I’ve spent the last few days behind the wheel of a Porsche 964; a model of 911 I have always loved. And, increasingly, other people love the Porsche 964, too, and it has become firmly established as one of the great classic Porsche 911s.
However, back in the early 1990s, Porsche’s then-new Technical Director, Ulrich Bez, wasn’t impressed. Thankfully, he appreciated the strength of the 911’s brand and persuaded his fellow board members not to drop the model in favour of an all-new car – an option which was on the cards. Instead, it was decided to carry the 911 concept forward with the model that was to become known as the 993.
Bez insisted that the new car would exhibit more of that elusive quality he called ‘Porscheness’, something he claimed (rather unfairly in my view) the 964 – and other Porsches of the era – lacked. To this end, he tasked engineer and test driver Peter Falk with defining exactly what Porscheness was. After much research, Falk dropped a 20-page report on Bez’s desk. This report could be summed up in one word – agility.
He explained that Porsches should have two types of agility – direct and indirect. The former is the quick – and perceivable – reaction to driver input via the brakes, accelerator or steering. Indirect agility, on the other hand, refers to the driver’s perception of the car, through touch, sound and appearance – all of which should create the impression of lightness, speed and controllability. Falks went on to lay down criteria that the new 911 should have in order to ooze Porscheness. Happily for 964 fans, he cited the Carrera 2 has being an agile car. He also talked about how a car should look, particularly the cockpit, which should be open and airy with good views in all directions – just like a 911’s.
Peter Falk also stated that, to aid its agility, a Porsche should have a large, slim-spoked steering wheel, rather than the more typical small and chunky wheel found on most sports cars.
And driving this Porsche 964 with its original steering wheel reinforces in my mind that this is true; there’s something very special about piloting a large-wheeled 911. You can hold the wheel with your fingertips and make the smallest correction with the slightest effort. A large steering wheel also gives a 911 a classic feel which, again, has to be a good thing.
So often, people replace a Porsche 911’s steering wheel with a small, thick-rimmed item and, while this undoubtedly can be wonderful and endows the car with a kart-like feel, it does change the car’s characteristics in a small but significant way. Personally, I like to keep the original wheel, but it’s a very personal thing. Which do you prefer?