The latest from the 911&PW fleet including an Ohlins suspension kit for Bennett’s 996 and new wheels and exhaust for Tipler’s Boxster
Last month I signed off with a tantalising picture of a Porsche 996 Ohlins suspension kit. I know, I'm such a tease, but you didn't think for one moment that I was going to hang about on the fitting front did you?
Regular readers will know that I've agonised over the suspension options for my 996, chasing my tail and possibly searching for a set-up/system that doesn't really exist. I moaned about the optional Porsche M030 kit that the 996 came with, which felt like the dampers had been filled with concrete. I moaned about the standard Bilstein/eibach set-up that I replaced the M030 with. Again it was too stiff for my delicate sensibilities. I hasten to add, here, that suspension is a very personal thing and one man's uncompromising ride is another man's cushioned magic carpet. And, of course, there is always the standard option. I mean, what's wrong with that? Well, nothing, except that it's always a compromise, and part of the fun of owning a Porsche and taking an interest in vehicle dynamics is the opportunity to add individuality and go your own way on matters of handling. Having said that, clearly 'my own way' wasn't working.
Of course, there's a myriad of choices out there and I've already tried a couple of them. I've also tried a few set-ups on other folk’s cars and tuner cars. Highlights that come to mind have been on RPM Technik's CSR 996s and the KW Variant 3 kit fitted t o their demo car. And then I recently had the chance to try the Ohlins Road & Track
set-up on reader, Richard Beaumont's amazing lightweight, largely carbon bodied 996. Put simply I was impressed, not just with the ride quality, but also the notion of fitting something as esoteric as Ohlins suspension to my own 996. I mean, Ohlins has some serious pedigree in racing circles and it’s clearly good enough to be specced as O/E on Singer’s re-imagined 911s to great acclaim.
The thought kept nagging away at me, but having spent a goodly sum already on my suspension and getting it wrong, I didn't have a great deal of budget left. I'm not ashamed to admit that I went cap in hand to Ohlins and they cut me a very good deal on its R&T POZ M100 coilover kit, which was soon winging its way from Germany.
So what is it that appeals about the Ohlins kit? Well, apart from the fact that it looks absolutely fantastic and screams quality, it's adjustable in both height and bounce and rebound, which means I should be able to fiddle around to my heart's content and arrive at a bespoke suspension solution that suits me and me only.
The R&T kit has a number of neat touches that distinguish it from the competition. Firstly, the ride quality that so impressed me on Richard's car is partly a result of what Ohlins call DFV (dual-flow valve) technology, which causes the damper to quickly release pressure and so not effectively lock-up when striking a sharp bump. This is something that has plagued the rear of my 996 with both of my suspension set-ups. Secondly, the spring pre-load is set when fitting. The ride height can then be set without affecting the spring rate or the damper travel. In effect, you can go as low as is practical and still retain sensible ride and handling comfort. Anything else? Yes, the dampers are easy to adjust for bump and rebound with just one adjuster on each unit accessed from the inside for the rear dampers and externally for the fronts.
Essex based Design 911 are the UK distributors for Ohlins, so it made sense to entrust them with the fitting. I haven't been to its new premises and, usual industrial estate setting aside, it’s an impressive facility containing the hugely popular mailorder side of the business, workshop and classic Porsche sales all under one roof, with further storage and paint shop alongside for restorations and a drive in bunker for storage. That said, Design 911 guvnor, Karl Chopra, reckons they've filled the space already and is on the look out for more.
Guided tour over and it’s time to get stuck in. Changing the entire suspension in a day is a big job that requires everything to go smoothly. Technician, Gary O’brien, is concerned that the usual 996 issues of corroded bolts and fittings is going to delay things, but I assure him that the suspension on my car is fresh and has been on and off with such regularity that nothing has had a chance to seize. Plus, both Auto Umbau and RPM Technik who have both tended to the suspension are fastidious in their use of anti-seize compounds. First, though, we get the shiny Ohlins stuff out of the boxes for a good ogle. Seems a shame that it’s going to be hidden from view. Of course, Ohlins made its name with motorcycle suspension, which is always on prominent display. Ohlins realised on that basis it would pay for it to look good. The combination of Ohlins gold suspension forks and monoshock rear damper, with yellow spring, on blood red Ducati 996s and the like,
captured the imagination of enthusiasts and helped to really propel Ohlins’ image. Not that it’s a case of style over substance as we will surely find out.
Gary tackles the easy end first: the rear. He is pleasantly surprised that my assurances of 'easy to remove' prove to be accurate, as the rear dampers and springs practically fall off the car. To access the rear top mounts, a section of trim has to be removed from behind the rear seats. This has the double bonus of revealing a metal cover, which is secured properly and has been driving me mad with its rattling.
The Ohlins units are assembled on the bench. It's not tricky as such, but careful attention needs to be paid to the instructions. The standard suspension drop over standard is 20mm and that effectively is the default setting using the measurements supplied. Of course, with endlessly adjustable spring platforms, you can go higher or lower, but 20mm seems a good starting point. The damper units themselves are also pre set, but more of that later. So with relative ease the rear coilover units go on and the M030 anti-roll bars are connected. Half the job done.
The fronts are more time consuming because the brake calipers, discs and hubs need to be removed. Again they come apart without any issues and the front Ohlins units are assembled on the bench, ride height is set and they're offered up. Sounds easy, but it’s mid-afternoon by the time the last corner goes on. Still, it couldn't have gone any faster or smoother in the great scheme of things. A geometry check and set up follows to make sure that everything is pointing in the right direction.
Could you do this at home? Yes, certainly, but you might get caught out with
seized fixtures and fittings, but if you've got the equipment (heat is useful) to deal with such eventualities, then it’s perfectly feasible, with Ohlins’ largely excellent instructions.
As mentioned, the dampers are already pre set to what I assume is a 'safe' setting that is neither too soft or too hard. The rear dampers have 31 different settings, while the fronts have 27. Each damper has a simple adjuster and each setting can be felt with a pronounced 'click' as you turn it. Starting with zero, which is effectively fully soft, you then start to wind back in. And this is where the fun starts.
Have I arrived at the perfect set up yet? No, I haven't. Have I been trying? To a degree, but this is being written just a few days after fitting and I haven't really had the opportunity to go out and attack my favourite roads. Thus far I have both front and rear set up at the 'half-way' point as a reference, on the basis that it will be easy to go backwards and forwards from there and keep a track of the changes. My ultimate goal is a set up that works well on typical British B roads, because if it can do that, then it will be fine everywhere else. A suspension system that doesn't work in this environment isn't fit for purpose.
What is immediately apparent is serious body control over undulations and supremely stable cornering. What I want to dial out, though, is any harshness in the low-speed ride and unlock Ohlins’ famous 'magic carpet' ride and maybe consult the likes of suspension gurus Center Gravity on set up path and options. What I'm sure of now is that I have the suspension to achieve this. Frustrating I know, but I'm afraid it's a case of watch this space. I will endeavour to have the answers next month... PW
Bennett’s 996 in the workshop at Design 911. It’s going to be a long day!