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Porsche - Peak Performer

Peak Performer

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Climbing into the Carrera 6 means threading yourself through the narrow hatch of a wing door.

A Cayman GTS and a 906 Carrera 6 on tour in the Swiss Alps. This mountaineering team is joined by a 918 Spyder.

Let’s be honest: Mid-engine sports cars have never been hotter. The Cayman designated by the three letters “GTS” tops several charts, such as those for lap times, cost-benefit ratio, and the spicy all’ arrabbiata blend of its suspension, brakes, transmission, and engine. This type of sports car with a nearly equal axle load distribution of 45.7 percent in the front and 54.3 percent in the rear plus a power-to-weight ratio of one horsepower to four kilograms used to bring tears of exertion to our eyes, not to mention give us sweaty palms and dry lips. But with consummate ease, this particular Cayman GTS instills in us a sense of artistry in curves and, for that matter, in life as well, plus a precise command of steering and adventure at the limits of traction and lateral acceleration.

Two generations ago the car’s power and driving performance would have been enough to virtually guarantee victory at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. If today’s youth can feel like the winners back then, it is thanks to a level of electronic sophistication that smartphones and PCs cannot even dream of. Modern sports cars are prototypes of an electronic system that always works—during any season, in any weather, on all roads, and at any speed.

Porsche’s engineers are envisioning and implementing new and even more ambitious and precise scenarios for the experience of driving mid-engine sports cars.

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The two-liter sixcylinder boxer engine is cooled by a fan at the front and aspirated with open induction pipes.

But even these control units pale in comparison with the super-intelligent systems conceived by Porsche’s engineers at the Weissach Development Center, who are constantly envisioning and implementing new and even more ambitious and precise scenarios and parameters. Under normal driving conditions, the Cayman GTS is a paragon of precision and comfort, with an invariably sensitive steering system and thoughtful coordination between the springs and the shock absorbers.

This setup for connoisseurs makes it easy to exceed all manner of limits in the car. You can glide serenely through stunning landscape at 121 km/h, but this daredevil violation of 1 km/h above the speed limit is enough to make you an outlaw in Switzerland. Nevertheless, the GTS exudes a deep sense of relaxation. You’re ambling along in sixth gear, with rpm and fuel consumption dipping to ever lower levels, in the luxurious purism of an Alcantara® interior. The decorative seams and insignia stand out in a contrasting hue, the face of the rev counter is all in red, and the decorative trim is made of carbon fiber.

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The road over the 2,224- meter Susten Pass was built between 1938 and 1945. A short straight stretch near the border to the canton of Uri gives the sports cars some room to stretch their legs

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The restored Carrera 6 is even street legal.

Before this idyllic scene can slip into kitsch, we leave the Swiss autobahn shortly before the Gotthard Tunnel. The road up into the heavens has the qualities of the old hill-climbing routes, with one side being a sheer rocky wall and the other an abyss.

Pressing the Sport Plus button injects an additional surge of adrenaline and testosterone and immediately sharpens the suspension and engine further. The Cayman glides more tautly through the hairpin bends, responds directly to the accelerator, and lets up promptly when the gas pedal is released. This is how it might have been in the past, when drivers storming the peak dreamed of a broad torque range, of brutally effective brakes at every speed, and of a steering system that is both direct and comfort-oriented.

You’ve hardly deemed the Cayman the best mid-engine sports car on mountain roads when a flat white board with a glass dome and headlights similar to the Cayman’s appears in the rearview mirror. The dome whizzes by and turns out to be a Porsche 906, a race car from the 1960s. Back in the last century, race-car drivers were sent out onto the roads in thin bucket seats surrounded by a tubular space frame coated with synthetic resin.

Weighing less than 700 kilograms, a Carrera 6 is powered by a two-liter six-cylinder boxer engine with an output of around 154 kW (210 hp) that earned Porsche not only victories en masse starting in 1966 but also overall wins at world championship endurance races. Of the 67 Carrera 6 cars made, most were sold to private race-car drivers. This car, sporting starting number 26 and a blue front hood, is even street legal. Looking thin-skinned by today’s standards, its gullwing doors and enormous engine hood operate flawlessly.

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And then this 918 Spyder suddenly appeared, silently at first, using electric power, and then accompanied by the thunder of its V8 engine.

You glide into a Carrera 6 cockpit like a flowing stream of water. Once inside, you sit tranquilly between the front axle and the fan wheel, which is positioned vertically behind your back. In 1966 it was still possible to race without a seat belt, which is why the handholds are precisely defined: the driver takes the steering wheel and the gearshift, and the passenger gets the cool tubes of the frame. In the warmer tubes of the frame, oil flows between the mid-mounted engine and the oil cooler at the front. The view up through the dome extends endlessly into the blue sky, while the large front wheel housings mark off an exact corridor for precise steering. Despite the close quarters that feel even narrower than the width of 100 centimeters for two people suggests, and despite the unmuffled engine with induction pipes at ear height, the cockpit is quite comfortable. Nearly lying on their backs, driver and passenger gaze out over the austere instrument panel at roads that wind their way up over some of the most beautiful mountain passes in Switzerland. With names like Gotthard-Straße, Nufenen, Grimsel, and Susten, all of these roads run at altitudes of more than 2,000 meters and feature a dense network of curves snaking along with cliff faces on one side and gorges on the other.

Our Carrera 6, which has been restored to its original condition, surprises us with the fine ride comfort of its suspension over many a bump in the road, with brakes that live up to today’s standards, and with its spontaneous, direct steering. Open to all sides, however, the engine calls for earplugs or headphones and makes it necessary to do without a navigation system or phone. A kindred spirit, the Cayman GTS also shows its racing prowess, although it is considerably easier to climb into and its air-conditioning system keeps any adverse weather or temperatures firmly at bay.

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Stefan Bogner: Born in 1968, Bogner has a passion for photographing breathtaking curves. Preferably in combination with breath­taking cars. And both preferably purist, just like his work. His collections fill volumes, the latest of which is entitled Epic.

The empty roads, clearly visible all the way down into the valley, automatically show an elegant ideal line that would also work well for the postal service buses that travel them regularly. The Cayman GTS and the Carrera 6 become the ultimate dance partners at altitudes of over 2,000 meters, swapping the lead position from time to time.

Striking four-point headlights suddenly signal the arrival of another extremely capable mountain climber. The curve has hardly straightened out when a Porsche 918 Spyder whooshes past. The Carrera 6, the Cayman GTS, and the 918 Spyder—two new mid-engine sports cars and their early ancestor from the line of Porsche race cars come together to form a full family tree made up of members that have much in common. They enter each subsequent tunnel in close succession. Of course, all windows are down.

Text by Eckhard Eybl
Photos by Stefan Bogner

Cayman GTS (Typ 981) Engine: Six-cylinder mid-engine boxer, Displacement: 3,436 cc, Power: 250 kW (340 hp), Maximum torque: 380 Nm at 4,750–5,800 rpm, 0–100 km/h: 4.9 (4.8*) sec., Top track speed: 285 (283*) km/h (177/175* mph), CO2 emissions (combined): 211 (190*) g/km, Fuel consumption City: 12.7 (11.4*) l/100 km, Highway: 7.1 (6.3*) l/100 km, Combined: 9.0 (8.2*) l/100 km, Efficiency class: G (F*). * with Porsche double-clutch transmission (PDK)

906 Carrera 6 Year: 1966, Powertrain: Air-cooled six-cylinder mid-engine boxer, two overhead chain-driven camshafts, two triple-barrel downdraft carburetors, electric gas pump, Displacement: 1,991 cc, Power: 154 kW (210 hp), Top track speed: 280 km/h* (174 mph*), Transmission: Five-speed, manual, Body: Fiberglass-reinforced plastic (FGRP), steel tubular space frame, Empty weight: 675 kg. * depending on gear ratio