2004 Porsche Carrera GT First Drive

  • Full Review
  • Pricing & Specs
  • Road Tests (1)
  • Comparison
  • Long-Term

2004 Porsche Carrera GT Convertible

(5.7L V10 6-speed Manual)

Porsche's Pinnacle

It's hard to imagine that all of the Porsche Carrera GT's 605 horsepower gets transferred to the road through this tiny little clutch. Barely six inches in diameter, the GT's high-tech clutch plates are absolutely minuscule compared with the gargantuan heavy metal systems most muscle cars use to cope with all the torque their big-cube engines pump out.

But then, the GT's clutch, like much of the rest of the car, is made of carbon fiber, that stronger-than-steel-but-lighter-than-titanium stuff. And also like the rest of the car, it was originally designed to withstand the rigors of high-speed endurance racing, so it can easily cope with all the power Porsche's new high-revving 5.7-liter, 68-degree V10 produces at 8,000 rpm.

Indeed, it's that racing pedigree that literally defines everything about the Carrera GT. Originally designed to follow on the heels of the 911 GT1 that won the 1998 24 Hours of Le Mans, the Carrera GT was destined to be Porsche's next prototype (LMP1 class) racer until the company decided to reduce its commitment to racing.

Racing's loss is 1,500 lucky customers' gain. That is because the chassis remains essentially unchanged from original Le Mans specification and, apart from a mild detuning — if 605 hp can be called detuned — the car is essentially faithful to its original intent of going as fast as possible for 24 hours.

Which means that it is almost assuredly too much car for the Jerry Seinfelds (who took possession of the first customer-delivered Carrera GT), Tim Allens and Jay Lenos who are just a few of the big celebrity names on the waiting list for this, the most powerful production Porsche of all time.

Even the aforementioned clutch may give them some pause. Like most multiplate, carbon-fiber racing clutches, the GT's is a tricky affair with just millimeters of foot movement separating disengaged and fully engaged.

Taking off with decorum is difficult. Try to keep the revs down and you risk stalling the beast. Rev it while simply trying to navigate into a parking spot and you look like a dilettante.

Once underway, though, the GT becomes much more of a pussycat, at least if you keep the revs down. Unlike the Mercedes SLR McLaren, which instantaneously overwhelms you with supercharged torque right above idle, the Carrera needs revs to make serious power. Its maximum torque of 435 pound-feet arrives at a heady 5,900 rpm, so the GT borders on manageable below 5,000, if still amazingly rapid.

Above that, only angels and Hurley Haywood (the self-proclaimed greatest endurance racer of all time, though Derek Bell might have something to say about that) dare tread. Keep your foot well into it past 5,000 rpm and things get blurry in a hurry, with the GT accelerating almost as hard as a modern superbike.

Which is exactly what it sounds like screaming down Mosport International Raceway's long back straight. In the lower gears, the engine picks up revs like you have accidentally knocked the shifter into neutral. The engine shrieks, the GT rockets ahead and the normally stable Porsche gets all squirrelly.

Porsche claims the Carrera GT "only" gets to 100 kilometers an hour in 3.9 seconds, but already there are reports of times in the 3.5-second range. Top speed is listed at 330 kilometers an hour (205 mph), but chances are the automaker is fibbing about that as well. And when you're not bragging about how fast it goes, you can still regale onlookers with details of its authentic racing pedigree. Such as the fact that the engine has no less than 10 oil pumps, eight of which do nothing more than scavenge oil from the recesses of the engine when it's being sloshed about under high cornering loads. Or the fact that the engine — unusually — is a stressed member of the frame, meaning it acts like part of the chassis.

Similarly, said chassis is pure racing technology. All four wheels' independent suspension bits are rocker actuated, just like the real McCoy. Though the front mechanisms are hidden, you can display the entire rear system in all its glory with the trunk lid up. Of course, the real reason for using this intricate system is to improve suspension actuation and reduce unsprung weight so the Carrera GT will handle better.

Not that I am about to challenge its abilities. The Carrera is barely rolling in corners no matter how much bravery I summon, and the brakes have all the power my foot can accurately modulate. A couple of laps into it and I'm already convinced that I'm in over my head and I have barely made either the race-bred chassis or the Porsche Ceramic Composite Brakes (PCCB) sweat.

But Walter Rohrl, two-time World Rally Champion and current Porsche test driver, can. He takes me out on a couple of hot laps and proceeds to throw the Carrera GT around like an MG on skinny tires. So I can faithfully attest that the Porsche Carrera GT will indeed hold a controlled slide through most of Mosport's famed Turn Five (if the traction control is switched off and your name is Walter Rohrl, of course), that there is very little dive under hard braking and that, as you approach 300 km/h, the GT is very stable, even over the patchy roadwork for which Mosport is also famous. All of which lucky owners with around $440,000 will be able to find out for themselves if they have the talent. And the cajones. And if they are willing to put up with the tedious tribulations of driving the GT in everyday conditions. This ultimate Carrera is a roadster, of course, but it has no disappearing roof, hard or otherwise. Instead, a top panel is stored in the GT's front trunk, which also serves as the only luggage compartment of any size.

So, if you're out for a weekend jaunt, you have a choice. You can either take the roof in case it rains. Or a change of underwear in case you stay over. But not both. Porsche also says that you can fit a suit bag behind the passenger seat. But what it really means is that there are two hooks back there, but no actual space for the bag. So if you decide to bring along a change of Armani, you may have to ditch your passenger. Or at least ensure that they are of the short-legged variety. There are also some hidden compartments that run lengthwise in each door that are sure to arouse suspicion among DEA agents. And there's a little nook in the center console. But don't expect to be changing any of that same console's CDs while driving. Hidden on the underside of the console, the CD player is almost impossible to access without reaching over the console into the passenger side and then snaking your arm up under the dash. Just the thing to break the ice on first dates. Which makes the Carrera GT about as practical as a superbike in a traffic jam. But just like an overpowered sport bike, once the road opens up, all that impracticality is forgotten. There's just you, the open road and the ungodly wail of a racing engine.

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