In my previous entry I recounted how I forsook other marques and at the eleventh hour turned my hymnal to 993 while shopping for my first car, but I didn’t elaborate on why I had such an interest in the ass-engined Nazi slot cars in the first place. You might think that I was seduced by how effectively the evolved Beetle enhanced my countenance the first time I caught my reflection against the glass façade of one of Atlanta’s concrete canyons, or how a previous generation of my occupational forebears made a Guards Red “Turbo-look” M491-optioned neunelfer a de rigueur part of “the look” for anyone with more than a modicum of ambition, along with slicked-back hair, Oliver Peoples glasses, and red suspenders, but you’d be mistaken – it goes a bit deeper than that. Despite a litany of transgressions against their most faithful devotees, Porsche ensnared me from an early age.
Like so much of the content on TTAC, I have my father to thank for this affliction. My own nascent enthusiasm for automobiles came just as my dad’s was waning; he began to focus his own efforts on antique wooden boats about two decades ago – hypothetically, The Truth About Antique Wooden Boats would be informed equally by The New Yankee Workshop and Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance – but it was enough to give me my start. Some of my most vivid childhood memories involve going to Road Atlanta with my dad, even before nicotine patch magnate Don Panoz slathered a coat of makeup on the fearsome track.
Just before the start of my very first race at Road Atlanta, Dad and I were standing on the indelible red clay that comprises Spectator Hill, which affords a full view of the iconic Esses that slice down one of the rolling hills of Hall County, Georgia. He told me to pay attention and notice whether or not the hairs on the nape of my neck stood up once the race started, because that would mean that we would have to come back for more races. I concentrated intently on this directive, and sure enough his intuition was correct; we heard the cars take the green flag in full cry on the other side of the hill and then saw a Porsche 962, advertising the Champagne of Beers and originally campaigned by the ill-fated Al Holbert’s racing team, lead a ragtag pack of vintage racers down the hill before snarling and popping through turn 5. It was pretty clear to both of us that we would be coming back for more races at Road Atlanta, and it was pretty clear to me that a Porsche’s rightful position was P1.
A few years later, the inaugural Petit Le Mans showcased Panoz’s modernization of the facilities and attracted top-tier machinery and talent that had competed just a few months earlier in the 1998 24 Hours of Le Mans. I was particularly looking forward to seeing the Porsche 911 GT1, which had finished 1-2 at La Sarthe, providing Porsche with its 16th – and still most recent – overall victory. After an uneventful start, the race settled into an easy pace, with the pole-sitting, nouveau Hippie-liveried, gold-wheeled Porker eviscerating slower competitors as its trio of drivers – Allan McNish, Uwe Alzen, and Yannick Dalmas – opened a comfortable lead. Nearly 15 years later I can still recall the distinctive aural signature of that über-911: A hollow flat-6 bellow with a unique timbre complemented by a brace of turbos, which made it sound like a pipe organ on full boost.
Disaster famously struck in the 5th hour of the race. My beloved Porsche featured a flat-bottomed floor to ensure optimal aerodynamics, but like other prototype racers of its vintage, it was susceptible to destabilizing airflow when exiting the slipstream of another car. Dad and I happened to be standing along the undulating back straight when the 911 GT1 took flight and completed an arcing 450-degree somersault, destroying the car in the process. My 9-year old self was devastated, and I tearfully demanded that we go home, since there was no way for Porsche to win the race and therefore no reason for us to stick around.
Dad and I have made it to most iterations of Petit Le Mans since then, save for my hiatus while away at college, with the 2011 race marking my return. The 10 hours of racing action affords the opportunity to take periodic breaks and prowl through the various car corrals in search of interesting metal. The Porscheplatz, as they call it, featured two examples of the final air-cooled 911 generation that stopped me dead in my tracks. The first was a pristine, Arena Red 993 Turbo, infamous for the celerity with which it could slaughter insects, and the second was a Speed Yellow 993 RS clone so convincing that it had me fooled. It’s strange how the mind can recall seemingly forgotten memories given the right provocation, and the sight of the burgundy Turbo took me back to a high school trip to Paris. I remember seeing another Arena Red Turbo gliding gracefully down the Champs-Élysées, and then the next day seeing the same car parked near Centre Pompidou, the rectilinear exterior of the museum providing great juxtaposition against the organic, liquid curves of the big-bottomed bug butcher.
I started thinking then about buying a 993. There was a lot in its favor as an ownership proposition: Worshipped by a fervent, if endangered, breed of Porschephiles as the zenith of the old-school, air-cooled cars, it was virtually guaranteed not to depreciate. That final air-cooled engine was a gem, especially when equipped with the torque-enhancing Varioram technology. What’s more, the engine featured the robust, over-engineered bottom end and split crankcase from its predecessor 964, which formed the backbone of that scintillating 911 GT1’s powerplant, still etched in my eardrums and venerated to this day as the “Mezger” engine that powered over a decade of water-cooled 911 GT3s, GT2s, and Turbos. It didn’t hurt that the 993 featured some of the most beautiful sheet metal of all 911s, with Coca-Cola bottle proportions and timeless design details. A few months later, I had a 993 to call my own.
This year’s Petit Le Mans will take place on October 19th, and dad and I will be there, cheering once more for Porsche. Next year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans will feature Porsche’s return to the top prototype class, fighting against Audi and Toyota for the 17th overall victory. We’ll be there, too.
David Walton grew up in the North Georgia mountains before moving to Virginia to study Economics, Classics, and Natural Light at Washington and Lee University. Post-graduation, he returned to his home state to work in the financial services industry in Atlanta. A lifelong automotive enthusiast, particular interests include (old) Porsches and sports car racing.