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
The latest high-riding classic 911 to come from the Tuthill stable
“FOR AS WELL HE KNOWS, NOT ALL CAR FANS ARE THE SAME…”
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
Above: It may have been built to take on the rough and tumble of off-road life, but that doesn’t mean the body and paintwork aren’t of the highest quality
Below, left to right: Nononsense dashboard is colour-matched to the exterior. Note the fresh-air vent in place of the clock; bias-adjustable braking vital for off-road set-up; short-shift conversion retains longer lever to prevent driver from forcing gear selection
Above: Partially-stripped interior dictates the use of rally headsets if driver and passenger wish to communicate. Our man Fennelly gets to grips with the high-riding 911