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Porsche - The Art of Reduction
The Art of Reduction
 
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Dialogue: The youthful urge to run as seen from the cockpit of the 911 R from 1967.

Is it possible to build a car today with the same ideals and inspiration of half a century ago? Porsche has done exactly that, and the result is the new 911 R. A sports car distilled to its essence.

The Porsche 911 R makes no compromises when it comes to lightweight construction, performance, and passion. Composed of a four-liter naturally aspirated boxer engine and a six-speed manual transmission, it is an utter delight to drive. Back in 1967, this formula was behind the first Porsche 911 R. The forerunner of all subsequent RS and RSR models, its sole purpose was to provide the most intense driving experience possible. The new 911 R was designed to carry on this legacy.

The two models have now met for the first time. Nearly half a century of Porsche history is crystallized in these two sports cars that embody the same ideals.

“My car is like a ballerina,” says Johan-Frank Dirickx, a Belgian collector and owner of a 1967 Porsche 911 R, of which just twenty were made. “The R is really lightweight, very strong, incredibly fast, and drives wonderfully. You turn into a curve, feel the rear breaking out, and use that impetus to accelerate. It’s the ultimate in drifting. The car is brilliantly balanced.”

That is how Dirickx describes the two-liter flat-six sports car that he bought in the United States in 2007. Its 210-hp engine has to propel a weight of only a little over 1,760 pounds. For the new 911 R, the power-to-weight ratio is even more striking. Its four-liter flat-six engine—the one from the 911 GT3 RS assembly, to be precise—churns out 500 hp, and the car weighs 3,020 pounds with a full tank. No other model in the current 911 series is lighter. “You hear its power as soon as you start it up, and you feel its lightness and agility as soon as you pull out of the garage,” says Andreas Preuninger of the Porsche Development Center in Weissach. The director of the GT model line, Preuninger praises the captivating presence of the latest member of his team. “The new 911 R consumes all of your senses. It offers the purest and most intimate driving experience. So it’s the number one choice for fans of the original 911.”

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Partners in time: The two 911 R models span half a century.

The technology is as immediate as that in a race car. You hear the gears kick in and feel the clutch engage while the naturally aspirated engine sends cascades of sound rolling through the cockpit. For weight reduction reasons, the 911 R doesn’t have any noise insulation materials or heavy-duty foil that would otherwise envelop the interior. Carbon and magnesium body parts and a titanium exhaust system are additional examples of the consistent lightweight construction, as is the absence of air-conditioning and stereo systems. “It’s our motorsport take on a connected car,” says Preuninger. That means that the 911 R delivers the most direct interface between driver and car in order to enable immediate sensation and dynamic agility. Dirickx knows what that’s like in his old 911 R. “Twice a year I rent a private racetrack just to have fun with my car,” he says. “The driving sensation is unparalleled.”

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Lightness of being: The new 911 R owes its dexterity in curves to a combination of 500 hp and a curb weight—fully tanked—of only 3,020 pounds.

Dirickx could drive his seductively understated car on public roads, but he doesn’t really enjoy that anymore. Experts estimate the value of the car at around $3.85 million, and apart from a few additions it is still in original condition. Although it has only around 25,000 miles, it is a citizen of the world. This 911 R was the one that Vic Elford presented to the press on the Hockenheimring in December of 1967. Porsche sold it to an Italian physician in Ethiopia who drove it for 25 years. It then belonged to a collector from Japan for two decades before coming to Dirickx by way of a slight detour through California. Dirickx purchased the car for less than one-seventh of what it is worth today. “On the one hand, I’m thrilled that it has gone up so much in value,” he says. “On the other, it’s harder to be carefree with the car. You wonder whether you should be driving something that valuable. There’s always a little voice whispering things in your ear like ‘Be careful’ and ‘Slow down.’” But for its summit meeting with the new Porsche 911 R on the winding curves of Susten Pass in the Swiss Alps, Dirickx’s ballerina was given free rein and allowed to dance to its heart’s content. The surrounding 10,000-foot peaks echoed the throaty roars of the engines as the old and new 911 Rs engaged in a duet on hairpin turns. “Winding mountain roads are the perfect terrain for the car,” says Porsche developer Preuninger. Not least of all because the suspension was tuned over the course of many thousands of test miles in the Pyrenees and the southern Italian region of Apulia.

What about the lap times on the Nordschleife of the Nürburgring? “We didn’t time the car because we didn’t build it for the racetrack,” says Preuninger. These days there are a number of high-tech systems that make cars faster on tracks, but also heavier. Components of this type, such as a lightning-quick double-clutch system (PDK), were out of the question for the 911 R. Purists will rejoice, because what are a few tenths of a second compared to the joy of your hand on the gearshift? And the car was given a completely retuned six-speed manual transmission. If desired—and Preuninger highly recommends it—Porsche will replace the conventional dual-mass flywheel on the crankshaft with a single-mass version. That adds a slightly more impetuous edge to the power train and cuts another 11 pounds. In addition to the pleasure gained from the manual transmission, the new assembly also minimizes power losses in the drive line. To put it another way, more power is transmitted to the rear axle, making the top speed of the Porsche 911 R of 200 mph unbeatable. Preuninger notes that this official figure is “very conservative.” At any rate, the high top speed was a huge challenge for the aerodynamics experts, especially because the new 911 R—like its predecessor in 1967—was supposed to have a commanding yet discreet appearance, which meant absolutely no massive rear wing. All the car has is the extendable rear air dam typical of a Carrera and a meticulously optimized underbody. Hours of detailed work in the wind tunnel shaped the latter to ensure sufficient grip in every situation so that the car remains precisely on course.

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Shared gene pool: Two 911 Rs, as impressive as the setting.

A limited edition of 991 of the new 911 R will be built in Zuffenhausen, and Dirickx has already ordered one, because it is exactly the kind of sports car he loves: one that moves quickly, nimbly, and powerfully, like his vintage 911 R. And because he likes the understated design, which is in keeping with that of its 1967 predecessor. As such, the new 911 R embodies the very essence of the 911 model series, not only in its technology but also in its visuals. These include the classic wiry chassis, the 20-inch center-locking lightweight wheels, and, if desired, the double dark-red or signal-green stripes that were favored on the cars of half a century ago.

The newcomer almost leaves the impression of being the first 911 R in all these years to have matured to perfection. There’s nothing more that could be left out of this car—and that is precisely what makes it so complete.

By Sven Freese
Photos by Stefan Bogner