Porsche is already among the most hallowed nameplates in the automotive arena, but when one of their offerings wears an ‘RS’ suffix, said vehicle is elevated to an altogether higher plane. Cars in this echelon command reverential respect and are guaranteed instant collectible status — they’re essentially the wheeled equivalent of a Picasso.
The RS badge (short for ‘Rennsport’, which is German for ‘Racing’) dates back to 1957, but the 1973 Carrera RS 2.7 — the first 911 to wear the RS badge — is to this day regarded as the quintessential Rennsport model. This is reflected by their now almost priceless status, and the few examples that change hands these days do so for Dh3 million or more, depending on their condition and provenance.
There’s no doubt the Carrera RS 2.7 — one of the fastest production cars in its day — was and still is a driver’s delight, but the descendants that have followed in its wheeltracks are all glorious in their own way, as this wheels scribe is about to discover with an exclusive drive through Germany’s Black Forest in a smorgasbord of RS greats made available to us by the Porsche Museum.
I could babble on with the preamble, but let’s cut to the chase and get straight to the seat-of-the-pants drive impressions of each RS hall-of-famer…
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911 Carrera RS 2.7 (1973-74)
Compared with the heavily scooped and bespoilered current-day GT2 RS, the Carrera RS 2.7 has a beautiful understated simplicity about it. Mind you, its front lip spoiler and ducktail at the rear were pioneering features in its day, adding downforce — and therefore high-speed stability — in an era when none of Porsche’s competitors had cottoned on to the notion of aero management.
Derived from the existing 911 S 2.4 in just six months by Porsche’s skunkworks, the Carrera RS scored a free-revving, big-bore 2.7-litre flat-six that eked out 207bhp, propelling it to a top speed of 240kph — very rapid for its day. Weight saving was a key component of the recipe, and to this end, the Carrera RS was equipped with thin glass panes, thin sheetmetal body panels and a plastic bonnet.
You could order it as a spartan, stripped-out ‘Sport’ version or with the more opulent ‘Touring’ package (as per the 1973 ‘Light Yellow’ example we’re driving), which added more comfortable sports seats, rear seats, carpets, a clock and a radio — although all these features meant it incurred a 115kg weight penalty over the Sport model. Even so, it’s waiflike at just 1,075kg.
Porsche needed to build only 500 examples of the RS to homologate it for racing, but such was its popularity that they ended up rolling out 1,308 units. I can understand why it won so many admirers as I settle into its thin yet comfortable seat and fire up the characterful air-cooled flat-six motor. Chuntering out of the car park, my forearms get a solid workout from the non-power-assisted steering, while my calf muscles are also challenged by the pedals that sprout from the floor (in contrast to the top-hinged pedals that you’d find in any other car).
The first kilometre is underwhelming, as the steering has loads of play around centre, throws between gearchanges are long, and the 2.7 engine delivers performance that’s hardly eye-opening by today’s standards. But after a few more kays, I begin to warm to it. The car feels so alive. My nostrils are treated to an assortment of petrol/oil-infused aromas and there’s a great sense of connection to the RS via the fingertips and seat of the pants.
The narrow dimensions of the Carrera RS 2.7 — in stark contrast to the wideboy-stanced 2018 GT2 RS — are a bonus on these twisty, narrow roads, and there’s a great view across the bonnet and prominent headlight turrets that make it exceptionally easy to accurately place the car. The RS 2.7 doesn’t serve up a ballistic turn of speed by modern-day norms, but it’s lively and engaging in a way that no new offering can be with their armoury of electronics and computer-controlled chassis doodads. The Carrera RS 2.7 is a timeless classic, and even a motoring philistine would be hard-pressed to not warm to its undiluted purity and sheer engagement factor.
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964 Series 911 Carrera RS (1991-93)
Like its Carrera RS 2.7 ancestor, the 964 Series Carrera RS owed its origins to motorsport as it was designed as the basis for production-based racing categories. It was again conceived as a lightweight special, as an aluminium bonnet and thin window panes were complemented by forged magnesium rims, a single-mass flywheel, wind-up windows and a fabric strap to pull the door shut. There was also no air-con, power steering or radio, and all these measures meant the 964 RS weighed just 1,240kg.
With propulsion provided by a 256bhp 3.6-litre flat-six, backed up by firmer, lower suspension and bigger brakes, it was decently quick, sprinting from 0-100kph in 5.4sec and hitting 260kph flat out. Despite these numbers, the garishly hued ‘Rubystone Red’ example I’ve just slotted into feels distinctively lethargic over the first few kilometres. Worse still, the engine sounds awful at low revs — like a tin of bolts being shaken about.
Also disconcerting is the weird unassisted steering, which feels as though it’s connected to the front wheels by a vast network of rubber bands. The six-speed manual gearbox isn’t the most user-friendly either as it’s extremely notchy in its action. The car I’m piloting is a 1992 model, but it feels at least a decade more archaic than that.
Nevertheless, start to dial into the 964 RS’s peculiarities and you start to appreciate its merits. The engine that felt sluggish at low revs comes alive once you keep it between 4000rpm and the 6800rpm redline. Even that weird steering is no longer an issue once you understand what it’s doing. With familiarity, it’s capable of being punted along at a brisk clip as there’s far more grip and poise there than initially seems apparent. That said, the 964 Carrera RS demands skill behind the wheel, unlike its modern-day descendants, which flatter their drivers. The 964 Series may not be my favourite RS, but it’s not without its quirky charms.
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996 Series 911 GT3 RS (2003-04)
This was the first 911 to wear the GT3 nameplate, in line with Porsche’s intention to homologate the car for GT3 racing (well, duh). The GT3 RS’s free-spinning 3.6-litre engine wasn’t just a tweaked version of the standard 911 motor, but rather a race-derived powerplant with dry-sump lubrication and titanium conrods that enabled it to rev safely and smoothly to almost 8,000rpm.
Weight-saving measures again included thin glass, along with several bespoke plastic and aluminium components. These, plus the turfing of all comfort features, kept its weight down to a lithe 1,350kg. Factor in the uprated 381bhp engine, and the result was a car that sprinted from 0-100kph in 4.4sec and hit a stratospheric (especially for its era) 306kph. The GT3 sat 30mm lower than its standard sibling, and the beefed-up suspension was adjustable for each racetrack. The braking system was also upgraded via larger discs, four-piston callipers and racing ABS.
As with its predecessors I’ve just stepped out of, the 996 GT3 RS fails to impress initially. The ultra-basic interior is so spartan it wouldn’t suffice even for a Toyota Yaris in today’s era. It’s swathed in cheap-looking black plastic, and there’s absolutely nothing in the way of mod-cons. The clutch pedal is so heavy you need calves like Schwarzenegger to operate it, and ride quality is bone-jarring over anything less than billiard-table-smooth tarmac, so it’s hardly cossetting to drive.
But here’s the rub. The 996 GT3 RS is weapons-grade quick — even by today’s standards — across a winding road or racetrack. That water-cooled 3.6-litre engine (the 996 was the first 911 to ditch air cooling) is an absolute titan, especially in the upper half of its rev range, while the chassis, although offering almost zero suppleness, delivers the ability to corner flat and hard. There’s also a great feeling of connection to the car as it’s largely devoid of electronics. The 996 GT3 RS is completely uncompromising, yet hugely satisfying to drive in the right conditions. I also love the eyeball-smacking blue-and-white livery of this particular car, even if it is a bit boy-racer.
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991 Series 911 GT2 RS (2018-)
This is the embodiment of the ultimate 911 that Porsche can currently build for the road. Replete with every bit of tech the Zuffenhausen boffins have at their disposal, it’s a performance powerhouse that recently annihilated the production car lap record at the perilous 20.8km Nurburgring Nordschleife. What’s more, it made it look easy.
You only need a single glance at the car to glean this is something a bit special. Festooned with a barrage of scoops, vents, aero-enhancing front spoiler, massive rear wing and diffuser, the Batmobile-esque coupe is anything but understated.
It’s basically an undisguised racecar, even though the leather/Alcantara-lined interior might have you believe otherwise… until you reach for the AC button, only to find there is none. Nor is there a door handle where you expect to find one — instead, there’s a fabric strap to pull the door shut. Yep, this car was conceived with the singular purpose of demolishing lap records, and a big key to its success here is that phenomenal 3.8-litre twin-turbo flat six, which pushes out towering outputs of 690bhp and 750Nm.
Its 0-100kph split of 2.8sec and top whack of 340kph might be matched by a handful of other contemporary supercars, but that’s when most comparisons would end because the speed the GT2 RS can carry into, through and out of corners is simply staggering. The only car I’ve sampled that comes close with its eyelid-peeling pace is the Ferrari 488 Pista. The rate at which it devours any stretch of tarmac you throw at it requires a complete recalibration of the grey matter, yet the GT2 RS feels well-planted and reassuring to drive – unlike GT2 RSs of yesteryear, which were nicknamed ‘Widowmakers’.
The latest GT2 RS is a ferociously fast, highly capable spearhead for the Rennsport line-up, and it very demonstrably showcases the 45 years of evolution that have transpired since the Carrera RS 2.7 shook the foundations of the performance-car hierarchy back in 1973. One can only wonder what the next 45 years