Personal Porsche plaything

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Notwithstanding however many model variations a particular manufacturer offers on the market, there will always be a band of enterprising enthusiasts who choose to build their own bespoke version of a production car simply for their own personal pleasure and satisfaction. Those Porsche fanatics and Motor Sport readers who take the trouble to read Denis Jenkinson’s excellent latest book on the German marque (reviewed elsewhere in this issue) will come to understand just how much enjoyment can be gained by making personalised alterations to an already very competent basic design. Jenks used a 356A for many years during his Continental motoring in the fifties and sixties for this magazine, spending most of the season away in the days before air travel became so easy and convenient, and his Porsche gradually evolved into something of a “special”, acquiring Carrera suspension components, a 1600S engine, revised steering and wheels, all these changes being made to cater for his personal requirements and idiosyncrasies. Just recently we’ve been able to spend a day with a like minded enthusiast whose “pride and joy” is what started out life as a 1972 911T Sportomatic — but now bears very little resemblance to its original specification. The car we’re talking about is the road-registered hillclimb “special” owned and used by Josh Sadler, director of the Amersham-based Porsche specialist Autofarm company. Not a temperamental “hot rod” which has to be trailered to its competition outings, but a high performance and amazingly tractable dual-purpose road/hillclimb machine with an obvious Jekyll and Hyde character!

It was in the summer of 1979 that Sadler acquired the basis for his special. “It was just a nice straightforward 911T Sportomatic that I bought from a motor trader and it seemed to be in good original condition,” he recalls, “It had originally been bought new in the Channel Islands and had three or four owners in Jersey and Gurnsey before coming over to the mainland. It was a nice clean standard car.” Sadler drove it for a year before deciding that it would make a good basis for a hillclimb competition car and consequently he sold the original 2.4-litre flat-six engine and the Sportomatic transmission before beginning to build up the machine to his own specification for the start of the 1991 hillclimbing season.

It seems incredible to believe that, in the time the 911 model has been on the market, the engine capacity of its air-cooled flat-six engine has almost doubled! From 2-litres, then to 2.2-litres, 2.7-litres and up to an eventual 3.3-litre unit as in the current 911 turbo. Sadler’s special is powered by a 3.5-litre “bitza” based on a 3.3-litre turbo bottom end (the same crankcase as the 911SC) and a special Mahle pistol / cylinder kit taking the bore out to 100 mm. which, with a stroke of 74.4 mm., adds up to a swept area of 3,506 cc. Ordinary 3-litre cylinder heads, opened out and gas flowed, are employed together with the original valve gear and Carrera RS camshafts. Sadler admits that although he had drilled the heads to accept a twin plug arrangement, “It’s probably unnecessarily exotic for our purposes!” Petrol is supplied by means of a 1973 RSR injection system wither uprated pump to handle the extra capacity and Autofarm produced their own revised exhaust system to complete the package: the end result is somewhere around 270 b.h.p. at the wheels at around 6,500 r.p.m., although Sadler admits he can’t be totally precise about this, and while he has no accurate torque figures a trip on the road in the beast is sufficient to underline just how dramatic the car is in this area.

Experience in the mid-1970s with damage done to the transmission of rallying Porsches, particularly in Ireland, through “yumping” prompted Sadler to beef up this side of his hillclimb special’s specification. As a result he has fined a a specially built alloy gearbox casing in an effort to reduce the torque loadings on the gears during the frantic intense activity of a Championship hillclimb. Suspension is standard Carrera RS with the shorter rear trailing arms which were homologated in 1973 and competition specification Bilstein gas filled shock absorbers are fitted all round. Even though Sadler feels that the Porsche’s rear end could still do with a bit more stiffening up, it’s proved by and large a consistent class winner, establishing records everywhere except at Harewood. To arrest the car’s progress, specially developed Autofarm four pot calipers are used on the AP discs front and rear with M78 Mintex pads and a standard master cylinder. Racing tyres are obviously employed for competition work, running on welded Autofarm rims, nine inch at the front and eleven inch at the rear. For road use, Sadler uses similar eight and nine inch rims (front and rear) shod with Pirelli P6 rubber: he finds these tyres an excellent compromise, “far less vulnerable than P7s and better wearing. They’ve actually done 17,000 miles, including a club race at Castle Combe, and they’re only about three-quarters worn!”

One of the ever-present problems involved in obtaining road impressions of high performance cars is the vagaries of English weather, and we were perhaps being a little optimistic in turning up at Autofarm on the first Wednesday of the year, hoping that we perhaps might find some decent weather during which to sample Sadler’s hybrid. Alas, we were unfortunate. The day before and the day after our scheduled visit were bright and reasonably sunny, but the day allotted was overcast turning to heavy rain later on. For colour photography purposes the smart looking 911 with its ’73-style Carrera lettering along its flanks stood out well in the dank Buckinghamshire countryside, contrasting particularly with the blue 911SC which we also briefly sampled. One could understand Sadler deciding on a “cosmetic” 1973 RS lightweight specification for his hillclimb special, even though glass fibre is used for the front wing / bonnet section rather than the steel employed on the original, this simply being the “finishing off’ process to complete an individualistic machine. But quite why anybody should wish to have a glassfibre replica 935 nose section, albeit superbly finished, mated to an otherwise standard 911SC road machine is beyond the comprehension of this writer. Autofarm’s boss grinned rather sheepishly when I mentioned this, and I gathered that there is a healthy market for such bodywork modifications which is all to the good from his point of view. I can understand paying for under-the-skin mechanical alterations, but this sort of cosmetic surgery on an already impeccable aerodynamic profile leaves me a little cold. However, each to his own, I suppose!

On the road, Sadler’s machine behaves with a splendid blend of usable performance and flexibility: starting from cold is the only minor problem in unfamiliar hands, but once the flat six burst into life there was no problem. It will tick over at around 1,000 r.p.m. without showing an inclination towards stalling and will pull from about 2,500 r.p.m. in any gear without shuddering or any other reluctance. Once over 3,000 r.p.m. it really comes into its own, the lack of sound-proofing (extra weight!) making life fairly noisy, but not oppressive, within its cockpit. From that point onwards, the rev. counter needle simply races round towards 6,000 r.p.m. with the sort of punch that jerks back one’s head and keeps one’s left hand close to the gearchange ready to snatch the second ratio. For a hillclimb car ultimate speed takes second place to acceleration, of course, and it came as absolutely no surprise when Sadler quoted its 0-60 m.p.h. time as fractionally under five seconds and its 0-114 m.p.h. best at 12.89 sec., as measured over the first 60 yards at Prescott. Which, as a matter of interest, puts it marginally ahead of the Koenig turbocharged Ferrari 308 which appeared in these pages in last month’s issue of Motor Sport!

This Porsche’s ride was firm, but not uncomfortably so, only the gentle thumping of the anti-roll bar bushes underlining that this is a less than standard machine. The great joy of this car, aside from its remarkable performance is that it has been splendidly reliable since Sadler first put it on the road in its current guise more than a year ago, the only real problem being a gear selection problem which cropped up mid-way through last season which necessitated the engine and box being removed. Sadler also had one shunt at Shelsley Walsh, which could happen to anybody, and reckons that was probably the single most expensive drama that has occurred; about £1,500 worth of damage if it had to be costed to an outside customer.

Clearly this enthusiasm for “bespoke” Porsches is pretty infectious in Autofarm circles and, as a contrast to Sadler’s machine, long-time enthusiast and fellow hilIclimber Bill Goodman brought his personalised 3-litre turbo up from Gloucestershire on the day of our visit. Bill purchased this machine as a brand new 2.4-litre 911T back in 1972 and it gradually evolved into its current specification over the years. Externally it is now visually very similar to Sadler’s “hot rod”, but with one major difference: all the internal trim remains, and although performance is comparable, it is certainly quieter and more refined for high speed road use. For hillclimbing purposes, Bill Goodman has installed a turbo boost control which he demonstrated to the writer during a brief drive in the wet near Amersham. Taking advantage of the extra power available, Goodman’s machine felt every bit as quick as the 3.5-litre normally aspirated car, although he obviously doesn’t use such a high level of boost for everyday motoring.

An all pervading air of enthusiasm for everything Porsche is strong in the atmosphere at Autofarm and that enthusiasm is readily translated into practical excitement in the form of these two “specials” we sampled in, admittedly, less than ideal conditions. On the road they were entertaining enough, but in their hilIclimb environment they must be an absolute riot of fun! — A.H.

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