The Boxer Rebellion


At 7000rpm, the 911 GT3 RS’s 4.0-litre flat-six was making 21,000 loud and lovely bangs every minute. But this particular bang was orders of magnitude louder than the rest. And terminal.

I backed off. A warning message came on telling me the engine was in reduced-power mode and that I should take it to my nearest Porsche service centre straight away. By the time I’d finished reading that alert, the engine had lost all power and great plumes of white smoke were billowing out behind the bright orange 911.

I put it in neutral, coasted the stricken Porsche off the road and got out, engulfed by what I quickly realised was oil smoke.

My first thought was, ‘What have I done?’ My second was, ‘Is it going to catch fire?’

The thought of a GT3 RS burning to the ground in front of me was too horrible to contemplate. Unfortunately, the spot in the passenger footwell for a fire extinguisher was empty.

Fortunately, it didn't catch fire, and the smoke died down.

For the next three hours, as we waited for a flat-bed truck to arrive, I replayed those moments over and over in my mind, reliving every second, searching for a mistake. My mistake.

Two weeks later, I learned it was not operator error.

After demanding that the sadly deceased engine be sent to Porsche HQ in Zuffenhausen for examination, a verdict on cause of death was relayed to us.

“It appears that the valve keeper that keeps valve and valve spring assembly together has either failed or was not installed correctly,” was the Germans’ verdict, with the emphasis on “appears” all theirs.

On the one hand it’s unlike Porsche to be unsure about anything, but on the other it’s even more unlike them for a part to fail or be installed incorrectly.

One of its Stuttgart-based boxerengine experts admitted to us that, no matter how much you over-engineer things, accidents and errors can still occur.

It’s certainly true that this 4.0-litre flat-six stretches the bounds of engineering ability, and there was that problem with it, back in 2014, when all 785 911 GT3s had to be recalled because of potential engine fires.

What we have to believe – and what Porsche believes, unless more GT3 RS engines go bang – is that we were the unfortunate victims of a freak occurrence.