One hot little number

All pure performance and stripped-back speed, the Porsche 911 RS is seen globally as a classic-car icon, and a very sound investment. Its latest incarnation is heading the same way, says Simon de Burton.

October 06 2011
Simon de Burton

Received wisdom tells us that buying a new car is not a sound financial investment because it will, inevitably, be worth significantly less than it cost the moment you drive it out of the showroom. Exceptions to the rule occur in the case of highly anticipated new models of the more exotic variety, which can sometimes be swiftly re-sold for a profit to people who don’t mind paying to circumvent a waiting list – but even these generally start to depreciate once they have been superseded as the car of the moment.

Over the decades, however, a variation of one of the most successful and ubiquitous sports cars of all time has consistently bucked the trend and largely grown in value – the Porsche 911 RS.

The letters stand for Rennsport, or racing sports, and refer to versions of the 911 that are pared-down, lightened and tuned to create a car that is focused on pure performance at the unashamed expense of luxury, but which can still be driven on a daily basis. The concept can be traced back to 1971, shortly after Porsche had won its second outright victory at the prestigious Le Mans 24 Hours with the 240mph 917 model (made famous in the Steve McQueen film Le Mans).

A subsequent change to the international sports car racing rules that introduced a three-litre engine capacity limit rendered the earth-shaking, 12-cylinder 917 obsolete. As a result, Porsche looked to its road-going 911 – which had already been around for eight years – to maintain its success in European GT racing.

In order to meet the requirements of homologation, a production run of 500 road-legal 911s built to the new 2.7-litre RS competition specification was planned, but the public unveiling of the car at the Paris Salon on October 5, 1972, resulted in 50 sales on the first day. By the time the show had closed, the entire 500 had been ordered and Porsche ended up building 1,508 – and creating an automotive legend.

The majority (1,308) were in a comfort-orientated “touring” configuration and weighed 1,075kg, while the remaining 200 were built to a lighter “sports” specification in which the weight was reduced by around 115kg through the use of thinner steel for unstressed body panels, glass-fibre bumpers, minimal interior trim and fabric straps for door handles. The radio, clock, rear seat and glovebox lid were also junked in a crusade for lightness that resulted in a top speed of 149mph.

At the time, the UK price of £7,193 for the touring version and £6,112 for the lightweight must have seemed strong, but it was nothing compared with what they are worth today. Now established as a classic-car icon, 911 RS values have soared to the extent that, in August, US auction house RM valued a touring specification car at $200,000-$250,000, while at Bonhams’ Goodwood Revival sale in September an even more sought-after lightweight version fetched £221,500.

Despite the success of the original, Porsche was not to introduce another RS to the market for another 18 years until, in 1991, it created the RS3, based on the Type 964 version of the 911, and produced 2,282 examples priced at £63,544. This was followed in 1995 by the £68,495 Type 993 RS, of which 1,014 were sold worldwide, plus 227 that were built to the highly sought-after Clubsport specification and cost £74,795.

In 2003, by which time the 911’s famous air-cooled engine had been replaced by a water-cooled unit, the lightweight Type 996 911 GT3 RS was offered in just 300 examples at £84,230, and was subsequently followed in 2006 by the Type 997 edition of the 911 GT3 RS at £94,280, with an updated version appearing last year, of which an unusually high 2,000 have been sold. Apologies for all the numbers, but in RS circles, these things matter.

Now, as all 911 enthusiasts know, the Type 997 version has this year been replaced by the new Type 991 that was unveiled at the Frankfurt motor show in September. To mark the end of the Type 997’s six-year reign, Porsche is building an edition of 600 examples of a four-litre-engined, 500-horsepower GT3 RS version, being offered at £128,466. That’s getting on for double the cost of an entry-level 911, but history tells us that the RS is very likely to rise in value to the point that, as with the original 2.7 RS of 1973, we will look back on it as having been a bargain.

While there is no guarantee that it will prove a good investment, the facts suggest it might: just 600 will be made; the car is the last of the most impressive generation of non-turbocharged 911 RS models to date; and, like all 911s, it can actually be used on a daily basis. But perhaps the most telling indicator is that deposits have already been accepted for all 600, meaning they are as good as sold out – although during the course of the year to 18 months that it will take to build all the cars some people’s circumstances will inevitably change, and a degree of availability will probably return.

If it does, one person who is contemplating putting his name on the waiting list is Dr Nicholas Day, a retired London-based art historian and performance-car enthusiast who can count himself among the people to have enjoyed the benefits that RS ownership can bring.

“A few years ago I spotted a very rare 993 RS Clubsport in a dealer’s showroom. It was one of just 10 made for the UK and it was finished in the most fabulous Riviera Blue. I admit I knew absolutely nothing about RS cars at the time – I bought it purely for the colour and the look. It just seemed like the perfect piece of automotive sculpture,” explains Day.

“The car cost me £82,000 and I was quite concerned about spending so much on it, but as I started to use it I began to realise why the RS has developed such a cult following. It was so easy to drive, yet it had fantastic mechanical integrity. The power, torque and performance were phenomenal, and the lack of comfort caused by the stripped-out interior seemed an irrelevance in relation to the sound and pure, visceral thrill that resulted from driving it.”

After two years of ownership, however, Day became concerned about the RS’s lightweight body panels being damaged in car parks and decided to sell it, which he quickly did for £122,000 – a satisfying 50 per cent more than it had cost him.

“Values of Type 964 and 993 RS cars in particular have probably doubled during the past seven years,” says Stuart Jackson of Gmund Cars in Knaresborough, which has specialised in the RS for more than 20 years.

“The RS models in general have always been cars that were designed to be driven from home to track, raced, then driven home again without complaint. Track days are now so popular that many cars have been used for circuit work, and have therefore been driven hard. There are obvious downsides to this, but such cars have often also been very well maintained. As with most collectable cars, however, buyers nowadays want the very best, and the very best 911 RS cars are becoming harder to come by, so those that exist are more expensive across the board.”

By now RS enthusiasts will have noticed that the one model we have failed to mention is the awesome GT2 RS, first available a year ago and the most extreme derivation of the twin turbocharged Type 977 911, of which 500 will be built costing £171,468. Its 3.6-litre engine churns out a remarkable 620 horsepower, making this the most powerful production Porsche ever, with a top speed of 205mph.

The GT2 RS has amazed many with its blend of utter docility for around-town use and earth-shrinking performance. I only got to fully appreciate these features at this year’s Goodwood Festival of Speed, when I travelled up the Hillclimb course as a passenger. Behind the wheel was Gordon Robertson, chief driving consultant at Silverstone’s Porsche Experience Centre. The popularity of the Supercar Run we were to take part in resulted in an hour-long queue to reach the start line at a crawling pace, during which the GT2 RS behaved so impeccably it could have been just another shopping car.

No sooner had the green light flicked on than we were at the first of the two tricky right-handers that lead to Park Straight. Before setting off, I had determined to remain calm, but the gut-wrenching acceleration had me squirming. There was more intestinal confusion as Robertson hammered the carbon-ceramic brakes before negotiating the notorious Molecomb corner, then the Flint wall flashed by in a blur and suddenly we were breaking through the timing lights at the finish.

It was an experience that lasted less than a minute, but was certainly not one to forget, and it reminded me why RS doesn’t just stand for Rennsport, but Really Special. And Really Scary, too.

See also

Porsche, Classic Cars