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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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Matt Farah Samples Two Sharkwerks Gems—4.1 & 3.9 GT3 RSs

Back when /DRIVE was making videos regularly, Joe Rogan’s Sharkwerks-tuned 997 RS made a special appearance. Throw it back nine years, and its slightly bigger brother has found its way into the hands of Matt Farah, whose enthusiasm for these hot-rodded GT3 RSs flows out of him by the bucketful.

2007 997.1 GT3 RS 3.9

Rogan didn’t spend any time fooling around with his GT3. After picking up the car, he sent the machine straight to Sharkwerks for a 3.9-liter conversion. With 85 horsepower over stock, a broader powerband, an 8,800-rpm redline, and a soundtrack to die for, it’s easy to see how people can justify the price tag. Clearly, it inspires people to make some pretty silly noises (4:30). That’s sheer enthusiasm.

Rogan doing a freakishly accurate impression of a Mezger motor at redline.

2011 997.2 GT3 RS 4.1

With an additional 100 lb-ft of torque over the white car, this car pulls « like a GT2 » from the bottom end, but without losing that incredible top-end bellow. With an exhaust note that sounds like Armageddon, an $8,000 billet crank, more wing and canards to complement the bump in power, the 4.1-liter stroker kit is something extraordinary, and worth the $60,000. Actually, going by the near-tearful state that Farah is in after a romp in these two screaming demons, it’s definitely worth it.

Time to start going through the couch for any lost change.

Two of Sharkwerks’ greatest GT3 RSs breathe new life into Farah’s veins.


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997 GT3 v GT3 RS: Sharkwerks 4.1s

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.


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Sharkwerks Builds The 964 RS America Porsche Should Have

« We don’t build race cars” Alex Ross quietly muses to me before taking another bite of his fruit and nut bar. We’d just come up the face of a mountain via a demanding and technical 20-mile ribbon of pockmarked and rutted pavement, which had served to make that point blatantly obvious to me. This Guards Red 964 handled the drive in a way that felt distinctly uncharacteristic for an air-cooled Porsche. Compliance is the name of the game here, and what an intoxicating game it is.

We’ve reached the summit of what must be the greatest driving road in the county (I hesitate to say state) and parked up at the base of an observatory dome. We’re above the cloud line up here, isolated from the world. Recent wildfires north of the bay have blocked our view of the real world in all directions. It’s a Friday afternoon and everyone else is stuck at their desk. The air is still and with the ignition clicked off the silence washes in to hang over us like a fog. It’s a surreal feeling.

I flew hands alight and elbows akimbo on my way up the hill – dive into hairpin, fling the steering wheel 180 degrees, feed in throttle as needed, and float the steering wheel back. This process repeats itself seemingly several hundred times. I’m still moderately out of breath due to the combined altitude, physical nature of the drive, and my auto writer’s physique. Mister Ross, with whom I’ve driven a dozen times before, maintained himself cool and composed, despite the wild ride. Whether that’s a testament to my driving ability or the car’s ability to handle anything you throw at it, we may never know the answer. I’m kidding, it’s definitely the car.

Between slugs from a bottle of Smart Water and the second half of his snack bar, he tells me the tale of the Porsche he bought earlier this year. It’s a 1993 964 Carrera 2 that lived a long life on the road at the hands of countless unknown previous owners. They’d collectively driven the car serious distances, but luckily each of them cared for the car quite well during their ownership stint. The paint looks well taken care of, and the interior is more or less excellent. With 964 values ballooning, he picked up what is perhaps the last truly good bargain and set to work getting it right. I’m a fan of the finished product.

In day to day life, Alex is the marketing arm and one of the owners of Porsche tuning shop Sharkwerks. They’ve made a name for themselves in the Porsche world as having built nuclear-weapons-grade power from large displacement and turbocharged water-cooled engines. Whether for GT3s with 3.9 liter (and larger) high-rev engines, GT2s with over 700 horses of boosted power, track exhausts for 911R, or their everything-is-perfection Cayman GT4s, you’ve probably heard of their work. All of that said, it’s important to note that this is the car Alex wanted to build, an everyday Porsche for himself, not exactly a shop project.

I’ve driven time and again in Porsches too stiff or too low for proper usefulness. Often, when given the unlimited settings of a coilover suspension system, tuning shops and owners will select a setting that would be excellent on a freshly paved racing circuit, but falls on its face when dealing with California pavement several decades beyond serviceable. Not so in the case of Alex’s 964, which leverages the traditional Porsche rear weight bias for unparalleled traction without exhibiting the pendulum swing feeling inherent in most 911s. In this Porsche the engine isn’t a bully trying to drag you sideways by the back of your neck, it’s a young child tugging at your wrist, trying to get your attention.

Though the 964 chassis is often derided for being the first 911 to move away from the iconic torsion bar suspension design, it is inherently a more sophisticated design. In order to improve the car’s natural handling, Bilstein’s PSS10 coilover system provides a complete range of adjustability, and combined with a stiffer set of sway bars from H&R is more sophisticated still. Once all of that had been installed, the 964 was dropped off to Tony at TC Design for a quality daily-driver caliber chassis setup and alignment. Whatever type of suspension black magic Tony practices, it’s working.

Perhaps the keystone to this whole Porsche is the set of tires Alex chose. Were it not for Alex’s good friend Magnus Walker and his relationship with Pirelli, we would not have this sticky set of Trofeo R tires in proper Porsche 964 sizes. This is the tire Magnus recommends for serious canyon carving, and now I know why. I’m not sure how they’ve done it, but Pirelli seems to have found an alien substance that magnetically bonds to any type of road surface. There was absolutely nothing I could do to upset this Carrera 2’s chassis, up to and including abrupt mid-corner corrections to dodge my way around errant wildlife.

From the outside, you would be hard pressed to determine much has been done to this Porsche, and that’s the way I like it. Grabbing a few trim pieces from other models, Alex’s 964 has a unique look that will only be noticed by the Porsche cognoscenti. A set of chrome H4 headlight trim rings are a simple swap that makes a big visual difference. My favorite addition, however, is the simple RSR-style front lip spoiler. It took me several minutes of examining the car to even notice its presence, but the subtlety was noted and appreciated.

Big power is great and all, but when it comes to daily driver comfort Alex wanted something that he could exploit to its full extent on his way to and from the office. Having been a long-time Porsche fanatic, he also determined it’d been too long since he’d had an air-cooled car. When the right deal fell into his lap, Alex had to jump at the chance for this one.

>When I first opened the door I was happy for a unique set of tan Recaro sportster seats to match the stock tan carpet, but then was disappointed when I folded my 6-foot-2-inch frame into them. The seats are mounted in the perfect place for Alex, who is a bit shorter than I am, but are too far forward and too elevated for my figure. Were it not for the rare small diameter Momo-built Porsche Motorsport steering wheel and Rennline adjustable pedals, I might not have experienced the joy of driving this 964 at all. Even knowing that this is not a fault of the car, I still spent the whole time cursing the angle of my throttle ankle and ended the drive with a bruise atop my head where it contacted the edge of the sunroof surround.

Here in the good ‘ole USA we were never treated to the joy of the 964-generation Carrera RS, receiving the shoddy facsimile RS America instead. Our faux RS equates to little more than a standard C2 with a manual steering rack and a rear seat delete; no power upgrade, no lightweight flywheel, and no trick RS suspension. The proper RS wasn’t without its foibles, however, as the lightweight flywheel caused many owners to complain of stalling issues. Alex’s Porsche fixes that.

The goal for this build was to combine the RS sensibilities with modern drivability. That couldn’t exactly be accomplished with the nearly 30-year-old Bosch ‘barn door’ flapper box intake system as it reacts to throttle position changes the way a tortoise reacts to lettuce—that is, excitedly, but slowly. Working with a UK-based outfit called ST Systems, a complete Delta 400 plug-and-play ECU system was crafted to work with a modern MAP sensor-style intake tract. Combined with a set of larger fuel injectors, the Sharkwerks primary muffler bypass pipe, and a proper tune, the stock 3.6-liter has been given a new life with excellent throttle sensitivity and a 3.8 RS-aping 300 horsepower. It still uses fuel you can purchase from a pump in California, too.

With the engine sorted, reducing the weight of the rotating assembly was next in line. In this case, it was handled without opening the crankcase. The flywheel and pressure plate, a lightweight assembly cribbed from the now-iconic 997 GT3 RS 4.0, work with an un-sprung sport clutch disc to remove appreciable pounds from the end of the crankshaft, allowing the engine to spin up to redline much quicker. A huge improvement over stock, not to mention lighter (and stronger) than even the early RS was from the factory. Shifted through an FD Motorsports short throw, the gear-to-gear change is solid, notchy, and reliable.

With snacktime over, Alex and I climb back aboard and take off for more mountain carving. With coastal Pacific Ocean only a few dozen miles away, I have a distinct sensation that feels very akin to surfing. Incredible grip and the traditionally exquisite light and responsive 911 steering lend this 964 an ability to carve corners in a way that feels distinctly connected. That feeling when you’re slotted into a fresh swell? This 964 delivers the same.

A gaggle of squirrels, the odd cow (seriously), and even a family of wild boars conspired to interrupt our traverse down the other side of the mountain. Thankfully for me (and for the wildlife), the car was fitted with a Brembo Club Race big brake kit at all four corners and a good set of pads with serious rotor grabbing power. This kit was chosen primarily because it fit behind the stock 17” Cup-style wheels, and provided a decent decrease in unsprung weight, but the braking power was certainly welcome. Pedal feel remained excellent for the entire drive, as likely the larger swept area of the rotors helped keep brake cooling a non-issue, even with heavy, repeated, and sustained downhill braking. I did find the full floating rotors squeaked almost constantly as the rotor ring moved on its bobbins, but the kit was well worth the minor inconvenience.

As with any 25 year old car, especially one with nigh on 200,000 miles clicked over on the odometer, there are bound to be minor faults. This 964 is no different. In addition to the brake noise, the power steering system groaned after only a few miles of rapid steering wheel movement, and the sunroof is permanently stuck in the closed position. With as good as the rest of this red beast is, a few transgressions can be forgiven, I think.

With a little over 100 pounds removed from the car and a bit more than a 10% power bump, this is a serious 911, far more deserving of Porsche’s RS nameplate than the America was. Rolling back down to the bottom of Mt. Hamilton, I exclaimed to Alex how much fun his daily driver was to drive and how great a job Sharkwerks had done with it. In his familiarly humble and surprisingly quiet manner, Alex said simply, “Porsche did most of the work, we just f****d it up a bit”.


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It is incredible to think that SharkWerks is only just over a decade old. Already a household name in the international Porsche industry, their tuned cars and products regularly reach as far afield as Europe, the Middle East and Australia – and what’s even more phenomenal is how this envious global following has been cultivated through the hard work of just four people.

Regular readers of Total 911 will, of course, be familiar with the breathtaking ‘Sharkafied’ Porsches created by Alex ‘Sharky’ Ross, Joan Wood, James Hendry and Dan Kennedy, each creation hailing from the humble SharkWerks premises in Fremont, California. But how and why was the company formed in the first place?

James, who cofounded SharkWerks with Alex, tells me the story of the company’s beginning during my tour of their nautically-themed headquarters: “I met Alex back in 2004. We were both Porsche owners and weren’t happy with what was available in our area in terms of performance tuning,” he says, “so we quickly decided the reasonable thing to do was to start our own business to put that right.”

SharkWerks was born in 2005, just in time for the 997-generation of 911 to begin reaching dealer showrooms. Not long after, these same new 997s would find their way to Fremont for tuning, and the tradition has continued through every Turbo, GT and Rennsport release since, right up to and including today’s 991s – with owners known to have driven their new 911 straight from the showroom floor to SharkWerks’ front door.

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Needless to say, the focus at SharkWerks has always been towards the water-cooled Porsches thanks to the big power gains their flat six engines offer, with every variety of 996, 997 and 991 variants tuned to improve outright performance as well as driving experience.

However, it is the turbocharged cars that offer the greatest performance gains, and this is an area close to the heart of Alex ‘Sharky’ Ross in particular. So nicknamed because of his lifelong obsession with the fearsome elasmobranch fish, Sharky grew up in London, England, and has fond recollections of the mesmerising 930, complete with that appropriately named whaletail.

This obsession with forced-induction Porsches would follow him to America, culminating in the purchase of a 996 Turbo in 2001. He continues the story: “When I first got it, my friend (at the time) Dan and I were looking at ways to get more power and race people at the quarter-mile track in Bakersfield.”

“From stock to tuned we were quickly able to go from 12 seconds to 11 seconds. That part was relatively easy. By 2004 I had met James at a local shop and he was interested in helping me get more serious with modifications to try and get the car into the 10 seconds.”

IP Sharkwerks Company Profile 059

“There weren’t many folks showing up to the racetrack with 911 Turbos but we stuck at it and, admittedly, it was a somewhat short – some would say juvenile – but nevertheless fun way to test and tune.” This hunger for more testing and tuning led to Alex’s 996 Turbo securing the National Hot Rod Association’s street car quarter-mile record at 10.5 seconds – a record that stood for well over a year.

The blue touch paper had been lit and now others were talking. Alex continues: “I couldn’t really continue to have meet and greets on my garage floor at home, so James and I started up a small shop. Our friend Todd at EVOMS also gave us a nudge, inviting us to line up with his shop 996TT at the drag strip in Arizona for a double attempt to get to 9 seconds.”

Sad but true, we both made it about an eighth of a mile as he grenaded his transmission and I lifted the heads on the motor on the same run. No, we didn’t get into the 9 seconds, but a bond was born that day. We all went home and learned from it. That really kicked off the engine-building programme on those cars and laid the foundation for what we do nowadays.”

“At that time, James and I were also dabbling with going to private track days, and corners started to become more interesting. Setting up these understeering AWD cars to handle better was another fun challenge. I think that by living, driving and testing these cars in all sorts of scenarios we got a good gauge for what works and what doesn’t.”

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“Testing, tuning & R&D’ing on our own cars is a philosophy we still have today. We don’t trial and error on customer cars and once we have gotten our cars to what we feel is dialed, true and tested, then we release parts, kits and packages.”

As you can see, SharkWerks isn’t merely a trio of businessmen looking to profit from California’s thriving Porsche 911 sub-industry. Far from it. These are drivers who love cars, know a lot about how they work and where they can be bettered, and are ready to help those who want in on this knowledge, particularly when it comes to a car with Zuffenhausen’s prancing horse affixed to its nose.

Even better, it quickly becomes apparent during our visit that Alex, James and Dan are all convivial, affable guys who enjoy what they do immensely. Adept at discussing the most intricate Porsche engineering details, they’re not afraid to share their sense of humour with you either, advocating a genuine family-like atmosphere unlike anything I’ve ever experienced at a specialist.

However, a customer isn’t paying for charm, so what of SharkWerks’ products themselves? Again, only excellence reigns supreme. SharkWerks’ most famous work comes in reengineering Zuffenhausen flat sixes, often involving an increase in capacity using their own tooling.

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Their 3.6 to 3.9-litre conversions on the 997.1 GT3 were groundbreaking from the outset (Alex, James and Dan marketed this long before the factory RS 4.0-litre, don’t forget) and this set the benchmark for further adventures with the Rennsport’s Mezger heart.

The pinnacle of this came in the form of the brilliant RS 4.1 – based on the factory 3.8-litre 997.2 GT3 RS – our cover star of issue 122 and undoubtedly one of the greatest 911s we’ve ever had the privilege of driving. It really is that good.

Away from all-out engine tuning, SharkWerks stock a range of their own bespoke parts for customers to buy individually. And, when they’re not making their own performance products, SharkWerks are working with others of a similar repute in the industry.

As such, their list of partners is enthralling, with the likes of EVOMSit, TechArt, Werks1, Tubi, RSS, Cargraphic, Brembo, Bilstein and HRE collaborating to cover every possible dimension of Porsche performance tuning. Dan, a friend of Alex’s and who has worked at SharkWerks for eight years, underlines the importance of SharkWerks’ parts arm, particularly with regard to international business.

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He tells us: “Export is a huge part of what we do. About 25 per cent of our products go to the Middle East, 25 per cent to Europe and the rest currently goes to the Far East.”

Interestingly, SharkWerks split their upgrades down differently to other tuners, too, giving more flexibility as to the individual needs of each car, as James explains: “We don’t offer stage tuning as such as it’s arbitrary, instead we offer areas of tuning in suspension, engine and the like.” Whether it’s turbocharged or naturally aspirated, SharkWerks’ ten years of experience means that they are well versed at getting the very best from a Porsche 911.

And what of the future? Well, Alex is keen to keep it in the family, so to speak. “I don’t ever see us growing or expanding into anything else. We’re a tight-knit, family-run operation and quite resistant to change, PDK, more buttons and driver aids! I think after ten years we’re starting to feel old and grumpy perhaps?”

I mean, do we really need 28 different flavours of 911, not to mention 12 Panos, ten Cayennes et al? I hope Porsche settles down a bit and re-focuses on making fun driver cars,” he says. If it doesn’t, this will no doubt turbocharge the ever-growing appeal behind what SharkWerks are doing with Porsche’s icon, all the way from the tranquillity of that premises in Fremont.


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