By James Wong
Sweeping up my phone from the slightly oily Kallang McDonald’s table informed me that it was already pass 1030pm. On a usual working day, I would be retiring to bed in restful peace upon a good book. But this is no usual working day. Today, I will get to drive the Porsche 911 GT3.
I cannot say that I have always been a fan of the 911. When I first started my career in the automotive world, I always pigeonholed the 911 as the car which is classic, steeped in history but ultimately a bit too much of the same thing, rehashed over a very long time. I thought it was a stale car that needs to learn a new trick or two. I know, blasphemy.
However, I was and will always be a German car fan. So even though I did not accord the 911 the respect it deserved, I still loved what Porsche stands for. Maybe if I experienced the 911s, I would change my mind, I thought. So I did – I signed up for the Porsche Sport Driving School in Mount Cotton, Australia to find out what the fuss was all about.
You could say that those two days really started my love affair with the 911.
Within the relatively short time span, I drove just about every model in the Porsche range except the GT3 and GT2. Every model had their unique merits, although I endeared to the boxer engine in naturally aspirated guise the most. That metallic sound that crescendos into a gravelly, heavily German-accented engineered noise is something you cannot find inanything else but a Porsche. I looked and dug deeper for it. Naturally, the search led me to the GT3.
In the following years, I had flirtatious encounters with Porsches in official driving experience events and generous Porsche enthusiasts who let me try their cars. But I never once got to try the GT3. Obviously, the desire grew as Porsche continued to refine and hone the GT3. From the base 997.1 GT3, there appeared the visually-enhanced and extensively revised 997.2 GT3. With emissions regulations creeping up on the Mezger engine, it was destined that the 997 would be the last ever generation to use the GT1-derived block. This culminated in the GT3 4.0 RS; if there was ever a car to use the word swansong upon, this would be it.
Although there is perhaps a syringe of excessive nostalgia injected into the passing of the Mezger engine, there is no denying that it has absolutely ignited the motorsport range of the 911, and I would wager especially for the GT3. In no other iteration does the Mezger sound better than in a GT3. In terms of pure engineering to extract horsepower without any force-fed assistance, the Mezger was also stretched to its fullest in the GT3.
Then there is also the steadfast belief of driver involvement with the GT3. Save for the latest 991 GT3, the road-going GT3s since the 996 era have all been fitted only with manual gearboxes. It would be harsh to say that posers are kept away from buying this car, but there is a figment of truth to that as the GT3 has never been a car to cosset and pamper its passengers. It is a difficult car to master, a car with a devilish streak if you dare test its temper, one that will genuinely take your life away if you take reckless liberties with it. This isn’t one of those dual-clutch, turbocharged cars where you can just plant the throttle down and go fast effortlessly. It requires commitment, dedication and conviction with every driver input. You could say that the GT3 taught me the essence of purist driving. Needless to say, I personally find the GT3 the most desirable modern Porsche of them all.
So back to the oily McDonald’s table. We finally stood and walked towards the GT3.
Even though this particular example is now about 5 years old, it has been cared for meticulously by its fussy owner. You can tell no expense has been spared, from the expensive Pilot Super Sport tyres (it comes highly commended, by the way) to the immaculate condition of the interior. It looks like it has never aged since it was driven with my MkV GTI to Malaysia quite some time ago.
I opened the sideways-sliding door handles (typical Porsche) and slot into the rather comfortable seats (compared to the Recaro items in my Renaultsport Clio anyway). The first thing that strikes me, after having driven tall cars (hatchback, sedan, MPV) for the past few days, is that I sit very close to the ground. It is slightly intimidating, but made less so because you do get a good view out of the cockpit, coupled with the fact that the car is overall still quite compact.
I took a few moments to savour the near-perfect sitting position and to enjoy the FVD leather steering wheel, before putting the key into the ignition and waking the boxer to life. Wow, this is loud. I don’t remember GT3s being this loud stock, and my instincts were confirmed later when the owner confirmed that he installed a Sharkwerks muffler bypass. Some modifications, very few of them indeed, are worth doing to what is essentially a road-legal full-fledged sports car, and this is one of them.
Depressing the clutch is the first thing that reminds you that this is a Man car. You will need to be considerably fit to work that clutch on a daily basis, and I would say it is comparable to the clutch in the Exige 240 Cup I tried not too long ago, although the latter’s feels more agricultural than sporty. The gear changes have the right amount of resistance that is commensurate with the weight of the clutch. The throws are extremely positive, so you are never in doubt about which gear you are doing.
Getting out of the car park lot, it was rather surprising that the car did not feel like it was mechanically rough in any way. In some heavily modified, focused cars, there is juddering from a diff when you go at crawling speed in turns, or there will be some drivetrain irritation that will remind you that 15km/h is not the natural territory of the car. But in the GT3, everything feels as refined as any other Porsche. The only giveaway is the car’s reluctance to shift up too early, as that will send an awkward jerk into the cabin as the revs fall below a certain threshold. “There is a certain way to drive 1st and 2nd gear to prevent that jerk”, the owner tells me as I clumsily execute another early upshift.
Over humps, the car does not pose any problems if taken at sensible speeds, which was another surprise. The car is turning out to be much more civilised than I imagined.
At the first junction, I noticed a whirring noise from the rear. “That’s the OEM GT3 RS flywheel”, the owner quips. “You won’t hear it when you clutch in”. Replacing the stock flywheel and pulley was the best mod he has ever done. It feels more like the RS now in some ways, he says, and I can certainly tell when I bring the engine to its limits later on.
For now, we sit through flowing but slow traffic as I get used to driving the car. Although it is not comfortable by any measure, at least in terms of the ride it does seem bearable on a day to day basis. This is, after all, not the harder riding RS car, and this car already had its suspension replaced with a set of the Bilstein B16 Damptronic. It feels beautifully damped.
Finally, we find a stretch of quiet road that is walled on either side with concrete or skyscrapers. The responsible thing to do, of course, is to lower the windows, shift down to second and give it all I got.
Without even getting anywhere near the redline, the car was already flying into third gear, with the intoxicating noise, enhanced by the confined environs, drugging me into a stupor that cried out for more. “This… is one serious car.” was all I could say as we took a while to catch our breath which surely escaped out of the car and out of sight.
Perhaps if there was one criticism that could be levelled at the GT3, it would be the gearing. Given that the car has a top speed reputation to uphold, its six gears are spread long and wide to ensure that it can still meet the figures on paper (316km/h, by the way). However, for Singapore roads and I reckon for most of the roads in the world, the top speed is merely an academic figure that can be easily traded away for shorter gearing. I can understand a long top gear, but with every gear being long in this instance, it does blunt the response of the engine slightly. That said, the flywheel really makes the engine zing to its redline with a keenness that belies its long gearing. This, yet again, is another mod that was carefully chosen only to enhance the experience of the GT3.
Throughout the whole drive, Sport mode was permanently on. Although I did not get to test the car’s handling – which would be a shade irresponsible on the public road given the GT3′s tendency to wag its tail more eagerly than a terrier dog – it was readily apparent even at moderate speeds how the weight all hung from the rear. Only a slightly more enthusiastic throttle input is all that is needed to make the front end feel a bit light and to transfer some weight over those rear wheels, especially in a S-corner. What is perhaps more terrifying is that the car does not come with ESP, but only traction control to aid in – but not counter – any lost of control. As such there is no real safety net, unlike say in the F10 M5 I drove which resolutely prevented the rear from snapping when all systems are on. The GT3 relies purely on your skill and courage, and so is quite impossible to exploit fully on first acquaintance.
Before the final turn off the highway towards the same parking lot, the owner brought me to his favourite exit where there is ample space to work second gear to its limit and to use a fair bit of third. Carefully planned, he advised a slow entry in second gear and the car brimmed with energy. “Once the road straightens out, you floor it.”
I did as I was told. I planted the throttle to the floor, held onto second gear as it raced in a spellbinding momentum to the 8000+rpm redline. The mechanical roar envelopes the cabin in a rich and luscious exhaust note which hardens up gradually, but never feeling like it would give up even at the redline… And then a quick shift to third and we are out of road. It was the only point in the whole drive where I probably got to savour the engine to its absolute best, and boy, what a memory it was. It burns in my brain like an etched stainless steel block of joy.
And so that was the drive that I waited years to do. I sat in the very same car before, terrified as a passenger as it swept a huge corner at Fort Road towards ECP, many years back. Then, I drove with it towards Yong Peng in Malaysia, humbled by its untouchable high-speed in-gear acceleration. And today, I got to file all those memories together in a proper drive of a car I have always admired. Now I can back up my obsession with a tangible and very real experience, and I couldn’t have asked for more.
Thanks to Desmond for sharing his painstakingly cared for 997.1 GT3 with Lenspeed.
Thanks also to Gerald Yuen and Desmond for contributing the pictures for this article.