Can you im­prove per­fec­tion? Given that per­fect doesn’t ex­ist, then yes as we prove with an Ohlins suspended Cay­man S

911 Porsche World - - This Month - Words: Jeremy Laird Pho­tog­ra­phy: Antony Fraser

Nowt if not an opin­ion split­ter on sev­eral lev­els. That’s the 987 Cay­man. Take the styling. Is it pretty enough for a mod­ern mid-engine Porsche coupé? That’s been de­bat­able from the mo­ment Porsche pulled the wraps off this Boxster with a roof back in 2005. Then there’s the per­for­mance. Some say it’s sim­ply not quick enough, that it’s been held back to pro­tect the iconic 911. But nearly ev­ery­body can agree on one thing. The 987 has a very sweetly balanced chas­sis.

In other words, the 987’s han­dling ain’t bro­ken. So, why would any­one try to fix it? En­ter Ohlins with their Road & Track sus­pen­sion tech­nol­ogy in long-awaited 987com­pat­i­ble form. We’ll come to what makes this Ohlins kit stand out from the ob­vi­ous Bil­stein and KW al­ter­na­tives. But the first ob­sta­cle Ohlins has to hur­dle is why you’d mess with a fac­tory setup that has gen­er­ated wide­spread praise.

The ar­gu­ment for hav­ing a fid­dle goes some­thing like this. In sim­ple, ob­jec­tive terms, the dampers Porsche fits to main­stream mod­els like a cook­ing Cay­man con­sti­tute pretty or­di­nary hard­ware. That’s not to say the stan­dard struts on a 987 Cay­man are junk. But Porsche didn’t ex­actly throw a lot of money at the damp­ing, let’s put it that way. After­mar­ket prod­ucts like the Ohlins R&T offer an op­por­tu­nity to bolt on some­thing a bit more spe­cial.

An­other sig­nif­i­cant fac­tor in­volves per­sonal pref­er­ence. Unavoid­ably, the chas­sis setup on the 987 Cay­man is a one-size-fits-all com­pro­mise. In achiev­ing that com­pro­mise Porsche must ac­com­mo­date a very wide spec­trum of own­ers and driv­ers. The re­sult needs to be safe for ev­ery­one and it needs to be user-friendly for as many potential cus­tomers as pos­si­ble. In short, it can’t scare off main­stream car buy­ers.

No ques­tion Porsche is best placed to achieve an op­ti­mal com­pro­mise given that re­mit. But you don’t need to think you’re bet­ter than Porsche at setting cars up to de­cide you want to go af­ter a chas­sis that’s tuned to your own per­sonal pref­er­ences. In an ideal world, one could ar­gue, you’d have Porsche set the car up to your pref­er­ence. But that’s not an op­tion. If you’re af­ter some­thing a lit­tle more fo­cused, some­thing more par­tic­u­lar, that’s where hard­ware from Ohlins and out­fits like setup-spe­cial­ists Cen­ter Grav­ity can make a dif­fer­ence.

It’s also where Char­lie Craft and his rather de­light­ful sec­ond-gen­er­a­tion 987 Cay­man S comes in. A se­rial owner of a num­ber of very se­ri­ous driver’s cars, in­clud­ing a mega-power Lo­tus Elise with a su­per­charged Honda engine, Char­lie is the kind of guy who recog­nises the kind of trade offs above but isn’t afraid of go­ing af­ter a more tai­lored driv­ing ex­pe­ri­ence.

“My main in­ten­tion was to build some­thing along the lines of a bud­get Cay­man R,” ex­plains Char­lie, “some­thing which could dual pur­pose as a daily but also be en­joyed on track oc­ca­sion­ally. I con­sid­ered the Bil­stein PSS9 kit but saw some mixed re­views, while the KW of­fer­ing seemed a bit hard­core for daily use. But the Ohlins R&T kit with its DFV tech­nol­ogy had a good rep­u­ta­tion for meet­ing my re­mit when fit­ted to other mod­els and mar­ques.

“I've also al­ways thought the stan­dard Cay­man an at­trac­tive car but one that rode too high for my lik­ing. My car is now just a lit­tle lower than a Cay­man R but still copes well with speed bumps and car parks.”

We’ll come back to how the Ohlins has worked out for Char­lie in a mo­ment. But let’s drill down into what, on pa­per at least, makes the Ohlins R&T damper kit some­thing spe­cial. A key fea­ture is that DFV tech­nol­ogy Char­lie men­tioned. It stands for dual-flow valve and in re­ally sim­ple terms the clever bit is the ca­pa­bil­ity to ‘blow off’ ex­treme oil pres­sure in­side the damper. That’s handy when the damper pis­ton is sud­denly com­pressed, for in­stance when hit­ting a sharp bump in the road.

For a lit­tle more in­sight into this as­pect, we spoke with Pete Lea­son at renown Porsche chas­sis fet­tlers Cen­ter Grav­ity in War­wick­shire. In­deed, it was Pete who in­stalled and set up the R&T kit on Char­lie’s Cay­man. The re­sult of that abil­ity to quickly re­lease ex­treme pres­sure, says Pete, is a brand of on-road com­pli­ance that’s pretty ex­traor­di­nary. “Peo­ple of­ten call it a ‘magic car­pet’ ride,” he says, “where the car glides over bumps rather than crash­ing into them.”

Pete says the Ohlins R&T kit has an­other ad­van­tage over the com­pe­ti­tion. “The spring preload is set when fit­ting,” he ex­plains, “and al­lows the ride height to be ad­justed with­out al­ter­ing the pre-load. That means you can set the ride height very low while main­tain­ing full damper travel and com­pli­ance. Go­ing very low with other kits that don’t sup­port this abil­ity

The 987’s han­dling ain’t bro­ken, so why would any­one try to fix it?

can re­sult in a crashy mess.”

Pete also reck­ons the Ohlins kit is prov­ing very re­li­able. “We’ve fit­ted 40 to 50 cars with the R&T kit so far. So that’s around 200 dampers in to­tal. But we’ve only had to re­place a sin­gle bush on one damper and that was on a car be­ing driven 70 miles a day. We just don’t have prob­lems with this kit,” Pete says.

If that’s the the­ory be­hind the R&T kit, what’s it like when ex­pertly fit­ted to the 987 Cay­man? The first thing you no­tice is that com­pli­ance. Most in­tru­sions are dis­missed with re­mark­able com­fort. But it’s not just the smoth­er­ing of the ini­tial im­pact that’s im­pres­sive. It’s the way the car re­gains com­po­sure so quickly fol­low­ing a re­ally big lump in the road. Drive, say, a Cay­man R back to back with an Ohlins-suspended Cay­man and you’ll no­tice how the R takes that lit­tle bit longer to re­gain full body con­trol, how the body will bounce or pogo down the road al­most im­per­cep­ti­bly af­ter hit­ting a bump.

You also no­tice that the oc­ca­sional near-limit edgi­ness you sense in a stan­dard Cay­man R has been ban­ished. The Ohlins kit re­ally does hang to­gether when loaded up at higher speeds, that’s for sure. So are there any down­sides be­yond the cost of hav­ing the kit fit­ted? Cer­tainly, you won’t be able to run Porsche’s Ex­tended War­ranty cover with this kind of fairly ex­ten­sive mod­i­fi­ca­tion.

The other is­sue is not so much a prob­lem with the Ohlins kit it­self but the knock-on ef­fect it can have in terms of other as­pects of the car. With the dampers pro­vid­ing greater con­trol on Char­lie’s car, for in­stance, the rel­a­tive lack of pre­ci­sion of some as­pects of the 987’s stan­dard rear axle sud­denly be­come more ap­par­ent. Whether it’s the cen­tral bush in each of the stan­dard rear cof­fin arms, the engine and gear­box mounts, or some com­bi­na­tion of all those parts, you can feel a slight loss of con­trol at the rear when the car is un­der both heavy lat­eral load and hard ac­cel­er­a­tion. It’s mo­men­tary, but it’s some­thing you just can’t pick up on in the stan­dard car due to the lack of damp­ing con­trol and the rel­a­tively large body move­ments.

Char­lie’s car is also run­ning 19 inch wheels, which gen­er­ally don’t do much for steer­ing or chas­sis feel. In­deed, they prob­a­bly also con­trib­ute to a ten­dency for the front axle in par­tic­u­lar to get crashy in re­sponse to par­tic­u­larly sharp and nasty pot­holes. A 987 Cay­man run­ning the Ohlins kit and the smaller 17-inch fac­tory wheel op­tion would be a very in­ter­est­ing propo­si­tion, that’s for sure.

The way this par­tic­u­lar 987 is set up, the front axle is also rather mute. There’s a tran­sient lack of in­for­ma­tion just as you turn in that saps a lit­tle con­fi­dence in what the car is do­ing. Just for a mo­ment it feels like it doesn’t want to turn. That’s a sub­jec­tive ob­ser­va­tion, but the point about it is that once you start fid­dling with these cars, you have to be aware that achiev­ing a fi­nal setup that ticks all your boxes won’t al­ways be straight­for­ward. Put sim­ply, this stuff isn’t easy and it could take a lit­tle time and a few it­er­a­tions of both hard­ware and setup be­fore you re­ally nail it.

The re­wards, how­ever, are sig­nif­i­cant and it can be fun as well as an ed­uca­tive process along the way. Char­lie is cer­tainly very happy over­all with the re­sult. “I’ve now com­pleted around 1200 miles with the R&T kit fit­ted and the over­rid­ing im­prove­ment is the qual­ity of the body con­trol, par­tic­u­larly at speed,” he says. “The car now has zero float and feels to­tally planted where the old sus­pen­sion could at times lose com­po­sure. The faster you go the bet­ter it seems to get.

“The rebound damp­ing is on an­other level to the stock setup, too, so mid-corner bumps and crests are han­dled with min­i­mal fuss. The ride qual­ity seems about the same as the fac­tory setup even though the spring rates are a lot higher – roughly the same as a 981 Cay­man GT4. On track the car also feels rel­a­tively at home and trac­tion out of cor­ners even with­out a LSD and stan­dard ARBS is more than ac­cept­able. The only down­side so far is the front units can be a bit crashy over big­ger pot­holes and send the odd shud­der through the cabin.”

As good as the stan­dard 987 Cay­man chas­sis is, then, it’s cer­tainly pos­si­ble to make un­am­bigu­ously pos­i­tive changes even if there will likely al­ways be a lit­tle give and take. It turns out you can im­prove on near per­fec­tion af­ter all. PW

It per­haps takes a brave per­son to ques­tion any Porsche sus­pen­sion set-up, let alone that of a Cay­man. But, if you want be­spoke han­dling, then you have to plough your own sus­pen­sion fur­row

Ohlins’ qual­ity speaks for it­self, but it’s how they per­form bolted on to your car that counts

A win-win on Ohlins? Largely, yes. Of course there are com­pro­mises, but the R&T kit makes a good job of im­prov­ing the Cay­man’s han­dling and body con­trol, while re­tain­ing ride qual­ity

Thanks to Char­lie Craft for pro­vid­ing his lovely gen 2 987 Cay­man S and to Pete Lea­son of Cen­ter Grav­ity for talk­ing us through the Ohlins in­stall.

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