Ever since I began designing my own car, I’ve been obsessed with what enables some cars to handle so well when others just can’t do the job. My first car was a 1981 Pontiac Trans am it had a 4.9 non turbo engine complete with screaming eagle decal on the hood. It was a whale, I couldn’t take a corner as the rear seemed like it was going to dislocate but it was beautiful. Not long after I bought what I know now to be one of the best sports cars ever made, a used 1983 Porsche 944. It had no power steering, around 140 horsepower and the same amount of usable seats as the Pontiac.
What a difference!
Owning the 944 set off my soul towards sports cars, it’s so neutral that you can push it right to its limit which I did every time I drove it. A little more time and the help of a successful business afforded me a used Porsche 964 Rs America, this car rides firm, it feels faster all the way around, I really felt like I got that much more Porsche for the extra $$$ ….. Until I started pushing it. Driving these two cars sometimes back to back it became obvious what the difference was between great handling and cornering ability. In the 944 you can rush into a corner and modulate it to keep it at the limit. I didn't need to “TRUST” the car, it communicated what was going on all the time. On the same roads 964 felt very different, as speed builds near its limit it begins to feels nervous, you really have to be on your game and know the cars limit because it won’t tell you. Every so often I used to take Sunset to PCH and back up just to clear my mind. One night coming up from PCH I spun the 964 to catastrophe, I ran off the road going backwards ending up on the front lawn of an angry homeowner, I was lucky my story could have been dramatically different. I can say without a doubt that the 911 was not a better sports car than the 944, it was faster but that was due to Porsche’s structure of hierarchy. Years later I yearn for the feelings of those first experiences, I know for sure I will never get them again, but the best were in the 944.
I’ve made it my job to experience different sports cars to benchmark for my own design, doing so took me all the way back to owning these two very different machines at the same time. As with all my benchmarks I broke them down, suspension, aero, chassis, everything. Even today you can see how perfect or close to it the 944 is. It’s worth noting that the 944 came from Porsche desire for proliferation which it did through pricing: (912, 914, and 924) all scoffed at but in the 924 was a gem. To separate the engine in the front and transmission in the rear of the car is a ridiculous way to reduce cost, but the foundation is sports car perfection. Porsches 50/50 weight distribution was likely the result of the same experiences they themselves got from the 911.
The fact is that mid and rear engine cars are very difficult to make into great handling cars, weight transfer is so biased to the rear that they are prone to lift under steer and over steer sometimes at the same time! To instill great handling you have to get the car to stay on road when the g loads build in quick weight transition, to accomplish this rear engine cars need complicated, precision rear suspension. Don’t believe me? Look at what Porsche did with the 993 to current 911 rear suspension vs. the 964 and earlier 911’s then look at the 944.