For some of us, the mid-’80s air-cooled 911 epitomises the sports car in any form, so when Online Editor Matt was given the opportunity to drive an ’86 911 Carrera G-series around Porsche’s Silverstone Experience Centre track, there was only going to be one outcome.
For me, the 911 is the best car money can buy. There are few cars that combine outrageous performance with the ability to pootle around town unfussed and in such a beautiful frame. It has something for everyone.
It wasn’t exactly a tough choice when I was asked what car I’d pick for a ‘Dream Drives’ feature in our sister weekly title Classic Car Buyer: the Porsche 911 was the immediate answer. In truth I wasn’t too fussed which iteration, although if I were to be picky I like my 911s either much older, or ultra-new, not being one for the in-between models. So think 964 and earlier and the latest 991/992 iterations. Obviously, it’s Classics World you’re reading here though, so no PDK gearbox, traction controlled modern car. Instead, a proper 911 where you do the work, not the car.
The hardest part was finding a willing counterpart to let me drive their beloved 911 but luckily at Porsche’s Experience Centre in the Silverstone Circuit complex there lives a 1986 Carrera 3.2 which comes with the bonus of its own test track plus the advice of a seasoned Porsche racer on hand for some impromptu tuition to help get the best out of the famously tricky rear-engined car.
Hop into the G-Series 911 for the first time and you immediately feel like you’re in something special. Low-slung seating position, big Porsche branded wheel in front of you and stupendously wide arches in the wing mirrors. Fire the 3.2-litre air-cooled flat-six into life and it’s a little angrier than I remember from my first experience in the G-Series. It starts with a purposeful growl and idles smoothly but with enough hint that it’s ready to go.
It’s 17:30, the track at the Experience Centre at Silverstone has closed and a Porsche instructor is sat in the passenger seat. It’s sunny but with enough cloud to just drop the sun’s intensity momentarily and allow the breeze to bring the temperature in the car down a few notches. With the window open and the signal to go, we’re off.
After a few sighting laps to allow tracking shots to be taken, I could start to piece together the track. It’s not a fast circuit, but it is very demanding and physical, with gradient and camber changes as well as sharp changes in direction.
The older 911s are known for being tail happy, so oversteer wasn’t something I wanted to experiment with, but I have to say, modern tyre technology has transformed the feel of the car and the grip levels are astonishing. Despite being almost 35 years old, the Carrera is enough to trouble modern sports cars around a circuit. Just as you think you’re on the edge of the tyre and car’s performance, you learn a new line from the instructor to carry yet more speed without unsettling the car’s balance.
The first set of corners are tricky from the off, Chaz instructing me to stay far left, waiting for the second apex of the corner to open up and hold it on the apex; this allows you to push on the brakes ready for the tight left-hander, which descends downhill before climbing back up through the next right-hander. At the top of the crest, a dab of the brakes to compose the car and a reassuring hurl of the wheel right sends you off camber and downhill for a swooping right-hander that doubles back on itself before moving left and back uphill. You have to trust the car’s grip at this point as it leans aggressively on its left side and you can feel it wanting to wash out wide, but it clings on and pulls you towards the apex, right where the brave man that is Group Editor Wager is stood on the verge taking shots. Thanks for the trust, boss!
The next right-hander continues uphill as the Porsche building comes back into view. Hold the car far right, then move across and stay tight on the apex to the left while braking straight before turning right and back to the start. As I mentioned, it’s a short track that is full of technical sections, changing gradient and camber to upset the car’s balance, and yet, not once was I at a point where I was upsetting the car into under- or oversteer.
It felt fast, it apparently looked fast but I’m under no impression that I was driving the car to its full potential. But that’s not the point of the 911. OK, it can corner faster than most and accelerate quicker than most, but you don’t necessarily have to be driving it at maximum capacity to get the most amount of fun out of it.
I drove the whole circuit in third gear. The grunt low down is enough to pull you out of corners, and the long ratio means I wasn’t nudging fourth down the straights. “Do you think I should have used second for some of those corners?” I asked.
“I wouldn’t have,” said Chaz. “I may have been going into fourth on some of the faster sections, but second would have been unnecessary. Too many people think down-changing to the lowest gear is the quickest way because it sounds like it is, but in reality you’ll upset the balance of the rear, more so than if you were to use a higher gear and use the torque, but crucially the grip.” I’m happy with that advice!
The 58% weight bias towards the rear helps tremendously on corner exits but helps the front to be darty on corner entry, with it being light. The steering, unassisted on this car, is heavy and can be a handful over a decent chunk of time of pedalling on but provides constant feedback of what’s happening with the wheels.
That being said, drive it sedately and you can enjoy the 911 for what it is, an utterly brilliant sports car. It could do the job of the supercars when it needed to, but it could also do the job of the commuter car. For me, the 911 is the perfect car, and the dream of driving one around track just became a reality. I’m still pinching myself now. Best of all? It’s not a Lottery Win car: you can pick one up for between £30,000 and £40,000.