BLUE­BIRD SINGS

A very spe­cial drive in a very spe­cial car as we get un­fet­tered ac­cess to a 964 re­stored by Singer Ve­hi­cle De­sign

911 Porsche World - - Singer Uk Drive -

Vi­sion of the per­fect cus­tomised Porsche? Or overblown car­i­ca­ture? You may con­sider the meg­a­money restora­tions car­ried out by Singer Ve­hi­cle De­sign a bit of both. But any high-minded con­vic­tions you may have re­gard­ing back­dated 911s are hard to stick by once you’ve wit­nessed or, bet­ter still, ex­pe­ri­enced what the cars are ac­tu­ally about. Af­ter a visit to the work­shop a few years back I had a sense of this, the tour re­veal­ing the ob­ses­sive at­ten­tion to de­tail lav­ished on ev­ery last com­po­nent. And like many I’ve pored over cars they’ve re­stored, awed by the qual­ity and fin­ish.

But drive one? You only earn that priv­i­lege by ac­quir­ing a 964, send­ing it to Cal­i­for­nia and then await­ing its re­turn, ‘reimag­ined’ to your per­sonal spec. Given ris­ing val­ues of donor cars and shift­ing ex­change rates mean this car is now in­sured for con­sid­er­ably more than the half mil­lion or so the restora­tion cost it’s not sur­pris­ing own­ers keep their cars to them­selves.

Most own­ers. The man who com­mis­sioned the ‘Dorset’ car you see here is of the opinion his car should be en­joyed. And if he’s too busy, well, he’ll del­e­gate the task to some­one he trusts will ap­pre­ci­ate it ap­pro­pri­ately. Some­what

in­cred­i­bly that per­son is me, my in­struc­tions best sum­marised as ‘en­joy your­self’.

Our man’s ad­mirable lack of pre­ten­sion ex­tends to where he keeps the car, the anony­mous coun­cil lock-up in which it lives a clas­sic case of hid­ing in plain sight. And with a shove the door squeaks open to re­veal per­haps the most per­fectly pro­por­tioned 911 rear end I’ve ever seen. The baby-blue paint – ac­tu­ally Far­row & Ball Parma Gray if you’re in­ter­ested – pings from the gloom of the win­dow­less garage, the con­trast­ing Porsche script across the en­gine cover, the per­fo­rated acrylic panel un­der the grille and paired cen­tre pipes of the ceramic-coated ex­haust recog­nis­able vis­ual sig­na­tures of any Singer restora­tion. In the shad­ows I can just about make out wide­body arches and 265-sec­tion rear tyres stretched over deeply dished 11-inch Fuchs-style wheels. I’m itch­ing to get go­ing but in­dulge a few mo­ments con­tem­pla­tion be­fore jump­ing in, start­ing up and back­ing care­fully out into the crisp au­tum­nal sun­shine.

Ap­pre­ci­a­tion of the de­tails will come in due course. For the first few miles I’m in that ac­cli­ma­ti­sa­tion pe­riod re­quired for any spe­cial 911. Be­cause while they’re all the same they’re also all dif­fer­ent, each with in­di­vid­ual char­ac­ter traits de­mand­ing you ap­ply your­self to the job at hand.

As I leave the city lim­its be­hind I’ve just

about di­alled into the weight and bite of the Rs-spec clutch, the well-oiled ac­tion of the stubby gear shifter and the in­stan­ta­neous re­sponse to the ac­cel­er­a­tor. For­get the in­er­tia of mod­ern en­gines and their weighty fly­wheels; the Aasco sin­gle-mass item fit­ted to this car means you need to rev match up as well as down the ’box, the weight of the sole of your shoe on the hinged throt­tle pedal usu­ally enough to avoid an un­pleas­ant lurch as you go up through the gears. A hu­mil­i­at­ing flare of revs is never far away if you get too greedy though, the tightrope walk be­tween kan­ga­roo­ing down the road and the stink of slipped clutch de­mand­ing con­stant fo­cus.

As we get to know each other I’ve been happy enough to en­joy the healthy torque de­liv­ered by the Ed Pink Racing Engi­nes­built 964 mo­tor, the bored-out 3.8-litre ca­pac­ity mean­ing it’s happy to pull tall gears from below 4000rpm with no com­plaints. At last an op­por­tu­nity presents to find out what lurks a lit­tle fur­ther round that orange-faced rev counter. Nail­ing the per­fect down­shift takes tim­ing and pre­ci­sion but I pull it off, right foot push­ing against the ac­cel­er­a­tor’s firm spring and deep into its long travel.

As the nee­dle passes the ‘5’ on the rev counter the en­gine takes on a to­tally “dif­fer­ent char­ac­ter, vo­cal chords open­ing into a so­phis­ti­cated howl that builds in in­ten­sity to a sec­ond level of fe­roc­ity past 6000rpm. The fi­nal 1000rpm or so are where the real magic lies, the in­duc­tion howl from the other side of the bulk­head fill­ing the cabin be­fore the next grabbed shift, the click-clack sound of the gear mech­a­nism and ped­als fill­ing the mo­men­tary pause in en­gine noise be­fore the per­fectly matched ra­tios drop you right back into the sweet spot of the power band. There are many things to be in­tim­i­dated by, not least the re­spon­si­bil­ity that comes with cus­tody of an­other man’s near-price­less Porsche. But I can’t stop grin­ning. The next cou­ple of days are go­ing to be epic…

First though there’s some busi­ness to be taken care of, amus­ingly enough in­volv­ing a visit to Fer­rari’s UK head­quar­ters in Slough. The provo­ca­tion of park­ing such an eye­catch­ing Porsche out­side is amus­ing, the speed with which my host and a col­league

Nail­ing the per­fect down­shift takes tim­ing and pre­ci­sion

emerge to check the car out more so. Nor­mally you’d be lucky to get Fer­rari men to even ac­knowl­edge the ex­is­tence of other sports car brands but the wow fac­tor is suf­fi­cient they tem­po­rar­ily for­get them­selves. The PR man’s col­league qui­etly ad­mits he used to work for Porsche and was a tech­ni­cian back in the 964 era. He’s never heard of Singer but he knows he’s looking at some­thing spe­cial, his eyes nar­row­ing as he takes in the pro­por­tions and then widen­ing again when I tell him how much it cost. “Some­one knows what they’re do­ing there,” he mur­murs be­fore ask­ing to see in­side the en­gine bay. His head dis­ap­pears deep in­side for a good five min­utes and when he emerges his cheeks are puffed in amaze­ment. “That’s in­cred­i­ble,” he says, “I can’t be­lieve the at­ten­tion to de­tail in there, the way they’ve ti­died it all up, the pre­sen­ta­tion, it’s amaz­ing!” Re­mem­ber­ing him­self he makes his ex­cuses and leaves us to talk busi­ness but the knowl­edge even Fer­rari guys can’t help them­selves in the pres­ence of an air­cooled 911 amuses me all the way home.

Over the miles that fol­low the feel­good fac­tor that fol­lows this car is per­haps the big­gest rev­e­la­tion. It cer­tainly makes some sense of why peo­ple with the money to buy any num­ber of mod­ern su­per­cars are queu­ing at Singer’s door to put the same into 911 restora­tion. Be­cause this is so not a num­bers car – it’s a sen­sa­tions car. Typ­i­cal re­sponses to driv­ing some­thing ex­otic are ‘how much?’ ‘how many horse­power?’ and ‘how fast?’ but no­body I meet seems in­ter­ested in that, or hung up on whether it’s ‘orig­i­nal’. They just think it’s beau­ti­ful. An im­pres­sive num­ber of on­look­ers have heard of Singer and are suit­ably gob­s­macked to see an ex­am­ple of its work out in the wild. Even those who don’t know the name recog­nise this car as some­thing spe­cial, the retro looks enough to defuse any of the envy you some­times en­counter when driv­ing more mod­ern ma­chin­ery. Dorset’s owner also has a Mclaren and a Car­rera GT. But hav­ing pre­vi­ously owned both a 2.4 S and a 997 GT3 it’s easy to see how he set­tled on a Singer-re­stored 964 as the sweet spot be­tween a charis­matic clas­sic Porsche and well-man­nered mod­ern one.

Parked up for static pho­tos the fol­low­ing day I have chance to take in some of the work that’s gone into this car. I’ve driven it to the county re­ferred to in its com­mis­sion, leafy Dorset back roads lead­ing to the fa­mous Juras­sic Coast and a suit­ably in­spir­ing back­drop for some pic­tures.

Ap­pre­ci­at­ing the aes­thet­ics of this car is like tak­ing a his­tory les­son in what makes

drives through a sin­gle-plate clutch and a Guard Trans­mis­sion limited-slip dif­fer­en­tial run­ning 40/60 lock­ing rates. The steer­ing rack comes from the 993 and uses be­spoke “valv­ing and set-up for fine-tuned weight and feel. The re­sult is a healthy 350hp at 7000rpm and 270lb ft at 5800rpm, those stats alone of­fer­ing a sense of how this en­gine be­haves.

The stan­dard sus­pen­sion set-up of­fered by Singer com­prises KW coilovers, the Dorset car go­ing one step fur­ther and fit­ted with op­tional Oh­lins units fit­ted to RS Evo up­rights while all bush­ings, drop links and anti-roll bars are up­rated. Brakes on this car are the op­tional up­graded items from the 993 Turbo, calipers colour coded to match the con­trast de­cals on the body. Even the pedal box is blueprinted, based on the orig­i­nal Porsche set-up but with a Turbo clutch pedal, while the wiring loom is ripped out and re­placed with a mil­i­tary spec re­place­ment cost­ing a five-fig­ure sum on its own.

Looking at the parts alone you be­gin to un­der­stand how the price reaches such heady heights but it’s the time and ef­fort that goes into the assem­bly and fin­ish­ing that re­ally sets a Singer restora­tion apart. Most of the work is hid­den but the way the usual clut­ter in the en­gine bay has been ti­died to show the flat-six off to best ef­fect is typ­i­cal of the at­ten­tion to de­tail.

Ob­sess­ing over the parts go­ing into the restora­tion is one thing. But helps in­form the char­ac­ter of the car which, once again, strikes a care­fully judged balance be­tween 911 tra­di­tion and more mod­ern sen­si­bil­i­ties. So there’s just enough of the tra­di­tional quirks like the off-set ped­als and scat­ter­gun switchgear. But it’s all screwed to­gether and fin­ished as if it were a new car. Hell, it even smells like one.

Same goes for the driv­ing style. At first I’d have sworn the steer­ing was unas­sisted, given the ef­fort re­quired to turn the thick-

At first I would have sworn that the steer­ing was unas­sisted

com­pro­mise for fast road use. The com­plete lack of slop or play in the sus­pen­sion com­po­nents helps here, too.

But it’s about more than bolt­ing to­gether a se­lec­tion of bou­tique parts. The real magic here is the time and ex­per­tise that’s gone into set­ting it up in a way that both cel­e­brates the quirks we love in the 911 while buff­ing off some of the rougher edges.

Shorter gears also help you en­joy the car at vaguely sen­si­ble speeds, again ex­plain­ing why so many su­per­car own­ers are will­ing to put equiv­a­lent money into an ‘old’ Porsche con­spic­u­ously lack­ing in ego mas­sag­ing drift modes, ac­tive aero, pad­dleshifted gear­boxes or other giz­mos. To get the same sort of sen­sa­tions in a mod­ern 911 you’d be see­ing dou­ble the num­bers on the speedo, so­cial re­spon­si­bil­ity and a de­sire to hold onto your li­cence demon­strat­ing how feel mat­ters more than num­bers. In a car like this it’s about the qual­ity of the per­for­mance, not the quan­tity.

Pho­tos wrapped up a ferry car­ries me across into Bournemouth’s swanky sub­urbs, a brief prom­e­nade along the beach tak­ing me out of town and head­ing for Good­wood Cir­cuit on the prom­ise of a lit­tle bit of track time. It’s a beau­ti­ful early au­tumn day and the shafts of light are pick­ing out the golden tinge to the leaves as I ar­rive in the pad­dock, hope­ful the ex­haust isn’t too loud for Good­wood’s strict noise lim­its. Thank­fully the glo­ri­ous sound you get from the cabin is more in­duc­tion, the sys­tem de­signed for this car ac­tu­ally rel­a­tively quiet from the out­side.

I get a thumbs up, the mar­shals put down their mugs of tea and re­turn to their posts and I have 45 min­utes of play time. I try some ex­ploratory laps, short shift­ing in a cou­ple of points so as not to trip the noise me­ters, but ev­ery­thing is fine and I’m good to press on a bit.

It’s about the qual­ity of the per­for­mance, not the quan­tity

Singer Ve­hi­cle De­sign re­stored ma­chine sits per­fectly on the road, its stance en­hanced by su­per wide rear Miche­lins

Re­tractable wing fea­tures a ‘duck­tail’ style lip in homage to the 2.7 RS

Built to this par­tic­u­lar cus­tomer’s spec, this isn’t a track car per se, but that doesn’t stop it romp­ing around Good­wood’s fast sweep­ing curves

Below left: Lucky driver for a cou­ple of days is 911&PW new boy, Dan Trent. Below: At­ten­tion to de­tail abounds. Oh­lins sus­pen­sion is con­fig­ured to Singer’s spec­i­fi­ca­tion

Back on track. For­tu­nately the car is quiet enough not to dis­turb Good­wood’s fa­mously sen­si­tive noise meter. Oh, and the colour? Well it’s from the Far­row & Ball palette and called Parma Gray, should you wish to spec it for your car or, in­deed, kitchen!

All bright­work is nickle rather than chrome plated, which gives a rather sub­tle and less ‘bling’ ef­fect

In­te­rior is fa­mil­iar, of course, but largely be­spoke in spec. Dash hides mil­i­tary grade wiring har­ness, while ped­als and pedal box are pre­ci­sion blueprinted

Switchgear fol­lows tra­di­tion of ran­dom place­ment, but that’s all part of the charm. Mileage ac­crued con­firms that this is es­sen­tially a new car

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