In the wide and varied world of automobiles, it’s very difficult to be completely fixated on one single car. No matter your inspiration or taste, there's a smattering of options to at best, distract you from reality, or worse, entice you into bad decisions concerning the wallet.
My goal was singular and unwavering: buy a Porsche 911 GT3, but that doesn’t mean my eyes did not wander towards other possibilities. The question of “What if I weren’t getting a GT3, what would I buy instead?” presented a good pondering exercise. Even as the automotive industry rapidly migrates towards turbocharging and electrification, we are still living in a golden era of performance cars. Massive speed and superb handling have never been so accessible and so abundant.
It’s always good fun to dream about buying and living with certain cars, so here are five I would happily purchase if the 911 GT3 was not a thing:
BMW M2 Competition
The BMW M2 have been an intriguing prospect since its launch. The car is a mea culpa to those unlucky to have missed the opportunity to buy the rare limited edition 1M. The M2 largely follows the same formula: a heavily shortened 3-Series chassis in two-door guise, a reworked turbo inline-six from the lesser 35i model, and a heavy dose of flared fenders. In total the M2 is a lithe and rapid package reminiscent of old M3s, and if you’re part of the crowd that reckons modern M3/M4s have grown too large and unwieldy, the M2 represents a true lineage to BMW’s glorious past.
Brand new for the 2019 model year is the Competition package, which is BMW-speak for mid-cycle refresh, and I think it makes the M2 the M car to buy. Borrowed from the bigger M3 is the S55 inline-six, now making 400 horsepower in the Competition. Brakes have increased in size and piston count, and the unsightly wheels (in my opinion) on the old M2 have been replaced with a delicious set of mesh-style alloys. Just look at it in the picture: the car’s stance cannot be more athletic.
Ford Mustang Shelby GT350
In many ways, the Shelby GT350 ticks all the boxes in what I look for in a sports car: high-revving, naturally-aspirated engine, manual gearbox, and drive to the rear wheels. The fact that it’s wrapped underneath a Ford Mustang is at once surprising and worrying at the same time. The reputation of performance Mustangs is an all-out bruiser in the name of straight-line speed (because America!), and also a nasty tendency to spin out and hit things/people at the local Cars and Coffee. Can a Mustang really be a world-class handling machine?
It most certainly can. Since launch, the GT350 is roundly acclaimed for its superb chassis and handling precision, an icing on the cake made by the glorious sounds from the 5.2-liter V8 spinning to 8250 rpm. At around $60,000 brand new, it’s bit of a bargain, too. The GT350 has been called the ‘poor man’s GT3’, and indeed there are many wealthy Porsche owners who have bought one to supplement their 911 fix. In my view that’s as high a commendation a sports car can receive.
Porsche 911 Carrera T
Hang on a minute, if I weren’t getting a 911, I’d get another 911? Makes sense, doesn’t it? If the GT3 trim didn’t exist, why not entertain other variants of the sports car icon?
The Carrera T came out in the 2018 model year as an homage to 911 Ts of old: a stripped-down, poverty-spec 911 with only the go-fast and lightweight options fitted. The pursuit here is the utmost in driving fun, for significantly less money than a GT3. I do the like the prospect of that.
The T formula in 2018 guise is quite intensive: Porsche starts off with a base Carrera and adds the 20-inch wheels from the Carrera S. Sport Chrono Package and PASM becomes standard equipment, so is a mechanical limited-slip differential (on manual cars only, sadly). The final-drive ratio gets shortened, because chasing velocity maximum is not the point, the joy of shifting gears is. In the name of lightness, there’s thinner rear glass at the back and fabric door-pulls on the door cards. Enterprising Colin Chapman fanatics can optionally spec carbon-ceramic brakes, and lightweight bucket seats straight out of the GT department.
Fans of atmospheric induction might complain of the turbochargers in the Carrera T, but the intrinsic beauty of the flat-six engine cannot be muffled. By most accounts, the 3.0-liter unit in the Carrera T remains a sweetheart of an engine, devouring revs with that signature Porsche eagerness. Absent the GT3, the Carrera T is no consolation prize: it’s one of the best 911 variants ever made.
Mercedes-AMG GT S Coupe
Of the cars listed here, the AMG GT S is the most evocative. I’ve always been a fan of the long-hood, short-deck coupe look, best exemplified by the legendary Jaguar E-Type. The GT S carries on that illustrious tradition with a bonnet that appears to take up half the car’s entire length. The driver is sat just in front of the rear-axle, while the engine is completely behind the front wheels. It’s an absolute stunner, a car you can’t stop looking back towards as you walk away from it after parking.
The engine in this AMG busts the myth that turbocharged engines cannot sound good. Whatever voodoo magic the engineers at Affalterbach did to make the 4.0-liter V8 sound just as angry and violent as the atmospheric 6.3-liter predecessor, please let other automakers borrow it (looking at you, BMW). The GT S shows you can indeed have it all: torque, power, and proper noise.
It steers well, too. Mercedes Benz have targeted the vaunted 911 with the GT S, and according to car magazines, it has succeeded in matching the Porsche for driving thrill. The car did win Motor Trend’s Best Driver’s Car award for 2015 - over a Cayman GT4(!). That’s a job well done, AMG.
It’s difficult to believe that it’s been a whole decade since the R35 GT-R came on the scene and completely destroyed the competition. Sports cars many times more expensive than the Nissan were forced to justify how they could charge so much money for less performance. So thoroughly beaten was the Porsche 911 Turbo at the Nurburgring lap times that Porsche resorted to accusing Nissan of foul play.
Godzilla is undefeated. Except against time.
Indeed the preceding 10 years have no been kind to the mighty GT-R. At launch it may have forced other manufacturers to go back to the drawing boards, but go back they did. Modern machinery from the likes of Germany and Italy have since eclipsed the R35, and by decent margin. Today the GT-R is far less of a bargain, with MSRP having grown some $25,000 during its production span.
But it’s still an incredibly fast car, a pound-for-pound hero in the used market. As a car enthusiasts who grew up on the JDM craze, the Nissan GT-R remains a high watermark worth considering. I can only hope that it isn’t a plateau.