Porsche 911 by Theon Design: divine 4.0-litre restomod driven Reviews 2023 | Top Gear
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Saturday 23rd September
First Drive

Porsche 911 by Theon Design: divine 4.0-litre restomod driven

£380,000 when new
Published: 11 Oct 2022

I spy a blackberry-coloured Porsche 911.

Blueberry actually.


The car. The guy who commissioned it is a Chilean blueberry farmer, so he wanted his car to reflect his – obviously very profitable – business. Hence the purple paint, decals and interior trim.

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Hang about, have my supermarket buying habits contributed to this?!

Apparently the vast majority of his crop goes to China, so it’s unlikely. Rather than import, this is a British export success story. A Porsche 911 rebuilt by Theon Design. Yes, it’s another restomod Porsche, so if you’ve had enough of the work of Singer, Autoart, Guntherworks and others, best tune out now.

Nah we’re in the dying days of petrol, I need to consume this while I still can.

That’s the spirit, and you definitely need to consume this one – I reckon its USP is ‘Best Looking Engine’. Search out the picture in the gallery and you’ll see what I mean. The individual throttle trumpets, the space and neatness of the engine bay, the quilted leather sound insulation, the flat six focal point, the naked cooling fan. I’ve never seen a better looking Porsche 911 engine bay. They’re usually full of wires and ancillaries, but here, to aid weight distribution the air con and power steering have moved to the front.

What engine is it?

This one’s a 4.0-litre, developing 400bhp and 350lb ft, but among the options Theon offers is a supercharged motor – there’s space for the belt-driven blower where the aircon once sat. In the workshop there’s a supercharged 3.6. Similar power and torque peaks to the 4.0, but entirely different character, reckons Theon’s founder and boss, Adam Hawley. “It's amazing how changing the internal components can completely change the character of a car," he said.

The 4.0-litre I’m driving is very different. It’s running racy cams as the owner wants it as a weekend beast. So idle is a bit lumpy – not full race car chunter and hiccup, but heavy. Bugger all flywheel effect though, so it’s zingy and, seeing as it only weighs 1,164kg, makes short work of each gear. You don’t have to rev it like a Honda VTEC, as it thumps hard through the mid-range – in fact I reckon that’s where it sounds and feels best. Something in me feels bad about sending this old Porsche 911 past 7,000rpm when there’s no particular need.

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Is it easy to drive?

Wrong question. Reward and engagement is why people buy restomods. Ease comes with a modern supercar. I drove to Theon’s Oxfordshire HQ in the long-term Alpine A110S. Across the ground the Theon driver would be hard pressed to keep up, but boy would he be grinning while doing so. The experience is still emphatically old school: the nose bounces and doesn’t quite have the turn in grip I always expect older 911s to have (they never do), but there’s so much chatter and communication. And when you open the taps, that engine… it’s close to divine.

There’s a switchable exhaust, but unless I had the windows down and wall handy to bounce sound back from, I could barely tell. The noise is all thrashing mechanicals, not exhaust. That’s as it should be. The aim here is to mimic in some way the 964 Carrera RS. That was a pretty unforgiving thing. Theon has taken liberties of course, including the fitment of TracTive adjustable dampers. They’re firm. Unless you’re on track I can’t see a need to twist the knob to any position other than the softest of the five on offer.

So you blat along, revelling in the engine response and sound, sat snug and low in a Recaro seat and being fed a steady stream of information with precious little filtering. The view out is past skinny pillars, you have to crane around the steering wheel to see the flanking dials, the windscreen is close and upright. It’s a period driving experience – this is not a 911 that’s trying to bring modern manners and aesthetics to the party. And that’s the way Hawley wants it. “We don't want to reinvent the cars, they're brilliant cars to start with. We want to tweak, enhance and improve, not lose the feel of the original.”

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How’s the rest of the interior?

The first thing that struck me was the contrast between the woven leather on the seats and the diamond stitching on the door. Doesn’t look quite right to me. But here’s the thing. It’s what the buyer wanted. And that goes for every aspect of not just this car, but pretty much every restomod you care to mention. One Theon (this is the fifth they’ve done) could feel and behave entirely different to another – you’re paying for bespoke treatment. Which makes drawing conclusions largely pointless. It’s a question of whether you like the look of the work the company does.

To my eye Theon lines up closer to Singer than to Guntherworks or Autoart. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if a few people on Theon’s waiting list were here because they’d been told a Singer commission would take years. Not that Theon is throwing them out the door. They delivered their first car in 2019, currently have a waiting list of around 20 cars and are building five or six a year. You do the maths.

I’m not sure the cosmetic attention to detail is quite at Singer levels. But it’s not far off, and the Theon is more affordable: prices are from £380,000 plus the donor car (and local taxes). The work is extensive: cars are stripped completely, rebuilt from the ground up, body panels can be steel (the hand-beaten artisan method) or carbon fibre (lighter), everything can be tailored to your choice.

What’s the backstory here?

Hawley’s background is in car design. He loved 911s, so built himself one, and the reaction when he took it out was what convinced him to start the company (it’s named after his car-mad son with an ‘n’ added). He claims Theon’s USP is that it’s as bespoke to the customer as possible, but actually they all say that. If it was me I’d just get potential customers to ogle the car from the rear three-quarters and then open the engine bay.

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