GT3 Diaries

September 2019: it's fitting like a glove

There’s no big overarching theme to talk about this month; just some updates on how I feel about the car and the car itself.

After nearly nine months of ownership, I’m finally getting the sense the GT3 is shrinking around me in the driver seat. It’s a sought-after sensation that denotes a bonding with a car, that the driver is enabled to exploit the limits daringly, and to carry the confidence that any surprises can be handled with ease. A car’s fun-to-drive factor receives a boost as well, and within the past month, I’ve really gotten a liking to how awesome the GT3 is to drive, and precisely why the motoring press raves about it.

Obviously, you’d expect a 911 from the Porsche GT department to be nothing less than fantastic, though I guess for a wholly unskilled driver like myself, it takes a bit of time to personally validate the claims made by that lofty reputation. Because the GT3 is not my daily driver but rather a weekend machine for the mountain roads, the lack of continuity and relative seat-time hampered how quickly I got acquainted it. My previous cars took less than a month each to achieve the same “wrapped around me” feel because those cars were used for commuting as well.   

Honestly, there’s a factor of fear. The 911’s peculiar drivetrain layout – with the engine sat behind the rear-axle – is ever present on my mind; I’ve read too many stories of 911 owners experiencing the sudden unwelcome advance of the car’s rear-end, leading to many spins and accidents. Even with all the traction and stability mechanisms left on, I’m always keenly aware of the GT3’s potent potential to swap ends, at best making me look like an utter idiot, or worst, pirouette right onto another car. The 911 is definitely way more car than what I’m ever used to, so I approached my GT3 with reverence and huge trepidation; a book to be read very slowly.

Something incredibly simple also slowed down the time to acclimatization: I was in the wrong seating position. I understand the superb irony it was only some months back I wrote on these updates how awesome the GT3’s driving position is, and how important it is for a sports car provide the proper ergonomics. Through no fault of the car, I recently realized I was sat too far away from the steering wheel: I had erroneously acquiesced too much for thigh support, hoping to avoid the dreaded butt pain on long stints. Because my particular GT3 has the base seats with only the three basic adjustments (front-back, up-down, and incline), that meant moving the seat rearwards until my thighs hit the front cushion.

I can’t believe I drove around like that for over half the year. It was on a drive earlier in the month that for whatever reason I felt frustrated I wasn’t getting the necessary sensation in return from the GT3, and that something was missing. Knowing to check the fundamentals first, I stopped the car to readjust the seating position, and it turns out I was slightly too far back from the ideal setup in relationship to the steering wheel. Therefore, sacrificing some thigh support had to be done.

The effect was immediate, as if a switch has been flicked on. The GT3 came alive in my hands, and for the first time I can directly feel through my body the twist and motions of the car as I maneuvered through corners. Because I can fully feel exactly what’s going on, I now have the confidence to muscle the car into a turn, and actually use the brakes to manipulate the chassis. The GT3 truly dances, the more winding the road, the more it rewards the senses. The change of direction is immense, and the car settles down from any sudden imperfections or inputs with rapid ease. It reaffirms how truly capable the GT3 is, and that me the driver is the lone weak link on the chain.

Few months back I had written how I wish the GT3’s steering rack was just a tad quicker, and that it’s not as darty as the one I was used to on the Mazda MX-5. After the seating adjustment, I’ve come to realize the slightly slow ratio on the 911 is engineering as such for a purpose: it’s perfectly matched to the brilliant chassis. On a twisty mountain road when everything is in harmony, the steering is precise and turns exactly where I want the car to go; a faster rack would only upset that sweet balance. Besides, should a corner require more angle than predicted, mid-corner adjustments don’t disturb the 911 into understeer.

I think the genesis of my complaint about the slightly slow steering ratio is because I was still framed from the perspective of my old Miata; even with the rear-axle steering system shortening the turning radius considerably, I guess a 911 simply can’t defeat the base physics of a diminutive MX-5.

And rear-axle steering isn’t only for making U-turns in less space than an Audi A3: on a winding road, the system is effectively magic. For me, rear-axle steering has gone from a necessary gimmick (one cannot spec a GT3 without it) to a total revelation in the ability to nip the GT3 through tight turns. You can’t really feel in on corner-entry during the braking phase; rear-axle steering comes into the play on throttle, and you can sense the backend come into play in almost uncanny fashion. It doesn’t rotate the car per se; rather it’s as if the rear-end speed up faster than the front for a split-second, giving a sudden burst of energy to punch the car out on corner exit. I can see why almost all the expensive new sports cars on the market has a rear-wheel steer feature.

The GT3 is, again, needless to say, a fantastic car; any perceived shortcomings are probably on the fault of me not yet calibrated to its capabilities.

After achieving clear communication with the chassis and melting those sensations into muscle memory, the GT3’s party piece - the atmospheric flat-six that revs to 9,000 RPM - reveals itself that much more. The engine lives most happily above 5,000 RPM – just as most cars are beginning to run out of breath - and it absolutely sings to 9,000. I used to be afraid of staying in high revs in my cars for some inexplicable reason, but now, I gladly keep the 911 in low gears and let the tach needle live and dance within the upper reaches of the circle. The high-pitched wail on that last 1,000 RPM towards 9K is what makes the high cost of entry for the GT3 well worth it.  

Some days I’d get into normal cars and wonder where the rest of my 3,000 revs has gone.

Even with the newfound synergy with the car, I’m remain far too much of a wimp to test the GT3’s adhesion limits, especially so after an incident coming out of a car wash. A cold evening as per usual here in San Francisco, I’d forgotten how little grip the Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires have in low temperature and soaking wet from the car wash dousing. On a normal right-hander onto a thoroughfare, I accidentally pushed too much throttle, and the rear-end quickly spun around, easily defeating the hapless traction control. I was lucky to not hit anything, thanks to the wide road with no other cars nearby; the only bruise was to the proverbial ego, and my overall comfort level with the GT3. 

Ever since then, I’ve been extra careful with the gas pedal, too scared of a repeat, particularly on narrow mountain roads where the cost of a mistake is exponentially greater. To remedy this apprehensiveness, I think a trip down to the Porsche Experience Center in Los Angeles is in order: they offer driving courses, one of which involves the ins and outs of car-controlling a 911 GT3. The problem of course is money, as it costs upwards of a thousand, and the fact that I live 300 miles away means there’s ancillary costs as well.

Perhaps a local autocross event would be better and far less costly. Stay tuned on that.

The Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires may be super tricky when cold and downright worthless for grip in the rain, but when those tires work, the amount of grip is incredibly addictive. Every time I’ve determined to switch to Pilot Sport 4S tires on the next tire service, I’d change my mind after driving the GT3 on a hot day, where the Cup 2 tires can get to their operating sweet-spot. It allows the car to do things that’s difficult for the mind to comprehend, and I worry that by stepping down a grade to the 4S tires, I’d lose this immense, unstoppable feeling.

There’s still quite a few thousand miles of life left on the Cup 2 tires – god willing any undue punctures – so decision time can wait. It’s too bad laws of physics can’t allow a tire with Cup 2 grip combined with 4S wet traction; even Formula One cars have dedicated rain tires, after all.

A fun and quirky part of 911 ownership is giving the wave or thumbs up to fellow Porsche owners I encounter during a drive, though we tend to restrict it to the 911, Cayman, and Boxster (any vintage). There’s way too many Macans and Cayennes on the road, and the typical owners of those sports-utility vehicles aren’t what we would call enthusiasts - it’s Porsche sports cars only. Nevertheless, it’s a gracious feeling to give recognition to other Porsche drivers, and the joy of machine we share together.  

It seems I’ve always owned cars with such ownership camaraderie: I’ve performed the friendly thumbs up to other drivers on the road back when I owned the Subaru WRX STI and the Mazda Miata. Both of those cars have a cultist and enthusiastic following much like the 911, so it’s only natural the habit continued on to this day. I wouldn’t want it any other way, because the day I don’t get to do this is the probably the day I’m no longer driving a fun and interesting car.

I promised that I would break 500 miles this month, and as you can see in the stats below, I came close enough that I’m willing to smugly claim a victory. As we head into the colder months on the calendar, the mileage per month will for sure drop: as mentioned earlier, the Cup 2 tires really don’t like inclement weather. Most weeks I’ll probably take the car out long enough to get the mechanicals up to temperature and the battery charged up.  

The odometer is close to ticking pass 28,000 total miles as well, which means I’m about 2,000 miles away from the GT3 losing its entire value! Half joking aside, it’s widely accepted in this category of sports cars that once 30,000 miles is reached, it denotes a sort of fiscal cliff, whereby a car is seen as thoroughly used, no matter the actual present condition. For example, the price of an extended warranty goes up dramatically when a car is over 30,000 miles, compared to even just 29,000. That’s simply how things work.  

Of course, I couldn’t care less about trivial things as depreciation, and I’ll never agree with or understand people who do (and that’s on me, not them). I’m tremendously proud of every nick and flaw I’ve gathered over these past 4,000 miles, and I’m only sad I don’t have more. Patina is a wonderful thing; none of this lasts forever, so might as well enjoy and use it.

Sometimes people ask me if I ever get nervous about parking the GT3 relatively far away from home; what if someone messes with the car, or an inattentive driver dings the door (or worse). Indeed, the 25-year-old me would’ve been bothered and stressed to bits at such an arrangement, but the present me don’t worry about things I can’t control (try not to, anyways.) I’m glad and somewhat surprised that during the past nine months, nothing negative has happened to the car while parked (knock on wood), though even if that weren’t the case, that’s what insurance is for.

I certainly pay handsomely for it!

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Date acquired: January 2019
Total mileage: 27,991
Mileage this month: 479
Costs this month: $392
MPG this month: 15.55 mpg

August 2019: truly the dog days

Is the GT3 a practical car?  

Relative question, of course.

The obvious and immediate answer should be “No”, and “Why would you ask such a question anyways?” The GT3 is the track-focused variant of the Porsche 911, the quintessential sports car; practicality shouldn’t even be a consideration of when it comes to these sorts of cars. You want something quick and fun to drive and also be able to serve double duty as a hauler of things? Go buy a fast wagon, rather than a super dedicated sports car.

But then you’d lose out on the joy of driving a 911, wouldn’t you?

Nevertheless, real life sometimes intervenes, and that entails going on grocery runs and running errands. Indeed, my GT3 is a weekend-only toy for the mountain roads, but being that it is my only car, there are moments where I have to take it to do the mundane duties of everyday life. That’s where the question of practicality enters into the discussion.

Unlike typical sports cars (my old Mazda MX-5 Miata, for example), where an utter lack of storage is the tradeoff you happily barter away for those sweet handling abilities and that smile on your face, the 911 is well-known for being somewhat practical. Though it is definitely not the nadir of its kind: the consensus most practical sports car is either the Porsche Cayman, or the Chevrolet Corvette. Like its 911 big brother, the Cayman has a trunk up front, but adds to that a useable rear trunk as well, space made available due to its mid-engine layout. Meanwhile, the Corvette’s rear parcel shelf is legendary for its ability to hold a set of golf clubs.

Good thing I don’t golf, and I really wanted the joy of driving a 911.

The key ingredient to the 911’s utility is the rear seats. Supremely small for anything larger than a tiny child, the 911’s rear seats shine for carrying non-human cargo. Once the seats are folded down, the rear passenger compartment acts as the de-facto rear trunk for the 911, able to swallow a surprisingly large number of things, like the set of golf clubs that fits in the aforementioned Corvette. Maybe I should take up golfing after all.

In GT3 trim, the rear passenger compartment is larger still than standard 911s, because there aren’t any seats at all. The lack of extra cushions and backrests means it’s even more practical and accessible, provided you don’t do the tacky thing and put a roll-cage back there (it does look awesome, I must say). It’s behind that seats where I usually store things, especially items that I’d want to keep cool.

Because the front trunk (frunk) can be best described as a hot mess. Cavernous and deep – an adult of smaller stature can actually fit inside and close the lid, the frunk of a 911 does the hard carry for the car’s overall utility quotient. But, there’s a problem: it gets stupendously hot. Nestled just in front of the compartment are the car’s radiators, and because of its high-performance roots, those heat-exchangers generate quite a bit of temperature, and it all gets permeated into the frunk. After a particularly spirited drive, the metal latch of the lid can actually get too scalding to touch.

It means only the sturdiest of items, ones that aren’t sensitive to heat, can and should be placed in the frunk. This immediately eliminates groceries of any kind (that ice cream you just bought will become milkshake by the time you get home), and electronics as well. I definitely don’t store my camera equipment in the frunk. Those go behind the seats inside the car, where it’s constantly air-conditioned to 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Porsche really should have climate-controlled the frunk, though I guess that would go against the lightweight racing ethos of the GT3. I think the regular 911s with a grand-touring bent should have an air-conditioned frunk as an option.

It’d certainly make the food run much easier.

Right; highly non-perishable items in the frunk, and everything else goes in the rear compartment; I reckon the GT3 has got enough space for a weekend’s camping trip, if so desired (I don’t.) And, if you’re like me and a bit of an introvert, the empty passenger seat can serve up some additional carrying capacity. The standard glovebox (the MX-5 didn’t even have one) is a decent size, and the door pockets (MX-5 didn’t those, either) can hold about four smartphones on each side, or about 200 speeding tickets.

So the answer to the question is, for me at least: the 911 GT3 is a very practical (sports) car.

I’d written in the July update that August isn’t looking too good for lots of miles, and as you can see in the stats below, my prediction was correct. It was a busy month for me outside of any car-related stuff, so I only did the bare minimum and drove the GT3 only once a week, to get all the mechanical bits up to temperature (these cars really don’t like to sit for very long) and keep the battery in topped up. I knew there would be months were driving opportunities are few, but I’d never thought I would have two consecutive months of under 300 miles driven.

The GT3 is too good and too expensive of a car to allow that to continue. I aim to at least break 500 miles for the month of September.

During August I did get a chance to properly wash the car, after having not done so for more than eight weeks. I’ve really gotten lazy about upkeep ever since I found out from the GT3’s first owner that the entire exterior – including the wheels – has been ceramic coated. Dirt and grime hardly ever stick to the car, so most of the time I simply hose it off and be done with it. Alas, after a certain extended period, I still have to break out the wash bucket and microfiber towels.

I have to say it’s still somewhat awkward and weird taking the GT3 to the local coin-op carwash to spray it down. I’ve got to be one of the very few Porsche 911 owners who does this; the more typical profile is someone rich enough to pay a professional detailer, or at the very least, have their own garage space to do it themselves. Meanwhile, I’m not even rich enough to be able to park the car anywhere near where I live.

To those car enthusiasts in similar situation, who are buying cars that are considered out of your income range but you’re making it work because of the love and passion, I salute you.

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Date acquired: January 2019
Total mileage: 27,512
Mileage this month: 265
Costs this month: $309.89
MPG this month: 17.2 mpg

July 2019: hard parked

Let’s talk about the GT3’s interior.

In a dedicated sports car, the points that truly matter inside the car boils down to three critical components: the steering wheel, the seat, and the gear knob. If a car gets those three things correct, everything else about the interior almost doesn’t matter. Because when the focus is the driving experience, the interaction between physical body and the parts of the car that touches it is all that matters. Get it wrong, and you probably shouldn’t buy the car.

Good thing Porsche is known for getting it very right. 

First, there’s the seat. Having bought the GT3 used, I didn’t get to spec the car to my liking; given the hypothetical opportunity, I probably would have gone for the middle option: the 18-way adjustable sports seats. I didn’t want the racing buckets because I am decidedly not a track rat, and for my driving purposes – mountain roads and long cruises, something less hardcore and restrictive is more ideal. Not to mention that as an option, the 918-style bucket seats are far from cheap.

My particular GT3 does not have the buckets, but nor does it have the 18-way seats. Instead, I am stuck with the relatively poverty-spec option: the base 4-way adjustable seats. Wanting to get the search process over with as quickly as possible, it was something I was willing to overlook. From what I’ve read beforehand, the standard sport seats are, at the very least, super conformable; the question of whether it can hold my body decently in the corners was something I was willing to gamble with.

To my great surprise, the 4-way sports seats do the job quite sublimely. Despite its lack of adjustability on paper, after half a year of ownership I can say I’m not wanting in anything more. You wouldn’t think that by looking at them, though: the sport seats look absolutely ordinary, one that’s more fitting for a plain Carrera than the dedicated track model. The seats in modern hot hatches like the Civic Type R look more aggressive and racier. It’s amazing then how Porsche have managed to engineer such a plain looking seat to be so good.

As with any car enthusiast, I prefer to sit as low as possible inside; I’ve read many times how Porsche does well to provide a low seating position, and the GT3 does not disappoint. The seat adjusts really low to the ground, giving a feel of sitting in the car, rather than on it. In the appropriate position, I’ve got about a fist worth of headroom, which is downright cavernous compared my previous car the MX-5 Miata, where the top of my head was mere millimeters away from the fabric roof. Theoretically I can sit lower still using an aftermarket seat, but as is I’m already dangerously close to not being able to see the front fenders; going further down would be counterproductive.

After adjusting the seat-back rake, I’ve already exhausted the number of adjustments the base sports seat offer. There are no toggles for lumbar or the height of the thigh cushion, and honestly, I initially thought I’d miss those crucial settings. However, be it psychological bias (you tend to overlook certain things when it’s your car, don’t you?), or just the fact Porsche knows how to engineer a good seat, the standard lumbar and thigh cushion fits me perfectly well. Porsche raked the cushion at an aggressive angle, so my thighs are properly supported, and having done multiple hour stints in the GT3, the absence of lower back pain confirms so.

Right, onto the steering wheel; with the seats at an appropriately low and comfortable position, it’s critical the wheel is able to telescope outwards far enough to meet the driver, so the arms can form a 90-degree angle without the need to scoot the seat too far forward, compromising the legs. To that end, the GT3’s tiller is expectedly good, offering a vast range of motion both in/out and up/down. I am able to position the wheel out far enough to allow me to sit at just the right distance from the pedals.

Contrast to the MX-5 Miata that didn’t offer a telescoping steering wheel: I couldn’t move the seat further front because my head would hit the roof (extremely small convertible two-seater, remember), so the only solution was to live with the fact the steering wheel is slightly farther away than optimal.

I wasn’t about to repeat that in a car that costs six-figures.

Anyways, the steering wheel itself is a joy to hold, and the size a pleasing diameter when doing cornering maneuvers. As standard, the GT3 comes with an Alcantara-wrapped wheel rim, but the first owner of my car spec the leather option instead. I was somewhat disappointed at first because Alcantara is a such a fabulous material to grip, and of course, because racecar, but having owned the car for a bit of months, I’m now grateful for the leather wrap because it’s significantly easier to maintain. A simple wipe-down with warm water is all it needs, rather than the brushes and dedicated rejuvenators that Alcantara requires.

You know you’re in a dedicated, track-focused sports car when there are no extraneous controls on the steering wheel. It can be quite a jarring experience when most other cars on the road – and all the cars in our family other than the GT3 – the driver can adjust volume right on the wheel. That said, needing to move my right hand to turn the actual knob isn’t that much of a hassle because the 911 is a relatively small car; it falls right into hand once muscle memory unlearns the motion of thumbing the wheel spoke.  

Also falling right to the hand is the PDK gear lever, the third important component to a sports car’s interior space. Back when the 991-generation 911 was introduced, some lamented the new interior copies the elevated sloping center console from the Porsche Panamera. Indeed, I too thought it was a bit gimmicky, in vain service of preserving family resemblance throughout the range (hello, 992 rear light bar). However, I’ve realized there is a utilitarian function: in raising the center console, the PDK lever – or the gear stick in manual transmission cars – also gets elevated, to a position that’s just about perfect for executing shifts rapidly. The distance the right hand has to travel to change gears is delightfully short, allowing it to quickly return to the wheel rim where it does its most critical work.

Obviously, quicker still is simply using the paddles to shift gears, but sometimes I want to pretend the GT3 has a racing sequential ‘box, and I’m madly tugging at the center stick to change gears.

Like the steering wheel, the standard PDK knob is wrapped in Alcantara, but because the first owner spec the wheel in leather, the gear stick also gets switched to the cow hide. Here I really have no preference given that I don’t touch the PDK stick nearly as much as the equivalent manual gearbox knob.

All three factors put together, the seat, the steering wheel, and the PDK lever, provides an experience that’s unprecedented in the previous cars I’ve owned; the GT3 Is simply outstanding. Indeed, the car is engineered for long stints at race tracks, so no surprise the driving position is precise and cocooning, but crucially, not fatiguing. Outside of full bladder situations, not once have I felt the need to stop the car after a long drive due to aching body parts.  

The comfort doesn’t come in sacrifice of ability: while the seat bolsters may look ordinary, the standard sports seats hold me in supremely well (at least for my 5’11” frame). In regular mountain road driving, there is absolutely no need to additionally brace myself with legs, which again for seats that everyone on the Porsche forums call “sofas” and regard as subpar, they are amazing and a very pleasant surprise. No need for aftermarket Recaros in my future.

Armed with the perfect driving position, the rest of the GT3’s interior can be poor in quality and I’d be completely okay. Indeed, my last two cars – the MX-5 Miata and a Subaru WRX STI – are well known for low-rent interiors, with hard plastics draped everywhere. Nobody who bought those cars cared, of course, because those sort of entirely about driving. So long as the interior trim doesn’t literally fall apart, the cheapness in feel and touch is of zero consequence.

So, the fact the GT3’s interior appointments are appropriately German – which is to say, extremely nice – is simply icing on the cake.

Porsche customers are able to spec interior trim and pieces with an almost infinite amount of options, provided they’ve got the money (you want yellow-colored seat belts? That would be $600). Some of these optioned-up interiors can get quite wild: during the search for the GT3, I came across one particular sample that had all the interior trim – including the gauge cluster – color-matched to the exterior in Guards Red. I love Guards Red, my wish my GT3 was painted in Guards Red, but interior accents in that color is a step way too far.  

Thankfully, the first owner of my particular GT3 did not go crazy with the options catalog; he didn’t even spec the gaudy Sport Chrono clock, which is something I really appreciate. All the owner spec on top of standard is the aforementioned leather wrap on the steering wheel and PDK knob, extra leather on the door cards and dash, and lastly, seat belts in GT Silver (I’d had skipped that). Tasteful and utilitarian; precisely how I prefer it.  

With so much dead cow skin inside, the GT3 always smell wonderful, which saves me from having to buy the usual air freshener. What isn’t covered in leather is either covered in Alcantara, trimmed in real aluminum, or is the carpet floor itself; there’s very little visible plastic – even the sun visor is wrapped in leather. Fit and finish is superb to typical German standards, and not a rattle can be heard on the road, only the infrequent jingle of the keys hanging off the ignition.

While I do appreciate all the luxurious accoutrements – it’s indeed quite lovely to touch and stroke, I worry that come the time to truly deep clean the interior, it’s going to be much more laborious than simply wiping down plastic pieces. I’m shuddering now just thinking about cleaning and conditioning the acres of leather. Perhaps it’s my sensibilities from having owned Japanese cars: as long as the driving position is correct and comfortable, I really don’t need the extra fancy stuff.  

Though Apply CarPlay would have been nice. I realize it’s a 2015 car, but it’s near unfathomable that a car costing this much didn’t even offer CarPlay as an option. It wasn’t until the 991.2-generation that Porsche decided to allow customers to pay for the privilege of Apple CarPlay.  

The one thing I do love about the inside of the GT3, aside from the driving position, is the instrument cluster. As modern cars pivot to using digital displays in place of almost every interaction inside - from instruments, to navigation, and even HVAC controls - I’m really glad my “forever car” still features exquisitely mechanical instrument dials. None grander and more glorious than the center tachometer: the physical needle dancing to the engine’s heartbeat, and the demarcation indicating the 9K redline; it’s a real work of art.

It’s no surprise Porsche kept the tach – and only the tach – as a mechanical piece in the 992.

As you can see in the stats below, there weren’t whole lot of miles in the month of July. For the latter half I was traveling in Japan for nearly two weeks, and the weeks before that I had lots of non-car obligations to attend to. The handful of miles I did do were only in service of exercise the car, not allowing it to sit for too long. My parking situation doesn’t allow for a battery tender, so I actively avoid letting the GT3 sit for more than two weeks. A brief hour-long loop usual does the trick, which also explains the unusually high fuel mileage this month.  

One small piece of news to report: the six-month renewal on the car’s insurance came up, and the cost went down by nearly $400 dollars over the next half of the year. It’s a very welcomed reprieve on the high insurance costs; I guess GEICO, having extracted enough money from me, now trusts me a little more to lower my risk profile. Slightly.

The month of August looks to be busy again with non-car stuff, so looks like the GT3 will sit more often than I’d like. A shame, because gas prices have gone down…

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Date acquired: January 2019
Total mileage: 27,247
Mileage this month: 211
Costs this month: $299.58
MPG this month: 17.2 mpg

June 2019: getting familiar

What are the logistics of owning a junior supercar like in a dense city like San Francisco?

Not terribly good, I have to say.

Mind you, this is from the perspective of someone who does not own a home in the city, and therefore no garage space to house the GT3. I’m sure the experience of a wealthy person with a house in Pacific Heights – the typical 911 owner, honestly – would be vastly different from what I have to deal with in order to enjoy the bliss of Porsche ownership. 

Lacking a garage, the first order of business was to find a place to park the GT3 somewhat permanently. Our townhouse apartment has a secured lot, but parking a six-figure car in there, when most residents are working-class, is not the wisest. Unlike Asian countries where visible wealth is celebrated, here in America it’s antagonized, especially in the Bay Area where the haves – the tech bros – and have nots – the blue-collars – have been at loggerheads since this latest tech-boom began. In a city where private transport buses get attacked as a symbol for wealth-inequality, I reckon it’d be best to not park a Porsche at our apartment complex.

Obviously, street parking then is out of the question as well. I don’t live in a particularly good part of the city, and property crime as a whole in San Francisco have been on the rise. Leaving a GT3 parked on the street for an extended period of time (remember, I commute by bus) is not a good idea. I’d be inundated with stress, of someone backing into it (parking by braille), or worst, vandalizing it because how dare this person own such an expensive car. Also worth mentioning is the utter lack of street parking in my neighborhood, and the weekly street cleaning San Francisco is so well known for. To park the GT3 out there I’d literally have to play music-chairs with other cars, a super annoying task that anyone who lives in the city understands innately.

So where does the 911 get parked? At work. I’m lucky enough that where I work features a secured structure, and parking there costs only 20 dollars a month. Lacking this, I may not have bought the GT3 to begin with because to rent a parking space in the city is on average 300 dollars a month – about the same as a typical car payment, which is insane. As expensive as the Porsche is to buy and own, the additional cost to rent a spot just to store it would have made the entire proposition untenable – I’d have no money left for maintenance and unexpected costs (it’s a German car, after all).

Thanks my place of employment, I am able to tuck the GT3 neatly at the corner of the parking structure, undisturbed from the public, and also from the elements as well – it’s a covered lot. The car definitely keeps cleaner than it would have been had it been parked outside, and it saves me from buying a sunshade or getting the windows tinted.

While it’s great I don’t have to worry about the car during the weekdays, the arrangement of parking the GT3 at work is not without its challenges. It takes about a 20 minute drive or 45 minute bus ride (on a good schedule) to get there from the house, so on weekends when I want to take the car out for a spin, I have to factor in that extra time onto the equation. Car enthusiasts love to wake up super early and take their vehicles out on the local mountain roads just as the sun is rising; a hard thing for me to do because the additional time to get to the GT3 means I have to wake up even earlier. It’s really nothing to complain about, but those are indeed the circumstances. A typical two-hour drive on the weekends usually ends up taking the better part of three.  

Perhaps someday I’ll have the means to have the GT3 at exactly where I’m living; until then, accessing the car is a bit of a pain.  

Equally painful are the typical road conditions of San Francisco. I’m sure other cities and regions may have it worse, but that doesn’t alter the fact our pothole-ridden streets are not kind to track-focused super cars with wide, low-profile tires. Yes, I am that idiot weaving left and right to avoid road imperfections, while you in your cushy sports-utility vehicle can simply drive over them with nary a sensation felt inside. We’ve had quite a significant amount of rain this first quarter of the year, so the roads were even worse than usual. Indeed, there were a few times I questioned the wisdom of owning a car like the GT3 in such unfriendly environment, that it’d be better to park the car until conditions are fixed/improved for the Summer months.

But that’s not how I roll: cars are mean to driven, after all. In any and all situations. 

Maybe I should have bought the wheel and tire warranty when I purchased the GT3 back in January; honestly the extra $2,600 outlay on top of the already hefty six-figure check I was writing to the dealership scared me the heck off of opting for the extra insurance. The car features forged alloy wheels, so I figured they would be far stronger than the typical cast aluminum sets in most other vehicles. For a motorsport-inspired product, it would be kind of sad if a stray pothole – and there are many in the San Francisco area – can so easily damage an alloy.

Tires are a different matter, and remembering that I caught a puncture within the first month of ownership, the warranty would have been ace had I paid for it. Luckily I was able to safely (?) patched the hole, though it was a more laborious affair than typical because again I don’t have a personal garage, so I had to perform the emergency surgery right in the work parking lot. I bet it looked quite peculiar for the few people who drove by, seeing me lying underneath a Porsche, tugging on the nail to force it out of the tire (damn you, centerlock wheels).

Indeed, simple maintenance items like plugging a tire or washing the car has to be done inside the parking structure. “Detailing? Where’d you get the hose and water?” Well, there obviously isn’t any of those things in the lot: in order to hose the GT3 down I have to drive it to a coin-op car wash facility in South San Francisco. I go to this particular establishment because it features a foam cannon, which is great for getting cleansing soap into spots otherwise unreachable.

I don’t then use the brush to scrub the body though, because we all know that’s terrible for the paint. It’s only a quick foam and rinse; I then drive the car back to the lot at work, where I then essentially wipe down the car with microfiber towels using Optimum No Rinse solution and the Garry Dean method. It’s highly effective, if a bit cumbersome in execution.

Wouldn’t it be nice: to be able to do all of this right there at the place I live in. Hashtag goals, as the kids say.

Since purchase, I’ve put about 3,000 miles on the GT3, signaling the halfway point in terms of mileage before the next oil change service. It’ll be a race to see if I hit the mileage marker or the date (December) first. I really hope it’s the former.  

For service I will have to take the car to the dealership of course, because again, no garage, and therefore, no tools of any kind. It’s a complicated procedure anyways, one where I’m happy to pay the few hundred (yup, for an oil change) and let the dealer techs deal with it. The GT3 has dry-sump oiling with a separate reservoir and two drain plugs, so it’s far different from the standard road car. The 9A1 flat-six is highly sensitive to oil levels, therefore incredibly important to replace the fluid precisely. Since the car is still under the CPO warranty, it’s also better to have maintenance documentation from a dealership.

Too bad it’s all the way over across the bay in Fremont, some 50 miles from San Francisco. I could patronize dealerships more local, but because I bought the car from Fremont Porsche, I get a 10% discount on service, which when dealing with numbers in the hundreds and thousands, is not an insignificant sum.  

During the month of June I went on a drive with a few car enthusiast friends up over at the mountains in Livermore. As one does in these morning gatherings, we hit the local Starbucks for a splash of caffeine fuel before heading off to the driving festivities. Being that I had to trek all the way there from San Francisco, I was quite a bit later than the rest to arrive, and I was unable to finish my coffee before setting off. No problem, I figured: that’s what cup holders are for.

My assumption was massively incorrect.

The GT3 does have cupholders, but in typical German fashion, it appears they’ve been designed as an afterthought, only to please those pesky Americans who adore their enormous, sugar-filled drinks. The mechanism in the 911 is intricate enough: the two lone cupholders in the entire car swings outwards just above the glovebox via a push on the panel, and the cradles simply hang in the air. From a beauty standpoint I think it looks rather good, but from a utility perspective, as a I found out, it’s utterly useless for any container that isn’t closed.  

This is due to the fact the GT3 is a decidedly stiff car, and road imperfections filter into the cabin in a satisfactory, motorsport-inspired fashion. Great for the seat-of-the-pants feel, not so good for my cup of coffee sitting on the cupholder cradle. The incline out of the Starbucks parking lot alone was enough of a jolt to cause the liquid to splash out of the mouthpiece and right onto the center console. I immediately grab the cup off the cradle and rapidly drank more of the coffee to a level adequate to prevent any further spillage, no matter how intense it’s rocked.  

Sadly it was a decent amount of coffee, and as someone who likes to sip slowly, it was not a pleasant to have to essentially chug it down. Damn you Germans and your eternal disdain for vehicular conveniences in sports cars.

It wasn’t all bad: on the same cruise on the Livermore mountains, I by chance was able to meet the very first owner (of which I’m the third) of the GT3. He had the car for a year, and traded it in for a McLaren 570S (as one does). These days he’s rolling around in a lime green 991.2 GT3 RS, which of course I was instantly admiring and jealous of. Nevertheless, I wouldn’t have imagined I’d be able to meet the previous owners of my car, much less the very person who put in the actual order and specified it to his liking.

So it was an interesting fact-finding chat; the guy explaining to me how he came to choose the color (the typical white or silver is too common to be special), and showing me pictures of the car receiving its paint-protection film. The key thing I found out about the GT3 is that it has had ceramic coating done to the entire exterior – including the wheels. I’d been marveling at how the prodigious brake dust from the Brembos doesn’t seem to be sticking at all to the wheels, and now I know why. This revelation means I don’t have to apply wax for the foreseeable future, and I can do periodic rinses in between detailing jobs to prolong the interval. 

Personally, I wouldn’t have paid for ceramic coating (it’s nearly a thousand dollars for a competent job), so I’m glad the first owner chose to do so.

He also told me he took the car often to the track, and from circumstantial evidence (in one of the dealership pictures the car still had a tow-hook inserted up front) it seems the second owner did as well. This gives me reassurance, rather than the fraught that some second-hand buyers of these cars feel when they find out a particular GT3 has been used as intended. I’m buying a car to drive, not to sit pristine and pretty inside a heated garage, so a well-used sample doesn’t bother me at all. As it’s often the case, cars like the GT3 are worse off when its oily bits doesn’t get to operating temperate regularly. Designed for intense track-use, the first two owners actually did me a favor in ensuring my 911 is properly exercised

If anything, I actually came away from talking to the first owner with more confidence and adoration for the my GT3.

The seasonal rain finally ended in June, and we actually had a few days of unseasonably warm weather. It was perfect opportunity then to fully explore what the Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires can do. In a word: grip. A tremendous amount of grip. Restricted by the confines of mountain roads and my admittedly poor driving ability, I was unable to get the Cup 2s to invoke even a hint of protest squeal, much less going over its edge for various slip angles. The grip on offer is simply astounding, and crucially it can be felt over the steering wheel, giving me confidence and egging me on to push that much faster.

As maligned for the transition to electric assist as it was back when it first launched, I have to say the GT3’s steering is sublime, and up to the expectations from having read about the famed Porsche steering. Yes, it doesn’t wriggle and dance like a good hydraulic rack, but it’s as communicative as I’d ever need it to be. I can instinctively feel how much turn-in the front-axle can offer - whether or not those Cup 2s are up to proper temperature - through my hands on the wheel.

As sticky as those Michelins are, I think I’m still going to switch to a set of Pilot Sport 4S tires when the Cup 2s are worn out. Living here in San Francisco there just aren’t enough hot weather days to fully lit them up; the less aggressive PS4S rubber offers a larger operating window to access maximum grip, not to mention it fares better in the wet as well. A soft goal is to wear the Cup 2s out during this Summer; let’s see if that will be achieved.

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Date acquired: January 2019
Total mileage: 27,036
Mileage this month: 587
Costs this month: $449.47
MPG this month: 15.53 mpg

May 2019: not so many miles

I have a problem.

I’m the type of person who feels supremely self-conscious public, especially when sat in cars of the conspicuous type. I much rather be driving in something totally non-descript and blend in with the rest of the traffic. Unfortunately that ethos goes completely against the wonts of car enthusiasts, where the automobiles we love and adore are by default atypical to the masses of drab family sedans and sports utility vehicles. The whole point is to stand out, a double-edged sword for me due to my innate introvert tendencies.

The cars I’ve owned previously have certainly not helped the cause.

A Subaru WRX STI immediately assault the senses with its giant wing spoiler planted on the rear trunk. Thanks to the Fast and Furious franchise, the common folks have been conditioned to look at these (some would say) needless appendages with at best, mild scorn, at worst, great disdain. The STI’s giant rear wing is a signaling device, letting others on the road know that the driver of this car have a high chance of being an abrasive asshole. The STI’s exhaust note doesn’t help things, either: the classic boxer rumble may sound sweet to my ears, but it’s loud and obnoxious to others, and coincidently operates at just the correct noise frequency to trip many a car alarm whenever I drove through a parking lot.

Sorry.

Then I went and bought a convertible, which is even worse for my condition: I’m entirely exposed to the elements, and more devastatingly, the prying and judgmental eyes of other drivers. A Mazda MX-5 Miata innately stands out as a tiny sports car in a sea of SUV monstrosities, and with the top down, it really grabs attention. I was so conscious of outside people that I made sure to not play music over a certain volume threshold when the top was down, otherwise risk disturbing their sensibilities, or worse, they might criticize my love for Korean pop music.

My stress had reached an apex where towards the latter half of ownership, I hardly ever went open-air in the MX-5. The convertible top was my shield against the world.

I must be a sick masochist then because now we arrived at my current vehicle, the central topic of this vertical: the Porsche 911 GT3. For someone who very much wishes to escape into the anonymity of traffic, the 991 is just about the closest antithesis, short of buying something exotic from Italy. People are going to notice me in the Porsche, and short of parking it long term and never putting on miles, it’s a challenge I have to deal with.

I’ve read that to conquer your fears you must face them head on; I can’t afford a Lamborghini Huracan, so the GT3 will have to suffice as the medium. So what’s it like driving around in public in a junior supercar?

It’s been said the Porsche 911 is the gentleman’s sports car, the one to buy if standing out in a crowd is not your taste. The iconic shape that’s been with us for nearly six decades have entered into the public’s subconscious, whereby you wouldn’t particularly notice if one drove by. Indeed a wedge-shaped Ferrari more readily stands out, not only because it’s likely to be painted in a shade of rosso (as it should, honestly), but of its relative rarity compared to the legions of similar-looking 911s sold over the years. On every drive I am bound to encounter another 911 on the road; any model of Ferrari? Not so much.

The incognito sports car theory may apply to “regular” variants of the 911, but from my albeit still brief experience, it certainly does not apply to the GT3. Firstly, buying a copy that isn’t painted in a shade of silver, black, or white portends great noticeability when mixed within traffic, and Sapphire Blue Metallic simply gleams in the sunshine after an appropriate detail job. It’s definitely not to the eye-catching (and searing) levels of a Racing Yellow, but because American consumers have no sense of color taste for their cars beyond the fifty shades of grayscale, a shiny blue thing absolutely stands out.

Though even had I bought the car in black, the GT3’s exhaust note gives away any hope of stealth. It’s a very loud car, not in an obnoxious way, mind you, but to the average person there probably isn’t any difference between the sound from one of the best atmospheric engines ever produced and a 90’s era Honda Civic with an extra-large fart can exhaust attached. Loud is loud, and even without the sports setting activated for the exhaust, the GT3 announces its arrival quite succinctly. Sometimes I wish for a more hushed setting for those early morning getaways or late night returns; no need to let the neighbors know of my itinerary.  

The car makes other sounds, too, that a normal car wouldn’t. Again, to me they sound delicious in a very motorsport fashion, but to the laymen, utility and reason is utterly lost. The superior brakes are mighty in stopping the GT3, but they squeal with delight as I approach a traffic intersection. The PDK gearbox is ferociously quick in full attack mode, but around town it clunks and chatters as if something is broken internally. Moving from a stop can be quite a noisy event should my right foot be of overly adequate assistance: with a bit too much input the car will lurch and engine revs will spike, as if a beginner is just learning how to drive a manual car.  

It may be an iconic silhouette, but from the outside it’s immediately obvious the GT3 is no ordinary 911. The front and rear fascia is wholly different from the standard car, and far more aggressive. Then there’s the rear wing; not nearly as arresting as the unit on the STI, but it’s in-your-face all the same. It certainly gets in my face: as previously written, the GT3’s rear spoiler sits directly in the center of the already tiny aperture out of the rear windscreen, allowing entire cars to hide behind me, unnoticed.

The car’s miniscule ground clearance is also cause for potential embarrassment: look at this idiot weaving on the road (to avoid potholes) and taking slight inclines at an extreme angle and at such a slow pace, too (to avoid scraping the front lip spoiler).

Needless to say, the GT3 is a super obvious car, more so than the STI or the Miata, and it’s something I had to learn to deal with as I immediately become the center of attention everywhere I go.

To my great surprise, other cars on the road are quite friendly towards the Porsche, perhaps an acknowledge of the GT3’s speed potential. On the local mountain roads I’ve driven on for years, never before have the mundane cars in front me be so eager to yield position at the earliest turnout opportunity. The stubborn few who aren’t so nice are quickly dispatched with as soon as we reach a straight bit of road (with suitable passing lines, of course). On local city roads, other drivers give me an equally wide berth, which is lovely, I have to say.   

It seems that while the 911 GT3 absolutely stands out in a crowd, the general opinion towards 911 drivers skew very positive. The lack of antagonism from other drivers sure is a nice feeling, and it does alleviate a good deal of my social anxiety. I certainly don’t feel like a jackass driving it, which contrasts with say driving any BMW, or a Nissan Altima. Indeed, the model of car you drive have an influence – good or bad - towards how other drivers on the road perceive you. Fair or unfair, the human mind loves these sort of mental shortcuts to quickly judge a situation. It’s about survival: if I see an Altima coming up rapidly behind in the rear-view mirror, I am for sure moving the heck out of the way.

So I’m happy the GT3 has an overall positive effect on others, and while I didn’t buy the car for that purpose, it’s always nice boost to the ego when I get thumbs-up from others on the road. I’ve also seen pedestrians take out their phones for a quick photograph, and one time returning to the parked car after grocery shopping, I “caught” a middle-aged couple posing in front of the car for pictures.

In that perspective, the good response from others have certainly helped my stress of being in public and not blending in. The work to lessen that stress continues on, and the GT3 provides a solid training ground. My anxiety gets to its most acute at a busy gas station, with me standing next to the car, waiting for the pump to fill the relatively enormous 23-gallon tank. While plenty of people in my shoe would feel a sense of “look at me” pride, I’m merely counting down the seconds until I can get in the car and disappear again.  

Like I said, a work in progress. Do you have similar introversion and public aversion? Buy a junior supercar!  

As expected, the amount of mileage this month is down dramatically due some expectedly busy weekends. It’s just as well because California gas prices have gone insane, and not having to fill up too many times with 91-octane at $4.50  is a relief. In fact I only filled up once during May, the fewest in a month since I bought the car.  

For one of those busy weekends I flew to Dallas for my good friend’s graduation, and I’d be remised if I didn’t make a comment on how vastly cheaper gasoline is in the great State of Texas, by nearly two dollars compared to communist California. Not to mention the highest octane available in Texas – and most other sane States in America – is 93. Just once I wish I could feed the GT3 the optimal quality of gas and have a go in it with the engine at its best potential. There’s a few stations here in California that sells 100-octane, though if I’m grumbling about gas prices at four dollars, I’m not about to then fill up with super high octane at nearly 10 for a gallon.

With such low miles this month, there wasn’t much new revelation to be had with the GT3. Even on the occasions I took the car out, I only had the time to do a few highway runs. It was more for the purposes of not letting the car sit, rather than going out to enjoy and explore. Which explains why I’ve finally managed to beat the EPA estimate for miles-per-gallon (city) month, a somewhat dubious achievement for the type of car a 911 GT3 is and represents.

In city driving, I have come to really appreciate the abilities of rear-wheel steering. Purist may bemoan a loss of absolute clarity to chassis dynamics with these helper devices, though I lack any point of reference because one I’ve yet to sample a different 911 variant, and two the GT3 is fitted with rear-wheel steer as standard. What I can readily benefit from the system is how it shortens the turning circle of the car; the amount of maneuverability is similar to the far smaller MX-5 I had previously. For the purposes of ease in navigating tight urban spaces, the GT3’s rear-wheel steer is a brilliant feature.

In the same vein of the rear-end doing something counter to the front, on a particular drive on a rainy day I found out the car will allow for quite a bit of slip angle even with the traction and stability systems left on. Coming out of corner I inadvertently got overly familiar with the gas pedal, and the rear-end lit up in response, leading to some rapid counter-steer movements before the car straightened back up again. To my surprise there were no traction lights flashing the dash, it was all just me.

Like a long and engaging novel, it’s going to take some time for me to be completely comfortable in the GT3; I’m still on the first chapter, as it goes.

Lastly I have say the Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires are fairly decent in the wet, more so than I’d expected when I initially bought the car. The GT3 isn’t nearly the handful I thought it would be in the rain, given that the Cup 2 rubber is as close to a track-focused tire possible without heading into full slicks territory – and not street legal. The immense grip in the dry is well-known, and I’m looking forward to accessing those reserves now that our region is finally heading into the dry months. I reckon I’ll still make the switch over to slightly less extreme Pilot Sport 4 tires when the Cup 2s are worn down, though I can’t be definitive until I cross that bridge.

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Date acquired: January 2019
Total mileage: 26,449
Mileage this month: 288
Costs this month: $371.84
MPG this month: 16.6 mpg

April 2019: unlucky

My first car had a manual gearbox, though that was by accident. Like most of my peers, I learned how to drive in a car with an automatic, because the driving test is difficult enough (relatively speaking) without the additional headache of rowing the gears yourself. Because of this, I didn’t know how to drive a stick at all, and on paper it would seem not so wise to learn it on a brand new car my parents have so painstakingly saved up to buy for me.

That’s not to say I didn’t ever want a manual transmission car; as a car enthusiast I relish at the opportunity. I just figured that it would be best to wait until I’m able to buy a sports car with my own earned money, post college with a proper job. As an everyday runabout that’s sure to get its dings and abuse (an 18-year-old male’s first car, what can possibly not go wrong?), an automatic gearbox is the better choice.

Except there weren’t any on the dealer lot.

With a focus towards minimizing insurance cost, coupled with the purchase propensities of Asian families, I was to either buy a Toyota Corolla or a Honda Civic. Neither had any modicum of sporting intentions, so I chose the Corolla largely due to the influence of my dad’s trusty Toyota Previa van. On the day of purchase, the only ‘S’ trim Corolla available had the five-speed manual instead of the four-speed automatic. Part wanting to get the process over with quickly, and part not knowing a thing about leveraging the Internet to buy a car, the deal was done.

It took a few days to learn the mechanics of changing my own gears, and it wasn’t without a few instances of smelly clutch. I can still remember the anxiety from starting off at a stop in first gear, feeling the immense (self-realized) pressure from the queue of cars behind me to not stall.

Before long however I got the hang of things, and thanks to the manual gearbox, driving the Corolla became much more of a joy that it would been otherwise. My subsequent two cars – WRX STI and MX-5 – were both stick-shift, with the former not even available with an automatic. For a time, I was amongst the camp of petrol heads that would never dream of owning a car without a manual transmission.

What’s so special about the manual gearbox? For some it may be in the perfect execution of the three-pedal dance; for me it’s the total control I have over the engine. How high and how much it revs is entirely up to my hands and feet. I honestly don’t care for operating the clutch pedal - it’s but a necessary component to manual box’s function. What’s most important to me is the ability to select the gears as I desire, without the intrusion of computers.

The dual-clutch PDK gearbox in the 911 GT3 is just about perfect for me.

Indeed I’m not sure I would tick box for the manual if given the option – the PDK is that spectacular. Having driven thousands of laps on the Nurburgring in racing game simulators, I’m decently familiar with operating shift paddles behind the steering wheel and shifting without a clutch pedal. My only concern was whether or not the GT3 – or any automatic gearbox worthy of consideration – can replicate the near instantaneous shift speeds I get in those video games. If an auto box’ isn’t at the very least equal to the traditional manual in that measurement, it’s got no place in a sports car I’m buying.

My worries were utterly alleviated at the first instance I executed a 1 to 2 upshift at redline in the GT3. The gearbox snapped right into the next cog without a hint of hesitation, and the exhaust bellowed a satisfying ‘whomp’ to signal the changeover. With the PDK, there’s no discernible difference compared to the equivalent manual, save for not having to physically move my feet. Should I feel nostalgic about selecting gears with a central lever, there’s provisions for doing so (baffling that Porsche got rid of the PDK lever in the 992), in the correct orientation, too: pull for up, push for down.

Most critically, the PDK will never upshift without my command: the system has no qualms about letting the tach needle hit the rev-limiter continuously - should I so chose.

Downshifts happen at similarly rapid speeds, too, and the PDK has an added bonus of automatic rev-matching. As long as there’s enough RPM headroom, the transmission will answer a downshift request. Each throttle blip is precise and syncs the gearbox to the engine with zero drama. Shifting down for no concrete reason to hear the motor blip its way through the gears is slightly antisocial but extremely cheeky fun.

If there’s one thing I do miss from a true manual gearbox, it’s the ability to perform the rev-matching with the stab of my own right foot. There’s a certain magic to judging the amount of throttle needed correctly, though admittedly it’s not my strong suit, especially on heel-toe maneuvers. Honestly I never did get super proficient in that advance manual driving technique, having not started practicing until I bought the Miata only three years prior. There were many instances of either too many revs, which gets accompanied by a complaintive chirp from the rear tires, or too few revs, where the aural complaints would emanated from the engine instead.

I’m glad there’s now a computer to do it for me.

Sacrilege to say for a “proper” car enthusiast? Perhaps; but times are changing, and technology have surpassed.

The modern automatic gearbox, in the guise of super slick dual-clutch units like the PDK, is truly the best of both worlds. It suits my preference of manual shifting with automatic clutch work superbly, and when I’m stuck in traffic, flicking the selector to ‘D’ and letting the gearbox completely do all the work is quite sublime.

I think the traditional manual still has its place: in a hot hatch, for example, the stick is still the gearbox of choice. However, in a sports car with the stature and spec-sheet of a 911 GT3, dual-clutch transmissions are the best partner. I’m perfectly content to never own another manual gearbox car again, and if that means handing in my car enthusiasts credentials, then so be it.

That said, never again is very far aways yet; it’s difficult to be definite about the future. I’ve only had the GT3 for three months, and the PDK box’ is not without its quirks. In its base automatic mode, Porsche has programmed the transmission logic severely towards economy, which explains how the GT3 manages to garner its 15/20 EPA numbers. The PDK will shift to the highest possible gear as soon as possible; excellent for slow, around town driving, but wholly inadequate for more spirited drives. Push the throttle flat to the floor, and the PDK will hesitate for a noticeable moment, as if questioning whether you’re sure you want all of the available power right now, before then dropping down a few cogs to provide the shove. Even so, the transmission will upshift again way before the redline.

There is a sport button for the PDK, which alters the shift logic to its spiciest. Problem is, PDK Sport swings the pendulum too far towards the other side of the spectrum, and I find it too extreme for public roads. Porsche’s literature states that PDK Sport should really only be used on a racing track. With the mode turned on, the gearbox will hold a lower gear commensurate with vehicle speed, even when the foot is taken off the accelerator, and it refuses to downshift unless in a braking situation; good, useful programming on a track, but for a mountain road its more frustration than thrills.

Obviously, the mode of choice for the PDK is full manual, but often times I do wish there was an automatic mode somewhere in between the save-as-much-fuel-as-possible standard and the bat-shit crazy sport setting.

Lastly, due to innate physical limitations, the PDK can at times be slow to shift. The speed of a dual-clutch system stems from the predictive quality of the secondary clutch: it’s already in the gear the computers thinks you’ll request for next. But, because it’s only capable of choosing one side of the up/down binary, there are times where the car guesses your intentions incorrectly. If I am currently in third gear, and the PDK thinks I want fourth gear next, but instead I flick the down paddle for second: the extra time it takes for the transmission to disengage fourth and jump to second produces a perceivable lag. This limitation is not the greatest of bother, though PDK is so incredibly fast most of the time that when it does arise it can be jarring.

No such limitations in a manual gearbox, of course; it can go up and down and skip cogs whichever way the driver wants, and it’ll shift as fast as the driver can coordinate its hands and feet. The dual-clutch automatic gearbox isn’t everything a manual can be, but for my purposes, Porsche’s PDK is everything I ever need from a transmission.

There isn’t much to report from the third month of GT3 ownership: mileage is down considerably due to other areas of my life encroaching on weekend driving time, even though the seasonal rain has largely subsided, which is a shame. Nevertheless, I’m simply happy there wasn’t any unforeseen incidents with the car – like the nail in the tire from last month – to divert my focus from simply driving.

The month wasn’t without drama, unluckily: on a rainy Sunday drive with some fellow enthusiasts out in the East Bay, the largest (relative) rock I’ve ever seen flicked off from a car in front right onto the upper portion of the GT3’s bonnet. A damper on what was otherwise fantastic proceedings, the errand debris left two unsightly gashes. Had I’ve been traveling a few miles per hour faster, the rock would’ve hit the windshield instead, which while not entirely ideal, would’ve been far easier and less expensive to repair than a painted body panel (GEICO insurance offers free glass replacement).

Such is the consequences of actually putting miles on a car, rather than parking it semi permanently in storage.

I understand this fully well, of course, but man does something like that still hurts. Fortunately, the GT3 came with paint protection film on the entire front end (thank you, first owner), and to my utter surprise, the film took the entire brunt of the impact. After cutting off the scorched portions, the paint underneath remains intact. It didn’t prevent the rock from leaving two tiny dents on the panel, though, but the damage is practically unnoticeable unless the location is indicated and you look super closely.

The vastly obsessive compulsive younger version of myself would pay to get that fixed for sure; current me is happy to let the slight blemish stay as is. Paint protection film is a sort of double-edged sword: while it can prevent a surprising amount of carnage, if you ever need to do a repair, the film has to be replaced as well, adding to the total cost.  

Anyways, other than the relative calamity of that stray piece of rock, the day of driving in the East Bay was the first time I attempted in earnest to explore the GT3’s limits, and great those limits are indeed. The long and winding Mines Road in Livermore served as the proving ground for car exploitation, and after two hours of heavy concentration – and sweat - hustling the car through the numerous twists and elevations, I can only report back there’s still much to learn.

The GT3’s capabilities are well known, but after having driven it in spirited fashion, I found it not to be the most inviting machine. It doesn’t cut the driver any slack: I never achieved complete confidence in understanding exactly what the car is going to do in a particular situation. Knowing the GT3 requires a prolonged exercise of teasing out its capabilities, little by little. There’s zero predictive feedback on whether an extra increment is possible: the car is either able to make that corner at that speed, or it can’t; finding out requires a slight leap of faith. 

It’s all a bit cold and clinical, fitting of the car’s German roots. The steering is sharp and precise, the suspension soaks up bumps with ease, and the mechanical grip is tremendous; the GT3 is supremely effective, if just lacking in that additional feel of reassurance transmitted to the hands and posterior. Part of this is no doubt due to the tremendously high ceiling of the GT3’s limits, and my utter unfamiliarity with piloting a car of its caliber. Accessing those limits is proving to be more challenging that I had expected. Turns out not any idiot can get in a GT3 and within a few hours able to extract close to its maximum.

Not this idiot, anyways.

Driving the GT3 in anger and getting the systems up to commensurate temperatures reveals an issue of sorts that’s rather unique to the 911’s rear-engine layout: the front trunk gets mighty toasty. In a “normal” car, the trunk is located at the rear, far away from the heat of the engine compartment. The 911 reverses this configuration, except for one key component: the radiators. In order to feed them the freshest and coldest of air possible, the heat exchangers of a 911 remains nestled behind the front bumper – directly forward of the front trunk. The stagnant heat gets radiated into that cavity, and whatever items you’ve got in there will receive a decent roasting. It’s not severe enough to damage my camera gear, though I wouldn’t want to transport ice cream in the front trunk after a run to the store.

Put it behind the front seats; there’s a considerable amount of space back there where in a regular 911 would be rear seats. What’s left behind in a GT3 are the platforms that serve fantastically as parcel shelves.

Expenses in April got ballooned by the payment for the annual vehicle registration. Sadly (for my bank account) though not unexpectedly, the GT3’s fees are quite substantial. Registration cost decreases with each successive year of ownership, but when the starting point is the ~$144,000 purchase price of the car when new, five years on the DMV fees are still into the four figures. Needless to say, as with any monetary concerns with this car (just wait until I take the car in for servicing!), it’s the highest I’ve ever had to pay by a good margin.

Fuel costs were largely the same this month even with the fewer miles thanks to the substantial increase in petrol prices in California. 91 octane has been hovering in the mid 4 dollars in the past few weeks, and filling up the GT3’s extended-range tank (23 gallons) in one go is getting dangerously close to the century mark.

The month of May is looking to be difficult for putting on miles: I have social functions to attend to the next three weekends, the third of which I’m skipping town entirely. I’m beginning to understand how people with weekend-only cars struggle to accumulate miles on them, as increasingly my other areas of life knocks off some of the precedence away from driving the GT3. It’s natural, isn’t it? The newness and excitement have certainly worn off since January, and these days it’s simply living with the car as it is.

Is the infatuation over? Hardly: getting back into the cockpit every time is still super special, and after parking, I continue to take an inordinate amount of time staring at the car before moving on.

Until next time.

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Date acquired: January 2019
Total mileage: 26,161
Mileage this month: 601
Costs this month: $1608.18
MPG this month: 14.76 mpg

March 2019: box box box

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.

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Date acquired: January 2019
Total mileage: 25,557
Mileage this month: 872
Costs this month: $593.72
MPG this month: 15.07 mpg