Test Drive: Porsche 911 Turbo
Porsche’s 911 Turbo, writes legendary road tester Mel Nichols, had one distinct advantage over its supercar rivals, Ferrari’s Boxer and Lamborghini’s Countach: practicality.
It’d take four people across town, or three on longer trips. The boot was reasonable, and more luggage could stack on the fold-down rear seats. And everywhere, the broad visibility was a boon denied the others.
Even with half the cylinders and capacity it was almost as fast. The KKK turbocharger that Porsche grafted onto a 3.0-litre version of the familiar flat six, deploying knowledge from its monstrous 917 Can-Am racers, changed everything. There could have been more than the 260HP at 5,500rpm but, with 0-60mph in 5.9 seconds and 100 in 12.6, that was enough to catapult the 911 into the Italian bruisers’ territory.
At first, the acceleration was nothing special. But past 3,500rpm, a high-pitched whistling began, the boost gauge slammed hard right and the Turbo took off. You had to be ready for the next upshift because the 6,700rpm redline came up so fast. Getting into second with full power on was the moment I liked most: that potent, silken sweep forward from 60mph to 85.
Beyond 3,500rpm, when the KKK stayed alert, if you just stroked the throttle the speed rose uncannily. It was a kind of ‘self-acceleration’ that needed watching. The thrust fell off past 130 but the Turbo still sidled on to an eventual 158mph.
Up there, it felt more animated than the Boxer or Countach. The characteristic 911 squirming motion was minimal but unsettling until you’d driven enough to build trust. On rougher roads it could feel too lively, darting about in little motions, but best not to fight it; just let the car find its way.
Because the Turbo felt so compact, you soon thought you could fling it around. So you could if you were skilled enough. I saw ‘Mr Porsche’ Nick Faure do it the first time I rode in a Turbo, going sideways into bends and keeping his foot planted. For most, it meant sticking with the 911 maxim of slow in, fast out, but even more so. You didn’t want to arrive too fast, push into understeer and have to back off. That meant a tussle and falling off boost, then enduring the lag until the power returned – probably too much and at the wrong time. So, enter timidly, let the boost swell approaching the apex and then plant that wide rear track and feel the eight-inch-wide Pirelli P7s grip. Then you’d rocket out of bends faster than any 911 had before.
With the narrow power band, the four-speed gearbox made things even trickier. Tight bends meant using first frequently – it ran to 49mph, second to 85 and third to 124. The brakes locked up too easily so it was merciful that the Turbo stayed in a straight line. Best not to push your luck in the wet.
The Turbo’s ride was hard in a well-considered way, so it wasn’t uncomfortable. A good driving position, effective control and instrument layout and snug bucket seats, along with furiously efficient windscreen washing and wiping, headlight washers, rear window wiper, once-a-year servicing and the six-year anti-rust guarantee rounded out the Turbo’s everyday appeal. It was fairly quiet at speed, too.
While the Turbo’s chunky looks conveyed its performance well enough, it lacked the visual impact of its Italian rivals. But that practicality – including 15-18mpg – gave it unique appeal, and it paved the way for the plethora of even faster 911s to come.
Mel Nichols’s story about driving with Nick Faure in the first 911 Turbo released by the factory is in his book And The Revs Keep Rising
K500 subscribers can find market information on the Porsche 911 Turbo HERE.
Model expert Piero Poli, whose Padova company Undici HP specialises in Porsches, offers the following advice:
“I have always been in love with the 930 Turbo. My first experience was with my father’s Pacific Blue 1982 model: stiff and solid, it’s not only the amount of power you feel in comparison to a Carrera, it’s that the brakes and the set-up give you an immediate impression that it’s hard to reach the limit. We had this car for about five years and covered more than 50,000km without any trouble, and had many good memories such as driving on the snow in the Alps, and bringing it back home over 350km one Sunday afternoon after the clutch had completely gone...
“Porsche 930 Turbos are strong and solid; they were well-engineered and built to last. They deserve professional, frequent and careful maintenance but, if you treat them right and take care, they are not easy to break.
“If you’re thinking of adding a Turbo to your garage, you have a wide range to choose from, ranging from 1975 to 1989, with coupés, convertibles and Targas, and the later cars with the five-speed gearbox.
“Prices have tailed off a bit from the heights of a few years ago: prepare a budget from €80k to €100k for a good driver; add 50% for low mileage.
“Some people say original 3.0 Turbos are more sought after and expensive. It’s not true, or at least we should be more precise. Model Year (MY) ’75 is THE icon, or the collector’s item: small-size manual wing mirror; 15in Fuchs wheels; no black protection stickers on rear wheelarches; and about 50kg lighter than MY ’76 cars. If you find a proper one at around €250k, this might be a good opportunity.
“In terms of value, I see the other 3.0 Turbo (MY ’76 and ’77) closer to the 3.3 Turbos that followed. It’s true that the car looks almost exactly like the ’75 model but if you want a ‘driver’ to have some fun, my advice is to pick a 3.3-litre: the engine is more powerful and smoother, the brakes are definitely more efficient, as is the ventilation system (or air-conditioning, if present) and the bigger wing gives you more self-confidence when you spot it in the side mirror before you flick the indicator and overtake.
“If you’re starting a restoration, keep in mind that a budget of €100k could soon be reached and for a ’75 model that’s not really enough. Therefore, it’s recommended to find the best examples (checking carefully for traces of previous accidents) and ideally in an unusual and rare colour combination – such as orange, green, or light blue – which will always achieve a premium should you ever wish to sell.”
See parabolicapress.com for Ryan Snodgrass’s definitive book on the 3.0 Turbo
Don't try this at home. In the hands of an experienced driver such as Mel Nichols or Nick Faure (pictured, top), the handling of the 930 Turbo was demanding, but ultimately rewarding, as you can see here when Kidston Productions entrusted a car to its test driver...
Photo (top) by Mel Nichols; video by Kidston SA