Chasing A Porsche 911 Carrera 2.7 RS With Its Very Own Tribute Car
Photography by Naveed Yousufzai
If you consider yourself a Porschephile (or have spent enough time around people who label themselves as such), then you’re probably all too aware that the pinnacle of the 901-generation P-car experience is the 1973 Carrera RS. That’s not a fact, but it’s pretty darn close. The car has been described as the ultimate early 911 time and time again by enthusiasts, collectors, and race car drivers for good reason. The rawness of a factory lightweight mixed with the more delicate tendencies shared by all longhood 911s created a very unique recipe in 1973, but in 2020, you’ll be hard pressed to find a Porsche meet up without a handful of RS replicas in various states of accuracy. The fact of the matter is, building a 911 that apes the look of the legendary RS is a common route for Porsche enthusiasts, but what does it take to recreate the experience of driving one on a road that looks like a track?
This, amongst many other questions, is one that my dear friend and avid Porsche collector Gen Shibayama and I often discuss on our weekend journeys into the God-given backroads of the Bay Area. Every so often, we get to test our theories in the metal (or more precisely in the case of RSes, the thin-gauge steel).
Just about a year ago, Gen stumbled across an ad for a 911 that happened to be quite the special car to begin with. As you know, the ’74, ’75, and the handful of ’76 MFI Carreras are often considered the spiritual continuation of the ’73 RS Touring, seeing as they shared the blueprinted 911/83 flat-six, and, most importantly, the Bosch mechanical fuel injection setup as opposed to the Continuous Injection System (CIS) cars that we originally got in the United States in place of the MFI system.
Let’s get back to the cars at hand though. The specific MFI car that Gen had found was described as a “light” project by the seller, despite having gone through a pretty thorough motor rebuild. Figuring it would be a great base for a quality restomod project, Gen decided to pay tribute to the original 2.7 RS already in his collection.
When I first heard the news, I have to admit I was a little surprised: What’s the point of a tribute if you already have the honoree in your garage, right? Add to that the facts that ’74 Carrera 2.7 MFI cars are already fairly hard to come by, and that Gen is what most would consider a “purist,” and it is even more perplexing. But I think after years of being an RGruppe member, Gen’s had no choice but to come around to adding his own flavor to some of the P-Cars in his stable, and if you’ve got a garage full of cars you can reasonably call a stable, why not?
Hot-rodded Porsches seem like they’re a dime a dozen in California, but the difference with Gen is that his idea of a hot rod in this case is actually not much of a hot rod at all. Despite shying away from the G-body impact-bumper styling, he wasn’t out to piss off the purists or gain recognition from the internet for being unorthodox with this build. It’s not some un-drivable RSR homage either. Instead, the ethos of this build was to bring the car up to what I like to call “Gen-Spec”; make the car into a wolf, but not necessarily the Biggest and Baddest.
It wasn’t too long after the conceptual idea that Gen took delivery of his ’73 RS “Tribute.” With various bariatric tricks utilized to shed weight in style, the end result turned out to be quite the stunner (how could it not be?), both from a visual perspective and a performance standpoint. It has the look and presence of an RS, but the most impressive parts of the build are found in the realm of performance. Weighing in at just about 2,200lbs (with a driver and three-quarter tank of gas no less), while making 190 horsepower (at the wheels), the Tribute technically outperforms a factory lightweight RS, and boasts quite the impressive horsepower-to-weight ratio, even by modern standards.
Sex appeal of wide Porsche hips and impressive stats aside, the true secret sauce behind the original RS isn’t what can be boasted on paper. Getting behind the wheel of any 911 forces you to change your perception of what is common practice in the practice of driving quickly. You have to adjust your driving line, how you trail brake, how and where to get back on the power, when to apex, and most importantly, compensate for the unique weight distribution that comes along with having an engine behind you. But it’s more of empirically developed art rather than a science that can be studied. And with an RS, that distinct 911 experience is amplified and freed of fluff.
In hindsight, Gen’s ultimate goal with the Tribute was to see if it could dance the dance of a true RS, not outrun one. It’s not hard to build something today that will smoke the RS of yesterday, and in Gen’s case he wasn’t going for a one-to-one replica. It’s a tricky line to walk, the one between outright restomod and outright replica; can it indeed be as immersive, as engaging, as connected, as the RS? It’s more of a question of subjective feel than objective skidpad g-force limits.
We set out shortly after Gen took delivery of the completed Tribute build with the bonafide RS as on-site benchmark to one of our favorite stretches of road in the Bay Area. It’s a route brimming with technicalities. Tight hairpins bloom into third-gear sweepers, switchbacks bookend long straights, and you’ve got all sorts of on- and off-camber to play with on the climb up to the 4300-foot summit, with well over 100 turns over the course of an 80-mile stretch. Factory proving grounds hardly come better equipped than this.
Over the next two hours, we would put the rear tires closer than was comfortable to the edge of the thin, sandy shoulders that separate driving from inadvertent skydiving; make ourselves dizzy from the elevation (and the rate at which it changed); and thanks to exhaust fumes and endless back and forth cornering, we were feeling a bit off-axis—but in the good, giddy sense.
After making our way back into traffic and reality, we were assured of the tribute’s chops. It surpassed our expectations, and we were never expecting the ultimate RGruppe conversation-stopper. It might be cliché, but it channels and sharpens the original without straying unrecognizably far from it. So if you can get this close to the driver seat experience out of a tribute, why buy the real deal for nearly eight times the cost?
There’s the obvious answer of originality and provenance—It’s just different knowing that some dude in Stuttgart bolted it together in the ’70s, you know?—to say nothing of the bragging rights conferred by a real one in a sea of lookalikes. But there is still something else missing from the tribute when you get the pair on the road and drive them back to back.
I don’t want to end this recounting of an excellent day on anything like a negative note on Gen’s tribute car, because frankly, it is the second-best 911 I’ve driven while putting the value into perspective. It kept up with the RS for the entirety of our test day, and on some occasions, could have likely outpaced it considering it was on Bridgestone RE-71Rs versus the RS’s more serious Avons. It provided a nearly replicated driving experience when compared to the RS, if not an easier one. But in terms of factory lightweight feel, it just didn’t quite cut it to be considered truly identical. Which says a lot when you think about it. You are essentially going to get about 95% of what an RS delivers in terms of driver feel and experience, for about an eighth of the cost. And who’s to say the tiny bits of magic that are missing aren’t just a figment of your imagination? Something like a reverse placebo perhaps, but still, if it manifests, it’s real.
You’ve really got to be seriously wealthy or a serious Porsche connoisseur to opt for the RS over an homage or a replica. Because in terms of value, Is that additional 5% of unexplainable glory worth the additional zero on the price tag? For enthusiasts like Gen, the answer is obvious. But for those of us who’s wallets will likely beg to differ, the latter drives a hard bargain.