Completely rebuilt and restyled by Singer, running a 390bhp flat-six and six-speed ’box, and sporting loud paint and interior, this might be the best 911 Targa ever made
We’re all grown-ups, aren’t we? Able to control our emotions, remain calm and respectable whenever necessary? Of course we are. So Octane Magazine's deputy editor Mark Dixon and I were probably just having an off day when we drove this ‘Porsche 911 Reimagined by Singer’, as Singer prefer it to be referred to.
This is only Singer’s third Targa restoration, but it’s not the removable roof that strikes you first. Oh no, what strikes first, and hard, is the retina-scorching orange paintwork. And then Singer boss Rob Dickinson, musician-turned-911 impresario, opens the driver’s door to deliver a second hit of colours from the orange-and-blue leather weave interior. Scorchio!
Delighted, childish chuckling follows. Yes, we’re grown-ups, as previously discussed. No, the grins won’t wipe off our faces. The visual-sugar-hit of colour peaks, only to be replaced by new highs as we walk around the car – which is, before I get too giddy, based on a 1990 Porsche 964, now 4.0-litre and six-speed, named by Singer as the ‘Luxemburg’. There, that was sensible.
So, the story so far. Rob Dickinson, cousin of Iron Maiden front man Bruce Dickinson, former lead singer of indie band Catherine Wheel, and lifelong Porsche obsessionalist, had a dream of creating the perfect 911. The first car emerged in 2009 and Singer has now completed more than 50, exported globally, restores four cars a month, and is aiming for six a month.
What they do is to take 1989-94 964s, restore the ’shells and work their magic with upgraded running gear and earlier styling, replacing almost every part with re-made (and often improved) items to give the best, not-so-much of both worlds but of every world, in 911 terms.
Why 964? Because 30,000 were made, they’re stronger and better-built than earlier, more collectable cars, their coil-spring (rather than previous torsion-bar) suspension is more suitable for upgrades, and they don’t tend to rot badly. Later cars are heavier, bulkier, packed with electronics, and don’t have the trailing-arm rear suspension that makes a 911 feel like a 911.
Now, a 964 was always a pretty decent car, and not a bad looker. But it’s not in this league and not to this build quality, and no production roadgoing 964 was ever capable of a 3.3-second 0-60mph or an 8-second 0-100.
Yes, you read that correctly. But we’re not there yet. First, a little demonstration of its capabilities by Singer client relations manager Tim Gregorio, who also happens to have been a musician and a racer. I’m relegated to the passenger seat – for now – as Tim fires up the flat-six and we listen to the 911 sing its wonderful song. Ah! The excitement builds again, and we head off down a narrow, twisty road through shady trees as the mist begins to lift from the surrounding hills. We’re not recklessly speeding but we sure ain’t dawdling, and Tim barely touches the brakes, just steering smoothly and precisely through every bend. I suspect he knows this road rather well…SEE RELATED: Porsche 993 GT2 sells for record £1.8m at London auction
And then my turn. I settle into the carbonfibre track seats, a tighter fit than the usual Recaro ‘Touring’ seat, fiddle with driving position and the Momo Prototipo wheel, tweak the mirrors, try the pedals and gearshift. The thought occurs that it feels like a brand new car, not simply a well-restored car. Then a further thought: actually it feels better than a new car.
Into first. The clutch and accelerator actions are light and smooth, and the gearshift so well-oiled and precise that it’s hard to believe there’s that long linkage from shifter to transmission. But it’s still there. This is much better than a stock 964’s.
The engine burbles away behind me, not too loud, not too quiet. We’re off, using more revs than necessary as it turns out, and immediately it just feels right. The pedals are at the perfect height in relation to each other, the shift flawless, the unassisted steering light but not too light, fidgeting a little as every well set-up 911 until the latest generation ever has, and, by the way, we’re already travelling fast and the engine truly is singing now, and this isn’t sounding like the most balanced report, is it…
But, you know, I may be in love with this car already but this is a balanced report – it’s just that here we have a car that is ridiculously good at what it does.
You might not like the leather weave, say, but then you wouldn’t order that. You might not smile when you realise that the air-con/heater controls emulate the knobs on a Fender Stratocaster and that the graduations go up to 11, not 10 (think Spinal Tap), but if that’s the case, then you could opt for standard controls and they’d be as flawless as the light switches, for example, or the column stalks (of which there are several versions available, to ensure the perfect reach). You might even prefer to do without the Becker Mexico stereo so… well you get the idea, though if you don’t appreciate such fripperies, it could be suggested that you may be a little soulless.
Whatever the state of your soul, I think you’d be stirred by this engine. Singer offers a choice of three 964-based units: 280bhp 3.6-litre on standard Bosch Motronic engine management; Cosworth-developed 350bhp 3.8 on individual throttle bodies; or Cosworth 4.0-litre.
In this Targa we have the 4.0-litre, so we’re running a hairy 390bhp and 315lb ft of torque and yet, when I have to curb my enthusiasm for a while for the photography, the 911 sits happily, inches off the camera-car’s bumper, engine just above tickover in an over-high gear, content to speed up or slow down to the photographer’s every whim, and never is there any sign of temperament, nor a hint of shunt in the six-speed Getrag G50-equipped transmission. Remarkable. (By the way, 993-based four-wheel drive can be used, though wasn’t selected for the Targa.)
Then the photography’s all done and the revcounter can be wound round to 7000-plus again, the acceleration often catching me unawares but apparently never surprising this remarkable 911. It pulls crisply and quickly up to 4000-odd rpm, then hits another level above 5000
as the engine really comes on cam and the plenum chamber flaps open and the revcounter needle whips round to the 7200rpm redline. Woah!
It’s an incredible engine but what stays with me are the ride, handling, steering, brakes. Dive into a corner, scrub off speed on the 993 Brembo ‘Big Red’ calipers (a Singer option), turn in, and the front wheels seem to find grip from nowhere, and the rest of the car follows, drama-free. It feels like any great 911, initially confusingly light, the front bobbing up and down as it turns, the weightier rear squatting into the road as the power goes down and catapults the car out of the corner. But the speed at which it does that, and the precision of the steering and the grip and the predictability go way beyond the 911 norm. This car should ride like a racer but it doesn’t; the custom-made adjustable Öhlins TTX dampers, unique bushing and optimised geometry have produced something remarkable.
‘We can set it up to dance a bit or we can dial that out,’ says Tim. ‘It still feels like a 911, very analogue, and the feedback is incredible – you know exactly what the front wheels are doing. It’s all about driver input – except for ABS, everything is about you.’
He’s not wrong, and I could keep going on about it, but it’s time to settle down a little to understand what goes into restoring a 911 like this. First the 964 bodyshell is stripped of its panels, none of which except the doors is needed for what is to come. The basic structure is then fully restored, and fitted with carbonfibre front and rear wings, bonnet, engine lid and roof (except when an electric sunroof is specified – or when it’s a Targa).
These panels are produced to motor sport specifications in pre-impregnated (‘pre-preg’) carbonfibre, vacuum-packed and baked in a pressurised oven – or autoclave – to 250°C. They’re much lighter than the originals, and are closer to the shape of pre-1973 panels. To complete the effect, Singer then fits a pre-73 style front spoiler made in flexible urethane, and urethane sill covers and rear valance, while the engine cover incorporates a neat ducktail that looks early-70s but hides a deployable spoiler that comes out to play at 80mph.
And the Targa top on this car? That’s a Singer-made carbonfibre item, supplemented by a soft-top that’s kept rolled up in the front boot, and complemented by the trademark Targa hoop – except this one is nickel-plated carbonfibre, believe it or not, because the Singer guys couldn’t find original hoops good enough (and Singer do love a bit of nickel-plating).
What else? Headlights are bespoke Hella bi-xenons, wipers are 993, there’s an external fuel filler feeding an FIA fuel cell, the battery is relocated down low in front of the oil cooler… and there’s more. The attention to detail paid to get each car exactly right is phenomenal, to the point that each typically consumes 4500 hours of labour. The downside is a $500,000-plus price tag. Yep, it’s a lot of money – but it’s entirely justifiable.
It’s embarrassingly difficult to describe just how good this 911 is, but let’s put it this way – I wouldn’t change a thing. It’s a car that makes me feel like a racer, a hero and an excited child, all at once.
Words: David Lillywhite // Photography: Mark Dixon