Would a sunny morning at Mosport International Raceway spent pounding around in a pair of potent Porsches and a sports car relic make the case that the thrill of driving fast remains the same even if the technology has changed dramatically?
Approaching the braking zone at the end of the long uphill back straight, tucked in behind the tiny aero windscreen on the cowl of my 1968 Morgan 4/4, the wind-rush was roaring in my ears, various bits were rattling and the speedo needle had quivered its way up to about 85 mph (135 km/h). It felt faster. I wished I’d brought my goggles and perhaps a white silk scarf.
Turning the calendar ahead a few decades resulted in entering this intersection of time and rapidly diminishing braking space with almost another 100 km/h showing on the velocity meter in Porsche’s latest go-fast version of its Cayman coupe, the lightweight, higher powered, belly pan to the pavement “R” model. It not only felt, but was in fact, a lot faster. I rather wished I’d had a helmet and a maybe a five-point harness.
Lapping Mosport’s four kilometres of fast-flowing corners in this toothsome twosome of 2012 Porsches – the test session also included the new Boxster S Black Edition – and a creaky and ancient Brit was a fascinating contrast of then, well actually before then, and now.
The Mog was primitive when it was built, basically 1930s sports car technology updated somewhat to suit 1960s performance expectations. It has a 1.6-litre four, tweaked to make about 100 hp, under its louvered “bonnet” and a four-speed gearbox. It’s good for about 160 km/h, which was pretty fast “back then.”
Running it immoderately briskly around the Mosport track, its body panels (nailed to a wooden framework like you’d find under your couch) vibrate, its steering is quick if vague and its stiff harsh suspension lets the wheels patter over rough patches. And its brakes – well, actually, they’re pretty good. Big front discs that can overwhelm its skinny tires.
The Mog’s a car that epitomizes that penchant of the Brits (and their fellow sports car travellers) for “enjoying” themselves in unlikely contraptions that expose them to self-induced dangers and the elements in about equal proportions.
Unlike the Germans, particularly those who work at Porsche, who take it all a lot more seriously.
The Boxster was introduced as a 1997 model, a sort of roadster reprise of the mid-’50s 550 Spyder, and the Cayman came along in 2006, based on the Boxster’s structure and mechanicals but with unique coupe bodywork and character.
With the next evolution of the Boxster due to arrive next summer, the 2012 Black Edition ($74,400) was created to help maintain some sales momentum in the meantime. And black it is. The body, trim, top, exhaust tips and wheels are black and so is the interior. A number of options are also included and there’s an extra 10 hp pumping the 3.4-litre six up to 320 hp.
Nothing major is planned for the Cayman for at least a couple of years so the “R” variant is aimed at enticing Porsche enthusiasts looking for quicker, lighter and more agile version of this spiritual successor to the original 911 of the 1960s (of which, incidentally, a new generation arrives in January).
The R-for-racier Cayman, stripped of A/C and audio systems, is aimed at the no-compromise performance crowd, although they can be added from the option list.
But the R really is about going fast with weight reduced by 55 kg (to 1,295 kg) thanks to lightweight door panels and 19-inch alloy wheels and the aforesaid deletions. That’s on six-speed-manual-equipped versions, with about half that mass gained back with the $4,180 seven-speed “doppelkupplung” or PDK transmission and more if you add options.
The 3.4-litre engine’s power increases by 10 hp to 330 hp at 7,400 rpm, the ride height lowered by 20 mm and visual identifiers include the aero front fascia and rear spoiler, blacked out headlight surrounds and mirror caps.
The Cayman R starts at $75,600, but the Mosport car came with audio and air, the PDK box, Xenon lights and the Sport Chrono package that revved the price to $88,525. If you tried to talk me out of my Morgan, which weighs about 750 kg and doesn’t have a heater, you’d have to start at about $30,000.
Both cars are simply brilliant, but I don’t believe I’ve ever lapped Mosport as quickly as I did in the Cayman R with Porsche instructor and ex-racer Rick Bye pointing the way and various electronics systems dealing with any momentary deficiencies in talent on my part.
The Cayman R looks and feels tough and very competent and accelerates hard – 0-100 km/h takes about five seconds – which shortens to sometimes alarmingly brief intervals the time spent between corners. And means you arrive at braking points going very quickly, which makes it good that it stops well as it goes. The R also turns-in with wonderful feel and precision, and even when you don’t, has enough electronically enhanced stability and tire grip in reserve to ensure bad things don’t happen.
Permanent memory imprints. The expanse of white concrete wall facing you as you brake at the end of the pit straight for downhill Turn One. The expanse of sky you face as you approach the blind crest of Turn Two. The braking gees and compression as you slam down into the entry for Turn Five. The rapidly rising, let’s call it, anticipation as you keep the pedal pressed to the floor for an extra moment or two at the end of the back straight.
Driving Mosport in the Morgan, despite the fact I was never really going very fast in modern terms, was exciting and fun, if perhaps just a little frightening at times. In the Porsches, in which I was going really fast most of the time, the experience was, well, exciting and fun, and perhaps just a little frightening at times. Which pretty much answers the question proposed in the opening paragraph.
2012 Porsche Cayman R
Type: Sports car
Base Price: $75,600; as tested, $87,245
Engine: 3.4-litre, DOHC, horizontally opposed six
Horsepower/torque: 330 hp/273 lb-ft
Transmission: Seven-speed twin-clutch (automatic)
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 10.6 city/6.7 highway; premium gas
Alternatives: Lotus Exige, Audi TT Coupe, Nissan 370Z coupe, Mazda RX8 and a number of roadsters including Porsche’s Boxster