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Here's Why the Porsche Carrera GT Is the Greatest Car Ever Made

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author photo by Doug DeMuro September 2016

I recently had the greatest experience of my entire life. It happened in suburban Cleveland, Ohio, next to a P.F. Chang's.

As you probably guessed from reading the title and seeing the images, my greatest experience was driving a Porsche Carrera GT, a 612-horsepower, midengine supercar that cost $440,000 when it came out and directly rivaled the Ferrari Enzo.

What you couldn't have guessed is that I've loved the Carrera GT since I was 16 years old, when I saw one on my very first date. The relationship didn't last, but the Carrera GT did, and I've been obsessed ever since -- while simultaneously watching the car's value climb to the point where I'll likely never be able to afford one. Then, I received a call from a friend of mine at Porsche of Beachwood. They had one for sale. Did I want to drive it?

This would be like if you called Cookie Monster and asked if he wanted to be let loose inside a Nestle factory after hours.

So, I drove to Beachwood, Ohio, near Cleveland, and I met my friend, Phil. I checked out the dealership, and then I laid eyes on it, an absolutely pristine Carrera GT, finished in GT Silver with a black interior and only 4,700 miles on the odometer. Minutes later, I was behind the wheel. After a half hour of driving on varying roads, I can safely say the Carrera GT is the single greatest car I've ever driven. Then again, it better be, given the price.

Before I describe the driving experience and the Carrera GT itself, let's discuss the price. The Carrera GT I drove is listed on Porsche of Beachwood's website for $699,991, which is the going rate for clean, low-mileage examples of these cars. Even though this is printed text, let me repeat that. Six hundred. And ninety-nine. Thousand dollars. In Beachwood, Ohio, this amount of money will also buy you this 6-bedroom, 4,700-square-foot home. So, you need to ask yourself: Carrera GT? Or 4,700 square feet with a new roof, driveway, HVAC systems, crown molding and two whirlpool tubs?

It wasn't always this way. When the Carrera GT came out, dealerships struggled to convince buyers it was worth the $440,000 asking price, even though it was far cheaper than the Enzo's original manufacturer's suggested retail price of just over $650,000. Depreciation set in quickly when a Carrera GT was purchased. While a production run of 1,500 units was initially planned, Porsche stopped at 1,270, ostensibly due to "changing airbag regulations," but it's likely they simply didn't think they could sell any more cars.

A few years later, people started to figure it out.

After the Porsche Carrera GT, exotic cars became user-friendly, hassle-free, simple and easy to operate -- designed for rich people who want to own a supercar without the difficulty and sacrifice that used to go along with it. They have hybrid powertrains, all-wheel drive, electronic nannies and automatic transmissions. They look like the sole purpose of their styling was to pull in a lot of likes on Instagram.

The Carrera GT wasn't like that at all. It was the last real supercar made in large numbers with a true manual transmission. It doesn't look all that exotic, except to the people who know what they're looking at. The closest button to the driver on the center console turns off traction control, and it doesn't have stability control, even though it became mandated in all cars by the federal government only a few years later.

Then there's the incredible engineering, which I could discuss for hours, from the carbon-fiber tub and subframe to the inboard suspension and carbon-ceramic brakes. But that's all easy to read about in greater detail somewhere else; instead, here's a great anecdote I love about the Carrera GT's race-derived V10 engine: When Porsche first showed the Carrera GT as a concept car, it had a 558-horsepower 5.5-liter V10. This was the craziest thing Porsche imagined at the time: a wild, insane V10 engine in a concept car, which didn't conform to government regulations, quality checks or even journalist fact-checking. And yet, when the production Carrera GT debuted, it had a 612-hp 5.7-liter V10. In other words, even though the concept car had virtually no constraints (since, ya know, it's a concept car), the production version had a larger engine with even more hp.

Needless to say, the Carrera GT is crazy. It's also the last real "old-world" supercar and, in my opinion, the best, the greatest and the pinnacle of the form invented and perfected by cars such as the Lamborghini Miura, the Ferrari F40, the Porsche 959 and the McLaren F1.

Plus, we can be absolutely certain it's the last of these cars, because the Carrera GT has had its share of drama. There have been several high-profile accidents in the Carrera GT, several high-profile deaths and several high-profile lawsuits. No automaker with a rational, reasonable legal department will ever go near a car like this again. If you want an analog supercar, this is the end of the line. Period.

This is how the $700,000 price tag suddenly starts to make sense.

2004 Porsche Carrera GT

I had all this on my mind when I climbed behind the wheel of the Carrera GT at Porsche of Beachwood. I also had another thing on my mind: the clutch. The clutch in the Carrera GT is absolutely famous in the world of clutches, sort of like the George Clooney of clutches, or maybe more like the Flavor Flav. It isn't famous for its excellence but rather its initial difficulty. Unlike every other manual car, the Carrera GT requires that you let the clutch almost entirely off before you start pushing the accelerator. If you drive it like a normal stick shift, pushing down the gas as you let off the clutch, the car will move, but you'll quickly burn up the clutch -- which, it should be noted, costs $25,000.

I'm sitting there in my dream car, thinking all these weighty thoughts about how special it is, while also thinking about the price tag. The window sticker, clearly reading $699,991 in large numbers, is in the passenger footwell. I'm also thinking about the notoriously difficult-to-operate clutch, and I'm in the dealership service garage, with several of the technicians watching me, because a Carrera GT is a special car, even at a Porsche dealer. Now, it's my turn to drive it.

I've never felt so much pressure in my entire life.

Tom Brady has never felt so much pressure in his entire life.

Still, years of Carrera GT obsession prepared me for this moment, and thankfully, I got it moving without any drama. I got it moving several more times after that, too, and I never stalled it. In fact, I reached a conclusion about the clutch: It's weird, but you could get used to it. The problem is, nobody drives this car every day, so you have to get used to it every single time you drive it. I found myself sitting at stoplights, silently issuing mental reminders: Let the clutch off, then push the accelerator. Let the clutch off, then push the accelerator.

Of course, the Carrera GT is a lot more than its clutch. Perhaps it's most known for its amazing exhaust note, which I was surprised to discover you can't really hear inside the cabin. Instead, it's like a race car; it's all mechanical inside. You hear the engine ticking and turning, and you hear each gear change and the tires loudly rotating on rough pavement. Outside is where you hear the noise. And, oh boy, do you hear it. I imagine the lovely people of Beachwood, Ohio, were just walking around, enjoying their day, when some guy drove by in a silver Porsche that sounded like it was qualifying for Le Mans.

2004 Porsche Carrera GT

Comfort isn't something the Carrera GT has in droves. I phrase it this way, because the car isn't as uncomfortable as I expected, especially the grippy bucket seats, which don't seem as confining or as harsh as the bucket seats in modern Porsches. However, it's still no luxury cruiser. You feel every bump. You hear every different road surface. The Carrera GT is not a car you buy to cruise around. The Carrera GT is not the car you take to the grocery store because it's in the driveway blocking your Ford Explorer. The Carrera GT is a car you decide to drive after careful consideration of the time, the weather and the number of joyously winding roads nearby.

Unfortunately, the roads around Beachwood were not so joyously winding, but I did drive the Carrera GT on a few highway cloverleaf curves, and I'm happy to report it's exactly as you might expect: perfectly stable, with excellent, direct steering and zero body roll. This came as no surprise.

What was a surprise, however, was just how much I didn't feel intimidated when I was behind the wheel. Last month, when I drove the Ford GT, another tremendously exotic car (worth at least $400,000 in perfect shape), I was constantly afraid I'd hit someone or someone would hit me, and then we'd file the kind of insurance claim you'd need to make when you work in the Nestle factory and someone let Cookie Monster loose overnight.

Despite its higher price tag, the Carrera GT didn't feel that way, partially because most of what you're looking at when you're sitting in a Carrera GT is typical Porsche, including the turn-signal stalk, the steering wheel, the gauge cluster and the wiper stalk, all borrowed from the period's Porsche 911. It's also because the thing is so easy to drive. Get over the weird initial clutch thing, and you'll find the clutch and gear lever are a joy to operate once the car starts moving. The same goes for the rest of the car, which feels eager, quick to rev and happy to go exactly where you tell it. Visibility is decent thanks to huge mirrors. The air conditioning blows cold air and lots of it. Really, it's like a more athletic 911.

I can see how you'd get goaded into doing something you don't want to do in a Carrera GT, because it's so easy to drive that it makes you feel overconfident. Then, when you least expect it, it all comes shooting back: the lack of stability control, the 612 hp and the immense performance.

Fortunately, my drive ended in the exact same place it began, the dealership service garage, without so much as a scratch anywhere on the Carrera GT. As I parked and walked away from my all-time dream car, my favorite vehicle ever produced, my childhood icon, I realized something. For me, it's all downhill from here. For the Carrera GT's values, I suspect it's all uphill -- such is life when you're the greatest car ever made.

Thank you to Porsche of Beachwood! (Facebook / Instagram)

Photo Credit: Flat 6 Photowerks (Instagram / Twitter / Facebook)

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This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
Here's Why the Porsche Carrera GT Is the Greatest Car Ever Made - Autotrader