Driving a Porsche 917-inspired restomod

Can you have too much of a good thing? Time for a drive in *another* 911 restomod

Apparently, it is possible to eat too much honey and almond granola. There is a point at which rewatching the collected artistic output of Arnold Schwarzenegger gets boring. You can reach critical mass intellectually while watching cute animal videos on the internet.

It is very possible, therefore, to have too much of a good thing. And thus it was with a healthy dose of scepticism that I approached this: the Porsche 911 RSR Rebel. Because it is yet another reworked retro Porsche. Except it isn’t.

The reasoning goes something like this: as we speak in 2021, the world is awash with custom, hot-rodded, reimagined and retro Porsches. So much so that soon, the rarities will be anything over two decades old that hasn’t been lightly outlawed, tweaked or primped.

Words: Tom Ford // Photography: Patrick Stevenson

And, even as eyes are turning to more affordable, older Stuttgart product, the one model that has been subject to the tender ministrations of the fettler’s hammer is obvious: the 911. Of course, there are some beautiful creations out there. Cars that have been improved and enhanced to keep them going for far more years than the gentle obsolescence of age might usually allow, if not lifted from obscurity, then at least future-proofed for a bit.

But bombing down a backroad in the slick, oozy Californian sunshine in this reworked 911 feels different. This isn’t just a set of wheels, a lowering kit and patina paint. This is a hybrid of art and dynamism that sits in a peculiar little bubble of acute vision.

And it is good. It gets better the nearer the redline the engine sings, better the faster you go, better the more you understand about why, and how. As the nose rises and dips following the coiling Californian road, as the wide, tall-sidewalled tyres squirm and track the ridges and imperfections in the road surface, as the steering wheel direct-dials the back of your eyeballs, you realise this isn’t wide-band perfection. It’s a laser-guided interpretation of one man’s will and passion.

The first thing you notice is the paintjob. And this is a paintjob, not a slick-but-easy vinyl wrap sticker set. Now, I have nothing against wraps – they are a cheap, easy, effective and non-permanent way of doing something interesting with your car. But when you realise this livery is actual professional paint, the respect levels up.

One, it’s much harder to do, and two, the commitment to this kind of artistry is immeasurably more than if you could peel it off in six months and start again. Add to that the fact that this paintjob’s lines were laid down by none other than Freeman Thomas, the designer of the new Beetle and now iconic (a hill I may be prepared to die on) Audi TT, and a man whose first job was at Porsche (1983–87). He’s a name. And he laid out the similarly iconic vintage Porsche livery you see in the pictures, grifted from the early Seventies’ – lightly feral – legendary racing Porsche 917s.

Of course, stuff like this doesn’t happen in isolation. And the clarity of vision usually has to have somewhere to anchor itself. In this case, a guy called Jon Gunderson. Now Gunderson was lucky enough to get himself in his first Porsche 911 when he was just 18 years of age, and has been infected ever since.

His perfect 911? The RSR from the early Seventies. His favourite look? The aforementioned ‘art car’ liveries of those contemporary race-bred 917s. Fast forward a few years, and useful business acumen has allowed a passion project of epic proportions, resulting in an extremely limited series of restomod reworkings of things that did not exist, but should have in Gunderson’s world.

The basis is a ’72 or ’73 911 which is stripped raw and remade. So this is no cheap ’n’ cheerful pseudomod, given the prices of early Seventies Porsche 911s. And it’s no Airfix kit of plastic add-ons either – everything on the Rebel cars is metal, from the generously widened steel arches to the aluminium ducktail, bumpers and hood. Everything else is upgraded, or new. Not some fetishistic recreation or period-correct homage, just a simple aggregation of all that Gunderson regards as the good bits.

So you get that super wide body in steel, Elephant Racing suspension – with trailing arms and brakes from a 930-series car – a lightweight wiring harness, custom roll bar and various ‘new but sympathetic’ things like gauges and ancillaries. There’s a centre-fill tank, all-new glass, and various RSR-ish pieces, like the steering wheel and doorcards – all things that add a sense of Rennsport without the overbearing feeling of historic importance. The Wevo short-shifted gearbox features the requisite wooden composite knob, and even the doorhandles are drilled. All good stuff from the upgrade handbook.

But the star of the show is probably the RothSport 3.5-litre engine strung out back. All 350bhp of it. Originally conceived from a 3.2-litre starting point, the RothSport MFI/EFI flat-six apes the look of old-school while retaining the convenience and accuracy of electronic fuel injection, throwing in Motec engine management to keep it all hanging together. It looks retro while acting modern, in other words. But again, it’s not ridiculous. It sounds like a 911 should. If a 911 was angry at something, and was venting frustration. There is no radio. There is no air-conditioning. This is a car that doesn’t need it.

You see, the RSR Rebel might look like an all mouth and no trousers attention-grabber, but this is not a car built for the boulevardier – no matter what that fancy-pants paintjob might have you think. Oh, it is capable of going slowly, but really isn’t that happy about it. The clutch is medium-heavy, the box usably grumpy if you try to be too sympathetic. Far better for the car to be slightly more aggressive, forthright and upfront about what you want to achieve – and the mechanicals will deliver.

Because once you get this car up above about 4,000rpm, it suddenly becomes something else entirely. Fast, loud and fun. What it definitely doesn’t do, is suddenly become modern – there’s lots of grip, but a familiar old 911-esque feel to the way it goes around a corner: like it’s being pushed by a giant hand on the rear axle.

Throw it a little harder and the steering is the thing that saves you, constantly chattering about what’s going on with the front axle. The motor is linear and lovely, but positively bellows higher in the rev range, and there are dynamic flaws that somehow, through the liberal grease of character, end up charming instead of annoying. One suspects a wet roundabout in Luton on a freezing day with these wide, semi-cut tyres might be slightly less appealing, but out here, it’s a grand and very singular thing.

And that’s the point. These RSR Rebels are not the fastest, most extreme, expensive or even most unique 911s in the world. What they are, is the manifestation of the passion-slash-vision of one person. And the better for it. They are beautifully made, fabulous to drive, joyous to behold. People point, and smile, and wave.

This is not, it has to be said, normal behaviour for viewers of the usual Porsche canon, seeing as they tend to be – apart from the obvious über-exotics – fairly low-key sports cars. And yet this one rolls through like a one-car circus. So there’s theatre and excitement to the passer-by, real, deep-hearted satisfaction for the person behind the wheel. And they’re for sale, although one suspects that Gunderson doesn’t really need to hive the cars off, more that he’s happy to pass them on to another devotee to enjoy. Which means that as far as well executed upgraded Porsche 911s go, there’s room for one more before it gets too much.

What do you think?

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