Our man gets to grip with new tyres on his 911S and gets all excited about the continuing build of his mid-engined ʻspecialʼ. And, at last, he gets back behind the wheel of his 356 race car. Itʼs been a busy summer…
Steve Wright brings us up to date with his 911S, Okrasa Special and racing 356
Itʼs been a busy few months since I last gave you an update on my Porsches. My 2.2S has had new Pirelli Cinturato tyres from Longstone Tyres fitted, which have made a lovely change from the Michelins. They are CN36 homologated with Porsche, meaning they have done extensive testing of the tyre and proclaimed them as OEM fitment for their early 911s.
It would be fair to say that up until this year I was a ʻMichelin guyʼ, putting them on all my classic German cars. However, the tyres had been on the car nine years and only just worn out, so I knew it was possible to go with a softer tyre that would provide more grip and better handling, and not time-expire. After scrubbing in theyʼve quite changed the car ʼs character for the better – the handling of the car is better and it feels more lively and predictable. Iʼve set the tyre pressures at 26 and 29psi, front and rear respectively.
Thereʼs all sorts of discussion on internet forums and in publications, it seems, about which is the best tyre, but my view is it all depends on what you do with the car (gentle road driving or touring, fast road use or racing), your driving style and the set-up of the car. Basically it all comes down to personal preference. Not helpful perhaps, but if you drive an early 911 in nearly standard set up, in a spirited fashion on the road, and you enjoy the communication so characteristic of these amazing cars, then I can highly recommend them.
While I had the wheels off I cleaned the complete underside of the car and rust-proofed it with Gibbs, a spraycan based oil that the US Navy uses to treat its ships. I figure if itʼs good enough for the US Navy then itʼs entirely suitable for a 911 on wet UK roads.
Rather annoyingly I still have a nagging vibration between 65–75mph that I had before I swapped the Michelins for the Pirellis so that will need investigating, but otherwise this just continues to be a classic sports car that I can get in, turn the key, cover hundreds of miles and have complete fun in. Long may that continue.
The Okrasa Special has taken huge strides forward over the past four months: Mouland & Yates put in some long hours to get the outer bodywork completed but then had to focus on a priority job that came in. Now theyʼre back on the car full-time and, with two of them working, itʼs on track for completion this year.
Thankfully the outer skin shows that the car ʼs design has translated through well into reality and the car looks fabulous in the flesh. Phew! It wouldʼve been awful to have put all the time, effort and money into something that only a mother could love and wouldʼve been terribly disappointing. Thankfully itʼs turned out well and the photos really donʼt do it justice – the shape is just like a bullet but still very period.
Each month weʼre working through questions and options, solving practical problems such as how the clamshell will locate on the steel scuttle. The latest progress is the construction of the A-post, B-post and supporting sills. Theyʼre tricky bits to create because thereʼs no design for them: the buck only provides a reference for the outer panels, plus Vic is having to attach an aluminium bodyshell to a steel chassis. Tricky.
In addition, heʼs got to make the doors as long as possible because having the engine in the middle of the car, while great for handling, means the length of the cabin of the car is confined to the length of the Karmann Ghia roof panel. Thereʼs only so much you can stuff into that length so it means the doors might be quite short. Vic intends to follow the 356 trick of having the leading edge of the door
‘HE’S GOT TO MAKE THE DOORS AS LONG AS POSSIBLE…’
open into the front wing area, effectively cantilevering the door on an offset hinge.
Talking of hinges, we went with VW Bus rear engine lid ones as theyʼre small and simple, and more importantly work! The B-post is also tricky as this has to provide the mounting surface for the rear clamshell, which will hinge from the rear subframe and attach via two Vw/porsche front bonnet latches, exactly as on the Porsche 550. If it was good enough for Porsche in the day, and all that!
Vic also trimmed exact templates in aluminium for the Plexiglas windows. Iʼd already had them made but it was very approximate – this way we have an exact shape and curvature that can be used to trim and heat the windows to shape. Separate from all this Iʼve been buying lots of bits to finish the car such as genuine Bosch red lenses for the rear panel.
Their origin is unknown but they have lovely embossed logos and are crafted in deep red glass (theyʼre the ones on the left hand side of the photo, above right). Ian Clark also donated a set of switches for the magneto and fuel pump, again lovely period ones out of a Lancaster or Spitfire, so they will look a treat.
Finally the 356 has been dusted off and raced, not once but twice in a month, the first time itʼs been raced in nearly a year. Firstly we took it to the Chateau Impney hillclimb, which is a lovely event. Itʼs full of wonderful cars and nice people, with a great
‘IF IT WAS GOOD ENOUGH FOR PORSCHE IN THE DAY…’
atmosphere. Thereʼs everything from Edwardian aeroengined monsters and twin-supercharged Jap-engined specials, to 1960s F1 cars.
The 356 was entirely unsuited to the one mile hillclimb as it was still wearing its Dunlop L racing tyres – and the gearing didnʼt help – but I posted 87th fastest time out of about 250 cars, and eighth fastest under two-litre sports car, so I was very chuffed with the result. Iʼve decided hill-climbing is a bit like drinking tequila – all done in less than a minute and highly addictive.
After four runs I was beginning to really enjoy this lark and dialling in both myself and the car. Make a mistake and the run is over as there is no chance to recover the lost time, so you have to be very, very precise and technical with the car.
There are also stone walls, trees and plenty of other solid things to hit very close to the Tarmac (basically a driveway up through the grounds) so you also canʼt afford to put a foot (or tyre) wrong. It certainly makes a change from circuit racing where you can get it all crossed up and out of shape, carry on and make it up on the next lap.
We then washed the car, changed the race numbers and headed off to the Silverstone Classic for the RAC Tourist Trophy race for pre-ʼ63 GT cars. We qualified 48th out of 58 entries and finished 36th overall, fourth in class. More importantly the car ran beautifully, often seeing 8000rpm between gear changes, and we had a proper race with TVR Granturas, Lotus Elites, Aston Martin DB2S and DB4S.
It was so good to get back in the car and race. I was a couple of seconds off our best lap time of 2m:49s but it was our first circuit race in over a year, so it was a good start for the season. It was certainly great to be back in the race seat – Iʼd forgotten just how much fun it is to race an old historic car. Trust me, if you love your old Porsche then you simply must try racing at some point in your life; itʼs just incredible.
Hopefully next time I update you the bodywork of the Special will be complete and the 356 will have been further developed between races. CP
‘I’VE DECIDED HILLCLIMBING IS LIKE DRINKING TEQUILA…’
Above: Silverstone Classic was a busy event but Steve managed to finish 36th overall out of a big field of 58 cars, but fourth in class
Below left: The work required to form the A- and B-pillars is something to behold! Below right: A Lancaster (or Spitfire!) ‘donated’ switchgear to the project
Above: Mouland & Yates have been making great progress, turning Steve’s ideas into reality. Old school ‘carrosserie’ skills are alive and well… Below left: Pirelli’s CN36 is approved by Porsche for use on its classic models
Below right: This view gives you some idea of the complexity of the special’s bodywork at the rear
Below: Aluminium templates have been made for the windows to make it easier to cut the Plexiglas to the exact shape and formed to the correct contours
Above: Steve agonised over the rear light treeatment, finally opting for some original Bosch units (on the left of the line-up)