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1960 Porsche 356B Carrera 2000 GT (Dan Proudfoot for The Globe and Mail)
1960 Porsche 356B Carrera 2000 GT (Dan Proudfoot for The Globe and Mail)

Old versus new

Evolution of the Porsche super-car Add to ...

Cold-starting the 1960 Porsche 356B Carrera 2000 GT, the report from the racing exhaust sounds like the noon-hour cannon blast at Kingston's Fort Henry.

The explosions continue, bam-pause-bam-pause-bam, as Porsche Museum master mechanic Kuno Werner revs the motor until it's sufficiently warm to idle on its own.

More related to this story

2010 Porsche
911 Turbo S

The 2010 911 Turbo S, on the other hand, requires no warm-up, and idles near silently.

Driving two maximal Porsches separated by 50 years, experienced in a single day, is a head-spinning experience, a Teutonic time warp, a treat beyond expectation.

On offer are some of Porsche's current performance leaders along with four old-timers from the company museum. All of this is context for a demonstration of the 918 Spyder prototype, the far-in-the-future Porsche super-car anticipated (unofficially) to be production-ready in 2013.

First up, the Carrera Turbo S. This ultra-911 made its debut at the Geneva Auto Show in March, along with the 918 Spyder concept car, but already is for sale in Canada, for $200,000. It can accelerate from a standstill to 100 km/h in 3.3 seconds, and boasts a claimed top track speed of 315 km/h.

Beyond its performance, what's truly astonishing about this car is its civility. Other than the impact felt over the occasional bumps on Highway One between the exit for Carmel and our turnaround point at a restaurant at Big Sur, this 530-hp Porsche feels like a luxury car rather than a speed machine.

Traffic is heavy. Opportunity to pass is scarce. One opening though and you feel your ears sinking into the headrests as you keep your foot in it.

Whereas, 50 years ago, Porsche's grand-touring sports cars were hardly grand and in most cases were rated at less than 100 horsepower.

The exception was the original Carrera - the model name introduced in 1956 marking those cars equipped with high-performance, four-cam engines designed by Ernst Fuhrmann. The ultimate of which we're about to drive.

Inside the 1960 Porsche

Nothing fancy about this car, mind, beyond an elegant wood-rimmed steering wheel. Simple clamshell seats hold you in place in hard cornering. There are no seat belts, not even lapbelts. There are ashtrays and lighters, though.

Inside the 2010 Porsche.

The Carrera GT 2000 GS coupe performs like no other 356 in our experience (30 years' ownership of a 356B T-6) - with far superior steering feel, better balance in cornering, and accelerative powers atypical for its time. A fact sheet in the car provides partial explanation.

Horsepower rated at 175 was squeezed from this version of the four-cam motor, compared to 90 in the hottest edition of a regular coupe. Hand-built aluminum doors and front and rear lids replaced the usual steel, plexiglass was installed in place of glass side windows and, while the chassis was lightened, it was stiffened as well with extra welding. It weighs only 850 kilograms.

Top speed is said to be 220 km/h, slower by 95 than the Turbo S we've driven first, but the driver senses so very much more speed, noise, connection in the 50-year-old extreme Porsche.

The free-flow racing exhaust is good for 10 hp itself and good for the soul, too - the rapid-fire cannon blasts loud enough to silence a Harley. There's more aural input, though, the carburetor intakes sucking like sub-vortexs in a volcano, contributing as much to the exhilarating cacophony heard from the driver's seat as do the exhaust and the rattle of the elaborate valve train.

The car runs out of gas soon after my co-driver has moved behind the wheel. No problem, the reserve tap is located beneath the dash, as in any other 356. The stop-and-go traffic beginning a few miles outside Carmel is a larger problem, though, because the engine soon begins choking up.

We make it back to base, barely. Next morning, the car is withdrawn from demonstration runs until Werner can change its eight spark plugs (two per cylinder).

Thousands of words have been written on the demanding temperament of the four-cam engine, one example coming from a book by historian Karl Ludvigsen: "You could tell a Carrera man by his scars from changing plugs, and by the bulging biceps he developed from continually removing, dismantling, reassembling and reinstalling the 300-pound-plus hunk of gorgeous metal."

1960 Porsche 356B Carrera 2000 GT

In 1960, a normal 356 B 1600 sold for 14,300 marks, a GT version with 140 horsepower 23,700 marks. In Canada in 1960, a 356 B 1600 commanded $4,190, and the GT was not imported.

The car we've just driven was unavailable to the public because it was built as a factory rally car, it's established later in correspondence with Dieter Landenberger of Porsche archives. No wonder it felt so good.

Reflecting on the day comes down to this. With 50 years of technological development the new car was superior in every way but one: Fun.



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