Less is more. Porsche took this axiom to heart when conceiving its first niche car, the 356 Speedster. In 1954, the company unveiled a simple, race-worthy roadster available for less than $3,000. With more than 4,822 examples sold, it became the sports car manufacturer's first commercial success. And with it, the Speedster legend was born.
In 1989 Porsche introduced a new interpretation of the Speedster, this time based on the 911 Turbo widebody chassis. The new 911 Speedster featured a low, raked windshield and an elemental roof that hid neatly under twin Speedster humps. Its good looks enabled Porsche to sell 2,065 examples. But from a driver's perspective, it was noticeably heavier and less agile than a base 911 Cabriolet.
In 1993 Zuffenhausen revived not only the Speedster name and look from the 1989 incarnation but also the intent by faithfully returning to the "less is more" philosophy. Built in the wake of the hardcore 1992 964 RS, this final interpretation was to be the most aggressively focused Speedster of all. Zuffenhausen's newest was an austere, lightweight, open-top driver's car. In North America it was priced at $66,000, comfortably $10,000 less than a base 964 Carrera 2 Cabriolet.
Unadorned by extravagant wheel arch flares and with no visible spoilers, the 964 Speedster seethed with pent-up aggression-classic 911 but with a more menacing edge. That air of aggression was accentuated on dark-colored cars as with this Slate Gray example.
With its top closed it looked slightly hunched and kind of awkward. But the top embodied the Speedster's creed. Its operation was manual and it was an unlined, lightweight contraption.
I've driven and worked on many 911s over the years, including the '89 Speedster, but never a 964. Just 936 of these were built, including 14 right-hand-drive and 20 widebody examples. So while there isn't such a thing as an "ordinary" 964 Speedster, this one has more historic provenance than any other: It is the very last one built. It was ordered by Hong Kong businessman Kevin Yeung, and its build commission was approved by Porsche AG on November 2, 1993.
It's critical to remember that at the time Zuffenhausen's main production line was undergoing a dramatic revamp under the leadership of Wendelin Wiedeking, who had just returned in 1991 as head of production before being promoted to CEO in 1993 with the company at the brink of bankruptcy.
North America was Porsche's most important market and Frederick Schwab, PCNA boss, was keen to bring the 993 over as soon as possible to drum up much-needed sales. But first he had to ensure that all remaining 964s (including Speedsters and Turbo 3.6s) were either delivered or allocated before the first 993s arrived.
Zuffenhausen had planned to sell 3,000 964 Speedsters but only received orders for 900 when the order books closed in April 1993. Receiving orders for 13 right-hand-drivers meant the company was unable to break even, let alone earn a profit, and officially all production of RHD Speedsters ceased by June 1993. By that time, Porsche AG agreed to accept this exigent 964 Speedster commission; the main factory line was already working at full capacity to produce as many 993 coupes as possible. As a result, Porsche Exclusive/Sonderwunsch (Special Wish) was commissioned to produce the car. Built by hand at Werk 1 alongside a 964 America GS 3.8 Hardtop Roadster (commissioned by a New Yorker and scheduled to become the last 964 produced), this commission was earmarked as the last 964 Speedster. Legendary Sonderwunsch chief Rolf Sprenger encouraged his client to seize the opportunity to create a truly unique car-an ultra-leicht Sonderwunsch Speedster.
The Sonderwunsch Speedster was specified in the same shade of Slate Gray as the 1970 911 S used by Steve McQueen in the opening scene of Le Mans; it is the only Speedster painted this color. Its seam-welded chassis was fitted with a suspension similar to that of the 964 RS, albeit with some minor differences. The springs were slightly softer and the car sat 10mm higher than an RS, but 30mm lower than a standard C2 Cabriolet. It received the hydraulic brake boost system from the RS and Turbo 3.6 (normal Speedsters used the vacuum boost system from the C2) along with the same brakes as the Turbo 3.6, black four-pot Brembo calipers and cross-drilled, ventilated rotors. It sat on 17-inch aluminum Cup wheels.
As it was an open-top sports car destined for life in the city, Sprenger focused more on providing strong acceleration and less on top speed. As a result, the G50/10 gearbox was altered with longer ratios on the first three gears. The gear synchronizers were made of steel and further modified for quicker shifting, and the transmission mount itself used firmer rubber. Where a standard Speedster made do with the stock 247-hp 964 engine, the Sonderwunsch Speedster boasts 260 hp from a blueprinted engine with remapped ignition and DME chip set with aggressive timing advance. Like the 964 RS engine, it needed to run on 98 RON petrol (98 percent octane, 2 percent pentane) while standard 964 engines are set up to run on 95 RON petrol.
Tipping the scales at 2,888 pounds with a full tank, it weighs a good 220 pounds less than a standard 964 Speedster. The weight savings are attributed to alloy doors and bonnet from the 964 RS and replacing the standard fenders with hand-fabricated panels made from super-strong, thin-gauge steel. And since it was intended for spirited driving and not track use, standard sport seats were specified and upholstered in black leather. All told, the Speedster took Sprenger's team almost nine months to complete and it was finally delivered in September 1994. In 2010, Yeung presented Sprenger with a scale model of the very car he had created.
It turns out that Mr. Yeung is not just a client but also a friend of the folks at Porsche. He also serves The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) as Chairman of Fund Raising and Special Projects. Following the devastation of the Wenchuan earthquake in 2008, Porsche came to help in Sonderwunsch style. Helmut Broeker, Porsche's CEO for China, provided four bespoke Porsche Cayennes to UNICEF to serve as mobile educational, training, and resource units. These special Cayennes have been on active duty since December 2009 and have provided support to some 500 schools in the most remote mountainous areas affected by the earthquake. Porsche AG has also committed 10.2 million RMB ($1.5 million) over three years to support the new Empowering the Future Children's educational program with UNICEF. And each year, runners from Porsche Hong Kong participate on UNICEF's annual charity run held in November at Hong Kong's Disneyland. Who says the good guys can't win?
It's been 16 years since the Speedster left the red brick building at Werk 1, and now it's my turn to drive it. I grab the Porsche Momo sport steering wheel-perfect for fast driving. I turn the key and the engine comes to life. The accelerator is well weighted and the engine has a lovely rounded wokka-wokka-wokka tone at idle. Even below 1000 rpm there's plenty of thrust from 240 lb-ft of torque. But only as the tach swings for the redline does the 3.6 come alive, filling the open-air cabin with a deliciously addictive, hollow, vintage racer-like bark. Addictive indeed.
Driving at a brisk pace in classic 911 style, braking in straight lines, tucking the nose in while applying power to keep the revs above 4000 rpm along winding country roads in Hong Kong's New Territories, the Speedster feels precise, faithful, predictable, and confident. It's been a long time since I've driven a 911 that felt so alive, seemingly able to tap into my subconscious so completely. And while I didn't fully explore its performance on public roads, I left with the impression that I'd be content to spend the rest of my life enjoying it at 8/10ths.
Yeung agrees. He isn't a collector, but an enthusiast who loves driving his cars, which also include an '07 GT3 and a '97 F355 Spider (among others). But he's quick to confess: "I adore my cars. I'm fortunate to have them-especially my Speedster-but none are garage queens and I don't mind putting miles on them. Some of our friends think my wife and I are crazy to drive sports cars as daily commuters, but we believe they're built to be driven and look best on the road."
And while he'll never sell his beloved Sonderwunsch Speedster, you can still get your own. Spark Models has produced a 1:43 scale model available in its Porsche line that you can purchase from any high quality model shop or at sparkmodel.com
Better, Kevin Yeung and Spark Models will give away two 1:43 replicas of this exact 964 Sonderwunsch Speedster along with another Porsche model from Spark's line to the two ec readers who submit the two best letters regarding this article.
Write to firstname.lastname@example.org.
3.6-liter aircooled flat six, dohc, 12-valve
Five-speed manual, modified gear ratios (1-3)
Front: Independent MacPherson struts, coil springs, Bilstein telescopic dampers, antiroll bar
Rear: Independent, semi-trailing arms, coil springs, Bilstein telescopic dampers, antiroll bar
Front: Four-piston calipers, 322mm cross-drilled and ventilated rotors
Rear: Four-piston calipers, 299mm cross-drilled and ventilated rotors
Wheels and Tires
Aluminum Cup alloys, 7.5x17 (f), 9x17 (r)Yokohama Advan Neova, 205/50 (f), 225/40 (r)
964 RS bonnet and doors, hand-fabricated front fenders
Peak Power: 260 hp @ 6100 rpm
Peak Torque: 232 lb-ft @ 4800 rpm