Featured: Old 911 Beats New McLaren At The Limit

Old 911 Beats New McLaren At The Limit

Avatar By Jonathan WC Mills
October 16, 2013
19 comments

Photography by Jonathan Mills

 

I recently rode shotgun in a supercar: a McLaren 12C Spider. It was sinister. It was black and had doors that scissored open more smoothly than the legs of a Vegas showgirl.

The driver was hard-charging ALMS hotshoe Terry Borcheller. A racer of the old school who smoked cigarettes, probably had a blood type of 93 Octane and definitely gave off a Ricky Bobby if-you-ain’t-first-you’re-last vibe.

Borcheller handed me a helmet and a walkie talkie and politely asked me to strap in. I was dutifully impressed with the McLaren’s detailing: the leather, the carbon fiber, and the air conditioning. I was just about to ask, “What does this button do?” when Terry stomped on the gas.

After that, nothing else mattered but keeping myself from involuntarily screaming.

The track in Fontana was a series of manufactured curves, esses, and chicanes, and in seconds Terry made it clear what he truly did for a living: scaring journalists who thought they could drive. He drove that fancy car like he stole it, with no regard to it’s cost, fragility, tires, gas prices, or even, I felt, our lives.

It was amazing.

Later, after cleaning myself up, thanking McLaren for a better ride than any at Six Flags, I sat admiring the rainbow colored line of supercars. I was able to further contemplate the experience and what it actually means to drive at the limit. We were wearing helmets, there were safety personnel (courtesy of McLaren) run-outs, and tire barriers—in short, it was safe to push the envelope in the 618 HP supercar.

The reality of driving such a machine in the real world is very different. The McLaren is a show pony. It’s kept clean and pretty, often to be trotted down the lane to the local watering hole only to be parked out front and admired. It’s been designed for speed but will rarely ever get to stretch its legs, because 99% of the drivers will never approach its true limit.

This is too bad, because pushing limits, to me, is the soul of the passionate driving experience.

One of my favorite cars remains a ’76 911 (see white Porsche above). It was lowered, which enhanced the feeling of speed. It was loud, so it always sounded like I was getting somewhere in a hurry, and the narrow tires gave just enough grip to keep slow corners exciting. It was a gloriously communicative vehicle…and slower than a Honda Fit.

Driving the Porsche at 9/10s made me feel like Terry Borcheller in a McLaren. It made me feel like a hero well within the limits of my ability. It was slow enough to have a fantastic automotive experience at completely legal speeds.

This is something a modern supercar like the 12C simply can’t offer on a daily basis.

The drive in the McLaren was magical; at 160MPH on a racetrack, it made everything in which I had previously ridden seem slow and boring. But in life, context is everything: you would be forced to drive the McLaren at 2/10s all the time. The car would gladly do this and make you look like a million dollars behind the wheel, but this highlights the superb nature of modern automotive engineering: the car CAN do everything, it just won’t be very much fun.

It is worth examining this phenomenon as we approach what is clearly the apogee of modern, gas-powered, horse-powered wars. What is enough? How big? How powerful? How fast? These are questions that get in the way of having fun, of pushing limits that won’t kill you or those you love.

Nine out of ten times, I’ll take driving at 9/11s in my 911.

 

Additional Image Sources: topcarrating.com, hqwall.net

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Robert WylandTim HüberJoshuaKen ClarkRaphael Kogan Recent comment authors
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Robert Wyland
Robert Wyland

I Don’t own a 911, but a Fiat X1/9. Definitely not fast, a Honda Fit can easily take me off the line…. Yet this car is considerably more fun than just about anything I’ve ever driven. For this X1/9 it’s more like 10/10ths! The handling is sublime, the road feel excellent, and the sense of speed is awesome. Why get a supercar for 100 times more $?

Tim Hüber

Agreed. We went roadtrip camping in our 911 a couple weeks ago and it was magical. Screeching around corners as we went.

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Joshua
Joshua

Lovely writing.

Ken Clark
Ken Clark

I totally agree with this article. About the most fun I had on the street was when I had an ’89 Toyota MR2, 140 normally aspirated HP, 5 speed, rear drive mid engine and could be slid around anywhere at near legal speeds. What a blast every day. It’s no fun driving a fast car slow. That “Old” 911 is a beaut.

Raphael Kogan
Raphael Kogan

So you’re saying not buying a Subieyota BRZ/GT-86 (which seem to have adhered to your formula of legal driving-engagement) would be an awful mistake…

Robert in LA
Robert in LA

The other day, I was having coffee on a weekday morning at Newcomb’s Ranch up on Route 2 in the San Gabriel Mountains, around 6000 feet. There was a McLaren parked in front. I was driving an ancient Miata, with a current suspension and summer tires. The owner was chatting with the local boys at the picnic tables. And I found myself thinking, what’s he going to do with that thing? If he opens it up the CHP will impound the car and revoke his license as a preliminary gesture before the DA’s office starts to explain to him what… Read more »

Josh Dockery
Josh Dockery

I can totally relate to this article. I daily drive an ’80 911 SC RoW sunroof delete coupe. It is simply a blast to drive at 7/10, without getting carried away. Being it’s a RoW model, it’s a bit more powerful and lighter than the US version. Although there are many faster 0-60 common cars out there, few are as rewarding to drive as a light, air cooled 911!:)

Dandooligan
Dandooligan

1/5.. .Common! With a top speed of 207mph, even at freeway speeds AND rounding, the McLaren can only be driven at 2/5’s of it’s potential. 2/10’s? For an automotive journalist, somebody who’s pre-occupied with numbers, statistics, and informing the general public, the math should line up. I’m a moron, and even I caught it….

Maths nitpicking aside. Brilliant article! I feel the same way. Much more fun to drive a slow car fast than a fast car slow…. Same for motos… 🙂 Keep ’em coming!:)

Jonathanwcmills
Jonathanwcmills

Matt – as a writer I subscribe to the Hunter S Thompson style of “journalism” which generally means I’m writing from my gut…and rarely using a calculator. But very much appreciate your feedback and glad you’re enjoying the writing.

FRanco Jo
FRanco Jo

I can’t agree more with this article. I am a BMW enthusiast and I currently own a 328i E90 (3.0 straight six) with a couple of mods(performance exhaust and ECU remap). It’s not a fast car but the thing I most like about it is that I can use [u]all the power-all the time[/u]. I take the RPMs to the 7000K redline any chance I get while enjoying the exhaust tone with windows up or down. You can’t do that with the newer generation performance cars with 2.0 or 3.0 turbos. They have so much low end torque and HP… Read more »

Steve Jain
Steve Jain

I read an article in one of the english Porsche mags and it talked about how so many people rode the Porsche upgrade train until they realized it would never stop and those people went backwards from a watercooled 911 (996, 997) to an Aircooled one (in this article the driver has a 993) and never looked back again… I feel that way about my 993, it was so much the best that Porsche’s engineers could do with the 911 platform over 35 years, that it took a radical departure to make an automobile (they) felt was better that they… Read more »

Aaron Venable
Aaron Venable

Well, when the music gets too loud…

pjrebordao
pjrebordao

Yep, agree too. I have a 74′ 911S and last year drove a 991 Carrera S for a while… The 991 was certainly the most competent and exciting car I ever drove (I still remember the “thunk” provided by the PDK upshifts…) but you have to drive fast to get excited ! At regular / legal speeds in traffic is just a soothing, comfy car, while the older car will get you grinning at “sensible” speeds, with much more feel from steering and gearbox. PS – A 74′ is definitely faster than a Fit (I had one sometime ago), and… Read more »

Jimmy Pool
Jimmy Pool

One of oldest cliches in the book: It’s more fun to drive a slow car fast than it is to drive a fast car slow. Still, slower than a Fit!? Floor mat getting stuck under the gas pedal? Time for a leakdown?

Andreas Lavesson
Andreas Lavesson

I used to be all about speed and horsepower. However, even though I still enjoy getting kicked back in the seat violently during acceleration, I see where you’re coming from. I’ve never driven a modern supercar, so this is just speculations, but it’s bound to be much more fun ragging an old “slow” car than nursing a new superfast one. Granted, at a track, sick amounts of grip and horsepower would probably be a lot of fun.

Cristian iraheta
Cristian iraheta

Can anybody tell me the year of the white 911 above please, thank you.

Becca Clason
Becca Clason

It’s a ’76 as mentioned in the article. : )

Matthew Lange
Matthew Lange

Read the forums and magazines and this seems to be a common theme over the last few years. The most competent road car I’ve ever driven was a Porsche 997. Getting out of it I loved it but then I drove an eighties Carrera 3.2 (and a tired one at that) straight after. The 3.2 was inferior to the 997 in every way except fun and character, and it put a much bigger smile on my face.

timothymcn
timothymcn

Probably the Editor’s wording, but that title is misleading. (maybe purposefully?)