SMOKE MA­CHINE!

Slammed Roth­mans liv­er­ied, slant-nose 997 de­fies pub­lic health warn­ings in road-le­gal homage to Le Mans 962 and the 935 en­durance rac­ers

911 Porsche World - - Front Page - Words: Keith Seume Pho­tog­ra­phy: Andy Tip­ping

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

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