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Richard Attwood drives a 964 3.8 R restomod

road car. A race car. An engineer’s car. The 911, more than any other car, is a product of continual automotive evolution. Porsche’s enhancements have kept it relevant for the road, competitive on the track and have cemented its reputation as the enthusiast’s car of choice. That evolution isn’t just limited to Porsche itself; an entire industry out there takes 911s backwards and forwards in time, improving, re-imagining, personalising. The 911 is an eminently adaptable basis upon which owners can build the car they want from it.

With this 964, that’s exactly what RPM Technik has done for its owner Ian Humphris. The idea was for a fast road car that could be track driven, adding contemporary performance while being respectful to the classic feel and engagement a 964 brings. Using a Carrera 2 as its basis, the build process has been meticulous, seeking improvements in every area, this now a 964 that can run with its more recent GT department relations, yet offers a driving bandwidth that enables it to be enjoyed on the road, too.

Of all the many branches of 911 evolution and sub-species, this visceral, exciting 964 arguably represents the most appealing opportunity for perfecting and personalising, taking a tired Carrera and reviving it as a car that can be enjoyed. Its performance absolutely eclipses a 964 RS that you’d be too scared to drive. What RPM and Humphris have created is the perfect riposte to a zeitgeist where vehicular value takes president over the value of driving itself.

PART ONE: ON TRACK

It’s a sunny day at Bedford Autodrome, our track time exclusively reserved for RPM Technik’s 964 3.8. Owner Humphris likes his cars too: there’s a 997 GT3 RS in his garage, alongside some other special machinery, but it’s the 964 he’s animated about.

It’s obviously not standard, but to the uninformed could just be a neat, small, red Porsche 911. Its lowered stance could be missed, its split-rim BBS alloys less so. Humphris admits that they’re his road wheels, having a set of Cup 17-inch wheels with some cut slicks for serious track work. There are subtle hints to its revisions visually then, the black-rimmed headlight surrounds an RSR nod, the small lip splitter a neat addition under the front bumper.

There’s no surprises seeing the brake intakes on the front bumper, though they’re framed by darker indicator lenses. These, like those headlight surrounds, contrast perfectly with the red bodywork. Around the back the build follows the same understated enhancement route, this 964 retaining a single exhaust pipe, though the engine cover suggests that single pipe is attached to something a little bit different from the norm. The sticker, not badge, says 3.8 R, a model that’s entirely of its owner’s making, and justifiably so. Specification or naming purists be damned, this is a car that defines purity, a car built for an individual, with their – and only their – ambition and goals for it driving the entire project.

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R v GT3 v Carrera T: Revival of the manual 991s

What a difference a few short months can make. For a time it looked like the 991 generation was threatening the very existence of a manual gearbox in a Porsche 911 altogether. Unwanted alterations to the new stick shift, twinned with the prominence of PDK, lead some to believe the company was at one point shaping up for a future solely dedicated to auto-shifting sports cars, similar to events at some of its rivals.

While this ‘death of the manual’ movement has raged like a fire through the workshops of other automotive manufacturers, nobody really expected the flames to be fanned as far as the doors of Zuffenhausen. After all, a Porsche has always been about style over outright speed – exemplified by the company’s time-honoured tradition of placing the tachometer and not the speedometer in the centre of the 911’s five dials. It’s how you get there, not how fast.

And yet, as is well documented, it was the 991 generation which began to change the 911’s relationship with the manual gearbox from the get-go. Upon launch at the tail end of 2011, enthusiasts found the six-speed stick shift in the 997.2 replaced by an all-new gearbox for the 991.1, which featured an additional seventh ratio. Conceptually something of a modern-day overdrive gear, this seventh ratio was exceedingly tall, intended for cruising on motorways or the Autobahn, all the while keeping engine revs low and thus improving the new 911’s MPG return.

On paper these changes made sense, but in reality enthusiasts struggled to adapt to the feel of the seven-speed shifter, it unnecessarily clunky and lacking a directness through each gate which the 997’s unit had mastered so wonderfully. Somewhere beneath that protracted H-pattern, Porsche’s slick stick shift had seemingly been lost.

Then the arrival of Porsche’s first 991-generation GT car in 2013 gave rise to another revelation. The GT3 was presented for the first time with a PDK-only transmission, Porsche telling Total 911 in issue 99 at the time: “There’s no chance of a manual gearbox in the future.” The PDK-only GT3 RS that followed went some way to hammering home the point, which left many enthusiasts wondering what future lay ahead for the manual gearbox in a Porsche.

Alas, we know how the script developed from there. A wave of appreciation for manual gearboxes (some might even have called it a public outcry) brought about the Carrera S-engined Cayman GT4 in 2015, before the emphatic arrival of the 991 R in 2016 as the 911’s saviour of the stick shift.

The R proved Porsche’s GT department was prepared to listen to its customers, yet the car’s exclusivity (just 991 were produced worldwide)
meant only a few could benefit from this significant U-turn in company policy. Porsche again listened, unveiling the 991.2 GT3 last year with PDK but, crucially, a six-speed manual gearbox was available as a no-cost option.

The company went further still. For those who couldn’t get their hands on this latest prize GT car, Porsche presented the Carrera T: essentially a pared back and driver-honed version of its base Carrera 911. The line-up was thus complete, with stick shift available, at last, throughout the entire contemporary model range.

So, these are the crusaders; reviving the spirit and flair of the manual gearbox, this the crucial ingredient in any sports car that wishes to be associated with any notion of an analogue, purist drive. The big question, of course, is what is the driving experience on offer from all three?

For the full article, including expert buying tips for each 911 Cabriolet model, pick up your copy of Total 911 issue 168 in shops now or get it delivered directly to your door via here. Alternatively you can download the issue to any Apple or Android device. 

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911 icon: Andreas Preuninger

We’re in Finland, and the choice for dinner is reindeer or salmon. Andreas Preuninger is quick to opt for salmon. He’s had his fill of reindeer, having worked previously for Porsche’s Driving School before he reached his current position as head of GT cars. “I was a sporting instructor at the sport driving school when I came to Porsche because I had the time then on the weekends. I wasn’t married so I could go and instruct. The first time I was over in Finland it was for three weeks, and generally minus 36 degrees. There were waves of people coming in, coming out, every other day there were new people. The program repeated, the dishes were always the same – a choice between salmon and reindeer. Maybe I was a little bit overfed on reindeer.”

‘The next head of GT cars might be the man who’s just spent the day pulling my car repeatedly out of the snow banks then?’ I quip. Preuninger laughs, saying: “Absolutely. I did it – I really would like to do it again – it gave me a lot of contacts, I met interesting people, I made friendships that built up. It’s always absolutely vital for me to talk to customers, to know their opinion, to get their feedback. To be able to get the next product spot on.”

He hasn’t got the time for instructing, but he’s never so busy not to speak to enthusiasts, chatting to Porsche Experience customers later in the evening. The GT department has never been busier. Working alongside motorsport boss Frank Walliser, Preuninger admits the dynamic between him and Walliser is one that clicks, admitting: “We appreciate each other. He’s completely different than I am. He’s an analytic guy, he always wants to have mathematical data that he can analyse and I’m more like the person that does things out of his stomach.” He adds: “I don’t say that’s negative. It’s very, very important, especially if you can combine the two.”

That pairing has been hugely successful, the results speaking for themselves. Porsche struggles to keep up with the demand for the cars from its GT division, while the shelves continue to creak under the weight of all those winners’ trophies.

We’ve spent the day in Finland talking about Preuninger’s latest project, the GT3 RS. The conversation this evening isn’t about that. We’ve met many times now and, as ever, Preuninger is always at his most illuminating when he’s off topic, letting the conversation stray away from business and towards his life outside work.

After hearing some traditional Finnish music while we eat we’re not talking tailpipes, but bagpipes, the instrument of choice in my home country. Big Country come up, Preuninger quickly turning the conversation to AC/DC, in particular the Bon Scott era. “I’ve always liked AC/DC, since I was 12 years old, I grew up with this band.” Even so, it’s Status Quo that he admits to being the biggest fan of, counting himself as lucky that his position in Porsche meant that he got to meet one of his heroes, Rick Parfitt. They were great friends, Rick loving his cars, Andreas his band’s music. “I’m a freak for rock music,” he says, that passion for music having been passed from father to son.

Preuninger the father is revealed as we talk music and life, Andreas clearly a hugely dedicated family man. His inner engineer is apparent too, as he admits: “I collect guitars and build guitars and amplifiers, I have a whole room full of amplifiers and guitars. I jam along with my son, who is ten years old. He’s been playing since he was four.”

To read the full, candid interview with Andreas Preuninger, pick up your copy of Total 911 issue 164 in shops now or click here to get it delivered to your door. 

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