Porsche's fabled GT-car division turns out the 991-generation lights in spectacular fashion

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Strange that 65 years have passed since the name first appeared, and yet Porsche is still to fix what exactly a ‘Speedster’ should be.

The lightweight 1954 original was based on the 69bhp four-cylinder 356 1500 and became a relatively affordable purists’ fantasy for the American market – with, of course, the removable windscreen. Drive one today and I guarantee you’ll fall for it instantly. And not only because it operates with the mechanical precision of something far more modern, but also because you just get its whole vibe straight away: pureness.

This car is riotous fun, in truth, not least because you’re aware the Speedster is more than simply a serious and profoundly capable performance car: it’s a flight of fancy, epic in its own right.

Later versions sprouted heavyweight price tags but did little to trim kerb weight and upped the Speedster’s luxury quotient. Among them was a Carrera Cabriolet-based car that borrowed nothing more than interior dressings from the hardcore 964 RS and a modified Carrera GTS built to promote Porsche’s ‘Exclusive’ customisation business. The famous silhouette remained, but there was no common philosophy.

But hold the phone. This sixth iteration of the concept finally offers some continuity, even if you do need to go right back to the Speedster’s road-racing roots to join the dots.

And what dots. This is the first time Porsche’s fabled GT division has had a crack at the recipe – ‘no frippery’ is the unofficial motto – and as such a 991.2 911 GT3 dwells beneath the Speedster’s largely carbonfibre new bodywork. We are, in short, firmly back in road-racing territory, 356 Speedster style.  

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Understanding the genesis of the 911 Speedster

The rear body-in-white of a Carrera 4S Cabriolet is grafted to the front of a GT3. The carbonfibre wings and bonnet then come courtesy of the 911 R and the rear apron from the GT3 Touring, but the huge carbonfibre rear deck and classic stooped windshield are all new. Figuring out how to fit that last bit cost rather a lot of money, in fact. Millions, apparently.

Under the bodywork, the GT3’s inverted dampers are softened a touch (spring rates are unchanged), and the four-wheel steering is retuned to compensate for the high-speed stability lost when you shear Porsche’s trackday tool of its enormous rear wing, but overall the mechanical package is practically identical. To underscore the intent, there’s also but a single gearbox offered: a six-speed manual. 

And yet perhaps the biggest news is the engine, which is a development of the naturally aspirated 4.0-litre flat six that has become a hallmark of the GT3 experience. New particulate filters have diluted the manic engine note – bluntly, it’s now a little less ‘motorsport’, if still utterly magnificent – but fuel injectors operating at higher pressure have helped raise power from 493bhp to 503bhp and there are new individual throttle bodies for response that, Porsche claims, borders on the genuinely rabid.

It is a cleaner, cleverer engine, and Porsche has also kept the stratospheric 9000rpm red line intact. So, without further ado…

Getting behind the wheel of the 911 Speedster

As befits the name, sliding into the Speedster is a journey back in time. The 360mm steering wheel is devoid of switchgear – it changes the car’s course, simple as. Compared with the one in the new, 992-generation Porsche 911, the central tacho feels old-school Porsche with its italicised 'Speedster' script and runs to double digits. Peer into the footwell and there are three functional-looking pedals, and the gearlever is conspicuously short. The seats are those found in the 918 Spyder and are, as ever, so embracing that you’ll never want to get out.     

But if the weather’s good, you’ll also want to get the roof off, and that means you'll have to get out. Porsche very nearly scrapped the idea of having any roof at all (as per the original concept car built way back in 2014), which would have allowed the decking between the ‘streamliner’ buttresses to sit even lower, but it eventually erred on the side of usability. But even with the need to store a roof, this is a dashing car in the metal – far more so than in the photos, somehow – with the hunkered-down tail seemingly a lot less Quasimodo than previous Speedster iterations.

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Unlike the electric folding setup in the 997 Speedster, you do it by hand in the 991 Speedster – a process that takes all of about 20 seconds, because the roof weighs only 10kg. Accessing the roof itself is simple enough and involves unclipping the rear deck, which pivots up and backwards as you lightly pull on it. Admittedly, having to pull over if it starts to rain is a little inconvenient, but somehow the manual process brings you to closer to the Speedster and is more in line with its ethos – and integrity.  

And those things are important. This a dream project for Andreas Preuninger, who, as a young man, developed an infatuation with the 1987 G-Series Speedster. Later on in his life, while helping to establish Porsche’s GT division as the engineering dynamo it is today, he even went as far as to draft Speedsters based on the 996 and 997 911s, neither of which saw the light of day. It's another strand that joins the oldest Speedster with this latest one, because somehow you can't imagine the individuals involved poured quite so much love into the interim Speedsters.

How does the 911 Speedster perform on the road?

Given the ingredients, it doesn't take a genuis to work out that the Speedster must be mind-blowing to drive – and it is. Performance? More than you’ll ever need. The almost-instant, pulverising acceleration of the current class of 600bhp-plus turbocharged supercars is absent, but the linearity of the power delivery and the throttle response – which is now so sharp that it demands genuine sensitivity while balancing the car through corners – compensate. Porsche's claimed 503bhp feels conservative in any case.   

And the rigidity lost along with the fixed roof? It simply isn't an issue. Back to back with a GT3, you might notice the slight deficit, but on the road the Speedster tracks beautifully true, grips hard on its track day-spec Michelin Cup 2 tyres and generally generates the kind of poise that makes you wonder whether it is the engine rather than the roof mechanism that sits less than a foot behind your left ear. Perhaps the four-wheel steering intervention is now a little too detectable through slower direction changes, where the Speedster can seem a little more nervous than the GT3, but that's such a minor qualm. Mostly it's just gloriously intuitive, with pin-sharp reflexes.

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This car is riotous fun, in truth, not least because you’re aware the Speedster is more than simply a serious and profoundly capable performance car: it’s a flight of fancy, epic in its own right.        

And so it should surprise no one that there are some compromises. This writer would prefer the better all-round visibility of a fixed-top GT3 and, with less wind noise, the more trance-like focus of the cabin ambience, too. This isn’t to say you couldn’t comfortably drive the Speedster all day in reasonable comfort – incredibly for something so theatrical, you could – but the raised rear bulkhead looms in your peripheral vision and makes the interior feel smaller than it actually is.

A planned production run of 1948 examples is a bit healthy for a limited-edition Porsche, but even so, each Speedster will cost £211,599, rising to around £226,000 if you option the Heritage Design Pack.

Ah yes, the Heritage Design Pack, which costs £15,300. I’d leave the 1950s-inspired decals well alone but take the tan leather bucket seats, gold details and various historic Porsche crests. Value for money? Absolutely not, but with GT Silver paint, the overall effect is pretty marvellous. 

Were it still possible to buy a basic GT3 for roughly £100,000 less, at this point you might question the value of the Speedster. But you can’t buy a basic GT3, and in any case, the car that forms the basis for the Speedster was always heroically good value next to the opposition.

This latest ware is every bit as spectacular to drive as it is to look at, too, and depreciation? Please. No new car is entirely immune to the risk of depreciation, but a limited-edition GT Porsche is as close as it gets.   

Were it our money, we wouldn’t hesitate, because finally Porsche knows exactly what its hip-high Speedster needs to be, and the result is breathtaking.

What Car? New car buyer marketplace - Porsche 911

Richard Lane

Richard Lane
Title: Deputy road test editor

Richard joined Autocar in 2017, arriving from Evo magazine, and is typically found either behind a keyboard or steering wheel.

As deputy road test editor he delivers in-depth road tests, performance benchmarking and supercar lap-times, plus feature-length comparison stories between rival cars. He can also be found on Autocar's YouTube channel

Mostly interested in how cars feel on the road – the sensations and emotions they can evoke – Richard drives around 150 newly launched makes and models every year, and focuses mainly on the more driver-orientated products, as is tradition at Autocar. His job is then to put the reader firmly in the driver's seat. 

Away from work, but remaining on the subject of cars, Richard owns an eight-valve Integrale, loves watching sportscar racing, and holds a post-grad in transport engineering. 

Porsche 911 Speedster 2019-2020 First drives