Also Sprach Zuffenhausen


Also Sprach Zuffenhausen

The first 911 was painted noble white. Zuffenhausen's latest is a red-hot missile. EGMONT SIPPEL travelled to Abu Dhabi to experience mind-bending speed.


JEREMY CLARKSON is a colossus.

It might be better not to define the kind of colossus he is.

However, here's a tip: Clarkson is by no means “the world's best motoring journalist". Rather, he's an entertainer, a joker.

Funny, old Jeremy. Sometimes bitterly funny. Sometimes just bitter.

And a world-class con artist.

Because look, a guy who has been campaigning for years to “prove" Porsche's 911 sports car is just a warmed-up VW Beetle is only pretending to know anything about cars.

Conversely, Clarkson was of course right with his repeated declaration that the uproar surrounding the 911 escaped him, just as the promising young football player was right when Clemson, America's leading football college, wanted to offer him a scholarship.

There was one admission question: “Do you know what the colour of blue vitriol is?"

No," the young muscleman admitted.

“You answered the question correctly. You're in."

Jeremy didn't understand the 911. He couldn't.

He drives too badly.

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On Mozart and music

The 911 is the backbone of the Porsche legend but the story begins much earlier.

For example, tackle the highway from Trieste, in Italy, to Salzburg, in Austria.

The latter is where most of the 1965 hit film The Sound of Music was shot. It's also Mozart's birthplace, there among the hills where Julie Andrews would sing Do-Re-Mi two centuries later.

As a 14-year-old, Mozart went to the Vatican to listen to Gregorio Allegri's Miserere, a choral work for nine voices that was performed only at Easter in St Peter's Basilica.

The score was never published. The Italians wanted to keep the music to themselves. There is only one pope, only one Miserere.

Or that is what the Papal States, the Stati Pontifici, reckoned.

But overnight the young Wolfgang Amadeus transcribed the entire work note for note from memory. By dawn, Miserere was no longer exclusive to the Vatican.

A quarter of a millennium later and ditto: the Italians still regard their luxury goods as super-exclusive. You can look, dream, listen, smell and kneel, but at some motor shows even journalists are allowed to enter the Ferrari stand only by invitation.

The Germans, on the other hand, like to buckle you in behind the wheel of their speed wagons.

That's what Porsche did again recently by inviting a few journalists to Abu Dhabi's Yas Marina Grand Prix track.

Engine and performance

Yas Marina is where the Verstappens and Hamiltons race, not the Clarksons.

In all probability, it would therefore have been a stupid decision to buckle in the old sourpuss — who maligned South African wines — behind the wheel of Porsche's latest road monster, the 911 GT3 RS.

One would have expected snide Clarkson comments  about the RS's parking capabilities eventually. Indeed, rearward visibility is obstructed by that Boeing wing.

However, in a supercar that churns out 386kW and 465Nm from its naturally aspirated 4.0-litre flat-six engine to hurl 1.45 tonnes from 0-100km/h in slightly over three seconds before hitting practically 300km/h moments later on a straight road, it's much more important to know what's ahead, even more so when the road starts to bend.

About wings and aero

That's exactly where the Boeing wing becomes relevant. Even tyres wider than an aerodrome have grip limits. To zigzag even faster you need to add intense aero.

And what exactly is this aero; a chocolate bar?

If you have a sweet tooth, yes. But among speed freaks, aero counts as the aerodynamic phenomenon that makes planes take off and cars stick to the road.

Wings are the designated instrument in both cases. With the downforce generated by the RS's inverted aeroplane wing, you'll be able to press grapes, especially if air flies over that wing at gale force.

So, the faster you can enter a corner without losing line, the more aero you get over the wing and the more firmly the car is pinned to the road, enabling you to shoot through corners even faster, conjuring up more aero, and so on.

Those who have will get more.


On the track

On Yas Marina's twists and turns, partly framed by impenetrable walls on either side, things happen in nanoseconds.

Stanley Kubrick's masterpiece 2001: A Space Odyssey (which begins on a deeply philosophical note with the dramatic musical piece Also sprach Zarathustra) contains a scene where an astronaut breaks through to a new dimension of consciousness. Colours and images flash past him at rocket speed and suddenly he is reborn.

That's how you feel in the GT3 RS. You are born again.

The movie's title, by the way, refers to Homer's epic poem, Odyssey, about the wanderings of seafarers, always into the unknown. Ditto the astronauts in 2001. Ditto the racers in an RS.

With a R5 million jewel from Zuffenhausen (home of Porsche's head office) and Weissach (where the company's sports cars are developed) it will help to know.

But it's difficult, because the latest bunch of aero developments (which involve much more than just a Boeing wing) suck and press the car so firmly to the tarmac that the centripetal forces threaten to leave you drunk and dizzy.

Compared to the standard GT3, the RS's virtually identical engine is tuned for an extra 11kW and 5Nm.

That is why it is initially surprising to hear that the standard GT3's top speed is a fraction higher than the RS's (319km/h vs 296) — until you remember how much wind drag the RS's airplane wing generates on straight stretches.

That's the downside.

The advantage comes via enormous stability, grip and speed through corners. With a time of less than 6min 45sec around Germany's famous Nürburgring in the Eifel Mountains, the new GT3 RS is one of the four fastest production cars on the track.

One of the others is a monster-tuned Porsche GT2. The others are Mercedes, one of which is a supercar.

The sound of music

Gmünd nestles in the Hohe Tauern section of the eastern Alps.

It's a small town, halfway between Trieste and Salzburg, where Ferdinand Porsche moved his Stuttgart-based company in 1943 to avoid World War 2 bombings.

It was in Gmünd where Ferdinand's son, Ferry, built the first Porsche — the 356 — in 1948 after the prototype had been tested on the region's hilly roads.

One can imagine how that little 1.1-litre four-cylinder sang like a Julie Andrews through the bends of Hohe Tauern: “The hills are alive with the sound of music…"

Until 1965, when the 356 was buried.

In its place an even greater icon rose: 1964's Porsche 911, with the first prototype in noble white (as in The Sound of Music's Edelweiss — or is it Edelweissach in Porsche language?).

In any case. Here we are now, almost 60 years later, and in its long and glorious odyssey the 911 has progressed from light and cheerful to thunderous and deadly; from Edelweiss to Ride of the Valkyries; from Mozart to Zarathustra.

It is certainly no longer a white Alpine flower. In GT3 RS form, the 911 is now a racing car, a rocket, a space missile, a giant, a colossus among cars.

As in a true colossus, Clarkson, not a con artist.

And definitely not a Beetle!

Price: Porsche 911 GT3 RS – R4.9 million

♦ VWB ♦

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