Ob­ject of de­sire

Singer’s DLS had us at hello. Time to take things to sec­ond base...

Top Gear (UK) - - CONTENTS - WORDS JACK RIX / PHO­TOG­RA­PHY MARK RIC­CIONI

It seems that the best peo­ple at mak­ing a beau­ti­ful Porsche-derived car don’t ac­tu­ally work at Porsche

De­scrib­ing sound in all its mel­liflu­ous de­tail with a key­board is, by its very na­ture, a fool’s er­rand. Oh, car jour­nal­ists will try. We’ll crack open our well-worn box of buzz­words – zing, bur­ble, gar­gle, wail… oc­ca­sion­ally a but­tery thun­der – and cob­ble some­thing to­gether as best we can, but re­ally it’s a poor ap­prox­i­ma­tion of the ac­tual waves ping­ing off your ear drums. Per­haps the best way to char­ac­terise the pum­melling my cochlea is cur­rently re­ceiv­ing is through the medium of emo­tions. Over the course of the past six sec­onds we’ve peeled off a slip road onto the A34 near Wan­tage and the noise has in­duced fear, mild pain and full-body eu­pho­ria… in that or­der. “And that’s three­quar­ter throt­tle at 5,000 revs,” shouts the man next to me, laugh­ing like a bit of a ma­niac, be­cause he knows there’s more to come.

The man next to me is Marino Fran­chitti, rac­ing driver and one quar­ter of a team re­spon­si­ble for de­vel­op­ing the car I find my­self har­nessed so tightly into, I’m ba­si­cally a fleshy strut brace. The car is the Porsche 911 Reimag­ined by Singer – Dy­nam­ics and Lightweight­ing Study (DLS, if you value your time). It’s the an­swer to the sim­plest of ques­tions: “What if we pur­sued the ul­ti­mate, no-com­pro­mise air-cooled 911? And what if we touched it with a For­mula One team?” That was four years ago… things have rather snow­balled from there.

Singer’s ma­jor part­ner in all this has been Wil­liams Ad­vanced En­gi­neer­ing, re­spon­si­ble for the sus­pen­sion, aero and en­gine, but the list of col­lab­o­ra­tors is equally house­hold – Brembo, Momo, Re­caro, BBS, Miche­lin, Bosch. All needed to be fully on-board with Singer boss Rob Dick­in­son’s vi­sion – to re­store the most ad­vanced, light­weight, air-cooled 911 that the world has ever seen. Clearly, Singer’s foren­sic at­ten­tion to de­tail hasn’t been lost on the world’s wealth­i­est Bee­tle en­thu­si­asts. It now has buy­ers for all 75 cars – at $1.8m a pop – and stands on the brink of a mon­u­men­tal achieve­ment.

Restora­tions start in Ox­ford­shire in the spring next year, with first de­liv­er­ies by the end of 2019, but still there’s work to be done be­fore all that. Just two early en­gi­neer­ing mules ex­ist with a dis­tinct Mad Max vibe, one lurk­ing in the bow­els of the Wil­liams Ad­vanced En­gi­neer­ing cen­tre. Then there’s two more-pol­ished EP cars, although nei­ther is the fin­ished ar­ti­cle by any stretch. Marino reck­ons EP2, painted in Heart At­tack red (the car we’ve been granted ac­cess to the pas­sen­ger seat for a blat around Wil­liams’ home turf and Abing­don air­field) is about 75 per cent of the way there. “All the bits of the puz­zle ex­ist, now it’s just about putting them to­gether.”

High on that list has to be low-speed en­gine cal­i­bra­tion.

At this stage (much like the half-fin­ished in­te­rior), it’s sim­ply not worth the time and ef­fort to fi­nesse that fi­nal 10 per cent

– as a re­sult it’s lumpier than a 15-year-old’s face. I al­most feel sorry for Marino as I watch him slip the clutch, try­ing to pla­cate a ram­pant en­gine that has no in­ter­est in be­hav­ing be­low 2,000rpm. Then I re­mem­ber he’s the one who gets to drive this thing, I’m locked into the Re­caro on the wrong side, feet braced against the bulk­head. There shall be no sym­pa­thy here.

To the cen­tre of Wan­tage, where I ask him to per­form laps of the cen­tral round­about at 12mph. Schaden­freude isn’t my only mo­ti­va­tion, this is our first op­por­tu­nity to see it in the wild… ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a car in a per­fectly lit stu­dio is one thing, see­ing it parked out­side Sub­way next to a dog-eared Mon­deo is quite an­other. We couldn’t be fur­ther from Singer’s Cal­i­for­nia home, but who cares? This car brings the sun­shine with it. What a thing to look at. There sim­ply isn’t a bad an­gle… low, high, front, back

– the lens loves it. Its stance and pro­por­tions are per­fect, yes, but there’s an in­de­fin­able el­e­ment here, a wave of Rob Dick­in­son’s magic wand. If ev­ery­one knew how to do it… they’d be do­ing it.

Clutch con­trol duly ex­am­ined, we strike south and start to wind it through the gears – we’ve got an air­field to mess around on later, there’s no need to thrash it yet. What’s quickly ap­par­ent is that there’s witchcraft in these Exe-Tc dampers. Be­spoke items, like pretty much ev­ery­thing as­so­ci­ated with this car, they’re fully ad­justable via the ex­posed top mounts in the front and back, and just reek of qual­ity. The lack of any sound dead­en­ing (that will be added later) and a gen­eral me­chan­i­cal clam­our means your ears tell you it should be un­com­fort­able, but the harsh­ness never ma­te­ri­alises.

“It would have been easy to just make a rac­ing car, but that would be so wrong. Stop­watches did not come into this – it’s about trans­mit­ting sen­sa­tions,” Marino re­minds me as we float along in mys­ti­fy­ing com­fort. Case study: as we pull off the A34 at 70mph, I spot a nasty-look­ing dip up ahead. My feet in­stinc­tively brace for col­li­sion, but Marino looks com­pletely un­fazed. We im­pact, the chin spoiler kisses the sur­face and we’re flat and level again im­me­di­ately – no her­ni­ated discs, no nose bob, no prob­lem. If it weren’t for the en­gine, this would be the car’s defin­ing char­ac­ter­is­tic.

Fast for­ward to Abing­don Air­field, and it’s time for the full hit. Marino points the nose down the run­way and guns it,

“Stop­watches did not come into this – it’s about trans­mit­ting sen­sa­tions”

chang­ing up at 8,500rpm (though it’s happy to crack nine grand), and back­ing off only when we run out of tar­mac. It’s a fran­tic hit of g- force, as lin­ear and re­lent­less as any­thing I’ve been in – this is 500bhp push­ing 1,000kg, re­mem­ber... Vey­ron power-to-weight. But it’s the wall of sound that shocks you. Sur­rounded by car­bon – even the roll cage is flushly hemmed in by it – you’re at the epi­cen­tre of an echo cham­ber with the an­gri­est noise imag­in­able try­ing to bur­row into your brain. How an­gry? Take 10,000 foot­ball hooli­gans, a few mil­lion hor­nets, a cou­ple of dozen UFC fight­ers and pair of honey badgers, blend them up, and you’re get­ting close. You’ll note the ear pro­tec­tors. Com­pleted cars will have the sound calmed to more ac­cept­able road-car lev­els.

The en­gine is the bench­mark the rest of the car is be­ing asked to keep up with – a 4.0-litre, nat-asp, air-cooled mas­ter­piece built specif­i­cally for this, with in­put from Hans Mezger, Porsche’s most cel­e­brated en­gine de­signer. “The en­gine it re­minds me of is the McLaren F1. It’s the free-revving char­ac­ter, the way it hits the lim­iter and you can’t be­lieve you’re there al­ready,” says Marino. “John Magee, who did the en­gine de­vel­op­ment, was so ner­vous the first time I drove it. But I got out of the car and hugged him.”

But any­one with a few quid can do straight-line hero­ics these days. For­tu­nately, when we ask Marino to arse about a bit, more lay­ers of ge­nius are re­vealed. By his own ad­mis­sion, Marino isn’t a “slider” but even he – a de­vout rac­ing driver con­di­tioned to con­sider drift­ing the an­tichrist – can cut loose in this. “God I love this car,” he bel­lows as he tips it in, lights up the rear and keeps it nicely crossed up for the cam­era. “It’s the pre­ci­sion of the throt­tle that lets me do it.” I see what he means. Nor­mally you get one, per­haps two prods to put it where you want, but with an HDMI con­nec­tion be­tween ac­cel­er­a­tor and rear tyres, your slide an­gle is in di­rect cor­re­la­tion with the flex of your right foot. And Marino still thinks the throt­tle map­ping needs work to cover the en­tire travel of the pedal, for even more pre­cise con­trol.

Marino de­scribes the sec­ondary steer­ing method – that wheel in front of his face – as hav­ing just a lit­tle bit of old-school wig­gle off cen­tre so it doesn’t feel hy­per­ac­tive, but then su­per­car lev­els of bite and stream­ing feed­back when you load it up more. A mi­cro­cosm, then, of the car’s wider ethos – to de­liver mod­ern su­per­car lev­els of grip and per­for­mance, without los­ing the idio­syn­cra­sies that make an air-cooled 911 an air-cooled 911.

We’ll have to wait un­til we drive it our­selves to con­firm whether that es­sen­tial old-school DNA has sur­vived, but as this once-in-a-life­time pro­ject draws to its con­clu­sion, we’re more con­vinced than ever that it’s not just a size­able achieve­ment, it’s a worth­while one, too. James May once called Singer’s restora­tions “a love let­ter to the 911”. In that case, the DLS is a di­a­mond ring on bended knee. To the unini­ti­ated, $1.8m will seem like an aw­ful lot of money for a tricked-out old Porsche. Well, con­sider this your ini­ti­a­tion.

“This is 500bhp push­ing 1,000kg, re­mem­ber... Vey­ron power-to-weight”

Herr Mezger, with this 4.0-litre nat-asp air-cooled beast, you are re­ally spoil­ing us

“Hello Miche­lin? We’re go­ing to need an­other set of Cup 2s please”

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