Fog hung like a damp curtain in the cool morning air off the Adriatic Coast. As we crunched our way across a gravel driveway, a slight breeze cut a swath through the vapor, offering a fleeting glimpse of the new Porsche 911 GT3, the object of both our immediate attention and our overriding apprehension. This nervous attentiveness would be the theme of the day, because the GT3 is not a car for people who suffer from attention deficit disorder, nor is it a car for wimps.
Had the GT3 actually been draped, it still would have been easy to make a positive identification. The front fascia, borrowed from the GT3 Cup racer, features three radiator intake scoops. Curvaceous sills run along the lower flanks. But the car's crowning glory is its rear spoiler, perched like the upper wing of a German warplane.
The GT3 is likewise poised for action. It's a featherweight, tipping the scales at a mere 3050 pounds. A limited-slip rear differential helps put the power to the pavement, and ABS helps bring things to a halt, but there are no other stability or traction aids. The suspension is tuned to a range somewhere between hard and solid. Springs are painted bright red. Brake calipers are painted bright yellow. And there we were on a misty winter morning, preparing to unleash this race-bred beast on public roads. Damp, foreign public roads.
It was the Saturday before Ash Wednesday, and most of Italy's populace was still in bed, recovering from the previous night's revelry. This meant open stretches of early-morning autostrada, so, with the sun beginning to burn off the haze, we made a beeline for the highway. Using the entrance tollgate as an impromptu green flag, we ran the needle up the tach, gripped the wheel, dropped the clutch, and noted an almost disappointing lack of tire noise. The car launched-instead of howling its tires-from a dead stop. We'd expected more drama, but the reward was pure action, the result of the rear engine's location.
Minus the Carrera's rear seats and most of its sound-deadening material, the GT3's engine is always audible as its wail resounds through the cabin. Timing and breathing make all the difference. Through the use of VarioCam variable intake valve timing, there's more torque on hand (up from 272 to 284 pound-feet), 80 percent of it available from 2000 rpm. Without resorting to turbocharging, Porsche engineers were able to increase the 3.6-liter unit's output to 375 horsepower (60 more than the base Carrera and 20 more than the previous, 1999 GT3) using the old race-proven equation: Revs equal power. The engine now redlines at 8200 rpm (compared with the Carrera's 7300 rpm). A dry-sump lubrication system features five pumps and a separate oil tank, allowing the car to endure long periods of lateral g's.
The bottom line is a 0-to-62-mph time of 4.5 seconds, which is slightly better than that of the previous iteration. If you want a swifter 911 than the $100,667 GT3, it'll cost you: $16,300 more for the three-tenths-quicker Turbo, $81,800 more for the half-second-quicker GT2.
Our short-range sprint left no doubt that the factory performance claim is honest. But the six-digit sticker price pays for a lot more than first-gear acceleration, and subsequent ratios provide continuous high-rev power delivery. The GT3 reaches 100 mph in 9.4 seconds, and we watched the tach needle pull almost as quickly past 120 mph in fourth as it did back at the tollbooth. Then it was up to fifth, and the increasingly blurry landscape distracted us from our fascination with the digital speed readout.
It's amazing how peripheral vision begins to streak at 160 mph. Fifth gear seemed to last a while longer-the tach still moved but at a more methodical pace-and the engine was pretty loud at whatever speed we were traveling. At 159 mph, with the lever pulled into sixth, it was marvelous to feel a normally aspirated engine with a mere six cylinders produce so much power.