The Porsche 911 Speedster turns anywhere it stops into a postcard scene. Looking at it is fun; sitting inside is spectacular. Then you step on the gas, and die, drowned in a sense of pure heroism and hedonism. It is nothing short of glorious and you’ll never forget it.
(Full Disclosure: Porsche flew me to Europe, allowed access to its museum and a small fleet of its finest current cars for a few days.)
We got the comically decadent task of road testing the artful 911 Speedster, extreme 911 GT3 RS and winged superhero 911 GT2 RS Weissach on a trip from the company’s HQ in Stuttgart to the site of the 24 Hours of Spa endurance race in Belgium. The short story is, the cars are good.
Now, doing shakedown trips with new cars is a pretty routine and regulated experience, usually. Take the machine to speed. Take it back down. Maybe there’s a track component. Take it around town and pull over for some photos while your coffee’s refreshed. At the end of the day, notes are compared and faults are weighed against features for an unbiased analysis.
But on a sun-soaked backroad trip through woodsy Germany and out onto the unrestricted Autobahn, the Speedster would allow no such thing. I intentionally waited a few weeks to write about this car after driving it, in hopes that its spell would wear off and I could rattle off a remotely objective report, but it’s pointless to fight it.
The new Speedster’s not an instant classic just because it looks good—though, I mean, come on, it’s pretty enough to make you want to dig into a thesaurus for something like... pulchritudinous.
But there’s backstory too. The O.G. Speedster hit American asphalt in 1954, per Porsche’s historical record, as “the cheap Porsche.” Back then, people typically paid less money for fewer comforts; the idea of spending more for a stripped-out performance variant that we’ve fully embraced in 2019 was not a thing back then.
Automobile importer Max Hoffmann, who was basically Porsche’s entire U.S. dealership network in the ’50s, convinced the Germans to send him something he could sell for “less than $3,000.” The result was an ultra-lean sports car made to look extra lithe with a raked windshield to appeal to folks who appreciated speed and European style over everything. James Dean famously copped an early Speedster, and more importantly, it helped establish the “driving purist” branding for the company. (A Speedster was not the car Dean fatally crashed in, by the way—that was a 550 Spyder.)
An inflation calculator tells us $3,000 in 1954 is about $29,000 in today’s money. The 2019 Speedster retails for over a quarter-million bucks.
In between, there have been a few other iterations of the Speedster. You can comb through the specifics on Porsche’s site, but basically the concept has stayed the same while also completely changing.
Every Speedster has been a fast convertible with a uniquely sleek design and minimal luxury features. But the car’s designation has evolved from “stripped-down bargain-basement special” to “limited production collector’s item,” because guess which is more profitable for Porsche?
The new Speedster costs more than four 718 Boxsters but, in defense of its asking price, there’s more to it than just “911 plus low windshield and scalloped hood.”
The 2019 Porsche Speedster has the flat-six cylinder engine from the GT3 with the individual throttle body system from the GT3 R racing car. A silencer system Porsche describes as “very special” on the outlet side helps the car pass emissions.
“Individual throttle bodies are known in racing for throttle response, performance, better part-load throttle behavior, more torque in the mid-range, and simply faster reaction to changes,” Andreas Preuninger of Porsche Motorsport told Road & Track when the Speedster came out.
The Speedster’s tuned fuel injectors and a stainless steel exhaust also help dial the 4.0-liter GT3 engine to a 502 claimed horsepower hooked up to a three-pedal manual transmission in a package that weighs in at a Porsche-posted 3,230 pounds.
If you can shift fast enough, the Speedster can allegedly carry you from a stop to 60 mph in 3.8 seconds and, if you’re brave enough, on to a top speed of 192 mph.
Even with weeks, months to cool on me, Speedster’s still got me hopelessly seduced. It’s near faultless. It’s marvelous.
It’s uniquely engaging without being too hard to drive, it stands out without making you look like an asshole, and it’s physically impossible to walk away from without looking back at over your shoulder.
Entering a Speedster is like climbing aboard any other car, except when the door’s open and you drop yourself into the seat, you’re falling about twice as far as you expect to and land in a little bucket with as much cushioning as a cake fork.
“Ow,” I said to Kevin McCauley; photographer, air-cooled 911 owner and avowed Porschephile who had already installed himself in the right seat. He laughed. A nervous laugh, like the two of us had been asked to take the Mona Lisa off the wall at the Louvre and I’d just almost dropped it.
We burbled out of Porsche’s museum parking lot in Stuttgart and plunged into traffic briefly before finding ourselves in the countryside. The industrial city where Porsches and Mercedes-Benzes are built melts away to grassy fields and idyllic villages surprisingly quickly, even if you’re respectful of the speed limit.
Too quickly to learn anything about the car’s nature, except for one thing: if we wanted to run the rest of the day with the top down (obviously, we did) we were going to need some sunscreen.
Our $274,500 art piece on wheels landed in a grocery store parking lot, and after being briefly distracted by a two-door third-generation Mitsubishi Pajero sitting near us (neat!) I began rummaging through the shelves before realizing store aisles were labeled in German and English is not the universal language I’d been raised to believe it was.
“Sprek-en English?” I asked the cashier, attempting to veil my boorishness with the politest tone I could contrive. She shook her head. Undeterred, I lifted the bottle I’d plucked from within the shop. “Sunscreen?” Again with the head shaking, this time accompanied by a look of ominous concern.
Eventually, another customer led me to a red canister, which I bought, brought back out to the car, presented triumphantly to McCauley, and proceeded to shake up and dump onto my skin.
Out squired a thick dollop of white goo the size of a baseball with the consistency of shaving cream and an overwhelming scent of watermelon. Now my co-driver was laughing for real.
“Huh,” I said, re-examining the canister, tilting it with the hand that wasn’t coated in an unsettling stickiness. “I mean, it says SPF 15. Let’s just run it and get the hell out of here.”
After slathering ourselves in the frothy mystery gel we were pretty sure had some UV-protective qualities, I cranked the left-hand key to start the flat engine behind our heads and we Speedstered off into the forest smelling like tropical fruit.
The convertible was happy to settle into a canter through Germany’s little roads among big trees. The car never felt like it was struggling against restraints, or provoking us with the snorts and ticks coming from the powerplant behind us.
Functionally, the most memorable element of this car is its manual shifter. Every gear change feels like that last move in a chess game, filling you with the satisfaction of a decisive victory. Click-click-click. Lever throws are a short-medium length and the clutch has some heft. Automatic throttle blipping could make a mediocre driver look like an expert, and it makes any driver feel comfortable in no time.
The Speedster’s greatest accomplishment isn’t flat-out speed, though Porsche claims it can do almost 200 mph. The best thing about this car is not even its cornering abilities, despite a suite of handling hardware and traction control tech that can keep it planted and predictable through wild driving.
What really stuck with me, and still has me looking wistfully back on my photograph of this trip, is just how well this car sells soul. It lives in a perfect middle ground between “exceptional” and “accessible,” where there’s an intensity to casual driving but in a sense that’s invigorating rather than draining.
There’s plenty of driver-assistance and infotainment tech onboard, but the steering wheel’s spokes are naked of annoying buttons or switches. The soft top requires some manual operation, but it clicks and cinches effortlessly.
The car feels alive without being untamable, it’s intense without being intimidating. The Speedster might be able to hang near 200 mph, but it’s still exciting at 20 because of everything you interface with inside feels well-weighted and purposeful.
A fast, athletic and elegant GT car might not be the best choice for every application, but if it were, this thing would be perfect.