Simplify and Add Turbochargers

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I live by “simplify and add lightness”, both as an engineer and a driver, and the Lotus 7 has always seemed to be the purest road-legal interpretation of that philosophy. They are, however, exceedingly rare in the United States, so when the opportunity to purchase a Birkin S3 arose, I was overjoyed. Less than ten minutes after I spotted it online, the Evil Red Racecar (my much-modified S2000) was snarling north along the 5 freeway.

90 miles devoured in under an hour, I found myself at a dealer featuring an impressive collection of 356s and classic Ferraris. The owner had already pulled the car out around back, and after a short ride in the passenger side, we switched seats. Moment of truth time…

Twenty feet done, and I already hated the car. The exhaust was roasting my leg; the manual brakes had two inches of dead travel before abruptly turning rock-hard, yet produced zero bite; the dash tried to peel off my thumbnail every time I pushed the shift lever into first.

Turning out onto the 1, three lanes of nearly empty coastal highway beckoned. At full throttle, for a few seconds the car made sense. Acceleration from the 1.8 Miata motor was nearly violent. This lasted right up to 40mph, at which point the rather rectilinear aerodynamics asserted themselves and the headlong rush dwindled. Rocketing from stoplight to stoplight quickly grew boring, and my irritation with the brakes continued to build, so I turned inland, climbing away from the ocean. Serpentine corners just off the highway did nothing to quell my growing unease. Although the steering feel was lovely, the car was curiously inert; hesitant to turn in and lapsing into tire squeal early and often. The live-axle rear simply didn’t want to put down any power until the wheel was pointed straight, making quick direction changes more of a chore than a thrill.

The disappointment as I cruised back down PCH was palpable; I felt vaguely nauseous. Deep down, I’d been convinced I would be taking this car home after the first mile driven. Not only did I not enjoy driving it on the street, I had no desire to race it, ever; visions of watching cones pass at eye level and the cycle fenders leaping over apex curbs dissolved faster than the asthmatic four-cylinder accelerated. Maybe I just don’t “get” classic cars, but every Elise I’ve driven has been vastly superior to the 7.

Back in the Honda, I headed slowly south. Dimly recalling passing a Porsche dealership on the way up, I kept an eye out, and on a hunch pulled in when it presented itself.

Sitting in the front window was a gleaming black 997 Turbo. There was a Carrera GT as well, but I know my limits.

I hurried inside. The sales floor was strangely empty; Sundays must not be the holy day of the church of Hooniversalism. When a salesman approached, I enquired if there was a Turbo in stock.

“I’m afraid not, sir.” Really?

My first assumption was that he simply wanted me to leave. Wind-ruffled 23-year-olds are not popular in Porsche showrooms, but I am not easily dissuaded.

“Wait… isn’t that black car a Turbo?”

“No, sir. That is a pre-owned GT2.” Score.

Visions of a five-figure commission dancing in his head, the salesman had us on the road in minutes. The driver’s seat was utterly remarkable- for all it looked like a deep-bucket race seat and held me resolutely in place, it gripped me so perfectly its touch was imperceptible. The FIA Momo in my S2000 was laughable by comparison.

The barest touch of the throttle in neutral instantly spiked the engine over 4000rpm, yet when loaded against the clutch it was momentarily recalcitrant. You cannot make slow starts in a GT2- it wants to move.

The road down to the beach was narrow, poorly surfaced, and unpredictable- hairpins opening into sweepers, serpentine curves falling up- and downhill, past rock walls and crumbling sidewalks. The GT2 simply devoured it; perfectly weighted, feelsome and responsive steering controlling every millimetric movement of the front wheels, throttle shifting the weight over the rear axle with almost telepathic precision. A Stradale would have hammered this road into submission; the GT2 flowed, with the alacrity of a racecar and the composure of its rally-conquering ancestors.

This, though, is not what makes it hoonworthy. It is my favorite car of the year for the simple fact that it will spin both rear tires, on 315-width r-compounds, at 120mph in fourth gear.

I have never liked turbocharged cars. The useless power delivery of the Evo, Sky Redline, and others has soured me to it. The Porsche is predictable, but more importantly it is unrelentingly savage. It makes the Z06 look like a shrinking violet. Full throttle in any gear lower than fifth is like balancing on the nosecone of a space shuttle as it departs Earth’s surface. You feel the whole car wriggling around the fat rear tires, the front wheels almost off the ground, while simultaneously the world narrows to a pinpoint half a mile down the road. It is indescribable, surreal, and more addictive than a double dose of Red Bull.

The GT2 is the greatest car on earth.

Images:

911 GT2 courtesy of 8000vueltas

Lotus 7 courtesy of billhume51

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