Porsche 911

The Porsche 911 makes no sense – and as a result makes complete sense

There have been many different 911s over the years - and none of them truly make sense

WHO remembers Cheesy Peas?

It was a fictional delicacy popularised on Nineties funny-fest The Fast Show – and, to my mind at least, shorthand for anything that sounds inherently wrong but actually ends up working unexpectedly well. Go on, admit it. Cheesy Peas sounds like a stomach-churning concept but I bet you’d happily wolf it down if it was served with sausage and chips after a cold November night out. It makes about as much sense as Dolly Parton’s Nine to Five being played over a fight scene in Deadpool 2 or Jeremy Clarkson being given Chris Tarrant’s old gig on Who Wants to be a Millionaire – yet all these baffling concepts somehow work.

The Porsche 911 is very Cheesy Peas. Any car nut who knows their stuff is educated from an early age that a sports car has its engine up the front, some wheelspin at the back and a driver grinning childishly somewhere in the middle, yet the chaps in Stuttgart decided to launch one with all the important gubbins at the rear. It’s all out of sync, yet in Porsche’s 70th anniversary year it went so far to refer to the 911 as “our icon” in its own business assessment.

Having now driven one for the first time, I have to agree. There have been all sorts of 911s over the years but the car I was entrusted with was a 1970 model, which represents a sweet spot between Porsche realising it’d cocked up the original car slightly but before it started adding turbos, four-wheel drive, wider bodywork and water-cooled engines into the mix. So it has a 2.2-litre flat six rather than the two-litre, and a slightly longer wheelbase to tame the original’s appetite for lift-off oversteer.

It is the oddest sports car experience, yet it really works. With no mechanicals weighing down the front wheels the steering feels super-light, yet it’s packed with feel, and while it’s a bit weird hearing a boxer engine fire up behind you, it’s hard to deny that it revs beautifully and pulls – sorry, pushes – really well. You also sit far too close to the windscreen, the steering and pedals are offset, the dashboard layout is a complete mess, and yet it all adds up to a package that’s weirdly addictive.

So I’m not even remotely surprised that for all the attempts to replace it with the 928 and decades-long process of little improvements that Porsche’s mainstay is still a car that has a boxer engine slug out miles between some barely usable rear seats. Sometimes things don’t have to make sense to be enjoyable, and long may it continue sticking two fingers up at motoring convention.

Stranger things have happened, after all. Cheesy Peas have been made into a Jamie Oliver-endorsed real-life recipe, for instance…

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You don’t need a Porsche to make motoring fun

You don't need a 911-sized budget to make motoring fun
PORSCHE is, I’ve long reckoned, is the only supercar maker that just about everyone can afford to dabble in.

The days of 944s for under a grand and air-cooled 911s for Mondeo money might be long gone but you can easily pick up an early Boxster for less than the price of a secondhand Astra – try doing that with Ferrari or McLaren. I was at a huge Porsche event over in Llandudno and that’s definitely the vibe I picked up from the people taking part. Sure, there were managing directors flying the flag in brand new Caymans, but there were also plenty of petrolheads who just love their cars, even without the enormous budget, and were just as happy to be there.

Except for one chap, who I can only assume was a member of the public who’d got lost. “I dunno, I don’t get what all the fuss is”, he seethed to his other half as he glanced over 650 of Stuttgart’s sports cars, proudly lined up along a North Wales promenade.

“They’re just cars, aren’t they? A means to an end. As long as it’s got a tow bar for my trailer and starts up in the morning, I don’t give a fig”. Only that last word was something else beginning with ‘F’, of course.

For a moment I thought I’d overhead someone who sees cars the way I see football – but then for all the moments I can feel my eyes glazing over every time I head the transfer window being discussed loudly in a pub, I can at least look back at all the few times I’ve been to see Southport play and ended up cheering them on. This bloke, on the other hand, had no time for cars whatsoever.

His loss, especially when you bear in mind that you don’t have to have a Porsche and that motoring fun can be had in just about any form at every budget, taking virtually no effort to attain. A secondhand Mondeo can be picked up for a few hundred quid and they can be very sprightly through the bends. Gently expand your used car budget and the Golf GTI is your oyster. A mate of mine bought a RenaultSport Megane not long ago – 225bhp and finely honed French suspension for just four grand.

Still not convinced? You could snap up a secondhand Land Rover Discovery and have all the space and countryside chic you could ever ask for, or match family practicality with a healthy dose of B-road prowesss with a 5-Series that’s barely in. Even the most sensible family car I can think of, the Skoda Octavia, can be had in smile-inducing vRS form from about £2000 upwards.

All of these cars, of course, can be fitted with a tow bar and will start up a treat first thing in the morning. Not bad for a means to an end.

The only way is Up – if you’re looking for a small hot hatch

The Up GTI is the smallest hot hatch Volkswagen makes

IT’S THE sort of late landing an Irish budget airline would be proud of. There’s arriving fashionably late – and then there’s the Volkswagen Up GTI.

Connoisseurs of pint-sized and spiced-up hatchbacks might have already read that as of this week the smallest of Wolfsburg GTI-badged wonders has just gone on sale across the UK. You might have also read in the motoring mags about how it copes tremendously with tight turns, and seen James May making excitable squawking noises while driving it on The Grand Tour. But the fact remains that Volkswagen first started promising us a spruced-up version of the teeny-tiny up way back in 2013, at a time when I was actually using a bog-standard Up as a company car.

I can only assume that Volkswagen was being considerate by teasing us with it in concept car form – albeit missing that elusive third letter and badged as just the GT then – so it could give press-on drivers like me the chance to save up for it. Which is a good thing, because even in the poverty spec guise I reckon the Up’s the best car VW currently makes (especially now that the Scirocco has been pensioned off).

But all those years of teasing car nuts with the idea of an Up with added oomph has given the rest of the motoring world time to catch up. For a few hundred pounds less, for instance, you can have the Renault Twingo GT, which follows roughly the same formula but sticks the engine behind the rear seats and spits all the power out through the rear wheels. So basically it’s a Porsche 911 that’s more practical and easier to park. There’s also the Smart ForFour Brabus, which uses the same engine as the Twingo in a much heavier package and slaps on a £20k price tag for the privilege. Erm, and that’s about it.

Sure, there’s a new Suzuki Swift Sport on the way too but it’s astonishing that there’s no Sport spinoff of Ford’s Ka+ and that Vauxhall’s VXR boffins haven’t got their hands on an Adam. There’s no GTI twist on Peugeot’s 108 or a VTS variant of its sister car, the Citroen C1. Even VW hasn’t extended the GTI fun factor to the Up’s extended cousins – why isn’t SEAT doing a Mii Cupra, or Skoda Citigo vRS?

Hot hatches inject a sparkle of excitement into the all-too-often anodyne world of front-wheel-drive supermarket companions, and the smaller and lighter they start off the more fun and immediate they end up being in GTI form.

Come on carmakers, let’s have some more! Until then the only way is Up, even if it is five years late. Or to a Twingo GT, if you’re being awkward.