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How does the drop top GT3 cope on wintry British roads? Time to don the bobble hat and turn the heater up to 11

Our Verdict

Porsche 911 Speedster 2019 review - hero front

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

13 November 2019
Porsche 911 Speedster 2019 UK

What is it?

Essentially it’s a very limited run swansong for the 991 generation Porsche 911. A sort of ‘greatest hits’ version, it pulls together some of the tastiest components from the some of the already excellent GT models and packages them up in one send-off special that’s topped off with some wind-in-the-hair thrills that only versions wearing the Speedster badge can deliver. 

We’ve already had a spin in the Speedster earlier this year, but that was in a sunny setting that played to its drop top strengths. And very good it was too. Five star good in fact. However, now we’ve had a chance to drive one on UK soil. In November. In the wintry north east of England. So how does it stack up in these rather more challenging conditions?

Before we find out, it’s probably worth a little recap as to what exactly goes into making the Speedster. First off it’s the fourth model, and the third 911, to wear this badge, which debuted on a pared-back, cut-price 356 in 1954. And at a snifter under £212,000 it’s also the most expensive, by some margin. Yet it’s also arguably the most special. 

While the previous 911 Speedsters (G-Series, 964 and 997) have been little more than slightly fettled Carrera models with cut-down windscreens and bubble covers for the hood and rear seats, the latest version takes the GT3 as its base. In fact, it’s even more special than that; its body effectively melds Carrera 4S Cabriolet and GT3, while the front wings and bonnet are carbon fibre items from the 911R. The same lightweight material is used for the bespoke hood cover, which sits behind the front seats. At the rear is GT3 bumper, while at the other end the lower spoiler and air intakes are bespoke to the Speedster.

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Mechanically it’s largely GT3, with effectively the same naturally aspirated 4.0-litre flat-six hanging out over the rear axle. Petrol particulate filters help it hit the latest emissions regulations, while some subtle massaging has helped release an extra 10bhp, taking the total output to 503bhp and helping to offset the Speedster’s fractionally higher kerbweight. Happily the only transmission option is a six-speed manual (thank you again, 911R), which drives the rear wheels.

The suspension has been left largely alone, although, because this is a car aimed at the road as much as the track, the damper rates have been softened a little. Standard fit is the excellent four-wheel steering system and the carbon ceramic brakes. Very nice.

What's it like?

Okay, let’s cut to the chase - the Speedster is absolutely flippin’ brilliant. Even in conditions where the temperature plummeted to zero degrees centigrade and with actual snow covering the road, the 911 simply shone. Even in the best of the weather our Pennine test route was never above five degrees, plus it rarely stopped raining. And yet, despite this, every mile travelled in the Speedster was one to savour.

First off there’s that magnificent drivetrain. In an age of instant turbocharged torque and blink-and-you’ll-miss-them twin-clutch gearshifts, the Porsche’s howling flat-six and snickety six-speed manual are welcome analogue tonic. It’s not as fast as a McLaren 600LT Spider or Ferrari 488 Spyder, but it’s gloriously precise and a proportional throttle response and that thick vein of easily accessible torque more than make up for it - maximum twist isn’t available until 6,250rpm, but much of it feels available at much slower crank speeds. 

Then there’s its intoxicating ability to growl, fizz and yowl all the way to 9,000rpm, which has you chasing the red line again and again, pumping the beautifully weighted clutch pedal as you flick the stubby gearlever up and down is tight, precise gate just to do the whole thing all over again. And, of course, with the roof off (a job that’s a bit of a faff and requires that you get out to lift the rear panel and fold the fabric away) you’re so much closer to that trademark hollow bark from the exhausts as it bounces off walls and tunnels. 

It’s a proper, spine-tingling motorsport-tinged soundtrack - no surprise, given that 4.0-litre is essentially the same unit as is used in the Carrera Cup racers. You can really play tunes with it, unleashing a deep baritone under load at low revs, through a whole mechanical orchestra and onto the screaming, rev-limiter-kissing crescendo. Petrol particulate filters usually rob engines of their vocal range. Not so in the Speedster.

The penalties in weight and torsional rigidity that you normally get when chopping the roof off a car have been kept to a barely noticeable minimum in the Speedster. In fairness, we were driving in borderline Baltic conditions and hardly pushing for tenths of a second, but even so, the 911 felt every bit as engaging and special as a GT3. There’s the same gloriously slick steering that imparts all the information you’ll ever need, and the same front end bite that inspires huge confidence to lean on the available grip - the rear steer helps here, rotating the car subtly to get you pointing into the corner.

Our car was fitted with Dunlop Sport Maxx rubber rather than the Michelin Cup 2s, but even so, this tyre is far better suited to warm Tarmac than the frigid surface on offer here. Yet, despite all the standing water, the Speedster still found grip; the four-wheel steer delivering uncanny grip and agility and that out-rigger engine’s location helping to find traction where a more fashionable arrangement of masses would struggle. A similarly shod Boxster Spyder that was also driven on the day was far more skittish, slipping into understeer or spiking into oversteer where the far more powerful 911 kept its composure.

Of course, much of the confidence this car inspires comes down to communication; there's a constant flow of information through your fingertips and the seat of your pants that lets you know exactly what’s going on and just how hard you can push. Few two-wheel drive cars with this focus and performance encourage and reward so much in such tricky conditions, the Porsche constantly allowing you to step up to the very limit of grip. And if you push really hard the electronic systems reveal witchcraft levels of calibration, giving you just enough leeway to feel you’re on top of things, but always being there to gather it up if you get greedy.

The damping is supreme too, the slightly stiff-legged low speed ride melts away as you pile on the miles per hour. Over Northumberland’s smoothly surfaced but bumpy roads, the 911 displays an uncanny blend of unshakable control and just enough comfort. Sport mode is too stiff for the road, but, in the adaptive dampers' normal mode, sharp crests and vicious compressions are simply shrugged off, the 911 never once feeling like its composure is being tested.

Of course you can get all of these sensations in a GT3 Touring, but what that doesn't give you is that totally sensory immersion of being so close to the elements. Of course the engine is louder, but you're also more exposed to the sound from the tyres as they splash through puddles or throw up gravel, as well as all the smell from both the surroundings and the car itself (warm exhaust and baked brakes anyone? Mmmm). So much does the open air experience add to the 911s appeal that, despite the extreme conditions, the roof of the Speedster was stowed for almost the entirety of our test route. You’ve heard of those sensory deprivation tanks, yes? Well this 911 is the exact opposite - a total sensory overload machine.

Should I buy one?

Trick question, I’m afraid, because all 1,948 examples have already been sold. Search the classifieds and you’ll find that some speculating chancers are already trying to shift pre-loved ones for seven figure sums (it’s good, but not that good), but you’re essentially out of luck.

There’s potentially more bad news, because, much like the recent Ferrari F8 Tributo, there’s something of an end-of-days feel about the Speedster. Nobody is confirming or denying that the next generation 911 GT cars will all be turbocharged, but look at the demands being made of manufacturers to lower overall CO2 emissions and you'll quickly conclude that a naturally aspirated 4.0-litre flat-six putting out 317g/km isn’t the answer. 

So, what we could be looking at here is the last in a glorious line of naturally aspirated 911s with manual gearboxes. The next-generation cars will be cleaner, quicker and, hopefully, just as good to drive. But a little something - a crucial, soulful something - will be missing. If that is the case, then the Speedster is a wonderful and fitting way to go out in style, and will surely be remembered as one of the finest fast road cars ever, and one of the greatest Porsches (there are a few to choose from, mind) to wear those three famous numbers on its rump.

Porsche 911 Speedster specification

Where Northumberland, UK Price £211,599 On sale Now Engine 3,996cc flat-six, petrol Power 503bhp at 8,400rpm Torque 347lb ft at 6,250rpm Gearbox 6-spd manual Kerbweight 1,465kg 0-62mph 4.0 seconds Top speed 192mph Economy 20.6mpg CO2 317g/km Rivals McLaren 600LT Spider, Ferrari 488 Spider, Aston Martin DBS Volante Superleggera

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Comments
4

13 November 2019
Autocar wrote:

...Okay, let's cut to the chase - the Speedster is absolutely flippin' brilliant...

Autocar wrote:

...speculating chancers are already trying to shift pre-loved ones for seven figure sums (it's good, but not that good)...

So, absolutely flippin' brilliant is not good enough for seven figures sums, when many less capable cars are already well north of six figures?

 

13 November 2019

Nets around 420 million pounds! Insane price but then supply and demand etc

13 November 2019
If it's special, it's limited.
This article is as much about the privileged as it is about the car!
I can go to "mail-online- showbiz" if I want to know how the "Haves" spend their money...
Interestingly, my buddy ordered a 911Turbo S with the must have options Five months ago, in the past month Porsche have contacted him Three times offering 20K to handover the build slot to a privileged individual.
He settled on 25k!
Truth told, he never intended owning the vehicle...
There is always someone who'll pay.

15 November 2019

Great to hear a good news story. Sounds like everyone is happy.

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