The Asphalt Jungle

Whale Tale

Still marveling at mechanized magnificence from Zuffenhausen

I’ll never forget the first time I laid eyes on a Porsche 911 Turbo. I was 17 years old, and friends were driving me along a leafy country two-lane road in Ann Arbor, Michigan, to the tennis club where I worked that summer as a groundskeeper. Suddenly, my pal at the wheel caught sight of something in his rear-view mirror. “Whoa! Behind us! Look at that Porsche!” The two of us riding shotgun spun around as if Farrah Fawcett herself had just parachuted through the rear skylight of our lumbering Olds Vista Cruiser station wagon. After all, sports cars weren’t exactly everyday sightings in a Midwest university town whose preferred mode of transport in the 1970s was a Volvo from the Mesozoic Era or a threadbare VW microbus spray-painted with smiley faces and held together with “Makin’ Bacon” bumper stickers. Yet there it was: a sports car straight from Valhalla, that unmistakable 911 shape accelerating into our exhaust fumes, a blonde riding alongside the sunglassed male driver. The image was as perfect as I’d dreamed it could be—and in an instant it got better. I spotted a menacing fluke peeking out from the back of the car and nearly swooned. “Guys!” I yelled, my voice cracking in a flood of teenage hormones. “That 911 … it’s … a Turbo!”

I’ve never since wondered how Christopher Columbus felt when he discovered the New World. I know.

I reached out the window of the Olds, flashed the Turbo driver a crazed thumbs-up. He nodded politely, lifted a thumbs-up in return, then — perfection — he downshifted, flattened the throttle, and blazed past us, the 260-horsepower flat-six screaming with air-cooled revs, the massive rear whale tail briefly in full view before the car disappeared in a flurry of whirling leaves and platinum curls. For a few moments, the cabin of the Olds was silent, almost reverential. Then a friend spoke up for the three of us: “Damn. That was the coolest thing I’ve ever seen.”

Incredibly, when we arrived at the tennis club 10 minutes later, the Turbo — an original 3.0-liter 930 — was there, parked in the shade of a tree, its engine clicking and popping with heat. Completely forgetting to punch in for the day, I joined my friends for a few moments genuflecting at the altar of speed. Somehow, the Porsche seemed to radiate an invisible force field. We were afraid to get too close, lest the beast suddenly come alive and squash us with that leviathan rear fin. Still, through the windshield I could see not one but two radar detectors mounted on the dash: an original, boxy FuzzBuster 2000 and, alongside it, the sleeker, sexier Super Snooper. “Wow,” I thought to myself. “Today started out normal, and suddenly I’m in the presence of freaking James Bond!” If my boss hadn’t materialized right then — “Arthur, courts five and six need an air rake!” — I might still be standing there today, transfixed, unmoving, besotted with car lust.

Has it really been 40-some years since that giddy summer morning? Memories of that original 930 Turbo came flooding back to me recently as I climbed behind the wheel of a brand-new 911 Turbo — $167,225 worth of jet black, mechanized magnificence straight from Zuffenhausen. Yes, disco was king when I saw that first car, but the 2017 model is still instantly recognizable for what it is — right down to the iconic wing on its tail (though way stubbier now). And despite having driven countless 911s in the past three-plus decades — among them numerous Turbos — the mere sight of the car still brings out the wide-eyed 17-year-old in me.

The original 930 Turbo had a nasty reputation for light-switch turbo response — and a predilection for eating guardrails with its taillights at the slightest misuse of the throttle. Not so the current Turbo. Gawd this car is good. It’s hard to believe 540 horsepower can be so polished, so polite. The first time I crushed the right pedal on an empty country road was just silly; Porsche claims a 0-to-60-mph time of just 2.9 seconds — it’s every bit that fast. But thanks to the standard all-wheel-drive system and NASA-grade electronics, the Turbo sucked in the horizon without so much as a squiggle from the chassis. Cornering was the same: My head began to unscrew from my neck and still the chassis was digging in, asking for more, refusing to let go at either end. On my favorite mountain road, the Turbo actually made me say “uncle.”

That’s some kind of magic, Porsche. Forty-plus years after that first 911 Turbo and still I can’t breathe.

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2019 Porsche 911

MSRP $103,400 Carrera Cabriolet