October 11, 2010
Am looking down at a 1982 Porsche 911SC - the sixth one in a couple of weekends and a good one at last - and am thinking again what a happy little time capsule of Porsche design history this model of the 911 happens to be.
It's the kind of car that makes your wallet flutter.
And then there's the 2010 Volkswagen GTI next to me. And it comes to me -- wait a second -- these cars are the same....
You're not supposed to have an emotional attachment to the 1978 - 1983 Porsche 911SC. Ernst Fuhrmann had decided to abandon the 911 as an engineering dead end in light of ever more stringent air and noise emissions regulations, so the Porsche 944 and 928 would lead the company into the future. The 911SC was just marking time, its horsepower turned down and its fuel economy turned up. Things changed for the 911 only when new Porsche president Peter Schutz stepped up to the big chart in engineer Helmut Bott's office that plotted the development plans for all Porsche cars and then drew a big line forward for the 911 that went past the proposed end of production in 1982, across the chart into the future, and finally clear onto the wall beside it.
The 911SC has links with Porsche's heritage that you don't find in the Porsche 911 we see on the road today. Not just the 911SC's air-cooled flat-six engine but also the old style transmission, torsion-bar suspension and even the bottom-hinge pedals. Really the 911SC is just the super-est of VW Super Beetles, still showing evidence of the Volkswagen Beetle platform upon which the first Porsche 356 had been built in 1948. And the bodywork represents a tightly evolved vision of Butzi Porsche's original 911 shape, only with the wide rear fenders inspired by racing (a design feature grown overblown in the latest 911, despite the efforts of now-departed designer Harm Lagaay to stop the madness).
But for all the magic within the Porsche 911SC, the Volkswagen GTI brings you back to reality. The VW has its own heritage, as the GTI came to America in 1983. The 2010 GTI measures 165.8 inches and sits on a 101.5-inch wheelbase, while the 911SC measures 168.9 inches and has an 89.4-inch wheelbase. The GTI has more horsepower, 197 hp to 172 hp. Weighs more at 3,103 pounds to 2,560 pounds (what do you expect, what with stricter safety regulations in the last 30 years). It gets to 60 mph in 6.6 seconds (with 1 foot or rollout) while the 911SC did it in 6.0 seconds (with 1 foot of rollout). Pretty much the same fuel economy for both cars (slightly different EPA procedure now than then) at more than 20 mpg around town. If you want a perfect 911SC, the VW and Porsche even cost about the same on the street right now.
When old guys stand around looking at old cars, it's fashionable to grumble that things were better then and complain that modern cars have lost the plot. But the Volkswagen GTI reminds us that old guys are -- as ever - full of crap.
When you measure the 2010 Volkswagen GTI against the 1982 Porsche 911SC, maybe it's the new car that should make your wallet flutter.
Michael Jordan, Executive Editor, Edmunds.com @ 14,451 miles