Porsche 997 Speedster and GTS, flat six-cylinder, petrol, seven-speed dual-clutch automated or six-speed manual (GTS only) transmission
Recently, as my mind began to wander when driving a 997 Turbo S back home from a road trip to the Scottish Highlands, I began to mentally go through all the different variants of the 997. Two generations, beginning in 2005, to be honest I struggled to come up with a definitive number but it was blindingly obvious that, whatever your tastes in sports cars, there’s been a Porsche 911 that would tick pretty much any box for you.
I also started to ponder on what modern 911s have given me the most fun and, surprisingly, the one I always recall to mind as having given me the biggest thrills – apart from the obvious GT3 and GT3RS road racers – is a bog-standard 3.6-litre Carrera. Unusually for a press demonstrator, it was sparingly specced and was as basic as it gets. Yet because its performance envelope was so accessible, I felt supremely confident in driving it extremely hard on public roads. At no time did I feel this perfectly balanced car needed more power or more gadgets – it was an absolute blast.
But 911 aficionados are a picky bunch and Porsche knows its customer base better than most, so when a limited edition model comes along you know they’ll all sell, no matter how expensive they are. But who saw a 997 Speedster coming? Not me, that’s for sure. But then there’s a really strong following for retro cars these days and a Porsche Speedster has heritage by the truck load. Initially the Speedster model was developed to make the 356 more appealing to the Californian marketplace – it was low, had a windscreen that was lower than the driver’s head and it was light. It was fun to drive, was glamorous, it became a style icon and a bona fide movie star in its own right.
In the 1980s there was another Speedster offering in the shape of the then current 911, followed by the 964.
The same basic principle was applied: basic with only rudimentary weather protection, they were built and sold in tiny numbers and then it disappeared, seemingly for good. But it’s back for another 21st century outing, milking the retro craze for all it’s worth. Just 356 will be built, in honour of its famous forefather and to keep interest levels high by ensuring its rarity value.
Before looking at what it’s like, it’s worth considering that, for the price of one of these, you could have a brand new GT3 as well as a Cayman. Initially that seems ludicrous but then, when you also factor in that Porsche needs to plough untold sums of money into developing this model for its worldwide markets and still make it profitable as a stand-alone model, it’s little wonder it’s so expensive. But Porsche, like I said, knows its customers.
It’s available in two colours: Pure Blue, which is unique to the model, and white. The windscreen, in true Speedster fashion, is some 77mm lower than the standard 997, although the rake remains the same. The canvas roof and clamshell tonneau cover are unique and, unlike Speedsters of yore, it’s properly watertight. There’s no electric operation so if the heavens open you need to get out of the car and fiddle about for a bit but it’s quite simple in execution, unlike this year’s Porsche Boxster Spyder.
It looks better resolved than previous 911 Speedsters and, as a nod to its heritage, has black painted alloys with polished rims, reminiscent of the Fuchs wheels fitted to 911 in the 60s, 70s and 80s. There are black stone-chip protectors on the rear arches which hark back to the original 911 Turbo, too. The bulbous roof cover gives the rear profile something of a hunchback stance but it’s individual and, when the roof is up it looks low and sleek.
On the road it feels every bit as dynamic as you’d expect from a modern 911. It doesn’t creak, it feels tight as a drum and supremely crafted from the finest materials. There’s no option of a manual transmission here so you have to make do with Porsche’s PDK dual-clutch transmission which does rob something from the experience, although it’s peerlessly engineered and extremely quick. Carbon brakes are standard and the engine is the 300kW Power Kit version of the 3.8-litre flat six found in the Carrera S. It sounds great too, with its sports exhaust, whether the roof is up or down.
It’s no lightweight, however, which goes against the original design ethos of the Speedster. In fact it weighs the same as a Carrera S cabriolet, which is loaded down with electric roof motors. But when the roof’s down, the sun is high and the road is clear, you couldn’t wish to be driving anything else.
And just when you thought Porsche had bled the 997 to death, along comes the GTS. This, according to the company, is the final, final, final version before the 998 is uncovered in autumn 2011. This brings the total number of second generation of 997 variants to, I think, 21 – no wonder the 997 has been the most successful 911 of all time And it’s really rather good.
Available as a coupe or cabriolet, it has the wide body of the Carrera 4 but is rear-wheel drive and has the same Power Kit 3.8 found in the back of the Speedster (and the ducktail spoilered Sport Classic from earlier this year).
The centre lock RS Spyder wheels are those found on the Turbo and GT3, it has side skirts normally found on the GT2 and, in the coupe, they’ve deleted the rear seats to give a more sporting vibe. You could be forgiven for thinking the GTS, then, is nothing more than a greatest hits compilation, with Porsche having cherry picked the best bits and thrown them into the mixer but this is, in actual fact, the most complete 997 of the lot.
Unlike the Speedster, you can opt for a traditional six-speed manual gearbox and it’s utterly perfect. When people lament the passing of the manual in favour of racing derived paddle shifters, if they’ve experienced the Porsche unit you know that they know what they’re talking about.
On the road the GTS comes together as a pure, properly focussed driver’s machine. It’s not as crashy as a GT3 but feels every bit as urgent – in fact, when you take it by the scruff of its neck and give it a good thrashing, it delivers thrill after visceral thrill. Being rear-wheel drive it’s more playful on the limit than the Turbo or Carrera 4 models and the extra width afforded by the rear arches and the wider track gives it superglue grip when you want it.
As a swansong for the 997, the GTS is quite fitting and, because its lifespan will be relatively short, you won’t see many of these about. Which means residuals will be high. Any 997 is a brilliant car and, when it bows out to make way for the next generation of 911, it will represent a body of work that Porsche can rightly be proud of. It would seem the model Porsche was so desperate to kill off in the 1970s is here to stay. Amen to that.