsome, or strong as you think they are. Not as intelligent or well versed you thought they were, at least not as much as when they’re behind a teleprompter or in print. Perhaps the handshake they gave you did not feel as satisfying as you thought it was going to be, something is missing in your mind; and you’ll never see them as you did before.
However, once in a blue moon, your heroes are just as special as you think they are. With this I introduce the 993 Turbo, a hero you can approach.
What could the 993 be other than a hero? Articles describing it as the best 911 have ran in most publications. Purists talking highly of the fact it’s air-cooled and manual yet gifted with good brakes and OBDII praised it as some sort of holy grail: This what you want out of your 911s; this is the “I can’t believe it’s not butter!” of classic cars.
So, this is a sports car that has a lot to live up to, and it is simply not visually striking enough to suggest so, it looks like an old 911 and that’s it. Maybe the huge spoiler gives out that it’s something special, but everything else is understated in a way a new 911 could never be, or at least won’t be allowed to be by the marketers behind it anymore.
The 993 came at a crossroad for Germany and Porsche, this car was released shortly after the unification was started; if you dig deep enough you might find some “Made in West Germany” stickers for the parts. This car also came out in the same decade that the first fully computer designed jet liner, the Boeing 777, began appearing as common sight in International airports. In a sense it came of an era that wasn’t looking for heritage or the past; someone being paranoid about manual gearboxes and big displacement motors going away would’ve been scoffed from the car community as some sort of lunatic at the time.
This is seen in the styling and the features it possesses. This is the first 911 Turbo that came available with AWD and twin turbochargers, comparisons to the 959 are dully noted too. The 993 was also cooled by air; rather old school and the last of its kind, but was one of the first production cars to possess an OBDII port; which made upgrades to the ECU quite easy, well, at least compared to OBDI nightmares of days past. You could argue that the smart split between front and rear power (I believe it is 20/80 but I could be wrong) talked about a great compromise between traction and steering response.
That’s where the true creativity of the 993 came; the compromises it had to make due with given the available capital at Porsche, and due to the technology available at the time. The panels are bloated because, despite Hatter’s best efforts, the car had to comply with regulations and physics, it had to be slippery, and it had to feed air to the huge turbocharges and the engine, it also had to live with 90’s manufacturing capacities. This might be a hand built Porsche, but 60,000 were made, and that shouts of mass production that honestly couldn’t be bothered with the creases and delicate shapes designers can work into cars nowadays. So it ends up being a simple, timeless design.
Despite all of the compromises surrounding it; you feel as if the car is absolutely focused and self-obsessed; fuck driver comfort, fuck quietness, fuck safety, and fuck having gearing that works in the highway. Fuck engine response too; have oodles of lag from the engine that sounds like a malfunctioning vacuum cleaner and shitty air-conditioning. In the company of a modern car like a 458 Italia, the 993 pales in comparison. But the 458 reeks of marketing bullshit.
It will sound counterintuitive but the same user unfriendliness that disadvantages a 993 makes it feel special. It doesn’t try to cater to anyone other than the people ready to make a sacrifices of comfort and usability in order to have the performance it offers. Sure, the flexibility the 458 offers is fantastic, but the experience seems diluted in order to appease a wider audience. In a sense, the 458 is a Marvel movie, and the 993 is a Marvel comic: much more analogue; No mannettino switch, no MR dampers; no backup camera, and A pillars thin enough to break as easily as chopsticks.
What I’m trying to outline is that the 458 tries to protect you from your stupidity a lot more than the 993 does: mistakes in a 993 are expensive, uncomfortable, unavoidable, and generally invoke deadliness unless you treat it with a respect that the 458 could only dream of from its drivers. Only time can give us this kind of contrast too; playful anecdotes of chasing Kawasakis down a B-road turn into dire warnings of the dangers of this car by mouth of the owner.
Which is why I suspect certain people are weary of youngsters driving very powerful cars. It’s easy to dismiss these older people as emasculating, as these older people will dismiss us young drivers as inexperienced and stubborn. In the end age isn’t a real measurement of maturity, but the era a person lives in when they generate their habits shapes their world views. Whichever idea you subscribe to, the truth remains that you can’t trust a 993 as you can trust a 458. While both need to be approached with care as they are enablers, the 458 rarely feels dangerous enough to question the types of speeds you can do with it; The 993 makes you question yourself much more often in that regard, even when driving at speeds that some would consider pedestrian nowadays.
The driving experience is hard to explain, returning to the hero narrative and the whole self obsessed ordeal; this car doesn’t hide what it is. For someone my size it’s uncomfortable and the low slung cabin is not accessible with ease, you can feel the hard suspension and by modern standards the seats aren’t supportive at all.
The ignition switch is to the left of the driver, alike other Porsches, the clutch is heavy and has a very long travel. The gearshift is at times uncertain and again, very long; modern cars have much better shifters when it comes to shift throw to be fair. But it has a nice feel to it; and to be honest who would grab the Turbo version for track duty? That’s the kind of job that goes to the RS or the GT2, I hope those have better shifters, the clutch in this matter is good enough and irrelevant.
The steering wheel I like a lot; it might be huge with the rudimentary airbag, but the thin rim is a departure from the overly sporty, girthy wheels we’ve come to expect nowadays. It’s welcoming and seems almost honest about the car.
The steering system itself, well. It’s communicative enough, feels uneager to turn, has a horrible turning circle and it isn’t as delicate as the Ferrari’s steering. At higher speeds all of those are forgiven; it becomes direct and precise once you get going. Yet the shadow of the basic AWD stays cast; Again, a track car this isn’t.
The handling is the big point of praise though… Now, let’s keep something in mind: I don’t have a spine, and I’m not ready to test one out in an invaluable classic like the 993, but within a safe limit I think it handles well enough for a 20 year old car, it feels a lot more planted than many newer cars, the tires aren’t very good though, and the AWD system is showing its age, in an era of smart torque vectoring and significantly more complex traction systems it feels left behind. Under hard acceleration you can feel the front tires quickly loose grip, with a small hint of torque steer even! However the rear end is well planted until the very near limit of the 993’s grip.
Despite all of these shortcomings, the car makes up with a rigid, compliant chassis, absent is any hint of understeer if you’re smart with throttle application, and oversteer only comes when you’re stupid. I’ve been told oversteer is hard to control though, and given the engine is in the back I can understand if it has a tendency to snap into a tankslapper if steering input is used unwisely. It’s hard to handle, but under the right hands even with all of this power and all of the shortcomings it can prove to be a precise car. It’s a bit like the Dassault Rafale; it was designed to be unstable so that it would be easier to manoeuvre, however, the consequence of this is that the fighter jet requires a cluster of computers to keep it airborne.
The 993 might not have any computers, but the rough edges that shine through the playful chassis and eager motor show an ability to upset, or reset, the handling status of the car thanks to those things I referred to as “defects” earlier. This can only be achieved by an ace driver, and the 993’s limit is where the deft hand of an experienced and fearless one can come in and make it a truly special car.
Perhaps comparing it to a 458 is unfair, but the 458 was a revolutionary car in its own way, first Ferrari of its kind to be offered without a manual gearbox from the very beginning, a return to form for Ferrari in terms of design, and a great execution of driver aides. Plus, the 458 here is only fourteen years older than the 993; yet looking at the two there seems to be an astronomical leap forward engineering-wise, and both seem to be timeless in their respective designs.
Porsche and Ferrari are starting to converge in that way too, back when the 959 came out it was seen like the brilliant computer age gizmo, and the F40 as a purist dream. Nowadays we’re seeing Ferrari getting deeply enthralled with technology as Porsche sells low volume specials focused on driver involvement like the GT3 Touring, the 911R, the GT2, the GT4, and the 911 Ts like hotcakes, and then gets angry when collectors flip them for a profit.
But I digress,
Was I disappointed by the 993? No, on the contrary. I was shown that, to some people, the thrill of driving is intertwined with the danger of driving a machine that is very clearly temperamental and will kill you if you overstep your bound. Nowadays we take safety and speed for granted, the 993 is humbling in that sense because it reminds you it is the inanimate object and that to it life and death doesn’t exist. You’re just a fleshy bag of meat.
And you need to deal with it.