Last month, at the tender age of 81 and after more than 600 races, Sir Stirling Moss experienced something he'd never felt before. "It suddenly came over me. I just thought: 'Gosh, this could be dangerous.' I pulled into the pits, got out and said: 'That's it!'" One of Britain's greatest ever drivers had just retired.
The car Stirling was thrashing round the track that day was a vintage Porsche. A fortnight ago, I also happened to be driving a Porsche -- a brand new Carrera GTS. I wasn't on the race track, rather a motorway -- and the only person who seemed frightened was my wife. But then she finds my driving scary even when I'm helming a Nissan Micra.
Porsche is the ne plus ultra of rear-engined sports cars. It exudes such authority it seems almost impertinent to venture an opinion on what its cars are actually like to drive. So many thousands of hours of research, so much pointy-headedness, so much racing experience has gone into making them what they are that you'd have more luck giving Roger Federer a few pointers on his backhand.
So where to start? So bad have things got over here that no new Porsches were registered this year. However things are very different with our nearest neighbour. Last year 6,784 Porsches were bought in the UK; half of these were Cayennes -- the butt-ugly off-roader many purists feel isn't really a Porsche at all. The remaining sales were made up of the other four genuses of the Porsche species: the Boxster, Cayman, 911 and Panamera -- but it is the 911 which contains the true essence of Porsche. Its distinctive shape is so unmistakable you can conjure it up with a single line drawn in the sand.
The 911 was introduced in 1963. Since then it has undergone continuous refinement, but the basic concept has remained little changed. And they're so well built -- 70 per cent of all Porsches ever made are still on the road.
There are 15 variations of the 911 currently fighting for your attention, according to the Society of Irish Motoring Industry website -- ranging from €137,943 to €303,635 -- but the one that truly sums up Porsche's blueprint is this Carrera GTS. It's at the lower end of the price spectrum -- a mere €186,660 and change -- yet it combines enough racetrack performance to scare Stirling with the day-to-day usability that a driver of my modest abilities can cope with. Porsche says the GTS is its sportiest Carrera ever. Others describe it as being stiffer, grippier, tougher, sexier and racier -- ah, the poetry of petrol journalism -- than any other. And they're right. Its 3.8-litre flat six produces 402bhp and blasts you from 0-100kph in 4.6 seconds on the way to a possible 304kph. Could this be the most versatile 911 Porsche has ever built?
Climb in, and you are greeted by a world of suede, rubber and steel. That sounds a bit S&M, but the car feels as safe, warm and comfortable as a slipper. It's your mother's skirts on wheels. Turn the key and the engine's tenor rumble lifts your spirits. Squeeze the accelerator and the note turns to a whine and then on up to a great high-pitched flatulent shrieking raspberry. It's as if you're driving a giant whoopee cushion -- and it's impossible not to laugh out loud.