Thought of the day: modified 911’s

‘To gild refined gold, to paint the lily; to throw perfume on the violet, to attempt to enhance Porsche’s iconic rear-engined sports car by festooning it with aero tat and remapping it to 600bhp… is wasteful, and ridiculous excess.’

Okay, so Shakespeare didn’t say exactly that in the Life and Death of King John, but then neither did he actually commit to print the words ‘to gild a lilly’ which we attribute to him today. Will missed out on the 911 experience by 347 years, poor chap, but given his views on meddling, it’s pretty clear where he’d stand on the subject of modified 911s. His stance on the C2 v C4 debate isn’t quite so clear yet, though I’ve still got a tome or two to go.

For many of us, a 911 lifted straight from the regular showroom brochure comes close to perfection, whether that brochure be from 1972, 1992 or 2012. Choose a decent colour, maybe a factory rim upgrade, a smattering of gadgets, perhaps a set of coloured wheel centres and you’ve probably just spec’d your dream car. More than that, you’ve got the purest Porsche possible, one on which every single nut, washer and bolt, has been developed by the Tefal-heads at Weissach after hundreds of thousands of development miles on four continents.

Nowadays, manufacturers of modified cars seem to increasingly be playing it safe.

It’s probably fair to say a good chunk of 911 fans aren’t keen on cars that deviate from this official path, whether because they don’t like the aesthetic ‘improvements’ wrought by aftermarket outfits or because they believe the 911’s carefully honed dynamics could only be compromised by messers who can’t possibly be capable of a better job than the people who designed the thing in the first place.

Others, however, see Porsche’s offerings as merely a blank canvas, a base from which to create something truly special, something unique to them. Or maybe the opportunity to drop £100k in depreciation on a bastardised Porsche, painted to match the colour of your cat’s bumhole, instantly rendering it worthless, is simply some sort of handy tax fiddle. Whatever the reason, modified 911s are very much part of the Porsche scene, and have been for decades. Some of them are seriously credible. I’m thinking in particular of the cars from Ruf, the incredible CTR Yellowbird and later 993-based CTR2. And yes, I know RUF’s officially a manufacturer in its own right, but let’s not split Herrs, these are modified 911s at the end of the day.

Alois RUF wasn’t the only man convinced he could improve on the 911 back in the 1980s when the Yellowbird was busy clocking up 211mph to become the world’s fastest production car. If you’ve forgotten or weren’t around at the time, take a look at www.1000SEL.com to see how crazy things used to be. This brilliant site is a shrine to all of those mad, taste-free modified cars we children of the Eighties had plastered over our bedroom walls. Among the numerous crimes against style and common sense on the site are various Gullwing-door Merc SECs, a notchback 928 with telephone and hi-fi equipment mounted in the roof’s T-bar and Koenig’s wide-arch Ferrari 512BBi, its flat 12 bumped up from 340bhp to over 600 with the help of two turbos.

But there are enough madcap 911s on 1000SEL.com to leave Porsche fans gaping open-mouthed, too. Like the DP Motorsport 935, the closest thing you could get to the 1979 Le Mans-winning Kremer 935 because DP was the team behind the Kremer’s radical slantnose bodywork. Or the Rinspeed 939, a 911 Turbo cabrio from the days before Porsche had got round to making one itself, with the front and rear ends of a 928, including its round pop-up lights. Willy Koenig’s 911 Turbo Road Runner is even more shocking, comprising of a whole TVR’s worth of fibreglass and a bizarre rear wing that blends into colossal flared arches, making it hard to believe it’s a 911 at all, and even harder to believe anyone actually bought one. And let’s not forget the incredible Gemballa Mirage. Not the barely-tweaked Carrera GT of a few years ago, but a ludicrous Eighties 911 Turbo with 10cm chopped from the roof pillars, side strakes so big they’d make a Testarossa feel under-endowed, and door mounted cameras instead of mirrors, a feature we’re still yet to see on modern Porsches a quarter of a century on.

After gorging on that lot, the latest crop of aftermarket 911s seem a little tame at first glance. At the Geneva Motor Show earlier this year, I was gobsmacked by just how low-key the reborn Gemballa’s take on the new 991 appeared. Sleek, mature, subdued, it was actually…tasteful! Surely that’s not what modified 911s should be about, is it? It certainly didn’t used to be the case. To be fair, the ‘event’ cars coming out of tuners in the Eighties were mostly showpieces, marketing tools to help flog, spoilers and wheels. Modern safety and environmental legislation combined with the sheer complexity of modern cars means its harder for the aftermarket to step beyond modest engine and suspension mods, a new set of wheels and bumpers and a coat of paint.

Merdad's work on their 997 is a standout modern example of comparative subtlety.

Fortunately, there are still a few bonkers 911s about if you look. Ruf’s fascinating 991 RGT-8, fitted with a 550bhp V8 of Ruf’s own design giving 911 turbo power using natural aspiration, proves that at nearly 50 years old, the 911 is still ripe for reimagining. Even Porsche itself, can’t resist the odd special, cars like the recent 911 Sport Classic and Speedster acting as rolling showcases for its Exclusive personalisation service, a department whose mantra must be ‘there’s no such thing as bad taste’, even if it said through gritted teeth.

The 911 church is a broad one, so whether you like your Porsche as God intended, or with a hint of Beelzebub, surely we can all agree that the crazy ideas of the world’s Porsche fettlers, and the the even crazier punters indulging them, are welcome to join the congregation, adding vital colour to the scene. Straight, or with a twist – what’s your preferred 911 tipple?

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