There is a whiff of ‘fin de siècle’ about Porsche product development at the moment, with no stone being left unturned in Zuffenhausen or Weissach as Porsche attempts to squeeze every last drop of joy from its hallowed flat-six combustion engines.
Last year’s 718 GT4 RS, now joined by the RS Spyder in this month’s news pages, is evidence of this change in attitude, at once celebratory and a little bit manic. But stuffing GT3 engines into Caymans and Boxsters is only half the story. The other half is about really letting the 911 off the leash, starting in earnest here with the Sport Classic.
We’ve seen such a car before, of course. The 997-generation equivalent released in 2009 created a template for the limited-run, heritage-influenced swansong. This time, Porsche has gone one further by swapping out an uprated Carrera S powerplant for the full-bore twin-blown unit usually reserved for the Turbo. The new 911 Sport Classic has been created as a performance flagship that offers everything that’s truly peachy about the series production range in one greedy, delectable serving. How big is your appetite?
The checklist of things to whet it is accordingly substantial anyway. The 992 Sport Classic mates that blown 3.7-litre flat-six to a seven-speed manual gearbox and delivers its 542bhp to the rear wheels only. A unique ‘wide-body’ minus the Turbo’s traditional intakes also features new front and rear spoiler treatments and a fixed ducktail rear wing. Both bonnet and bespoke ‘double bubble roof panel’, meanwhile, are made from weight-saving carbon fibre and carbon ceramic brakes are standard. The essential appearance, abetted by those vast 20/21-inch centre-lock Fuchs-alike alloys, is really striking. Too much for some, for sure, but as an exercise in what Style Porsche is a capable of, it’s quite the calling card.
The identity of the Sport Classic is bound up in Porsche’s recently launched Heritage Design offerings, debuted to great acclaim in 2021 with the bestickered and distinctly retro limited-edition Targa. The Sport Classic is the second of four models being rolled out in this vein, and as such it enjoys a variety of neat interior design details such as vintage green numerals on instruments, gold lettering, woven floor mats and satin wood trim. Combine this with the Pepita seat inserts and soft aniline leather upholstery and you have a distinct and sumptuous cabin that feels every inch as special as it needs to be in a car that retails at £214,200.
The eagle-eyed will have noticed that that peak power figure, achieved at 6,750rpm, is down some 29bhp from the regular Turbo and, perhaps more significantly, is 140Nm shy of the latter car’s peak torque. That’s all to preserve the manual transmission. Nevertheless, the spec sheet suggests the sprint to 62mph is still achievable in 4.1 seconds, physical shifts and all, while top speed is 198mph. You shouldn’t miss the extra power, even if you do notice a deficit of in-gear grunt. (Reader, I did not.) In the absence of front drive shafts and the odd metal panel, the Sport Classic is a decent 70kg lighter than the Turbo, putting its power-to-weight pretty much on a par.
That engine comes alive with a satisfying bark, but then settles to idle with a refinement unimaginable in the contemporary GT3. It’s the same story at slow speeds, where the powertrain feels like part of an ensemble rather than the garrulous star of the show. Road noise is also noticeably less intrusive, the ride less fidgety and more forgiving. It’s almost ordinary, before you find the confidence to hold the gears and work the throttle. Then everything changes.
The rush of Porsche’s twin-turbo charged acceleration, devoid of perceptible lag, hurls the Sport Classic up the road with an instant, seamless force that is literally breath-taking. The act of changing gear, far from interfering with the process, compounds a stomach-churning physicality that feels worlds away from the cosseted refinement and familiar 911 approachability on start-up. The Sport Classic, then, has the switchable character of a GT2, but its split personality is more pronounced because the luxury and tractability at slow speed is greater, the change from Jekyll to Hyde even more dramatic.
Much fuss is made of Porsche’s seven-speed manual, how the extra ratio muddies the ’box in some way compared to the purity of the GT department’s venerated six. But it is splitting hairs to complain about an impurity of action in what is still one of the finest physical shifters on sale, and this is a set-up that better suits the road-oriented focus of the Sport Classic with its vastly superior cruising ability. As a combination of many of Porsche’s finest developments to date and the result of almost half a million test miles, it’s hard to imagine a better contemporary drivetrain. Let’s go one further and say that, thanks to superior refinement and ride comfort, offset by staggering performance and stability, the Sport Classic is the car the current GT3 Touring ought to have been.
But therein lies a problem. The Touring tries (and, to a greater extent, fails) to be an understated, more useable version of the regular GT3. For the Sport Classic to really work, it also needs to fly under the radar – not something Heritage Design seems to actively enable. The launch car’s cabin features a bewildering array of trim finishes, from brushed aluminium to wood to gloss black plastic, with gold detailing, two different leathers, two-tone cloth and contrasting carpet. An impressive mood board for what Heritage Design can offer, it nonetheless feels a little busy. So too the exterior, where racing stripes and racing roundels represent the opposite of what this car is all about, which is being the definitive road-going 911.
Spec your Sport Classic right, however, and the sum of its parts really does deliver on that. With grace and pace, involvement when you want it and a degree of detachment when you don’t, this car is something very special indeed – perhaps one of the great modern 911s. With that in mind, it’s good to read that Porsche has decided to make five times as many Sport Classics as it did in 2009, but that still only brings the global total to 1,250. It’s been a fleeting privilege to have known one.