Two of Porsche’s GT 997s have been brilliantly reborn in 4.1-litre spec – and they could well be the finest Neunelfers on the planet
Their GT3 RS 4.1 is one of the greatest 911s, but Sharkwerks’ GT3 conversion is arguably even better
Engine displacement is everything in the US. The home of the Hemi is also the land where big V8s are shoehorned into just about everything, whether it’s for the school run or the race track. Bigger is supposedly better when it comes to cars, this a heavily enriched ideology ingrained into many aspects of general US society.
However, in the world of Porsche, superior engine size has never formed part of the agenda. While Lamborghini’s first car in 1963 was the 3.5-litre, V12 350GT, for example, Porsche’s original 911 had a measly 2.0-litre flat six. Lamborghini still uses the V12 in its Aventador today, while Audi’s R8 is powered by a 5.0-litre V10, and Ferrari’s V8 and V12 powerplants are considered legendary among the wider car enthusiast population. Despite this the plucky 911 sports car has continued to battle successfully against its bigger-engined rivals on circuit, sticking fiercely to its winning recipe of a robust flat six and an exquisite chassis.
It is this approach which Alex Ross, owner of Californian Porsche tuners Sharkwerks, has always found favour with. British born, his extracurricular indulgence in Lotus is therefore forgiveable, but the overachieving 911 has always been the primary source of his motoring aspirations. This, fused with a hint of that ‘bigger is better’ American way, is what has given us the Sharkwerks 4.1.
Long-time readers of Total 911 will already know of the prowess of the one-of-four Gulf-inspired Rennsport in our pictures, which we first featured in early 2015. Acquired in 2011 before being ‘run in’ with a 2,600-mile jaunt across the USA, Alex
and the Sharkwerks team found tuning potential in its 3.8-litre Mezger engine, this becoming the trailblazer for its pioneering 4.1-litre programme. It all started before Porsche had even released its own 997 GT3 RS 4.0 – we told you the States does it bigger and better.
The fruits of more than five years of development includes a partnership with EVOMS to produce a race-spec, lightweight billet 80.44mm crank, CNC machined from billet 4340 high-alloy steel and tested to more than 9,500rpm, as well as a 104.5mm bore piston and cylinder set. The cylinders use steel liners and the pistons are Teflon-coated with anti-wear skirts and titanium wrist pins, saving 20 grams per piston and wrist pin combo against factory. In terms of top end, Sharkwerks’ engine has ‘Hammerhead’ Shark-spec headwork along with race-style valve guides for longevity and cam adjuster strengthening, with everything balanced and blueprinted. A custom multi-indexed rotary-style oil pump is used, and the camshafts are Sharkwerks/evoms spec.
The engine case has been race-prepped with, among other things, improved oiling techniques according to Sharkwerks’ own wizardry. This is all partnered to EVOMSIT ECU tuning; an RS 4.0-litre clutch pack, though Alex says the original factory set-up does work; a choice of Sharkwerks lightweight street or track exhaust, and a host of chassis upgrades including Brembo GT brakes, Bilstein Clubsport double adjustable coilovers, RSS rear adjustable links, bump steer kit, thrust arm bushings and lower control arms, plus some aerodynamic adjustments.
During extensive R&D Sharkwerks ran into inevitable physical limitations for the OEM Porsche parts. Many of these eventually showed up in the months and years that followed the release of Porsche’s 4.0 RS in technical service bulletins and recalls. The build also involved significant investment from Sharkwerks itself, with chief engineer extraordinaire James Hendry having to fabricate his own tooling to make the install possible – hence why the builds can only be carried out at either Sharkwerks or EVOMS.
The result of Sharkwerks’ efforts is a staggering 540hp, up nearly 100hp from stock 3.8-litre spec, and 542Nm torque on 93 octane fuel. Even better, Sharkwerks says its revamping work also helps lengthen the life of the Mezger six. For example, the lightweight design forged tool steel conrods – for 80.44mm stroke – were designed together with EVOMS for longevity and strength, both companies shying away from titanium. There is a slight weight penalty but Alex says the additional weight of the rod is minimal in comparison to the overall weight saved from the rotating mass in other areas: “Titanium stretches and is best kept to 40 to 60 hour rebuild race cars. In 3.6 to 3.8 stock form they have lasted a good while, but beyond that…”
Needless to say, it’s a positively intoxicating experience behind the wheel. In fact, it’s so good that the last time we drove it we declared it the best Porsche 911 on the planet. We’ve since tested some tantalising Porsche metal in this magazine, both new and old, including the 911 R, GT3 Touring, 991.2 GT3 RS and 991 GT2 RS. All outstanding peers of performance in their own right, none have left us as mesmerised as Sharkwerks’ 4.1-litre GT3 RS. Make no mistake: this ‘Bluefin’, as Alex calls it, is still the undisputed best in Total 911’s book.
However, the white 997.1 GT3 sitting next to it today represents what is arguably an even greater engineering feat. That’s because it too is now resplendent in near-identical 4.1-litre specification, though in being a 3.6-litre GT3 to begin with has simply had more ground to make up to the majesty of its RS brother.
It too has been on our pages before, in 2015, albeit in Sharkwerks’ 3.9-litre specification where the car completed a successful 75,000 miles before upgrading to 4.1 litres. The three-and-a-half years which have passed feel like a lifetime ago, for the 997.1 is mechanically unrecognisable from its former self after using the blueprint of that Gulf-coloured Rennsport. The GT3 obviously differs in its chassis dimensions, its body and track widths being narrower than the Gen2 GT3 RS, and a different intake system and intake manifold means it’s
down on power by around 25hp, but its aero is more extreme, making use of a Cup wing and adjustable struts at the back, while a Cup spoiler better helps the flow of air at the front of the car.
It’s owned by Ralph Jackson, who worked for Vasek Polak as a teenager in the 1950s and 1960s. Ralph has Porsche on the brain and 100 octane petrol pumping through his veins, and also counts the 800hp GT2 built by Sharkwerks in his extensive Porsche ownership history. However, Ralph doesn’t suffer fools gladly – he’s only interested if it’s pukka and, having helped put many development miles on the 997.2 GT3 RS 4.1, he knew exactly what he was in for when the opportunity arose to own the first 997.1 GT3 4.1 conversion. That he’s put 15,000 miles on the clock in the seven months since its conversion is some testament to what he thinks of its results. However, we’re itching to have a go ourselves on these fabulous roads carving up the northern California coast.
We hop in ‘Bluefin’ first to reacquaint ourselves with its charm which, once it’s fully up to temperature, doesn’t take long at all. The exhaust note is first to arouse our senses: it’s still got that full-bodied, 997.2 GT3 RS howl, yet it’s been upped a note or two. Impressively there’s no drone at low revs, but an application of the throttle pedal unleashes a fierce resonance that ascends into pure banshee as the RS 4.1 screams to 8,800rpm. From Porsche only the note from the rear of the 991.2
GT3 comes reasonably close in terms of its theatre, but even that feels stifled compared to Sharkwerks’ combative system.
Without question, though, the jewel in the
4.1’s crown is that brilliantly reworked flat six. Its ability to rev so freely and so willingly – and for so long – is simply astonishing. The sum of all those lightweight, upgraded components is a Mezger on steroids. It’s hard to pick a weak spot, so extensive is its powerband. It begins with throttle response: pick-up, from as little as 2,500rpm, has previously been likened to that of a Carrera GT, and we’re not about to disagree. From there you can pick a spot on its torque curve between 2,900 to 5,300rpm and you’ll have anywhere up to 120Nm more at your disposal than the factory 3.8, and 80Nm more than even the RS 4.0. Usually regarded as something of a dead zone in a peaky Porsche GT3 Mezger, here the RS 4.1 is full of energy. And that doesn’t mean ‘Bluefin’ has been robbed of any drama at the top end, either. Peak horsepower is realised at 7,950rpm, but let it rev all the way out to 8,800rpm and you’ll still find yourself with a superiority of 60Nm torque over a factory equivalent. A regearing with a longer first and shorter second to fourth ratios adds to the drama, the RS 4.1 here rivalling the fluidity of the 911 R.
Its chassis, too, is excellent, particularly at the rear, that bump steer kit keeping the back axle settled over the impurities of the road beneath us. Combined with stellar brakes and the usual Rennsport recipe of fast, feelsome steering, this is a masterpiece in engineering – if its twin wasn’t patiently waiting for its own appraisal, we simply wouldn’t want to swap out this seat for anything.
Sharkwerks’ GT3 4.1 is dominated from the outside by that frankly outrageous aerodynamic aid above its decklid. Sitting tall on extensively adjustable struts, the Cup wing with delicate Gurney flap on its trailing edge is monstrous even compared to the raised wing of the RS 4.1, the chunky end plates at either extremity almost usurping the width of the GT3’S arches.
Inside, the differences between the two cars are subtle, these mainly down to the generational change in buttons and switchgear on the centre consoles, while the GT3 obviously has proper door handles rather than pull straps. If the worn Alcantara around the head of the shifter isn’t a good enough indication as to how hard Ralph drives this thing, the fact he’s swapped the driver’s Sport seat out for a folding Recaro bucket surely is. There’s an alcantara Techart steering wheel in here too, and we quite like its chunkier grip. Seat and mirrors adjusted, we’d better get moving.
From the outset this GT3 feels every bit as on par with its 4.1-litre forebear. To our ears it sounds slightly different to the RS, its tone a speck more sonorous, and it’s also running a more aggressive geo set-up, just how Ralph likes it, which helps give its nose a slight edge in terms of its directness into a turn. As a result the GT3 better highlights the supremacy of the job done by the Bilstein Clubsports and Rss/sharkwerks chassis set-up because in this state the nose should be tramlining all over the place, but it isn’t, the wheels staying loyal and true to where they are pointed. It’s just a ridiculously well-balanced car overall, possibly even more so than the RS.
The engine is, again, sublime. I can’t get past the intensity of its rush right to the redline, which surely won’t ever be beaten by anything out of the factory. It’s unlike any other 911 out there. However, it’s the relationship between the pedals and shifter which we find most outstanding in the 4.1. It’s the lightness of the car through the accelerator, the confidence exerted by the middle pedal, and the deftness of the clutch. This, mixed with that fluidity of the gearbox to let you shift quickly and precisely, is what makes the 4.1 so responsive, so visceral to drive. If the R was the factory benchmark in terms of precision in this area, the GT3 4.1 usurps it. There’s nothing about either 4.1 I find a dislike to, including the price, which Alex says starts at $59,000 for the upgrade to include all of the necessary engine parts as well as the tuning, exhaust and upgraded clutch/pressure plate, lightweight flywheel, plus installation and break-in.
Since our first test drive of Sharkwerks 4.1-litre 997.2 GT3 RS, nothing from the factory or otherwise has really gotten near it. However, this thrilling Rennsport is finally joined on its pedestal by its brother in arms, the 4.1-litre 997.1 GT3. We depart by telling Ralph we think his is the best 911 we’ve driven, ever, but he already knows it. A long-time Porsche owner, he says it’s his best and therefore last 911. Talk about bowing out at the top.
Thanks to Sharkwerks and the legendary Ralph Jackson for use of their 997s in our test.
“Let it rev all the way out to 8,800rpm and you’ll still find yourself with a superiority of 60Nm torque over a factory equivalent”
BELOW As well as unbeatable performance, Sharkwerks’ 4.1s have been built to last, with tens of thousands of real-world development miles under their belt
BELOW At last, the 997.2 GT3 RS 4.1 is joined at the very top table of Porsche performance by the 4.1-litre 997.1 GT3