drivers Review 964 RSR
It was now 1:00am on a desolate countryside road in Germany. There was a parking lot with a few cars and a large white building to the side of which was a smaller office. All was pitch black except in the office where two men were talking. One of them had a large amount of cash in his briefcase. This man was this writer negotiating the purchase of a 964 RSR.
The journey leading to this point had been anything but uneventful. I had spotted the RSR six months beforehand on mobile.de, had contacted my favourite German dealer, and asked him to inspect the RSR for me and report on what he had discovered. I was expecting the worst. The car was then “an old beaten down race car firmly planted on orange-glo wheels.” But looks were deceptive as the engine and gearbox and been freshly rebuilt. A few transactions later and the car was being prepared for delivery. In the meantime, I had received a phone call in the UK going more or less like this:
Dealer: “Several metal parts have been found in the oil cooler, at the front right corner of the car. I have kept them for you to inspect.”
Me: “What does that imply?”
Dealer: “I am not sure. Either the engine is on its way out [a full rebuilt, carried out a few hours of engine life before had cost about 40,000 euros], or the oil cooler had not been taken apart to remove the bits when the engine was rebuilt. If you want you can back off from the deal and take your deposit back.”
It was now 1:05 am on said German countryside road, and I was signing a paper saying that I was aware that bits had been found in the oil and that I was buying the car “as is,” with no recourse if the rest of the engine followed the bits down the oil pipes.
Though I had been at the dealer since 5:00pm, it was now 1:10am the following morning in Germany and the deal was finally done. I owned a 964 RSR! I still had 7 hours before my first drive with the RSR at Spa-Francorchamps, a fitting place for a first test. We pushed the car on my trailer (there was no way the dealer would start up the engine) and I was on my way with the dealer wishing me good luck with the car, and not to forget to call him when I was in the car at Spa with the engine running!
The trailer had been rented in Scotland and as this was my first towing of a car, the trip was also eventful. I had driven from Scotland with a trade-in (my former black, track-prepared 964 RS) and was now leaving Germany with the RSR in tow. The trailer, as they say, “was in a state.” By now, I had already replaced one of its tyres, discovered that the brakes would simply not activate, pushing the towing car forward because the towing car, fortunately a heavy Audi A8, had to stop itself, the trailer plus the RSR! Finally, the trailer would oscillate on the motorway over one-and-a-half lane when it gathered speed. But the worst was still to come. About one hour into my journey with the RSR in tow, there was a sudden loud “bang!” followed by brief fireworks in my rear mirror. I later discovered that the trailer had lost one of his heavy-duty sidebar bumpers. A further 30 min later, the German Autobahn Police stopped me. They had found said metallic bar in the middle of the motorway and also noticed that my trailer had no visible rear lights in the dark German night. I did my best to explain my predicament: I had hired the trailer (from an established Scottish company that will remain anonymous), could not see that the rear lights did not work, had bought a Factory Porsche race car and was on my way to Spa-Francorchamps to test it when the sun would rise. By then, the RSR had already very much attracted their attention and we were soon discussing “Ze nize razer” on the emergency lane, at about 2:30 am. Then, rather unexpectedly, the policemen very kindly offered to escort me to the German border, more than 100 km away, to protect “ze nize razer” from being rear-sided and, possibly more to the point, to catch the bits falling from the trailer. This is how, an hour later, I emerged with my diligent escort into Belgium.
A very short nap later and I was off-loading the RSR from the trailer, ready for more excitement. But the RSR sits low on its suspensions leading to much head scratching to find the right angle between the tarmac and the trailer to safely offload. As agreed, I called the Dealer and shared with him the experience of starting up the engine. I could noticeably hear his relief when the engine reached idle still in one piece. I will leave the best (the actual driving experience) for later and keep going with a few anecdotes encountered during my ownership.
Fast forwarding a couple of months and I was for the first time tracking the RSR at the Porsche Club Francorchamps Days in May. The Porsche Days represent an enormous Porsche Fest, at the time populated with all sorts of special Porsches, including once a 917/10 driven by Willy Kauhsen himself. I was getting attuned to the RSR’s behavior on the track when I suddenly lost all traction and had to be towed back to the pits. A rear driveshaft had broken. My Porsche ownership had so far been road cars (in order 944 Turbo, 911 3.2 Carrera, 2.2T, 2.4S, 964RSs) and I was not at all prepared for the difficulty of finding race parts. I tried literally all the racing teams present at the Porsche Days for a replacement driveshaft, drove about 150km to a Porsche specialist in Belgium, all to no avail. No driveshaft fitted the RSR. Enters Olav Gelissen, owner of Speed Service in the Netherlands. Olav had been building RSR replicas for trackday enthusiasts and quickly fitted a reconditioned driveshaft.
Choosing the right mechanic to service such specialized cars can be difficult, but I had found a pearl. Another anecdote revealed how small racing world can be. Together with the RSR I received documents and pictures tracing its racing history. As mentioned elsewhere in this book, the RSR initially raced in the 1993 ADAC-Cup, entered by Weihmeir and Castrup, Harald Grohs driving, and subsequently in the Kuhmo-Ferrari championship in the Netherlands. One of the old racing pictures in the RSR documents featured a younger version of Olav when he was a mechanic in the Khumo-racing championship. The RSR won this championship and Olav remembered it well. The RSR was in good hands!
As they say, the RSR proudly wore the scars of many battles. After three years of trackdays at Spa, over a winter, Speed Service orchestrated a sympathetic restoration of the body of the car (see the “Under the sheet” section of the book). In an upbeat mood, Olav and I went back to another round of the Spa Porsche Days in May. He boarded the newly refurbished car with me for a one-lap shake-down test and we realized that the ABS sensor of one front wheel had disconnected, in turn disconnecting the ABS system. Back in the pits the problem was quickly addressed. We were then going back on the track, driving slowly downhill along the 24 Hr paddocks, the glorious Raidillon in the distance, on a perfect sunny day—my second lap of Spa in a vision of trackday heaven. This wasn’t to last. A 996 GT3 Cup suddenly emerged from the 24 Hr paddocks on the right, unaware of the RSR driving down. Impact was inevitable. My choice was either to damage both front corners of the RSR, or only the right one. I opted for the latter option… My heart sank when, full brakes on but on cold slicks, I connected with the GT3’s driver’s door. Olav was full of expletives. I was quite silent: one lap since full refurbishment and the car was a mess! And the oil was pouring down from the burst front oil cooler of the RSR. Back in the pits, Olav and his crew assessed the damage: The new plastic RSR front bumper had been reduced to bits, the actual aluminium bumper behind the plastic cover had absorbed the brunt of the shock (and would also need replacing), the oil cooler needed replacement but fortunately this was the extent of the damage. Following a scramble, we gathered all the parts and Olav plus crew burned the midnight oil to reassemble the car into a track worthy condition—and all part of the extensive track support of Speed Service, a name well deserved on this and many more occasions!
But the refurbishment of the RSR had started a strange process in the psychology of its owner. From the ultimate track beast in his eyes, the RSR had now morphed into a valuable garage queen. It had become almost too perfect to track and it certainly had become too valuable to throw around the track and get knocked. Within a few months, I sold the RSR and have missed it ever since.
Why do I miss it? This is when we get to the driving experience. First there is the engine. Drivers of a 964 RS know the effect of a light flywheel and the feeling of a low engine inertia going up and down the rev range. This impression is very much enhanced with the 3.8 liter RSR engine, so much so that it almost feels as if the engine is dying as its goes down the revs—which explains why I kept blipping the throttle the first time I drove the car. Then, there is a distinct howling sound, past 4,000 rpms, when the engine comes on tis cams. It is akin to the howl of the early mechanical injection engines of the 2.0 S and 2.2S (the howl is more muted in the lower compression 2.4S and the 2.7RS engines). I would hear the howl in 5th gear each time I was going up the Kemmel straight at Spa, roughly halfway through. Second, there is the exceptional handling of the chassis. With its large slicks footprint (245s and 305s at the front and rear, respectively), rose-jointed suspensions (i.e. solid links, no rubber bushes) and dual-spring shock absorbers (one large spring for slow oscillations; one smaller helper spring for fast oscillations), the RSR inspires massive confidence in the fast sweeping corners of Spa. Going around a lap (see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SMbAN6nDuQ0), turning left on a full throttle in 5th gear at Eau-Rouge, a dab on the brakes before turning right at Raidillon and the car feels totally planted in the transition. Up the hill and letting the car drift right at the exit on raidillon, the RSR does not bounce on the fast undulations of the tarmac because the dual spring suspension helps absorbing these high frequency bumps, keeping the car in line rather than letting it hop towards the right rumble-strip. On Kemmel, the 370 bhp allow the RSR to keep up with more modern GT3s. The next exciting corner is “double left” or “Pouhon” with its fast downhill entry and its blind apex. In all other air-cooled 911s (including several 964 RSs, CUPs and my current 993 Supercup), entry into Pouhon deserves more respect. With the weight at the back, turn in is a fine art, with the heavy rear making itself very much felt. With its massive 305s at the rear entry in the RSR is faster and more precise and decisive, in 5th gear, transferring the weight to the rear with abandon and applying the throttle, full on, very early after entry. One passenger filming from within the car audibly said “… We are going to die.” Similarly exciting in an RSR is Blanchimont 2. The lightweight and power of the car warrant considerable velocity before entry (again in 5th). On new slicks, there is no need to brake. A lift of the throttle, an early apex and the car will drift with composure at exit. The remaining two corners are maybe not as thrilling, in any car. Bus Stop is famous for being a corner that has been changed many times over the past twenty years. In each iteration, it rewards confident braking—and the “big reds” of the RSR together with the big footprint of the rubber inspire this confidence—but it is a slow corner. Another slow corner, la Source, finishes the lap. The front grip of the RSR allows precise turn in and a firm application of the throttle right at, or even just before the apex).
In all my laps at Spa with the RSR (at least 150, lucky me!), I have never felt the fabled 911 rocking movement between the loaded rear wheel (i.e. right wheel when turning left) and the off-loaded front wheel (i.e left front wheel when turning left), diagonally across the car. By this stage of development the 964 RSR suspension was fully sorted. The classic look of the RSR, its thrilling engine and sorted suspension combine to make the 964 RSR possibly the best air-cooled 911 Porsche.