by Matt Nichols What has happened to car manufacturers over the last quarter century? Their products appear to have been putting on weight and expanding in size at an alarming rate. If you were being polite and met an old friend or distant relative you hadn’t caught up with for a very long time you might say something like ‘you’re looking well’ whilst secretly thinking to yourself ‘blimey you’ve let yourself go a bit’. So why does this happen? Well although cars and people are clearly very different, I wonder if in both cases we are unaware of the slow and gradual changes occurring over time and sometimes need a quick trip back to remind us how much things have changed.
Take the Porsche 911 Carrera, a car that seems to be re-launched these days every 12 months and for the last fifteen years has had at least one smaller sibling underneath it in the model range. Roll back the clock 25 years and the sort of cars one model size below a 911 included the original Mini and Fiat 500. Which is perhaps why when you sit in a Carrera from the 1980’s, such as the immaculate 1986 Porsche 911 Targa for hire on the Great Escape – Cotswold Rally, you are somewhat gobsmacked by how tiny it is. I would judge similar in scale to the people’s wagon the 911 was rumoured to be based on and giving you the distinct impression it could be successfully threaded through the eye of the nearest needle.
The other things you notice are how far the floor mounted pedals are offset towards the middle of the car and how close you sit to your passenger as you rub shoulders whilst getting comfortable and locating the inertia reel seatbelts. Settle in and turn the key and things start to become more familiar with the distinctive throb from the flat six air-cooled 3.2 litre boxer engine mounted aft. A noise that immediately jogs your memory cells and other senses on what made this mark so very special in the first place. Not forgetting a winning formula that Porsche has held onto all this time even after the controversial switch to water cooling. Navigating challenging country lanes in the Carrera is simply sublime, the car both alive and fun at the same time with an ability to become a lot more serious when the upper reaches of the rev band are explored.
Whether whizzing along with the wind in your hair or entering an imaginary rally stage head down this is an incredibly well judged sports car. It is light and nimble and super quick when you want it to be. The roads we drove on were bone dry and I have to say there was absolutely no tail happy, hedge threatening behaviour from this Porsche whatsoever. Just to be safe and as a precaution, I deliberately did all the braking in a straight line before turning into each corner and powering all the way round. Whether I needed to do that is not clear as it was not in the slightest bit twitchy. Take liberties on a wet or greasy surface and the story may well be a different one, but keep it sensible and there is absolutely no problem at all.
I knew I liked 911’s despite having never driving one previously and I was aware of the negative views on the later and heavier water cooled models from the purists out there. What I didn’t know was how much of that I would appreciate in a single blast across the back roads of Gloucestershire. On reflection the things that stood out the most were the car’s small size and scale, proper sports car agility, howl from the air cooled flat 6 boxer engine, unusual pedal layout that you seem to become quickly accustomed to and the fabulous feeling you get piloting a proper Porsche. It is a shame in many ways that the yuppie market that ultimately emerged from this era seemed to steer Porsche in the direction of Tiptronic transmissions and garish colour schemes, not to mention larger frames. Because the 1986 Carrera is an absolute delight to drive and well worth taking out for a spin, just not literally of course.
1986 911 Carrera Targa
This car is stunning to pilot and proves that good things come in small packages.
3.2 litre 6 cylinder air cooled boxer unit has huge range with some decent power at the top end.
Max Power: 231BHP @ 5900 rpm
0–60 mph: 5.4 seconds
Top speed: 150 mph
The low mass ensures the all round disc brakes are hardly ever worked hard at all
Nimble and able to change direction quickly and without fuss and certainly not the widow maker some will have you believe, just don’t take liberties
A strong appreciation of air cooled 911’s means future values are assured
Brilliant B-Road weapon which is hugely desirable and easily able to cope with longer journeys in comfort
None as long as the weather stays reasonable and driver sensible
Although these cars have an enviable reputation as practical classics with low day to day running costs, any major repairs or replacements are still going to be pricey