Porsche Turbo S road trip – Isle of Man
The Ferrari sounds fabulous as it blasts up Hailwood’s Rise on the Isle of Man’s TT circuit. In fact, for a moment I feel a bit inadequate with my Turbo S; from the inside it sounds more Dyson than supercar. Then photographer Ali Cusick tells me to stay where I am, jumps into the Turbo and floors it up the hill. Wow! From the roadside it sounds like a jet fighter taking off, as the twin turbos suck in the unsuspecting mountain air, compress it, then force it into the flat-six engine, producing a useful 530bhp in the process.
It doesn’t sound like a normal car, but then there’s very little normal about this Porsche. It’s the fastest 911 in the current range, with a top speed of 195mph and a 0-62mph time of just 3.3 seconds; less than the time it took you to read this sentence. Sure, the mighty GT2 RS is a full 10mph faster but you can no longer buy one of those new and, besides, how fast do you really need to go?
There are very few places on Earth where you can legally stretch this car (or indeed any new 911 for that matter) to the limit. Some German autobahns don’t have speed limits, although they tend to be busy, but much closer to home for me is the Isle of Man, which has unrestricted roads outside built-up areas (of which there are few). And that’s why I’m here, just a few days before the famous TT motorcycle race, watching – and listening – to a 911 Turbo disappearing over a hill.
My journey began 300 miles away, at my home on England’s south coast, and the motorway journey north proves the Turbo’s worth as a superb cruising car. Indeed, it’s often said that the modern 911 Turbo is more of a GT than a sports car, and I’m inclined to agree – it effortlessly eats the miles as I listen to John Martyn via the built-in iPod link. Amazingly, the car returns 28mpg as I drive at ‘normal’ motorway speeds; if I made the effort, I’m sure 30mpg would quite easily be achievable. The only downside is excessive tyre noise but part of the reason this is so intrusive is simply because the engine is so quiet.
I’ve chosen a PDK-equipped car, and for good reason; I’m recovering from a broken arm and, due to some nerve and ligament damage, I find it painful to use a manual gearchange for any length of time, so the auto ’box is just perfect for me.
I’m beginning to wonder, though, if the car’s GT characteristics are going to go against it on the small island’s winding roads but, before I can find out, I have to make the ferry journey from Heysham in Lancashire to Douglas on the Isle of Man, a three and a half hour crossing. I love being on boats of all sizes, and this trip is particularly interesting for me, as my grandfather piloted ships and submarines into Heysham during the war; plus once we set sail I can see our ancestral home, Piel Island, in the distance (see issue 62). Ali confesses that he’s not been on a ferry since he was 14 so, for both of us, the journey on the ageing vessel is a real event.
Disembarking at Douglas at 5.45pm, we’re surprised to hit rush-hour traffic – or maybe the ferry vehicles have just created the congestion. I’ve been told that Douglas resembles Blackpool but, to be fair, that’s a bit harsh; it seems a pleasant enough seaside town. We need somewhere to stop the night, and the hotels we find are all roadside with no parking, so I figure that we should head along the coast to Ramsey, which is smaller and, I suspect, more car-friendly.
Expecting a pretty fishing resort, we instead discover Beirut. Sallow youths eye us suspiciously from every street and the only two hotels in the town are derelict and boarded up. Wondering how comfortable the Turbo’s seats would be for sleeping on, we desperately head inland and stumble upon the ‘world famous’ Ginger Hut Hotel, which is right on the TT circuit and run by an ex-motorcycle racer, Gary, and his partner, Pam. Cheap and cheerful with good beer on tap, we make ourselves at home then head off into the hills in search of some fast driving.
By now the traffic has cleared and some wonderful winding roads open up ahead of me. I’ve heard tales of 160mph blasts on the Isle of Man but I’m not sure how realistic that is. Sure, there are generally no speed limits outside built-up areas, but even the A roads are little more than country lanes and, as soon as I get some speed up, I’m having to hit the anchors to slow for a bend, another car or an errant Manx sheep (now that would be messy).
If top speed is your thing, then the Turbo S is your car for this terrain. The brutal acceleration does at least mean I can see three figures on the speedo before handing over to the equally astonishing PCCB to see me safely around the many corners. Try as I might, though, I can’t exceed 125mph; there just aren’t enough straight sections of Tarmac. Let’s be realistic, though; that’s more than double the legal limit on similar roads in England and, if I’m honest, I wouldn’t want to be going any faster, especially when there’s the risk of a kamikaze sheep hopping out to surprise me.
What’s more, in many places, the road surface is far from perfect and the Turbo is bouncing all over the place, even when the PASM is set to Normal. I later mention this to the pub landlord, suggesting that it’s not ideal for motorcycle racers; “Ah, they like it dirty,” was his knowing reply, and the many photos of bikes jumping, sliding and crashing on the pub walls confirms this.
Incidentally, the PASM has been retuned for the new-generation Turbo and is more compliant than before, making it ideal for these sorts of roads (and also for relaxed cruising). On smoother sections, I engage Sports mode which firms the dampers up to enhance the cornering abilities but, on the whole, the softer setting is better on these weather-beaten byways.
I was concerned that the Turbo S would be too much of a GT cruiser to be fun on these routes. I was wrong, though; it feels surprisingly nimble and responsive with great steering feel, and is a lot of fun to pilot through the bends and over the hills, although the kick-in-the-back power of the blown engine lets the side down slightly. The Porsche Torque Vectoring (PTV) helps the 911 through corners in a strange but not unpleasant manner; this is a car that you’d struggle to get into trouble with, even at high speeds. Well, assuming the sheep keep clear, that is.
Before long, I forget about top-speed heroics and simply enjoy some great driving on these mostly empty roads through some stunning scenery. Where else can you drive over mountains and see the sea on each side of you? It’s beautiful and, if you go too fast, you’ll miss it. Not having to worry about being nicked for speeding does free my mind to enjoy driving but I’m rarely exceeding 80mph, tops.
What the Isle of Man police do frown upon, though, is reckless driving. You can’t be prosecuted for speeding but if they consider your antics to be unsafe, they’ll come down on you. And rightly so. Oddly, I don’t see many performance cars on what I assumed would be an island full of millionaires (it boasts temptingly low tax rates), just the aforementioned Ferrari, a couple of other Porsches and a hot-looking Westfield. There aren’t even many motorbikes. The locals seem happy pottering around in their hatchbacks, although I do witness a couple of boy racers in Skylines and the like doing silly things.
That said, the S doesn’t attract undue attention, which is good news, as I was concerned it looked a bit blingy in Ice Blue Metallic with a Turbo Aerokit and those jewelesque LED rear lights. I like the colour, but Ali says it reminds him of an old lady’s perm. Inside, the two-tone black and blue leather divides opinion; I’m not sure I’d have thought of such a colour scheme but it does work and makes a pleasant change from all-black.
The odd thing about the lack of exotic metal is that I was in Jersey last year – another tax haven island but with a draconian blanket 30mph limit – and that was heaving with fast cars; it’s even got its own thriving Porsche Centre!
Sadly, there’s no such facility here. If there was, I’d be tempted to pop in and ask cheekily if I could take a 997 Carrera GTS for a spin. I reckon that car, with its more linear power delivery and finely honed chassis, would be the perfect machine for tackling these glorious winding hill roads. I’d keep the Turbo S for cross-continental autobahn hits, where I really could make use of the car’s astonishing high-speed abilities.
Today, though, the light is finally fading – it’s after 10pm but I’m a fair way north – so it’s time for dinner. Douglas, surely, will have a selection of restaurants. It does, I’m convinced of it, but we can’t find them, despite cruising suspiciously around the town in the Turbo S. Finally, we spot a takeaway pizza joint which will have to do. As we walk away from the parked Porsche, we overhear two blokes eyeing up the Turbo. “Nah, that’s no good, it’s a Tiptronic,” one says. If only he knew. The pizza turned out to be far better than the appearance of the establishment suggested and we returned to the pub where we were greeted by, “Come in and drink lots of beer.” We did.
Car driven and photographed, the next morning is free, so we explore the isle some more. First to the southern tip which overlooks the smaller Calf of Man island – a truly stunning outlook, although the Porsche looked out of place among the many National Trust tourists. Then it was on to nosy at Jeremy Clarkson’s holiday home – a remote lighthouse and cottages on the end of a peninsula. It was the perfect home – there’s obviously good money in motoring journalism…
From there it was back to Douglas to catch the fast cat to Liverpool, and then the long journey back south. Again, the Turbo S lived up to its reputation as the ultimate long-distance cruiser, although I can’t resist slipping off the motorway to enjoy some winding country roads, albeit ones with a 60mph limit…
This was taken from issue 76, for all Total 911 back issues visit www.imagineshop.co.uk/