25 Greatest Cars of All Time: Driver's Cars

Sam Smith
Charlie Magee

Porsche 911 Carrera RS

Enter a roomful of knowledgeable enthusiasts and you'll not be summarily ejected when you nominate Porsche's 911 as the best car ever built, citing its more than forty years in production, peerless build quality, and countless racing triumphs as proof. But if you want to be extra certain you're on terra firma with gearhead buddies, or if you cannot overcome your philosophical disdain for Porsche's decades of rear-engine, six-cylinder, and air-cooled hegemony, you need merely say this: the Porsche 911 Carrera RS is the best 911 ever. You'll find few dissenters.

Sure, there have been faster Porsches, 911s that looked more mental, are harder to find, are better balanced and easier to drive. But the Carrera RS, built for two years beginning in 1972, stands out as the finest, most elemental expression of an unlikely sports car legend, one with its boxer engine ass-ended outside its wheelbase, an improbably timeless machine that has propelled its tiny maker through close to half a century of success, on and off the racetrack.

The Carrera RS was born in that netherworld where Porsche's competition bias and its well-heeled customers' competitiveness with one another causes magic to happen, a homologation special sold to the public to satisfy FIA Group 4 requirements that at least 500 production cars be built. So desirable was it that this threshold was easily surpassed, moving the car into Group 3 for series-production GTs.

The evocative Carrera name harked back to the muy caliente 356 Carreras of the 1960s, limited-production factory specials named after the Mexican Carrera Panamericana races in which Porsche's former standard bearer, the 356, had distinguished itself. RS meant Rennsport, motorsport in German. Although many an RS went racing, many did not.

The car we're driving belongs to this magazine's longstanding friend, Massachusetts bon vivant Jim Mullen. White, like most were, it was not one of the few lightweight racers built. Campaigned nonetheless by a previous owner, it's since been returned to its original "Touring" spec.

Compared with garden-variety 911s of 1973, the RS gained 300 cubic centimeters to displace 2.7 liters, good for 210 hp. The RS also boasted wider tires, bigger brakes, a stiffer suspension, and an integrated rear spoiler--a ducktail. Such modifications, ironically, presaged every fat-tired, whale-tailed 911 to come, although to look at the RS today, one wouldn't know that this delicate machine would be the one that set a Porsche-loving world's taste deficit disorder into perpetual motion. Shockingly brash for its day, the tarted-up RS seems quaintly understated now.

Start it up, however, and there's nothing quaint or understated about it. A featherweight by modern standards--2150 pounds--this 911 was about as fast as cars got back then, with 60 mph coming up in little more than five seconds. As with all 911s, it is that impossible combination of eminent drivability, total practicality, and huge fun, with an extra veneer of performance and idiosyncratic character. The big tires and the big brakes raise the bar for rear-engine oversteer misadventure that much higher, but chasing the limit in a Carrera RS is as addictive an automotive thrill as any we've ever experienced.

Is an RS worth almost a quarter of a million dollars, or roughly ten times more than a nice, early 911 might set you back? Before answering, stand on it. Register the steering feel as it telegraphs the road surface with precision and concision to cry for as you barrel through a tight corner. Hear the mechanically injected flat six loudly sucking air, crackling and cackling on the overrun, then slot into third gear and blast off. Now, you tell us. Jamie Kitman

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