You can’t buy cool, but you can buy a GT3.

To begin with a quote from the great JB from his 110th instalment of Avoidable Contact:i

You see, “cool” isn’t something you get from a car. It’s something you give to a car. When I was 29 years old, I thought owning a 911 would make me cool. It did not. Owning a 911 never made anyone cool. Instead, it was more a case of people who were already cool buying a 911. Steve McQueen didn’t get a single bit cooler because he drove a 911 or wore a Heuer Monaco. You won’t be a single bit cooler yourself if you buy that stuff. To misquote Hank D. Thoreau, try being the cool dude in the uncool car and see where that gets you first.

But does that stop anyone? Porsche certainly doesn’t want this little factoid leaking to the press, and even those of us who “know” it isn’t true engage in all sorts of mental gymnastics in pretending that it is: that buying a cool things makes us cool by extension. No matter how nerdy, dad-bodied, and patently foolish we happen to be. Especially, it seems, when it comes to Nine-Elevens, those greatest of all Ass-Engined Nazi Slot Cars.ii But then of course “there’s levels to this shit.” Because beyond the dozens and dozens of 911 variants, to say nothing of seemingly endless special editions, there’s none that has the cultural import of the Brot und Butter of Porsche’s GT Department: the GT3.iii Widely regarded as the closest thing to Stuttgartian sprezzaturaiv anywhere in this crazy, branding-bonkers, everything-is-an-asset-class-because-zirp environment, the GT3 is the centrepiece of the entire Porsche company, around which the hype, speculation, and adoration revolves, and the seed from which a million Macans blossom.

So established, and recently getting a renewed “itch” for something fresh and fun in the Contravex Garage, I called up my man Randy at the local Porsche dealer to see if I could drive the two manual-transmission GT3 cars he had in stock online: one 991.2 GT3 Touring and one 992.1 GT3 with wing. He informed me that unfortunately the Touring had just sold but that the Winged car was mine anytime. So the day after I arrived home from summer holidays in Florida, I slid over to see Randy faster than you could say “after-dealer markup.”v

With 992 GT3 keys in hand, I opened the door to the “Crayon” Battleship Greyvi GT3 with 6MT, LWBs,vii and not a lot else from the impossibly tempting configurator, and off I went it search of curves… just as the vast prairie skies opened up and a steady drizzle soon turned into a steadier rain. The roads instantly slickened, meaning this wasn’t going to be an all-out blitz in someone else’s wheels after all, but a few runs out to redline and 3/10 (maybe even 4/10!) handling test can still reveal a lot of a car’s character. Besides, even my pussy-catting would still be a hell of a lot more demanding than the sorrowful existence of so many garage-queens. “Never driven in the rain” indeed!

Out on the urban roads, the first thing that struck me was the clutch. And not in a good way. Having read dozens of reviews on the latest-gen GT3 and watched countless hours of YouTube on this critically important academic subject, I was in no way prepared for how pathetically light the third pedal would be. Seriously, why was (basically) no one else bothered by this? I mean, I’m pretty sure the clutch in my 2002 Mazda Protegé5 was more feelsome! I honestly don’t think I remember a clutch having been this wimpy since the 2009 Chevy Aveo, which I actually sold a lot of in my first real job out of undergrad as a salesman. I always had an affinity for the manuals in the Aveo so it wasn’t a forced sell, particularly when MTs were already becoming a rarity in the entry-level compact segment. But at least the clutch, engine, and transmission in that rebadged Korean soup can were coherent and well-matched to one another – which is to say the control weights were consistent and predictable – but weirdly not so in the GT3! In this “Crayon” example at least, with about 3,000 km on the clock so just perfectly broken in, the clutch was so annoying effortless that it was just too out of sync in terms of effort with the other primary touch-point in this car: the shifter.

Ah yes, the shifter. If Rosso Corsa is “resale red” for Ferrari, then the manual-transmission GT car is the “true scotsman’s enthusiast’s choice” for Porsche (ie. the one you’re “supposed” to get, especially when it’s your first one). But in the 992, while the 6MT is frequently praised by journalists for being “the best” and “rifle-bolt” and “snick-snack-paddy-whack” or whatever, I couldn’t help but think that those opinions were really something of a lark. Yes the gear throws were on the shorter side but there was a decent bit of play in their gates, the action wasn’t all that tactile, and the overall effort was far from laboursome but still clearly mismatched with the clutch effort, resulting in a hodge-podge of control inputs that had me googling for “992 gt3 short throw shifter kits” and “992 gt3 performance clutch upgrade” by the third stoplight.viii To be fair, I haven’t driven what passes for “manual transmissions” in the rest of the latest crop of enthusiast cars (ie. F87/G87 M2, GR Corolla, Civic Type R, etc.) but if this 992 shifter is supposed to be the best in the biz, it’s little wonder that everyone is buying slushboxes these days.ix It was… weak.

Blessedly, the other critical touch-points for enthusiast vehicles, ie. brakes and steering – at least with stock steel rotors with red brake calipers and leather-lined helm – provided exactly the feedback and confidence that Porsche is so renowned for. The steering was on the lighter side but weighted up properly with speed and wasn’t unnecessarily quick from lock-to-lock the way newer Ferraris are. The brakes were progressive with plenty of bite higher-up in the pedal travel. Both comme il faut.x

But this show was really about the engine. By the saints what an engine! I’m not actually sure I’ve ever driven a better one, including the 991 GT3 RS and 991 GT2 RS. Four litres of naturally-aspirated motorsport-inspired glory that plugs straight into the back your cerebellum and gives you golden wings.xi On paper it’s not that different from 991 GT3 RS engine, so perhaps it was the difference in circumstances of track vs. road, but out in the civilian sphere, the 992 mid-range torque felt far beefier than I was expecting and the peaky engine revs felt so much more visceral than they did in 991. Sure, context is that which is scarce, but on my hometown roads and with the 6MT at-hand to guide the proceedings, I was kind of blown away by the acoustic impact of this flat-six. It’s really in a class of one as far as I’m concerned, which makes it all the more inevitable that one ends up in the Contravex Garage one day, don’t you think?

But then which generation of GT3? 996 and 997 are too physically small and too claustrophobic for my lanky frame (and poofy hair), so they’re out. And while the 991 is kind of a sweet spot in many ways, it lacks the 992’s new razor-edged double-wishbone and spherically-bushed front-end suspension, which is a set-up that reminds me of the similar design and in my beloved R35 GT-R. Well, I should say “beloved” because all was well and good until I got in it again after the 992 GT3 drive and took the The Spartan and The Athenian for a spirited spin on Shabbat, and quickly came to realise how high the centre-of-gravity is in my R35, how limousine-like is the wheelbase,xii how languid are the changes of direction,xiii how cushy is the cabin, and how revless and rough is the VR38DETT engine.

All this compared to the low-slung, hunkered-down, stripped-out,xiv lightweight,xv gravel-spitting, race-inspired, 9`000 RPM-hammering, extra-stiff-Old-Fashioned-on-the-rocks that is the 992 GT3. Of course the boys still loved the windows-down blast in the R35 that evening – it was more than fast enough to elicit Disneyland-level giggles from them – but my heart just wasn’t in it, y’know? I now see how far the game has moved on in the decade since my GT-R was built, if in the next bracket up, but I think I want a piece of the action goddammit! I know that the GT3 is only a two-seater (though aftermarket rear seats are available) but so what if I could only take one delighted passenger at a time? As it stands right now, I’m bloody tempted to trade in my R35 and my twin-charged Elise to get chance to park a solitary GT3 in our recently fitted-out five-stall garage at the new studio. I mean, what else does a very middlingly cool guy need?

Now maybe this is just the protective smallness of middle age that has me lying awake at night wondering about my own prospects for “speccing” an “allocation”; dreaming and daydreaming about yellow brake calipers, silver contrast stitching, and houndstooth seat inserts in a black-on-black-on-black Touring spec with mind-searing engine soaring up to the heavens, but so what? What’s wrong with that? Shouldn’t maturing mean changing and growing through the years – as the best of us always do – and having our tastes follow suit?

So maybe you can’t buy cool, but you can buy a manual transmission, 4.0L engine for the ages, Teutonic build quality, and the best programmatic scarcity in the world. So maybe that isn’t cool, but it’s probably closer to love that we might otherwise admit. And that’s a beautiful thing indeed.

  1. Archived.
  2. “Ass-Engined Nazi Slot Car” was a term coined by Hunter S. Thompson in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.
  3. Which is why it’s the last car you’ll need on Mars, duh! Remember these old Crayola and pen cartoons from the early days of this blog? Ahh sweet times of innocence were those!

  4. GT Boss Andreas Preuninger personally embodies the closest thing to sprezzatura that German automobile manufacturing has to offer. Without his too-tall wire-frame non-chalance, the brand wouldn’t be where it is today. But as he approaches the mandatory retirement age of 65 in the next few years, the future of the hallowed GT Department’s continued dominance is anything but certain. But while he’s there, les jeux sont faits and lucky sods are we!
  5. Before you start getting all sniffy about the lack of infinitely available GT3s at your local dealer in-stock for sale at list price, allow me to remind you that human psychology exists and that the Daytona is legendary because Rolex makes it scarce, idem Birkins, Yeezys, etc etc. and that THIS IS WHY WE ASPIRE TO THEM. We’re human: we want to feel special, we want to feel “chosen” (without having to do the hard work of being bar mitzvah’d), and we want to feel like we have priviledged connections in a world where money doesn’t frankly mean all that much to our lottery-winning middle-upper crust.

    Besides, you think the Soviet economy isn’t still teaching us sociopolitical lessons from beyond the grave, providing our overlords edgelords with blueprints for managing our soi-dissant elite? Enhance, enhance…

  6. To quote from You have left the American sector, but of course you haven’t:

    The thirst for blood is even subconsciously reflected in the current fashions for motor vehicles, to whit your obsession with military-inspired presentations, be they over-aggro pumped-up Ford Raptors, “Night Black Magno” SR-71esque G63s, “Crayon” Gunmetal Grey GT3s, or “Quicksand” Desert Storm Toyota Tacomas. It’s part of gearing up for the next Great Conflict.

  7. LWB in Rennlist geek-speak = Lightweight Buckets aka 918 seats.
  8. Short throw shifter kits seem to be available currently but not heartier clutches. Aftermarket: halp!
  9. Speed, control, and convenience, there’s a lot to like with automatics! I’ve certainly been an advocate of them for the last few years, especially dual-clutch gearboxes in performance cars.
  10. Of somewhat lesser but still noteworthy import, the seating position and cabin layout were fairly faultless. Sitting tucked into the airy new 992 cabin, everything falls easily at hand and works as expected for a modern car. Ergonomics leave little to be desired, except perhaps a driver’s cupholder that isn’t smack-dab behind the 6-speed shifter. Making up for that is, well, the mere existence of a factory manual-transmission in a car with 503 naturally-aspirated horsepower in The Year of our Lord 2023.

    A final touch-point (and aesthetic) highlight is the retracting exterior doorhandles. Not only are they sleek and sexy, but they also imbue the same feeling of solidity in opening the car that the Taycan has. They’re a wonderful party trick with real kinaesthetic enjoyment.

  11. Ideally Iris’ golden wings. Iris, in case you were wondering, was the Ancient Greek goddess of rainbows and messenger between Hera and humanity.
  12. Comparing data sheets shows that there’s a whopping 13 inches separating the two vehicles’ wheelbases, but this doesn’t even account for the 992’s four-wheel-steering, which effectively shortens the wheelbase even further by allowing the rear wheels to move in the opposite direction of the front wheels at low speeds and in the same direction at high speeds to improve maneuverability.
  13. And this is with literally every suspension and handling upgrade possible installed on my R35. You name it, it’s there. From all the best names in the biz too. Though to be fair to the two, we’re still comparing Michelin Cup 2 tires on 992 against PS4S on R35. And that’s not a terribly fair shake! But I’d never been anything less than impressed by the PS4S choice before until it was still brought into such stark relief.
  14. I personally love the lack of sound deadening and insulation in the new GT3. A lot of owners / reviewers find it drone-y and excessive, but it suits what I want from a special occasions car just fine.
  15. 992 GT3 is over 600 lbs lighter than my R35 GT-R. And it feels it!

One thought on “You can’t buy cool, but you can buy a GT3.

  1. […] Now let’s set the stage for this anthropological investigation by framing the interpersonal psychology at work in “speccing” a new car, for which we’ll first turn to a quote from my recent review of the new 992 GT3: […]

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