Porsche’s Carrera GT is the finest, fastest road car in the world. Need convincing? Then look at these nerdy numbers: at Phillip Island’s GP circuit, a V8 Supercar reaches 285km/h – with 463kW, 1355kg and sticky slicks.
This article first published in MOTOR November 2004.
This Carrera GT has less power, more weight and runs treaded road tyres. And it just hit 280km/h with a passenger! The super-fast Porsche 911 GT3 RS that blitzed the road racers over the previous pages cracks ‘just’ 242km/h. Welcome to the supercar club.
Like a touring rock star, this Guards Red, 15,000km-travelled Porsche Carrera GT flew into Australia on a six-week, 60-stop stay and display, maybe even enticing another millionaire or two, before flying home to Germany.
Job description number one was meeting the press for a few intimate hot laps of Phillip Island GP Circuit. What else would you do with a rare, super-priced supercar? Not much else, it seems, given that the GT only comes in left-hand drive; it’s a no-go for our public roads. The two sold to Aussies will remain on Euro soil.
As it idles in PI’s pit lane, compared to the 911, the Carrera GT looks flat and wide, like a stepped-on 911. The large but light carbon-fibre door swings open with the resistance of a fly-screen to reveal what is a relatively small aperture, not much larger or easier to ingress than an Exige.
It’s roomier inside, though, just. The high, angled silver centre console adds stiffness, I’m sure, but gives it the claustrophobic feeling of a canoe. A very expensive, carbon-fibre canoe. There’s black weave everywhere: sills, console, floor and windscreen frame, somewhat dumbed down by the silver plastic and black leather. The silver switchgear for windows, door locks and rear spoiler is simple, but feels better than it looks.
The steering wheel, like the seats, is manually adjustable only for reach, but perfectly sized and placed, with the oddly wooden shifter just a wrist twist away.
With death threats and multiple resignations ready if one of us binned Porsche’s baby, an unfamiliar left-hand twist of the key, stirs the V10 for half a second before it whines into life. From its 950rpm idle, the brush of the accelerator unleashes a rush of violence and a r-r-r-r-mmmm! That’s 7000rpm!
Ever heard a 600cc sports bike rev? Then you’re part way to realising that GT’s V10 is like a Formula 1 engine with mufflers. And cubes. Remember that 5.7-litre efficiency analogy in the tuned cars intro? This is the real thing: 450kW from an engine left over from an abandoned LMP GT program. Shut the door, pump the clutch for some feel, and clear the pit exit: this is going to be fun.
Then the passenger door opens and in jumps Porsche Carrera Cup pilot Alex Davison to ride shotgun and chaperone. Which is kinda like having Carmen Electra over at your place with a bottle of scotch, and Dennis Rodman is sitting in the corner with arms crossed. Damn.
Still, for a million bucks we’d probably be a little over-cautious too, this being just one of 1500 Carrera GTs planned for production over the next three years. Davison suggests, a tad condescendingly, that I shouldn’t bother trying to heel-and-toe, it’s too hard.
Not because of the floor-pivoting pedals, but because you need time to acclimatise to the speed at which the engine free revs. It takes just one second for the engine to fall from 7000rpm to a settled idle. Try it at home.
There is one driving trick, though, that came with plenty of warning: the GT’s tiny twin-plate carbon clutch is a right bastard when combined with the V10’s lack of inertia - stalling is commonplace. It’s better to ease off the clutch without touching the accelerator; revs increase automatically and it crawls away with aplomb. So far, so easy.
To get the full rush, once clear of the pit lane, we slow to 5km/h in first gear and absolutely nail the throttle. This, as we discover, is not the best method of acceleration. Instantly, a ferocious explosion erupts from just behind our heads with the speed, sound and cutting intensity of a dentist’s drill. The speedo and tacho flick around the dials as rear tyres spin as if we’ve just driven over a patch of ice, as its traction control light impersonates a strobe.
Ease the throttle and the grip catches up, the tyres bite and the engine spins to 8400rpm at 80km/h for the first shift. It may be unnatural for us left-hand shifters, but that wooden knob system is simply superb: light, short, precise, and as good as a manual gets. Which is a good thing with the revs quickly falling to idle during slow shifts.
Grab second and the tacho whips around to eight again so fast it feels like it’s wheel-spinning – but this time it’s hooked up. Last issue we proved this car could zero-to-100km/h in 3.8 seconds, but it’s above this speed that it continues to suck back the road. It peaks at 135km/h in second - yes, same as the GT3 RS – but hammers out this wonderful concentration of sound and speed.
From inside, it’s no louder than the RS, but a lot harsher, angrier, and more intense in every way. It revs way harder and faster, with incredible throttle response and an undying rate of acceleration. And we’re doing near-on 200km/h before we’ve hit turn one. Need another number? Its standing kilometre time of 20.4 @ 266km/h blitzes the Lamborghini’s Gallardo’s 23.5 @ 236km/h.
The GT’s steering feel and chassis balance are perfection. Without a twist or creak and no noticeable body roll, its mild hydraulic power-assisted steering is more precise than any car we’ve tested. Through Phillip Island’s sweeping turns, its flat-bottom aero package with diffusers plays a big part, and feels as stuck down as a block of moving marble, highlighted by the squirming RS.
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If there’s any movement, it’s from the tyres. Sure, there’s lots of grip from the massive 19 and 20-inch Michelins, but these are still road-treaded tyres that sometimes struggle to put down 450kW – 24 more than a Murciélago.
The brakes work better at speed: grinding like a rock’s been caught in the calipers in the pits, bury the brake pedal and it doesn’t sink the nose as much as drill the entire chassis of the GT into the ground with literally enough braking force to pull passengers out of the seat. It may lack the Gallardo’s all-wheel-drive traction, but the GT’s larger brakes are every bit as capable.
Corner exits are where it gets interesting, though. With a massive 590Nm, the fat tyres ask for a smooth, drip-feed of power. So, stamp on it – naturally, as we did and it spins up both tyres the same way it did in first gear. Try a higher gear - third instead of second - and it simply moves the wheelspin further down the road.
After a few laps, the on-board tyre monitor’s showing rear pressures up around 45psi, needing a slight bleed. The lasting impression is that there’s an incredible chassis, as stiff as a rock, perfect steering, amazing cornering potential, the ability to powerslide on command, an engine stuffed full of power and torque, but tyres that just can’t keep up. But when we’re sitting at the local Porsche dealer with a $1.1million cheque in hand, then we’ll get concerned.
After a handful of laps, we’re called in, and experience yet another reminder of this engine’s nature. Killed, it just stops instantly, suddenly, like an F1 car, without a turn or two of friction overcoming inertia.
Few things speak as clearly as lap times and a sub-two-minute lap around Phillip Island is sharp for a road car. The GT3 RS lays down a wriggly but impressive 1min:53 seconds. Then the Carrera GT fires up and in one hot lap, slams down a 1min:44secs. So there.
As we proved last issue, it laps faster than a Ferrari Enzo, itself on par with McLaren’s F1. If there’s a faster, better supercar than Porsche’s Carrera GT, we haven’t driven it.
A Carrera for the ‘50s, the Porsche 356
Twin-cam was born in July 1955, when Porsche’s 356 Carrera became the first production car to run dual overhead camshafts. With two valves per piston sucking through a pair of Weber carbies, the 1588cc air-cooled flat-four ponied up 86kW at 6500rpm with a sound of a VW Beetle on Red Bull.
Rare as steak tartare and worth around $250,000, this light (845kg) and immaculate 356 Carrera is a superb contrast to the modern-day vehicle. The large and thin steering is heavy, its spread of power is narrow, and while the balance is good – careful of the camber-changing rear swing-axle suspension – mechanical grip from the cross-ply tyres isn’t huge.
The brake pedal needs a deep stomp to get action from the four-wheel drums, but, wound up, there’s plenty of speed with an easy 200km/h.
Around Phillip Island, by today’s standards the 356 Carrera doesn’t go, corner or stop. But 50 years ago, this was technology at its fastest and finest.