How the 968CS rebuilt the Porsche powerhouse
Truth is often stranger than fiction, particularly with classic cars. So it is with the Porsche 968CS “Club Sport”, the unexpected product of a dispute born in Reading and a secret deal with an Italian steering wheel maker. The 1993-1995 two-door coupé 968CS became an accidental standard-setter within months of conception; today, it’s turning collectors’ heads in the UK and continental Europe, with US enthusiasts also noticing the fuss.
“You could, and still can, run a 968CS all day on a trackday,” says 968CS owner and Porsche Club GB member Jake Barton from Suffolk (a trackday being a non-racing event where owners can thrash their road cars round a race circuit). “It feels indestructible, handles fantastically, is very precise but very ‘analogue’.”
The 968CS was born of necessity, in Reading, when Kevin Gaskell became Porsche GB managing director in 1992 after almost all the management was shown the door. Porsche GB was near-bankrupt, with sales plummeting and unsold stock levels rocketing. Porsche desperately needed new models, but there was corporate dismay when its German HQ announced the “new” 968 in 1992: it was based on the 1982 944, itself based on the 1976 924. Worse still, the 968 was priced at £33,547 when the tax threshold for company-provided “luxury cars” in the UK was £29,000.
“We got on [the phone] to Germany and said we needed a 968 at £28,995. They said no. We said, ‘You don’t understand: if we don’t get a car at under £29,000 then we’re dead’,” says Gaskell, now 63, a multiple non-executive director, investor and speaker – and a transatlantic rowing record-holder too. He got together with some colleagues to work out how to get a 968 priced at £28,995. “Out went air conditioning, electric windows, rear seat, rear wiper, boot lock – and the big electric driver and passenger seats were replaced with lighter ones.” They got it down to £28,975, then realised they had another problem: “Buyers wouldn’t like saying they’d bought a cheap Porsche.”
The solution was to position it as a “lightweight” road-racer. “We lowered the suspension, quietly had a special steering wheel made for us by Italian manufacturer Momo – the factory would have gone nuts if they’d known – and called it the ‘Club Sport’. A couple of professional drivers reported that it was a fantastic driver’s car. We’d accidentally created a game-changer, and in 1993 it was named ‘Performance Car of the Year’.”
The CS was 50kg lighter than a standard 968, meaning 0-60mph in 5.6 seconds and a 162mph top speed. Its grunty three-litre engine, and gearbox attached to the back axle rather than the engine (known as a transaxle), meaning 51:49 weight distribution, provided outstanding dynamics. Its invention ultimately resulted in Porsche turning back into the powerhouse it is today.
Suneal Nandigam of Miami-based classic Porsche specialists Zweck confirms that the 968CS is “very usable, easy to drive, and with great road presence”. He recently sold a yellow, 35,000-mile 968CS, imported from Belgium, for $80,000 plus fees at auction. He says the CS market in America is young, but interest is building.
“A good one is £30,000, a really nice car is £50,000-ish,” says Anthony Shearer, Porsche transaxle models specialist at Porsche Inspections in Buckingham. He identifies two 968CSs worthy of a look: Dreamspec in Cardiff has a yellow 43,000-mile 968CS at £58,980; The Classicwise Collection, Newark, a rare special-order violet 79,000-mile car at £39,500. But, he warns, ensure any 968CS you view is genuine. It’s been known for a later UK-only 968 Sports to be passed off as a “968CS with Lux pack”. “That’s not a CS. It’s a Sport. A 968CS is worth £10,000 more,” says Shearer.
There are some key CS identifiers. A genuine CS lacks many electrically powered features, and there’s no boot lock keyhole. “Get an expert involved before buying,” says Shearer. “They’ll spot a fake instantly. If it’s a genuine 968CS, then they’ll know where to look for signs of track use, and whether it’s been crashed.”
Jake Barton owns an early left-hand-drive (LHD) 968CS in yellow – they only came in yellow, red, blue, black or white, unless you asked Porsche very nicely. Being in original condition, its specification is – correctly – stark. That purity today gives it value. His 47,000-mile LHD car could be a smart investment: American collectors can import 968CSs under the “25-year rule”, which allows pre-1997 cars into the country not having to meet US vehicle safety standards. Meanwhile, Andreas Lehnen has owned his red 1993 model since 1997. He bought it in Germany and imported it himself. “I thought I would drive it for a year or so and then sell it. But I’ve kept it as it has become more accepted in the Porsche world as a classic.”
Mike Moore, from Hampshire, who owns a rare Riviera Blue car, sums it up best: “The 968CS is the best visceral driving experience you can get in a Porsche for the money. Tremendous fun on normal roads, with fantastic feedback through the suspension and steering. The rare Recaro hardback seats hold you firmly and let you know you’re part of the car.” A fitting observation about a model that’s far more part of Porsche’s history than many know.