A conversation on Twitter reminded me of a feature I wrote some 10 years ago, about a lightweight Porsche 964 Turbo which, I remember, was a lot of fun to drive. Here’s the feature. I just need to find some photos…
Life’s good. The sun’s shining, I’m strapped into a red 911, my godson’s sitting by my side, there’s a great bunch of guys standing watching. And I’ve an empty airfield to play on.
I turn the key and the engine roars into life. The short-shift gear lever slips neatly into first, I rev the engine and drop the clutch. We’re off. First and second gears disappear in the blink of an eye, and we’ve reached 100mph when the first corner arrives.
I hit the brakes rather too hard and am both surprised and, if I’m honest, a little relieved, to find the ABS cutting in. Why surprised? Because this no ordinary 911. It’s been stripped down to the bone, and weighs just 1110kg (by comparison, a 996-model 911 Carrera 2 weighs 1320kg), so I’d quite expected the ABS to have been junked in the name of lightness. That could have been very bad news!
I take it easy through the corner, but as soon as the straight comes into view I can’t resist flooring the throttle as the car begins to straighten up. All hell breaks loose behind our backs as two massive turbochargers spool up and the rear end fishtails in a highly amusing manner (well, young James laughs) and then as the chunky rear tyres grip we’re hurtled forwards.
Turbochargers? That’s right. Not only is this car very light, it’s also very powerful. The engine is producing a heady 510bhp, and it’s all going out through the rear wheels only. As I hit the rev-limiter the pop-off valves complain loudly and it’s straight into the next gear. No wonder life seems so good right now.
I shout out over the roar of the exhaust and tyre noise that we’ve touched 140mph, but James isn’t impressed. ‘My mum goes that fast in her car,’ he yells back. Yeah, right. Eager to prove to this eight-year-old that a 911 is, in fact, a somewhat better car than the family Impreza, I press on and literally just a moment later the speedo reads 165mph. Now the kid is impressed. Either that or scared silly.
The speedometer’s extremely eager to twist further around the dial and I reckon 190mph would be quite possible. Unfortunately, however, we’ve access only to a small part of the Elvington circuit, and we’re fast running out of straight, with a bend racing up to us way too quickly. I urgently stand on the brake pedal and we’re immediately hurled forward into our four-point harnesses as the Big Reds do their stuff.
We’ve slowed to a half-sensible speed to take the sweeping right-hander. The tyres howl in protest, and at first I’m struggling against some hefty understeer, but a bit more right foot is all that’s needed to pull the rear end around and line us up for another lap or two. Well, it would be rude not to, wouldn’t it?
Not only is this 911 very light and powerful, it’s also enjoyable to drive for other reasons. All too often mad cars can be an absolute pain to pilot, with impossibly harsh clutches, rock-hard suspension, cammy engines, and nothing in the way of creature comforts. Yet this a machine you could pussyfoot around in traffic (and, indeed, the previous day I’d done just that).
The clutch is relatively progressive and not too heavy, the ride is firm but comfortable, and the engine settles to a reasonably steady idle. The interior, while basic, still sports carpets, a fundamental heater, and a pair of very comfortable seats. The side windows are plastic affairs with simple toggles with which to pull them up and down, granted, and have an unfortunate tendency to open each time I hit a bump, while the windscreen steams up immediately I drive over a puddle. That aside, though, this Porsche is definitely more street racer than circuit racer.
In fact, the car really is very addictive in every way, and it’s only when James’s father waves us in that we finally and reluctantly stop playing. It’s not that he wants his son back, it’s just that Whitestone senior is our photographer and, ever the spoilsport, he’s eager to get some work done. So I surrender the 911 to a team armed with buckets and sponges, and sneak off with the car’s creator, Paul Livesey, for a cup of coffee and a chat.
Paul’s name may be familiar to regular readers – we’ve already featured the stunning 964-model 911 Carrera 4 that he built for his brother (see xxxx). This one, though, Livesey created entirely for his own pleasure (and that of passing motoring hacks…).
As so often seems to be the case with these projects, Paul didn’t set out to build the outrageous machine he’s ended up with. His home workshop houses his ultimate project, a replica RUF CTR Yellowbird, which has been on-going for some time, and he picked up the 1991 Carrera 2 as little more than a daily hack in 1999. ‘The plan was to keep the car standard and just drive it around, which I did – for about a week,’ grins Paul.
That was long enough for Livesey to become fed up with the standard 964’s ridiculously high ride height, so he fitted lowering springs and Bilstein dampers. ‘That was meant to be the extent of the mods,’ he recalls sheepishly. ‘But I had some Big Red calipers lying around (like you do… – Ed) so I figured I may as well fit those, and at the same time put on some 930 track-rod ends, machined to fit. Then I added a set of eighteen-inch Cup wheels to show off the new brakes.’
Paul then realised that the new wheels showed up the original rectangular mirrors, so he fitted a pair of late-type teardrops, plus a roof-mounted rear spoiler and third brake light. ‘I took the car to my friend Paul Williams of Tourist Car Craft to have these bits painted, and he ended up welding up the sunroof, deguttering the car and fitting flared Turbo arches.’
Whoops! Livesey then had to have new three-piece wheels made up by PWS in Blackpool with the correct offsets to fill the wider arches. He also decided to remove the rear seats to reduce the weight a little.
Finally happy with his daily hack, Paul then drove the car for about a year without doing anything more to it. And then he was at Prestige Salvage in Leeds picking up some bits for his Yellowbird when a crashed 993-model 911 Turbo 4 caught his eye. ‘I took a look at the engine and figured it would fit in a 964, so I ended up buying it for six grand. I know Neil Ramsey at Prestige, and he was happy for me to take out the engine myself, so I was able to get all the ancillaries I wanted, including the loom.’
With the engine back at his incredibly well-equipped home workshop near Preston, Livesey set to and removed the cylinder heads. ‘Although Neil claimed the engine had only covered about 30,000 miles,’ he explains, ‘I’d noticed that one of the turbochargers had been damaged in the accident, and I was concerned that metal from this could have entered the engine. In the event, though, the bores were perfect, so I put it all back together, just taking the opportunity to fit slightly higher-lift camshafts.’
As he’d guessed, Livesey found that the 993 engine fitted straight into the 964 body shell and mated to the original Carrera 2 gearbox. ‘The only problem was that it was sitting a bit further back, and so the engine cover wouldn’t fit over the intercooler,’ he explains. The solution was found by Paul Williams, who took a Turbo 4 lid and modified it with a boxy section below the whaletail. It may not be elegant but it was the best option without going to the trouble of fitting a smaller intercooler.
Because one of the turbochargers was damaged, Livesey took the opportunity to fit larger ones. ‘A friend of mine works for Garrett, and he made me up a massive pair of hybrid T3 blowers, which are basically the same as those on the new Bentley Continental, but without water-cooling jackets. Because these have square flanges, instead of the KKK’s triangular flanges, I made up new flanges which I welded to the standard Porsche headers.’
Paul then had to do some creative plumbing to create a rudimentary exhaust system using straight-through silencers and stainless-steel piping. ‘There’s not much room with the larger turbos, so I ended up welding the tailpipes straight onto the silencers,’ Paul confesses. To improve cooling he added a second 964 oil-cooler on the left-hand side at the front of the car.
By now Livesey had chatted to a number of experts and realised that the engine would be capable of producing at least 500bhp, which posed a problem. ‘The ratios of the Carrera 2 gearbox would be wrong,’ he explains.
‘First and second gears would be next to useless, so I picked up a Turbo 2 gearbox from Prestige. Because this unit is longer I spent ages modifying the crossmember to accommodate it, then realised that the standard mount had elongated holes that gave enough leeway to allow it to fit.’ The clutch assembly consists of a 964 RS flywheel with a GT2 spring plate and 930 competition pressure plate.
Paul bought a quick-shift kit for the transmission, but wasn’t happy with the quality of it. ‘I think it was designed for a 993 and wasn’t a good fit, so my friends Kevin and Cath at Classic Car Workshop made up one for me from scratch, and it’s far better.’
Being a fan of RUF conversions Paul likes his cars to be light, so he stripped out everything he could from the 911. The wiring was reduced to a minimum, the complex heater was removed and replaced with a simple hot-air blower, the internal sound-deadening went, as did the air-conditioning, and the massive 964 washer bottle was replaced by a small RS item. Even the bonnet struts were ditched.
But he knew, too, that in order to create a true lightweight he’d have to go much further. And that meant fitting carbon-fibre panels. ‘I’d bought carbon-fibre bits before,’ says Paul. ‘But I’d been very disappointed with the quality, so I spoke to Mark King at Stuttgart Connection, and he said he could source the panels which Porsche used on the 965 Turbo ‘S’. I figured these would be a good fit, so I went ahead and ordered front wings, complete doors and bonnet. When they arrived they were certainly much better than anything else I’d seen, but they still needed a lot of trimming to make them fit. Even now they’re not perfect.’
The panels were fitted and painted by the ever-helpful Paul Williams, who also created unique rear quarter-panels, which were moulded from 996-model 911 Turbo items, with their distinctive grilles. These were mated to an RS centre bumper section. At the front the standard bumper was fitted with a Club Autosport splitter.
Also from Club Autosport came the acrylic front and rear side windows and rear windscreen. ‘The rear windows have ducts which vent air to the engine compartment,’ explains Livesey. ‘I’m not sure if they’re really beneficial, but they do look good!’ The window rubbers and door frames are from a 993, because they’re neater and more flush-fitting compared to the original 964 items.
At this stage, Paul decided he wanted a roll-cage. ‘I should have thought about this earlier,’ he admits. ‘But by now it was too late to have a welded-in cage without messing up the paintwork, so I bought a TechArt bolt-in cage from Stuttgart Connection, plus a harness bar.’
The rest of the interior consists of a 993 dashboard and lightweight RS door panels, while the Recaro seats are from a Mitsubishi. ‘These are really light at just 20kg each,’ says Livesey. ‘I managed to get Recaro conversion kits for them, but then struggled to find the necessary manually operated rails from a 964 RS. In the end it all came together and the seats are about half the weight of equivalent Porsche items, and more comfortable.’
Reducing the weight so much meant that Livesey’s original suspension set-up was all wrong, a problem accentuated by the fact that Paul Williams had modified the wheelarches to give an extra half inch of clearance, so the car could sit even lower. To sort this out Livesey contacted Viper Suspension, the UK importer of Pro Track products from Holland. ‘This stuff isn’t cheap, at around a grand a corner, but it is very good. I gave Viper the corner weights of the car and they recommended spring and damper rates, which seem perfect.
The rest of the suspension was uprated with Unibal spherical bearings replacing the rubber bushes on the rear arms, and nylon bushes at the front. The rear suspension has fully adjustable blades that allow not only the camber and caster to be altered, but also the rear tracking.
Paul then turned his attention to the brakes, and although his original upgrade would probably have been up to the job, he decided to improve the system still further. ‘At the front I fitted the larger Turbo 4 calipers with 964 Turbo discs, and at the back I opted for 964 RS ventilated discs with 993 calipers. The pads are Pagid Blues all round, and I’ve used Goodridge hoses.’
Now the car was about complete, and all that remained was to get the engine set up to produce the maximum horsepower, and for this Livesey enlisted the help of tuning guru Wayne Schofield of Chip Wizards. Schofield put the car on a rolling-road, and it immediately became clear that the injectors weren’t flowing sufficient fuel, so Paul replaced them with larger Denso items. He also fitted a 965 rear fuel pump, which was the largest he could find.
Mapping the engine proved to be a nightmare – it appeared that no-one in the UK had remapped a 993 Turbo before, so it was a steep learning curve. In the end Schofield ran the car for an incredible 300 miles on the rollers. ‘The local garage got to know me very well because I kept popping in for more Optimax,’ he grins.
Eventually, Schofield managed to squeeze 510bhp from the engine, which is what it’s producing today. Paul, though, is disappointed with this. ‘We reckon that 570bhp is possible,’ he claims. ‘Wayne says the airflow meter’s too small, so he’s making up a new one for me. That, in conjunction with some more mapping, should release the extra power.’
If all goes according to plan, that extra 60bhp will make a great car even better. As it is, mind you, I’m more than happy with 510bhp, and am itching for Whitestone to finish his photography so I can get back on the track.
As it happens, though, he asks Paul to do a couple of doughnuts for the camera, which he obligingly does with little persuasion. In fact, Paul enjoys himself so much he does rather more than a couple, and reduces the massive rear tyres to tatters in little more than five minutes. ‘Oh well, that’s what they’re there for,’ he shrugs with a grin.
As the abused car is returned to its trailer for the journey home (not to mention the tyre depot), I reflect upon just what a wonderful machine it is. Any 911 is special, but people like Paul Livesey make them phenomenal. Yes, life’s certainly good.
[Spec panel in style]
Facts & figures
Turbocharged 964 Carrera 2
964-model Carrera 2 bodyshell lightened with carbonfibre bonnet, front wings and doors. Custom-made Turbo engine lid and 996 Turbo-style rear quarters with RS rear bumper centre section. Acrylic side and rear windows. Full bolt-in roll cage, Recaro seats and xenon headlamps
993 Turbo 4 air-cooled flat-six with overhead camshafts. Modified with twin Garrett T3 hybrid turbochargers, custom exhaust system, larger Denso injectors and remapped ECU
Maximum power 510bhp at 5400rpm (570bhp planned)
Maximum torque 550lb/ftlb/ft at 510rpm
911 Turbo 2 five-speed manual with 964 RS flywheel, GT2 spring plate and 930 competition pressure plate
Pro-Trax springs and dampers all round. Monoball rear arms with fully adjustable blades, and nylon bushes at front
Front: Turbo 4 calipers acting on 3.6 Turbo discs
Rear: 993 calipers acting on 964 RS ventilated discs Pagid Blue pads and Goodridge hoses all round
Wheels & tyres
Front: 8.5×18-inch magnesium wheels with 245/40/18 tyres
Rear: 11×18-inch magnesium wheels with 295/30/18 tyres