In the 100+ years of the auto industry, there have obviously been many ups and downs. One down era, at least in the United States, was the mid-1970s to mid-1980s. It’s sometimes known in enthusiast circles as the “Malaise Era.”
Nothing seemed to be right with cars then. The government mandated stricter controls on emissions, but technology wasn’t quite ready for it, so cobbled-together smog systems were added to engines with roots in the days of the Kennedy administration. The cars ran terribly and were way down on power.
There were also the oil crises of 1974 and 1979, with subsequent efforts to make cars get better gas mileage. These efforts caused cars to be much slower and less responsive. And to further add a visual impediment, the government also mandated huge bumpers that could withstand 5-mph crashes without damage.
Cars were going through an awkward stage, to say the least. Like a teenager facing a triple whammy of acne, braces and mononucleosis all at the same time. Even so-called performance cars like the Chevrolet Corvette were clumsy, weak-hearted shells of their former selves.
But in 1976, Porsche set the automotive world on its ear. They turned the 911 sports car into a machine that would become instantly legendary. The 930 Turbo, or as it would be known by many, simply, “The Turbo.”
The company had learned a lot about turbo-charging from its endurance racers of the early 1970s. A turbocharger could convert spent exhaust gasses into free power via a small turbine wheel. When fitted to the Porsche horizontally-opposed six cylinder engine, the huge turbo made a street-legal car into a veritable rocket on wheels.
Of course, there were downsides to the car. Namely in the way the power came on when the turbo spooled up and started really producing power … ”BAM!” … like a cannon shot. Given the chassis dynamics of a car whose engine was way out in back, many a 930 Turbo sent many a red-faced doctor or lawyer off the pavement and into the weeds. Or, worse, into a tree and onto their demise.
And the Turbo didn’t even stick around past 1979, as further tightening of our emissions laws kept the car off the official sales offerings from Porsche Cars North America. Of course, a few clever enthusiasts managed to sneak them in from Canada, but until the car was brought back in 1986, it was a kind of automotive Holy Grail.
Fast forward a few decades and there’s a new Porsche Turbo, just as there’s a new Porsche 911 that came out a couple of years ago. The official name of the new iteration of the ultimate rear-engine Porsche is the 911 Turbo (and Turbo S). And yes, it’s a powerful, powerful car.
How does 560 horsepower sound in Turbo S configuration? That’s about what Mercedes-Benz’s assorted AMG models are making from their supercharged V8 engines that displace 5.5 liters. But the Porsche does it from just 3.8 liters in the traditional flat-six configuration. The power gets to the ground with standard all wheel drive. There’s just no way that much output could be handled by the rear wheels on their own.
And seven forward gears connect the engine to the all wheel drive system, but there’s a catch. The only transmission available in this generation of the 911 Turbo is the PDK automatic. It’s an automatic, but it’s also a computer-controlled manual with a force smarter than you doing the shifting and clutching. In spirited driving with a typical Porsche customer behind the wheel, the PDK can perform much better than that driver could with a traditional manual.
And then there’s the price. Base tariff for the 2014 Porsche 911 Turbo S is $181,000. Add in a few options (Porsche is famous for those), and you’ve got a $200,000 car. If you’re on a tighter budget and can get by with “only” 520 horsepower, the non-S Turbo starts at $150,000.
And both those cars can be described, simply, with two words: “Porsche Turbo.”
I’ll see you down the road.
Dave Kunz is the automotive reporter at KABC-TV Channel 7 and can be heard on “The Car Show” Saturdays at 9 a.m. on KPFK, 90.7 FM. E-mail Dave at TVCarz @ pacbell.net Twitter: @ABC7DaveKunz, Facebook: ABC7DaveKunz