I think I must have upset the editor. Fresh from giving me the unenviable task of preparing a selection of underrated fast Fords, I’ve now been challenged to create a list of less than brilliant Porsches. In many ways, this brief is tougher than the last, because finding a dud in the Porsche back-catalogue is like finding a needle in a haystack. But, with apologies for the clickbaity headline, here are some of Porsche’s rare low points.
Looming into view like a sacrificial lamb, the Porsche Cayenne is an obvious starting point. Or is it? Sure, few car enthusiasts would admit to liking the oversized and cosmetically challenged SUV, but it’s thanks to the Cayenne that Porsche is able to keep building wild – and often unattainable – 911s. Turbocharged and V8 versions are rather fun, but a steel-sprung early Cayenne S is one to avoid, both from a driving perspective and a reliability standpoint.
Porsche Cayenne cabriolet
“You were so preoccupied with whether or not you could, you didn’t stop to think if you should.” Wise words from Jeff Goldblum there, and a phrase that could be applied to the Porsche Cayenne cabriolet concept of 2002. But, fair play to Porsche, because the bosses took one look at the concept and pulled back from the brink of disaster. The world doesn’t need another topless Evoque rival or, heaven forbid, something to remind us of the Nissan Murano CrossCabriolet.
That’s officially a world first: following a sentence about the Murano CrossCabriolet with a reference to the Porsche 959. Wait, what? Who would want to forget about the 959? After all, it was a technical tour de force and provided the blueprint for supercars of the future. But the beancounters at Porsche might not remember it with great fondness, because the firm made a loss on every 959 it sold. Each car cost a reported $720,000 to build, yet sold for ‘just’ $300,000. Ouch.
Porsche 911 Turbo
To many people, especially casual onlookers, the 911 Turbo is the archetypal Porsche. The 930 Turbo was the flagship of the range and, at the time, the fastest production car in Germany. But was it perilously close to doing irreparable damage to Porsche’s image? We recall a great piece by James Elliott, writing for Classic & Sports Car. “By the time the Porsche Turbo slipped into the late 1980s… in the public eye it seemed to simultaneously represent everything that was good, evil and ridiculous in the world. Contemptuous and contemptible in equal measure. I often wonder if even Porsche regretted its success, rued the hands the whale-tailed driving machine fell into,” he ponders. One to discuss.
The 964 of 1989 represented the most radical overhaul the 911 had ever seen, with Porsche leaning on its experience when developing the 959. It was 85 percent new – not that you could see this from the outside, although the integrated bumpers were a big departure for the 911, in more ways than one. It was launched in four-wheel-drive Carrera 4 form, which created a more sanitised, drama-free driving experience. In truth, this was probably what the market wanted – and the rear-wheel-drive Carrera 2 restored some of the unbalanced characteristics – but this wasn’t the 911’s finest hour.
Porsche 964 Turbo
Andrew Frankel, a motoring journalist who has driven more supercars than you’ve had hot dinners, isn’t a fan of the 964 Turbo. Writing for Goodwood, Frankel said: “It would understeer dramatically and then, if you tried to quell it, snap into savage oversteer. In short, the rewards on offer were not worth the risks required to enjoy them.” Chris Harris seems to agree, saying: “Massive understeer gave way to shocking oversteer, it had tragic turbo lag and the airbag weighed so much you could feel the inertia in the steering column. But when it was on full-boost, and you’d been brave enough to hoon through the front-axle push, it was one hell of a challenge.”
Porsche won’t remember the 1991 F1 season with a great deal of fondness. It supplied the power for the Footwork FA12 – formerly Arrows – but the car only made its debut in the third round of the season after the car was redesigned for the Porsche V12 engine. Sadly, the engine was too heavy and hopelessly unreliable, with the FA12 only managing a series of retirements and qualification failures. Footwork switched to Ford V8 power, but the results were only marginally better.
Porsche Carrera GT
Of the Porsche Carrera GT, Walter Rohrl said it was “the first car in my life that I drive and feel scared”. After a lap of a wet racetrack, he said: “I came back into the pits and I was white.” In 2005, Jay Leno hit 190mph at the Talladega raceway before it began to spin. “It was kind of like driving on ice,” he said, after coming perilously close to hitting a wall. But the Carrera GT will be forever associated with the tragic death of Paul Walker in 2013.
We’re not saying the Porsche 928 is a bad car – that’s not the focus of this gallery. Indeed, by the time the 928 bowed out in the 90s, it had many years of continuous development behind it, and Porsche had created a consummate grand tourer of the highest order. But here’s the thing: it was designed and developed to replace the 911, something it failed to achieve. So, while the internet is awash with news of the 992 in LA, the 928 is remembered as a modern classic.
Porsche C88 concept
When the Chinese government invited manufacturers to present ideas for a locally-built family car, Porsche was only too happy to oblige. The result was the C88 – C for China, 88 for the symbol of good fortune – which looks suspiciously like a number of Far Eastern cars developed after the Chinese government had pulled the plug on the idea. Porsche, along with a host of other manufacturers, would have spent a great deal of time and money on the project, so the C88 is probably a car it would rather forget.
Who would like to forget the Porsche 996? Anyone who has ever had to endure hours of listening to complaints that it’s not a proper 911, or that it looks too much like a Boxster, or that it will explode and leave you pleading with the bank manager for a small fortune to sort out the ‘niggles’. OK, so it’s not air-cooled. And, sure, it’s not as characterful as a 993 (what is?). But as anyone who has taken the plunge will testify, the 996 is a darned fine 911 and a bargain to boot. Do your homework and then make up your own mind.
You know, we nearly didn’t include the 924. It’s far too easy to select the sports car designed for Volkswagen as the runt of the litter. We suspect Porsche would have done things differently without the brief from VW, but just like the 928, the 924 developed into a fine entry-level sports car. It also spawned the 944 and 968, so let’s cut the 924 some slack.
We do wonder if Porsche regretted its decision to allow Seat to add ‘System Porsche’ to the cam cover of the 1.5-litre engine in the Ibiza. Seat dealers loved the reference, as it gave them a tasty sales tool with which to encourage punters to part with their cash. Porsche has played a part in the development of many vehicles, but it’s rare for it to allow the benefiting manufacturer to showcase this with stickers.
Porsche 911 SC
We’ve reached the end of our gallery, which will come as a relief to all involved. We’ll leave the last word to Andrew Frankel, who doesn’t have much time for the Porsche 911 SC built from 1977. According to Frankel, the early 3.0-litre versions offered performance comparable to a hot hatch, making them feel like a sheep in wolf’s clothing, especially with the optional whale tail and low-profile Pirelli P7 tyres.