The legend that is the 1973 Carrera RS
It’s a warm afternoon in West Vancouver, bright and sunny.
Traffic is busy, the hum and honk of people flitting about their business, the dull background white-noise of the modern automobile.
Slowly, decibel by decibel, a bassier thrum begins to build.
My ears perk up: the past is approaching.
Amongst the dark, hulking luxo-SUVs that are part of the everyday landscape of our driving lives, a pale and dainty shape flits into view. Its flanks are lettered in Kelly-green script, the centres of its fivespoke Fuchs wheels painted to match. There is a minimum of chrome, merely the startling whiteness of its paintwork.
It is as rare and as beautiful a sighting in these surroundings as spotting a Kermode spirit bear deep in some coastal rainforest. This car is, some purists would say, the best, most iconic 911 ever built: the 1973 Carrera 2.7 RS. Let’s go for a ride.
Some time ago, a reader took me to task for suggesting that the 1970s were a wasteland, automotively speaking (well, that and the ‘orrible music too). He pointed out his BMW 2002 as an example; while American manufacturers were building some fairly suspect machines, the Europeans were starting to bring over cars that would become legendary, or at least well-loved.
The 2.7 RS is one such machine, and we have the death of a racing legend to thank for it. 1972 brought rule changes that put a stop to Porsche’s 917 racecar, a 12-cylinder, 580 horsepower juggernaut. This insanely dangerous (drivers would pray for breakdowns), incredibly brittle (and they’d get them), absolute beast of a machine was seemingly unstoppable. Finally though, Beowulf strangled Grendel with miles of red tape and the game changed.
Porsche would eventually send the 917 off to Can-Am, where it would be cranked up to 1,500 h.p. and win pretty much everything. In Europe, the rules now favoured Formula 1 teams like Ferrari – developing a new car would be too costly for Porsche.
Luckily, a new series opened up, one that had a bit more relevance to actual road-going cars. The European GT Championship was open to the 911, and this time, the rules would actually help. Homologation required Porsche to build at least 500 cars that were the same specification as their racing effort. Surprised by huge demand, they would eventually make 1,500.
To build the RS, Porsche took its 911S – already a rally winner in Monte Carlo and France – and whittled down the weight using trickery like thin-plate steel and fibreglass. All luxuries were removed, suspension was stiffened, larger rear tires were fitted (all 911s are staggered-fitment these days, but this was a first for Porsche), and that iconic “ducktail” was added for highspeed stability.
Naturally, putting the 911 on a diet helped, but it needed more muscle as well. The 2.4-litre engine was bored out to 2.7-litre, coated with a friction-reducing material, eventually developing a respectable (for the time) 210 h.p.
The net result of all these enhancements is one of the greatest sportscars ever built. While horsepower levels seem modest compared to even a modern mid-size family sedan, the RS (for RennSport or “Racing Speed”) is greater than the sum of its parts.
This one belongs to West Vancouver resident Ryan Chang. It is a recent acquisition for him, and he is only too happy to show off his pride and joy. Would I like to go for a ride? Oh yes please.
Away we go, wending through the thinning traffic of Ambleside in a westerly direction. Like all 911s, the RS is relatively easy to drive, with an upright driving position that makes the stopand-go of modern traffic a relative doddle.
But you’d never mistake it for a modern car. Ryan has to work a bit, dealing with classic 911 quirks like the off-set pedals and manual choke. The thinness of the body panels transmit every nuance of the air rushing past the car; there is not a micron of sound-deadening material and the wheel arches are entirely exposed – were you to crouch down, you could see the exposed red of the horn assembly in the front left wheel-well.
Divided boulevard gives way to winding road out past Lighthouse Park, and the shunt and flow of commuters dries up. Ryan quickens his pace and the 911 seems to leap forward eagerly. It’s twitchy, this car, set up for ’70s-style racing when electronic nannies like traction control were an Orwellian nightmare, rather than a safety blanket for distracted drivers.
Next to the RS, regular traffic seems as plodding as the freighters that sleep patiently in Burrard inlet. We aren’t speeding, but we are speeding along: like a motorcycle, there’s nothing to here to isolate you from the sensations of motion.
No wonder this lovely bit of road is thronged with cyclists on a Sunday morning. It loops upwards past the marina, as narrow as an English B-road, nothing between you and the Pacific but a waist-high wall. The view is spectacular, the soundtrack doubly so: that bored-out, air-cooled flat-six whirring and snarling its unique battlecry, even at low r.p.m.
And then, back to reality.
Clots of traffic begin to form. The road straightens out, becomes safe and sane instead of seductively winding. Back on the boulevard in Ambleside, some dozy driver changes lanes without signalling and nearly takes us both out. A quick brake and we’re fine, but perhaps this is a good time to talk about the cost of these magic moments.
This particular 911 is more expensive than any modern variation currently on sale. It’s got a bigger price tag than a Lamborghini Aventador and – unlike the Lambo, of which 1,000 have been sold in the last 15 months – is utterly irreplaceable.
Driving this car in day-to-day traffic is not unlike walking around carrying a priceless oil-painting. Sure, damage can be repaired, but the value in this particular RS is in its numbersmatching, factory-fresh appearance. The gearbox cannot be repaired if Ryan misses a shift. Due to specialized coatings, the engine can’t be rebuilt.
Checking the oil is a time-consuming process that must be done on perfectly level ground, and the car must be started and run regularly. Most collectors never let their RS’s out of storage, and those that do often have a second engine built and swapped in to preserve the factory original.
Ryan doesn’t. He drives his car, and people who know what it is turn and stare as they catch a glimpse of something they thought they’d never see outside of a magazine. Really, this car is artwork you can drive and needs to be shared.
We park beside my tester for the week, the latest iteration of the 911, a 991. It’s like seeing Audrey Hepburn standing next to Pamela Anderson.
What a shame that cars like the RS are no longer built. What a joy that a car like this is still on the road.
Brendan McAleer is a freelance writer and automotive enthusiast.
Photograph by: Brendan McAleer