There’s a chuckle from the roadside as we hastily deploy the small soft top to protect ourselves from the sudden tropical rain, which is a daily occurrence in this part of the world. Akin to having a mere umbrella for its roof, this is not the only source of astonishment from my bemused passenger. “Why so few buttons?,” Bo Tan asks as he absorbs the interior delights of our special Porsche Carrera.
Of course, he is posing questions that pedestrians at the roadside would never think about because, more or less, only new cars can be found on these urban Chinese roads. This is no modern Porsche, but one from comparatively prehistoric automotive times in China, which only ended around 12 years previously. Not only is this particular Carrera a rare sight in China, it would be a rare sight on any blacktop anywhere in the world. This is because this Porsche is the first 911 Speedster ever built, a prototype from November 1987. The car follows the tradition of the 356 Speedster which, of course, was borne out of the ideas of American importer Max Hofman. The first Speedster in 911 form was also the result of a man with American roots: when Peter Schutz succeeded Ernst Fuhrmann as Porsche Chairman of the Board in 1981, he immediately made arrangements to extend the 911 model range. His initiative made for a crucial moment in Porsche history, since the Board had already decided to expire the famous 911 model series earlier in 1981.
Porsche wanted to continue building only the front-engined models (924, 944 and 928), which all featured more modern watercooled engines. Thanks to Peter Schutz, in 1983 Porsche ofered a new Porsche Cabriolet after an 18-year hiatus, though this time with diferent boxer engines and power levels. It was at this time Schutz also asked to develop a new Speedster. The Speedster was duly developed and went into limited production in 1989, with the two-seater 911 now based on the Turbo, complete with its wide body and chassis, although a smaller number of narrow-body examples were also produced. It was powered by the regular air-cooled, naturally aspirated 3.2-litre engine and produced 230hp. In total, around 2,104 examples were produced during 1989 – 171 of which are known to exist with a narrow body, and only two of these narrow-body examples are in the motherland of Germany – one of which is the Diamond blue metallic example you see on these very pages.
The Speedster’s unusual presence in comparison to the Cabriolet starts with the windscreen, which sits eight centimetres lower and is more steeply raked. Behind the two seats sits the clamshell, made of glass-reinforced fibre, which comes with two swellings that look similar to downstream flows behind the heads of racedrivers from the early years. It is a one-piece item and covers the canvas top, including the two depressions in the rear where regular 911s ofer two seats for children (or passengers with extremely flexible bodies). To shut the soft top, the clamshell first needs to open – manually, of course! Balanced by a delicate arrangement of levers, the cover floats over the Speedster’s rear end while the roof is pulled forward to the top of the windscreen. After closing the huge cover, the rear part of the roof – inclusive of the small rear window – needs to be pushed down and clipped into position. Aixing the buttons on top of the cover is fiddly and bad for the fingernails.
To finish the process, the side windows need to be wound up (manually again, of course). The window glass only just pushes against the canvas roof when done up. No wonder this construction does not prevent the passengers inside from getting wet during these tropical rainstorms in Shanghai! While the pure and light Porsche 356 Speedster at its time was also driven on racetracks, this 911 Carrera Speedster is definitely not intended for such purpose. At 1,160kg it’s a little lighter than the 911 Carrera Cabriolet, but it is not a true lightweight version. This narrow-body Speedster is based on the identical, firm chassis of its Cabriolet sister, powered by the same engine and equipped with the same gearbox. The relatively short first and second gears enable us to be ‘Shanghai acceleration heroes’ as soon as traic lights change to green, but for driving on tracks this adjustment is not ideal. More importantly, this Speedster cost around €60,000 in 1989, which is too much money for an owner to spend, only to then perish the car in races.
That’s why the special Clubsport cover ofered by Porsche was not purchased too often. It replaces the two-bubble rear cover and is instead a huge GRP piece to cover the entire Speedster interior except the driver’s seat. Its function is to defend aerodynamic swirls in the interior, though it does somewhat go against the very idyll of the 911 Speedster to begin with. Its membership to the Porsche G-series family is shown by high-mounted impact bumpers. The mounts, which fix the bumpers to the chassis, are covered by convoluted rubber gaiters, which are the result of new regulations from the North American NHTSA (National Highway for Traic Safety Administration). You’ll recall the institution demanded bumpers must be able to absorb impacts at up to 8kph (5mph) in order to protect the car’s body and, as such, the so-called Porsche ‘Faltenbag-Stoßstange’ (German for rubber gaiter bumpers) remains a souvenir of both Porsche and the automotive history at large.