Watch out, world, the new 911 GT3 has arrived. Of course, 95% of us can’t afford one with its not-yet-announced sticker price assumed to be close to the $150,000 mark, but don’t let that get in the way of celebrating its arrival. Even though I can only hope to purchase this car 10 or more years from now when the depreciation has reached its nadir, it is a moment in today’s automotive age to be celebrated by enthusiasts.
Why should we care about a car that we probably can’t afford? Because it still exists, it will sell as many units as Porsche can build, and it will inspire others. Perhaps a little history for those not routinely swimming in the pool of Porsche. Since its inception in 1999, the 911 GT3 has represented the closest thing to a street-legal race car Porsche could sell. The GT3 takes technology and components directly from Porsche’s motorsport program and puts them on the street. It is literally race-winning technology for the road, from suspension components and set-up to lightweight body panels to the engine itself. It is not the most comfortable 911, it isn’t the most fuel-efficient model, and it is not a car for everyone.
It is the car for enthusiasts who don’t care that it’s not the most comfortable or a little loud. It is loved because it is visceral and because to get it “right” in a car like that, you have to work at it. There is a “fizziness” to cars like this, a quality that literally vibrates to and from the driver. It’s difficult to explain; it’s one of those “if you know” kinds of things. Trust me; if you ever have the chance to drive or even ride in one, you will understand what makes them so special.
The GT3 also represents one of the last hi-end, track, and performance driving focused cars on the market available with a manual transmission. From the beginning, the GT3 has been available with a manual; 2014 was the first time a non-manual gearbox was offered on the model at all. For a car of this pedigree and performance to still offer a “row-your-own” gearbox is a testament to the enthusiast market. If it weren’t for US enthusiasts’ outcry, a permanent switch to a PDK transmission only for the GT3 would have already occurred. After all, it is faster, and the GT3 is, in many ways, about setting lap times. But there is something special about doing it yourself, so we still have this halo model with a glorious six-speed.
A Dying Art
Manual transmission cars built for the purity of driving enjoyment are an endangered species. At the start of 2021, there were only 27 new cars available in the United States that even offer a manual transmission, some of which have already been discontinued for 2022 and beyond. Frankly, many of them are terrible base versions of economy cars absolutely no one aspires to own.
First, let me be clear; you do not need to drive a manual transmission car to be an enthusiast. Current dual-clutch automatics and even some of the latest traditional automatic transmissions are faster than any manual, offer serious driving enjoyment in the right modes, and will set the best lap times on a track. But setting the best lap time and driving enjoyment are not necessarily the same. I know I can drive faster in a modern automatic sports car. I have driven Porsche Cayman GTS models with manual and PDK transmissions on a race track back-to-back. The PDK is faster; there is no doubt. But even though I was slower, I had more fun in the manual because it made me work harder.
I was a larger part of the equation in the manual transmission car, and that is why driving enthusiasts continue to rant about the purity of the experience of driving a manual vs. an automatic. It’s similar to the debate of whether it is better to drive a slow car fast or a fast car slow. Of course, the answer is to drive a fast car fast, but that is going to lead to serious legal predicaments on public roads. Unless you live very close to a race track, driving a fast car fast is a rare experience.
However, wringing out a 240HP Boxster or any Mazda Miata on a twisty back road rarely puts one at arrestable speeds but is supremely enjoyable and cathartic. Especially when you absolutely nail a heel-toe downshift going into a tight turn, it’s glorious. It is the harmony of person and machine that many of us enjoy so much about driving.
There is Hope
Thankfully, this feeling is not the exclusive realm of six-figure supercars. Driving enthusiasts have options that cost less than $40,000, the average price of new cars sold today. There are excellent versions of Camaros and Mustangs still available with a manual transmission, powerful engines, and suspensions dialed in for the best roads you can find. The small hatchback community thrives with the Volkswagen Golf GTI (and the hotter Golf R), the newcomer Hyundai Veloster N, the Mini Cooper S, and the legendary Honda Civic Type R, to name a few. Outside of North America, there are a half-dozen other hot hatchbacks for enthusiasts to enjoy as well.
These vehicles don’t sell as many units as their blander counterparts, but the success of halo cars like the GT3 continues to inspire companies to follow the blueprint. Other manufacturers are not blind to the fact that Porsche makes money with the 911 GT3. The more attainable cars above exist because their parent companies want in on the enthusiast market. They tapped into their own motorsports divisions or created special departments dedicated to motorsport-like testing and development to come up with these unique cars.
Subaru recently announced the revised version of the BRZ for 2022, and it looks great. The BRZ is one of the few small, naturally aspirated sports cars with a manual transmission out there today, and you can get one brand new for $31K. That price includes the only option that really counts, the Performance Package. I hope Toyota follows suit soon and announces their sibling version of the BRZ, the Toyota 86, because it should be even more affordable.
These cars do not set the fastest lap times or the best magazine stats, but they represent the same thing the GT3 does for people with a more realistic bank account. Cars like the BRZ, Golf GTI, Civic Type R, and even the 911 GT3 are not going to be around forever. Enthusiasts need to celebrate the options available today and buy them whenever they can. Make sure manufacturers know there is still an audience for these vehicles. Let them know not everyone wants a blob-like crossover by voting with your hard-earned cash. The hatchbacks don’t even require that much sacrifice for daily use. In fact, the GTI and Golf R have the same or more cargo capacity than some crossovers (like the Audi Q5 and Porsche Macan, for example).
Cars like the 911 GT3 or the Shelby GT350 (recently discontinued) are at the top of the manual transmission enthusiast pyramid, but they aren’t the only ones out there. Thankfully there are still great options most of us can afford and need to seriously consider for our next purchase. We can always keep looking for the chance to pick up a used GT3, and who knows, a new one may only be a lottery ticket away.