Porsche.... one speaks the name in hushed, reverential, tones, a truly great marque, a legendary constructor of sports cars which have always ranked with the very best, witness their dominance of sportscar racing for decades with cars that mechanically, if not visually, were closely akin to the road cars.
I could say that the Porsche 968 Club Sport is the best car that I have ever driven... but I won't. "Best" is a description far too vague for such an extraordinarily rich driving experience. The 968 CS is, without a doubt, the most enjoyable, involving and satisfying car that I have ever driven on the road, is doubtless as good on a track - a matter which I would dearly love to put to the test - and is as exciting as any track car that I can remember driving.
For the few purists left who still believe that true Porsches can only be of the 911 type - rear driven and engined - then this prime exponent of the classic front engine/rear drive sports car layout should be a real revelation, the 968 CS is really as good as driving gets, as attested by the many awards received, and now represents over half of total 968 sales.
The Club Sport was launched last year as a stripped-out racer derivative of the 968 coupe. Intended as a road car capable of being taken to the local race track at weekends and used for it's purest purpose over 50 kilos of weight have been saved- and over œˆ 7000 - by throwing away nearly all of the electrics - windows and mirrors - most of the sound deadening, some of the trim, the back seat and even the front seats. To quote Aldous Huxley " less is more ".
Now the most notable features left in the all black cabin are a pair of very tight fitting fibreglass racing seats and the competition 4 point harnesses which gird them. Despite minimal trimming these seats are extremely comfortable -if taking a little while to fall into and crawl out of at my advancing age - and you are held tightly in place by the racing harnesses for the ultimate in personal security.
The car that I tested was further improved by the attentions of Porsche's M Technic division adding a wider rear track, an upgraded chip for more flexibility and an extra 20 bhp, exhaust modifications, larger, colour coded 17" wheels and a lightweight bonnet and chin spoiler. A lean, mean, design gives an overwhelming impression of muscularity and purposefulness from those monstrously fat arches barely covering the enormous rubber via the sharply cut off tail to that long, long, bonnet with cooling ducts.
The cockpit is really just for two people, ideally two who like being close. As a driving environment it is spartan but just about ideal, everything placed where it needs to be, the driving position perfect, strapped tightly in facing a tiny wheel and large instruments in a clear, uncluttered, black dash with matt surround.
A complex power roof - removable - was fitted - a £715 option - and a 2 speaker radio is standard but anyone with soul would rather listen to the music of the wonderful 4 cylinder engine. Probably the most powerful 4 pot production engine in the world, the light alloy, 2990 cc, 16 valve, DOHC, engine with variocam camshaft timing pops out a massive 240 bhp as standard - upped to 260 bhp in the test car - near 160 mph achievable as a top speed. This wonderful power plant is mated to a tightly gated six speed, close ratio, gearbox for maximum flexibility and gear shifting pleasure. Hit the pedal hard and the 968 CS just squats, grips and goes.
The fabulous handling of the car proves that the human posterior is as informative as any other part of the anatomy for all of the front of the car can be felt through the hands and all of the rear of the car through that lower part of the body, the small leather wheel and the tight fitting seats being the media by which every tiny change in the relationship between those 4 small rubber contact patches and the road can be felt.
Progressively weighted power steering and a taut, complex, suspension provide truly astounding grip that only an absolute maniac would ever explore on the road but which really comes into it's own on the track and makes for a very safe car at all normal speeds. It's firm with perfect balance, always taut, settling quickly into a cornering attitude on the chosen line, with no roll and enormous grip from the 225/45 front and 295/40 rubber on tall 17" wheels, [16" as standard]
The drilled pedals are a little heavy, racing car style, as is the power steering at low speeds but it is very precise, race car direct and always very communicative, those big tyres needing constant attention.
To back up this performance and handling are one of the best sets of brakes I have ever used, ABS equipped, 4 pot aluminium calipers, perforated and vented front and rear, with a firm, sensitive, pedal and massive stopping power.
What you see with the Porsche is really not all of what you get for the race heritage and quality of engineering are buried gene deep within the car and equally as deep are the passions that driving the 968 CS awake. It took me just 20 miles to fall hopelessly in love with the car.