Burbling down the cobblestoned streets of Savannah, Georgia, shaded by canopies of moss-hung oaks, a Porsche 911 might seem as genteel and traditional as the city itself.
My word, this sapphire-blue debutante has even arrived straight from Atlanta, where Porsche has its U.S. headquarters.
And a 911 is welcome in any country club, as we learn after sweet-talking the car onto the first fairway of the Harbour Town Golf Links, the PGA mecca on nearby Hilton Head Island.
But as with many hospitable Southerners, there’s a rebellious side to this Porsche, a 475-horsepower family secret hidden below its imposing fixed wing atop the rear deck.That secret is aired every time I squeeze the throttle, and the 3.8-liter boxer-six rushes to 9,000 rpm like hellfire unleashed. This isn’t your everyday 911. This is a GT3 as fiery as Scarlett herself and just as indomitable.
Desirable, too, at least for men of plantation means, with the Porsche 911 GT3 starting at $132,395 and reaching $163,080 after options, including a $9,210 set of carbon- ceramic brakes. As a combination daily driver and track star, this torque-vectoring, four-wheel-steering GT3 blazed a faster trail through the South than Gen. Sherman.
Departing the Marshall House, a charming old hotel in the city’s historic district, we head for Bonaventure Cemetery, made famous in John Berendt’s nonfiction masterpiece, “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.” With its Spanish moss and spooky mausoleums, Bonaventure is pure Southern Gothic, and lumpy dirt lanes rise to meet a body lowered about 1.2 inches (versus the base Carrera) and a three-part front spoiler. Fear not: An optional $3,490 button raises the low nose and we come through unscathed. Alas, we discover “Bird Girl,” the sculpture that graced the cover of Berendt’s book, has been moved to the nearby Telfair art museum after being overwhelmed by tourists.
Genteel manner: The GT3 proves a suitable escort on Savannah’s cobblestoned streets and town squares and to nearby Fort Pulaski.
Noted Savannah son Johnny Mercer, the Academy Award-winning songwriter and Capitol Records co-founder, is buried here, as well. And the day brightens as we crank onto Johnny Mercer Boulevard, through this Low Country jigsaw of marshes, inlets, and coastline to Tybee Island.
Parked before Tybee’s handsome lighthouse, we admire the Porsche’s more aggressive architecture. The extensive use of aluminum trims the weight of the body shell by 13 percent compared with the previous Porsche 911 GT3, with torsional rigidity up 25 percent. Oh, and those sprawling hips, worthy of a ballgown, with a rear track that’s nearly 1.5 inches wider than rear-drive Carreras. Add a ram-air rear intake, three exhaust vents in the bodywork, and the composite wing with adjustable supports for track action. As with all of the new 991-series 911s, the GT3’s interior is beautiful, functional, and blessedly free of gimmicks, here with optional leather and Alcantara trim ($3,320) and body-cradling 18-way adaptive seats ($2,635).
Sorry, kids, there’s no back seat, only a carpeted parcel shelf that’s among the mild compromises to typical 911 comfort. The GT3 wails like no mortal Porsche, but passengers can still hold a polite conversation. The ride is stiff but not insufferable, even with the adaptive suspension set to Sport. Active magnetic-fluid engine mounts help soothe vibrations and any sense that the GT3 is a shark out of water on everyday roads.
The boxer-six chuffs and quakes at idle, preferring to never dip below 5,000 rpm if it could; horsepower peaks at 8,250 rpm. The masterwork shares only a few parts with a standard 911 six. Unique developments include the cylinder head, dry-sump lubrication, forged titanium pistons and connecting rods, and hollow valves to allow such lofty engine speeds. Multi-hole injectors spit atomized fuel at 2,900 psi, two-thirds more pressure than a standard Carrera. The engine weighs 55 fewer pounds than the previous GT3’s.
After a walk on a deserted Tybee beach, we climb aboard for Cockspur Island and the Civil War bulwark of Fort Pulaski, which offers its own historical perspective on disruptive technology. With its 25 million bricks and ingenious moats, Fort Pulaski was co-engineered in 1829 by a young West Point graduate on his first assignment, Lt. Robert E. Lee. Decades later, with the Union preparing its cannon assault from Tybee Island, one mile distant, Lee—then the South’s commander—was convinced the fort remained impregnable.
But the Union’s newfangled rifled cannons, with their fast-revving projectiles, blasted through walls 7.5 feet thick “as though they were so much paper,” said a Confederate captain whose regiment surrendered after a 30-hour-long, 5,275-shell assault whose scars still cover Fort Pulaski’s walls. “The science of war has leaped a century forward, and all are behind the age,” the captain proclaimed. From that moment, defenses made from fortified masonry were obsolete.
Years from now, if manual transmissions go extinct, historians might view Porsche’s PDK automatic as a similar game-changer. Escorting the GT3 in relaxed automatic mode around Savannah’s picturesque town squares, this dual-clutch gearbox is as smooth and discreet as a butler pouring sweet tea. But this seven-speed can switch personalities in an instant, firing off sub-100-millisecond shifts or instigating bloodcurdling automated launches. Compared to a Carrera, the metal shift paddles are notably stiffer, with shorter travel. The final drive ratio is 15 percent shorter, with 9 percent shorter gearing on average. That gear spread lets the GT3 reach its 195-mph apogee in seventh gear as opposed to sixth in the Carrera.
Pulling both paddles simultaneously engages the “paddle neutral” function: Both clutches open and then re-engage with lightning haste when paddles are released— especially good for blasts from a standstill. Lightweight gears and wheels also promote crazy-high revving: You haven’t lived until you’ve downshifted into a whirling 7,500-rpm vortex.
Alas, there’s nothing lightweight about Mrs. Wilkes Dining Room. President Obama sampled the carb-packed downhome fare at this former Savannah boarding house. We pass nearly two dozen dishes around our communal table, feeling as if we’ve wandered into a Rockwell holiday painting.
This GT3 is as focused as a copperhead in mid-strike.
Appetites sated, it’s time to ward off a nap with a dash to Hilton Head. The GT3 draws its admirers, gentlemen and otherwise, but it’s growing bored with the languid Georgian pace. Come sunup, the GT3 throws off its shackles at Roebling Road Raceway, a scruffy but fast-flowing 2-mile circuit: Free at last.
We toggle PDK to Sport mode, its automated logic now so sound that self-shifting is almost unnecessary. A console exhaust button opens switchable front silencers. Reduced backpressure boosts torque by up to 26 lb-ft between 3,000 and 4,000 rpm. Viper fans might chortle at a modest 325 lb-ft of peak torque. But in first gear, the engine zings to 9,000 in such eye-blink fashion that PDK is practically required to avoid blowing the shift to second. As we shoot past 50 mph, rear-wheel steering begins turning in tandem with the front wheels, virtually extending the wheelbase by 20 inches to keep things stable at rocketing speeds.
On the sweeping entry to the front straight, where I’d expect the 20-inch tires to push wide, I can sense the rear steering—and Porsche’s rear torque vectoring and variable rear differential—aiding my line, rewarding me with crisper exits and a 145-mph blast down the straight. As that braking zone blurs past, I find myself halting too soon at first, miscalculating the uncanny power of the yellow-calipered ceramic-composite brakes.
Southern hospitality: The GT3 unleashes its 475 horses at the Roebling Road Raceway.
If the GT3’s floor-mounted fire extinguisher (a strangely affordable Porsche option at $175) didn’t remind me of the car’s mission, the performance does: Raw, mechanical, and remorseless, this Porsche is as focused as a copperhead snake in mid-strike. Porsche credits the agility and confidence boost of rear steering for a Nürburgring lap time of 7:25, a new benchmark for this dual-purpose beast.
Rushing from the track, it’s time to play with launch control. Simultaneously mashing both pedals, I watch the tach surge to 7,000 rpm. Now, release the brakes and hang on: The Porsche 911 GT3 does a Looney Tunes impression, seemingly scrabbling its feet and amassing energy before exploding in beep-beep Road Runner fashion. Porsche cites a 0-60 run of 3.3 seconds, and my twisted innards say that’s about right. Hey, let’s do it again. And again.
A glance at the watch—rather than stopwatch—means it’s time to say goodbye. We point the German demon toward Savannah’s airport, romping to 130 mph as we nervously eye the mirrors. Between Savannah and Porsche’s carpetbagger, it’s been pure Southern hospitality, and we’re stuffed and satisfied. Come to think of it, performance-cravers who upgrade from a “lesser” 911 to a GT3 might adopt a steely epigram from Ms. O’Hara: “As God is my witness, I’ll never be hungry again.”