It really is horses for courses. But I know which stable door Iíd be opening, and itís just south of Sudbury on the A131.
With a few mods, reckons Stephens, you could make this 2.7 Carrera eligible for Historic motorsport. My advice: donít, leave it alone. Enjoy it the way it is. Because frankly, itís the best Porsche Iíve ever driven.
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Pastiche is a dirty word these days, used as a derogatory term for something that is a tacky and muddled imitation of an older style. That's a shame, because it would otherwise be a useful way to describe this Porsche 911, for which I'm struggling to find an appropriate word.
You see, Paul Stephens' PS 250r is a 964 model 911 Carrera 2 that's been fettled to look like a 1970's 911s. Yet its by no means a replica; anyone with a passing knowledge of Porsches will see that this is not a genuine 911s, even before they get behind the wheel. No this is a car that draws inspiration from the classic 911s from the 1960's and 1970's, yet unashamedly clings onto the best parts of its 1990's heritage while adding some unique 21 st century bits into the mix.
Suffolk-based Porsche specialist Paul Stephens came up with what he calls his PS Autoart series as a means of offering the best of both worlds-classic looks with modern comfort and reliability. He's produced a number of cars so far, based on various donors and mechanical specifications.
This particular one is based on a 1992 911 with a standard 250bhp flat-six engine (hence the name, 250R – the R stands for Retro), so it features coil spring suspension rather than the torsion bars found on pre 1989 911s.
The 964 (as this era of 911 is known) was a radical update in 911 terms, with smooth plastic bumpers and a retractable rear spoiler giving the car a more modern appearance. Yet the basic shape remained virtually identical to that of earlier 911s.
The first things to go were those polyurethane bumpers with their heavy steel mountings, to be replaced by lightweight glass fibre items. These look like 73' bumpers but are, in fact, slightly deeper front and rear, to cover the different metalwork behind. On previous PS Cars, Stephens fitted RS style front bumpers, which have a boxy section behind the number plate to accommodate the 964's spare wheel well. However, the owner of this car insisted that he wanted a standard 911s bumper, so the wheel well had to be modified, and a new panel welded in to give clearance-a job that's been done remarkably neatly when you look inside the luggage compartment. There's still room for the spare, but the jack has to reside elsewhere.
Changing the bumpers was challenging in itself, but the bonnet was more difficult. In 1974 Porsche had redesigned the 911 with US-friendly ‘impact bumpers' and the bonnet was shortened accordingly. With earlier style bumpers Stephens had to lengthen the bonnet by modifying the frame and then reskinning it aluminium.
Next, the front wings had to be modified to match the pre-73' profile. Stephens had previously done this by adding glass fibre fillets to fill the two-inch gap left by removing the old bumpers, as genuine early wings wont fit the 964, but he'd never been happy with the results. For this car and subsequent cars, therefore, the wings have been fabricated in steel to create the correct look while still fitting the 964 inner structure.
The finishing touches are period style front and rear indicators with chrome horn grilles at the front. The light units were made specially because genuine items wouldn't fit, but the lenses and grilles are originals.
At the rear the 964's retractable spoiler, which rises up at 55mph and then drops back down at 5mph, has been retained (its essential for high speed stability and for engine cooling) but clerverly modified so that, when closed, it sits flush with the engine cover and so looks similar to the fixed grille on earlier 911s.
The 964 had matt black window frames and handles, which have been stripped back and given the correct anodised aluminium look, while the door handles have been chrome plated, and the front and window surround are also now in chrome. The door mirrors are small round items, which contain the internals of the original Porsche electric mirrors.
So far so good but Stephens admits that the sills stumped him. Pre 1989 911s had slim steel outer sills but Porsche equipped the 964 with chunky plastic sill covers to hide the comprehensively revised inner structure of the 964 beneath. Removing the covers was not possible without exposing the unattractive inner sills, so they were retained and visually slimmed down by painting the lower parts black.
Stephens also removed the plastic ‘shark fins' which led up from the sills to protect the leading edges of the wings. Despite his efforts, it's the sills that let this car down, they're obviously from a later 911 and the black lower sections make the car appear to sit higher off the ground.
The other giveaway is the wheels, but here Stephens isn't pretending that they're the real thing. From 1966 to 1989, forged fuchs alloy wheels were de rigueur for 911's but, today, good originals are hard to come by and, besides, they only go up to 16in diameter and don't fit the 964.
Stephens therefore, decided to commission his own wheel design. These are machined alloys and, while obviously based on fuchs, have a style all of their own and look much more modern with their sharp-edged spokes. You'll either love them or hate them; Stephens is also producing a more realistic fuchs replica using the correct forging techniques.
But this isn't meant to be a replica, remember. And this becomes more apparent when you get inside.
Anyone who tells you that the 911s interior didn't change over 30 years is wrong. The basic architecture remained essentially the same, with the trademark five dials in front of the driver, but the detail was refined with each new model. Which means that the PS250's cockpit is years ahead of the rather basic interior of an older 911s. Its also much nicer than you'd expect to find in a standard 964, even, thanks to Stephens' re-trimming.
He's created a mix of RS functionality, with lightweight door panels and no rear seats (these can be fitted if required) mixed with opulent smooth black leather that covers the dash, centre console, doors and steering wheel. The seats meanwhile, are a modern take on period rally items, complete with corduroy centres.
It's a sumptuous place to be, with a smell of leather that you don't get in today's sanitised cars. Pull the door with the simple pull strap and it shuts with a rock – solid clunk that hints at the 911's legendary build quality. The engine starts on the first turn of the key – its all fuel injection, looked after by motronic engine management, so not messing with a hand throttle between the seats – and settles to a deep burble, thanks to a Hayward and Scott exhaust system, the only none standard thing about the engine.
Yet on the road, I have to keep reminding myself that this is the case. I've driven countless 964s over the years and know the model intimately, but this feels quite different, as if it's pumping out nearer 300bhp. The exhaust system will account for maybe 10bhp, but the main reason for this illusion is the fact that the car is lighter than standard, thanks to the removal of the heavy bumpers, rear seats and much of the original sound deadening material, plus the addition of the much lighter aluminium bonnet.
While it doesn't have the delicate fingertip control and lift off over steer of a classic 911, the PS250r does feel lighter and more controllable than a standard 964, which had some of the feedback dampened out of it. Nor is it as communicative as a 964 Carrera RS – one of my favourite 911s – which is lighter and more extreme, thanks to firm springs and dampers. The PS250 has been fitted with upgrated cargraphic springs, but mainly because lowered springs were needed to compensate for the reduced weight rather than to improve the handling. They're compliant springs – rather too much so for my liking – which ensures a comfortable ride.
And that sums up this car. It's a 911 that you could happily live with and use every day, something you'd be hard pressed to do with a genuine 911s. It gives you the best of both worlds – classic looks with relatively modern technology. You have the benefits of the 964's more modern interior, complete with electronically controlled heating system, not to mention its 3.6 litre engine, excellent G50/03 gearbox, power steering, ABS braking and improved chassis. Oh and a fully galvanised body shell that ensures 964's don't rot like older 911's.
Certainly its never going to pass muster as the genuine article but, if it did, you'd have to compromise on the cars usability, in which case you might as well go the whole hog and buy a real 911s.
For me, Paul Stephens has got this car just right, to the extent that it's a 911 I'd be happy to own myself. Its been beautifully finished, with great attention to detail. From the solid silver PS Autoart badge on the bonnet to the period style corded carpets, everything smacks of quality. Stephens is also keen to protect his customers' investment, so each PS is individually numbered and he will keep a record of its history.
"It's never going to pass as the genuine article but if it did you'd have to compromise on usability"
Because each car is hand built to order, you can have whatever you want. The owner of this car had in fact owned the Porsche since it was just six months old, and when he took it Paul Stephens he chose to have a full re-spray and to concentrate on the appearance. The plan is, he'll return next year for brake and engine upgrades, when money allows. Stephens is now on build 15 with each car personalised to the customer's requirements.
You too can go down this route and have your own car treated to a PS Autoart conversion, or you can get Stephens to source a suitable donor. This could be a 964 like this car, or an older Carrera 3.2 or SC, if you prefer a more classic feel and appearance. If you go down the 964 route you can, if you wish, opt for Tiptronic transmission or four wheel drive, while a Targa roof is available in all models.
In addition you can choose colour, trim and specification, while Stephens offers a range of mechanical upgrades which, in the case of the 3.6 Litre 964, will take power to over 310bhp.
Because each car is bespoke, its hard to give a precise cost. But as a guide, a decent 964 donor will cost between £15,00 and £18,000, to which you have to add around £25,000 for a body conversion like the featured cars. Or you can budget £60,000 for a full build, including the cost of the donor car. Theres also a 300r conversion available, based on a 3.8RS running gear and lightweight panels, for serious performance.
A PS Autoart is, then, something very special and exclusive. Whether its preferable to a 70's original is your decision...
With thanks to Octaine Magazine for their kind permission in reproducing this article.