Porsche’s 930 Turbo: “Hyperspace” with Four Wheels
The Porsche GT2 RS we briefly examined two weeks ago can trace its roots back to this car, the 930 Turbo. What a different world it was back then, for Porsche wasn’t even making 15,000 cars a year (versus 250,000 today), technology was decidedly crude by current standards, and public sentiment was against the automobile in general, and performance in particular. And that was before the first oil crisis hit.
In the midst of the maelstrom, managing director Ernst Fuhrmann was pushing Porsche to become a mega-speed producer on the street. Yes, 911s were quick and nimble, but they operated in a different playing field from the front line Italian and Swiss exotics, big engine Astons, and big block Corvettes.
A German Foundation…
Surprisingly, the opening salvo in this immortal car’s birth did not
come from the Italians, but fellow German constructor BMW. In1969, BMW won the European Touring Car Championship with a turbo engine. The resulting 2002 Turbo was ready in 1971, but not brought to market until 1973.
While that road car was on Porsche’s radar, more alarming was BMW’s Turbo prototype. This in-house designed mid-engine mac
hine with gullwing doors could have easily come from the finest Italian carrozzeria. It addressed many of the era’s topical safety issues, and had formidable performance: Top speed was listed at 155-mph.
That was too close to home for Fuhrmann & Co. They too had plenty of turbocharging experience, as the championship-winning 917 endurance and Can Am racers clearly demonstrated. “We were highly motivated to make turbo technology socially acceptable,” Paul Hensler, Porsche’s former director of powertrain development told author Tobias Achele.
The Ultimate Game Changer
While Porsche’s engineers worked closely with supplier KKK, the catalyst that pushed the Turbo into production occurred in 1972 at Hockenhiem. “We were watching a race in which a Ford Capri was running well in the lead, followed by a BMW,” Wolfgang Berger, a development crew member related to Achele in “Porsche 911 Engine History and Development.” “The fastest Porsche…had already been lapped. At that point, Professor Fuhrmann asked me why the competition was running away from our product.”
With the seed planted, Fuhrmann then asked for a turbo 911 to be built for his own use. It was completed in April 1973, and tested. Like Porsche’s 917 Can Am racer, it developed tremendous power but suffered from noticeable turbo lag. Still, Fuhrmann was pleased enough that he instructed the engineers to press ahead, and a “production” Turbo unveiled at Frankfurt in 1973 was a non-running but fully finished, flared prototype.
The Big Reveal
Less than a month later the oil crisis hit, and an already battered exotic car industry reeled. Fuhrmann and Crew’s intent on developing the roadgoing Turbo was undeterred, and the production Turbo broke cover at 1974’s Paris Auto Show.
The flat-six’s bore and stroke measured 95 and 70.4 mm for a total displacement of 2993 cc, and the single turbo had a maximum manifold pressure of 11.4 psi. This resulted in 260 horsepower at 5500 rpm. Because of the engine’s flexibility and concerns about their five-speed box’s durability, Porsche fitted a four-speed manual. Third and fourth gears were overdrive. Planned production was 500 cars at a list price of $26,000, approximately double that of the 911 Carrera.
The ultra-luxury segment has been booming for more than two decades, so it’s difficult to grasp how dire the situation was when production commenced in 1975. Road & Track’s March issue had a cover story on Modena’s specialist constructors was titled “Will exotic cars survive?” Interestingly, Porsche Turbo sales flourished, and U.S. deliveries began the following year.
Car & Driver’s December 1975 issue made it clear a 930 was at the top of U.S. market machinery. Sixty came up in 4.9 seconds, 100 took 12.9, and the 1/4-mile was vanquished in 13.5. Top speed varied between 156-160 mph. “The Turbo Carrera is a Panzer among Porsches,” C&D concluded, “a street racer that will guarantee you a place in the pecking order that not even a Ferrari or a Lamborghini can. In a world with no lack of $40,000 to $60,000 exoticars of the most extreme sort, the Turbo Carrera shows what practical design, constant refinement and assiduous development can accomplish. (It) is truly today’s boss car….”
A Seductive Design
The 930 Turbo seen here was one of the second or third Porsche I ever drove, and did it ever seduce me. Compared to the Italians, it has a higher roofline for easy ingress, and outstanding visibility in every direction. The interior is light and airy, the nicely sized wheel feels beefy in your hands, and the dash follows Porsche tradition of legibility and simplicity over flamboyance.
The large tach is redlined at 6700, and the 3-liter flat six starts with the simple twist of a key. Steering is heavy at a dead stop, but lightens the instant you start rolling. Lock-to-lock is just 3.1 turns, and the turning circle is much tighter than its rivals to the south.
Truly a Magic Carpet Ride
The car’s excellent visibility, comfortable surroundings and tractability make it extremely easy to navigate through town. At low rpm it will lull you to sleep for the ride is comfortable, as are the tight fitting bucket seats—and it’s equally relaxed on the freeway. Eighty-mph is exceptionally serene, the Porsche quietly going about its business in any of its top three gears. There is no wind noise, and the ride is magic carpet smooth.
But putting your foot to the floor awakens a beast. Find a gap in traffic and you too can preview what could have served as the inspiration of George Lucas’ “hyperspace” acceleration that debuted in “Star Wars.” Mash the throttle and slowly count to three to give the tach enough time to hit the high-threes, then all hell instantly breaks loose. The boost gauge needle jumps to the right, and suddenly you are yanked backwards, as if you tumbled into an elevator shaft.
The engine makes a delicious muffled growl as the revs climb and in the blink of an eye the tach touches 6700 rpm. You thrust the slightly vague four-speed into the next gear, and there is a momentarily lull as the turbo spools up then the eruption of speed starts all over again! What a blast, for one hundred-mph is hit so effortlessly that every superlative the Turbo received when it was new was truly well earned.
Yet, it’s also clear this was no machine for a novice driver. Stomping hard on the brakes reveals the mass behind you in a way the Turbo’s front- and mid-engine contenders don’t portray. And Heaven help the uninitiated, trying to impress a date by mashing on the throttle when entering a turn. That stories abounded in the late 1970s of numerous Turbos’ tail sections being rebuilt comes as no surprise.
You can’t help but be amazed by this seminal machine. In this day and age of seamless, “digital” numbers-oriented performance, a unique, distinctive experience like this is worth its weight in gold. Plus back in the day the Turbo changed the playing field, something very few cars can claim. Up to 120 mph it ran with anything, all while dishing up speed, comfort, reliability, and reasonably good gas mileage. It also demonstrated restraint was even cooler than flamboyance—here was an exotic you could use all the time back then and not get your door “keyed,” or worse.
While today’s GT2 RS is so much faster and more refined, the original 930’s rawness and place in history make it something truly special.