Nope. We’re not talking Marmite. Ain’t a political slogan either, advocating a re-distribution of riches and resources to all and sundry. Nor is it part of an ultra-secretive PLAYBOY campaign to promote mud wrestling. Rather, it’s a core philosophy of a company called Porsche. Dr Ferdinand Porsche could have fathered it himself, this pay-off line. He is, after all, the automotive genius partly responsible for the modern racing car. Dr P is also the Big Daddy of the world’s most iconic sports car brand.
In 1923, see, Porsche and co-engineer Willy Walb worked on a teardrop-shaped racing concept by Chief Benz engineer, Hans Nibel. Nibel, in turn, had based his idea for an ultra-slippery machine on Edmund Rumpler’s 1921 Tropfenwagen road car the name literally meaning “drop-shaped” or “teardrop-shaped wagon.”
In fact, when Rumpler’s Tropfenwagen was measured in Volkswagen’s wind tunnel in 1979, the car had an aero value of 0.28 – a figure that VW itself only managed to beat in 1988, with a Passat! Now, the Benz Tropfenwagen, or Tropfenrennwagen, was the first racer with a mid-engined architecture and rear-wheel drive. And hey, that’s a layout you’ll more or less find in Sebastian Vettel’s modern day F1 car, too.
Which just goes to show that there’s nothing new under the sun. Not if Leonardo da Vinci had invented the gearbox more than half a millennium ago, already. What then, makes Porsches so different from all other cars? Well, there’s something iconic about the shape, to begin with. In essence, it represents a lower, more streamlined version of the Volkswagen Beetle, a car with which the selfsame Dr P had been intimately involved in the days when it was paramount, in Germany, to build a car (or “wagon”) for the nation (“volk”). Hence Volkswagen. And because of the shape, also Käfer meaning beetle.
The golden thread from pre-war Beetle to post-war Porsche is not difficult to follow. Directly after WW II, Dr P was imprisoned for 20 months. During that time, his son, Ferry, looked around for wheels but couldn’t find any which suitably impressed him. So he built his own, much in the style of Ferruccio Lamborghini, a tractor builder from northern Italy, who commissioned his own grand tourer in the early ’60s, primarily because he thought Ferraris were too unsophisticated. Lamborghini employed Bertone and Gandini, of course, to create masterpieces of exotica in his name, thereby changing the lexicon of supercar design forever. Ferry Porsche?
He found one Erwin Komenda, who also happened to have penned the Beetle. Now, seeing that automotive parts generally were in short supply after the war, Ferry wasn’t shy to use Beetle components in his Porsche 356. Prime among those were the engine, transmission and suspension. Just like the Beetle, the 356 thus turned out to be a four-cylinder, air-cooled, rear-engined, rearwheel-drive car. In this sense, the first Porsches were truly just Beetles in fast forward. Soon, though, parts were re-engineered and the cars refined, with a heavy focus on performance. Yet, the umbilical cord tying the two designs and brands together continued unstintingly, even when Porsche introduced the most iconic of sports cars ever, the 911, in 1963.
Uppermost in this tango of familiarity was vehicle layout and body shape, of course, but also engine architecture. The Beetle had been using a flat-four, and so did the Porsche. Now, the pistons of a flat engine move in a horizontal plane, instead of the normal up-and-down action found in more conventional mills. In flat engines, cylinders are thus arranged in two banks, one on either side of the crankshaft, from where the pistons “box” at each other, much like two boxers throwing punches at one another.
For this reason, such units are known as boxer engines. Clever, hey? And actually very easy to understand, once the whole concept has been demystified – the point being that boxer engines, with their horizontal or flat (instead of upright) layout, make for low centres of gravity. And that’s important when it comes to automotive handling. Take soccer stars like Lionel Messi or Wayne Rooney, or in years gone by, Diego Maradona, Mark Hughes, Gerd Müller and Pelé. Small, stocky bullterriers, all of them. Yet, goal scorers of note, too.
Why? Well, apart from a multitude of skills, they’re all “close to the pitch,” in a manner of speaking; they boast a low centre of gravity, enabling them to turn and swivel and score where others lunge and trip and fall. For which will be more stable: a pencil made to stand on its tip, or one lying flat on its side? Same with a car. If the centre of gravity is too high, it just won’t be agile enough to get petrolheads going. Remember also, that the engine is the single heaviest unit in a vehicle. If it had to be mounted on a car’s roof, you can well imagine the ensuing havoc during cornering. The lower, then, the better, if you’re pursuing dynamic handling. And that’s the beauty of the flat-four, or in later years the flat-six: it’s spread out. And stretched wide. Which, simply put, enables you to pile the jam on, in thick wads. Smear it all over the place as the road becomes your tabularasa, your blank canvas.
This, par excellence, is what the Porsche Cayman R does so well: it conquers the road. There’s that great little monologue in Apocalypse Now, one of the best movies ever made: “I’m walking through the jungle gathering mangoes. I meet Raquel Welch. I make a nice mango cream pudding. Kinda’ spread it around us . . .” Yeah baby, squelch it all over Miss Welch, the Big R, the lovely Raquel – or, if you want, the Cayman R. You can easily get pornographic with this little beaut: roll her up, burn rubber, ride sidesaddle, do oblique angles all day long or just bang it up the highway.
The R’s 3.4-litre flat-six, see, is immensely strong (243 kW). The car is light (under 1,300 kilograms). And the mill mounts between the cabin and rear wheels, trapping significant weight between the two pairs of axles. This guarantees good balance, of course, on wide tyres with flat (that word again) profiles, ensuring little side-wall movement for the car to sway on, plus lots of grip for a quick recovery, once you’ve turned the tail inside out. The R is a neat, tight little number. As always, the highlight of highlights hovers at chest height, though: the R is rounded off by brilliant Porsche steering. Man, a bit of mango cream pie all over Raquel Welch might yield better feel and feedback – but not a helluva lot more. Even the R’s ride is good; firm, yes, ahem, firm. But without the harsh sharp jolts that typify your classic sports car experience.
That’s because Zuffenhausen has taken great care in making the Cayman R as light as possible. To this purpose, they have even replaced inside door handles with pull straps. The wonderfully crafted 19” alloys, by the same token, are the lightest wheels you’ll find on any Porsche, precisely to enhance quick and effective damping. And then there’s that fixed wing which glues the R’s elegantly sloped rear to the road. The end result is a cracking little performance car when driven hard in Sport Plus mode. In the Cayman R, you can truly spread it out wide and smear it on, with little fear for tears!
Keine Tränentropfen, here. No teardrops… Just mango cream pudding.
by Egmont Sippel