First Drive: Gunther Werks 400R
Another New World take on an old-school 911
Nostalgia is one hell of a drug, a slippery sentiment that can coax mortgage-sized sums of cash into otherwise obsolete sports cars, transforming them into novel combinations of old-school architecture and new-world engineering.
The latest in a relatively recent string of high-dollar Porsche 911 conversions comes from a seemingly unlikely source: Vorsteiner, a Southern California firm known for trick aftermarket carbon-fiber body panels and wheels.
Breaking bread with Vorsteiner founder Peter Nam at a small cafe near the foot of Angeles Crest Highway introduces me to one of the most extreme strains of driving enthusiast on the planet. One key point of reference: Nam's opinions on the time BMW lost the plot. "I was a BMW M-car freak," he says, "but I fell out of love when the E92 [M3] came around because it became a cruiser, not a motorsports [based] car. It became too accessible to a broad group of people." We feel your pain, Peter.
That type of thinking led Nam to create Gunther Werks, whose mission is to build analog, driver-focused sports cars that are no less earnestly executed than something that springs from the minds of Porsche's monomaniacal mad scientists in Zuffenhausen. Nam's first creation, the 400R, tips a hat to Porsche's GT3 RS limited edition motorsports-inspired 911s. Porsche's first factory GT3 RS model was a Europe-only 996-based variant introduced in 2003. The sub-3,000-pound vehicle claimed radically reworked handling capabilities and race-spec hardware—most crucially, repositioned front suspension uprights that enabled improved suspension geometry.
The Gunther Werks 400R takes that approach to the mat by starting with an air-cooled 993 donor car (in the case of our test subject, a base 1995 911 Carrera), stripping it down to the bare chassis, and altering its fundamental architecture in order to create something significantly lighter, more powerful, and with better handling. The front suspension mounts are repositioned outward, creating a perfectly square, 63-inch front and rear track. The square setup is the golden mean of chassis geometry, shared by everything from Porsche's Carrera GT and 918 Spyder to Ferrari's LaFerrari. Gunther Werks installs custom-built KW Clubsport coil-overs, along with solid bushings, revised drop links, and 993 Cup anti-roll bars by Eibach. Chassis and suspension engineer Cary Eisenlohr says the shock and anti-roll-bar tuning was the least labor-intensive part of the process; once the geometry was revised, most of the work focused on perfecting the balance between grip and road feel, which involved fine-tuning the roll center and managing bump steer.
The process of modifying the donor car includes the luxury of starting from scratch, which means addenda such as sunroofs (which came on all U.S.-bound 993 Carreras) can be deleted, saving weight (45 pounds in the case of the sunroof). A 3-D-printed aluminum headlamp housing offers a distinctive look and is shielded by a layer of glass baked by a veteran concept car builder; although they're thoroughly bespoke, the units retain their original bucket mounts so they can be removed and serviced at Porsche dealerships. The same clay modeler responsible for a certain German supercar of the early 2000s shaped the revised nose, while a modeler with experience at Audi and Aston Martin formed the fenders. The rear spoiler shares its distinctive profile with that of the 997.2 GT3 RS and uses three intakes to create a ram air effect.
The chassis is rose-jointed, seam-welded, and media-blasted before getting draped in a pre-preg carbon-fiber skin, which is aerodynamically shaped using computational flow dynamics. The only remaining original body panels are the steel doors (retained for crash protection), the door handles, and the mirrors. The extreme makeover results in a lower, wider, and considerably more purposeful package that weighs in at a mere 2,670 pounds—quite a slim down from the stock car, which tips the scales at slightly less than 3,200 pounds. The 400R's curb weight is capable of dipping below 2,600 pounds by replacing the heavy undercoating with a special primer and paint, and by incorporating optional lighter seats, carbon-fiber doors, and carbon-fiber dash panels.
Gunther Werks ships the 993's 3.6-liter flat-six engine to Rothsport Racing for a similarly comprehensive reworking, during which it grows in displacement to 4.0 liters. Everything from con rods and pistons to valvetrain and exhaust are altered, even down to minutiae such as enlarged fan blades, which are curved for a slightly more mechanical sound. Temperature management is also aided by adding a second oil cooler and positioning both to better capitalize on airflow. The car receives a MoTeC engine management system and a carbon-fiber plenum from U.K.-based Eventuri, whose geometry is designed to create a venturi effect producing a 6-horsepower gain.
Incremental additional power gains are also realized from the introduction of an electric steering pump and HVAC unit, which no longer sap energy from the engine. The A/C hardware is relocated to the front of the car, enabling shorter plumbing and better weight distribution. By the time the Oregon-based firm is done with the engine, only the 993's notoriously stout block remains, which allows the owner to retain the powerplant's original serial number. The reworked mill produces 419 horsepower and 315 lb-ft of torque, working with a rebuilt six-speed manual gearbox with shortened first through fifth gears; sixth remains an overdrive gear. Another staggering point of reference: With 313.9 horsepower per ton, the 400R is, pound for pound, mightier than a 959 (253.7 hp/ton).
The 400R's cabin is a sparse and stripped-down yet finely finished space that trades the 993's factory-installed plastic and vinyl bits for top-stitched Alcantara. The deleted rear seats are also replaced with matte-finished sheets of the lightweight stuff, as is the front trunk area. Sidle into the fixed Cobra carbon-fiber bucket driver's seat, and dead ahead is the familiar, centrally positioned Porsche tachometer (though this VDO gauge is finished in red and indicates a 7,800-rpm redline). The 4.0-liter powerplant fires up with the same Le Mans-inspired left-hand key ritual, though the center console houses a red button that can open an exhaust valve for a throatier sound and switches the MoTeC engine management system to extract 30 more horsepower.
Any 911 owner will find a spatial and ergonomic familiarity behind the wheel of the 400R; everything is in its right place. Once in motion, though, the heightened level of performance dynamics belies the simplicity of the original car's '90s-era platform. Acceleration is eye-opening: Release the clutch, and the 4.0-liter pulls reasonably strongly at low rpm, climbing with a newfound vigor from 4,000 rpm onward that crescendos with a rousing, screaming 7,800-rpm finish. Those mid- to upper ranges are the engine's sweet spot, where it unfurls a flow of horsepower and tractor-beams the car forward. Down low, it will happily burble along at a couple thousand revolutions, pulling strongly enough to escalate your speed without being startling or abrupt. But drop a gear or two into the 4,000-plus-rpm range, and the engine rouses with a more urgent punch, delivering an addictive blast of acceleration that squeezes you into your seat and assaults the cabin with intake and exhaust howl.
On a personal note, I upgraded the wheels, tires, shocks, control arms, and drop links of my '97 993 in search of a more rear-biased feel, but I found that the staggered front/rear track width still exhibits a natural tendency toward understeer. When I take my first corner in the 400R, the response is almost unrecognizable: The front end carves and turns like no mildly modified 993 could. Riding on 245 front and 315 rear Michelin Sport Cup rubber wrapped around 18-inch wheels, the 400R delivers tremendous lateral grip but also responds to steering input with fluid turn-in, offering excellent feedback through its thick, leather-wrapped steering wheel. Some understeer becomes apparent during higher-speed, on-throttle corner entries, which Eisenlohr says was a choice to help keep drivers from encountering a snap oversteer situation. As a safety mechanism, it provides a progressive indication of where the rear tires are starting to slip in tiny increments, reassuring feedback on Angeles Crest Highway, as most of its 66 miles includes steep cliffside drops. Six-piston front and four-piston rear Brembo brakes with ABS offer outstanding stopping power that's easy to modulate.
Starting at $525,000 (not including the donor car) with only 25 examples available, the 400R begs the inevitable comparison to Singer Vehicle Design's similarly priced long-nose creations. Although the two boutiques focus on different eras of air-cooled 911s, they also do so with varying levels of fidelity to the original design. Both offer heightened performance, though Gunther Werks departs from the orthodox canon of Porsche styling with its more overt swollen-fendered twist. With the 400R's order book nearly full, Nam says he is already working on another series that will be "taken to a completely different level." The tease is enough to spawn wild thoughts among Porschephiles. Nostalgia, it seems, never sleeps.
Gunther Werks 400R Specifications
|ON SALE||Available by special order|
|PRICE||$525,000 + donor 993|
|ENGINE||4.0L DOHC 24-valve flat-6/419 hp @ 7,800 rpm, 315 lb-ft @ 6,500 rpm|
|LAYOUT||2-door, 2-passenger, rear-engine, RWD coupe|
|L x W x H||167.7 x 75.25 x 48.25 in|
|0-60 MPH||3.6 sec (est)|