The ‘GT’ nameplate means a lot to Porsche fans. Whether it’s on a 911 or a 718 Cayman, a GT model focuses on extra speed and sharper handling above on-road comfort. This is why it’s part of the name of the German automaker’s iconic supercar: the Porsche Carrera GT. And it shouldn’t be surprising that Jay Leno owns one. But even though he has an entire garage full of cool cars, driving the Porsche Carrera GT is still a unique experience.
The Porsche Carrera GT comes from a failed F1 car
The Porsche Carrera GT launched at the same time as the Ferrari Enzo and Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren. But while it launched for the 2004 model year, its roots date back to the early 1990s, Road & Track reports.
At the time, Porsche was developing a new V10 engine for Formula 1, Autoweek explains. However, the project was canceled, only to be reborn as a Le Mans race program. But that was canceled, too, because Porsche needed to make the Cayenne, R&T reports. Luckily, the SUV was a massive financial success, which gave the automaker the opportunity to take one more crack at that V10.
Interestingly, when the production-spec Porsche Carrera GT launched, it was actually better than the concept shown 4 years prior, Autotrader reports. The concept car had a 5.5-liter V10 rated at 558 hp. However, the 2004 Porsche Carrera GT’s mid-mounted 5.7-liter V10 develops 605 hp and 435 lb-ft, Car and Driver reports. And it redlines at 8400 RPM, Motor Trend reports.
It’s a truly analog supercar with incredible engineering
But the rest of the Porsche Carrera GT’s design is just as fascinating as its engine’s backstory. It has center-lock magnesium wheels with color-coded threads, so you know which side they go on. It also has carbon-ceramic brakes, aluminum suspension components, and carbon-fiber seats. There are even a tool kit and a first-aid kit mounted in the engine bay, R&T reports. Plus, the Carrera GT has removable carbon-fiber roof panels.
Like the Enzo, it has a carbon-fiber chassis to save weight, Automobile reports. Unlike Ferrari’s contemporary supercar, though, and in contrast to many modern examples, the Carrera GT has a 6-speed manual. One with a shifter topped with balsawood, both to save weight and as an homage to classic Porsche race cars.
That 6-speed manual routes the V10’s power through a carbon-ceramic clutch that’s half the size and 1/10th the weight of a conventional clutch, Automobile reports. With all that, the rear-wheel-drive Porsche Carrera GT goes 0-60 mph in 3.5 seconds, Car and Driver reports. That’s still a fairly impressive speed today.
But what’s even more impressive is what holds the Porsche Carrera GT’s speed back: not much. The supercar doesn’t have stability control or adjustable suspension, and only “basic” traction control, Automobile reports. You can adjust the anti-roll bar. But apart from that, the driver only has their hands, feet, reflexes, and ABS, Autoweek reports.
The lack of electronic safety nets has been blamed for a number of Carrera GT incidents. The most famous example being when Paul Walker was a passenger in one involved in a fatal crash. However, to quote R&T, the “lack of stability control is a feature, not a defect.”
And all of this feeds into Jay Leno’s love of the Porsche Carrera GT.
Jay Leno spun his 2004 Porsche Carrera GT at almost 200 mph—and he still loves it
Jay Leno has reason to be wary of the Porsche Carrera GT. He once spun it out at close to 200 mph at Talladega during a Porsche-sponsored event. However, that was due to a driver error, not because of any fault with the car. Though admittedly, the supercar originally rode a little low, which is why Jay installed a factory ‘lift kit.’ It still scrapes, just not as much. But Jay Leno is more than willing to put up with that to get behind the Carrera GT’s wheel.
The clutch takes some getting used to. Normally, you have to slowly release the clutch pedal while pressing down on the accelerator. Not with the Porsche Carrera GT, because you’ll burn the clutch out. Instead, you move the shift lever, fully release the clutch, and then get on the gas. If you just “read the directions,” Jay says, you can do burnouts and launches without issue. Which, Automobile points out, also applies to replacing the supercar’s tires, adjusting its anti-roll bar, and driving it in general.
Once you’re moving, though, the Porsche Carrera GT is “a sensory overload,” Jay Leno says. The shifter is perfectly positioned for quick shifts and offers solid short throws. The steering is perfectly-weighted and extremely communicative, Autoweek reports. The brakes are similarly effective. And of course, there’s the raucous wail of that V10 behind your ears.
Its no-safety-net status makes for high price tags
Originally, Porsche planned to sell 1500 Carrera GTs, though it only produced 1270 examples. And as with most supercars, it didn’t come cheap. Back in 2004, the Carrera GT started at roughly $440,000. That’s roughly $606,500 in today’s money.
However, as a result of its pared-down analog nature, it’s appreciated in value over the years. In February 2020, one sold on Bring a Trailer for $576,000. And RM Sotheby’s has auctioned several off ranging in price from $770,000 to almost $1.2 million. Porsche even offers factory restoration services for the Carrera GT, Car and Driver reports.
It’s unlikely that any automaker will offer something like the Carrera GT. That’s why Jay Leno is so taken with his, and why it’s still a stunning machine today.
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