Porsche 968 clubsport

The 968cs is an old car. It feels old. It feels heavy, solid, rudimentary and mechanical in that very old Porsche kind of fashion. It's a blunt edged brute with perfect balance as its trump card. When you were a kid if you imagined how an archetypal 'sportscar' would feel, well this is it; rear wheels driven, meaty controls, a firm-ish ride and a big old long bonnet stretching out in front of you.

Much like the 993, when you set off you immediately have a sense of this mechanical mass, a handmade arrangement of metal and cogs and arms and bushes and things going up and down and round and around. Its a very simplistic feel, quite crude in fact. The first time you turn the wheel you'll feel a distinct difference to 993 though. If you are thinking E30 M3 or Integrale EVO of the same vintage then think again as you are in for a more blurred, blunted, rounded feel. The steering is full of feel but on standard geometry and standard or M030 dampers, the turn in and pointyness of the car is less precise than some of its peers. The clubsport goes where you want it to for sure, and it imparts massive confidence turning in but it's never a sharp, light-footed or even a nervous experience. In standard form you couldn't call it a tool-like car. In many ways this is a good thing though and it makes the 968cs such a wonderful all round road car and companion. Apart from the driving position (which some find less than perfect), it will never tire you out or frustrate you and after a few hours spirited driving it will easily then flip roles and get you home without you having to think or concentrate too much. The 968 proves that over sharpness, a quick rack and 19" rims is not really what it's all about.

The wheel is great. Just a small mixture of power steering so the weighting is sweet and there is bags of feel. It takes a bit of effort to steer and this and the Sachs clutch gives the whole car a physical arms and elbows character. Even the thick steering wheel adds significantly to the whole meaty feel. The gearchange is a bit loose but still mechanical. It's not the most satisfying change in the world but it is definitely 'of the machine' and thankfully a world away from the clinical and sanitised gearchanges of modern porsches. The cars of today sadly lack this physical interface. The 968cs has it in spades. When I drove my car back to back with a Cayman S, engine aside, it was the 16 year old car that was the more engaging, the more visceral and the most personal.

The brakes are very reassuring and the ultimate stopping power is immense, especially with M030 calipers. On a fast run you only have to brush them and they ooze confidence and make you trust the car even more. On right hand drive cars though, the pedal feel is a noticeable weak point. In this respect the car can't hold a candle to the 993. The travel is long, the feel isn't that great and not firm enough either. Things can be improved with a more performance orientated pad but the master cylinder is the other side of the engine bay and will always by linked remotely by a huge bar that runs the width of the car.

Gathering speed it's this rounded, tank like feeling that dominates. She really does feel so solid and strong. Get up to really high speed and the thing just feels bulletproof. Someone once called the 968 a 'brute' and the word has stuck with me. It's absolutely spot on. The engine is torquey and pretty keen low down and gives more and more as you get further to the redline. The delivery is very smooth for a 4 pot but the acceleration has an 'efficient' nature to it rather than feeling actually 'fast'. In the last 1000 or so, if your timing is spot on then there is a harder edged note and an aggressive pull there but generally the car is nothing more than 'hot hatch' brisk in a straight line.

To focus on this slightly underpowered character though is to miss the car entirely. The first time you turn hard into a bend, if you have just the smallest appreciation for driving and all the sensations it involves, then you will fall in love with the way this car goes round corners. Turning in the CS is so beautifully balanced, the nose goes in and the rear follows in such neutral and natural fashion that the whole bodyshell really does feel bolted to a set of tracks on the road. Mid-corner there is this wonderful sense of perfect weight distribution, an outward centrifugal force that feels completely equal front and rear. It's as if the car could do this at 100mph, 1000mph, 10,000 mph and would still feel just as wonderfully light and unfazed. The uprated M030 roll bars only augment this cornering abiliy even further and if you only ever choose one mod for this car then roll bars is the one.

This beautiful light feeling is in my experience as good as its gets in terms of balance. The only other car I have driven that gave off a similar sensation was the 4 pot Lotus Esprit. Of course weight inbalance and the feeling of weight and weight shifting around is a whole hobby in itself so whilst 50/50 distribution isn't necessarily the ultimate aim or ultimate fun you can have in a car, if you like your motors to have a fundamental 'rightness' to them then the 968cs is for you.

This rightness extends to the chassis and suspension as well. Show the Clubsport some rough Surrey counry lanes and it will gather itself and exude a sense of composure that's up there with the best. Like any of the great competent point to point cars, across country the CS begs you to drive it harder. Because everything is so resolved, it all feels simple and sorted and you are left with the urge to just go faster. Organic is the best word to descibe it; gunning it through the twisty lanes, you, the car and the road just merge into one and everything flows in a beautifully instinctive and natural manner. And in a convenient way that 240bhp 4 pot is the very thing you want here. Through the steep off-camber elevations of the epic 'Ranmore common lane' it really is all about momentum and the last thing you want is a 350bhp+ firecracker to distract you or steal away your attention. The silky smooth 968 lump is quite enough and the delivery is spot on, cammy enough to give a nice controlled top end fizz but then torquey and eager to keep the momentum flowing low down. The 'backseat' nature of the engine frames the car, it ensures that it really is all about handling and balance.

The limits of the CS are so well communicated and its all so progressive that you really can drive this thing with complete wild abandon. Mine had a tendency to understeer a bit in the wet but in the dry it would oversteer when provoked. As you'd expect slides were so easily controlled. When you are in the mood you can press on the clubsport so hard. It really is so well sorted and balanced that in spite of the slight lack of grunt you can keep the car on the boil and hustle it A to B at a tremendous pace. Other cars might force you to ponder, over slow the pace, show hesitancy turning in or applying power, react to skittishness or back off when the roads get a bit rough or damp, but you will be full on in the Clubsport, ten out of ten, leaning on it like there is no tomorrow. It's a car that is never remotely intimidating, it's always on your side and instantly controllable.

In a way that's the car's biggest weakness; it's almost too easy to drive. From an ownership point of view it doesn't take long to 'conqueor' the 968. You very quickly reach its depths and then there is nothing left to master or explore. That doesn't really wreck the scorecards though because it just is that type of car. It's very good and very well sorted and poised. It's the indestructible old schooler that you get in to rag, to go sideways in, to banzai when you really are in the mood to exert yourself. It also looks a million dollars, pulls hundreds of admiring glances and will always be a rare and coveted piece of sportscar history.

Mine is sold now. I wasn't through with the car and hadn't got bored if it. I just got to a point with it in terms of upgrades, consumables and cosmetics and time and effort that I had put in, where it made so much sense to sell it. I could well see myself picking up another at some point. I really regret not tracking mine and if I were to revisit the 968 I would more than likely build an out and out track version. Given the modest power, surefooted handling and benign nature of these things they would surely make a perfect starting point for building a specialised 'Nordshleife car'.

If you do go for one yourself (and I recommend you do), my advice is to refresh all the suspension almost regardless. It's an old Porsche, you will probably only do it once so make sure you give yourself the best experience possible. Check every bush, the castor mounts and top mounts, and unless something modern has been fitted recently, stick some KW Variant 3 or 'Koni sport' dampers on it and then get the geometry professionaly done. Fit the M030 arbs as well with new bushes (under £300 for the whole package). Make sure the timing is spot on, get the cam sprockets checked and ensure the pads can slide out easily. After that maybe consider getting the injectors cleaned and fitting a promax chip (both very cheap upgrades). Best of luck, I hope you have as much fun as I did.


The Jackals Racetrack http://www.jackals-forge.com/lotus 1998 Richard Morris