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Porsche 996 C4S road trip: flat six on the French Riviera

Beep, beep, beep… groan. It’s 4:00am on a Saturday, shouldn’t I be rolling in from a particularly good night out, instead of trying to drag myself out of bed? I’m pretty sure that four hours isn’t enough sleep, but I actually feel strangely motivated to get on with the day – probably something to do with what lies ahead…

After years of thinking about it, years interspersed with a few fun cars (TVR, NSX, M3 etc) I finally bought my first Porsche in September 2018. It was on a whim, as you do. I’d dabbled with the idea of a Cayman (you drive a lot of cars in this job and I’d enjoyed every Cayman I’d ever tried) but I knew that deep down it really had to be a 911 – you know, a real Porsche. I feel safe writing that in a magazine called Total 911.

A friend needed to move his 996 C4S on quickly so he could get into a Ferrari he’d been offered at a knockdown price (first world problems, huh?), coinciding happily with my having recently sold a house.

I knew the car too, said mate having owned it for a year or so, and I was enamoured by the spec – a lovely deep metallic blue, full black leather, Sports exhaust and short shifter kit making it even more focused as a driving machine. Furthermore, promises were made (and delivered) to have it looked over prior to sale and anything necessary be sorted – that promise eliciting a bill just short of £3K. Good for me. We’re still mates, by the way. 

So the deal was done, and on a sunny Thursday I picked up ‘my’ 911 for the short haul back to Essex from Kent. The Dartford tunnel proved the ideal sound chamber to test the aural attributes (windows down, of course), while a few local back roads elongated my trip home showing that all the uniquely 911 dynamic attributes I’ve always loved were present and correct. This was going to be a blast.

And while it was used little through the grotty winter months that arrived shortly after purchase, a few Sunday fun drives and – in particular – an epic weekend jaunt to Wales with some mates proved the mettle of the car, and that my instinct was right. You see, I’ve always believed that the thing you simply have to do if you’re lucky enough to own a 911 is a big road trip, ideally with the nose pointing south to sunnier climes.

It’s that combination of robustness, compactness and practicality alongside imperious driving dynamics that makes a 911 – for me – perhaps the best car in the world for a road trip involving serious miles on serious roads. It’s something I’d planned to do since well before I bought one, now it’s time to tick that box.

Yep, I think I’m going to pay for that lack of sleep later; good job I put my girlfriend on the insurance. But for now I’m in autopilot, jumping out of bed, boiling the kettle and scooping up any luggage we hadn’t stuffed into the car last night. Coffee quaffed, we’re rolling by 4:30, bound for P&O’s finest 7:25am crossing to Calais with perhaps a little more time in hand than anticipated – damn it, I really could have used another 30 minutes shut-eye.

No matter, there’s always something a little bit special about being on the road before the sun’s up, and we’re treated to a glorious sunrise as we cruise down the M2 motorway. The port beckons bright and early and we roll on as one of the first cars. 120 minutes of broken sleep later, we’re in France: now the trip really begins…

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The 2020 Porsche bucket list

Prime your Porsche and fire up that flat six: this is the year for making the most of your 911. Total 911 presents 20 activities you should do with your Neunelfer in 2020, covering all aspects of the culture surrounding Porsche’s automotive icon. Can you tick them all off in just 365 days?

The year ahead holds much promise for us all: the sunny season will of course bring about plenty of opportunities to get out and drive, but for the big-ticket activities – namely track days and road trips with friends – careful planning will have begun in earnest. 

Daylight hours are getting longer, salt is disappearing from our roads, and already there’s a whiff of anticipation in the air as the year’s early car events take place. At last, summer will soon be on its way.

It’s for this reason we present to you the definitive Porsche bucket list for 2020: our main feature this issue provides you with 20 activities that’ll help you to live your best Porsche life and get the absolute most from your 911 and the thriving culture around it.

Our list has been carefully compiled with the help of fellow enthusiasts to provide a well-rounded year of 911 fun. It’s possible to complete our list with the one 911, regardless of wether it’s old or new, or what model type it may be. So what’s made our top 20? Take a look and find out!

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porsche 991 Cup car driven: gentleman racer

Silence. Awful silence. There’s only the sound of my breathing as I sit looking out the windscreen at the track, a track which until a few seconds ago I’d been driving on. There are four black lines, criss-crossing each other, a rubber inscription on the tarmac that highlights my lack of talent.

What had Tom Woollen, technical team manager, Motorsport, said? Floor the clutch, re-start the engine and pull the paddle down for neutral. I do that, the flat-six fires but the spitting sound of the pneumatic shifter isn’t accompanied by any change in the digital display in front of me.

Third is still being shown, and every, ever more desperate tug at the left shifter is signalled not by that number getting lower, but a warning sound that suggests to me ‘expensive’. A Cayman GT4 Clubsport nips by, while I’m sat motionless on the tarmac, mercifully free of the gravel trap at the big left off Vale.

The mid-engined GT4 is the very car that only a few minutes ago I’d been lapping in, approaching the same big stop with impunity, leaning on the brakes until the ABS was cutting in. It was hilariously good fun, it flattering thanks to its fine balance and, if I’m being honest here, the electronic assistance of that ABS and Traction Control. 

The 911 GT3 Cup car I’m sat in now has no such driver assistance, all of which explains my current predicament. Nothing for it but to switch it all off, hope, and start again.

A quick flick of the ignition, a prayer, and re-start the engine with the clutch floored. The digital display in front of me is still showing I’m in third, but my tentative pull of the paddle has it drop to two, then first, then I’m good to go. 

Talent: you need a lot of it to drive in the Carrera Cup. I’ve been lucky enough to have driven a lot of racing cars, but none have intimidated as much as the 911 GT3 Cup car I’m in today.

I’d been warned, not just before I got into it, but for weeks in advance. The 911 GT3 Cup isn’t like most modern racers, it’s a car that demands the very best from its drivers – if you make a mistake you’ll know about it. And I know about it.  

If you’ve not seen the Carrera Cup, then where have you been? The UK’s fastest single-make championship, the 911 GT3 Cup cars are quicker than the British Touring Cars that they follow all around the UK.

Almost as quick as a 911 GT3 R depending on the circuit, Woollen saying at Spa, the Cup’s lack of aero, and hence drag, allied to its 485hp mean it’s only a couple of seconds slower than its more hardcore relation. In the right hands, of course. 

There are Carrera Cup championships all over the world, providing support races to Touring Cars, GT Championships and F1 as the Supercup. If you’re in Asia, America, Australia, Germany, France, Italy, Japan and Scandinavia you’ll find a championship. Indeed, if you’ve…

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Top six modified 911 builders on the planet

Porsche’s 911 was made to be customised, and some are doing it better than others. Total 911 investigates six companies renowned for their work on different generations of the venerable Neunelfer, looking at what makes them special – and what we can expect for 2020…

#1: Theon Design

“90 per cent of that car people will never see, but the same level of attention to detail goes right the way through it,” says Adam Hawley, founder of Theon Design. I’ve not seen much of it: photographer Ali Cusick’s seconded Theon’s 911, parked it in a darkened garage and is playing with long exposures. What I did see of it when I arrived looked pretty special, though. 

Backdates, reimagined, recreations – call them what you like – there’s no shortage of companies that can build you one. Hawley’s only too aware of that; indeed, there are a good number within a half-hour drive of Theon’s Deddington base in Oxfordshire, UK. 

What makes Theon different, then? Hawley’s background, for one – he dropped a successful career in car design to set up Theon. The reasoning was as simple as it is brave: a 911 fan from childhood, he wanted to improve them, and on that which was on offer from others, using his training and experience as a car designer. Given the established competition that’s not an inconsiderable undertaking, but the first customer car here, which heads to Germany in a couple of days, looks pretty sensational

The precision and finish of the car is in sharp contrast to the surroundings. Theon rents space in a farm, the workshop crammed full of evidence of the prototyping that Hawley and his team have worked on over the past couple of years.

His team all have previous form in building 911s, Theon’s location coming in helpful in that regard, this part of the UK the automotive epicentre for the sort of craftsmen and women Hawley needs to execute his vision. 

Upstairs in Hawley’s office there’s no hiding his design background – there are CAD models on the computer screen demonstrating this 911 build uses the most up-to-date methods and technology. There’s evidence too of prototype parts, with some naked front and rear bumpers, constructed from carbon fibre and weighing just 1.3kg each, sat on top of some boxes.

Hawley’s background was centred around rapid prototyping and CAD 3D design, and Theon approaches each build in the same way he did when he was involved in creating concept cars and interiors for a variety of global car brands. 

“We approach it from a design angle,” says Hawley. By that you can read, ‘meticulous, to the point of obsession’. Much like an engineer, then, a designer will never be satisfied, but there’s absolutely nowhere to hide when it’s visual, Hawley admitting that he’s determined to make his builds perfect. That detail-driven eye has seen Theon build its own bucks to shape the wings, which are 3D scanned and checked to make sure they’re exactly symmetrical.

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Porsche’s Global Sales Up 10% In 2019

The 2019 sales year was not kind to many automobile manufacturers with the overall Chinese automobile market severely slowing down for the second year in a row, and continued downward trends in car purchases for Europe and North America. Porsche, however, bucks the trend with a huge increase in sales volume in 2019 as compared to the previous year. These numbers were boosted by huge increases in Cayenne and Macan deliveries worldwide, and an appreciable uptick in European sales. Porsche also experienced steady growth across the Americas and Asia.

“We are delighted about this great result, which shows the worldwide customer excitement for our sports cars and we are also proud that we have further strengthened the appeal of our brand and the customer experience with new approaches,” says Detlev von Platen, Member of the Executive Board for Sales and Marketing at Porsche AG. “We are optimistic that we can maintain the high levels of demand in 2020 – also thanks to a host of new models and full order books for the Taycan.”

Porsche sold 99,944 Macan units and 92,055 Cayenne units across 2019, giving the two SUV models a stranglehold on Porsche’s sales. The two models accounted for 68.5% of all Porsches sold worldwide.

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