Open gallery Close by Richard Lane 23 July 2019 Follow @@_rlane_ Share
How we test cars
Strange that 65 years have passed since the name first appeared, and yet Porsche is still to fix what exactly a ‘Speedster’ should be.
The lightweight 1954 original was based on the 69bhp four-cylinder 356 1500 and became a relatively affordable purists’ fantasy for the American market – with, of course, the removable windscreen. Drive one today and I guarantee you’ll fall for it instantly. And not only because it operates with the mechanical precision of something far more modern, but also because you just get its whole vibe straight away: pureness.
This car is riotous fun, in truth, not least because you’re aware the Speedster is more than simply a serious and profoundly capable performance car: it’s a flight of fancy, epic in its own right.Richard LaneDeputy road test editor
Later versions sprouted heavyweight price tags but did little to trim kerb weight and upped the Speedster’s luxury quotient. Among them was a Carrera Cabriolet-based car that borrowed nothing more than interior dressings from the hardcore 964 RS and a modified Carrera GTS built to promote Porsche’s ‘Exclusive’ customisation business. The famous silhouette remained, but there was no common philosophy.
But hold the phone. This sixth iteration of the concept finally offers some continuity, even if you do need to go right back to the Speedster’s road-racing roots to join the dots.
And what dots. This is the first time Porsche’s fabled GT division has had a crack at the recipe – ‘no frippery’ is the unofficial motto – and as such a 991.2 911 GT3 dwells beneath the Speedster’s largely carbonfibre new bodywork. We are, in short, firmly back in road-racing territory, 356 Speedster style.
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Understanding the genesis of the 911 Speedster
The rear body-in-white of a Carrera 4S Cabriolet is grafted to the front of a GT3. The carbonfibre wings and bonnet then come courtesy of the 911 R and the rear apron from the GT3 Touring, but the huge carbonfibre rear deck and classic stooped windshield are all new. Figuring out how to fit that last bit cost rather a lot of money, in fact. Millions, apparently.
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Under the bodywork, the GT3’s inverted dampers are softened a touch (spring rates are unchanged), and the four-wheel steering is retuned to compensate for the high-speed stability lost when you shear Porsche’s trackday tool of its enormous rear wing, but overall the mechanical package is practically identical. To underscore the intent, there’s also but a single gearbox offered: a six-speed manual.
And yet perhaps the biggest news is the engine, which is a development of the naturally aspirated 4.0-litre flat six that has become a hallmark of the GT3 experience. New particulate filters have diluted the manic engine note – bluntly, it’s now a little less ‘motorsport’, if still utterly magnificent – but fuel injectors operating at higher pressure have helped raise power from 493bhp to 503bhp and there are new individual throttle bodies for response that, Porsche claims, borders on the genuinely rabid.
It is a cleaner, cleverer engine, and Porsche has also kept the stratospheric 9000rpm red line intact. So, without further ado…
Getting behind the wheel of the 911 Speedster
As befits the name, sliding into the Speedster is a journey back in time. The 360mm steering wheel is devoid of switchgear – it changes the car’s course, simple as. Compared with the one in the new, 992-generation Porsche 911, the central tacho feels old-school Porsche with its italicised ‘Speedster’ script and runs to double digits. Peer into the footwell and there are three functional-looking pedals, and the gearlever is conspicuously short. The seats are those found in the 918 Spyder and are, as ever, so embracing that you’ll never want to get out.
But if the weather’s good, you’ll also want to get the roof off, and that means you’ll have to get out. Porsche very nearly scrapped the idea of having any roof at all (as per the original concept car built way back in 2014), which would have allowed the decking between the ‘streamliner’ buttresses to sit even lower, but it eventually erred on the side of usability. But even with the need to store a roof, this is a dashing car in the metal – far more so than in the photos, somehow – with the hunkered-down tail seemingly a lot less Quasimodo than previous Speedster iterations.