An­other Air-Cooled Porsche Re­birth

Gun­ther Werks en­gi­neers an­other new­world take on an old­school

Automobile - - Contents - By Basem Wasef

Can Gun­ther Werks’ 400R, yet an­other re­worked Porsche 911, re­ally add any­thing worth­while to to­day’s sports car ex­pe­ri­ence? Does it merit the sac­ri­fice of a near-sa­cred stock 993? Yes and yes.

NOS­TAL­GIA IS ONE hello fa drug, a slip­pery sen­ti­ment that can coax mort­gage-sized sums of cash into oth­er­wise ob­so­lete sports cars, trans­form­ing them into novel com­bi­na­tions of old-school ar­chi­tec­ture and new-world en­gi­neer­ing.

The lat­est in a rel­a­tively re­cent string of high-dol­lar Porsche 911 con­ver­sions comes from a seem­ingly unlikely source: Vorsteiner, a South­ern Cal­i­for­nia firm known for trick after­mar­ket car­bon-fiber body pan­els and wheels.

Break­ing bread with Vorsteiner founder Peter Nam at a small cafe near the foot of An­ge­les Crest Highway in­tro­duces me to one of the most ex­treme strains of driv­ing en­thu­si­ast on the planet. One key point of ref­er­ence: Nam’s opin­ions on the time BMW lost the plot. “I was a BMW M-car freak,” he says, “but I fell out of love when the E92 [M3] came around be­cause it be­came a cruiser, not a mo­tor­sports [based] car. It be­came too ac­ces­si­ble to a broad group of peo­ple.” We feel your pain, Peter.

That type of think­ing led Nam to cre­ate Gun­ther Werks, whose mis­sion is to build ana­log, driver-fo­cused sports cars that are no less earnestly ex­e­cuted than some­thing that springs from the minds of Porsche’s mono­ma­ni­a­cal mad sci­en­tists in Zuf­fen­hausen. Nam’s first cre­ation, the 400R, tips a hat to Porsche’s GT3 RS lim­ited edi­tion mo­tor­sports-in­spired 911s. Porsche’s first fac­tory GT3 RS model was a Europe-only 996-based variant in­tro­duced in 2003. The sub-3,000pound ve­hi­cle claimed rad­i­cally re­worked han­dling ca­pa­bil­i­ties and race-spec hard­ware—most cru­cially, repo­si­tioned front sus­pen­sion up­rights that en­abled im­proved sus­pen­sion ge­om­e­try.

The Gun­ther Werks 400R takes that ap­proach to the mat by start­ing with an air-cooled 993 donor car (in the case of our test sub­ject, a base 1995 911 Car­rera), strip­ping it down to the bare chas­sis, and al­ter­ing its fun­da­men­tal ar­chi­tec­ture in or­der to cre­ate some­thing sig­nif­i­cantly lighter, more pow­er­ful, and with bet­ter han­dling. The front sus­pen­sion mounts are repo­si­tioned out­ward, cre­at­ing a per­fectly square, 63-inch front and rear track. The square setup is the golden mean of chas­sis ge­om­e­try, shared by every­thing from Porsche’s Car­rera GT and 918 Spy­der to Fer­rari’s LaFer­rari. Gun­ther Werks in­stalls cus­tom-built KW Club­sport coil-overs, along with solid bush­ings, re­vised drop links, and 993 Cup anti-roll bars by Eibach. Chas­sis and sus­pen­sion engi­neer Cary Eisen­lohr says the shock and anti-roll-bar tun­ing was the least la­bor­in­ten­sive part of the process; once the ge­om­e­try was re­vised, most of the work fo­cused on per­fect­ing the bal­ance be­tween grip and road feel, which in­volved fine-tun­ing the roll cen­ter and manag­ing bump steer.

The process of mod­i­fy­ing the donor car in­cludes the lux­ury of start­ing from scratch, which means ad­denda such as sun­roofs (which came on all U.S.-bound 993 Car­reras) can be deleted, sav­ing weight (45 pounds in the case of the sun­roof). A 3-D-printed alu­minum head­lamp hous­ing of­fers a distinc­tive look and is shielded by a layer of glass baked by a veteran con­cept car builder; although they’re thor­oughly be­spoke, the units re­tain their orig­i­nal bucket mounts so they can be re­moved and ser­viced at Porsche deal­er­ships. The same clay mod­eler re­spon­si­ble for a cer­tain Ger­man su­per­car of the early 2000s shaped the re­vised nose, while a mod­eler with ex­pe­ri­ence at Audi and As­ton Martin formed the fend­ers. The rear spoiler shares its distinc­tive pro­file with that of the 997.2 GT3 RS and uses three in­takes to cre­ate a ram air ef­fect.

The chas­sis is rose-jointed, seam-welded, and me­dia-blasted be­fore get­ting draped in a pre-preg car­bon-fiber skin, which is aero­dy­nam­i­cally shaped us­ing com­pu­ta­tional flow dy­nam­ics. The only re­main­ing orig­i­nal body pan­els are the steel doors (re­tained for crash pro­tec­tion), the door han­dles, and the mir­rors. The ex­treme makeover re­sults in a lower, wider, and con­sid­er­ably more pur­pose­ful pack­age that weighs in at a mere 2,670 pounds—quite a slim down from the stock car, which tips the scales at slightly less than 3,200 pounds. The 400R’s curb weight is ca­pa­ble of dip­ping be­low 2,600 pounds by re­plac­ing the heavy un­der­coat­ing with a spe­cial primer and paint, and by in­cor­po­rat­ing op­tional lighter seats, car­bon-fiber doors, and car­bon-fiber dash pan­els.

Gun­ther Werks ships the 993’s 3.6-liter flat-six en­gine to Roth­sport Rac­ing for a sim­i­larly com­pre­hen­sive re­work­ing, dur­ing which it grows in dis­place­ment to 4.0 liters. Every­thing from con rods and pis­tons to valvetrain and ex­haust are al­tered, even down to minu­tiae such as en­larged fan blades, which are curved for a slightly more me­chan­i­cal sound. Tem­per­a­ture man­age­ment is also aided by adding a sec­ond oil cooler and po­si­tion­ing both to bet­ter cap­i­tal­ize on air­flow. The car re­ceives a MoTeC en­gine man­age­ment sys­tem and a car­bon-fiber plenum from U.K.-based Even­turi, whose ge­om­e­try is de­signed to cre­ate a ven­turi ef­fect pro­duc­ing a 6-horse­power gain.

In­cre­men­tal ad­di­tional power gains are also re­al­ized from the in­tro­duc­tion of an elec­tric steer­ing pump and HVAC unit, which no longer sap energy from the en­gine. The A/C hard­ware is re­lo­cated to the front of the car, en­abling shorter plumb­ing and bet­ter weight dis­tri­bu­tion. By the time the Ore­gon-based firm is done with the en­gine, only the 993’s no­to­ri­ously stout block re­mains, which al­lows the owner to re­tain the pow­er­plant’s orig­i­nal se­rial num­ber. The re­worked mill pro­duces 419 horse­power and 315 lb-ft of torque, work­ing with a re­built six-speed man­ual gear­box with short­ened first through fifth gears; sixth re­mains an over­drive gear. An­other stag­ger­ing point of ref­er­ence: With 313.9 horse­power per ton, the 400R is, pound for pound, might­ier than a 959 (253.7 hp/ton).

The 400R’s cabin is a sparse and stripped-down yet finely fin­ished space that trades the 993’s fac­tory-in­stalled plas­tic and vinyl bits for top-stitched Al­can­tara. The deleted rear seats are also re­placed with matte-fin­ished sheets of the light­weight stuff, as is the front trunk area. Si­dle into the fixed Co­bra car­bon-fiber bucket driver’s seat, and dead ahead is the fa­mil­iar, cen­trally po­si­tioned Porsche tachome­ter (though this VDO gauge is fin­ished in red and in­di­cates a 7,800-rpm red­line). The 4.0-liter pow­er­plant fires up with the same Le Mans-in­spired left­hand key rit­ual, though the cen­ter con­sole houses a red but­ton that can open an ex­haust valve for a throat­ier sound and switches the MoTeC en­gine man­age­ment sys­tem to ex­tract 30 more horse­power.

Any 911 owner will find a spa­tial and er­gonomic fa­mil­iar­ity be­hind the wheel of the 400R; every­thing is in its right place. Once in mo­tion, though, the height­ened level of per­for­mance dy­nam­ics be­lies the sim­plic­ity of the orig­i­nal car’s ’90s-era plat­form. Ac­cel­er­a­tion is eye-open­ing: Re­lease the clutch, and the 4.0-liter pulls rea­son­ably strongly at low rpm, climb­ing with a new­found vigor from 4,000 rpm on­ward that crescen­dos with a rous­ing, scream­ing 7,800-rpm fin­ish. Those mid- to up­per ranges are the en­gine’s sweet spot, where it un­furls a flow of horse­power and trac­tor­beams the car for­ward. Down low, it will hap­pily bur­ble along at a cou­ple thou­sand rev­o­lu­tions, pulling strongly enough to escalate your speed with­out be­ing star­tling or abrupt. But drop a gear or two into the 4,000-plus-

THE 400R DE­LIV­ERS TREMEN­DOUS LAT­ERAL GRIP BUT ALSO RE­SPONDS TO STEER­ING IN­PUT WITH FLUID TURNIN, OF­FER­ING EX­CEL­LENT FEED­BACK.

rpm range, and the en­gine rouses with a more ur­gent punch, de­liv­er­ing an ad­dic­tive blast of ac­cel­er­a­tion that squeezes you into your seat and as­saults the cabin with in­take and ex­haust howl.

On a per­sonal note, I up­graded the wheels, tires, shocks, con­trol arms, and drop links of my ’97 993 in search of a more rear-bi­ased feel, but I found that the stag­gered front/rear track width still ex­hibits a nat­u­ral ten­dency to­ward un­der­steer. When I take my first cor­ner in the 400R, the re­sponse is al­most un­rec­og­niz­able: The front end carves and turns like no mildly mod­i­fied 993 could. Rid­ing on 245 front and 315 rear Miche­lin Sport Cup rub­ber wrapped around 18-inch wheels, the 400R de­liv­ers tremen­dous lat­eral grip but also re­sponds to steer­ing in­put with fluid turn-in, of­fer­ing ex­cel­lent feed­back through its thick, leather-wrapped steer­ing wheel. Some un­der­steer be­comes ap­par­ent dur­ing higher-speed, on-throt­tle cor­ner en­tries, which Eisen­lohr says was a choice to help keep driv­ers from en­coun­ter­ing a snap over­steer sit­u­a­tion. As a safety mech­a­nism, it pro­vides a pro­gres­sive in­di­ca­tion of where the rear tires are start­ing to slip in tiny in­cre­ments, re­as­sur­ing feed­back on An­ge­les Crest Highway, as most of its 66 miles in­cludes steep cliff­side drops. Six-pis­ton front and four-pis­ton rear Brembo brakes with ABS of­fer out­stand­ing stop­ping power that’s easy to mod­u­late.

Start­ing at $525,000 (not in­clud­ing the donor car) with only 25 ex­am­ples avail­able, the 400R begs the in­evitable com­par­i­son to Singer Ve­hi­cle De­sign’s sim­i­larly priced long-nose cre­ations. Although the two bou­tiques fo­cus on dif­fer­ent eras of air-cooled 911s, they also do so with vary­ing lev­els of fi­delity to the orig­i­nal de­sign. Both of­fer height­ened per­for­mance, though Gun­ther Werks de­parts from the ortho­dox canon of Porsche styling with its more overt swol­len­fend­ered twist. With the 400R’s or­der book nearly full, Nam says he is al­ready work­ing on an­other se­ries that will be “taken to a com­pletely dif­fer­ent level.” The tease is enough to spawn wild thoughts among Porschep­hiles. Nos­tal­gia, it seems, never sleeps. AM

An in­creased front track lends the 400R a meatier stance than the 993’s nar­rownosed plat­form. Be­low, keen eyes will spot a 964-era steer­ing wheel and a 993 RS­sourced shifter cov­ered in Al­can­tara.

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