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An S/T Obsession: Driving a father and son tribute build by PS Autoart

An S/T Obsession: Driving a father and son tribute build by PS Autoart

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Restomods, hot rods, backdates, evocations, call ‘em what you will. Paul Stephens has been immersed in the scene for over 20 years through the PS Autoart arm of the business and highly instrumental and influential in its development, from basic builds to bespoke, hand-crafted evolutions of the classic 911 concept.

I’ve been lucky enough to drive pretty much all of them, starting with the very first 911 SC based 240C in 2004, through to the early 964 based Retro Touring and Lightweight R models at the same time (Were PS the first to reverse engineer a 964?  Answers on a postcard please if you know of any other company creating these 964 based builds in the early noughties), the Le Mans Classic Clubsport, Classic Touring and Clubsport II cars, right up to the latest 993 R.

And it’s been a fascinating journey and study in development and market evolution. Build them and folk will come and buy, but at the same time different factions and different kinds of customers will emerge. No two builds are the same. One man’s RS inspired replica, is another man’s wide-arched RSR, or narrow-bodied in the style of the pretty 70s T,E and S models,  albeit with the modernity required for contemporary driving. And to anyone that isn’t familiar with the modified 911 scene, its as popular now as it always has been. Sure, there is a 911 shaped starting point, but each is a blank canvas and a joint exercise to be developed and curated by buyer and builder. A pick ‘n’ mix journey, through the 911 back catalogue, whether that be Paul Stephens themselves, or one of the many other 911 hot rod builders that have emerged since they were formed.

And backdate also equals back story, and this 911 S/T inspired build is no different. Indeed, I watched this one being created in the PS workshop in seemingly record time at the behest of a long-time PS customer and serial Porsche owner who, having pushed the build go button for a joint father and son project, decided that time was very much of the essence, or as Paul puts it “he wanted it yesterday!” And while both senior and junior wish to remain anonymous, they were generous enough to let me loose behind the wheel, while junior also took time out, to explain the build.

First, though, a bit of scene setting as Paul recalls selling Porsche senior a 964 RS, for the ‘read it and weep’ sum of £22,500 back in the late 90s. “It was a German import with red wheels and steering wheel, which was kind of the German ‘thing’ in those days. At that sort of money, there was no need to be precious about it and father used it in sprints and hillclimbs. A 996 GT3 followed and then a 996 GT3 RS, both used for Speed events, a trend that has continued to this very day as dad has owned and competed with every generation of GT3 (and the odd GT2) up to a current 992. And fair play, we say, when so many Porsche GT cars are used so sparingly.

“Dad always wants the newest and the quickest, but at the same time we’ve always hankered after an early 911. We bought a 2.7 RS rep for £11,000, when you could. It was a lovely looking car, but we didn’t have it for long, and the itch was there to build a car ourselves, a sort of joint project that we could design to our own spec. There was no question as to who was going to build it. A 2.7 was just too obvious. Everyone has done that, and you spend all your time explaining what it actually isn’t.

An S/T then? “Yes, the idea of an S/T rep really appealed!” And why not. Already a bit of a factory special, Porsche built the S/T from 1969 to 1972, very much from bits of this and bits of that, most famously mixing and matching Minilites and Fuchs front and rear for performance over aesthetics! The S/T designation applies to a limited production run of 24 cars, built up from Karmann built 911 S (the S in S/T) bodyshells, further lightened. In keeping with the current restomod vibe, no two cars were the same, each built to an individual spec, depending on intended discipline, whether road, race or rally, and also depending on class or category. As per Porsche tradition, works machines mixed it up with customer cars.

Success was a given, when a works S/T won the 1970 Monte Carlo rally, driven by Bjorn Waldegard and Helmar Lars. The S/T became the de facto off the shelf race/rally machine up until 1972, when the 2.7 RS was homologated, to keep the 911 on the competition boil. The rest as they say, is kind of history, but for many the S/T is the rarer and more esoteric alternative to the more obvious RS.

While Porsche had the luxury of being able to pluck brand new bodyshells off the production line in period, the basis of a bespoke build today is always dependent on a donor and the better the donor, the quicker the project, important for the purposes of this build. As luck would have it, PS had just the thing: a 1977 narrow body 911 2.7. Both customer and PS concur in saying: “We thought it was going to be very much a cosmetic job, but it turned into a full rebuild.” Not so much because the donor was in poor shape, but more the fact that, as the duo delved into the ST aesthetic and the spec developed, then the project became rather more ambitious.

After 20 years at the backdate coalface, reverse engineering a G-Series bodyshell presents little in the way of problems, except for time. But with a relatively solid base progress can then be made, as the correct steel panels were assembled and fitted including the defining S/T flared wings and the long bonnet (with central filler) with slam panel and associated frontal structure, plus the front and rear aprons.

The ethos behind a modified 911 is, of course, to improve and personalise and with that in mind, the front end incorporates PS Autoart’s own brake cooling ducts in place of the horn grilles, while at the rear, the rather crude factory engine lid grill, has a rather more pleasing black mesh, split into four sections, carefully profiled to clear the air filters on the PMO downdraught, throttle bodies. It looks like a simple solution to the problem on paper, but it has been beautifully executed here. The wheels are of course the famous Minilite/Fuchs 15in combo, both genuine in terms of correct factory finish and shod with sticky Michelin TB tyres.

Only a masochist would go full bare shell, so this S/T has lightweight carpets. It’s amazing the difference that it can make in banishing annoying rattles and buzzes. Not that there should be any on Paul Stephens build, such is the attention to build quality, which extends to PS Autoart’s own remanufactured, early style dash tops, knee roll and door cappings, plus other details like alloy door handles and window winders, plus neat mesh map holder in the door cards. A modern Recaro seat is a must, given that this S/T rep is carrying on the father dual father/son competition role. More of which later. And talking of modernity, the dials might look analogue authentic, but they are actually bespoke digital units behind the classic Porsche design.

A quick build it might have been, but that doesn’t mean that corners were cut. It did mean, though, that stars had to align and certain aspects, like the engine build and paintwork had to be outsourced. Not a problem, though, if you’re using tried and trusted suppliers. Whereas the original S/T’s had capacities of between 2.3-litres and 2.5-litres and up to 230bhp, such a screamer would be hard work on the road,  or the twisty hillclimbs and sprints it was going to be used for. Again it’s very much part of the restomod ethos to build an engine that’s much more in keeping with the modern world and using contemporary components.

With PS engine room fully occupied, a 3.4-litre, flat-six with a tractable 320 bhp, was commissioned from highly respected Neil Bainbridge. Ignited by twin sparks and topped off by the PMOs, with ECU control. Whilst the factory RSRs were producing nearly this number of ponies in period, the combination of power torque and driveability that this engine offers is something that the factory could only have dreamt about back then.  As with the engine, a gearbox had to be sourced, with Tuthill supplying a freshly built magnesium Type 915, with LSD, again it’s that pick ‘n’ mix approach that makes a modern bespoke build so appealing.

Finished in Meissen Blue and painted by Norfolk Premier Coachworks, this S/T replica looks immediately familiar and evocative of its early 70s time and place, not that it’s actually based on a specific car. “We looked at lots of S/Ts and this is kind of a generic look. We’re not trying to pull the wool over anyone’s eyes. The stickers – Cibie, Bosch, Shell etc are just so period, as are those from Le Mans and Tour de France Automobile. The period style scrutineering labels add just a bit of character.” But that said, there are contemporary scrutineering tags, too. “Yes, I have been out competing, notching up a number of class wins at sprint events” junior proudly boasts.

A quick drive on some well-known local roads and a recent drive in a real deal 911 S/T is instructive as to the appeal of this modern interpretation of the concept. Did I say a real S/T? Yep, I had to pinch myself too! No room for its full history here, save to say that as a customer car of Italian origin, it’s been in constant competition use since leaving the factory in 1971, with Targa Florio and Monte Carlo success to its name and believed to be the only true, unrestored S/T around. A real time machine then.

To drive! Loud and raucous on twin megaphone pipes. Peaky and moody until the cams and downdraught Webers clear at around 5000rpm, at which point the thin powerband starts to deliver. The 915 competition ‘box needs a firm hand, and the suspension is equally firm and clonks and bangs, while solid mounted vibrations shoot through the shell and right up the spine. It’s the full immersive experience and only happy when flat-out. In short, exciting but, y’know, exhausting!

Our father and son Paul Stephens built S/T? Well, if the real deal is turned up to 11, then the modern interpretation is a dialled back to 10, and all the better for it. What’s exciting for a few miles, or a quick dash to the ‘cars and coffee’ meet, is a different matter over the long haul when what you need is just the right ratio of excitement/comfort/driveability.

It’s rowdy when you want it to be, but the exhaust tails off at cruising speed and also has tail pipe caps if you want to quieten it right down . Likewise, the engine mixes top-end bite, with tractability, that will see it pull from next to nothing in fifth. Typically, the newly built Type 915 ‘box is precise, but isn’t for being rushed, a methodical approach is all part of the driving experience and besides, if you need to hold on to a gear, the 3.4-litre, flat-six engine has power and torque aplenty and is happy to be extended. Some modified 911s are based on later donor cars with the G50 gearbox, and whilst they may be easier to use, the increased weight of both gearbox and bodyshell meant that this was never an option to be considered for this lightweight project. And speaking of lightweight, this S/T tips the scales at only a whisker over 1000kg!

The carpets add just the right amount of civility and the Bilstein suspension is taught but compliant, striking the right balance for fast road and track use. Quite rightly, Porsche’s competition dept didn’t much care about the aesthetics and quality of the fixtures and fittings, but the quality of the interior trimming with its gorgeous aluminium detailing and just enough civility is what defines this custom build. 

Faced between the original and this modern interpretation, I know which way I would go. I know which way your works or privateer S/T driver of the day would go too, because the original – wonderful as it is – wouldn’t see which way this S/T went, which is kind of the point for those that choose the modern restomod path over period correct original to personal 911 Nirvana.

Which brings us back to the beginning and those that might well hit the forums to rail against “yet another restomod!” But the point here is that owners who commission their own bespoke build really do tend to use them as intended. Once you’ve comprehensively modified a 911 to your own spec, then there is absolutely no point in being precious about it. Just like our father and son team, enjoying the spirit and camaraderie of both building and competing in their own, unique, S/T inspired 911.

A large part of the fun for father and son was the journey of the build, so much so that they plan to move on to the next bespoke build, so this S/T may well be available for sale. To register your interest, please contact us.

About The Author
Picture of Steve Bennett
Steve Bennett

Steve bought his first Porsche – a Carrera 3.2 – from Paul Stephens in 2002, and since then we’ve been unable to shake him off. A motoring journalist of nearly 40-years - via Cars & Car Conversions, Autosport, Circuit Driver and 911&PW - he’s been there, seen it, driven it and isn’t afraid to wang on about it. Just don’t get him and Paul started about the ‘good old days!’

In fairness he has extensively driven just about every variant of Porsche, from 356 to current 992 and has a strange fondness for 944s and 996s. Oh, and he’s probably the only person in the world who has delivered pizzas in a 924 Carrera GT…


Favourite classic Porsche: 911 Carrera 3.2
Favourite modern Porsche: 997 GT3 RS Gen 1
Most disappointing Porsche: Any 991
Picture of Steve Bennett
Steve Bennett

Steve bought his first Porsche – a Carrera 3.2 – from Paul Stephens in 2002, and since then we’ve been unable to shake him off. A motoring journalist of nearly 40-years - via Cars & Car Conversions, Autosport, Circuit Driver and 911&PW - he’s been there, seen it, driven it and isn’t afraid to wang on about it. Just don’t get him and Paul started about the ‘good old days!’

In fairness he has extensively driven just about every variant of Porsche, from 356 to current 992 and has a strange fondness for 944s and 996s. Oh, and he’s probably the only person in the world who has delivered pizzas in a 924 Carrera GT…


Favourite classic Porsche: 911 Carrera 3.2
Favourite modern Porsche: 997 GT3 RS Gen 1
Most disappointing Porsche: Any 991

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