Draw­ing on their ex­ten­sive Sa­fari Rally ex­pe­ri­ence, the crew at Tuthill Porsche has cre­ated the ul­ti­mate off-road out­law. Equally happy tak­ing the rough with the smooth, the high­rid­ing 911 is now head­ing for its new home in the USA

Classic Porsche - - Contents - Words: Kieron Fen­nelly Pho­tos: Antony Fraser

The lat­est high-rid­ing clas­sic 911 to come from the Tuthill sta­ble


The or­ange 911 sit­ting high on chunky rally tyres is quite strik­ing, stand­ing out even among the other com­pe­ti­tion 911s at Fran­cis Tuthillʼs ru­ral Ox­ford­shire premises. ʻItʼs off to Amer­i­can next week, a cus­tomer or­der,ʼ ex­plains man­ag­ing di­rec­tor Richard Tuthill. But al­though this 911 is based on a 1970s car, its pur­pose is recre­ational, not, like most of what emerges from thetuthill work­shops, des­tined for his­toric com­pe­ti­tion. For a start it has a twin-plug be­spoke 3.6litre flat six rather than the sin­gle-plug fac­tory three-litre which the FIA would re­quire for pe­riod rac­ing or ral­ly­ing.

Richard elab­o­rates: ʻThe client is from Texas and he was very taken by the new “Luft­gekult” Amer­i­can trend, these so­called Sa­fari 911s which are raised SCS with big tyres and plas­tic front and rear ends in­stead of the stock im­pact bumpers. Es­sen­tially they run stan­dard en­gines and gear­boxes and have taller dampers and springs to lift ride height, so fun­da­men­tally they are very sim­ple with no par­tic­u­lar off-road abil­ity. But even if they bear lit­tle tech­ni­cal re­la­tion to what Porsche built to go ral­ly­ing, they look very cool and Amer­i­cans are buy­ing into the idea.ʼ

Richard could be rather less com­pli­men­tary about this fash­ion. After all, the Tuthill ex­per­tise with air-cooled en­gines and sus­pen­sion goes back sev­eral decades to fa­ther Fran­cisʼs in­ter­est in im­prov­ing VWʼS ubiq­ui­tous Bee­tle; this ven­ture blos­somed nat­u­rally enough into more than a pass­ing in­ter­est in Porsches and to­day the Tuthill Porsche com­pany has an en­vi­able rep­u­ta­tion as one of the fore­most pur­vey­ors of com­pe­ti­tion-ap­proved his­toric Porsche rac­ers.

But rather than dis­par­age an­other Porsche mod­i­fier, Richard prefers to take ad­van­tage of the seam of in­ter­est this lat­est US fad has opened up. For as well he knows, not all car fans are the same. In this in­stance the client is a se­ri­ous Porsche col­lec­tor who is ev­i­dently rather more dis­cern­ing.

ʻWe be­lieve he came across us via Singer,ʼ con­tin­ues Richard, ʻbut he clearly knew what he wanted and it was not the cos­metic job which was how he cor­rectly saw what was on of­fer in the US.ʼ An ini­tial dis­cus­sion on spec­i­fi­ca­tion soon turned into an or­der and the re­sult, a year or so later, is a be­spoke, com­pre­hen­sively-en­gi­neered 911 de­signed to a rally spec­i­fi­ca­tion, but com­fort­able and suf­fi­ciently un­de­mand­ing to be us­able on the pub­lic high­way as well as the out­back.

It has also been a very en­joy­able project, adds Richard, no less chal­leng­ing than Tuthillʼs usual builds of Fia-com­pli­ant his­toric rally cars, but an op­por­tu­nity to put into prac­tice some of Tuthillʼs long ex­pe­ri­ence of im­prov­ing old 911s.

The project be­gan with the ʼshell, a stock item from a 1977 or ʼ78 im­pact bumper car. After the usual prepa­ra­tion to re­move and make good any cor­ro­sion and dam­aged metal, Tuthill then strength­ened it strate­gi­cally. This is a well-tried pro­ce­dure, the fruit of many years de­vel­op­ing rally 911s and is much more com­pre­hen­sive than the lo­calised re­in­force­ments that Porsche would have in­cor­po­rated in the works Sa­fari cars. In­deed a bet­ter com­par­i­son would be the pre­ci­sion mod­i­fi­ca­tions Roland Kuss­maul, later ar­chi­tect of the GT3 chas­sis, ef­fected when he light­ened and strength­ened the ʼshell of the 964 for Cup com­pe­ti­tion.

A mea­sure of Tuthillʼs thor­ough­ness is that prepa­ra­tion of the ʼshell, in­clud­ing fit­ting the roll cage and the var­i­ous coats of paint, can take 300 man hours. The fin­ished body has a

stan­dard ap­pear­ance – the im­pact bumpers are re­tained, though Tuthill has thought­fully added ʻnudge barsʼ front and rear which be­sides sav­ing the fa­mous fend­ers from knocks prove very use­ful when man­han­dling a 911 which, if it goes ral­ly­ing, may well need to be hauled back on to terra firma at some point. The pan­els in­clud­ing the doors are all the stan­dard mild steel items and the only non-steel part is the plas­tic en­gine cover with its trade­mark duck­tail.

As this 911 does not have to con­form to any reg­u­la­tions, Tuthill has been able to make dis­creet use of cer­tain be­spoke parts. Al­though built with Tuthillʼs own gears, the five-speed ʼbox is the his­tor­i­cally cor­rect low-ra­tio af­fair as fit­ted for ral­ly­ing, achieved here as Porsche did by fit­ting a lower fi­naldrive ra­tio. Both gear­box and en­gine mounts are up­rated and com­pe­ti­tion drive­shafts trans­mit the power to the wheels.

A rally car needs low gear­ing and plenty of torque: it is of no mat­ter that the top speed is re­duced to about 120mph – even the works Porsches 959s hair­ing across the Sa­hara in the Dakar rarely ex­ceeded 210Km/h be­cause of the re­duced con­trol loose sur­faces of­fer, even though desert sand can look de­cep­tively smooth. A sin­tered clutch which tol­er­ates bet­ter the heat gen­er­ated by vi­o­lent switch­ing be­tween re­verse and first of a car stuck in mud or sand, con­nects the transaxle – equipped as you might ex­pect with a lim­ited-slip dif­fer­en­tial – to the en­gine, which is again a Tuthill spe­cial.

This uses a stock 3.0-litre crank­case and the fa­bled GT3 crank­shaft which is used along with Car­illo con­nect­ing rods and Mahle pis­tons, as well as new valve springs and com­pe­ti­tion valves ac­tu­ated by ʻRʼ camshafts. Tuthill has also re­built and pol­ished the cylin­der heads.

In­deed the Tuthills might have gone fur­ther, mat­ing this to their own EFI fuel-in­jec­tion with Motec man­age­ment, but in fact breath­ing is in the hands of three mod­ern PMO car­bu­ret­tors. ʻThe ad­van­tage of carbs,ʼ says Richard Tuthill, ʻis that you can fix them at the side of the road any­where in the world. Fuel-in­jec­tion might re­quire a part to be sent out, com­pli­cat­ing pro­ced­ings: a good part of our think­ing with this car was to make it read­ily and quickly re­pairable. Carbs also pro­vide bet­ter torque and fu­elling for rally cars. We are still learn­ing about in­jec­tion pumps on these en­gines, too, and

Iʼve had con­cerns about fu­elling on some in­jec­tion set ups.ʼ

Cer­tainly the PMOS atop the gleam­ing 3.6 look dis­tinctly pe­riod even if they are not quite his­tor­i­cally ac­cu­rate. And they have the ad­van­tage, points out Richard, of be­ing a re­cent con­cep­tion (PMO started in 1997) which means they over­come many of the foibles of the orig­i­nal Weber car­bu­ret­tors, de­vel­op­ment of which largely stopped after the whole­sale in­tro­duc­tion of fuel-in­jec­tion sys­tems in the 1980s.

Both front and rear brakes have the same size calipers, built to Tuthillʼs de­sign: these are lighter than the stan­dard item and sim­plify ser­vic­ing, im­por­tant for a rally car likely to re­quire at­ten­tion at the road­side. Richard makes the point that the mas­sive re­tar­da­tion of, say, car­bon com­pos­ite brakes is ir­relevent in ral­ly­ing where stop­ping power is gov­erned by the loose sur­faces on which the car is largely com­pet­ing.

The re­con­fig­ured boot has a be­spoke fuel tank which, as on Porscheʼs rally 911s, is re­mov­able in ten min­utes; the boot also has room for two spare wheels, a method suc­cess­fully tried by Fran­cis Tuthill on his 1992/3 London–syd­ney marathon en­try. In Richardʼs view, stow­ing the spare wheels on the roof on an al­legedly se­ri­ous rally car is too ridicu­lous to con­tem­plate.

If ex­ter­nally the Sa­fari 911 is mostly un­changed, apart from ride height and bumpers and the steel tabs added to se­cure the win­dow glass, the in­te­rior is stripped for ac­tion.

ʻWe have made the cock­pit as re­al­is­tic as pos­si­ble,ʼ says Richard, ʻbut not over­looked the aes­thet­ics and a ba­sic level of com­fort.ʼ While the rear cabin dis­plays lit­tle but or­ange metal, driver and pas­sen­ger have car­peted footwells, the lux­ury of door cards with leather pulls for open­ing and clos­ing and, ahead of them, the fa­mil­iar five-in­stru­ment dash, its top taste­fully re­uphol­stered in leather.

The roll cage, too, is bound in leather and a felt cov­er­ing of the lin­ing-less roof helps to stop the roof act­ing like a sound­ing board. Two fixed bucket seats have full har­nesses, and driver and pas­sen­ger com­mu­ni­ca­tions are fa­cil­i­tated by head­sets. No fewer than three fire ex­tin­guish­ers are strapped to the footwell floors, with the bat­tery be­hind the pas­sen­ger seat, as its usual home in the front wing is oc­cu­pied by a sup­ple­men­tary oil cooler.

On the road

Once driver and pas­sen­ger are in­stalled, which, given the har­ness and head­set, takes a mo­ment, the Sa­fari proves re­mark­ably com­fort­able. Tuthillʼs well cho­sen con­ces­sions to crea­ture com­forts make a con­sid­er­able dif­fer­ence to the work­ing en­vi­ron­ment. Your cor­re­spon­dent re­cently drove a 996 RS rally car whose un­re­lieved metal in­te­rior, which acted as a sound­box, with its ex­posed brack­ets and dis­em­bow­eled in­stru­ment panel, were grim to be­hold. There is none of this

half-com­pleted project feel­ing about Tuthillʼs Sa­fari 911.

The ig­ni­tion key is re­placed by a toggle switch: down one notch to ac­ti­vate the fuel pumps and one more to turn the en­gine over. The flat-six fires with the fa­mil­iar bark that seems only slightly louder than a pe­riod pro­duc­tion 911: the ex­haust is, as are si­lencer and man­i­folds, a be­spoke item, but its dis­cre­tion proves that sheer deci­bels no longer nec­es­sar­ily equate to power.

The clutch is firm, bites quite high, and the gear­lever, a short-shift kit with a longer lever de­signed by Tuthill to dis­cour­age forc­ing, eas­ily finds first. Un­der­way, the steer­ing feels pure unas­sisted Porsche and, as you would ex­pect, per­fectly weighted and pre­cise. The en­gine is sur­pris­ingly tractable, un­com­plain­ing and in­deed pulling quite strongly at low revs, not at all tem­per­a­men­tal as youʼd an­tic­i­pate from such a tuned unit, re­spond­ing to a mere feath­er­ing of the throt­tle. Ride on hard-walled rally tyres is sur­pris­ingly re­fined thanks in part to so­phis­ti­cated five-way ad­justable dampers which can not only cope with crash land­ings, but do a re­mark­able job of smooth­ing out pot­holes.

In­deed you could hap­pily drive far in this rel­a­tively easy­go­ing 911, but weigh­ing per­haps 1150kg and with 350bhp on tap it is also a ver­i­ta­ble or­ange mis­sile and we change seats with its its gen­i­tor, Richard Tuthill, for him to demon­strate some­thing of its po­ten­tial. The younger Tuthill is an un­usual com­bi­na­tion of con­struc­tor and seasoned rally driver who has won many cham­pi­onships in a twenty-year ca­reer.

ʻAs a teenager I learned to drive 911s with Björn Waldegård, a long time Tuthill client. The 911could be tricky, but Björnʼs speed with the car changed all of that: he knew more than any­one how to make the 911 work. Iʼve driven with other WRC cham­pi­onship win­ners and none un­der­stood the front of an early 911 bet­ter than Björn. He just knew where the front was and what it was go­ing to do: he did­nʼt need to left-foot brake, so his driv­ing style was in­cred­i­bly ef­fi­cient. I am con­vinced that he has passed a small amount of this on to me, for which I will for ever be grate­ful.ʼ

Tuthill demon­strates his Waldegård-in­her­ited skills to good ef­fect as he launches the Sa­fari round a favourite route, a nar­row band of Tar­mac hedged on one side. After a cou­ple of prospect­ing runs he starts to use some of the per­for­mance, lift­ing the front inside wheel for the ben­e­fit of Clas­sic Porsche ʼs in­trepid pho­tog­ra­pher. Tuthillʼs tech­nique is to brake very hard just on en­trance to the cor­ner then

ac­cel­er­ate while the weight is still over the front axle which un­sticks the rear tyres just enough to use up the en­tire road width. Be­sides the mas­sive ef­fec­tive­ness of the brakes, the pas­sen­ger is also struck by the rel­a­tive re­fine­ment of the car – the ride is not no­tice­ably af­fected by hav­ing two wheels on rough grass and the in­tel­li­gent com­pro­mise be­tween com­fort and han­dling of those very clever dampers is ap­par­ent. In­deed, with the fil­ter­ing ef­fect of the head­set there is al­most a feel­ing of vir­tual re­al­ity.

That said the enor­mous lat­eral forces, which thanks to the ex­cel­lent bucket seats and har­ness you donʼt have to ex­pend en­ergy fight­ing, plus neck snap­ping ac­cel­er­a­tion are a po­tent re­minder that there is noth­ing vir­tual about any of it.

Your cor­re­spon­dent has to ad­mit that he ap­proached this high rid­ing 911 with a faint scep­ti­cism which sub­se­quently evap­o­rated com­pletely. Tuthillʼs Sa­fari 911 is a truly im­pres­sive cre­ation: beau­ti­fully fin­ished and en­gi­neered in the best pe­riod rally tra­di­tions, it makes dis­creet use of mod­ern tech­nol­ogy, for ex­am­ple its dampers and car­bu­ret­tors, while re­tain­ing the vin­tage feel of the im­pact bumper 911.

Yet it com­bines the ur­gency of a pure racer with­out the kind of tem­per­a­ment which would ren­der tire­some any­thing but all-out driv­ing. And it does this with a large de­gree of re­fine­ment. It is quite an achieve­ment. Tuthillʼs Texan client has got him­self a quite ex­cep­tional 911. CP

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