SharkWerks’ TechArt 991 Carrera S driven

Ticking over on the SharkWerks driveway, the TechArt aerokitted grey 991 thrums dutifully, awaiting my presence. I won’t deny, this is an exciting moment: other tuning companies around the globe have released their take on Porsche’s latest 911, but few have stirred me to fly 6,000 miles to California to take a look at one.

Sharkwerks 991 Porsche 911, Fremont, CA. 7 November 2012

The reviews I’ve read so far for the new 991 have all been positive, as they should be, given the amount of money Porsche threw at it. Now made mostly of aluminium, the 991 has a wider front track, longer wheelbase and a bigger rear end, all of which are obvious alongside a 997 GT3 RS in the workshop. A first glance of a 991 conjures up echoing notes made by other automotive journalists: “Some of the old 911’s intimacy is lost, but road noise drops considerably inside, and functionality and comfort both rise.” However, this is exactly why I’m here: I’m savouring my first experience in a 991, and am keen to see what added spice this SharkWerks/TechArt project has come up with.

If you like centre consoles, you’ll love this car. A desk-like hunk sprouts from the dashboard and runs through the seats to the back. Right in the centre at the front is a big silver PDK knob.

Sharkwerks 991 Porsche 911, Fremont, CA. 7 November 2012

Automatic 911s have always been a challenge: putting a fluid-filled torque converter between the flywheel and the rear wheels was never the way forward. PDK loses the oil drum and instead uses a pair of wet clutches like on a bike. One clutch runs the active gear while another preselects the next, shooting it into play almost imperceptibly. PDK on the 997 didn’t convince me, but Porsche says this one is better than ever. We’re about to find out.

Pulling out onto the idyllic Californian boulevards, first gear lasts for a few seconds before second arrives, and then third. I’d still be a gear lower in manual, maybe two, so it’s obvious how PDK saves fuel. Stopping at some traffic lights to make a left turn, I’m third in line. To my right is an 18-wheeler, also turning left. I want to get to the apex ahead of him so I don’t get squeezed out.

Sharkwerks 991 Porsche 911, Fremont, CA. 7 November 2012

The lights change and the other cars get away quickly. Like its Panamera sibling, this PDK 991 needs a good prod of throttle to get moving. In the second or two it took me to realise this, the truck gets ahead and starts his turn. The trailer approaches the side of my car, before the Porsche finds some punch and we’re suddenly out in front. That split-second manoeuvre puts an instant smile on my face: this is a car of surprises.

We’re heading for Dumbarton Bridge, one of eight bridges spanning San Francisco Bay. Located on the edge of a wildlife preserve, Dumbarton offers quiet link roads and a bay view to die for. Linking Fremont to the bridge is a short squirt of freeway: something this 991 had better get used to.

“The owner’s used us before, so knows our work well,” says my passenger, SharkWerks’ boss Alex Ross of this rather special Agate grey 911. “This one’s his daily driver, but he wanted to make it a little more personal: hence the TechArt parts. The car was delivered to our local dealer, and we fitted the extras before he’d even driven it.”

Porsche enthusiasts aren’t usually known for their openness to tuners. With the exception of figurehead specialists like Alois Ruf and Olaf Manthey, tuners get a heavy rap from the ‘keep it stock’ majority, often due to a lack of education.

Sharkwerks 991 Porsche 911, Fremont, CA. 7 November 2012

Established in 1987 near Weissach, TechArt has been a recognised vehicle manufacturer for many years, and its tuning products follow principles of high quality design, engineering and construction.

“SharkWerks offers two aero choices: factory or TechArt,” says Alex. “We don’t bother with much else, as most of it’s made out of cardboard or worse. TechArt parts are high quality and functional: brake ducts and aero parts really work.”

This steering wheel is a great example. As this is the part that drives home the complete experience, there’s no sense in skimping on quality here, and TechArt rather pleasingly hasn’t. A close inspection shows hand finishing on the flat-bottomed wheel by someone who really knew their stuff.

TechArt parts cover every Porsche model. Aero parts are developed in the wind tunnel, and proven to work before going on sale. Once satisfied, the body components are manufactured in polyurethane RIM, ensuring perfect reproduction and a durable product that maintains the integrity of the original part. These high standards mean TechArt is ISO 9001 certified and TÜV approved.

Sharkwerks 991 Porsche 911, Fremont, CA. 7 November 2012

TechArt quality left only one choice for this customer. The Agate Grey Carrera S was the first TechArt conversion in North America and features a full Aerokit I conversion, including the Type II rear wing, the forged Type III wheels, that steering wheel and a spring kit.

TechArt’s Aerokit promo proclaims: “Aerokit I underlines the sportive attitude of the 911 from every angle. Typically TechArt, its subtle distinction is unmistakable. At the same time, it decently maintains the inimitable 911 design line.” I can’t disagree: at rest, the car looks spectacular.

The two-part front spoiler with integral splitter swoops seamlessly into the surrounding front apron. TechArt says its composition “optically reduces the distance between the car and the tarmac, emphasising self-confidence and strength.” Aerowings in the front air intakes showcase a twin-duct front-end approach, and colour-matched headlight rims, washer caps and mirror trims complete the facelift.

Down each flank is a side skirt in PU-RIM. These bolt directly to the chassis with factory-style hardware and an extra lower support piece, giving a more aggressive look. Wind tunnel testing played its part: the new sill trims show reduced turbulence along the sides. The rear bumper also gets aero help, with a colour-matched central diffuser.

A quick look at that TechArt Type II rear spoiler with its integrated trailing edge suggests more downforce should be available. Indeed, this is the case. Working in tandem with the front aero, the package generates an additional 17.5kg of downforce at highway speeds. As you go faster, the forces increase: TechArt claims an additional 76kg of overall downforce at the 991’s top speed.

“We’ve been TechArt distributors in California for years, so we know their products work,” declares Alex. “At highway speeds, you can feel the difference from the stock car to this one. Fitting correctly is key, and the reward is quality. We take our time to get these cars done right.

“The front grille inserts give the car a really nice attitude, but there’s a fair amount of modification that needs to be done. Also up front is a multi-layered Type I lip: a complex assembly when being fitted for the first time. The Type II rear wing sports a good few parts before it’s affixed. You can run it in two positions: high and low. After fitting the base, you choose the riser height and relocate the third brake light. Then the diffuser goes on, and those TechArt exhaust tips.

Sharkwerks 991 Porsche 911, Fremont, CA. 7 November 2012

“The 991 suspension is quite different to the outgoing 997.2 that we’re so familiar with, but the new springs are relatively easy to fit. They don’t change the excellent ride quality, but they do improve and lower the centre of gravity. Once the suspension was done, we fitted the forged Type II wheels, with factory TPMS installed. A weight saving of 2kg per corner up front and almost 3kg per corner in the rear from the wheels reduces unsprung weight, which is so important for handling.”

Inside, all that was changed were the pedals and steering wheel. I’m liking this flat-bottomed Alcantara TechArt wheel. Not having driven a standard 991 yet, my focus is all on splitting the feel of the wheel from what’s coming through it.

After passing that truck, the lunchtime traffic throughout San Francisco is well spaced out. Our highway on-ramp’s ahead to the right, so I quickly switch lanes for the slip road. No tuner has yet managed to communicate with the ECU, so the engine mapping is unaltered, but the engine delivers eagerly through this sharper PDK.

Though California has some rough roads, the 991 shrugs it all off. Pirelli PZero is the tyre of choice: 245/35 R20 up front and 295/30 R20 behind. The widened front track shows in easier straight-line tracking, even with 20-inch wheels. A 997 with the same wheel setup would be more challenging.

“The lightweight 20-inch Formula III wheel is the same setup we ran on our 2009 997S PDK development car,” says Alex. “They work really well on the 991. The wheels come in 19 to 22-inch sizes, with a choice of four finishes: this one is the Sterling Silver, and options are bi-colour turned Anthracite, burnished gloss or body colour. They also do a centrelock wheel for cars appropriately equipped.”

The 20-inch wheels fit the 996 Turbo and GT2, all 997s and the 991. Later, an Instagram commenter who derided the “pointless rapper bling wheels” was soon silenced when the forged manufacture and lower unsprung weight was pointed out.

After slogging through traffic past pool lanes and potholes, the 991 proves itself honourably. As a daily driver with the baby seat in the back, it’s a good one. Ride is great, the cabin is quiet and the car asks little of its driver. Small wonder it’s bringing so many first-time 911 owners to SharkWerks’ enquiry line.

As our photographer, Jamie, shoots his final images, the sun sets behind the hills and we head for Porsche Fremont to drop off the car. It has only done 700 miles, but already has two recalls outstanding. As it rolls onto the tiled service forecourt surrounded by Panameras, it’s suddenly put deep into context. Dark grey paint and big wheels fit, and the car looks all of its purchase price. Alex hands the keys in, we jump in my rental and head out for sushi.

Up to our day with the 991 Carrera S, I wasn’t that bothered about the newest addition to the 911 lineup. The 991 might be lighter, faster and sharper, but the marketing was all about comfort and quietness, aiming for increased production. No one ever sold more ice cream by adding extra spice: the big seller is vanilla, and adding vanilla is not my idea of best 911 practice.

Maybe the 991 in standard form is a bit more ‘vanilla’ if you will, with fewer of those trademark 911 strange tendencies mooted earlier. But, as a loyal fan of those tendencies, I want them left in. The thing is, no matter how highly purists and hot rodders value those traits, they are all part of history now. Our favourite 911s have been built, and perhaps we’re just not the market for this one.

Porsche needs to sell more 911s, so it has to get simpler to live with. By and large, it has, and this stunning Carrera S exemplifies the fact. The beautifully engineered TechArt upgrades add more individuality while giving nothing away in terms of driving pleasure or future value that the 991 already carries in abundance. TechArt have tweaked what needed tweaking, and left what didn’t. If you want one built, you know where to come.

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