Simply Stunning: Driving Five of Porsche’s Most Iconic GT Cars


Porsche brought five über-special 911 GT cars out to its Experience Center track in Los Angeles and let our own Jonny Lieberman lap them, around two dozen times each. These cars aren’t just some of the best Porsche 911s ever made, no, this quintet represents perhaps five of the best sports cars the world has ever seen. One of them might even be better than that. Was this the greatest morning of Lieberman’s life? Yes, only because his son was born at night. So, read on for his impressions of these epic Porsche GT cars—and which ones are best.

996-Generation Porsche GT3 RS

What Is It and Why Is It Special?

A homologated street version of the 2003 Porsche 911 GT3 RSR race car. Lighter than a regular GT3, as a result of carbon-fiber bits such as the hood and wing, a polycarbonate rear window, and carbon-ceramic brakes. Geometrically different cylinder heads unleash more power. Although the car “officially” makes 381 horsepower, Porsche recently confided that the engine is good for over 400 horsepower, and at speed (185 mph or so) the ram air effect adds another 15 ponies.

The suspension is massively adjustable—both rebound and compression—and both the front and rear control arms can be tweaked. You can even change the dampers to a Cup Car position, though this supposedly makes the GT3 RS not so good on the street. The car sits 3mm (0.1 inch) lower than the standard 996 GT3, and the big wing provides 77 pounds of downforce. More crucially, all the wheels were either red or blue, only 680 were ever built, and it was never sold in North America. Finally, the 996 GT3 RS will go down in the annals of Porsche legend as the first car that GT Division godfather Andy Preuninger was 100 percent responsible for. Talk about special.

What’s It Like to Drive?

Steering feel! Almost all modern cars have abandoned hydraulic power steering in favor of more efficient, lighter, easier-to-package electric power steering. As a result, modern cars have worse steering feel than older cars. That’s the price of progress. But this thing, what a little honey! I drove to the PECLA (Porsche Experience Center Los Angeles) in a Porsche 718 Boxster Spyder, which by all accounts has pretty good steering. I then slipped behind the wheel of the 996 GT3 RS, and well, the Spyder’s steering blows—by way of comparison. Just the facts, kids.

That engine! Naturally aspirated engines are going the way of the dodo bird. Mercedes doesn’t even make them anymore. Porsche makes two, kinda. One is the mighty 502-plus hp 4.0-liter for the upcoming GT3 that revs out to 9,000 rpm. The other is the 992’s 3.0-liter twin-turbo with the turbos pulled off and the displacement embiggened to 4.0 liters, producing a fairly healthy 414 horsepower. You’ll find the second one in the aforementioned Spyder and hardtop twin Cayman GT4.










At full smack, the 2003 996 GT3 RS’s 3.6-liter flat-six is (probably) capable of 415 hp, because it’s basically a race car. This engine was a joy to rev out. It also comes from a time before manufacturers were obsessed with exhaust valves and tuning. Good engines simply made good sounds, no forced, computerized backfires or anything like that. Strong, savage motor, light car with superb steering, what a combo.

The suspension is a bit primitive. Not bad, mind you, but there’s a point in time before which old cars feel like old cars, and that point is about 2010. Again, progress. On big bumps the 996 GT3 RS gets unsettled. It’s not out of control or anything, but I found myself waiting a beat for the car to stop bouncing around after a good jostle before I added any steering input. The grip is on the old side, too, as the 18-inch tires, while running modern rubber, just don’t have the large contact patch of modern supercars. Also, the shifter’s throws were oddly long, especially going forward for the odd gears. Even Mustangs have shorter throws these days. Not sure how a 17-year-old car is such a time capsule, but things have changed. Still, I love the 996 GT3 RS.

997-Generation Porsche 911 GT3 RS 4.0

What Is It and Why Is It Special?

A special edition of the GT3 RS to cap off the end of 997 production, the legendary 4.0 is said to be a sendoff to former Porsche boss Wolfgang Dürheimer. The engine grew from 3.8 liters and 444 hp to 4.0 liters (duh) and an impressive 493 naturally aspirated horsepower. The crankshaft is from the 911 RSR race car and allows the 4.0 to rev out to 8,500 rpm. This incredibly special engine is the final evolution of the legendary Metzger flat-six. Only 600 were made, and only 141 were ever sold in the U.S. Listing out all the changes between the “regular” GT3 RS and the 4.0 takes paragraphs (click the link above), but know that Porsche built an entirely new engine for just 600 cars.

The GT3 RS 4.0 made its debut in 2011 and cost about $200,000. In 2019, one sold at the Amelia Island Gooding Auction for $582,500. Sure, the 4.0 isn’t quite Amazon stock ($193 per share in 2011, $3,177 a pop as of this writing), but can you name a better new car investment in the past decade? A Ferrari F12tdf went for just south of $967,500 a few years ago, but it stickered for $621,000 when new.  The AMG SLS Black Series hasn’t even doubled in price. Yet.

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My point is that this is an incredibly special Porsche, and everyone knows it. Especially my pal and Top Gear America host Jethro Bovingdon, who every single time I drive a car and declare it great hits me with some variation of, “Yeah, but you haven’t driven the 4.0, have you? It’s actually the best.” Well guess what, Mr. Bovingdon?

What’s It Like to Drive?

I was howling—literally howling—with pleasure while driving the GT3 RS 4.0. It’s just so bloody fabulous. In the 996, my awesome Texas-native instructor, MJ, offered helpful tips over the walkie talkie to help me better get around the track. In the 4.0? He was trying to say something, but I couldn’t hear him!





















What a masterpiece of a screaming engine. It’s Bruce Banner’s mechanical watch after being poked with a stick. I’ll also say that the 493 horsepower feels like an underrating. I would not be shocked to learn that the engine pumps out more, especially once the ram air kicks in. The 8,500-rpm redline is glorious, and I found myself hitting it often because of the 4.0’s awesome, rev-loving, low-mass flywheel.

I can’t mention revs without mentioning the transmission. Just a thing of absolute tactile perfection. I think it’s the same transmission as the run-of-the-mill 997 GT3 RS. I drove that car with its relatively puny 3.8-liter flat-six ten years ago, and what stands out most in my mind is the feel of the gearbox. A decade later, that fantastic feeling is back. It’s a particularly masculine shift, requiring muscle to move the lever through the metal synchros—my lord, is it satisfying. Then there’s the massive grip, the perfect steering, the unflappable brakes, and the absolutely addictive feel of the entire package. I’m bowled over.

What’s the opposite of mechanical sympathy? The Germans—of course—have a word for abusing a machine: Materialmord. My point is that the GT3 RS 4.0 loves to be beaten, and there’s simply nothing coming from the car telling you to calm down or hold back. The harder you brake, the quicker your inputs, the more forcefully you hammer home a shift, the more apelike and abusive you are with the 4.0, the happier you both are. Jethro told me this thing has spit in its eye. Exactly right. New, old, a rental with full coverage, cars just don’t have this much personality. They aren’t this engaging. They don’t have character dripping off of every surface, every control, and out of every pore. I know I have to stop quoting Jethro, but as he says, the GT3 RS 4.0 is the daddy.

997-Generation Porsche 911 GT2 RS

What Is It and Why Is It Special?

The penultimate 997 iteration, to the point that the GT3 RS 4.0 actually borrowed heavily from the GT2 RS’ chassis, the GT2 RS actually began its life in 2007 as project 727. Why 727? Because the Nissan GT-R had beaten the 997 GT2’s 7:32 Nürburgring Nordschleife lap by 5 seconds, i.e. 7:27, hence 727. Power jumped from 523 hp to 612 hp. The RS is 154 pounds lighter than the standard GT2, was capable of 205 mph, only 500 were built, and they cost $245,000 back in 2011. Oh, and it went around the ’Ring in 7:18, hitting 191 mph along the way. Did I mention Walter Röhrl begged Porsche to build this car after he drove a prototype?

What’s It Like to Drive?

After spending two dozen laps in both the 996 GT3 RS and 997 GT3 RS 4.0, the turbocharged GT2 RS was a sonic letdown. I’m not saying turbos ruin everything, but aside from making you go a bit faster, I’m not sure exactly what they help. The other issue with the GT2 RS is that its redline is 6,200 rpm, whereas the GT3 RS 4.0’s is a shouty 8,500 rpm. Took me a moment to switch from listening to the engine for shift points to looking for ’em on a gauge. Again, you’re just not hearing much.






For such a powerful car, the GT2 RS is pretty calm, cool, and collected out on the track. Like the 4.0, the GT2 RS features adaptive, electronically controlled dampers that are two generations more advanced than the fixed suspension pieces in the 996 GT3 RS. Even with all that Nürburgring-devouring power and ESC + TC aus-gescheltet (all nannies off), the GT2 RS was totally planted around PECLA’s tight, ever-twisting circuit. Perhaps a bit … dare I say it … dull? Now, watching an atomic bomb go off is dull compared to the GT3 RS 4.0, but still. Where was Der Witwenmacher?

I think perhaps I was expecting an experience akin to the last 997 GT2 RS I drove, a tuned example (over 700 horsepower) that even with computers on was a frightening handful. This red car was just so planted. A fellow journalist called it a “track weapon,” and he’s not wrong. Save one little problem that I encountered. While turning sharp right, when my left hand went past 12 o’clock, I heard this weird, rhythmic drubbing sound. Long story short, the front driver’s side tire was rubbing a fender liner. I didn’t know what it was, so I wasn’t driving with the same reckless abandon I did with the others. Still, what a thing.

991.1-Generation Porsche 911R

What Is It and Why Is It Special?

Final iteration of the 991.1 chassis, the 911R was perhaps a reaction to how track focused the PDK-only GT3 had become. Andy and the team made a raw, loud, stealthy prizefighter of a street car. Manual only, naturally aspirated, lightweight with minimal sound-deadening, no rear seat, no radio, and (horrifyingly on a 85-degree December day in L.A.) no air conditioning. Oh, and a lightweight flywheel that might be worth its weight in platinum.

This is the car that 100 MBAs typing up 100 PowerPoint presentations couldn’t come up with in 100 years. There’s really no reason for the 911R to exist, save for the fact that car guys and gals love machines like this. It’s also arguably the best-looking 991-generation 911 and, as Porsche only built 991 of them (get it?), quite the collector’s item.

What’s It Like to Drive?

What a groovy car. So different than any other 911 ever built, and I’ve driven a bunch of them. One of the odd features of the PECLA is that you can see the 405 freeway while you’re lapping (and if it’s moored, the Goodyear Blimp, too), and every once in a while you catch a semitruck in your peripheral that freaks you out for a second. I mention this because if I can see them, they can see me, and if I were stuck on the freeway and could watch a 911R turning some laps, well, I’d stop and stare.







Yes, that’s what was going through my head—the 911R is so exceptional on track, so uniquely special, that I wanted people to stop and look at it. Like we used to do for a rocket launch. Hey man, I was high on horsepower.

Like the 4.0, the lightweight, single-mass flywheel zings up to the 8,500-rpm redline in the blink of an eye. The 911R has four-wheel steering, and it makes the car a bit looser, a bit less serious than any of the others. More playful is the best way to put it. At the same time the 911R is just fizzing. With the 991 platform, suddenly there’s incredible damping. Actual ride quality, an attribute that had been absent from the first three. That’s important because it means the car can get through a bump quicker, freeing the driver up to more fully concentrate on the next event. I’ve long said that the real magic of the 991 is the damping, and the 911R is full of that wizardry.

In conclusion, wow dude. The 911R is such a fun, tossable, lighthearted, sweet, beautiful automobile. Love? Did I feel love pumping through my veins? Something was going on. Coming into the event I’d convinced myself that I’d like the 996 GT3 RS more than the 911R because it would be more pure, more old school. To the point where I may have said something idiotic like I’ve driven the 911R before, I’d like to spend more time with the 996. I’m not known for my wisdom. Anyway, glad Porsche didn’t listen to me. What a glorious machine.

991.1-Generation Porsche 911 GT2 RS Weissach Edition

What Is It and Why Is It Special?

What it is, is the track king. I’ve personally witnessed Randy Pobst set two production car lap records in a 991 GT2 RS. And actually, this here Oak Green example is the actual car that Randy ran a 1:21.08 on the big track at Willow Springs International Raceway back in 2018, a record that still stands. Randy’s signature is still there, under the hood. Packing 691 horsepower, this GT2 RS is still the most powerful production 911 of them all. Sure, there will eventually be some 992 special that cracks into the 700- (or 800-) horsepower neighborhood, but until then this car is the boss.

Only 1,000 examples were built, and most came with the Weissach Edition that dropped the weight by 66 pounds. In 2017 a GT2 RS set the lap record on the Nürburgring, going 6:47.30, aka 31 seconds quicker than the 997 GT2 RS. A Manthey Racing version of the GT2 RS managed to shave another 7 seconds off that lap time, though Manthey cars aren’t sold in the U.S. or considered regular production. A Guards Red GT2 RS came in second place to the Lamborghini Huracán Performante in our 2018 Best Driver’s Car competition (where it also set MT’s Laguna Seca then-lap record of 1:28.30, which has only been eclipsed by the space-alien McLaren Senna).

What’s It Like to Drive?

Speed demon. Bazooka at knife fight. Mike Tyson in his prime. There’s just so much turbo boost on tap. 553 lb-ft of torque is available at 2,500 rpm. This GT2 RS is absolutely ballistic. Things I don’t like? It’s PDK-only, which I actually don’t mind at all, but after four sessions in some of the best manual cars the world’s ever seen (4.0 and 911R, specifically), it was a bit of a system shock and letdown to suddenly not have a clutch. I’ve also never been a fan of the car’s looks. The giant, formless front intercooler intakes look like they’re off a bus. Yes, the green paint on this individual car is great, but that goofy unpainted U-shaped hood thing (that looks like a decal) looks bad in lighter colors. Oh, right, we’re supposed to be talking driving.


















By the time we reach the end (or nearly the end) of 991 production, the GT cars have come full circle. Gone and forgotten is the 996 GT3 RS’s incredible steering and glorious engine note. The 991 GT2 RS had the least lovable steering of the five cars—wooden, disconnected, a bit heavy—and it sounded the second least good (turbos kill sound). However, the chassis, suspension, brakes, and tires on this car humble the rest and humiliate the poor 996. It’s not just another level, it’s a different playing field. Depending on my mood, I could even see picking the 991 GT2 RS instead of the 996. However I have a feeling that the GT2 RS only fully comes alive on the track, whereas the 996 will be memorable out on the road.

Did I mention how insanely quick this thing is? The car is essentially weaponized speed, with the brakes, tires, and moves to match. Does the GT2 RS have a purpose outside of turning laps? I don’t think so, as it doesn’t even sound good. I spoke with friend and serious Porsche collector Jeff Cherun (who has a 991R, a 991 GT2 RS, a 991.1 GT3 RS, and a Speedster, among others), and he said that the 991 GT2 RS “has to live in a larger collection. If I only had two or three cars, I wouldn’t keep it.”

Makes sense because if you’re not at track days, what exactly are you doing with a late-model widowmaker? I will say it’s hard to believe that the 911 R and the 991 GT2 RS are on the same platform. They don’t even feel related. Porsche’s GT division really is the master of this dream car stuff.

Final Rankings and Takeaways

5. 997 GT2 RS – One of these has to be last, though it’s true that this Porsche would rank first on nearly any other list.

4. 996 GT3 RS – The rarest of the rare, and a blast to drive. Just feels a bit vintage at this point in time.

3. 991 GT2 RS – I initially had this car a spot lower, but I’d be lying. As good a track weapon as exists.

2. 911R – The car with more personality in its fender than your entire car. A treat and a privilege each and every time. Also, if you happen to have one of the 10 percent of 911Rs that didn’t get the lightened flywheel, send it back!

1. 997 GT3 RS 4.0 – The best car I’ve ever driven? I think yes. For certain this schwarze Schönheit was the best car I drove that day. I texted Jethro Bovingdon that the 4.0 is possibly the best car I’ve ever driven. To which he replied, “Can’t imagine anything better. Maybe the Pista. You haven’t driven that, right?” I can’t share my reply. You can guess why. What’s most interesting about this car is that Porsche hasn’t yet managed to build a follow-up. The 911R is about as analog, but it’s for the street. The current GT3 RS is nearly as racy but lacks the power-to-weight ratio and is PDK-only. The 997 GT3 RS 4.0 stands alone. Few things in this life live up to the hype. This car does.

The post Simply Stunning: Driving Five of Porsche’s Most Iconic GT Cars appeared first on MotorTrend.

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