Sorry, Luftgekühltists, but you can’t survive on air alone. Water is essential to life, despite airhead fanatics’ fervent belief the Porsche 911 blinked out of existence in the late ’90s when the water-cooled 996 was announced for the following year. For the faithful, the annual Luftgekühlt gathering is nirvana — a place where anyone with a radiator is verboten. Even before this year’s Luft gathering in Long Beach, California, began, we’d had enough of the gaseous wind-bagging coming from certain corners of Porschedom. Someone needs to proselytize for the Wassergekühlt. I had a hunch about where to start, so I hopped in a 2017 Porsche 911 Turbo and visited the 2017 California Festival of Speed.
My pulpit of choice is the crown jewel of the 911 family. There are more capable and exclusive 911s, but the Turbo is the vessel Stuttgart imbues with its latest technology and hardware. It’s a testament to what the rear-engine 911 formula is capable of, and the perfect way to offset the Luftgekuhlt fanaticism.
The California Festival of Speed is a Porsche Club of America gathering that’s blessed So-Cal for 16 years, 12 more than Luft. It’s held in the infield of Fontana’s Auto Club Speedway, so there’s plenty of room for exercise. But the Friday night before the festival weekend, I took the black Turbo for a midnight cruise. Deserted L.A. warehouse roads and empty on-ramps were host to initial calisthenics, but the foggy Pacific Coast Highway was the goal. It wasn’t long before the 3.8-liter twin-turbocharged flat-six rendered me breathless, thanks to 540 hp and 486 lb-ft of torque. The seven-speed PDK routes power to all four wheels, allowing the 3,516-pound car to hit 60 mph in 2.9 seconds.
A full-throttle launch up an on-ramp was like getting flicked across L.A. county by a giant. It’s a perfect “watch this” car, where passengers and driver alike are reduced to giggles with each seamless overtake. Similar speed is available in an Audi R8 or McLaren 570S, but they lack the insta-torque shotgun-kick of the all-wheel-drive Turbo. Other supercars feel ferocious standing still, whereas the tremendous force of the 911 comes as almost a surprise. It’s relatively quiet, effortlessly comfortable, and absolutely usable on a daily basis, while packing the same kind of straight-line hustle reserved for bottle rockets.
I awoke the next morning facing a 60-mile jaunt to Fontana. Halfway there I met up with a friend in his 996 Carrera and set off toward the Speedway. In traffic, the Turbo was calm; its ability to remain quiet and comfortable while still offering staggering capability is second-to-none for the price.
I turned into the speedway amidst a long train of late-model Porsches, BMWs, and Mercedes. I snaked through the infield, eventually landing in a massive parking lot reserved for attending Porsche owners. The midnight-dark Turbo was lost in a curvaceous sea of black, white, red, yellow, and blue 911s, mostly from the water-cooled era. But regarding the participating Porsches, my suspicions were correct. As I’ve seen at numerous past track days and SCCA events, most of the Porsches flogged out on the infield track were from the 996 and 997 generations. There was a contingent of air-cooled cars on-track, but they were hopelessly outnumbered by the water pumpers.
In part, this impressive 996/997/991 turnout is the two-prong result of the ballooning cost of entry for air-cooled cars and the inherent robustness of the modern 911. Stock-for-stock, an unmodified 996 is better prepared for track work than a standard 911 from the ’70s, ’80s, or even the early ’90s. Parts are still in fresh supply, as are replacement trim and tires. They’re safer, easier to drive, and easier to live with than the older cars.
The Luftgekühlt crowd doesn’t want to hear it, but the cars they covet show their age. The newest of those cars is rapidly approaching the quarter-century mark. The vintage 911 aftermarket scene is blossoming, but affordable OEM-quality parts are getting harder to find, especially in the case of dashboards, targa tops, and transmission components. For many, the relatively affordable cost of entry, along with better day-to-day usability, makes the water-cooled 911s (and Boxsters and Caymans) a better purchase than a ratty, leaky 911 SC.
By noon, I’d had my fill of the FoS. I hopped in the 911 and wound my way to the San Gabriel Mountains, where I began the ascent at the base of Glendora Mountain Road. As the Porsche cut through the mountainside, I dialed the Turbo’s suspension and PDK transmission to their most aggressive setting. GMR is a tricky bit of road, but no prayer was necessary. Rear-wheel-steering allowed it to change direction quickly, and the all-wheel-drive system lent unshakable solidity that allowed me to carry tremendous speed through tight corners. Porsche made sure all drive systems were on pace with the orbital thrust of the 3.8-liter, including massive 15-inch rotors in both the front and rear that were clamped by six- and four-piston calipers, respectively.
Halfway through the route, the speed became ritual. Explode toward the next corner, haul it back down beneath three digits, turn in, feed a little power, explode mid-exit, repeat. The Turbo was so approachable, so effortless on canyon roads, I wondered why I would buy anything else for daily use, provided my bank account was as fat as the 3.8-liter’s torque curve.
That’s the crux of it. For a fast, comfortable daily runabout, the 991.2 Turbo is about as good as it gets. It’s a do-everything, go-anywhere cocoon of speed I have the confidence in taking across the country without fear of breaking down or attracting any undue attention.
Don’t listen to the hype. Air-cooled 911s aren’t the end-all, be-all of the Porsche gospel. I did things in the 991.2 I wouldn’t have dreamed of doing in my ’81 Targa. If you want to join the Luft party, go pick up a ’75-’83 911 before you’re priced out of the market. If you want an effortlessly usable and still very, very “911” experience without the headache, members of the Wassergekühlt are always looking for new acolytes.
2017 Porsce 911 Turbo Specifications
|PRICE||$160,250/$167,225 (base/as tested)|
|ENGINE||3.8L twin-turbo DOHC 24-valve flat-6/540 hp @ 6,500 rpm, 486 lb-ft @ 1,950 rpm|
|TRANSMISSION||7-speed dual-clutch automatic|
|LAYOUT||2-door, 4-passenger, rear-engine, AWD coupe|
|EPA MILEAGE||19/24 mpg (city/hwy)|
|L x W x H||177.4 x 70.0 x 51.0 in|
|0-60 MPH||2.9 sec|
|TOP SPEED||198 mph|