Saturday, 12 May 2012

Porsche 918 Spyder Spotted In Skin-Tight Retro Camouflage

                             Porsche 917                                                                                         Porsche 918
The Porsche 917 needs no introduction. Nor does the phenomenon of global warming. Modern times mean we can't all scoot around in V8 sports cars and such like, so Porsche has injected some conscience into its successor to the epic Carrera GT, as well as showing a rare bit of retro love by calling it 918 and referencing the 917 (see what they did there?) with some 1970 stripes on the matte black camo. If you haven't heard of the 918 Spyder yet, where the hell have you been? Don't worry though, all will become clear in a few paragraphs' time.

First, some back story, and a quick introduction to the 917. The car that effectively owned early '70s sportscar racing, starting with Le Mans 1970 and ending with a 1600-horsepower CanAm car in '73. People who are more into movies than motorsport might recognise it from the Steve McQueen film Le Mans, which featured a pair of Gulf-liveried 917Ks dicing it out with Ferrari, after Ford's previous dominance had subsided. As well as famous victories, there were the famous liveries. I've mentioned the iconic Gulf livery and you can see the white-on-red one above, but how about a psychedelic Martini paint job or the "Pink Pig" that showed the various pork cuts on its body for reasons that are beyond me? Of course, the regular Martini stripes are also an iconic livery as well. It's a shame most sponsors these days just want their name all over it and don't consider a whole paint job. Only Red Bull springs to mind as a company who carries this on. At any rate, despite the minor flaw of generating large amounts of lift at 250mph down the Mulsanne straight, the 917 set such a significant distance record at the 1971 LM24 that the following year the track organisers put chicanes into the 4KM straight at La Sarthe the ensured it wasn't broken until 2010. An all-time motor racing great, and Porsche engineering legend Hans Mezger's crowning achievement. I would go on, but you probably know a thing or two about the 917 anyway, and it's not actually the focus of this article.

Nevertheless, you should now know why it's so significant for Porsche to build a car called 918. It means as much to them as the upcoming "F-Type" means to Jaguar. That means it can't just be a four-cylinder hybrid Boxster. It has to be something immense. So what has Porsche made here? Well the original 918 Spyder Concept from 2010 showed a car that let you have your cake and swallow it whole without choking. The clever hybrid system meant a whopping 94mpg (78mpg US), but the 218bhp electric motors teamed up with a 3.4-litre, 500bhp racing V8 to give you 718bhp and torque-vectoring all-wheel-drive. It also looked great, with references to classic road and racing Porsches of the past mixed in with a few new touches and a roof akin to the Carrera GT.

Then came the 918 RSR Concept last year, which took the Le Mans reference onto another level with orange on pale blue (à la Gulf), racing aero, a fixed roof and something that looks like the cooling fan on the 917's monstrous flat-12 engine. The hybrid system - designed by Williams Hybrid Power, a subsidiary of the F1 team - was also revealed in more detail, with the strangely leathery racing interior featuring what appears to be some kind of doomsday device. Basically the flywheel accumulator spins at up to 36,000rpm and accumulates the otherwise-wasted kinetic energy from the brakes to use later, much like KERS except bigger. The energy then gets sent to the front wheels for up to 8 seconds before it needs recharging. The system in the coupé has seen service in an orange and white 911 GT3-R Hybrid, which won the 2010 Nürburgring 24 Hours, and similar set-ups are now being used by some Le Mans prototype teams like the Toyota TS030 and Audi R18 e-tron quattro (the latter car came second in the recent Spa 6 hours, having shown a clear advantage in the wet but suffered with understeer in the dry, allowing a non-hybrid R18 to lead a 1-2-3-4 win for Audi), so clearly they're on to something. The specs improved, with a direct-injection V8 making 555bhp at a screaming 10,300rpm and total power jumping up to 757bhp as a result. Unlike the Spyder Concept, this has no electric-only mode. Because Race-hybrid.

And so we come to 2012, and the production car has been given its body and is being tested and tuned to perfection like only Porsche does. One noticeable change is the absence of side-exit exhaust pipes (which somehow look fake anyway), as a clever and complicated exhaust system now exits right behind the occupants' heads, sticking out of the top of the engine and inches behind the rear window. An interesting touch, which presumably saves weight while pleasuring the ears of those inside, which all supercars should do.

See? Certainly an interesting idea. It limits rear visibility though, but then this is a supercar. Not only is there possibly a rear view camera for reversing, but you never have to look behind you when you've got 718bhp. This also means that, like in the McLaren MP4-12C, the rear diffuser has room to work properly. The prototype here has 911 (991) tail lights, by the way, which is why they don't fit properly. They still look good though. Like the V10 banshee that was the 2003-8 Carrera GT, the production 918 Spyder will have a two-piece removable roof and a full-width pop-up spoiler. Unlike the C-GT though, this 200mph Porsche supercar will do over 80mpg and supposedly lap the Nordschleife in under 7:30. The report by Autocar (where these spy shots come from) suggests that the V8 engine has grown to 4.6 litres, presumably so it doesn't have to rev past 10,000rpm and also to get more torque for extra driveability. The two electric motors will now control an axle each, with one at the front and a rear motor mounted in the gearbox housing. The total power has inched up again, from 757 to 762bhp, giving a 0-60 time of just 2.8 seconds, while still promising to return up to 94mpg (imperial) and emit only 70g/km of CO2. To put that into perspective, your precious Toyota Prius C will do about 60mpg if you're careful, emits 90g/km of CO2 and only makes 99bhp. So there. This is better in every single way except boot space and rear seats. And price; the 918 Spyder will be £621,600 "at current exchange rates", which makes it roughly €770,000, or a nice round $1million. Think how many V6 Mustangs that is!

The 918 will finally come into the world finished and ready to blow everyone's minds in the 18th September, which, using the backwards American dating system, is 9/18. See what they did there? Also, they'll be building a grand total of...... 918 cars! It's a wonder it isn't $918,000 as well. Maybe it was going to be but development of this wonder-machine got a little expensive.

At any rate, I really want this to be all it promises, because it really is a truly amazing car. I just love the idea that over 700 horsepower can also do over 90mpg (although probably not at the same time, as there are four drive modes to switch from Green to Go). If you had suggested that in 2003 when the Carrera GT was around, nobody would believe you, probably not even Porsche. To top it all off, it looks stunning and could pave the way to a new Ferrari-challenging supercar rumoured to be called 960 (as in one after 959) that'll sit between this and the eventual 991 911 Turbo. Despite the Cayenne, Cajun and Pajun (a "baby Panamera" that'll effectively be a posh Audi), Porsche are still being awesome in a way that matters. Long may it continue.

The other four pictures from Autocar are below:
The proportions are ever so slightly different for packaging reasons.
The car was spotted near Porsche's Weissach headquarters, sporting 1970 stripes from its spiritual predecessor.
This being a Porsche, the 918 will be equally at home on road or track.
Odd exhaust pipes will make topless motoring an aural delight... unless you put it in all-electric mode.
I cannot wait for this car, even though I will never own one.
Lastly, will the Le Mans references be as unfounded as Ferrari putting a GTO badge on a car never designed to race? Nope! As of 2014, Porsche will return to endurance racing. They dominated in the '70s with the 917, they dominated in the late '80s with the 956/962 and won again in 1998 with the half-a-911 GT1, and now that Audi is looking to run four rings around their record number of LM24 victories, they'll be snatching some chequered flags in this decade too! Keep being awesome, Porsche.

Edit: More pictures have popped up, and you can see them here.

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