Slammed Rothmans liveried, slant-nose 997 defies public health warnings in road-legal homage to Le Mans 962 and the 935 endurance racers
The two taxi drivers had no idea what to do. It was on the perimeter of a pedestrianised area of Coventry on a busy Wednesday afternoon, with two black cabs minding their own business waiting for pick-ups in a narrow street, that the mayhem began.
The pavements were packed with shoppers intent on indulging in a little retail therapy who suddenly stopped and stared in disbelief as a loud (very), wide (very) and outrageous (very) Porsche threaded its way between the traffic, driver doing his utmost to avoid kerbing the bodywork or wheels. And then there were the taxi drivers.
Stopped next to a pinch point which local planners probably euphemistically call a ‘traffic calming measure’, their taxis partially blocked the street, clearly expecting any oncoming traffic to make way for them. No chance. There was no way this Porsche was going to be forced up onto the pavement to give them space to squeeze by – the low-slung splitter and those vulnerable rims would never had made it unscathed. No, the taxis would have to back up. It was like a showdown from a western movie, with two gunslingers eyeing each other up from opposite ends of the street.
After a couple of minutes’ impasse it was clear the gathering crowds were on the side of the new kid in town, iphones and cameras all directed towards the raceliveried Porker, nods of approval, thumbs up, double-takes… the black cabs had no choice but to back down and reverse out of the way. A victory was won without a shot being fired, or bodywork scraped against a kerbstone. Justice had been done.
It’s been a while since yours truly followed a car on the street that garnered such a reaction from other road users, shoppers and passers-by. Whether they knew what this eye-spanking Porsche was all about, or whether they were simply seduced by its unique style, it was evident people liked what they saw – and so did we.
We’ll come clean: ‘stanced’ cars are not normally our thing. In general we’re believers in the words of the great American architect Louis Sullivan who stated that ‘form follows function’, a doctrine which has stood the test of time – fashions come and go but great design lives on. And it could be argued that a modern Porsche that’s ‘slammed’ on air-suspension and sporting a wide-arched body kit is little more than an exercise in attention grabbing.
But you’d be wrong. This is an exercise in making you think outside the box, a way to make you think about something more
than just swapping wheels and fitting an aftermarket GT3 aero kit in an attempt to stand out from the crowd.
The story begins with an alignment of the planets in the form of a family-run body repair business teaming up with a young marketing and social media expert. The roots of the family business can be traced back to 1948 and the foundation of Ideal Motors Coachworks, who in 1965 took on a 17-year-old apprentice by the name of John Leggett. Fifteen years later he’d become a partner in the business and in 1986 the sole owner. The business became well-known for quality restorations of Aston Martins and Rolls Royces, the result, it is said, of John’s eye for detail and exacting standards.
Over the next decade, John’s three sons, Christian, Matt and Jonny joined the family business, and with new blood came new directions. In 2000, Reflex Auto Design was formed, fronted by Matt and Jonny, with dad John, mum Christine, Jonny’s wife Hayley and Christian as manager all working to keep the two facets of the operation running like a well-oiled machine. In 2014, the brothers finally took over the running of Ideal Motors, bringing the two sides together under one umbrella.
Reflex Auto Design has quite a name for itself in custom circles, being responsible for several award-winning vehicles, and were involved with the launch of the first Uk-based RWB Porsche, built by the incomparable Nakai San.
From show-quality repaint to full-on custom build, including bodywork, paint, suspension and brake upgrades, Reflex became a ‘go-to’ Mecca for anyone who wanted something special.
One such person was Matt Clifford who used the team to work on his own cars before being invited to join them as photographer and marketing and social media expert.
It was while checking out the SEMA show on social media that Matt first saw the Porsche slant nose conversion debuted by Japanese company Old & New. The name’s something of a hint towards their preferred style, with styling cues from the past being used to good effect on otherwise thoroughly modern machinery. Like a slant-nose 935esque body kit for a 997, for example.
The SEMA show car – a 997 coupé – was a retro-look, ground-hugging wild ride wearing a coat of ‘grab you blue’. The effect was dramatic, in an old-school sort of way, and it struck a chord with Matt, even though he’d not yet seen such a car in the metal.
Back in the UK, a plan was hatched. Reflex, it was felt, needed a new project to showcase their skills, and to set a new trend in the domestic scene. The Old & New body kit was the perfect vehicle for this. It required the purchase of a Porsche 997, so Matt set to scouring the ads until the perfect base for the project showed up in the form of a 2005 3.6 Carrera 2 Tiptronic coupé.
The fact that it wasn’t a manual didn’t really matter too much as the plan was to showcase the company’s bodywork and paint talents, along with the available suspension and brake upgrades which Reflex Auto Design could offer.
The Old & New kit was available in the UK through VAD Design, a specialist business at the forefront of the high-end aftermarket wheel and body conversion market. In 2008, VAD (it’s short for Vision Ability Dedication) concentrated on aero styling and bespoke vehicle builds, including a wild Vad-tuned wide body conversion, the Bi Turbo Cayenne GT-650. This led them to take a closer look at Porsches, notably the 997 and 991 models, for which wide-body ‘R’ styling kits have been developed. Reflex Auto Design is now the UK agent for Old & New.
With an Old & New kit ordered and on its way to England, back at Reflex’s Daventrybased HQ plans were being made. The end result had to be attention-grabbing in every way, but how? Thoughts of an earlier Martini-striped example loomed large and the idea of a retro-look paintjob seemed ever more appealing, especially as the Old & New kit had clearly been inspired by the original 934s and 935s – the former with their screwed-on arch extensions, the latter with their ‘ flachtbau’ noses and low-slung headlamps.
But it couldn’t be another Martini homage, so how about that other great Porsche team livery, the distinctive Rothmans team look? Spot on, was the general consensus. But before committing the idea to metal (and glassfibre), Matt Clifford got in touch with Khyzyl Saleem, a computer artist at EA’S Ghost Games studio who, excited by the proposal, drew up a 3D rendering of an Old & New-kitted 997 in the chosen team livery. The result was exactly what the Reflex crew wanted – they knew at that point they’d made the right decision.
The body kit finally arrived, consisting of
They knew at that point they’d made the right decision…
both front wings, front and rear bumpers, rear arches, side skirts, ducts, headlights, tailgate base and spoiler, and replacement fuel filler flap. With the car stripped of the corresponding and now unnecessary original body panels, the new kit was installed with attention paid to detail with the intention to make it the best-finished example yet. The front wings are a straight swap, but the original rears need to be trimmed back to allow for the huge wheel and tyre combo.
The rear bumper was trimmed away and remodelled to expose the custom-made exhaust system, produced for the project by Dave at EMP Performance Exhaust in St Albans – a system that not only looks ‘the biz’ but gives the 997 a suitably throaty soundtrack to keep following traffic entertained. There was also the small matter of a couple of minor electrical gremlins to sort as the swapped-out rear wing resulted in ‘wing malfunction’ error codes.
When it came to applying the graphics, the obvious solution these days would have been to use a wrap, but then that would hardly have been the best way to showcase Reflex’s collective talents. No, it had to be paint – the entire Rothmans livery is painted on, using Audi Pearl White as a base, with contrasting Ford Imperial Blue and Audi Misano Red completing the effect. The Rothmans logos are vinyl graphics, along with those in white on the front and rear quarters.
The effect is little short of stunning – the low-slung 935-style headlamps might be slightly questionable from the legality aspect but the overall look is, we think, amazing. But to get a car this low to the ground takes more than a kit of body panels. It takes the right wheel and tyre combination along with some pretty serious suspension mods.
The former was a no brainer as far as the Reflex crew was concerned: there is no better looking wheel – or better made one – than the Rotiform LVS. It’s a stylish rim, with a hint of BBS about it but with a very modern twist. They’re also very good quality, not just some cheap Chinese knockoff that will fracture at the first sight of a kerb or pothole. The fronts are 10Jx19 (yes, 10-inches…) while the rears are a meaty 13Jx19. Covering these are some Yokohama Advan Neova tyres, 255/30s at the front and 305/30s at the rear.
OK, so that’s half the battle, but only half. Next up was the matter of suspension. To get a car riding low, yet still be drivable in
real world conditions (speed bumps, garage ramps, driveways…), the only practical solution is to use air suspension.
It’s a set-up that was once the domain of commercial vehicles and buses, or vehicles used for towing heavy loads. In more recent times, it’s all but taken the place of complex hydraulic suspension systems on custom cars and low-riders. And now we’re starting to see air-ride being used more and more on performance cars – like the Reflex Porsche.
The system chosen comes from Air Lift Performance (for whom Reflex is now a distributor), and consists of a large reservoir tank to hold the compressed air, and two pumps to keep it topped up. Separate lines and solenoid valves control the flow of air to the front or rear of the vehicle, where air bags, or rams, take the place of the regular shocks and springs. The associated 3P management system features a simple flush-mounted control panel fitted in the centre console and allows the driver to raise or lower the front or rear – or both – at the push of a button.
When the reservoir is full, raising the suspension happens in an instant. There’s a barely discernible hiss as the car sits up at the rear, followed by the same as the nose rises to suit – or whichever way you want to do it. Clearly from the customiser’s point of view the big advantage is being able to dump the car virtually on the ground when parked and then raise it to the minimum ride height out on the street.
It might seem a pointless exercise if you’re not into the whole custom thing, but think again – there is something pretty cool about being able to play with ride heights on the fly. Even Porsche gets that, with its Front Axle Lift System used to raise the nose of a 991 GT3 to allow safe passage over speed humps, or the air-suspension used on the Cayenne to change the ride height at the press of a button to suit road conditions. OK, so this particular example is extreme, but air-suspension is not something to be dismissed out of hand as just a fashion fad.
While we’re on our hands and knees looking at the suspension and wheels, we couldn’t help but notice the brakes, the big bright red Forge Motorsport calipers (six-pot
We’re starting to see air-ride being used more and more…
at the front, four-pot at the rear) peeking out through the spokes of the Rotiforms. Well, it had to be done, didn’t it? There was no way stock brakes would cut it on this car.
Turning to the interior, the rear seat has been thrown out to make way for a crossbraced rear cage, while the stock front seats have now been swapped for figurehugging red Recaro Pole Position race perches, a set of Sparco harnesses holding the occupants firmly in place. The stock steering wheel’s been retrimmed in Alcantara, the same material being used to trim the dashboard top, door panels and centre console, red stitching adding the finishing touch. The work was carried out by Capital Seating in Leicester. Oh, and the stock Tiptronic controls on the wheel have made way for a paddle conversion using Mercedes components, while a Kenwood head unit with sat nav and Bluetooth completes the package.
Taking a step back and looking at the 997 as a whole, there is no denying it’s a mould breaker, and it gets massive attention as we’ve already said. But what’s it like out on the road? Is it any less of a car than a stock 997 with Tiptronic transmission? Granted, we’d have preferred to see a manual gearbox – converting it has been discussed, but doesn’t really make financial sense – or a modern PDK to go with the race theme (don’t forget, Porsche has been using its Pretty Damned Kwik technology in race cars since 1986…), but it’s somewhat irrelevant considering this is primarily a showcase for paint, bodywork and suspension talents. And at that task it’s faultless.
The ride is, I have to say, far better than I expected, the relatively heavy 997 making the ride less jiggly than I’d experienced in lighter air-ride-equipped VWS. Quite how it would feel under track conditions, I couldn’t say, but the team at Reflex would, I’m sure, be able to set up the system to suit every need. There’s little body roll and the enduring memory of the drive was more one of listening to the EMP exhaust bellowing away behind. Even that’s not unpleasant – just memorably, well, throaty.
OK, we accept that this 997 is going to be something of a ‘Marmite’ car in terms of the way it’s viewed by readers, but that’s good. It’s a refreshing change to see someone tackle a project like this and to heck with what the reaction might be from people with a more purist outlook. It’s loud, proud and low. Very low. No, make that very, very low – and we love it… PW
It’s a mould breaker, and it gets massive attention…
Just your everyday shopping cart – and a very low-slung Porsche. Sainsbury’s didn’t quite know what hit it when the 997 rocked up
Side profile is dramatic, especially when on full drop. Rotiform wheels are a modern take on the traditional BBS design and suit the car perfectly
Out on the open road, the Reflex 997 looks like a refugee from Le Mans. Not quite sure how legal the headlight height is, but who cares?
The conversion was carried out in Reflex Auto Design’s Daventry workshops – it’s not a task for the faint-hearted! Old & New body panels require original rear wings to be cut
Rear apron has been remodelled to expose the custom-built EMP exhaust system. Beautifully finished, it emits a purposeful roar without causing an annoying drone cruising at speed
Engine is largely stock, aside from the exhaust system. Front luggage bay is now dominated by the reservoir required by the Air Lift suspension system
How to bring Coventry centre to a standstill. Never before have so many mobile phones appeared as passersby stopped to grab an Instagram photo…
Rear wing forms part of the Old & New kit – it’s reminiscent of those fitted to the earlier Porsche 935s in the mid-1970s
‘Oi mate! How am I supposed to get past you?’ Matt Clifford gets an earful from the taxi driver, while local shoppers smile and take photos
Bolt-in rear cage has been refinished in white, while Recaro Pole Position seats are trimmed in red, the work of Capital Seating in Leicester
It’s a tight squeeze, but eventually the taxi drivers made way for the wider-thanwide 997. Kerbing the Rotiform rims was not an option…
Matt and Jonny Leggett are the frontmen at Reflex Auto Design, but in reality it’s a family affair with dad John, mum Christine, Jonny’s wife Hayley and brother Christian all playing their part