2004 Porsche Carrera GT Page 1

2004 Porsche Carrera GT

2004 Porsche Carrera GT

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You can never be too thin, too rich or, some might add, have too much horsepower.

Registering 605 on the pony scale, that’s one place where the Porsche Carrera GT certainly doesn’t come up short. But then again, the Schwabian supercar pushes virtually all the limits, starting with a price tag of $395,000. 

With its high-tech V-10, carbon fiber body and chassis, ceramic clutch and brakes, the long-awaited two-seater is designed to take on all comers, including Ferrari’s new Enzo.

Porsche recently invited TheCarConnection.com to visit its super-secret development center in Weisach, in the picturesque hills near Stuttgart, for a first look at the production GT. Unfortunately, we’ll have to wait for another opportunity later this year to actually go for a spin, but one of Porsche’s top test drivers did put on an impressive demonstration of what the latest car to wear a Carrera badge can do.

We got our first view of the GT nearly three years ago, when an early prototype made a reasonably sedate, dawn run down the Champs Elysees in Paris. “Today, this is still a concept car,” teased Porsche Chairman Wendelin Wiedeking, though he quickly added that, “In the year 2003, it may become a reality.”

The new supercar will just barely meet that timetable when it begins rolling into showrooms around the world late this year. And most of those who’ve already plunked down their money will have to wait significantly longer. The plan is to produce a maximum 1500 over the next few years, half of those bound for the U.S. For the first year, production will proceed at a rate of just two a day, not surprising considering the carbon fiber is laid down by hand, one layer at a time, each chassis taking a full five days to build.

Comparisons will be unavoidable, especially to the Enzo, which is a bit more powerful, but also slightly heavier. Porsche aficionados will undoubtedly compare the Carrera GT to the old 959, as well. That earlier supercar was designed as a “technology carrier of everything that was possible,” explains Michael Hoelscher, the project manager for the new GT. The strategy behind his car, he adds, was “not to place all technology in it, but the right technology.”

The use of carbon fiber, aluminum and magnesium were givens, of course, to ensure both the stiffest and lightest possible vehicle. The base package, which excludes such niceties as air conditioning and audio, weighs in at just 3042 pounds.

2004 Porsche Carrera GT

2004 Porsche Carrera GT

Enlarge Photo
Then there’s the engine, which was originally developed for a planned assault on Le Mans. Last-minute rule changes led the German automaker to pull out of the 24-hour race, but with relatively modest changes to enable street driving, the big V-10 found a new life. Mounted midship, it’s a normally-aspirated, 40-valve V-10 with VarioCam variable valve control, titanium connecting rods and an aluminum twin-flow intake manifold.

Put it all together and you’re making 605 horsepower, with a tire-spinning 435 foot-pounds of torque. Couldn’t a blower have been added to take on the Enzo? Perhaps, but a confident Hoelscher insists the results would have been “undrivable.”

For Porsche purists, the 68-degree V design is likely to come as a shock, Porsche traditionally opting for opposing, or boxer-style cylinders. Surprisingly, reveals Hoelscher, the chosen package actually resulted in a significantly lower center of gravity. And that’s critical when you’re pushing the edge of handling.

Another surprise was the decision to forego an F1-style paddle shifter, à la Enzo’s. Driveability was the issue for Porsche engineers, who opted instead for a traditional, stick-mounted six-speed.

Well, traditional is probably not the best choice of words considering the special twin-plate ceramic clutch developed for the Carrera GT. Like those used in racing, it’s small and light and mounts low — critical to the overall engine package — and can handle the 8400 rev limit. (Actually, it’s tested to 20,000.) But the unique design permits a relatively normal clutch life, compared to racing ceramics, which are lucky to last out the day.

Ceramic composites are also used on the brakes. This car appears to have as much stopping as starting power.

Putting all that power to the ground isn’t easy, and up to 70 mph, the GT can smoke its tires, even with the special package Michelin developed exclusively for Porsche. This is the first production use of a tire with two separate rubber compounds, a softer outer optimized for handling, and a more durable inner designed for wear.

Off the line, the Carrera GT will rocket from 0 to 100 km/h (0 to 62.5 mph) in 3.9 seconds, and hit 200 (124 mph) in 9.9 seconds. Sure, you’ll have plenty of fun showing up the kid in the Viper or the Yuppie in his Mercedes-Benz E55 AMG, but this is a car designed for more than just a fast blast when the light turns green. To put some perspective on things, the 911 Turbo will clock a 7:58 lap on the Nurburgring’s north loop. The new GT2 can cut that to 7:48. Hoelscher confidently predicts a flat 7:30 from the Carrera GT.

2004 Porsche Carrera GT

2004 Porsche Carrera GT

Enlarge Photo
Power is, of course, only part of the way Porsche achieves that number. There’s the weight, that low center of gravity, and a slick suspension system, and double wishbones front and back with inboard spring and damper units. To lend further assistance, Porsche did decide on traction control. Without it, Hoelscher revealed, the GT would have had a problem with fast launches. But the development team pointedly opted against stability control. Once you’ve got this monster going, it’s up to you to keep it pointed.

Top speed is limited to “only” 205 miles per hour, largely due to aerodynamic drag. Porsche engineers put a premium on downforce, says Hoelscher, because the automaker a sizable number of Carrera GT buyers to log some track time — even if it’s just a couple of laps on public days at the Nurburgring.

So far, though, every one of the roughly 1000 advance buyers have opted to get the no-cost A/C, Bose audio, and navigation systems. As hard as it might be to believe, it’s likely a lot of folks will be using this as a regular, if not daily, driver.

Getting in and out isn’t easy, especially if you’re a meat-eating American. Porsche’s actually developed an alternative seat for those of us “broader at the beam.” Even then, the seats are designed to hold you firmly in place, even at 200 mph, so getting in and out at zero is a chore.

2004 Porsche Carrera GT

2004 Porsche Carrera GT

Enlarge Photo
Not so dealing with the rest of the interior, which features the fit, finish and refinement one would expect of an ultra-luxury automobile. The package is tastefully finished in a mix of leather, magnesium, composites, and a wood-topped gearshift.

If you’ve got your heart set on a Carrera GT, and your wallet’s big enough to support your passion, you’d be wise to opt for the factory delivery program. That way, you’ll get a trip to the new plant in Leipzig, along with a chance to take a demo drive on the test track. Expect just a few cars to roll off the line in November or December. But with start-up so slow, maybe it will give you time to save your pennies and order one of the last 500.

2004 Porsche Carrera GT
Base price:
$395,000
Engine: 5.7-liter V-10, 605 hp; 435 lb-ft
Drivetrain: Six-speed manual with two-plate ceramic dry clutch, rear-wheel drive
Length x width x height: 181.6 x 75.6 x 45.9 in
Wheelbase: 107.5 in
Curb weight: 3042 lb
EPA City/Hwy: NA
Safety equipment: Ceramic composite brakes, anti-lock brakes, ABD, ASR, traction control, dual front and side airbags
Major standard equipment: Bi-xenon headlamps, anti-theft system, five-piece travel set, pollen filter. (To reduce weight, A/C, Bose audio and navigation systems are all available as no-cost options.)
Warranty: Four years/50,000 miles, roadside assistance