- ’84 Porsche 911 a Teutonic treat
- High revving, air cooled flat six a marvel
- Lean design. Simple = beautiful
HOW is it that some of man’s greatest achievements are also his most basic?
Here’s three textbook examples: the Pyramids of Giza, Citizen Kane, and the Bugatti Royale.
On their surface, they’re pretty straightforward concepts. The pyramids are buildings constructed in a rudimentary shape. Citizen Kane is a black and white, war-period drama about one troubled American. The Royale is an extremely long automobile with fenders, wheels, and round lights mounted on a simple metal bar that crosses a horseshoe shaped radiator shell.
Great, you say.
We’ve moved on to taller heights of technical intricacy in each category. So, aside from relying on the adage that simple often equates to beautiful, where’s the coup de gras?
Behind each masterpiece is an intricate design so thoroughly engineered and beautifully executed as to appear both seamless and monumental. It also helps that each broke new ground in their day and exist today as icons. Such is the stuff that this 1984 Porsche 911 Carrera is made of.
Porsches, traditionally, aren’t my shtick.
Once as a rude youngster at a cocktail party, I informed a forty-something guy who’d just chosen a Porsche over a Ferrari that he had compromised. He sighed, looked down into his wine glass, and muttered in agreement.
Little did I know then that 15 years later I would experience my first 911 and be moved to describing such a simple car with such relish.
Well, besides being a tight, 2756 pound, 169 inch long two door coupe with the trunk in the front and the motor in the back (rated at 200 hp), there’s no power steering. No ABS, either.
Power seats? Nope. (Not that we miss them)
Automatic transmission? C’mon. (Again, not missed)
No crush zones, airbags, or any multitude of sensors to add burdensome weight.
There is however a power sunroof and power windows. The latter dispatch their duties with all the luxurious stealth you’d expect in a Lexus – no kidding.
The Carrera when it was new was ancient by 1980’s standards. This 911 might’ve left Zindelfingen in ‘84, but the car’s design is part of the original 911 chassis that went unaltered since ‘63.
From inside, both Richard (who played photog for a day) and I got a strange sense of déjà vu. We later concluded that the cockpit’s feel and layout is very, very similar to the 60s Karmann Ghia. The only difference is that the Porsche’s interior is neither trimmed in cheese cloth nor held together by Elmer’s glue and toothpicks.
As for the rest of the design, in sum, the Neunelfer’s origins predate Citizen Kane and the concept itself hearkens back to Ramesses II.
So , you say, it was old before being old and was designed by team K.I.S.S.
End of story? Not quite – here’s the special part.
Step up to the Carrera’s cinnamon exterior and into the cocoa cabin and you feel like you’ve inserted yourself into your favorite pair of leather gloves. Of course you’ve worn them for years, so they fit perfectly. They’re a little bit scuffed around the edges, which adds character. They possess the soft musk of aged hide.
Before you is a black, three spoke steering wheel and a bank of orange and white rotary gauges. The rollover odometer tells you that this car’s been enjoyed a little bit more than 100,000 miles, which means it hasn’t been driven nearly enough!
Close the door with a metallic – bang! – and you’ll pause in search of the door handle. You find that it’s a horizontally ridged rectangle that’s been engineered to fit flush with the arm rest. Everything about this car feels and looks so precise and exact that you can envision it all line drawn on graph paper.
Clutch in. Feels stiff but has a precise action.
Right foot on the brake; it’s like stepping on a rock!
Twist the ignition with your left hand and the flat six fires to life and then simmers into that signature idle chatter. Manuever the tall, plastic metal shifter into first – it feels old V-dub sloppy with lots of initial play but then – click! – you’re locked into gear.
Slowly pull away.
Hear the engine at your back: rrrruuuuuhhhhhhrrrrr getting progressively louder into a wwwhhhhaaaaaa. Tug the steering wheel and you find your forearms and biceps engaged in the rotation process.
Shift to second. Again, your hand maneuvers the gear selector through what feels like acres of dead space until – click!- your home.
Pick up is smooth and spirited to 4000rpm but at that hinge point something nasty happens. It’s as if the old Porsche rolls up its wide fenders, takes in a metaphorical breathe of air (the air cooled engine’s naturally aspirated) and just – bolts.
You’re in the torque zone and the exhaust note turns into a righteous howl as you sail all the way to the 6520 rpm.
Time for third – you’re flying.
Wind rushes round the upright a-pillars and you’re coming up on your first sharp corner. How many horses does this thing have, again?
Hard on the brakes now and you find little pedal movement yield lots of response, though go too deep and you’re audibly and physically reminded how precarious the fast life was pre-ABS/ESP. The old Teuton hands you nothing but a challenge if a speedy engagement’s what you’re after.
And after it, you most definitely are!
Into the bend. The steering’s so lineal; there is nothing, not one nuance, twig, bump, crack, berry, pebble that the tires touch that your hands don’t register. You’ve never experienced helm feedback so tactile. Not in any BMW 3-Series; not even Porsche’s Boxster.
Adjust your course tighter into the corner and the 911, however communicative, is interpreting your steering inputs as suggestions; the skinny front 205/55 VR16’s fighting to bite in while the impatient 225/50/VR16 rears warn that they’re just itching to lead the way.
In these moments you’re never unaware that all of the car’s essential mass is behind you. That said, while there’s little on paper that pins down the front, it feels planted – especially (and surprisingly) when compared with the mid-engined Boxster.
The firm suspension remains nicely flat corner through corner but keeps most of the harshness at bay. Porsche managed a beautiful and precise balance, no doubt helped by taller tyre aspects in the day.
The US spec 911in ’84 was good for nought to 60 in 6.3 seconds.
All these years on, our cinnamon sports car feels very much up to the task. We should note that immediately following all of this fast travel, the quarter-century-old air cooled engine’s temperature remains a constant normal with no signs suggesting otherwise.
According to factory materials, aerodynamics would’ve halted progress somewhat thereafter with the quarter mile arriving in 14.7 seconds and somewhere close to a minute, the top speed of 146 mph. Honestly, you’d never know nor care. By the time you’re approaching the century mark, the engine’s already on the boil, your senses alight, and your ass surging onto 110 in third gear.
And herein lies the magic lesson to this old 911’s
tail tale: simple is beautiful.
In the ’84 911 Carrera, the last of the original 911 series from the 60s, Porsche engineered a rudimentary sports car that connected the driver to machine in a way so sensationally linear it now seems foreign. It’s proof that we don’t need gobs of power or a technological arsenal of nannies to have fun behind the wheel.
To wit: if a car has the right properties, as this Carrera has in spades, then the essentials are at our fingertips. All we need to bring is our own raw nerve and some actual talent.
And that, basically, is a beautiful thing.
Note: Many thanks to John Galo for letting us review his splendid Porsche. His efforts made a superior day possible.