Caffeine&Machine cultofmachine Yard Visitor Roots in racing: Porsche Carrera GT

Roots in racing: Porsche Carrera GT

Respected and feared in equal measure, the Porsche Carrera GT is a car whose reputation precedes it. Is there anything left to say about one of the last real analogue supercars?

You’ve likely heard most of the conversation around this car by now. The howling, snarling, naturally-aspirated V10 engine. The manual gearbox and difficult carbon clutch. The infamously spiky on-the-limit handling that’s led to a couple of high-profile incidents. It is, of course, the Porsche Carrera GT, and few other cars arrive in the wake of quite such a reputation.

There’s so much written, filmed, and passed around by word of mouth about the Carrera GT that it feels as though it has an accepted public rhetoric, the same few soundbites repeated ad infinitum. Something that sometimes seems to get lost in this rhetoric is how downright beautiful it is. It takes the stance and footprint of a 1970s sports racer and imbues it with touches of 2000s concept car, looking like it’s just driven off the Targa Florio and through a wormhole into another dimension. It’s not overly aggressive but maintains a specialness that elevates it from being simply another Porsche. From a distance, the whole form of the car is scintillating, and up close, you see exquisite details like the rifled exhaust tips and colour-coded centre-lock wheel nuts.

The interior, too, is something to behold, especially trimmed – as this car is – in sumptuous brown leather. The swathes of silver aluminium surfacing are big indicators of the car’s early 2000s origins, but in many ways make for a more inviting interior than the bare carbon or piano black that you might find in a modern equivalent. There is, of course, that beechwood gear knob, a throwback to the 917 endurance racer and an example of some of the astonishing craftsmanship that went into this car.

Realistically, you can’t discuss the Carrera GT for long before talk turns to that engine. It’s the car’s undoubted centrepiece, not so much a power unit as a 5.7-litre, 10-cylinder demonstration of how the process of internal combustion can evoke a deep, primal response in onlookers. Making its peak of 604bhp all the way up at 8,000rpm, its noise and responsiveness have propelled the Carrera GT onto countless low-effort listicles.

There’s good reason for the engine’s hard-edged, motorsport-infused sound. It’s a story of its own, one shrouded for years in half-truths and official denials. The Carrera GT’s V10 has its origins in the early 1990s, and a 3.5-litre V10 Porsche was developing for perennial Formula 1 backmarkers Footwork (née Arrows) for the 1992 season. They’d run a Porsche V12 for the first part of 1991, and, six races in, had failed to finish a Grand Prix. Footwork backed out of the Porsche deal, switching to Ford motors for the rest of the season, and Porsche were left with an orphaned V10.

The engine reappeared six years later, first as a 5.0-litre and then a 5.5-litre, in the LMP2000, the car Porsche was developing for endurance racing’s new LMP1 regulations. In 1999 though, the plug was pulled on LMP2000 project. It’s unclear why, although Porsche’s financial situation wasn’t ideal at the time. Some say it was to channel resources into the Cayenne SUV project, others that VW-Audi bosses wanted to avoid in-house competition with the Audi R8 racer. Either way, the LMP2000 was dead, and so, it seemed, was Porsche’s racing V10 – that is, until it rose once again at the 2000 Paris Motor Show, in a striking concept car called the Carrera GT.

It was only meant as a design study to draw people to Porsche’s stand, but there was a clear appetite for it. Still, Porsche didn’t have the funds to put it into production – until the runaway success of the Cayenne a couple of years later.

In 2004, 13 years and two false starts after it had been conceived, the Porsche V10 was out in the open, powering a glorious analogue throwback of a sports car, and sounding just like the racing engine it was supposed to have been.

It’s part of why the Carrera GT has captured so many hearts and minds. There’ll always be those who know it for altogether more tragic reasons, but it’s one of the most singular, pure driving machines produced by a major manufacturer this century. Modern tyre technology, too, has unlocked a new level of civility that wasn’t offered by even the best rubber 20 years ago. It’s certainly usable enough for the current owner of this car, who’s taken it to Monaco and back from the UK.

So, is there anything truly new to say about the Carrera GT? Possibly not, but it’s never a bad car to go back and reflect on – certainly, it’s one we’ll never see the likes of again.

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