Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tyres grip well but there’s greater enjoyment to be had from the precision of the chassis’ responses
This particular GT3 RS has done 30,000 miles yet its engine feels just about run in
It looks serious and the sound its flat-six emits backs that up
Connection between GT3 RS and driver is almost intravenous
Mezger 3.8 in the back of this GT3 RS puts out 444bhp and revs to 8500rpm
In the right conditions, you can exercise a 911 GT3 RS on public roads and appreciate its ability while being socially responsible
Lever and rim deliver tactile feedback
Gear ratios could do with being closer
Carbon fibre wing: overt sign of intent
Its superb brakes are carbon-ceramic
I’m sitting in a car park at the end of a long mountain road listening to the GT3 RS.
Its 444bhp 3.8-litre flat-six was switched off a while back, but still it is not silent. It ticks, as structural components, body panels and exquisitely engineered mechanical parts all made of different materials of different shapes and thicknesses cool down at different rates. Tick, tick, tick.
New cars don’t tick any more, or maybe they do, but just need a few years and many thousands of miles on the clock before they will. This one is seven years old, it’s nearly up to 30,000 miles and, I’m guessing, is the hardest-driven second-generation ‘997’ GT3 RS of them all. It was the original press car and would have been thrashed, slid and spun countless times. Porsche’s press office would be much too discreet to mention it and there’s no evidence to suggest it but I’d be surprised if, in all those miles on road and track, someone, somewhere had not also had an unintended interaction with the countryside in it. It ticks beautifully as the heat of the moment slowly leaches away from its body.
It lives with Porsche because when its natural working life concluded, I guess some time in 2011, no one could quite bear to see it go. Perhaps that’s because by then it had a name. Thanks entirely to the last three letters of its numberplate, it is known to all in this business simply as ‘Hebe’. Or perhaps it’s because even then it was clear that this car was special, even by the standards of GT-series 911s. It’s my happy task over the next 1500 words or so to try to explain why.
But actions speak louder than words, so I’ll tell you what I did when I knew Hebe was coming to stay: I just slipped the fact into conversation with a few freelance colleagues who’d long since cultivated that look of superb indifference wheeled out when presented with an opposite number upon whom fortune has smiled. “Hebe, eh?” they’d say. And smile. With this car, you really can’t help it.
Hebe arrived on a truck and literally the first thing I needed to do was go shopping. I’m blessed to have a few other options for such a task, not least the brand-new 911 I run on Autocar’s long-term fleet, but it never occurred to me to take anything else. I love doing incongruous stuff in exotic cars – I’m particularly proud of having taken a Lamborghini Aventador SV through a McDonald’s drive thru – but the great thing about this GT3 RS is it’s so staggeringly usable. It is narrow by supercar standards, rides absurdly well for this kind of car and, so long as you don’t bury the pedal above 4000rpm, is even quite quiet. The boot is big and that carbonfibre rear wing the ideal place to rest your Lidl bags (Hebe went to Waitrose, too, I promise) while you furtle around in your pocket for its single, non-retractable key.
Here’s another wonderful aspect about the 997-series GT3 RS and another reason why you’d want to take it shopping. Look at that wing, the Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tyres, its stance, those carbon brakes and the decals, and its race-track credentials shout back at you. And yet there’s so much to enjoy, even in heavy traffic. The feel of its steering, the action of its gearlever and the perfectly matched weight of its pedals are all there to be savoured below the urban speed limit.
And this you should do. You’d not rip the cork out of a magnum of Petrus, lift and swig direct from the bottle and nor should you with one such as this. It’s important to do some boring stuff first: if I may further torture the analogy until it’s on its knees begging for a bullet, this is the swirling in the glass bit, the application of the hooter to its rim and the drawing deep of its aroma into your lungs. Round Weissach way, it appears that 2010 was one of the better years.
So let’s take a small sip and you can put the spittoon away: this one’s staying on board. The road is opening up, your limbs are loosening, and you can hear the flat-six just beginning to warm to the task ahead. A word is forming in your head and it is ‘mechanical’. More than anything else, that is what this car feels like, and if that sounds like a statement of the bleeding obvious, it’s not. Like all people in their 50s, I think I feel about 30 but the problem is I can’t remember what 30 actually felt like, so I’m probably kidding myself. Likewise, if all you drive are modern cars offering electric steering, flappy paddles and unemployment for your left foot, it’s too easy to forget how once at least certain cars felt completely different. And it wasn’t that long ago. When you change gear in Hebe, you’re not just moving a lever. You’re engaging in the mechanical process required to disengage one gear wheel and engage another. When you press the clutch and feel your left quad complain, you know it feels that way because that weight is absolutely required to ensure the long-term reliability of a transmission designed to tolerate a lifetime on and off the race track.
We’re in the mountains now: familiar territory in a car I already feel I’ve known all my life. And yet it still surprises. I didn’t think it would feel that quick, not least because I’ve very recently got out of a brand-new 690bhp GT2 RS, but I was wrong. On the road in the GT2, I found myself unwilling to do much more than dip a toe into the waters of what it could do and had to wait for the track to find out more: in Hebe, that wasted zone doesn’t exist. I’m not saying you can use all it has to offer all the time, but when the roads are open, empty and dry, you don’t feel that frustration of being perpetually held back by the bounds of common sense and social acceptability. On the contrary, you feel released.
At first, it’s all about the engine, Mezger’s masterpiece. Even today, its 8500rpm redline seems sky high but I’m not shy about going there. The car may be quite old and the engine has done enough miles to have circumnavigated the globe, but it feels just nicely run in, stronger and more powerful than when new, better than ever.
Besides, the higher the revs, the happier a Hebe you have. Its engine is just too small, its output too high, for it to be blessed with much mid-range torque, and were the snarl-howl-shriek of the flat-six not combined with the best gearshift ever to visit a road car, that could be a complete pain. In the event, it is more than a pleasure: it feels like a privilege. All I’d alter are the gear ratios, which are needlessly wide for a car like this and mean that unless you really do wring its neck in every gear, you’ll be in danger of falling below peak torque when you engage the next one.
So strong is the engine’s personality and so dominant its presence in the cabin that it takes a while for the truth about its role in this car to emerge. The fact is that it’s a mere enabler, not what the GT3 RS does best but the provider of the means to take you there.
Now we must venture into a twilight world beyond 0-60mph times, top speeds, power outputs, Nürburgring laps or indeed anything that can be measured or explained by facts and numbers alone. Here, all that matters is how this car feels and how, in turn, it makes you feel. What you need now is some steel in your heart, a glint in your eye and some heat in those fat, sticky Michelins.
Push the car, hard. Get some load into the suspension to bring it to life. Use the ceramic brakes properly, get them hot and then the pedal will flood with feel. Only then will the pedal placings make sense and your heel-and-toe downshifts come naturally. Heel-and-toe? Another fast-dying art. Then remember this is a 911. That’s not a warning because Hebe doesn’t have a traitorous bone in its body, but still the old rules apply: get into the corner early, then use the engine – not just its power but also its location over the back wheels – to catapult you out of the turn. And if the tail moves laterally, just reduce the lock and keep going.
Then the moment will come when the car and you seem a single machine. Your brain is its brain, your limbs the delivery mechanism for its instructions. And when you find yourself in a car park listening to the tick, tick, tick of the car as it cools, that is the moment to which you will return again and again. That’s why this is not just the best unlimited-production GT-series Porsche I’ve driven, but one of the best cars of any kind. I hope one day to make its acquaintance again.
The Mezger engine:
All Porsche 911s have had flat-six overhead-camshaft engines. But within that format, there have been many different designs, none more revered than the so-called ‘Mezger’ engine found in the back of the GT3 RS and many other 911s. It’s named after its creator, renowned Porsche engineer Hans Mezger.
Mezger did many engines for Porsche, including the 1.5-litre flat-eight that took Porsche’s only Formula 1 win (the 1962 French Grand Prix), the 1200bhp 5.4-litre flat-12 in Porsche’s all-conquering 917/30 Can-Am car and the Porsche TAG Turbo engine that won three F1 world championships for McLaren between 1984 and 1986.
In fact, Mezger was involved in almost all iterations of the flat-six up until water cooling was introduced in 1998, but the point is that while all other 911s then adopted the new and what would turn out to be sometimes troublesome engine, all the 911 Turbos and all the GT-series cars stuck with the Mezger design right up to the 991-series. Why? Because it was a known quantity, had won Le Mans in the Porsche 911 GT1-98 in 1998 and was almost unbreakable. The fact that it sounded simply incredible, too, was merely the icing on the cake.