Porsche 911 RS
Why hardcore aircooled 911s rule the roost… Lighter, faster and born on track, Porsche's RS models are the most extreme 911s. We strap into a 964 and 993 RS and go for a blast
We’re driving an N/GT, a road-going version of the 911 Cup racer homologated for racing. It’s distinguished by an interior that’s stripped and painted, and fitted with narrower, more aggressive bucket seats, a Matter roll cage and a dished three-spoke steering wheel wrapped in Alcantara.
It’s a faff to get in and fasten the harnesses, the race clutch tries to flick your foot off the pedal like Tom bouncing Jerry off a see-saw, and twisting the unassisted steering in a car park on this LHD car – Brits had hydraulic assistance – is like cranking a submarine hatch in dire need of WD40. But I quickly feel at home: the driving position – even with the floor-hinged pedals twisted off to the right – the visibility, the comfortable seats, the way the clutch and steering become more fluid with a few mph. This is no truculent steer, and exploration of nearby quiet roads is in order.
When it was launched, the RS was criticised for overly firm suspension. It rides very busily, but it feels more like intimate communication, where every nuance of the road is relayed and the car responds as one unified entity. It feels together, connected, and while it could never be called supple, neither is it crashy.
The suspension feel also works in union with the steering, which provides that same constant chatter, the fizz of road texture relayed through the rim, though it does weight up quite robustly off-centre. Track N/GT cars were capable of leaving their drivers wondering if they’d be able to wind on lock fast enough if they got into trouble.
Potter about and the engine feels sparky and responsive, if not particularly quick. But just like all the naturally aspirated greats, you need to rev this motor to tap its brilliance. Wind past 4000rpm and the rev needle flicks round the dial, the grumble replaced by a sonorous howl, and suddenly momentum is with you, like you’re running downhill. 260bhp might sound stingy these days, but it’s plenty enough, and when you shift – a shift of reasonably long throw, which you pull with a purposeful physicality through the gate – the five close-stacked ratios keep the revs high, the energy tangible. It feels criminal not to keep your foot pinned to the floor.
As speed snowballs, so you key into the steering’s weighting, the way it points the nose quickly and eagerly, and you start to lean on the brakes with their excellent modulation and ample stopping power, trust that the engine will squash the rear tyres into the tarmac to find purchase. The latest GT3 RS doubles the 964’s power, but this remains a viscerally urgent way to burn fuel, and rewards the committed.
The 993RS bowed in 1995, and from outside it communicates its intent far more clearly with fat arches covering all models’ all-new multi-link rear suspension, larger 18in alloys – chunky 10Js at the rear – and this car’s visual intent is topped off with the optional Clubsport rear wing and front splitter. Yet the emphasis switched to more all-round usability, Porsche describing the 993 RS as balancing ‘sports-car allure and comfort, leaving behind the hard, sports-car only character of its predecessor’.
Inside, it’s much more usable after the bare-bones racer of the 964RS N/GT –although it’s important to remember the regular 964RS is far more comparable.
You sit down low on composite, fixed-back bucket seats that clamp you securely, but they’re trimmed in sumptuous, comfortable leather, and the bolsters are particularly heavily padded to avoid that skateboarder-falling-onto-a-handrail feeling when you climb in and briefly perch atop one. You could pass a day driving in these, no bother.
Look back and there’s the carpeted rear and Carrera RS insignia where the seats once lived, the loops of 911 rear side glass, iconic like Nike swooshes, and the fixed spoiler framing the rear glass like devil horns. There is no roll-cage, there are carpets and electric windows, but the bloodline is unmistakable: the five-in-a-row instruments with the rev counter largest in the middle, the thin three-spoke steering wheel, the minimalist door cards with their RS fabric door pulls, a signature that persists today. And you still get that fantastic mechanical churning at idle, like a marble in a cement mixer.
The 993’s factory clutch is a pussycat compared with the 964’s race item, but it’s still heavy, and bites early too. You need plenty of revs, and the featherweight throttle sends the revs breathily zinging with every prod. The two pedals’ control weights feel mismatched, and you make a racket just moving off.
You can imagine 911 purists screaming when 993RS models got power steering. But it’s no bad thing, boosting usability without adversely dulling the RS’s trademark communication skills; the helm constantly tingles and talks as the RS sniffs its way over cambers, but because it’s lighter off-centre, it feels like you’ll be able to wind on lock faster and catch a slide if you overstep your talent. Just like the 964, the ride is firm, the shocks and springs busily reacting to surface imperfections, but once again it’s impeccably tied down, and there is more elasticity this time.
The air-cooled flat-six measured 3387cc in Carrera models, 3600cc in the Carrera 4, but it grew to 3764cc for the RS. Not only that, but it also introduced VarioRam. All in, it made 300bhp and 262lb ft, 44bhp and 30lb ft more than the 964, with both those figures pushed a little higher up the revs.
Like the 964, the 993 is smooth and moderately quick down low, but it’s when you rev it that it comes alive. Wind it out in first gear and the final run past 6000rpm is ferocious and frantic, more so than the more linear 964, and you have to slot the gear lever – nicely weighted, positioned low, still relatively long of throw – into second sharpish. Survive that and while the speed escalates rapidly, you’ve got more time to anticipate and enjoy the last dash to the redline, the intensity as that final flourish kicks in. This is what the RS is all about.
We head deeper into those country lanes, building confidence to dig into the 911’s unique handling balance. The way the nose is light and eager, but will push wide if you’re too greedy with your entry speed. Instead it’s classic slow-in, fast-out, braking into the corner to keep the weight over the nose, feeling it all key in, then accelerating early and marvelling at how the rear-engined weight bias gives you massive traction. The 993’s multi-link suspension makes it more predictable at the limit, in all probability, the 993’s power steering might make a bigger difference in a crisis.
Only a brake pedal that is more difficult to modulate than the 964’s is cause for grumbles, though perhaps that’s a quirk of this 993. And it still can’t diminish the mechanical feedback that this incredible machine washes over you. It's hard not to love the eagerness of direction changes, the sense that you could use a 993RS every day, the intensity of that engine, the sensory overload of the steering, the control and compliance of the firm suspension.
Porsche RS models are not vastly difficult to drive, but they demand a uniquely physical driving style that rewards the more you put in. These are exciting, tactile, mechanical machines, and the sensations they provide more than justify the hype.
Making a definitive call as to which of our test cars is preferable is a little tricky in this case, simply because our 964RS was the even more hardcore N/GT edition, literally a racer unleashed on the road. As such, it’s no surprise that the 993 is an easier car to just jump in and drive. It’s also got power steering, ABS and a lighter clutch, so it’s easier for the uninitiated too, and yet it feels lithe and responsive. The mod-cons don’t detract from the 993’s purity.
Our particular 964 requires far more effort to enjoy, but ultimately its feedback is more intense and satisfying, the messages it sends through the steering and the seat of your pants even less diluted.
Which to choose? It’s a dilemma that few will ever have to face. But given the choice of having to have one, we’d take the 964RS. But the ideal scenario is to find a double garage and sneak a 993RS in there too.
The Modern Classics view
Porsche RS models have been one of the headline phenomena of the last decade’s classic-car boom. With prices easing past £200k and, in some cases, galloping beyond £300k, these models have proved staggeringly good investments for those who had an RS keyfob before prices bolted – and even after the initial rush.
With roughly half the production run of its 964 predecessor at 1241 cars, the 993 is most sought after. It’s also the most all-round usable machine, a hardcore road-racer that’s just about happy running to the shops – if you don’t mind making a racket when parking.
But with our Porsche Club expert Melvin Spear estimating that around 1600-1800 of the earlier 964RS models remain in existence, they’re hardly commonplace. Lightweight and Touring models also retain a high degree of daily drivability, and remain fantastically visceral machines to drive. If anything, the 964 is the better steer.
What’s perhaps most appealing about both RS models is their robust engineering. Valuations might put them in the supercar league, but these are not divas, and labour rates and parts prices remain relatively affordable at this level. Maintain it well, drive it and an RS will go on and on.
Interesting to note, too, that Spear cites enthusiasts valuing good original RS models rather than fully restored works of art. Find yourself a good, higher-mileage 964RS that’s been exceptionally well maintained, then buy it, drive it and love it. You’ll still need £140-150k, but nothing with the RS badge comes cheap these days.
What both these models do is make the last-generation 911GT3 look like very good value. Launched in late 2006, prices have risen from a low of £40k just a few years back to upwards of £75k now. Nobody here has a crystal ball, but that’d be our pick if the old timers prove out of reach.
Torque: 262lb ft@5400rpm
Maximum speed: 172mph
Fuel consumption: 18-22mpg
Transmission: RWD, six-speed manual
How many left? (UK) 930 (est)
Torque: 232lb ft@4800rpm
Maximum speed: 161mph
Fuel consumption: 23-27mpg
Transmission: RWD, five-speed manual
How many left? (worldwide) 1600-1800
What makes a Porsche 911 993RS?
The 993RS’s engine grew from 3.6 to 3.8 litres, its bore went up from 100mm to 102mm, the 76.4mm stroke unaltered. Inlet valves grew from 49mm to 51.5mm, exhaust valves from 42.5mm to 43mm. The RS also brought VarioRam to the 911 line-up, where variable-length induction trumpets lengthen at low revs to increase torque, shortening at higher revs.
The Carrera’s six-speed box (first three ratios raised, double-cone synchros fitted) was used, along with a more refined dual-mass flywheel. A 40 per cent locking diff, four-piston brakes (similar to the C2, but with 4mm thicker discs), and 18in alloys were adopted, together with lowered, uprated suspension (-30mm front, -40mm rear). Weight fell 100kg from the C2, to 1270kg. Measures included composite bucket seats, optional airbags, thinner side windows and the deletion of rear seats, heated rear window, rear wash/wipe and electric windows/mirrors. The bonnet was aluminium, the screen washer held 1.2 instead of 6.5 litres. PAS was retained, albeit with reduced assistance.
What makes a Porsche 911 964RS?
The 964RS retained the same 3600cc as the Carrera, but power increased to 260bhp from 250bhp, a lightweight flywheel increased response, and closer gear ratios boosted acceleration. The suspension was lowered by 40mm, the chassis seam-welded, and 911 Turbo front brakes, 7.5J and 8J rear 17in alloys and LSD fitted. Around 150kg was lost from the standard Carrera for a 1220kg total, thanks to bucket seats, magnesium alloy wheels, thinner glass, and an aluminium bonnet. Rear seats, air-con, central locking, alarm and sound deadening were deleted. While PAS was usually removed, it was fitted to UK cars. ABS was retained.