Joe Montana or Tom Brady? Madonna or Lady Gaga? The first love or the new flame? It’s in our nature to look in the rearview mirror, to measure the brightness of the present against the best of the past. It’s no different with car enthusiasts. For all the areas in which automobiles have improved—safety, performance, efficiency, reliability—they still live in the shadow of the past. The great thing about cars, though, is that we don’t have to rely solely on our memories. We’ll never know how twenty-eight-year-old Michael Jordan would have fared against twenty-eight-year-old LeBron James, but we can find well-kept classic cars—the icons that enthusiasts worship—and pit them against their modern equivalents. That’s just what we did with these seven matchups. It’s throttle cables versus direct injection. AM radios versus infotainment screens. Old-car patina versus new-car smell. So, was it really better then? Come back next Thursday for the next entry in this series.
The original Porsche 911 Turbo is like a horror flick that terrified you as a kid but seems almost quaint when you watch it as an adult. When the American model debuted for 1976, the so-called 930 packed more power than a contemporary Corvette in a rear-engine chassis with a shorter wheelbase than a modern Fiat 500. Can you say lift-throttle oversteer? Lots of overmatched drivers did, and the 930—the world’s first turbocharged ultra-high-performance street car—earned a reputation as a widow-maker.
These days, 234 horsepower—and that’s all the first-year Turbo made—is minivan territory. Meanwhile, the new-for-2014 Turbo S (generation number six) boasts 560 horses and a top speed approaching 200 mph. Priced fully optioned north of $200,000, it launches from 0 to 60 mph in a mere 2.9 seconds while coddling occupants in sybaritic comfort. Despite the shared name, today’s Turbo has about as much in common with the original 930 as the space shuttle does with the crude Mercury space capsule.
Still, the principal difference between the two cars is less technological than philosophical. During the 1950s and ’60s, Porsches were renowned as giant killers that outran bigger cars with quickness and agility. The company competed mostly in small-bore classes until winning Le Mans overall in 1970. Then it blitzed the Can-Am series—and crushed big-block V-8s—with the 1000-hp 917/10K, which unleashed turbocharging on the road-racing world.
Fitting a turbo to a streetgoing 911 was a no-brainer. The limited-edition 911 R and the iconic 911 Carrera RS had already shown how effectively Porsche could marry small but sophisticated engines to lightweight chassis, but the 930 was an American-style hot rod that corralled the maximum number of ponies in the minimum amount of space. The result was the first 911 that could legitimately be called a beast, and it transformed Porsche’s brand image.
By the end of the first-gen model run in 1989, the 930 boasted a 3.3-liter engine making 282 hp. The car we sampled was a remarkably original 1988 model with 23,000 miles on the odometer. The slant-nose hood, deep-dish Fuchs wheels, and massive “tea tray” spoiler (which feeds the intercooler) radiate a Miami Vice vibe that seems a bit dated. But the 930 looks positively svelte next to a modern Turbo, and the wide hips and voluptuous rear end still exude plenty of sex appeal.
Even with the turbo muffling its signature rasp, the air-cooled flat six sounds immediately familiar. What seems strange is the gearbox. Because the five-speed in the regular 911 was too fragile for the Turbo, Porsche opted for a four-speed manual with long throws that seem more appropriate for a school bus than a sports car. As I’d been warned, the big KKK turbo takes time to spool up. But even when the engine reaches 4000 rpm, power delivery is pretty benign. Ditto, surprisingly, for the cornering. Yes, the tail feels light—the car weighs only 3000 pounds—and abruptly lifting the throttle will cause the car to spin faster than Shaun White. But if you stay ahead of the 930, the lithe chassis and precise steering allow you to control the car with the throttle.
The modern Turbo is a better car—a supercar, really—by every quantifiable measure. It’s a luxurious rocket ship that stops like a race car and always feels supremely planted. But it’s so fast partly because of what it won’t let you do—lock the brakes, spin the tires, lose the rear end. The 930 allows you to make mistakes. Does that make it a monster? Only if you’re scared of your own driving.
|1988 Porsche 911 Turbo||2014 Porsche 911 Turbo S|
|Engine||3.3L turbo flat-6, 282 hp, 278 lb-ft||3.8L twin-turbo flat-6, 560 hp, 516 lb-ft|
|Transmission||4-speed manual||7-speed automatic|
|Curb Weight||3000 lbs||3538 lbs|
|Price||$68,670 ($135,800 after inflation)||$182,095|