I am SUCH a hypocrite.
It was only last year I was banging on about how slow cars are better and the fast cars simply had to go. And I still believe that, I really do. And yet I just bought a 911 Turbo.
I have excuses, plenty of them. I’m about to turn 40, therefore I have to buy a Porsche (It’s The Law). The prices of 996 Turbos seem to have plateaued and I don’t imagine them going down any further. And this particular one was being sold by an outfit I know and trust (QR Sport). And resident local Porschephile and Team Moo-Moo member Mike Copson took it out for a spin and gave it the Coppo thumbs up, which is all the validation a car ever needs. But that’s all post-rationalisation. I bought it because, when I thought about buying it, I got as excited as a little girl who’s just found out Justin Bieber is playing at her birthday party. But without the tears and screaming, obviously. Mostly.
When you’re knocking on the door of 40, you don’t really get excited about things any more. You’ve done all the daft things you just HAD to get out of your system. Life is generally pretty routine and you’ve by now got a reasonably good handle on how to operate as a human being. To get those butterflies back, you have to go the extra mile and do something that is almost certainly a bad idea, just for the hell of it. You know, something like throwing a custard pie at Mike Tyson whilst calling him a big nancy boy poofter. Or climbing up to the highest diving board when you’ve never even jumped in from the side before. Or buying a supercar when you can’t afford it.
It genuinely does set the heart fluttering. And it’s the madness of it all that makes it so exciting. If I was a gazillionaire and I didn’t know to the nearest fifty grand how much was in my bank account, it would just be another toy purchase, and it would be as stimulating as ordering the lucky dip buffet from a Korean restaurant. But I’m not a gazillionaire. Yes, I have several tasty toys, but that’s only because I don’t spend my income on houses and families like you guys all do. If the Porsche goes bang then it’s dead, I can’t afford to fix it. And that, strangely, makes the whole mid-life crisis very exciting indeed.
Although, to be fair, it’s less of a mid-life crisis than a whole-life crisis. My first year’s pay went on a 205 CTi (I know, it’s the convertible one, but I was young and knew no better). Then the next few hundred pay packets bought a new Elise, at the barely pubescent age of 24. My life’s been one long continuous crisis. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Do you want to know what it’s like? Tough, I’m going to tell you anyway.
Firstly, it feels big. It isn’t, but it feels like it is. I think the Elise is a touch wider, and the Evo is definitely longer, but the solidity of the 911 makes it feel a bit … well, tank-y. That is, until you fire the cannon. But more on that later.
The key goes in the ignition not on the steering column but on the dash just under the right end of the dials. There are buttons … sooooo many buttons … and I have no idea what half of them do. They can’t all be useful can they? There’s an extra stalk sticking out the steering wheel that doesn’t seem to do anything. Ooo there’s a sunroof. And there are back seats too … well, kind of back seats. Seats for shopping, maybe. Or ewoks. Or one ewok with his shopping.
So I start the thing up and it auto-blips, giving a pleasing GWRRF! as it does so. It idles unevenly, as if searching for the right level, we clack the gearlever in first and trickle away. It feels heavy already, the clutch feels distant and I have to lean forward to see out. We’re not in Kansas any more, Toto.
We’ve eased out onto the roads around Beeston Castle now, and it’s pleasingly easy to operate the car. It feels wide but it can’t be, because oncoming cars are easily passing it on these narrow lanes. It’s remarkably benign as I tickle through villages – to be honest it doesn’t feel fast at all. Oh shit, there’s a load of words on the screen in front of me and one of them’s OIL. Oh cock. The oil pressure gauge is just off the top. Did they give the car to me with no oil in it? I’m stopping.
Leafing through the manual puts my mind at rest. It’s perfectly normal and correct for the oil pressure gauge to read just shy of max, and the screen says OIL because it’s giving me menu options … aaaa-HA! That stalk that didn’t do anything … it DID do something! It operates the computer, which is why it’s showing me menu options! That’s a huge relief. I prod the new stalk and the screen goes blank again. I’ll play with that another day.
Nosing carefully out onto the A49 I can give the throttle a squeeze and it just accelerates normally, like any other car would, up to 30 in third gear. I push the pedal all the way to the carpet for a second or two and … well … nothing much happens. It continues accelerating timidly – fireworks are conspicuous by their absence. Hmmm.
Obviously this needs further exploration. At 30 in third the engine is barely turning over. I find a nice long well-sighted straight and find some more confidence. This time I plant my right foot and leave it there. Speed builds. Numbers increase.
And then hell is unleashed.
Hooooly feck-a-cock-a-doodle-doo on a bike … one second I was broaching 60 on the digital speedo, the next I’d smashed 100 and the numbers were clocking up so fast I couldn’t read them any more. My foot instinctively lifts in self-preservation. I realise I’ve stopped breathing. So I start again. Hoooo. So that’s where the fireworks are.
The next 30 miles follow a similar pattern. Tickle along normally, leaving an unusually large distance to the ditherer in front. See a nice big gap in the oncoming traffic. Change down a couple. Hold breath. Plant foot. Watch cars disappear to dots in the mirror. Breathe again. Giggle.
I’d love to tell you how the handling is – how you can really feel the weight of the engine in the rear wanting to overtake the front. How you can quell the initial understeer with a half-boot of gas. But I can’t. I have no idea yet. This car feels so different to anything I’ve had before that all thoughts of heroics have gone poof like any hopes of the Caterham F1 team beating anyone this season. I’m not going to explore the limits of its handling for quite some time yet. I think if I did, I might die. I’m going to learn it in baby steps, and I strongly suspect I’m going to enjoy every minute of it.