Porsche 930 Is Maddening, Wonderful
Story and photography by Alexander Bermudez
With only nineteen thousand miles on the odometer, one might be tempted to relegate this pristine 1989 930 Cab to the grassy confines of concourse life. It is after all one of only twenty-eight factory built Flachbau (“flat construction”) Cabriolets fitted with the G50 transmission and the only one in existence painted Diamond Blue. Fortunately the new owner, an avid POC racer, does not share that opinion and has every intention of driving the wheels off the car. So here I am, on some of Southern California’s best roads, thrashing one of the finest examples of Porsche’s most flamboyant 911 to date!
Even to the casual observer this 911 looks a little different, a miraculous achievement by Porsche no doubt, but one that over time has been marred by clichés exemplified in Tony Scott’s film True Romance. Nevertheless, the dry-sump lubrication system, homologated turbo, and Le Mans-winning-935-inspired bodywork have given this car some genuine motorsport pedigree, a distinction that has become somewhat elusive in Porsche’s road cars of late.
The same, however, cannot be said for the canvas retractable top, which marginalizes the car, both in terms of appearance and function. With the top down and deck-like side skirts, the car’s resemblance to a Rose Parade float is uncanny. Furthermore, the opposing aerodynamic effect of the streamlined front fenders and turbulence generated by the nonexistent roofline, deepen this grievance to the point of humor. Regardless, one could not very well ignore the fact that the roof was retractable and so with absolutely no preconceptions, I cynically lowered the canvas top and continued on my way towards Big Bear.
The fresh morning air rapidly engulfed the Porsche’s open cockpit and for a brief moment, I was able to overlook my contempt for convertible 911s and appreciate this car’s indulgent, if not pointless nature. But, as the sun penetrated the deep canyons of the San Bernardino Mountains, I thought it prudent to pull over, protract the top and avoid the unpleasant consequence of the great outdoors: sunburn.
Taking off again was agonizingly slow as the 3.3-liter engine struggled to respond to my planted right foot, that was until the turbo spooled up and the forced induction shoved me squarely into the leather sport seat, by which time the car was barreling into a corner, boost and all. The tires protested loudly as the Porsche swung around the narrow apex. Without lifting off the gas, the car’s wide track dug into the asphalt and we came out the other side without incident. The silky smooth G50 gearbox gladly handed me third gear, but the engine was less generous, bogging down between shifts before the lazy turbo spooled up.
Erring on the side of caution this time, I came off throttle before the next bend but the car lurched forward as it lost boost, abruptly unsettling the chassis just as I entered the corner. To make matters worse the engine’s low 7:1 compression ratio failed to adequately slow the car. Again the tires expressed their disapproval as they rounded the corner and in spite of my best efforts, the car bogged down again on exit. Clearly something needed to change and it wasn’t likely to be the car.
With the next corner rapidly approaching I was determined to get it right, so, hard on the brakes, lurch in a straight line, steering input and back to gas! One-one thousand, nothing, two-one thousand, still nothing, three-one thousand apex and whooooossssshhhh, the car hit full boost on corner exit, needless to say it was a terrifyingly glorious experience!
Within a few corners the car began to leap from one apex to another with a moderate degree of composure; however, inside, the driver was feverishly manhandling the car in order to make it all work. It was becoming increasingly apparent that the Kühnle, Kopp & Kausch turbo, the source of the erratic torque curve, was not only the car’s defining quality, but also one that is in constant need of attention especially whilst traveling on meandering tarmac.
After forty-five minutes of winding black top, SR-18 reached Big Bear Lake where the vibrant evergreen trees gave way to rustic cabins and stationary ski lifts, all basking in the mid-day sun. The swanky Slantnose couldn’t have looked more out of place among the droves of off road vehicles that seemed to dominate the streets, but the summer traffic thinned as the road untangled itself and headed north towards Barstow.
Southern California’s back-roads weren’t the most accommodating when it came to the Flachbau’s nonlinear power delivery. However the two-lane highway that crossed Stoddard Valley on its way to Barstow proved to be remarkably conducive to forced induction. At freeway speeds the Porsche’s turbulent behavior seemed to settle down, a reflection perhaps of the 930’s true purpose as a weapon built for the Autobahn and while California State Route 247 is at best a poor substitute for German infrastructure, I was for the first time able to stretch the car’s legs a little.
While the off throttle lurch and turbo lag are enough to keep anyone on their toes, another unusual quality surfaced while tooling around Barstow. The car would accelerate away from you as the turbo inadvertently spooled up. Now don’t get me wrong, I would consider any sports car disappointing if it didn’t bait you into applying excessive pressure to the speed pedal. The Growler, for example, is nearly impossible to drive in a sensible manner. This car, on the other hand, does away with the formality of the operator’s right foot and leaps past the speed limit on its own accord. Toyota’s influence on Porsche is well documented, but it seems Porsche was way ahead of the game when it came to “unintended acceleration.”
Nevertheless, I took the car’s propensity to get ahead of itself in stride and jumped on the nearest onramp. With the AC blowing cold from the far left lane of Interstate 15, I headed north towards Baker and again the car proved to be the perfect tool for covering large distances at a high rate of speed. Even the dreaded canvas roof did a surprisingly good job of keeping road noise to a minimum. Upon reaching Baker, I headed south on Kelbaker Road, a 56-mile stretch of scorched bitumen linking Interstate 15 in the north to I-40 in the south. With the sun now projecting a warm glow onto the Granite Mountains, the roof came down again and I listened contently to the whistling of desert air as the car swiftly crossed the orange and pink tones of the Mojave National Preserve. On that road, at that moment, the seemingly ridiculous combination of options on this car suddenly made all the sense in the world and it was glorious!
As the cover of night approached, the high beams caught the reflective markings of a single freeway sign; I-40 the third longest Highway in the country spanning eight states was upon us and without a doubt it was the Flachbau’s natural habitat. Unfortunately, I was only using a tiny fraction of its length on my return passage to Pasadena. Still, I had little doubt the next 180 miles would be anything short of magnificent. The car sprinted along the major freight corridor passing convoys of fully-laden semi trucks on their way to Los Angeles. Moonlight gently lit the cream interior while the dual carriageway traversed the now dark, barren landscape. I downshifted to fourth and gave the car the entire pedal. The turbo spooled and in no time I was traveling at a rate twice the posted speed limit. I kept my foot in it, and surprisingly the speed continued to climb. There seemed to be no end to this car’s ferocity.Shimmering city lights signaled the final approach into Barstow where Interstate 40 ended its long cross-country journey by merging into I-15. The shortcomings that plagued the car in the mountains seemed trivial after forty minutes of high speed wind tunnel testing. Now with merging traffic it was time to slow down and enjoy the spectacular star-filled sky above.
Well-rounded vehicles have never been particularly interesting to me; perhaps this is due to my own dysfunction. Nevertheless a car that attempts to be all things to all people is never brilliant at anything. This turbocharged Porsche, on the other hand, is wretched on anything that doesn’t resemble a freeway, but that’s a good thing in my book.