In Defense of the Porsche 911

Posted: February 11, 2011 in Rants
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Yesterday I decried that the 911 was quite possibly the worst car that Porsche makes.  I will not back down from this stance.  However, I do want to highlight what the 911 represents – an endless refinement of an ideal that very few car manufacturers adhere to.

In fact, only a handful of cars embody what the 911 is – a slavish devotion to the original concept that has been relentlessly honed over a variety of generations.  I’m talking about cars like the Chevrolet Corvette, Ford Mustang,  Jeep Wrangler, Mazda Miata, and of course, the Porsche 911.

Its very easy to get lost along the way.  Take Toyota, for example – Toyota used to make some of the most exciting cars known to man.  In fact, during one brief period of time, Toyota built three wonderful cars simultaneously – the MR-2 Turbo, the Supra Turbo, and the All-Trac.  These were not cars designed by committee, decontented by beancounters and presented to focus groups.  These were cars that Toyota decided to build to showcase their technology and please enthusiasts.

Since then, however, Toyota has thrown the enthusiast to the wayside.  There wasn’t any money there.  Instead, Toyota pumps out two of the best cars known to man – the Corolla and the Camry.  Yes, they’re great at being cars.  They’re not very good at entertaining the driver – but Americans simply want fuel efficient, reliable transportation appliances so that they can shut their brains off and arrive at their destination.

Toyota in fact repeated this process with Scion.  The original Scion cars were quirky, light, fun to drive, and as a result created a loyal following.  Since Toyota decided to pork up their cars and mainstream the Scions, the sales have plummeted.

So what is Toyota doing now?  They’re tarting up their cars in an attempt to appease the enthusiast.  Take the Lexus hybrid bimbo box that they’re peddling these days.

Tarting up a lackluster model is not the way to move the metal – just ask Chrysler.

I want to take this opportunity to call out some other companies that have betrayed their brand ideals.  Honda – you used to make wonderful, fun to drive little cars.  Your new Civic SI is coming out with an arguably worse engine (more displacement, lower performance head) and will probably weigh more.  Your supposed CRX replacement makes absolutely no sense – hybrid people don’t want a performance car.  Performance people don’t want a hybrid.  It didn’t work with your hopped up Accord hybrid, and it won’t work now.  Finally, you killed the NSX AND the S2000!

BMW – where do I even start.  I’m drafting a very special article for you in the back of my mind, but lets just say that your cars keep getting heavier, more complex, and you’re inventing market segments for questions that nobody asked, and problems that nobody had.  You can ask someone today “What is a BMW?” and nobody knows the damned answer, because they’re all over the board.

But this post is supposed to be positive – its supposed to be about the people who do it right.  So who has done it right?

Well, I’m going to say the Corvette has been done right.

Now, we all know I’m not really a Corvette fan.  The driving position doesn’t work for me and the image just isn’t what I want to project (I don’t own any gold medallions and I have all of my hair).  HOWEVER – the Corvette represents the same kind of development model that GM should have used for all of their cars – lets take a car, and lets make it better with each successive generation.  No matter what, each new Corvette must outperform the last car.  Each new Corvette must also outperform the competition while costing less money to purchase, maintain, and repair.  Every single Corvette has stayed faithful to this goal – I don’t even want to hear about how the REAL Corvette only had a straight 6 – nobody cares once those pushrods get a pushin.

Next up, the Ford Mustang.  Affordable pony car power for the masses.  What is a Mustang?  Easy – its a fun, sporty coupe that’s affordable, has some practicality, and can burn rubber.  Ford has done a great job with refining the Mustang over the years, even during the dark Fox body days.  What’s even better is that even after they went all retro on us, the new car has come and modernized itself somewhat.  And who can fault their drivetrain selections, at those prices?  You can get a 500+ hp Mustang for less than a Corvette today – that really is something and its staying with the value driven pony car performance that the original car delivered, which made it such a hit.  In fact, I have a friend who told me that when her father arrived in America from Iran, the first thing he wanted to do was buy a Ford Mustang – and he went out and got himself one once he made enough money.

Your Author is clearly a douchebag.

Jeep.  What does Jeep say to you?  It says, I’m going off road.  The brand lately has lost this concept as its churned out soft roader after soft roader intended to chauffeur the kiddies to soccer practice, replete with those little stick figure stickers on the back showing that yes, the driver did indeed find someone to tolerate her, and does indeed have a fertile womb.  How special.  In fact, Jeep even sells a car now that isn’t even trail rated!  Nonetheless, despite all of this, Jeep does still sell the Wrangler – and this car is serious.  I have no off road experience whatsoever, but even I was able to take the Wrangler off road and get to where I wanted to go.  On the highway, its miserable, but off road, its one of the best you can buy straight off the showroom floor and go wherever you want to go.  It has stayed faithful to its brand – one of an affordable, functional, versatile off roader that does not make concessions to on-road manners or sacrifice its offroad utility in order to more comfortably get its fat assed suburban owner to P.F. Chang’s at the mall.

Almost done, but we can’t forget the darling Mazda Miata.  I don’to care what the stigma is – this car is so true to its original intention that it must be discussed.  Originally designed to be like a British roadster, but reliable.  Its cheap too!  Not only that, but it really delivers a ton of performance at a small cost, and shows that you can have fun without big power.  From the original car to the current one, weight has been kept down, reliability has been impeccable, and fun has been the number one factor driving its development – the car just keeps getting better with each successive generation.

Which leads us to our final car, the basis behind this article- the Porsche 911.  As much shit as I give Porsche for their dedication to this car, and their refusal to give their “lesser” cars the big boy engines and proper gear ratios to let them run with this car, it represents the ultimate evolution of the ideal.  Admittedly, the ideal is pretty stupid – rear engine and what not – but the results speak for themselves.  All Porsche 911s exudes style.  They deliver performance.  They engage the driver.

They have been engineered again and again so that each successive car carries the styling, drivetrain layout and ideals of the original (ok, maybe not the turbo cars or the AWD sissy cars) while getting successively better with each generation – they’re more efficient, they’re faster, they handle better.  When someone gets into  911, they know where they are and they know what’s about to happen.

They’re not cheap either – and this is part of the brand in fact.  Almost anyone who works hard can one day afford a brand new Corvette, not so with the 911 – in fact, the Corvette has more power and costs significantly less, so in order to make the rational purchase to get a new 911 over a new Corvette, something has to draw the purchaser – and that is the fact that the car really is a total package with nearly 50 years of history and heritage.   These cars command such a premium because they get that ideal right, and the ideal – the fantasy – that’s what causes someone to lust after these cars and ultimately purchase them . . .

. . .  even if the Cayman is simply better all around.

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Comments
  1. Chris says:

    The only real lesson I took away from this is when cars (and trucks) become non-purposeful, they get expensive. Except for the 911 of course. But really, all the best, shall we call them attainable, vehicles have been at the lower end of the cost scale relative to their less defined competition. Corvettes (and Vipers) eat cars many times their cost on the track. Jeep Wranglers do the best offroad. A Chevy 1500 (or Ford/Dodge equiv) with a 350 and vinyl seats and floormats is arguably the most truck you can buy, and they’re cheap!, none of this leather and extended cab and in-dash nav jazz. Suburban/Tahoes are pretty much the best SUV there is, and you get more for less with them. Until you pay more for them, and they become ponderous whales to operate.

    In short, I’m starting a vehicle company. Everything will be sans options, have the right engine and drivetrain for the job, and be cheap. I will be the next GM, from when GM was something.

  2. Jennifer says:

    This one really made me laugh!

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