Slow Cars - The Joy of Slow

Tim Marrs

Driving a Porsche 911 GT3 RS on the streets of Huntington Beach is like having torrid sex with a fantasy lover - in a public place. It's exhilarating, yes, but you're constantly terrified that you're about to be busted.

I find myself experiencing these warring emotions while driving the GT3 RS owned by Dennis Holloway, who runs Mothers Polishes. From the Alcantara steering wheel to the 415-hp flat-six to the screaming orange, really-officer-was-I-going-that-fast? Paint job, the Porsche is, essentially, a street-legal race car, and it's impossible to resist the temptation to drive it accordingly. Swinging onto Pacific Coast Highway with the traffic light in my favor, I jab the throttle to unsettle the rear end, catch the slide with some opposite lock, and plant my right foot. A fleeting glance at the digital speedometer shows three digits as I scream toward the top of third gear, and traffic telescopes toward me when I grab fourth. So I hammer the brake pedal, snap off two immensely satisfying heel-and-toe downshifts, and slow to the pace of traffic. But even as I savor this ephemeral Preston-does-Sebring moment, I fearfully check the rearview mirror for a black-and-white with flashing lights. I spend the rest of my drive alternately punching the throttle for brief stints of totally irresponsible mayhem and scanning the horizon for cops ready to cart my dumb ass off to jail.

Three hours later, I'm in a Mazda Miata built in 1989 - the fourteenth production car to come off the Miata assembly line in Hiroshima back when Mazda reinvented the two-seat roadster. The first-generation Miata is the spunky and straightforward antithesis to the Porsche's techno-sophistication. Even in full thrash mode, the 1.6-liter four-banger makes a paltry 116 hp. The tires are mounted on puny 14-by-5.5-inch wheels, and the 185-series rubber is so rock-hard that it seems to date from the Jurassic era. After my thrill-ride in the Porsche, the Miata seems ridiculously tame. And yet its very slowness is one of the major reasons that it's so much fun. The GT3 is just too damn fast to be driven anywhere remotely close to its limit on public roads. But in the Miata, every stoplight is an excuse to exercise the stubby formula-car-style gear lever, and every corner is an opportunity to practice your drifting technique. On a racetrack, of course, speed is everything. On the street, slower is better. In the GT3, you're constantly disappointed that you don't have a chance to reach its alleged top speed of 193 mph. In the Miata, you're happy when you're doing 45 mph.

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