While just about anyone with a slight affinity for sports cars can readily identify a Porsche 911 of any generation, identifying the schmorgasboard of individual 911 models is something of a challenge for even seasoned enthusiasts. In the 55 years since it first entered the market, 911s have rolled out of Stuttgart wearing badges carrying seemingly every possible permutation of letters and numbers.
It's the humble letter 'T' we're here to discuss today. It's a letter of which I'm somewhat personally fond, as you can imagine, but applied to the 911 it has done some special things. Despite the still-recent adoption of turbocharging across the line, T as applied here means "Touring."
Back in the '60s, the Porsche 911 T was a simplified sportscar for those who didn't want to cut corners but who just wanted the basics. In 2017, Porsche brought that back in the form of the Carrera T, and it's that car I drove to the company's triennial epic gathering, Rennsport Reunion. It was there I'd see see another, more special rendition of the 911 Carerra T, and meet the man who helped cement that car's reputation way back in 1968.
Just the right options
If you're a Porsche enthusiast with an unlimited budget and you want the ultimate road-going 911, you should order a. That car, as I discovered in Germany, is utterly sublime -- but, at $146,350, only a lucky few will be able to bring one home.
The starting price of $102,100 for the Carrera T is hardly cheap, but it offers 95 percent of the experience of the GT3 Touring at two-thirds the cost. Not a steal, then, but it is a relative bargain. And, with most of the go-fast bits you might want, including a limited-slip rear differential and rear-seat deletion, it's ideally suited for those who want to go quick but still feel in control.
And if I were to option out my own Carrera T, it'd be exactly like the one you see here. The sport seats are tolerable in traffic but perfect in the corners, the sport exhaust means you can be loud or stealthy to suit your mood, and I'll enjoy a proper, three-pedal manual for as long as my achy left knee allows.
It's an epic setup for twisties, but sadly my first taste of this car on Californian roads threw me straight into a Californian commute. With only a few blasts up highway on-ramps to whet my appetite, a proper taste of Carrera T would have to wait for later.
50 years since Monte
Since 2001, every three years (or so) the Porsche faithful have gathered to celebrate the brand's motorsports heroes. From a weekend at Lime Rock Park to a four-day extravaganza at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, Rennsport Reunion has grown into something of a phenomenon.
This sixth rendition was attended by over 80,000 people, all having come to see and smell and hear some of the greatest racing Porsches of all time. Among the many racers who'd gathered to regale the crowd with tales of their motorsports victories was Vic Elford.
In the mid '60s, Elford was a Ford rally driver who, by his own account, was having "a real rough time" at the Blue Oval. He considered switching over to Renault, whose tiny Alpine A110 was among the best (and best-looking) rally cars of its day. Instead, the then-new Porsche 911 caught his eye.
"I managed to talk Porsche into having a 911 go to Corsica first of all in 1966," Elford told me. He would go on to finish third in his inaugural event with the marque. "That worked, and from then on it just sort of flowed."
Rallying is a proper test of a sports car because it is, or at least was, real cars on real roads in real-world conditions. Drivers take turns racing along a stretch of road, with each run timed. A series of these stages run over potentially hundreds of miles of real roads comprise a rally. The winner, naturally, is the one who finishes the rally in the least amount of time.
"I spent the whole of 1967, literally like a one-man-band, developing the car with the engineers," Elford continued. "I pretty much designed my own 911, designing my own gearboxes, designing my own transmission, working on designing my own suspension. And so the car that wasn't supposed to be there, in one year I turned it into a winning car. And it just grew from there, and I was lucky enough to grow with it."
Elford won the Monte Carlo Rally in 1968, a event renowned for its difficult conditions. Historically the first major rally event of the year, drivers often find themselves driving from temperate Mediterranean weather up the mountains into ice and snow. Elford of course attributes his victory to the strength of the car, but also to his daring run down the second-to-last stage, the Col de Couillole.
"There were times when I was doing 120 mph flat-out in fifth gear," Elford recounted, "sliding over little patches of ice and snow without any problem. And when I got to the end I literally couldn't speak. Back in those days I used to smoke like a chimney, and it took me about 5 minutes before I could even light a cigarette."
Elford went on to take the win, but before the Champagne was dry he was on a plane to Daytona, Florida to compete in the brutal Daytona 24 Hours road-race. He won that, too, racing in a purpose-built Porsche 907 prototype, a machine vastly different from his 911 T.
That 911 T Elford piloted to victory has sadly been lost over the years, and so Porsche would need to whip up something fresh to commemorate the 50th anniversary. Convenient, then, that the Carrera T was added to the already-expansive 911 line-up just the year before.
To celebrate the anniversary, Porsche created a one-off Carrera T painted red, like that Monte-winning machine, and affixed with a similar complement of decals and numberplates. There's even a vintage Halda Speedpilot mechanical rally computer in the center dash, replacing the standard infotainment system.
Far more immediately noticeable is the lightbar on the nose, festooned with Cibie lights. A set of custom, unusually shapely rally-style mudflaps grace the fenders. (In case you're wondering, and I know you are, it's not looking like any will be offered as factory options.)
And that was about the extent of the modifications. Or, least, it was the extent when the car made its appearance at Rennsport. There it received one final tweak: the signature of Vic Elford on the roof.
A lap at Laguna
Not only was I lucky enough to chat with Mr. Elford at length during the Rennsport festivities, I was able to do so in the passenger seat of that crimson Carrera T while he hustled it around Laguna Seca.
It was meant to be a parade lap of sorts, us in just one of many historic racing and street-going Porsches, running nose-to-tail so that the fans in attendance could see and hear the wonderful machines.
But Elford wasn't having any of that. Aggressively shifting between gears, falling back to get some distance and then surging up the front straight and through the iconic Corkscrew, even dive-bombing a few priceless bits of racing history that were going too slowly through the corners for his liking.
Let's just say it was my kind of parade.
"This is just phenomenal," Elford told me, shrugging off any suggestion that such bits of historic demonstration ever get old for him. "It goes like a rocket at any time you put your foot down. And the incredible thing about it is, no matter what speed or where you are, it stops every time. The brakes are just unbelievable."
And how does it compare to his 911 T back in 1968? "The big difference between this car and the old ones, is that it's much, much bigger. In the mountains in the old one, you always had the feeling you could squeeze through. You don't have the same feeling with this."
As we pulled back into the pits, our laps completed, I asked Elford for his thoughts on the current state of rallying. Should Porsche get back into the sport officially? "No," he said unequivocally, deriding the sport's current fascination with tiny economy cars like the Fiesta, modified until they bear little resemblance their real-world counterparts. "They're a pure publicity thing. Nobody ever wants to really buy one of those stupid little things, where in our day we were using real cars."and
And then, after killing the ignition, he took a moment to consider the Carrera T one more time, turned to me, and said with a smile: "That was a bit more enjoyable than I expected it to be."
The return trip
My trip down into Monterey in a yellow Carrera T was marred by traffic, so I left the Rennsport festivities early in search of some roads with more turns than commuters. California State Route 35, better known as Skyline Boulevard, was the perfect destination.
Barely wider than the car itself at points, Rt. 35 snakes north-to-south in a circuitous way that makes you thankful for whatever its surveyors were drinking when they paced out the original path.
Toward the south, the road is so twisty I rarely shifted the sweet, seven-speed manual out of second gear, my speed more dictated by a lack of visibility than signage. But, as I made it further north, the road opened up and I was able to safely let the car stretch its legs some more. And what legs they are.
The Carerra T, with its lighter weight and deleted rear seats and manual transmission, is far more engaging than any current 911 this side of that GT3 Touring. Of course, engagement comes at a cost. The sports seats again proved wonderfully supportive and reasonably comfortable, but after about three hours in the saddle I was happy to climb out -- an act which takes a bit of effort. There's a lot of road noise as well, but all that is a small price to pay for a day in a car like this.
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