PS Le Mans Classic Clubsport
Paul Stephens’ hotrod dedicated to the Le Mans Classic is tested on UK roads
If you only go to one race in your life, make it Le Mans. La Sarthe’s battle of man, machine and time is something everyone should experience at least once. It’s a race that’s inextricably linked to Porsche, many of the company’s most famous victories taken over two complete loops of the clock’s face. Paul Stephens for one is a fan. He’s been going as long as he remembers, to the main event and the Classic, which in 2020 will be celebrating its tenth running. Stephens came back from his last visit with the seed of an idea… a limited-run 911 wearing the Le Mans Classic badge. Usefully, Stephens has the means to create just that.
No solo homage either, over months of negotiation and some creative input from both sides of the English Channel, Stephens built a celebration of Le Mans with the backing of the organisers of the Le Mans Classic race. The result is the Le Mans Classic Clubsport, which can be had in either
M471 Lightweight or M472 Touring versions.
Stephens admits the majority of interest has been in the Touring, the Lightweight perhaps a touch too extreme for most in being pared back in the extreme, doing without underseal, a passenger-side sunvisor, glovebox lid, lightweight carpets, Lexan rear windows, manual winders and the loss of some sound deadening.
Choose that and you’ll save 100kg over the
Touring, though at 1,070kg it’s not exactly portly, its specification best described as covering the essentials. That’s part of its appeal and, indeed, true to the Classic badge it wears. Stephens is quick to point out that it’s not a backdate in the conventional sense. Yes, its looks inevitably and deliberately evoke vintage 911s, but the detailing adds some neat nods to modernity, not least the fit and finish inside.
Its base is a 3.2 Carrera, specifically a 1987 to 1989 car with a G50 five-speed transmission. The goal with the engine is to make it rev-hungry, requiring its driver to get the best from it, as with Porsche’s lower-capacity units. To achieve that Stephens added Mahle barrels and pistons with machined Rs-spec camshafts, a lightened and balanced crank and con-rods. It’s dry sumped with a front-mounted oil cooler, while there’s electronic ignition and machined individual throttle bodies with a GT3 plenum. The exhaust is a full, equal-length system with individual heat exchangers.
The result of all of that is 300hp, that peak right up near the 7,900rpm rev limit, torque too peaking fairly high up the rev range. On firing the 3.4-litre, Stephen’s ambition for a racy engine is clear, it flaring with intent before settling into a purposeful idle.
Even in the Touring there’s clearly not a great deal of sound deadening, while the luggage box in the rear seems to work as a resonance chamber, amplifying the evocative sounds from the 3.4-litre flat six.
All that sound isn’t enough to detract from the attention to detail obvious in the interior. Stephens’ team of builders has spent countless hours prototyping new interior trim parts, building new dash structures and designing their own door cards, centre console and kick plates to create an interior that’s exacting in its detail but subtle in its execution. The seats, fixed back with Houndstooth cloth, grip you perfectly; the instruments are painted green behind a dished Momo 360mm steering wheel; the 24-hour clock an amusing nod to the race that the Clubsport celebrates. The door kicks and the centre console are finished in black leather, the millimetreperfect stitching in contrasting green beautiful, so too are the green seatbelts. The footplates around the pedals underline the attention to detail, Stephens determined with this Le Mans Classic Clubsport that he’d do things a bit differently, creating unique trim rather than replacing, recovering or restoring.
The panel fit inside is exemplary as a result, feeling like the new build it is rather than a restoration. Stephens admits there’s still some finishing to do with this early prototype, production cars gaining later 964 windscreens with their
flusher rubber fitting which will help with the aero look that’s generated by the de-guttering and tiny – but useful – aero door mirrors on the outside. The Carrara white is a modern hue, the black and green stripes that run from the bonnet to the back bumper being painted, that not an insignificant task for even the most talented of painters.
There are studded 16-inch Fifteen52 001 wheels finished in classic satin, behind which are vented discs grasped by four-piston Brembo calipers finished in Le Mans Classic green. It looks purposeful, yet there’s restraint, only the modernity of the headlights jarring a touch against the otherwise classical hotrodded 911 lines. They’d undoubtedly light up the road convincingly, but as we’d be unlikely to be doing full-speed runs down Mulsanne in the small hours, a different light set-up might look better. Being French, perhaps some yellow lenses…
Enough of the details. There are some cracking and familiar roads around Stephen’s Essex showrooms and workshops, and Cusick’s done shooting the static shots so I can finally drive it. Despite Stephen’s assertions that it’s tuned for intensity, it’s reasonably tractable at low revs. The aggressive cams do mean there’s a slight flat spot at about 2,600rpm, but it’s entirely manageable – and forgivable – particularly once you’re past it. Get the needle swinging around that green tacho and the Clubsport flies. Thank the significantly lighter flywheel fitted, it creating a wonderfully crisp response, the revs rising eagerly, the lighter internals helping with the lack of inertia from the engine. It sounds great at high revs. The cabin fills with the rasping blare of the engine, every heel-and-toe downshift something to be savoured, the brake pedal’s height and initial travel creating the perfect platform with which to roll your foot over to blip the throttle, the G50 ‘box shifting with ease whether you’re standing on the brake and dropping a cog, or chasing the road and adding another to the mix. The braking performance is never in question, the Brembos having no trouble washing off the pace.
Just over a tonne isn’t much for 300hp to be shifting, the Clubsport feeling wonderfully light and devilishly rapid. It’s exploitable, too, thanks to the compact, narrow dimensions, the Le Mans Classic Clubsport making the most of the tight, quick roads. The steering’s weight is nicely judged. It’s light and quick on the move, heavier at slower speeds, but not so much that it’s a chore. There’s real detail at the steering wheel, the rim rich in information about the surface rolling beneath, the grip available, the turn-in sharp, the rear handing on doggedly, the limitedslip differential helping the Le Mans exploit its performance in the bends with mighty traction.
While the cabin is filled with rich notes at high engine speeds, there’s a trade-off at more sedate pace with some blare from the exhaust. Stephens is aware of it on this prototype, and has a quieter solution for the production cars – of which there’ll be ten built.
Grip levels from the Yokohamas is never in question, the Clubsport able to carry huge speed with real confidence, it certain to be an absolute blast if you took it to a track. If anything it grips a bit too hard. It’ll move around underneath you, but you need to have some pretty big numbers on the speedometer to do so. The combination of those relatively tall sidewall profiles and nicely judged suspension brings assured control with compliance that means the Clubsport’s not kicked off-line by the many road imperfections that make up a typically British road.
It’s a car that rewards the driver, a car that’s engaging and involving, demanding and endearing, in the best tradition of classic driver’s cars. A fine and fitting tribute to a classic race, just make sure if you order one you take up the opportunity to have it delivered on the start line of Le Mans Classic in 2020 and give it everything down the Mulsanne. It really does deserve it.
“Get the needle swinging around that green tacho and the Clubsport flies”