History/driving impressions originally published in AutoWeek June 23, 1986
This isn’t a history of Porsche. It isn’t history of the 356 or even the 356B. That’s been done and done well elsewhere.
What this is is simply a comparison of two Porsches, a 1962 356B Super-90 coupe and a 1963 Carrera 2 Cabriolet. It is an interesting comparison because the cars are virtually identical in major componentry. It is in the details that they differ.
Of course, one might quibble about whether those differences are details: obviously one has a steel top and the other doesn’t. The S-90 has its Volkswagen-derived pushrod engine, the Carrera 2 has the 2000GS, a double overhead cam unit with roots in racing (and there are a host of differences that brings about). The S-90 has drum brakes, the Carrera 2 has Porsche’s own disc brakes.
They are, however, essentially the same: all-steel body in unit with the floor pan, flat four-cylinder engine in the rear, and suspension the VW-derived trailing arm front and swingarm rear with compensating transverse single leaf spring pivoted on the differential housing (not found on lesser Porsches).
What a difference the details make. The S-90 has all the practicality of the original Porsche-designed Volkswagen. The mechanicals are concentrated within the engine compartment: the engine cools itself and its oil under its shroud, it pumps its own fuel, and even warms its passengers with heat off the exhaust system.
The 130bhp 2000GS engine, however, breathes its fire only with a host of accessories. It has an electric fuel pump, remote oil coolers in the front fenders and leaves warming passengers to an under-hood (and under fuel tank) gasoline fired heater. The S-90 is, in engineering terms, elegant. The Carrera 2 is merely radical.
The two specific cars in our comparison are owned by Porsche and Ferrari enthusiast Tony Singer of Laurel Hollow, New York. The S-90 coupe Tony has owned since 1972 and has rolled over the odometer on it; the Carrera 2 was only recently acquired. Is one of less than 25 Carrera 2 Cabrios made. Both cars are unrestored, well-kept originals.
The S-90, making 90bhp, was at its time the ultimate expression of the pushrod engine (to be superseded, though, by the 95bhp 1600 SC in the 356C) and it shows it in a solid urge that’s definitely coming from the rear of the car. There’s no question that this is an air-cooled engine, the cooling fins amplifying all the mechanical noises. The exhaust note is suitably sporty under acceleration and not too loud. Cruising is a forte. The noises diminishes and the coupe becomes a nice place in which to spend hours. Although one could spend hours playing backroad bandit in it, too, there is one flaw. There is a gap between second and third gears that is exacerbated by an engine whose usable power begins fairly high up in the rev range, and on twisty cut-and-thrust roads there never seems to be a correct ratio. Put it in second and it’s instant guilt feelings, the engine revving furiously. Put it in third and the tach drops below the 3200rpm “green line.” You’re lugging it.
The 2000 GS engine was developed, along with being a power plant for the racing Abarth Carrera, to develop more torque lower in the rev range and it shows on the tach face. The green line is marked at 2200rpm and the engine makes at least 94lbs-ft of torque from there on up. The added grunt comes primarily from the larger displacement, the engine measuring 1966cc, bigger them both the 1582cc S-90 or the earlier 1.6 Carreras.
Despite the better than one horse per cube power, the Carrera 2 idles cleanly, and driven at less than 4000rpm it feels strong but not necessarily exotic. Traffic presents no problem in terms of either drivability or overheating. Rough roads are swallowed by the same compliant suspension of the Super-90, a suspension that also made Porsche’s reputation for road holding – for better and worse. Excuse me if I didn’t explore the latter in a borrowed car on public roads.
But take the engine over 4000rpm and stick your foot in it and it’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Run-Away-And-Hide. Not only does the car take off but it does so with the magnificent note, genuine goose-pimple music. I never had the opportunity to see the four-cylinder 1.5liter F1 cars run, but I did see Grand Prix in Cinerama and that is where I heard this sound before, echoing off the walls and houses and underpasses of Long Island like that of a Formula car off the walls and houses and tunnel of Monaco. Life imitating art or something, but put me in coach, I’m ready to play.
Look: Tony says given the choice, he’ll take the Super-90 for its general all-around competence, its road readiness and also a bit of sentiment. As for me, I don’t have to deal with the 15years of ownership. As for me, I’m partial to adrenal rush. As for me, I’ll take the steering wheel of the Carrera 2 in my hands, the theme from Grand Prix in my mind, and the sound of full throttle ringing in my ears.