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Total 911

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 991 speedster road trip

 

There’s no heated seat. Forgivable in a Speedster, particularly given the likelihood being that most, if not all, will be used on warm, sun-kissed days and fitted with full bucket seats.

Not this car though, as someone’s ticked the box for Adaptive Sports Seats and saved the £333 extra that would have added the possibility to warm them. The winter sun, such as it is in Northumberland, left us an hour or two back, and the digital temperature in the dial in front of me is reading three degrees. It’s dark and cold but, in the absence of the possibility of a toasted butt and back, I’ve come prepared with thermals, a good coat, hat and gloves.

Sensible in mid-winter, but given the Speedster’s cabin is, unlike its Cabriolet relation, lacking in buffeting preventing equipment, even more necessary. The Speedster should feel open too, the hood an occasional item, which GT boss Andreas Preuninger admits they considered not bothering with. I’ll be leaving it down, then, just as it should be. 

We’re in Northumberland because Porsche GB is celebrating its most visceral open-topped cars, the new Speedster joined by its 718 Spyder relation and a Boxster T. The two mid-engined machines are back in the carpark and the other guests preparing for bed. I have other ideas.

Photographer Richard Pardon and I have come up with an idea, stealing the Speedster to make a break for the border. It’s a loose plan, my hometown of Edinburgh our destination, simply because it’s there, the roads between it and us are familiar to me and, well, why not?

There’s a tenuous Speedster link too – the Cannonball restaurant, the last building before our intended Edinburgh Castle destination, is number 356 Castleview, the first of Porsche’s Speedsters, of course, being a 356. That’ll do. Pardon’s convinced and chucks in his cameras, and we point the red, open car north. 

It’s cold but clear when leaving, so an early diversion is in order. Kielder Forest is a few miles away, and it’d be mad not to run through it. It’s a place that’s captivated me since the early days of rushing home from school to watch VHS recordings of Top Gear Rally Report, ‘Killer Kielder’ being the famous stages that more often than not determined the result of the Lombard RAC Rally.

We’re obviously not on the gravel forest and fire roads, instead taking the main route through Kielder Forest Park, turning left off the B6320 Pennine Way, through Hesleyside towards Greystead, before tracking around Kielder Water and towards the Scottish border. Kielder Water might be the largest artificial lake in the UK, and I know it’s over to the left of me, but I can’t see it. Actually, I can’t see much, the reach of the standard bi-Xenon headlights limited in the freakish darkness surrounding us, their reach denied not just by the inky blackness, but the undulating roads that characterise the tarmac around here.

It’s little wonder there’s an observatory located in Kielder, there being next to no light pollution in the woodland park. It’s quiet too, except tonight, as the howl of the 4.0-litre naturally aspirated flat six is breaking the silence…

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Cut price Porsches: is the 911 Turbo out of favour?

It’s no secret the Porsche marketplace has undertaken something of an adjustment in the last two years or so, with prices of used Porsche 911s falling across the board. However, a closer look at the stats shows it is the iconic 911 Turbo which has almost uniformly tumbled in the last 24 months.

So what’s going on? “There’s been a real correction in the marketplace since 2017,” says Tom Wood, market expert from Porsche specialists Ignition Classics, who also gives a pretty good outline of why prices got so high in the first place. “Prices were at such a point where lovers of the 911 were no longer the only customers for these cars. 2012 was when, I think, the ears of the public, the media and potential investors pricked due to the rise of ‘Porsche personalities’, resulting in the prospect of owning an old 911 being ‘cool’ and people started buying them and falling in love with them.

“As such, investors started to get onboard with the idea, without having any real, in-depth knowledge of what exactly they were buying. This lead to a sale of just about anything with a 911 badge on the back. The nature of supply and demand then took its hold and the values rocketed, leaving much of the enthusiast market left behind. 

“However, these sky high values needed to be corrected, and cars are coming back into the hands of enthusiasts – but they’re not prepared to pay those inflated prices of recent times.” 

Wood’s comments are reflected across the entire marketplace, with the 911 R losing around £150,000 in value since 2017, while the average 2.7 Carrera RS has shrank in value by £300,000. And what about those Turbos? “ The Turbo model isn’t exclusive to this but it’s certainly a good example, as we’ve seen first hand the deals needed to be done to get cars sold,” says Wood.

As we’ve said in Total 911 magazine all year, the good news is it’s truly a buyer’s market right now, with plenty of choice available. Which brings us to the wide band of values at present: “Prices are spread out considerably,” Wood concurs, who focusses on the 996 Turbo as a case in point. “You could still pay £50,000 for an immaculate, low-mileage manual Coupe, while at the other end of the scale, a high-mileage, Tiptronic example can be had for around £30,000. There are more than 22,000 996 Turbos worldwide, and lower mileage cars with good specs are harder to come by.” 

However, is the recent dip in Turbo prices the start of a long-term trend? “It’s speculation, but I think there’s potential that this icon for a generation of buyers is now going to be the icon of the past generation, which may have an impact on future prices.

“However, given the way the world is headed, with a stronger focus on an efficient, renewable power source to drive cars – plus the concept of autonomous driving – is there a place for an analogue machine requiring real driver input, and which comes with a noisy soundtrack? With absolute certainty there will be. We’ll return to the days where you purchase a classic 911 for the love of it, to drive it and own it for a few years, and selling will hopefully result in you getting your money back but without expecting more.”

Wood, like all our experts in our cut price Porsche special issue, says good cars are still selling and selling well, so it’s important to do your research and spend as much as you can on the best example you can, to avoid a scenario of having to pay big bills to put a bad car right.

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The engineering genius of Dr Ferdinand Porsche

In 2014 the Porsche Museum in Stuttgart, Germany, celebrated its five-year anniversary by putting on display a car that, in truth, actually somewhat resembled a wooden wagon.

The vehicle had been discovered in an undisclosed Austrian warehouse a year earlier – a dusty, century-old creation that would have featured four seats, now missing; an open-air chassis that could be used in both summer and winter; an electric motor, also missing, and large wooden wheels that were wrapped with pneumatic tyres. Its official name was the Egger-Lohner electric vehicle, also known as the C.2 Phaeton model.

Most fascinating to the car world, however, was not the fact that a gem produced in 1898 and lost in 1902 could remain undiscovered for 112 years, but what happened to be stamped on the key components that still remained intact.

‘P1’, they read, the mark of one Ferdinand Porsche, and further affirmation that before the company that now bears his surname, before 911s and profit margins and even before ties to the Nazi Party, there was simply a man who was fascinated by the development of automotives – one who was willing to experiment with electricity as a means of doing so.

Born in 1875, Ferdinand Porsche’s interest in electricity stemmed back to his childhood in northern Bohemia – an area that was then part of Austria-Hungary and now falls under the Czech Republic. Porsche’s father, Anton, owned a workshop, and in his teenage years the younger Porsche would find himself helping his father by day, attending technical school by night.

At home Porsche was installing doorbells by 13 and experimenting with electrical lighting by 16 – a positive attitude that, with the help of a recommendation, landed him a job with the Vienna-based electrical company Bela Egger & Co. when he turned 18.

It was here in the Capital that Porsche’s formative work with the marvels of electricity began. Now with a day job that involved the medium, Porsche was able to attend occasional classes at a local university after work, which despite not ending with a formal education in engineering, saw Ferdinand develop the skills to produce an almost friction-free drivetrain by mounting electric motors in the front wheel hubs.

This work helped the engineer become his company’s head of testing before landing a job at Jakob Lohner & Co. in 1896. Previously Jakob Lohner had built coaches for the likes of Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria, but two years prior to Porsche’s arrival the company declared its interest in moving into automobiles.

Its first unveiling was the vehicle colloquially known as the P1. Weighing 1,359 kilograms, the 12-speed vehicle was mounted with an octagonal electric motor that was designed…

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Porsche officially retires 911 RSR

Porsche has officially retired the current incarnation of the 911 RSR. After three seasons, thirteen wins, 34 podium finishes and titles in the FIA World Endurance Championship and the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, along with victories at Le Mans and Sebring, the RSR will go down in motorsports history as one of the most successful Porsche race cars of all time.

In 2019, in IMSA competition, the RSR scored six GTLM class wins, including a record string of five in a row. Included in those wins were the endurance races at Sebring and Watkins Glen, as well as the sprint races at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park, Virginia International Raceway, Mid-Ohio and the streets of Long Beach, California.

Earlier in the season, Total 911 sat down with Earl Bamber to discuss the championship and the Porsche 911 RSR. “One advantage is that we have a flat six engine, which is better for weight distribution. Our car was designed to run to the limit of the rules. We all have idiosyncrasies, as we are a short wheelbase car which is better on a tight circuit whereas BMW is a long wheelbase car, which is better on a track with high speed corners, like Road America. Our car is well suited for the variety of tracks we run on in IMSA. You can’t be good everywhere. That’s why we do a championship, right?”

The Porsche 911 RSR proved to be the right tool for the job, both in the IMSA and in the FIA-WEC, where Porsche also won the drivers’ and manufacturers’ world championships.

Laurens Vanthoor, who shared driving duties with Earl Bamber all season in the #912 and won the drivers’ title with Earl, summed up his feelings at Petit Le Mans. “I came to Porsche three years ago. I finally got the chance to drive in the USA. It’s something I’ve always wanted. The IMSA series was completely new territory for me. I had to get used to the racetracks, the processes and the car. Now I’ve won the title with my friend Earl. For me personally, a dream has come true.”

Even though the #912 car and driving duo of Bamber and Vanthoor won the championship, the contributions of the #911 car and drivers should not be overlooked. Nick Tandy and Patrick Pilet, the season long drivers of the #911, finished second in the championship, just a few points behind.

During the season, the #911 squad took wins at Sebring, Watkins Glen and Virginia International Raceway. The overall performance of the Porsche team was outstanding, as they defeated strong manufacturer efforts from Ford, Chevrolet, BMW and Ferrari to secure the IMSA GTLM championships.

Perhaps Frédéric Makowiecki, the third driver on the #911 car at Motul Petit Le Mans, summed it up the best. “It was a perfect season for Porsche. If you take home all the titles in the enormously competitive GTLM class, then it’s proof of perfect teamwork, strong performances in the cockpit and an extremely competitive car. The Porsche 911 RSR has enabled us to secure many victories. The new 911 RSR has some big shoes to fill next season.”

Total 911 awaits the start of the 2020 season at Daytona in January and the debut of the next generation of the venerable Porsche 911 RSR.

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