It’s funny how things work out. One minute I’m trying to make up my mind which member of the PetrolBlog Fleet should accompany me to Goodwood, then the next minute I’ve been offered a Porsche for a day. This was thanks to Porsche specialist, Adrian Crawford, who made the kind offer and told me he could supply “something suitably retro” for my trip to the Festival of Speed. So I immediately considered two things, the first being whether or not I should cancel my trip to Goodwood and simply spend the entire time driving a Porsche on my favourite roads. But then, remembering I had a date with a certain Volvo C30, I came to my senses and turned my attention to the other consideration – exactly what Porsche would I be taking custody of?
Taking a look through Adrian Crawford’s site, you may have expected me to be drawn to the various 911s or convertibles on offer. But no, I was instantly attracted to one of ‘cheapest’ cars on the website, the Amaranth Violet 968 Sport. You may or may not remember that there’s a 968 Club Sport nestled firmly within my Real World Dream Barn, but like 50% of the cars on the list, I’ve never driven one. My lust and admiration has been built up over many years by reading reviews, watching videos and seeing them in action. For sure, there’s a significant difference between a Sport and a Club Sport, but this would be as close as I’ve come to experiencing the Club Sport and let’s be honest, the Sport is no slouch.
So when I arrived at Adrian Crawford’s premises in south east Cornwall I was delighted to discover that the 968 Sport was waiting for me. After a quick nosy around some of the other delights on offer, I was sent on my way and told to return in two days. Carlsberg don’t do test drives, but if they did…
It’s often said that you shouldn’t meet your heroes. The fear of being let down and seeing a legend crumble in front of your very eyes is a major worry. But based on the fact that this was the Sport and not the iconic Club Sport, it was safe to continue.
Things didn’t start too well. The exit from Adrian Crawford’s premises is perhaps, with the exception of exiting an underground car park in a supercar, one of the worst places to get acquainted with a new car. The cocktail of deep gravel, a hill, a rather narrow gateway and a sharp turn onto a country lane with zero visibility wasn’t the perfect accompaniment for a blind date. Knowing you’re being watched by the gentleman who has trusted with his 968 for 48 hours didn’t exactly help matters. But, with some dodgy clutch control and with the engine nearly stalling, I managed to escape and venture into the relatively safety behind the hedge.
The 968 Sport isn’t, for me anyway, a car you instantly gel with. Jumping straight in from a front wheel drive family motor, the steering and clutch feel heavy at low speeds and it takes time to adjust to the driving position. The first part of my journey home also involved dicing with school and commuter traffic along narrow and unfamiliar Cornish lanes. Getting used to the length and width of a borrowed Porsche isn’t ideal when you’re faced with oncoming traffic, no passing places and unforgiving stone walls on the near side of the road. To make matters worse, I filled up with fuel in Callington and spent what felt like an eternity trying to unlock the fuel filler cap. At least once I’d managed to fill the tank I didn’t have to face the embarrassment of seeing the cashier. Thank goodness for ‘pay at pump’.
But eventually I did make it home and parked the 968 ready for the dawn raid to Goodwood. I went to sleep that night underwhelmed and wondering if I should have stuck to the comfort and familiarity of the S6. Perhaps Porsche ownership isn’t for me?
The next morning I woke at 4am and set off for the 180 mile trip, the first 50 mile or so of which involved a rather tedious stretch of dual carriageway. Short of the occasional overtaking manouevre and suicidal rabbit, dual carriageways provide little in the way of entertainment. Not if you want to stay legal anyway. Once off the A30 and on to the A35, things improved slightly, but I still wasn’t gelling with the 968 Sport. Maybe it was the caravans? Or the newspaper delivery lorries? Or the car booters, doggies and tippers? But whatever, it just wasn’t happening for me. Of course, it might have had something to do with the fact that this wasn’t my Porsche and I was more concerned with getting to the festival before breakfast than getting to grips with a new car.
But then, at a roundabout just outside Bere Regis on the A35, everything changed. Suddenly, like a perfect moment on a first date when you realise you have something in common with your potential soulmate, I clicked with the 968 Sport. I quite literally let out a small yelp of delight as the road opened up in front of me and I made my way through the wonderful 6-speed gearbox. Faced with a series of twists and turns and a horizon free of clutter, I suddenly felt right at home with the car. It may have taken 99.7 miles, but I was falling in love with the 968 Sport.
For a car that has spent the last decade and half living with the tag of being a stopgap between the 944 and the Boxster, the 968 is a wonderfully convincing and somehow understated sports car. Even with the ‘look at me’ Cadbury’s Amaranth Violet paintwork, the 968 just doesn’t seem to be as showy as other models. It also aged much better than many of its contemporary competitors, a fact that is largely true of many Porsche models. Almost with exception, Porsche cars tend to age gracefully and simply ooze timeless appeal. Maybe it’s because the car was launched at almost the exact time I was learning to drive, but the 968 has always been my favourite Porsche. To my eyes at least, it displays a brilliant evolution from the 924/944 and unlike the 928, it has a wonderful arse. Personal opinion.
The car is powered by a 4-cylinder 3.0 engine that develops 240 bhp. By today’s standards this is hardly headline grabbing stuff, but while a modern hatchback may be able claim a similar figure, it’ll never have the all round appeal of a car like the 968. Cars like this are designed from the ground up to be nothing more than true drivers’ cars. There are no school run or shopping trip requirements to muddy the water. That’s not to say that the 968 isn’t all that practical. For a car of this nature, the boot is rather large and could easily accommodate your luggage should you fancy a trip down to the south of France. There are also two rear seats, although their usefulness is probably restricted to justifying the purchase of a 968 to your other half. “Look, darling, it’s a practical supercar.”
While the 4-cylinder engine may lack the aural satisfaction of a straight six, it still manages to propel the 968 to 60mph in a fraction over six seconds and will go on to a maximum speed of 156mph. It manages to deliver this power with a ridiculous degree of gracefulness and poise. There’s no unwanted drama or histrionics, just a huge feeling of delight as you shift up and down through the gears. The driving position is among the best I’ve ever experienced, with the gearstick and steering wheel perfectly positioned for classic B-road antics. I’d go as far as saying the driving position of the 968 Sport is perfect, even for my 6′ 3″ frame. The front engine / rear wheel drive set-up is also classic sports cars stuff and the 968 feels perfectly balanced. This is helped in no small part by the rear-mounted transaxle. As a drivers’ car, the 968 Sport would be hard to beat. So I can only image just how good the Club Sport feels.
But here’s the thing. I’ve been left wondering if it should be a Sport rather than a Club Sport in my Real World Dream Barn? Given my requirements and the fact I don’t spend all that often on track days, maybe the electric goodies and comfortable seats would suit me better? Heck, such is the smoothness of the electric window operation, I think I’d miss it too much in the Club Sport. After 111,000 miles, the windows glide up and down in a way that would shame many modern cars. It became quite an addiction to open the windows, which is just as well really, as the lack of air con on this particular car could make it quite uncomfortable. Sat in the inevitable jams leaving Goodwood, some cool air would have been very welcoming.
But once clear of Sussex and Hampshire and with the windows and sunroof open, I enjoyed what will go down as one of my all time favourite drives. Maybe it was the glorious sunset or the sense that this would be our final few hours together, but that night I had the time of my life with the 968. With the steering wheel fidgeting within my loose grip and with bags of feedback coming through the pedals, I relished every bend, every overtaking manouevre and every roundabout exit.
I reached my junction of the A30 as the time approached midnight, but I could have quite easily carried on to Land’s End. Journeys and cars like these don’t come along every day, so you have to relish every single mile. But conscious that I’d already been awake for nearly 21 hours, I did the sensible thing and headed home.
I didn’t want to give the car back the next day. It had been perfect company for a perfect day. Knowing that the car was actually on sale only went to heighten the sense of disappointment when I handed the keys back. At the time of writing this, it is still for sale and given that according to How Many Left? there are only 187 currently on UK roads, it is quite a rare beast. Rather alarming to see that 25 seemed to disappear last year. I just hope this wasn’t down to the horror of Scrappage.
Huge thanks to Adrian Crawford for trusting me with the 968 Sport for two whole days. I can only hope he chooses to hide it at the back of his collection until a time when I can afford to buy it…