Let’s talk about the wonderful and beguiling atmospheric engine.
The unit hanging behind the rear-axle of my 991 GT3 is undoubtedly one of the best naturally-aspirated motors ever produced, and one of the very last few, too. As the automotive industry barrels towards turbocharged engines, hybridization, and full electrification (shudders), the atmospheric engine is facing an imminent extinction.
It’s probably the biggest reason I bought the GT3: to savor the final rendition of the sweet NA song.
I’ve had cars with turbo engines before, and admittedly they can be interesting in their own right. The voluminous torque kick when a turbo comes on boil is equally addictive, but in a different sort of way. I’ve yet to drive a fully electric car, though from the numerous Youtube videos of ‘ludicrous mode’ on the Tesla Model S, I can presume a reasonable conclusion: it’s stupid fast. Indeed, if unadulterated power and the rate at which the speedometer needle climbs is what you’re after, the direction the industry is heading towards is heavily in your favor.
For me, driving was and is never about straight line speed; on public roads there’s a certain horsepower threshold (I would say around 400hp is the upper limit) that anything beyond is utterly useless. The GT3’s 475hp is certainly more than I could ever ask for and need. In less than five seconds of acceleration, I’m already in lock-me-jail territory. Fun for the first few times, but that novelty wears off.
Driving is an experience, in how a car invades and pervades the senses. The weight of the steering through the fingers; the harmonic mechanical sound as the throttle is pushed; the sweet scent of leather, alloy, and gasoline. Those parts make up the complete thrill of driving, hashtag soul.
More so than the linearity of power delivery, the most rewarding aspect of a naturally-aspirated engine is the sound. A turbocharged unit physically cannot match it, and the electric motor doesn’t make a sound at all. I’d thought an unencumbered exhaust tract is what makes the noise from an atmospheric engine so magical; having driven the GT3 for two months, I realized it’s rather the induction sound that’s the secret recipe.
The 3.8-liter flat-six in the GT3 has an absolutely intoxicating induction noise, accentuated by the position of the engine being behind the ears. You’d want to keep the windows down to hear the signature Porsche howl as the engine increases in revs. Listen more intently, and you can actually hear the throttle plate reacting to the prodding of the right foot, the rush of outside air gushing in to fill the vacuum, creating a subtle ‘whomp’. Chasing that euphoric sound makes me do silly things like accelerating and decelerating back and forth for the heck of it. Yes, I am not that idiot on the road.
Because there’s no turbo plumbing to introduce lag, the GT3’s throttle response is super sharp; I’d say it’s even sharper than the ND MX-5, which itself is no slouch in that criteria. There’s zero pauses before the engine reacts, an almost miraculous sensation when you consider it’s all done by computers - there is no direct linkage from the pedal to the throttle like cars of old.
Comparatively, when I climb into my brother’s Golf GTI, it’s as if someone had put a filter between my inputs and the car’s reflexes. The turbo lag is nearly dangerous, because the power comes on so schizophrenically and very unpredictable.
The melodious soundtrack aside, another party piece to the GT3’s flat-six is the sheer amount of revs. I’ve had dreams of driving cars with a high-revving engines ever since I started watching Formula One, which featured cars fitted with engines that revved beyond 20K, and made just the most beautiful high-pitched wail. The GT3 hasn’t got half the revs of an F1 car, but 9K is still immensely special. There’s only been a handful of series production sports cars with a redline that high: Ferrari 458 Italia (and its derivatives), Lexus LF-A, and Honda S2000 (AP1).
Unlike a Honda S2000 where you really need to reach the far ends of the rev-counter to extract the horsepower, the 911 GT3 has got enough grunt in the middle to make me forget there’s more revs to be had. Often times I would upshift to the next gear only to realize the engine’s “only” at around 7K revs – a point where most cars have already ran out of breath, and there’s 2,000 more to go until the limiter. I can’t help but chuckle every time at this delightful absurdity, and concurrently marvel at the fact I own such a spectacular machine.
The atmospheric engine is an endangered species in the car world, and I hope to keep this particular one running as long as possible.
Anyways, month two of GT3 ownership remains marred by seasonal inclement weather. Damp roads have continued to hinder my ability to explore the limits of the car, made worse by road debris doing a number to the front windshield. It seems roadway repair always follow me wherever I go, resulting in quite a significant amount of new pockmarks on the front glass - I’m very glad GEICO offers free glass replacement. Sadly the rain is looking like it’ll extend into April, and that means the GT3 won’t be going anywhere quickly, if at all.
Road debris claimed an additional victim: the rear passenger side tire. March saw the GT3 get its first tire puncture under my stewardship, which I have to say I’m slightly indignant about because I’ve gone nearly six years of driving without such misfortune. Perhaps the foot-wide Pilot Sport Cup 2 rear tires are indeed super sticky, but relatively fragile in equal measure. I may have had pangs of regret in not opting for the 7 years wheel and tire warranty at the time of purchase, but then I realize I’d also be out $2,600.
Adamant in spending as little as possible (how you think I’ve come to afford a GT3?), I chose to not follow Porsche’s directive of replacing a tire under any puncture circumstances (a single rear tire costs at least $500), and instead performed a traditional plug job. Thankfully, the errant nail was in the meat of the tread so efficacy and safety wasn’t an issue. Due to the inability to remove the wheel from the car thanks to the center lock hubs, plugging the tire proved to be slightly more difficult than the typical car, about which you can read further in the dedicated post.
The puncture was fortuitous because in fixing it, I’m now fully prepared for future instances (fingers crossed). The tire plug kit and the emergency scissor jack I bought used off a 996 Cabriolet fit nicely inside the front trunk, taking up a nominal amount of space.
I think I’ve gotten too familiar to the fast steering rack of the ND MX-5, because I keep wishing for a quicker ratio in the GT3. On super tight onramps where in the Miata I could make the turn without having to do a crossover of the hands, in the GT3 I’d be off the road if I’d lock my hands at 9 and 3. Not frustrating per se, more of an annoyance. I’m sure with increasing mileage I will become acclimatized to the GT3’s tendencies.
Such as its propensity to scrape the front lip spoiler on driveways and road surfaces. Shortly after buying the car I replaced the plastic piece with a new one, and shortly after that it’s already been scratched and scored at the bottom. The front-axle lift system offers considerable prevention, but even when activated, the GT3 remains a car with miniscule ground clearance. There are some obstacles that can’t be cleared without contact - even with the front-end raised, and other times I simply neglect to push the button because the driveway didn’t seem too steep to warrant any special maneuvers. Obviously, I’ve been wrong quite a few times.
Again, kudos to Porsche for having the foresight to make the front lip spoiler of the GT3 an unpainted plastic piece, one that can be replaced easily with minimal cost. It seems other GT car owners are correct in saying the spoiler is a yearly maintenance item: it will get scraped.
Maintaining the cleanliness of the GT3’s 20-inch wheels is a futile exercise. My car is fitted with the standard steel brakes, and the amount of dust from the massive 380mm rotors is drastically more than what I had expected. A short drive around the block after a fresh detail is enough to coat the wheel surfaces with a new layer of brown. My old WRX STI was afflicted with the same issue, but it wasn’t nearly as severe as the GT3. Now I understand why people pay (a lot) extra for the carbon ceramic brakes: those don’t dust whatsoever.
If only the calipers on the carbon ceramics weren’t an ugly yellow.
Gas mileage continues to be horrible this month, but that’s expected in a car like this. What’s especially funny in a masochistic way is being stuck in heavy traffic, barely at a crawling pace: I can literally see the needle on the fuel gauge moving towards E as the minutes tick by. The 3.8-liter isn’t a paragon of efficiency on a good day, but when it’s just idling way it’s liable for protest by environmentalists. I’m hoping the proliferation of electric cars will offset my own impropriety.
I keep repeating this, but I really hope April will finally bring some dry weather. As of this writing the radar doesn’t show that to be the case, but perhaps the latter half of the month will bring some needed sunshine. I’m intensely eager to explore the GT3’s limits, to finally put those Cup 2 tires to good use. The regular work-week is but a long agonizing grind until the weekend, when I am happily reunited with the GT3 again.
Date acquired: January 2019
Total mileage: 25,557
Mileage this month: 872
Costs this month: $593.72
MPG this month: 15.07 mpg