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