Do you really want to own a 964 RS?
I’ll nail my colours to the mast straight away: the 964RS is my favourite 911. It looks wonderful – purposeful stance, compact appearance, assertive but not aggressive presence, classical 911 lines. It sounds wonderful – the air-cooled engine is at its deep-chested, bellowing, howling best in this car. It’s wonderful to drive – once you know how to handle an old-school 911, it’s a friendly, involving, challenging and satisfying companion. The 964RS is simply glorious – characterful and charismatic are its middle names. The 964RS makes something inside me itch like no other car can do. And yet it’s an itch that I know I will never scratch.
In the style of all the great air-cooled 911s, the 964RS is a car that is irretrievably flawed. But the flaws constitute such a large part of what makes this car great that even if you could remove them, you wouldn’t. This beautiful Porsche has all the best characteristics of the greatest 911s, but all the worst ones, too. It’s an excruciating pleasure/pain mix.
Back in the summer, I met up with my friend Kevin who had brought his 964RS to a Castle Combe trackday. Most of the day, I could barely tear my eyes away from his lovely yellow German gem. Sometimes, I just had to touch it, so great was its draw; perhaps leaning casually upon it while chatting, for example, so as not to be thought a complete nutter. It just looked so right that I couldn’t stop smiling whenever it was near. But Kevin’s own visage tellingly registered just the occasional flicker.
For a few laps, he took me out as a passenger and it was a total delight, once I’d got used to sitting on what should be the driver’s side (it’s a left-hand-drive example) but with nothing to hold onto; at speed, it felt like I was strapped to the front of a train. The snugness of the cabin, the benign, exploitable chassis, the singing engine, the unmatched view across the bonnet and between those curvaceous wings, the bountiful personality that washes over you on board that car at speed on the track: this was great – a pure, simple 911 bringing pure, simple joy. What could possibly be not-to-like about this glorious Porsche?
Well, quite a lot actually. For starters, it was a scorcher of a day and the black interior of that under-ventilated car was sweltering, especially when experienced from within a crash helmet and wearing the regulation long sleeves and trousers required by trackday rules. Then there’s the fact that it’s not really all that quick. For a time, you can enjoy the involvement of the drive, but before long that lack of ultimate speed becomes frustrating. And then you see it parked next to a modern Porsche like a GT3 RS and what a few moments ago was a compact yet purposeful 911 now looks too dainty and not serious enough.
Then there are the reasons behind Kevin’s own mixed feelings about it. He’d driven it about 200 miles to get there and it had proved, as we knew it to be, a complete pig, or at least three quarters of one: noisy, uncouth, hard-riding, uncomfortable, hot, hard work and generally something of a masochist’s car. On balance, Kevin felt it was worth putting up with all of that, for the involvement it dished out on track, but it was a close call. I’d be less accommodating: from where I’m standing, it’s not worth it. And don’t tell me that I could wimp out and trailer one to the track if I owned one. For a start, I can well do without all that faffing about and for another thing, the rewards of this car, while wonderful, are by modern standards just not high enough to justify it all.
Hand on heart, yes the 964RS is good, but for me, it’s not that good. It’s not spectacular. Plus, it demands fettling and tinkering. These cars are now old enough that they’re going to have problems continually emerging and needing attention. Kevin’s own car had just developed leaky cam-chain covers. Okay, it’s no big deal in itself, but it’s typical of the problems of owning what is now an old car; especially one that gets really hard use. It just isn’t worth it and, remember, I’m speaking as a true 964RS fan.
You could save yourself a whole heap of money and just buy a 964 Carrera 2, but that won’t do either – now you’ve got the on-road comfort and refinement (to an extent), but you’ve lost the light weight (which is very noticeable in the RS) and much of the kudos and the point, plus you’re still going to have those ‘old 911’ problems constantly looming, especially if you use it really hard. That isn’t a car I’d feel comfortable about taking by the scruff of the neck around a track – it just wouldn’t be fair to it.
So you see it can’t be done. It is not possible for me to own a 964RS and be happy. I really, really want one, but would never buy one. It’s not different enough from an ordinary 964 to justify the very large price differential, but it’s nowhere near close enough to it to make that car a realistic substitute for it. The 964RS gives you all sorts of things that a modern 911 can’t, but it can’t give you the things that they do, and some of those things are things that I need.
In the end, I think the best way to experience the wonders of the 964RS is to know someone who owns one and who takes the pain for you, leaving you with the good bits. See you soon, Kevin, and don’t you ever dare sell it!