If Singer helped jumpstart our current restomod revolution, 2018 seems to be the year to buy a reimagined version of what you lusted after when you were a kid. Singer’s still kicking ass, Amos just made the planet cross its legs with a pretty ridiculous Integrale, and outside of the headlines there’re a ton more places willing to sell you a new version of an old car you used to love. One such company is Paul Stephens.
Based in deepest Essex, UK, Paul has been selling, racing, and modifying Porsches for years. He’s an old-school guy, having cut his teeth working on everything from Minis to Ginettas through the 1990s and 2000s. His own brand of restomodded 911s, Autoart, takes donor cars and turns them in to high quality, beautifully engineered modernized versions for either a Sunday morning blast or to daily. Look at them and they’re gorgeous but also remarkably straightforward. Not over the top, just clean and fast.
His latest creation is the Le Mans Classic Clubsport, a limited run, breathed on 911-based car to celebrate the tenth running of, you’ll never guess… the Le Mans Classic.
(Full Disclosure: After asking if I could drive it I was invited down to Paul Stephens HQ to have a go. They gave me a cup of tea, the keys, and some photography support because they know I’m cack at taking pictures.)
A quick chat with Stephens himself was enough to prove his Porsche specialist credentials. He’s raced for years, many of those years in 911s, he’s got ‘the bug’ when it comes to all things 911, and wants to build the sort of car chaps like him want to drive.
He’s painfully aware of the foibles of classic 911s, pointing out huge gaps between bits of trim in an old, original 911 and is refreshingly honest about how much maintenance they need. He wanted the look and the drive, but less of the faff.
What is it?
Stuttgart rolled out a (now somewhat unloved) G-Series 911, Paul Stephens turned it in to a Le Mans Classic Clubsport. Only 10 will be made, one for each running of the Le Mans Classic race. It’s a celebration of old cars seen in a modern context.
The prototype I drove looks stunning. An idealized 911, really. Its metallic white shines under glorious sunlight (not that there was much when I drove it. Thanks, England.), the black and green Le Mans Classic stripes setting the car off nicely. There are a couple of Le Mans Classic logos for good measure, in case you don’t know what the car’s about.
You’ll notice there aren’t any seams over the windowline, and there’s a ducktail spoiler on there as well. And if the donor car had a sunroof it will have been filled in, smoothed over, and forgotten about.
Inside is awash with green, black, leather, metal, and houndstooth. The seats upholstered in green and black houndstooth specially commissioned for the car, a smart nod to both Porsche and the race that the car gets its name from.
Gone are the less-than-precise gaps between bits of trim that came from the factory. Bar the glovebox, which is next to be replaced on this working prototype, everything fits tightly together and looks as smart as you’d hope. The seatbelts are Le Mans Classic green, as is the famous Porsche five dial instrument binnacle, complete with a 24 hour clock to go with the Le Mans image.
The car can be had in either lightweight or touring spec. The former loses things like electric windows, central locking, glass windows in the rear, rear seats, and even the passenger sun visor. Rather than rear seats in the prototype, there’s a storage box to put your daily… stuff inside.
It feels solid, looks solid, and is also a pleasant place to sit thanks to the amount of light the cabin lets in. Thin A-pillars are things of wonder.
Specs That Matter
Based on a 3.2 liter G-Series car, the motor’s been uprated to 3.4 liters and given 300 HP. The team managed to do that thanks to a new cross shaft-less ITB injection system with GT3 plenum, a programmable ECU mapped in house, RS specification camshafts, a lightened and balanced crankshaft, lightweight conrods, and more.
Paul Stephens reckons it’ll clip 0-60 mph in 4.4 seconds and will manage 170 mph. As it’s a preproduction car there isn’t any MPG information available, though if that’s a concern you probably shouldn’t be looking at something quite like this. Especially considering it’ll set you back a staggering $325,200 and a donor G Series 911 donor car.
However, that cash gets spent on 2,000 man hours turning it from old to restomod, engine modifications, fit, finish, all manner of unseen things. There’s a difference between an off the peg suit and Savile Row bespoke after all.
It’s at this point people may be wondering how a 300 HP car is quite as quick as it is, but the lightweight spec weighs in at 2138LBS. Unheard of weight for any modern car outside of the likes of Caterham.
The look. It takes forever to make one of these look and go the way they do and it seems to be worth it. What’s good about it is that the modifications are subtle. A normal person would see it and note a lovely old Porsche. Someone in the know would see it and pick apart the differences. It’s not as in your face as the likes of, say, Singer’s creations.
At the rear is that 3.4-liter air cooled flat six. Even if it was slower than a 1.0-liter Euro supermini, the noise would be worth it. It sounds INCREDIBLE. Peak power hits at the top of the rev range, and you’ll want to chase it simply to hear the howl. That hollow, mechanical wail infects your soul with utter joy.
It’s easy to drive. Old 911s have a rep for being a bit dicey, but thanks to modern mechanicals and decent rubber it had a ton of grip to play with. Easy at low speed, entertaining at high speed.
If you want to know what truly exceptional steering feels like, comparatively few modern companies have a decent example to show you. Talk of the 911’s magic steering feel vanishing with modern iterations is one thing, but this manages to capture the finger tingling brilliance that gets people who bleed Stuttgart all excited.
As I was driving a prototype there were a couple of squeaks and rattles that won’t be there in the finished product and the frunk catch was a bit of a bugger to close, but that’s about it. I’m told all that’ll be fixed for the finished product.
It’s a bit twitchy in the wet. Towards the end of my time with it the sky decided to leak all over the country lanes I was playing in. It may have modern mechanicals, but you still need to treat cars like this with respect. It’s a lightweight, rear-engined, driver focussed car after all.
Also, I can’t afford one. Lame.
Thin pillars mean it’s easy to see out of, which is a rarity nowadays. You can see out of tight junctions clearly, and you can peer over your shoulder to see if anything’s about to slip past you.
Its gearbox is a joy to use at low speed. It’s got a slick change and an easy clutch but it isn’t a short shift - it’s a long ‘ol way from third to fourth. You don’t have to ring its neck to get it to move in gear. If you want to potter around at 30mph in fourth you can, there’s plenty of torque to carry you faster if you decide you want to nail it. Though a quick ‘n easy downshift makes progress easier…
The ride isn’t too harsh, despite being set up to go fast on the regular. Rough stuff is, naturally, uncomfortable, but it’s not so harsh as to destroy your spine. Modern hot hatch manufacturers take note, please.
First you notice the noise, that flat six howl echoes around the cabin, off of buildings, trees, sheep, everything and in to your hungry ears. It’s rather addictive. So much so that you’ll keep it in a low gear and fire yourself up the rev range often.
The 300 HP pins you neatly back in your seat when you prod the cacophony button, though never so much to overwhelm you. The thing simply glides along with not a care in the world, adding numbers to the speedo until you think ‘oh crikey, this is getting… spirited.’ Because it’s so damn light it just goes effortlessly. Ok, in a straight line something with a massive turbo V8, etc will leave it standing thanks to silly torque, but throw a bend in there and I’ll wager (in the hands of someone competent) you’ll be upsetting people excited about their latest name brand supercar.
The steering is just perfect. No power assistance means low speed shenanigans give you a bit of a work out, but once you’re moving it’s golden. Every minuscule movement is feedback through your fingers, telling you which way you’re headed and what’s under the front of the car. The rear of the car, meanwhile, stays planted. The set up Paul Stephens has given the car means you have utmost confidence that the rear is going to stay put for the duration of your drive (lest you drive like an utter moron). It’s been designed for people to have either as a daily, or to simply take out for a blast. You’re gonna want to do both.
When you need to calm down a touch, or simply lose some speed before one of many bends you’ll be hunting, the brakes are pretty beefy. They require a strong leg to get the very best out of, but boy do they slow you down in a hurry when you need them to. They don’t suffer fools gladly, so you have to be precise with your inputs, but once you’ve got them nailed you’ll have a world of adjustable fun at the end of your (strong) leg.
Slow in, fast out is the order of business here. However, trail ‘er in, tickle the throttle and wait for ‘the squat’ as the rear loads up and fire it out. Man, it’s addictive.
One minor caveat to all the fun, at its core the Le Mans Classic Clubsport is still an old 911. In the dry it’s hilarious and the kind of car that takes a short while to learn but a lifetime to master. But the moment it starts raining you’ll need to calm yourself as, well, it’s a lightweight, powerful 911. You’ll still have fun, just not quite as fast.
For your $325,000 (and donor car) you get some mighty fine aesthetics, stunning under-the-skin tweakery, and some pretty serious smiles. But it’s still a 911, so it’s not the most practical thing in the world. This is the kind of car you go for and commit to for a lifetime. It’s no dudebro leased supercar to drop once a shiny new model comes out. It’s made to your specification to keep and hoon forever.
Thousands of hours of work go in to each car. The de-seaming, upholstery, materials inside, fit and finish of each part. It’s small, subtle changes that add up to something that those in the know will get, and those that aren’t... won’t.
Paul Stephens has been selling this kind of car since 2005, so he knows what’s up: those who want speed, an exhilarating, old school drive, subtle yet good looks, exclusivity, and a car that’s truly theirs will go to him. The Le Mans Classic is a limited run car, and one collectors of this kind of thing will likely kill for.
Porsche people, those who live and breathe the marque, will take it one of two ways: 1) it’s ‘impure’ because it’s taken something already deemed holy perfect and messed with it. 2) it’s an updated, modernized take on something they love. I’m with the latter. It’s a raw, exciting, visceral take on a car that takes you to an idealized past.
Less in your face than Singer, less well known as well. They go about the same task in vastly different ways and there’s space in the world for it. It’s better built than the car it’s based on, and more fun at most speeds than it has any right to be.
It’s pricey, sure, but if you can afford it it’s worth it.