R v GT3 v Carrera T: Revival of the manual 991s

What a difference a few short months can make. For a time it looked like the 991 generation was threatening the very existence of a manual gearbox in a Porsche 911 altogether. Unwanted alterations to the new stick shift, twinned with the prominence of PDK, lead some to believe the company was at one point shaping up for a future solely dedicated to auto-shifting sports cars, similar to events at some of its rivals.

While this ‘death of the manual’ movement has raged like a fire through the workshops of other automotive manufacturers, nobody really expected the flames to be fanned as far as the doors of Zuffenhausen. After all, a Porsche has always been about style over outright speed – exemplified by the company’s time-honoured tradition of placing the tachometer and not the speedometer in the centre of the 911’s five dials. It’s how you get there, not how fast.

And yet, as is well documented, it was the 991 generation which began to change the 911’s relationship with the manual gearbox from the get-go. Upon launch at the tail end of 2011, enthusiasts found the six-speed stick shift in the 997.2 replaced by an all-new gearbox for the 991.1, which featured an additional seventh ratio. Conceptually something of a modern-day overdrive gear, this seventh ratio was exceedingly tall, intended for cruising on motorways or the Autobahn, all the while keeping engine revs low and thus improving the new 911’s MPG return.

On paper these changes made sense, but in reality enthusiasts struggled to adapt to the feel of the seven-speed shifter, it unnecessarily clunky and lacking a directness through each gate which the 997’s unit had mastered so wonderfully. Somewhere beneath that protracted H-pattern, Porsche’s slick stick shift had seemingly been lost.

Then the arrival of Porsche’s first 991-generation GT car in 2013 gave rise to another revelation. The GT3 was presented for the first time with a PDK-only transmission, Porsche telling Total 911 in issue 99 at the time: “There’s no chance of a manual gearbox in the future.” The PDK-only GT3 RS that followed went some way to hammering home the point, which left many enthusiasts wondering what future lay ahead for the manual gearbox in a Porsche.

Alas, we know how the script developed from there. A wave of appreciation for manual gearboxes (some might even have called it a public outcry) brought about the Carrera S-engined Cayman GT4 in 2015, before the emphatic arrival of the 991 R in 2016 as the 911’s saviour of the stick shift.

The R proved Porsche’s GT department was prepared to listen to its customers, yet the car’s exclusivity (just 991 were produced worldwide)
meant only a few could benefit from this significant U-turn in company policy. Porsche again listened, unveiling the 991.2 GT3 last year with PDK but, crucially, a six-speed manual gearbox was available as a no-cost option.

The company went further still. For those who couldn’t get their hands on this latest prize GT car, Porsche presented the Carrera T: essentially a pared back and driver-honed version of its base Carrera 911. The line-up was thus complete, with stick shift available, at last, throughout the entire contemporary model range.

So, these are the crusaders; reviving the spirit and flair of the manual gearbox, this the crucial ingredient in any sports car that wishes to be associated with any notion of an analogue, purist drive. The big question, of course, is what is the driving experience on offer from all three?

For the full article, including expert buying tips for each 911 Cabriolet model, pick up your copy of Total 911 issue 168 in shops now or get it delivered directly to your door via here. Alternatively you can download the issue to any Apple or Android device. 

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