911 on sa­fari!

The 911 has carved a dis­tin­guished ca­reer on the cir­cuit, but what’s it like as a rally car? To­tal 911 swaps track for ter­rain to find out

Total 911 - - Contents - Writ­ten by Lee Si­b­ley Pho­tog­ra­phy by Daniel Pullen

To­tal 911 goes off-road­ing in Makel­los Clas­sics’ bril­liant sa­fari SC. Is it the best 911 ex­pe­ri­ence?

Did you know the Porsche 911’s first ever race was, in fact, a rally? The year was 1965, and Huschke von Hanstein, race di­rec­tor and Porsche PR of­fi­cer, was keen to show off the dex­ter­ity of the com­pany’s new sports car, which could be driven on the road and raced at week­ends. Her­bert Linge and Peter Falk were thrust into a 2.0-litre 911 for the le­gendary Monte Carlo rally, driv­ing the car from Bad Hom­burg, Ger­many, to the Prince’s Palace in Monaco, fin­ish­ing a cred­itable fifth over­all. A 911 would win the no­to­ri­ous event out­right in 1968 in the hands of ‘Quick Vic’ El­ford, the first of many key ral­ly­ing suc­cesses which forms an im­por­tant part of the 911’s 30,000 over­all race vic­to­ries to date.

Mean­while, along­side the sport kits which formed the ba­sis of Porsche’s fa­mous Sports Pur­pose man­ual in 1966, the com­pany of­fered a rally kit – op­tion 9552. Com­pris­ing of a pair of Re­caro seats, roll bar, a 100-litre fuel tank with front hood filler, ad­justable Koni shock ab­sorbers plus sub­tle en­gine mod­i­fi­ca­tions, the kit was in­tended for cus­tomers who wished to par­tic­i­pate in long-dis­tance ral­lies.

No­table suc­cess on the rally stage has con­tin­ued through­out the 911’s his­tory. Who can for­get the hero­ics of the fac­tory-sup­ported Pro­drive SC RSS in the 1980s, a pre­cur­sor to the 1984 Paris-dakar-win­ning 953 and, later, the 959, which was built for the very pur­pose of ral­ly­ing be­fore the demise of Group B just be­fore its re­lease. The air-cooled 911 re­mains a reg­u­lar par­tic­i­pant in global reg­u­la­tion and speed ral­lies, with most no­table suc­cess cour­tesy of Bri­tish Porsche spe­cial­ists, Tuthills. They have cam­paigned all man­ner of clas­sic 911s in var­i­ous ral­lies of con­sid­er­able mag­ni­tude right around the world, with the late, le­gendary rally mae­stro Björn Waldegård of­ten found at the wheel right up un­til his death in 2014. Cur­rent works driver Ro­main Du­mas, mean­while, de­vel­oped his own 997 GT3 RS R-GT which com­peted along­side a ri­val 997 – again from Tuthill – in the 2015 WRC, with Porsche it­self test­ing a Cay­man GT4 Club­sport R-GT in 2018 with a view to join­ing the WRC se­ries. As you can see, ral­ly­ing isn’t a mere off­shoot of the Porsche 911 – it’s for­ever been part of its DNA.

Mean­while, sa­fari 911s have well and truly cap­tured the imag­i­na­tions of wider en­thu­si­asts in the last two to three years, cat­a­pulted into the lime­light by pro rac­ing driver and Porsche en­thu­si­ast Leh Keen’s imag­i­na­tive sa­fari builds. Oth­ers have since joined the mar­ket with their own off-road ex­pres­sions of the 911, but what are these cars re­ally like to drive? To­day we’re go­ing to find out, thanks to an in­vite from Makel­los Clas­sics to test their most re­mark­able pro­ject to date. Matt Kenyon, owner of the San Diego-based com­pany, ex­plains: “Sa­fari cars are pop­u­lar right now so we wanted to try our in­ter­pre­ta­tion of it. Some cars have the look, but we wanted to build a car that you could le­git­i­mately take off-road.”

The 911 in ques­tion is a 1978 Euro­pean SC, which Makel­los ac­quired in April 2018 with 125,000 kilo­me­tres on the clock. As Matt de­scribes, its spec was per­fect for the pro­ject at hand: “When we came across this 911 SC it had a pretty cool fac­tory spec. It had sun­roof delete, lower con­sole delete and ra­dio delete. It just screamed at us to build a rally spec

911.” Work started in May and was com­pleted by mid-sep­tem­ber, an in­cred­i­ble feat when you con­sider this was a pas­sion pro­ject which Matt, man­ager Greg Bart­ley and the rest of the Makel­los team had to fit around a busy stream of pay­ing client jobs.

After a strip down the team be­gan with cru­cial fab­ri­ca­tion work to the 911’s chas­sis, which en­tailed cus­tom brac­ing all over the car as well as re­in­force­ment of the rear strut tow­ers. The front strut tow­ers were cus­tom braced, and cus­tom front and rear skid plates were added too. A com­pre­hen­sive

“Slid­ing through the dunes, lock to lock, I hon­estly can’t re­call hav­ing more fun in a Porsche 911”

rear roll cage was built in to the rear strut mounts for ex­tra rigid­ity among the rigours of rough ter­rain.

A Tar­ret En­gi­neer­ing/erp 935-spec sus­pen­sion setup has been lav­ished on the build along with KW Club­sport coilovers with rally-spec valv­ing. The wheels are light­weight 7x15-inch Fif­teen52 Out­law

003 wheels all round, in­clud­ing the spare re­sid­ing on the roof rack on top, with Pirelli K gravel rally tires. The 935-spec sus­pen­sion de­mands a hefty pay­out, but it’s an in­vest­ment Matt says is ab­so­lutely nec­es­sary. “We want this and any fu­ture rally cars we build to be used over and over, so it was im­por­tant to have a proven setup,” he con­firms.

The team have the SC on the ramps at Makel­los’ work­shop to give it one last check-through ahead of our shake­down test, which also gives us a chance to have a thor­ough poke around un­der­neath. The fab­ri­ca­tion work is sen­sa­tional. Well thought out in its de­sign and clin­i­cal in its ex­e­cu­tion, it’s al­most a shame no­body will re­ally get to see it when this sa­fari 911 is in ac­tion. Be­neath, a host of shiny new sus­pen­sion parts make up the com­pre­hen­sive 935 kit. It’s all bolt-on stuff and al­lows for con­ver­sion to a mod­ern coilover sus­pen­sion sys­tem, the plethora of Tar­ret parts a mark of the car’s qual­ity of build. Ab­so­lutely no cor­ners have been cut here. A cus­tom cen­tre-exit ex­haust sys­tem fin­ishes things off nicely.

The en­gine is a match­ing-num­bers ’78 SC flat six, stock save for 964 cams, which many fit to of­fer a tad more top-end grunt. The trans­mis­sion is the stan­dard 915 with shorter gears from se­cond through fourth. This is as­sisted by a Wevo short-shifter, with a 917-style cus­tom wood shift knob pro­vid­ing a com­pe­ti­tion-in­spired touch­point for the driver. A Wave­trac dif­fer­en­tial main­tains drive to both wheels.

It’s clear Makel­los has had some fun with the styling of the sa­fari SC too. Its orig­i­nal Guards red paint­work was deemed to be in an ac­cept­able state, a re­spray to bring the car back to pris­tine con­di­tion im­me­di­ately shunned – this was to be a rally car, after all! Un­der­neath it’s a solid base though, with the orig­i­nal body in­clud­ing arches with SC flares all in fine fet­tle, and so it was used as a base for Makel­los’ own take on the iconic Belga liv­ery of Robert Droog­man and his 1984 Bel­gian Rally Cham­pi­onship­win­ning ex­ploits. A duck­tail re­sides over the flat six, while the rear re­flec­tor bar has been mod­i­fied to in­cor­po­rate some more sub­tle com­pany brand­ing. In recog­nis­ing the im­por­tance of for­ward vi­sion when on sa­fari, Makel­los’ army of lights comes in the form of clas­sic rally hood lights and beau­ti­ful LED head­lights from 9Eleven, which in­cor­po­rates mod­ern tech­nol­ogy within the 911’s clas­sic lens frame.

Checks over, it’s time to get the car down from the ramps and on to the near­est and great­est dusty ter­rain we can find. Fir­ing the car up, I’m ex­pect­ing a deaf­en­ing, lumpy as­sault on my ears akin to that of Porsche’s Paris Dakar-win­ning 953, but am pleas­antly sur­prised by what ap­pears to be a throaty SC note emit­ting palat­able lev­els of res­o­nance. Don’t get me wrong, it’s loud in­side the sa­fari car, ex­actly as it should be, but it’s not to the point of be­ing over­whelm­ing to my senses.

Speak­ing of which, the in­te­rior is a glo­ri­ous place to be. Stripped out to re­move the SC of any un­nec­es­sary weight, black Porsche vinyl is then off­set by a mini-pasha cus­tom in­te­rior, of­fer­ing a bril­liant con­tem­po­rary take of a retro de­sign. It’s found on the Rs-style door cards and on the in­serts of the Re­caro buck­ets, and even around the ig­ni­tion. Four-point har­nesses will hold me and my pas­sen­ger Matt in place for our off-road an­tics, the dished, two-spoke Sparco steer­ing wheel a per­ti­nent fin­ish­ing touch to this sa­fari-spec Ne­unelfer. Ex­ploits of El­ford, Metge, Waldegård et al firmly in mind, we buckle up and head for the dirt in our sa­fari 911.

The year-round heat that San Diego is ex­posed to means the land is in­cred­i­bly dried out and, given the vast­ness of Cal­i­for­nia, means a good se­lec­tion of dusty trails aren’t too hard to find. Matt knows the per­fect spot about 30 min­utes out­side of town, which gives me a lit­tle time to ac­cli­ma­tise to the car.

On the road it’s com­fort­able to drive, and I like how close the raised shifter and dished steer­ing wheel are to each other. Their setup in­vites quick shifts, which will surely be needed on the dirt, though an un­com­fort­able crunch when blip-shift­ing from third back into se­cond re­minds me that a de­gree of care still needs to be taken with any 915. The en­gine pulls well with­out be­ing ab­surdly quick, though I’m adamant that on the ter­rain we’re headed for the SC’S 180hp will suf­fice to get over un­even ground quickly.

Tar­mac is soon swapped for dusty, rocky ter­rain as we ven­ture in­land and far away from any other signs of civil­i­sa­tion. A cou­ple of miles later Matt gives the thumbs up, so we roll to a stop. “This is it,” he says.

With that, Matt jumps out and joins pho­tog­ra­pher Dan Pullen on a mound at the side of our dusty trail along­side Makel­los’ Greg Bart­ley, me­dia guru James Jack­son and Lee del Rosario, pro­pri­etor of 9Eleven Head­lights, who’d all fol­lowed the SC be­hind in a sup­port ve­hi­cle. A se­lec­tion of lenses, cam­eras and gaz­ing eyes are now fixed in my di­rec­tion, with Dan beck­on­ing me off with a wave. No pres­sure, then!

With first en­gaged and plenty of revs, I drop the clutch and the SC skids off the mark, a large cloud of dust bil­low­ing from the back of the car. Snatch­ing se­cond, an­other firm press of the right pedal re­ally gets us mov­ing, a bizarre but cap­ti­vat­ing sound­track sup­plied by the boom­ing ex­haust and thump­ing of rocks bounc­ing up on the un­der­side of the car.

For those not in the know, the dy­nam­ics of driv­ing a 911 on sa­fari aren’t too dis­sim­i­lar to driv­ing on the road. Manag­ing the 911’s unique weight bias is key, only here the slide is in­vited – no, cel­e­brated – rather than feared. The rear weight bias of the 911 means pro­vok­ing the car is easy, a dose of throt­tle and a

wan­der off line all that’s needed to bring the back end swing­ing out. A mix­ture of throt­tle and op­po­site lock, both of which are con­stantly mit­i­gated, keeps the SC side­ways on the dirt, the fo­cal point of my vi­sion now far, far ahead. Leav­ing the turn, the rear re­aligns and, just be­fore the red­line, I change up to third and press on once more. Wow! Over the crunch­ing of the gravel below, I fi­nally at­tune to the sound of my own hys­ter­i­cal laugh­ter. This is ab­so­lutely bril­liant!

The steer­ing is much lighter over such loose ground, which is just as well con­sid­er­ing the con­stant in­puts re­quired. The ex­trem­ity of the in­puts is far greater too, but brak­ing is never as ag­gres­sive as a re­sult.

It’s cer­tainly no prob­lem though, the 911 happy to move around over the dusty gravel, but it’s far from the chaos I’d ex­pected. I can thank the chunky Pirelli gravel tyres for that; they’re do­ing a fan­tas­tic job of mit­i­gat­ing grip, al­low­ing the car to break traction pro­gres­sively… if only Pirelli’s road tyres were any­where near as good with their feed­back!

Save for a bout of ice driv­ing some five years pre­vi­ously, my only ex­pe­ri­ence of driv­ing 911s has been on proper terra firma but, slowly, my con­fi­dence grows and my com­mit­ment in­creases, though in the midst of this con­stant manag­ing of grip I’m mind­ful of the gnarly rock­face hug­ging most of this route up to a re­mote ranch. Granted, my ap­pli­ca­tion very likely isn’t the fastest way to ne­go­ti­ate this dusty trail, but to hell with that any­way – I’m hav­ing too much fun to care. In fact, slid­ing through the dunes, lock to lock, catch­ing the tail as it swings to and fro be­hind, I hon­estly can’t re­call hav­ing more fun in a Porsche 911. This re­ally is such a crack­ing ma­chine.

The SC’S 180hp is ab­so­lutely enough for our en­vi­ron­ment, invit­ing a good, hard drive, and the gear­ing is spot on – the SC’S tra­di­tional, leggy ra­tios would be wasted here. The sus­pen­sion is good, its long travel soak­ing up the ma­jor­ity of lumps and bumps, though I find it’s still a lit­tle too harsh in places, Matt promis­ing to tweak this post-shake­down.

Re­gard­less, it’ll go down as one of my most mem­o­rable drives in a 911 – and by far the most fun. But what’s the fi­nan­cial out­lay for such en­joy­ment? Matt says it’ll cost around $120,000 to build an­other car for a cus­tomer on top of a donor car, though Makel­los can also sup­ply that if need be.

I deem it great value. For the cost of a wellop­tioned 992 C4S you can have a car which will un­doubt­edly trump it for raw driver ap­peal, and will give you much more fun at far more at­tain­able lim­its. The spe­cific pur­pose of the sa­fari car means it could be viewed by some as an ex­pen­sive toy, but in our ever-more-strin­gent world of reg­u­la­tion and scru­tiny on our roads, there’s some­thing to be said for the free­dom of off-road. Be­sides, the buzz of pi­lot­ing a 911 on sa­fari is an ad­dic­tive one un­like any­thing else you’ll ex­pe­ri­ence and, if you do de­cide to en­ter the world of com­pe­ti­tion, the 911’s cre­den­tials on the rally stage are of course as­sured. From

Stuttgart to San Diego, the 911 is clearly as at home on sa­fari as it is on the cir­cuit.

Thanks

For more in­for­ma­tion about Makel­los Clas­sics’ sa­fari builds, call +1 760-300-4037 or visit makel­losclas­sics.com.

ABOVE Well built and neatly fin­ished, Makel­los’ sa­fari SC is the epit­ome of 911 fun – with­out a race track in sight

BELOW Makel­los’ sa­fari brings a new mean­ing to the term ‘im­pact bumper’

BELOW Com­pre­hen­sive chas­sis re­vi­sion makes up the largest part of the sa­fari’s spend

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