Start with a standard Porsche 911 Carrera and its 350-horsepower, 3.6-liter flat six-cylinder engine. Bore a crepe-thin slice of aluminum from each cylinder to get to 3.8 liters, add a wider track out back and two extra exhaust pipes and voila, you can append an S to the Carrera's name. Hang two sets of wet, multi-disc clutches along its spine and you can make that a 4, or a 4S. Bolt on two forced-induction compressors and piping, add two fender vents and comically wide rear tires and you've redeemed your ticket to a Turbo. Increase the boost pressure and swell the corral to 560 horses and you have the Turbo S, which is the Virginia Slims of the 911 line-up because it's come a long way, baby.
Or you can go in a different direction. At that second stop, grab the 3.8-liter and cart it over to the engineers at Porsche's development center in Weissach, Germany. If racing were meat, they would be among the alpha carnivores. The baseboards in their homes are probably painted with miniature billboards for motor oil and vintage cigarettes along the straights, red-and-white stripes around every corner.
Instead of watching them add things to the 911, watch them take away. They will subtract the kinds of things you can feel in your hands, like components and weight and mass. By doing that, they will add the things you can feel in your butt and your gut, like acceleration and handling and thrill.
That has been the formula for the previous four generations of the 911 GT3, and it is that same incantation chanted over this fifth generation 991-based GT3. It's stiffer, more powerful, faster and handles better than the coupe that came before it. It weighs more than the outgoing model, but it also - as we've come to expect - has more power.
And when Thomas Jefferson's line "Every generation needs a revolution" was the opening quote of the press conference that introduced the 2014 911 GT3, the easy explanation would be that the speaker was referring to the coupe's advances. But we're pretty sure he was answering the question everyone's been asking since the words "PDK-only" began being applied to the car: "What in Gott's name have you done with my manual transmission?"
But let us start with the positive subtractions they made.
The dynasty of Porsche's road-legal racers began with the 1972 911 Carrera RS.
The lineage of this car is traced back to the 1957 Porsche type 356 A 1500 GS Carrera GT, the first Porsche to wear the letters "GT." Fame would come in the '70s, though; the dynasty of Porsche's road-legal racers began with the 1972 911 Carrera RS and the ducktail by which it was known.
The first 911 GT3 showed up in 1999. It weighed 2,970 pounds, got 360 hp from its 3.6-liter engine, got from 0-62 miles per hour in 4.8 seconds, didn't run out of go until 188 miles per hour and bore features still found on this new car: dry sump lubrication, forged pistons, titanium connecting rods, modified engine mounts and a limited-slip differential.
By the time the second-generation 997 GT3 arrived in 2009, it was getting 435 hp from its 3.8-liter engine, ran from 0-62 mph in 4.1 seconds and had a top speed of 194 mph.
And now: the new 991 GT3 produces 475 hp from a 3.8-liter flat-six, the stoplight dash to 62 mph comes off in 3.5 seconds and the top speed is 195 mph.
Those are the numbers birthed by an engine whose origins date to the 1997 GT1, Porsche's Le Mans racecar that spawned a 544-hp, road-legal version homologation. The powerplant is almost entirely different from that in the regular 911, only sharing parts like the crankcase and timing chain. There's a new tubular manifold and a lighter crankshaft, dry-sump oil system and intake system. This is the first GT3 with direct injection, but it uses a different system than the regular Carrera with higher pressures.
This is the first GT3 with direct injection, but it uses a different system than the regular Carrera.
There are larger hubs and wheel carriers suspended by forged wishbones with bigger bearings, but the suspension's aluminum dampers are another source of weight savings. As on previous GT3s, the all-aluminum suspension is adjustable for height, toe and camber.
The 20-inch forged aluminum wheels are nine inches wide in front – half an inch wider than on the previous generation – and 12 inches in back, the same as before. Peer behind them and you'll find the standard brakes, hybrid 380-millimeter units front and rear composed of cast iron discs with aluminum covers, or the optional PCCB brake package with its carbon ceramic rotors – 410 mm in front with six-piston calipers and 390 mm in back with four-pistons – that is also found on the upcoming 918 Spyder hybrid supercar.
Lastly, increased use of aluminum for the roof, fenders, rear boot lid and doors, as well as high-strength steel, lowers the weight of the bodyshell by nearly 13 percent.
So what did they add? Well, overall weight, to start. The Gen II 997 GT3 weighed 3,076 pounds, this one weighs 3,153 pounds. They also added more revolutions: the 435 hp in the last car came at 7,600 rpm, 900 rpm short of its 8,500 rpm redline, while in this one, the 475 hp clocks in at 8,250 rpm, 750 rev per minute below the 9,000 rpm redline. Torque also goes up a pinch, from 317 pound-feet at 6,250 rpm in the last GT3 to 324 lb-ft at the same 6,250 rpm.
What did they add? Well, overall weight, to start.
They added aggression, the bodywork nothing less than an aluminum mask of vicious sin. It's lower and wider than the last model, and torsional rigidity has climbed by 25 percent. A stouter front air dam with a fuller lower lip, straighter lines and larger mesh-covered intakes feeds more air to the radiators. The air outlet between the trunk edge and the front spoiler, as we'd find out during the afternoon rains, emits clouds of heat into cooler air.
The composite rear wing is still adjustable, but the molded number "3.8," which refers to the 1993 911 RS 3.8, has moved from the wing endplates to the supports. Along with that beefier front lip, it provides 20-percent more downforce overall.
It is here that we get to Houdini, and the six-speed manual transmission he took with him when he disappeared. Another line we got at the press conference: "At Porsche we all love to shift gears manually. But what we love even more is being the fastest."
"At Porsche we all love to shift gears manually. But what we love even more is being the fastest."
Porsche saved 20 kilograms with the redesigned engine, which happens to match the weight penalty incurred by the seven-speed PDK gearbox. No doubt, it is a quick transmission: the so-called "lightning shifts" during sequential manual operation take less than 100 milliseconds.
While there'll be no more swapping gear ratios to suit different tracks, the PDK is "geared to performance" with every one of its seven cogs chosen for their ability to accelerate proceedings – that seventh gear is not an overdrive gear.
One of its prime tricks is that it can be used like a sequential manual transmission, the driver pushing the console-mounted lever forward for downshifts, pulling back for upshifts. But there are paddles on the wheel, naturally, and they're the source of the second trick. Pull them both toward you and the gearbox goes into neutral, as if you had a real clutch to press. Release them and the PDK returns to the gear you had it in.
It's 15 seconds faster around the Nürburgring's Northern Loop than the last GT3.
The adoption of the PDK has made fitment of an electronically controlled, fully variable rear locking differential possible. The LSD on previous cars had fixed locking values of 28 and 40 percent.
The result, on paper, is improved metrics everywhere. Porsche says it's 15 seconds faster around the Nürburgring's Northern Loop than the last GT3, going flag-to-flag in 7:25.
The result, behind the wheel, is improved performance everywhere – but you've got to get to it. Slide into the Porsche Sports Seats Plus, which we won't get in the US because the seatbacks are fixed, and get into position. For the first time on a GT3, height adjustment is electric. Save for the lack of back seats, the cabin is mostly like you'd find in the 'plain' 911, except much of it is swathed in Alcantara.
Turn the car on, and not much happens. The new 3.8-liter sounds exceptionally mechanical from the outside – it doesn't purr – and muted mechanical from the inside. Pull out onto the main road out of the small German town you find yourself in, and not much happens – no wild noises, no drama, a comfortable suspension, an easy seating position, plus navigation and dual-zone climate control. It's like driving... a plain old car. If you can forget about the carbon buckets, it takes a truly nasty section of road to remind you that you're driving a track car.
It takes a truly nasty section of road to remind you that you're driving a track car.
What you quickly discover is that after you turn it on, you've got to turn it on.
So you roll on a bit to let everything get toasty, then attack the German B-roads, which are winding, rolling and well tended to. Get some altitude in the rpm range and hit the throttle, making your home between 5,000 and 9,000 rpm, then everything out back goes berserk. It roars like an extraterrestrial on PCP, cut only by the sound of a large-caliber air cannon as the PDK obeys your command to hook up the next gear. Things are so well-sorted out back that as long as the road is just alright, the 12-inch rubber will find a way to stay planted.
Cornering is excellent, beginning with the steering. It's lighter on center than we expected, but as soon as you apply lock it loads right up, and it provides more than just accuracy but actual steering feel – an old yet rarely seen friend in a world of electronically assisted power steering.
A suspension lowered by 1.2 inches, Porsche Torque Vectoring aided by that rear diff and the active rear-wheel steering help immensely. Whereas the 2014 Porsche Turbo will offer up to 2.8 degrees of rear wheel steer, the GT3 offers up to 1.5 degrees, but it's plenty. Under 31 mph the rear wheels turn in the opposite direction to the fronts, above 50 mph they turn in the same direction. The coupe flicks around anything from a U-turn to a hairpin almost like a bearing in a rail. Long fast corners don't require heart medication while you wonder if, just maybe, you're putting too much faith in a rear end that still greets physics with a backhand to the mouth every time they meet. It's so sticky front and rear that our co-driver said at one point, "The grip never ends." Of course, that's not true. But what felt true is that the grip only ends after you cross the line marked, 'I Want to Hurt Myself.'
And then there's launch control (watch the video below).
Not being the biggest fan of paddle shifters, we spent almost all of our time behind the wheel swapping cogs with the sequential manual mode, pushing and pulling the lever into and out of corners. We found the experience the perfect middle ground between the soulless (but yes, fast) contraction of forearm flexors needed to pull paddles and the (what now seems like) geologic span of time needed to shift and get back on the power when using a third pedal.
And then there's launch control (watch the video below). Hold down the brake, press the accelerator to the floor and listen to the car holler and wail as it holds 4,500 rpm. Let go of the brake and boom – you're 200 yards down the road before your senses can catch up to your reflexes, which have been busy shifting gears for you.
When you're done filling the boondocks with the shrieking thunder of that 3.8-liter, scaring the bejeezus out of every kind of forest and farm creature, take the GT3 back down to around-town speeds and be reminded, incredibly, that you're driving... a plain old car. Kind of. Along with that high-revving wail you can't help remembering that the co-driver tailed a diesel Audi A7 that was fireballing down the highway during a serious rainstorm, and the GT3 never once fell into any skittish, floaty sports car antics. Rather, it sang Elvis to the Autobahn: "I'm gonna stick like glue, yeah yeah, because I'm stuck on you..."
About the only knock we can give the driving experience is due to that ass-planting tail.
About the only knock we can give the driving experience is due to that ass-planting tail. Get the rear-view mirrors placed just right and don't be afraid to work your neck, because you can forget about seeing cars behind you in the rearview mirror.
Way back yonder in time, the magazine Car had a section at the back of each issue that detailed the specs of every car sold in the UK. The entry to each brand was noted with a one-liner, and the tagline for Porsche was: "If you can, then you must."
When it comes to the GT3, we can boil that down to one word: "Bingo."