When the Porsche 911 GT3, traditionally regarded as the world’s finest driver’s car, came back for its most recent generation with electric steering and an automatic gearbox, the consensus was that the days of sports cars with true mechanical feel and interactions were behind us.
You don’t need me to blabber on how great the GT4 is – and how good the 911 R probably will be – for the reasons why, but what is interesting is the theory behind it, and how the 911 R in particular came about.
I sat down with Porsche GT boss Andreas Preuninger at the Geneva motor show yesterday. He started on a philosophical point, stating that sports cars with normally aspirated engines and manual gearboxes will be “around forever”. Real mechanical tools, in other words.
Indeed, he reckoned they could soon become commonplace in the market. “Look at the classic car market. Why do you think people are buying classics? It’s for character. It’s the true old-school motoring feeling people long for. Modern cars, as fast as they are, don’t really have character. They go fast, but you get out after driving them and lack enthusiasm.”
Preuninger said the GT3 used to satisfy both “purists and go-fasts, purists loving the way you felt something and had moments of joy driving it, and go-fasts loving the way it was the perfect track tool”.
He admitted that, with developments in technology meaning the likes of an automatic gearbox would make the GT3 faster still, Preuninger said Porsche was at a “crossroads” with the development of the last GT3 and eventually settled on making it as fast as possible.
“The racers bought it, the purists bought classics,” said Preuninger. “That’s when the R came along.”
Development started in secret in the winter of 2013. The GT division had developed mules for the 911 GT3 with both automatic and manual gearboxes and had to choose one to develop for the production car, with the automatic getting the nod.
Preuninger and his team didn’t want to see the manual version go to waste, so they took the spoiler off, added some lightweight parts, stripped out the interior, added some racing stripes and - in his words - “all loved it”. At this point, he presented it to then-Porsche boss and now VW Group boss Matthias Müller, who gave it the nod for production.