Back in 1954 Porsche’s US importer at the time, Max Hoffman, managed to persuade the factory to make a stripped-down 356 Cabriolet with a shorter windscreen for the convertible crazy US market. And so the Porsche Speedster was born.
However, a Speedster did not re-appear in the Porsche range until right at the end of the G-Series 3.2 Carrera in 1988, mainly with the Turbo-look body width. By close of play in 1989 a total of 2,103 cars had been made, with just 161 being the narrow body version.
Porsche appeared to be making up for lost time when they launched the 964 Speedster in 1992. This time round the fashion was reversed and of the 930 cars made in its single year of production, just 15 had the wider Turbo look.
Momentum was lost yet again with the 993 model, and its relatively short lifespan before the 996 took over meant there was no time for an official production 993 Speedster to be developed and sold. However, two cars were specially made by Porsche Exclusive in 1995 for Ferdinand Alexander Porsche who had a Carrera width Tiptronic, and Jerry Seinfeld, who ordered a manual Turbo-width 4S.
Our first Speedster adventure took place in the hills above Nice on the 997 Speedster launch in 2010 where we also had the opportunity to drive a 1954 356 Speedster and the G-Series model.
With the 408hp Exclusive Powerkit motor and PDK fitted as standard the 997 Speedster was a huge amount of fun, and the idea of this more potent motor shared with the 997 Sport Classic was a stepping stone to greater things that was to take over eight years to realise.
Fast forward to 2018 and the concept of an open GT3 has always been a tantalising thought, and apparently one not far from the minds of Andreas Preuninger and his GT team at Weissach.
Andreas once told me that every model proposed to the Board needs to have a credible business case attached. The strong ‘Speedster’ brand, and Porsche’s 70th Anniversary in 2018 were the catalysts that created the perfect storm, justifying both the re-imagined 935 based on the GT2 RS and a Speedster with 991.2 GT3 underpinnings.
The Porsche flat six naturally aspirated engine that in the new Speedster makes 510hp at 8,400rpm accompanied by 470Nm of torque at 6,250rpm. This nicely splits the 500hp output of the 991.2 GT3 and GT3 Touring, and the 520hp of its GT3 RS sibling, which both make 460Nm of torque at 6,000rpm. And as with all the GT3 models using this motor the limiter is set at 9,000rpm.
All are street legal variants of the 9A1 4.0 litre motor that has proven to be strong and reliable in the 911 RSR racecar, but the revised 510hp version that powers the new Speedster is unique in being specifically developed to meet the EU6 WLTP emissions regulations introduced in Europe last September.
Technically, the standout feature of this revised emissions standard is the particulates filter required for both petrol and diesel engines. This is significant because any device placed in the path of escaping exhaust gases only adds to backpressure, which is never good for power.
However, Porsche’s engineers are very good at finding workarounds from seemingly difficult situations. But far from losing power, by using a revised multi-throttle intake system and a lighter, more efficient exhaust they have actually managed to add 10hp along with 10Nm of torque for good measure.
This slight boost in output is certainly a good thing, as despite the loss of the Coupe roof and heavy rear glass the Cabriolet-style structural stiffening sees the 991 Speedster tip the scales at 1,465kg (DIN), 35kg more than the 991.3 GT3 Coupe. That said, of 2010 the 997 Speedster weighed 1,540kg, so decent progress has been made in terms of saving weight, while power has shot up dramatically.
Because the Speedster is meant to be a pure driving machine for high days and holidays it only comes with the motorsport fettled six-speed manual gearbox. On that score its closest mechanical relative is the GT3 Touring.
While the manual gearbox saves 15kg over the PDK the lightning fast dual-clutch transmission is in a different league, making the 991.2 GT3 PDK significantly faster away from rest, its 3.4 seconds 0-100km/h sprint illustrating the advantage conferred by the extra ratio and electronic controls of the PDK paddle shift transmission.
However, sheer speed and lap times are not what an open car is all about and the extra 35kg that amounts to around the weight of half a passenger is certainly impossible to perceive on the fly.
Against the stopwatch the Speedster’s 4.0 sec 0-100km/h sprint time and 310km/h Vmax split hairs with the 3.9 sec 0-100km/h sprint and 312km/h top speed of the 500hp GT3 Touring. Frankly this is way faster than most sane people would want to go in an open road car.
The extra weight added by the structural stiffening that is common to the 991 Cabriolet and the Speedster is partially countered by crafting the front luggage compartment lid and the bespoke rear deck lid from carbon-fibre.
Since the rear-engine 911 benefits from weight over its front wheels to aid high-speed stability the slight reduction in weight up front compared to the stock aluminium lid is not a big deal except in terms of overall weight. However, the benefits of swapping out the Cabriolet’s electro-hydraulic roof folding mechanism and metal cover for a manually operated ragtop and lightweight carbon-fibre rear deck panel cannot be understated.
Removing weight from the highest point of the car aft of the driver not only lowers the centre of gravity but also reduces the couple created by the combination of yaw and lateral acceleration in fast bends, particularly bumpy ones.
“We were determined that the Speedster also be good on a racetrack so we further stiffened the rear of the chassis with an alloy cross-brace bolted to the underfloor,” explained Andreas Preuninger. “The structure thus ends up noticeably stiffer than even the 992 Cabriolet.”
Add to this the race-bred 991 GT3 suspension re-calibrated to the Speedster’s unique structural stiffness, rear axle steering, active engine mounts and the mechanical grip of the Michelin Cup 2 rubber, and the result is direct and incisiveness messages that make you feel the car is hardwired to your fingertips and seat of the pants. This is a level of communication that makes the 992 Carrera Cabriolet we drove recently feel muted in comparison.
What surprised us even more was the lightness of touch in tight bends, on public road at least, that bests even the awesome GT3 Coupe itself. Helped by the other GT3 elements of rear axle steering and dynamic engine mounts, the pointy front end feels razor sharp and the overall sense of agility is amplified.
The low mounting of the 918 Spyder inspired sports seats that hold you firmly in place further aid the feeling of being at one with the Speedster. With just the blue sky above you and every sound and nuance of the motorsport flat-six and its exhaust reaching your eardrums unfiltered by metal and glass the Speedster brings you that much closer to the action.
The monocoque design used by almost every car made today means that that once you slice off the roof, even structures as stiff as the latest 992 Carrera Cabriolet still exhibit a discernible amount of scuttle shake on bad roads. We experienced this on the launch in Greece earlier this year despite the all-new shell having gained about 10% in torsional stiffness.
The tarmac around Stuttgart is pretty smooth and here the Speedster felt rock solid. Knowing full well that this meant we were not comparing apples with apples we sought out some of the less well-surfaced and maintained roads that we know in the area.
There is one particular road near Porsche’s Weissach R&D facility that is both curvy and undulating, and also features elevation changes along with mid-corner bumps. You cannot go very fast here as the road is relatively narrow and the line of sight is not great, but you do not need to go fast to feel scuttle shake, which is more closely tied to a cars secondary as opposed to its primary ride.
This was actually the only road where we felt the suspension was actually firm as the dampers were being worked hard to keep vertical movement in check over the short, sharp bumps while mostly driving under 100km/h. Yet for all this vertical torture the Speedster felt taut and supremely together with minimal body flex.
Back on smoother roads we tried the harder ‘Sport’ damper setting and kept it in that position for all of 10 seconds. The extra firmness was not welcome on the public highway and we judged it only suitable for a billiard table smooth racetrack like Hockenheim. The chassis engineers have done such a brilliant job that the ‘Normal’ position quickly proved to be our default setting.
With the fantastic chassis suspension allowing you to make good use of the engine’s power on our challenging country road route it quickly became apparent that the stock brakes (black calipers and steel rotors) fitted to our test car were not the greatest. We soon had them smelling of hot lining and feeling less sharp than the rest of the car, so always tick the box for the PCCB brakes.
The unrestricted autobahn let us really give the Speedster its head. Accelerating through the gears, taking the motor to 8,500rpm in third and fourth gears was quite intoxicating in terms of both the sheer thrust and visceral soundtrack, the short stubby gear level with its short shift mechanism needing just firm finger pressure to find the next ratio.
It took speeds well past 200km/h to discover that despite the lack of a Cabriolet style wind deflector your hair does not get ruffled much. With the side windows up the two large nacelles that give the rear deck its hump-backed appearance and the small aerofoil section between them turned out to be quite effective at keeping unwanted vortexes out of the cabin.
With GT3 underpinnings that allow you to turn the character dial to 11 when you are in the mood the new 991 Speedster is a captivating car that offers much more driving enjoyment than first appearances might suggest. While it may only work as everyday transport if you live in a sun-drenched place and don’t have to carry much with you the Speedster is a car that you can enjoy in a relatively painless manner.
One of the things that make the new 911 Speedster so appealing is the fact that nobody really needs it, and it plays that decadent role so very well. By ditching the practical everyday sportscar aspect that makes the Cabriolet such a good all rounder, the Speedster becomes that much more singular in purpose.
Previous Porsche Speedster models were almost but not quite cars. They were less practical than the equivalent Cabriolet, not particularly better to drive, and in some ways actually worse. The GT3 underpinnings of the new car make all the difference, allowing the Speedster recipe to reach its full potential at last.
This also means the 1,948 examples of this wonderfully hedonistic car to be built really need to be driven and enjoyed rather than just locked away in a heated garage. Pop the champagne corks folks, the new Porsche Speedster is truly a car made to toast life!