Today I had the chance to drive these two 60s coupes back to back - a 1965 Series 1 E Type 4.2 coupe in Sage Green and a 1969 911 2.2 coupe in slate grey, both of which are on our classic car hire fleet. I didn't go far, but then I didn't need to.
The 911, conversely, was very and perversely German. Engineering is the 911s thing, everything else is secondary. In that sense, the opposite of the beautiful but conventionally engineered E Type. Early 911s sat on a short chassis - when buyers complained of the car's almost lethal ability to swap ends Porsche added a few inches to the wheelbase and the classic 911 shape was born. Whereas the E Type uses good old cubic inches to push a relatively heavy but streamlined car along the road, the Porsche has a small output, comparatively low powered lump and relies on light weight to achieve much the same result.
There is more than just engine layout and design to separate the E Type and Porsche. As you might expect, the Porsche feels like it was bolted together, the E Type feels like it was screwed together, and not very tightly at that. The British car is by far the more delicate of the two - it definitely feels its age, whereas the Porsche could have been made yesterday such is the precision of its fit and finish. To think these two cars were produced just a few years apart....
Where the cars are similar is in their approach to detail. You might expect the Porsche to sacrifice form for function, but it achieves a happy balance between the two. The trademark sculpted dash, with its big central rev counter, has to be one of the greatest dashboards of all time. Things fade away a little with the casually scattered switchgear, but the Porsche remains a thing of focussed beauty inside. The E Type feels more thrown together inside. There is no obvious sense or design to the dashboard and yet it is remarkable all the same. The big main dials are incredibly close to the wheel and the recessed central dials scream British sports car. It may not be cohesive or clever, but it still looks great.
Outside the story is much the same - whereas the E Type just is beautiful from the minute you clap eyes on it, only the area around the A pillars detracting slightly from the overall effect, the Porsche is more of a grower. Anyone who has stood and looked at an early 911 will understand what I mean about compound curves. This is so much more than a squashed Beetle. At Great Escape Classic Car Hire we used to have an early short chassis 911 - with that car, which you can now hire from one of our competitors, I always wondered what the fuss was about. But the longer chassis later 911 transforms an ugly duckling into something quite sublime. This 1969 car is pure and unadulterated and makes the later cars, even the 80s whale tale Turbos, seem bloated and overdone. In slate grey it looks incredible. Whether you prefer the instant appeal of the E Type or the slow burn beauty of the 911 is personal taste.
On the road the differences continue. Drive a good E Type and you will never forget it. From the view down the bonnet to the seemingly endless pull of the 4.2 straight six, this is a car made for driving. Sure, the steering is heavy and not very communicative, the gearbox is a bit clunky and the pedals a bit unnaturally placed, but who cares, you're in an E Type! It is the E Type's shortcomings that make it great - it isn't perfect but learning an E Type is the reward for all the effort. And all the while you've got that remarkable bonnet pouring away from you.
You have to learn a 911 too, and respect it. But from the off it does everything much more easily. It is only a slightly younger design but it feels light years away from the E Type in terms of progress. The steering is light and direct, the gearbox snicks where the E Type's shoves. The E Type pulls but the 911 inevitably pushes - the little 2.2 engine thrives on revs but is surprisingly tractable for a flat six. Forget the tales of 911s as widow makers - you're far more likely to cop it in an E Type than a 911, such is the British car's feel of a vehicle whose power is stretching the abilities of its engineering, rather than the 911 whose engineering is far ahead of anything the driver can throw at it. Of course, be stupid and the rear end will reflect that. But drive sensibly and the 911 will reveal hidden depths of ability.
This can never be a case of one or the other. These cars are chalk and cheese. The E Type trounces the 911 for sheer drama per mile - just knowing you're in an E Type achieves that - but the 911 deliveries its charms slowly and surely.
I genuinely can't choose my favourite. I love the beauty and brutality of the E Type, its ability to draw in the horizon at an alarming rate. Yet the 911, a car I never had much time for thanks to the overblown 80s models, is so utterly rewarding for drivers. I love the purity of the design and the real-world performance that you can enjoy without real danger. An E Type for weekends, an early 911 for continental holidays.... If only...
Our Series 1 E Type is now available to hire from our site in Harrogate, Yorkshire. The grey 1969 Porsche 911 can be hired from our Cotswolds site. Prices start at £249 for 24 hours. Mention this article and save 10%. For more details call 01527 893733 or visit http://www.greatescapecars.co.uk.