Porsche 968 Club Sport

Cherished memories play tricks. I had always thought the 968 Club Sport one of the best Porsches ever, making it I suppose, one of the best sports cars ever. That was until I recalled what I wrote about it in 1993. Twenty one years seem to have erased the road noise. I had also forgotten the agility required, even then, for climbing in and out.

 The Sunday Times of 10 October : Porsche AG has gone through a crisis of confidence. It hiked prices to a point where Porsches came to be regarded as something of a rip-off. Sales collapsed, production was halved, the workforce cut, and it now assembles special-edition cars for Mercedes-Benz and Audi.

 Porsche quality never wavered. The firm may have had to take in lodgers to pay its way, but the essential ingredients of the 968 Club Sport I have been testing are everlasating - the elegant engineering, the eager acceleration, the responsive handling. A certain amount of whimsy remains, such as the scatter-gun facia layout, and the out-of-reach boot release.

 Road noise is bad. Corrugated concrete surfaces make the car resonate like a cheap van. After a thousand miles in four days, the thump of the wheels on catseyes was tiresome.

The 968 Club Sport is an adroit piece of marketing. At £28,975 it is cheaper here than in Germany, and Porsche likes to think of it as a car that can be used on the track. It is lower and 50Kg lighter than the standard 968 and there is a 'sports pack' suspension for racing.

It is arguable how much cash is saved by manual window winders, and there is not much weight in central door locks. Yet marketing ploy or not, this is a sports Porsche in the best sporting tradition and one of the best Porsches ever.

The seats are thinly upholstered lightweight racing shells, and tricky to get into. You bend double, then fall backwards into a sort of hard-edged hammock, ducking to avoid the low roof, and swinging your legs in afterwards. Climbing out is worse - you can finish up sitting on the kerb with your legs still inside.

There is no central locking and no rear seats. There are blanked-off spaces where other Porsches have accessory switches. Drivers are expected to adjust their own mirrors, and tall seat-backs make the interior inconvenient.

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Yet the result is not far short of perfection. Once in the form-hugging seats you feel part of the car. When you move, it moves. It is like a well-tailored suit. You do not so much get into this Porsche as put it on.

I sat in the car for twelve hours one day, mostly on the driving side, and emerged uncreased, without backache, without cramp, still fresh, still alert. Who needs upholstery ?

Porsche academics at its Weissach engineering centre designed the cockpit of the Airbus, but you would never guess it. Porsche instrument binnacles have looked much the same for thirty years and the switches are placed seemingly at random or, like the trip meter reset button, cunningly hidden in the outflow grille from the ventilator.

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The 968CS has the exquisite balance of the front-engined Porsches and the charisma of the rear-engined ones. It is refined (save for the body noise) at slow speeds, and never raucous going fast. The steering is precise and accurate, the ride smoother at high speed than it is going slowly, and there are reserves of cornering grip impossible to exploit on the public road. Strong brakes provide reserves of safety that offset the car's natural easy fast gait.

Top speed is 156mph and it accelerates to 60mph in about 6.5sec. The engine is an energetic 3.0-litre four cylinder with twin balancer shafts, and the six-speed gearbox has the swift precision of a racing car. Competition from worthy Japanese sports cars has stimulated Porsche. Its spiralling prices have been stemmed, and Porsches like the 968 are once again good value.

I always prefered front engined Porsches. Their balance was exqusite. This road test included driving THE 928S, the yellow one, from Wiltshire to one of the most delightful places on earth, Crinan on the west coast of Scotland. It is pictured at Bellanoch, a peaceful harbour on the Crinan Canal that connects Ardrishaig with the outer isles. Here is a place Para Handy knew. Here is a place you would want your ashes scattered.

Although maybe not just yet.