This is the best $1.8m you’ll ever spend

Singer and d Wil­lia Williams cre­ate t th the ul­ti­mate air-cooled 911... maybe the ul­ti­mate car, full stop

Top Gear (UK) - - THE TEN - JACK RIX

Rob Dick­in­son, for­mer mu­si­cian and ge­nius be­hind Singer Ve­hi­cle De­sign, is walk­ing to­wards me in an enor­mous, empty ware­house, spark­ing a fag. He’s wear­ing khaki shorts and cap, a wrin­kled white T-shirt and dog-eared train­ers. He stretches out his right hand, we ex­change pleas­antries, then it’s straight to it, dis­cussing the car that he’s been ob­sess­ing over for the last four years, and the pas­sion starts flow­ing out of him.

We’ve man­aged to in­ter­cept both Rob and the first ex­am­ple of his most am­bi­tious project to date, on their way to Good­wood. The car you’re cur­rently gaw­ping at is the prod­uct of a col­lab­o­ra­tion with Williams Ad­vanced En­gi­neer­ing to de­velop the ul­ti­mate, no-ex­pense-spared, air-cooled 911 – re­sult­ing from the duo’s snap­pily named Dy­nam­ics and Lightweight­ing Study. Ren­der­ings were re­leased months ago, but this is the first time any­one out­side the com­pany has seen the fin­ished prod­uct. Rob him­self only clapped eyes on it two days ago at Williams’ fa­cil­ity in Ox­ford­shire, where no more than 75 ex­am­ples will be reimag­ined.

“I’m very very pleased,” says Rob, tak­ing a con­tem­pla­tive drag. “It looks like the draw­ings, which is al­ways help­ful.”

I take him back to the start, to the dream that sparked all this off. “‘What would a clas­sic Porsche 911 look like if we touched it with an F1 team?’ That was the Hol­ly­wood pitch. To be­stow upon what we think is the most im­por­tant sports car in the world, the golden ben­e­fits of the modern age. Do it prop­erly with a proper bud­get and proper sup­port.”

But ideas of this mag­ni­tude are nothing with­out au­then­tic­ity, which is why Rob knew if he wanted the right names at­tached to the pro­gramme he had to act fast. “The ques­tion was how could we present the most ad­vanced, light­weight, air-cooled 911 that

the world will ever see? And cru­cially, while there were still peo­ple who had touched the orig­i­nal back in the Six­ties – prin­ci­pally Hans Mezger and Nor­bert Singer. They were con­sul­tants, they kept an eye on us and kept us hon­est.”

Williams Ad­vanced En­gi­neer­ing has been Singer’s ma­jor part­ner in all this, en­tirely re­design­ing the front and rear sus­pen­sion (but keep­ing the tra­di­tional trail­ing arm set-up at the rear), the brake sys­tem (in­cor­po­rat­ing Brembo CCM-R discs, the same com­pound you’ll find on a Bu­gatti Ch­i­ron), con­duct­ing a full aero study to op­ti­mise ev­ery square inch of the car’s sur­face, build­ing the world’s finest air-cooled en­gine (more on that in a bit), and putting the car through an in­ten­sive de­vel­op­ment pro­gramme, some­thing not en­tirely fa­mil­iar to Rob.

“Whereas we’re quite rock and roll back in Cal­i­for­nia, here in Eng­land there’s a bit of a cul­ture dif­fer­ence, and that’s been a learn­ing curve for us. It’s good, though, the dis­ci­pline of go­ing through proper de­vel­op­ment cy­cles.” And once Rob was work­ing closely with Williams, he start­ing pick­ing up the phone to a list of ‘hero’ com­pa­nies that were synonymous with the 911 over the last 50 years.

Miche­lin agreed to make a be­spoke 295 Pi­lot Sport Cup 2 tyre, stretched a lit­tle for an 11.75 rim to give the per­fect curve on the side wall, some­thing Rob’s fa­mously ob­sessed with. “It’s where the rub­ber hits the road, it’s where it all starts. If you can get this right, you’re off to a good start.” Brembo were on board for the brakes, Momo were happy to make a sen­sa­tional be­spoke car­bon-fi­bre steer­ing wheel, EXE-TC pro­duced the ad­justable dampers, Hew­land worked on the six-speed man­ual, Re­caro de­liv­ered on the seats, and BBS crafted per­haps the most strik­ing fea­ture of all, those deep-dish 18-inch wheels.

“No one’s get­ting rich mak­ing these things”

“We wanted to cel­e­brate the 1973 Car­rera RSR, the wide-body ver­sion of the ’73 RS. It was iconic for many rea­sons but its deep dish fixed wheels were its call­ing card. BBS had never done a Fuchs wheel, and we thought it was a great op­por­tu­nity to reimag­ine the Fuchs wheel at its apogee, which is forged mag­ne­sium with a cen­tre lock. We looked at car­bon wheels, but it didn’t make sense.”

In terms of aero, the duck­tail spoiler was non­nego­tiable, but Williams’ job was to make it ac­tu­ally work. On de­vel­op­ment cars the air was de­tach­ing at the trail­ing edge of the roof mean­ing only a tiny frac­tion was ac­tu­ally hit­ting and work­ing on the wing. The so­lu­tion was a chan­nel chis­elled into the roof and a beau­ti­fully in­te­grated air bridge that keeps the flow stuck all the way down the rear screen and hit­ting the duck­tail, com­plete with a 5mm gur­ney flap, square on. That, cou­pled with a func­tional car­bon rear diffuser that arcs away un­der the tailpipes and a car­bon front split­ter, means proper down­force, per­fectly bal­anced be­tween the front and rear.

But amid all this en­gi­neer­ing clev­er­ness, it’s the en­gine that takes the bis­cuit – a 4.0-litre, air-cooled, nat­u­rally as­pi­rated flat-six with four-valve heads revving to over 9,000rpm and pro­duc­ing around 500bhp, fed by two ram air in­takes in the rear quar­ter win­dows. It’s also a piece of pure sculp­ture in mag­ne­sium and car­bon fi­bre, with a tit­il­lat­ing look at the pipes vis­i­ble through the rear mesh.

“Fan­tas­tic as modern 911s are, we didn’t want to turn this into a GT3 RS – we wanted to re­tain the essence of the air-cooled magic, but bur­nish wher­ever we could with this fan­tas­tic fo­cus. It’s an ab­so­lute mon­ster, it re­ally is.”

Rob has re­sisted the temp­ta­tion to ex­pe­ri­ence the en­gine in one of the two pro­to­types, so far. “I’ve talked to peo­ple who I trust deeply and they’ve told me about it, but I’m de­lib­er­ately not driv­ing it. I want to get in the ‘fin­ished’ car like a cus­tomer, then I’ll be the judge of whether it’s fin­ished or not.”

The in­te­rior is as spec­tac­u­lar as all Rob’s 964based creations, and rid­dled with in­sanely cool touches. Like the rear-fac­ing ‘S’ logo on the rear strut brace and the gold-trimmed cen­tral revcounter that’s “rather os­ten­ta­tious, but worth it”. The ex­posed link­age is pure car porn, but has a pur­pose, too. “We wanted to raise the gear­lever closer to the wheel, so de­cided to ex­pose what’s un­der­neath, the things that have to be there for func­tional rea­sons, to spell out the light­weight na­ture of the car.” A fully stripped ver­sion that dips below 1,000kg will be of­fered, but the half­way house of this first car “feels about right” for Rob.

Feels like a huge priv­i­lege to me, just stand­ing here, star­ing at it with the man who made it pos­si­ble. We of­ten talk about at­ten­tion to de­tail be­ing the de­cid­ing fac­tor be­tween suc­cess­ful de­sign and great­ness; Rob, per­haps more than any­one else, has the ob­ses­sion it takes not to get things right but per­fect. Fit­ting, then, that his mantra “Ev­ery­thing is im­por­tant” is in­scribed on the sill plaque.

But perfection doesn’t come cheap. Prices start at $1.8m, a num­ber Rob gives up un­der duress, but is quick to de­fend: “That’s as cheap as we can do it for the mad­ness that’s gone into it. Trust me, no one’s get­ting rich mak­ing these things, for what it’s worth. I think the world is a bet­ter place for nut jobs like us to be around do­ing this, and there are, of course, other great com­pa­nies hav­ing a go as well.”

But there’s a deeper mean­ing to this car, a legacy that Rob wants to leave be­hind. “It’s dif­fi­cult for me to say this with­out sound­ing like a lit­tle bit of a dick, but I do think these 75 cars will be his­tor­i­cally im­por­tant in years to come. Get­ting this group of peo­ple to­gether to cel­e­brate this iconic machine, in such a fo­cused way, with such a proper bud­get, won’t hap­pen again.”

Momo steer­ing wheel a thing of in­tri­cate beauty, balsa wood insert in the car­bon-fi­bre gear­lever a nod to the 917 rac­ing car, rev counter in­spired by Singer’s watch

Car­bon fi­bre: strong, light­weight, easy to wipe the dog hair off

SIt back, re­lax and drink it in. Those, my friends, are per­fect pro­por­tions

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