Hand-woven dashboards. Wide hips and wider tires. Explosive exhaust notes. Rebuilt flat-six engines with power to rival modern supercars. Painted any damn color you want. Unless you’ve been under a rock for years, you know Singer Vehicle Design as the company that performs exceptional work in restoring, tuning, customizing, and modifying customers’ older Porsche 964 donor cars. It’s a machine that cranks out another thing as well: hype.
Endless hype follows Singer, with the company’s gorgeously detailed interiors and painstaking engine work and ability to seemingly transform the 911 into something more, something better than it ever was.
I have admired Singer and its work for years now, but in the back of my mind I always wondered: can it live up to that hype?
I went to California recently, in part for Monterey Car Week, but mainly to answer this question. To see firsthand how a 911 gets reimagined by Singer, to meet their team and learn everything that goes into making these things.
It wasn’t a test drive. It was a personal mission.
Finally, years of anticipation would come to life, and I would experience what 4,000 human hours of the perfect restoration and rebirth of my favorite car was all about.
(Full Disclosure: Singer wanted me to drive one of these to badly, they begged me to fly to Monterey Car Week, stay in a luxurious suite at a slick golf course resort, and drive not only on some amazing Northern Californian roads, but also around Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. I also bothered the folks at Singer over the past seven months, after we picked up the conversation in January.)
My love for Porsche began when I was 3, playing with Hot Wheels on my living room floor. Since then I have had more than one generation of Porsche 911 in my garage, and now I regularly get to drive a 991 GT3 on the winding roads of the Texas Hill Country and around Circuit of The Americas.
So yes, I am as infatuated with Singer as any Porsche-phile, but was also committed to holding them accountable to deliver something that lives up to the legend. I had big expectations I wanted to see exceeded, and not as some fanboy.
The team knew it from the second I arrived in Monterey, during the time of year when you’re surrounded by the most amazing cars you’ll ever see or experience.
The first conversation I had with Rob Dickinson, Founder of Singer Vehicle Design, was frank. Rob understands Jalopnik and our candid manner. He joked that he hopes I don’t think the car sucks because I’ll write it here for millions of our readers to see.
Rob is also known for his past life as the frontman of 1990s alternative rock band Catherine Wheel, and happens to be a fan of Spinal Tap, which is why you’ll see that the tachometer goes to eleven.
My time with Singer wasn’t just to briefly drive the car and take pictures. While I did plenty of driving, and snapped lots of pictures, the goal was to learn about the people who craft these reborn 964s, the passion they bring to the team, and the meticulous work they do to embody the company’s “everything is important” mantra.
With 4,000 hours into each 964 restored by Singer, there’s naturally a great deal of attention to detail. It isn’t just for the sake of appearance, but also function. Touch points are crucial, and the final product is crafted to excel with ergonomics and style while calling back to the days of the classic 911.
Everything appears as if it was off the production line, when it comes to how clean and perfectly-fitted each bespoke component is. If you’re going to deliver greatness, each person and part has to be held to the highest standard. With over 100 cars restored, Singer has this process nailed.
Style isn’t the only category which receives such attention to detail. The drive is the most important experience, and Singer strives to perfect a feel that I could not believe was possible, before I drove the car.
Somehow they do it. When you take a car down to the bare frame to begin a restoration, and hand select hundreds of parts to improve upon your favorite car, the marriage of components and calibration is complicated. Painstaking hours are invested over years.
You can’t just rebuild a car in carbon fiber, drop over 400 pounds from the curb weight, throw a rebuilt motor in the back, slap on some coilovers, bolt on bigger brakes, mount lighter wheels with stickier tires, and expect it to be a great driving experience. It has to be done right.
And not for cheap, either: restoration services start at $395,000 and go from there. But can you put a price on dreams?
Everything I had researched about these reimagined cars led me to believe they are magical beasts which create a visceral experience like nothing else. I love analog cars, and was intrigued how Singer could keep—and improve upon—the sensation of a 1990s-era 911 with regard to steering feedback, suspension dynamics, and engine behavior.
So I wasted no time getting to “good morning, officer” speed.
Storming through the scenic roads of Carmel, I was pushing it a little more each time I entered and exited a corner. It took a few minutes to get into a groove, but soon I got a feel for the level of rear grip and the preciseness of the steering.
Steering feel is something they spent months perfecting, I was told by Managing Director Mazen Fawez. Intense scrutiny to achieve greatness was exercised throughout the development of the steering and suspension reworking, and I’m thankful for this level of insanity.
From the Öhlins adjustable dampers to re-engineered geometry, there must be some witchcraft utilized to complete this setup. There is nothing like this end result available in any other car I’ve driven.
The engine note is unreal. It’s raw and pronounced. Cold starts would wake the dead. Rolling off the throttle at 5,000 RPM creates an intense popping and crackling sensation. I wanted to make the car do this over and over again. When producing 390 horsepower and 315 lb-ft of torque from an engine that is developed by Ed Pink Racing, you expect something brilliant.
With a 7,200 RPM redline, this powerplant helps pull from 0-60 mph in under 3.3 seconds, and can hit 100 mph less than five seconds later. It’s so linear in its delivery, while pulling quickly to the redline from damn near any low-end RPM. Much of the time, I could leave the car in third gear, and could easily get around a slow-moving car or punch it through a corner.
Transmission components are based on the Porsche-Getrag G50 boxes from the 964 and 993 generation 911s, but are gutted and rebuilt with uprated gear ratios and shift linkage. Until you drive one, it’s difficult to convey how perfectly mechanical this feels in your hand.
Singer provides the customer with an updated transmission which gives the performance they crave with an emphasis on refinement and economy. Somehow this all came together beautifully.
Never was I fighting over which gear to select on twisty roads, nor did it seem like the car was winding up too much on the highway. I did; however, keep wanting to downshift to pop the revs up, and allow myself to feel that crisp gear exchange.
Porsche 911 owners will tell you that the braking is one of the most important features of the car. Combining the reconfiguration and parts balance effectively is no easy task. Starting with either the 993 Turbo’s steel rotors or Singer’s own carbon ceramic discs, they incorporate Brembo four-piston calipers, front and rear.
To make the brakes fit and function in a tight space, the newly developed 17-inch forged aluminum Fuchs wheels are 9 inches deep in the front and 11 in the rear. The car tested was fitted to Michelin’s Pilot Sport Cup 2 rubber; which was recently homologated by Michelin specifically for use on Singer’s restorations. Clients also have the choice of the Pilot Sport PS2
Sculpting a new body from carbon fiber is one of the most complicated exercises in the process of reimagining the 911. Dickinson spoke about how he loves the look of the 911, but wanted to give it a wider stance with sexier hips on his restoration. Nailing the proportions while maintaining a similar size to the original 964 is quite the challenge.
Giving the reborn car the ’70s long hood look with new lighting assemblies that preserve the classic appearance is wonderfully done. With a car stripped down to the frame, you may expect fitment to be challenging to fine-tune. Here, everything feels as well-assembled as a Lexus.
Clearly, it’s about more than the drive.
Interior choices seemingly give the customer endless options, and there are over 75 paint choices. Specifying your options for materials and colors is done with one year left in your restoration process, as the Singer team has to painstakingly hand-weave your dash, seats, and door panels.
If you want suede mixed between layers of supple leather for your dash, you can have it. Want multiple colors striped into the top layer of the seating surface? Sure! Even the engine compartment and front storage area are wrapped in supple, quilted leather. Some clients come to Singer with exact ways they’d like to personalize their reborn 911, and some put their faith in the capable hands of the provider.
The process of crafting a restoration is something I had the chance to witness firsthand, as a Singer client was present while I was visiting the team, and I got to see how they execute the wishes of each client. Consultative, creative, and captivating work, in my eyes. To me, it all felt like a testament to how passionate every person in this company is.
While many of Singer’s clients will strictly use their reimagined 911 on the road, some also take it to the track. Luckily Singer had arranged private track time for myself and their guests at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, and I was able to take some laps around my second favorite circuit in North America. With a few years of competitive experience, and a healthy amount of Gran Turismo, I have grown quite familiar with the off-camber corners and dramatic elevation changes of Laguna Seca.
Two-wheel drive Porsche 911s of all generations tend to let the rear end rotate, and there is a learning curve for this no matter the skill level. I love the sensation a RWD 911 possesses, particularly in off-camber corners, when the front inside wheel feels like it’s lifting ever so slightly, and the car wants to track out.
What surprises me the most about the damping and steering was how balanced and composed the front of the car stays, most notably in bumpy off-camber turns. Typically the inside front corner of a factory 911 can give you feedback in the steering wheel, and demonstrate a jitteriness that feels unsettled.
This isn’t the case in the Singer setup. After losing a couple hundred pounds in the front of a car, and faking weight back in with modern dampers, the end result had me convinced Singer engineers are geniuses.
There’s so much rear grip, and so much balance. I kept finding myself with more room to the track edge, expecting the rear to slide more. I could have shaved off a couple tenths per lap had I known this sooner, but Singer isn’t restoring 911s for clients who time attack. While this car is nearly as quick as a 991 GT3 around the track, the total package is about the sensation you get from driving it. Not lap records.
In summary, this trip was hugely successful. Singer invited me into their private spaces, allowed me to be around their people to candidly learn more about their passion and motivation to perfect the most brilliantly restored Porsche 911, and I offer my highest level of gratitude for the time I was able to spend with them.
My job is special, and each day I am grateful. Typically you’ll find me trackside covering motorsports for Jalopnik, from F1 to WEC to MotoGP, but there are times when I provide copy in features. Driving one of these was second-highest bucket list assignment I have targeted, right behind covering the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
I get to drive just about any modern car, and only a 911 reimagined by Singer and the Ferrari F40 remained on my list to drive and shoot. (The F40, I’m working on.)
The company’s work did not disappoint in any way, particularly with the sensation and experience you can develop in an analog car. Simply put, this is the greatest car I have ever driven, and I don’t think any other company nor manufacturer will take that title away soon.
Singer’s next project is teaming with Williams, the people who make F1 cars, on engines. Already the reaction is one of overwhelming anticipation, of hype.
After driving this, I have no doubt they can deliver.
Correction: This post has been updated to clarify the types of tires the car uses.