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.
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.”
“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.”
“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.
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.
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.