Go on, admit it, that old thing in your garage, it isn't quite as good as you say it is. Or, as it could be. I'm as guilty of it as the next man, internally and outwardly justifying the expense and hassle of old car ownership with a heavy dose of dewy-eyed nostalgia based on chatter about feel and connection.
I always cite the 90s as the peak for performance cars. As much as the current crop is amazing, they're a bit too fast to really enjoy. The 90s was the tipping point when the grip to grunt ratio seemed bang on, steering systems were uncorrupted, brakes worked properly and nannying electronics and sport button nonsense were still very much in their infancy. I've two 90's cars in my garage, a 993 Carrera and a 205 GTI. A pre-Varioram manual 2 coupe, and a 1.6, before you ask, as everyone does. They're great. Actually, let's be honest here - they're good.
The Gunther Werks 400R is great. Amazing actually. Off-the-charts brilliant. There, modern readers, you don't need to go scroll down any further. Still here? Now I know it's not a new idea to take an old car and modernise it. Indeed, there are plenty of examples of re-imagined or re-engineered classics out there. Eagle does the E-Type, Frontline Developments will build you a 'new' MG and if you've not heard of Singer with its jewel-like 911s then where have you been recently?
Gunther Werks has joined that party, but takes a slightly different approach. Conceptually it's closest to that Singer idea, as it's based on a 911. Here the starting point is the 993 - the last of the air-cooled cars - it's a deliberate choice for its suspension, more sophisticated than any 911 before it. The goal with the Gunther Werks 400R is of continuation, building a car as Porsche might today had it not replaced the air-cooled cars twenty years ago with the water-jacketed 996. The aim isn't just a modern Carrera either, Gunther Werks CEO Peter Nam wanted to build his interpretation of how a GT3 would be.
The 400R is that; a lighter sharper, more focussed car than any 993 I've ever driven. It benefits from the passage of time, taking all that the best minds in the business have learned about the 993 over the past 20 years and applying it to create the 400R. The list of people involved is a veritable who's who of the respected Porsche air-cooled community in the USA. Names like Jeff Gamroth, Joey Seely and Cary Eisenlohr, from Rothsport Racing, E-Motion Engineering and Eisenlohr Racing Products respectively. Gunther Werks' brilliance is recognising that talent and bringing it together to help create its vision. Nam's own company, Vorsteiner, applies its extensive expertise in carbon fibre and alloy manufacture, design, and rapid prototyping, and drove the whole project from conception to completion.
A measure of the execution of the car and the respect around the people involved in it is that of the 25 Gunther Werks will build, all but a handful are sold. Impressive, given the $525,000 starting price. That's before you've ponied up a Carrera as a basis - they'll find you one if you've not got the time. It's doubly impressive that Gunther Werks has achieved those sales off the back of being shown at Quail and SEMA, before anyone outside the company has actually driven it.
That's about to change, though, as we're the first to get behind the wheel. Nam is determined that it be driven as it should be, enthusiastically, on some of California's finest canyon roads. We're not about to argue with that, but before we get in it's worth pouring over some of the details.
It's lighter, obviously, unladen it's 1,211kg, thanks to every panel bar the doors being carbon fibre. A lithium ion battery helps too, as does the rear-seat delete, carbon interior trim, aerospace-grade lightweight carpeting and fixed-back carbon fibre seats. It feels authentically GT3 in its execution inside, focussed, and beautifully finished without being racer-austere - coming with a few concessions to modernity and comfort via electric air conditioning and a Porsche Classic sat-nav stereo.
Outside it's equally as obsessively detailed. The panel gaps are tighter than any 993 ever left the factory with, and the headlights comprising a combination of milled aluminium, carbon fibre, aerospace-grade glass and LED technology. They're gorgeous.
The body's proportions are spot on, the radius of the wings perfectly judged. Those evocative GT racer proportions are a functional necessity, the stretched wings covering one of the specific technical goals for the 400R build, the square track. It's 1,600mm front and rear, the rear tyres 315/30 and fronts 245/35, riding on 18-inch forged aluminium three piece wheels.
Behind the front wheels are 355mm slotted front discs with Brembo GTR 6 piston callipers, the rear having four-piston Brembo callipers grabbing 345mm discs. All that hangs off a bespoke KW Clubsport coilover set-up, RS spec uprights and fully adjustable custom tie rods and arms. There's a front axle lift-kit for convenience and it's all ball jointed, the steering rack getting solid plastic bushings rather than rubber ones, it powered by a hydraulic set-up, with an electric pump fitted to remove losses from the engine. And the engine? Take a deep breath.
Out back is a 4.0-litre air-cooled flat-six built by Rothsport Racing. Taking the original crankcase everything else is pretty much binned. There's the crank from a 4.0-litre GT3, a GT3 oil pump, the oil cooling is taken care of by a pair of radiators up front with a vented oil catch tank installed, too. The conrods are custom forged items built by Carillo, the pistons Mahle custom items, there are individual throttle bodies - with high flow injectors built by Jenvey to Rothsport's design - twin plug-on-plug coil ignition, and cams from Dema Elgin.
There's a custom fan, opening the engine cover revealing it and the GT3-style carbon plenum with its Eventuri air intake. On looks alone the engine will have you weak at the knees, as will the numbers - 438hp at 7,800rpm and 315lb ft at 6,500rpm. That's over 108hp per litre. Healthy.
Firing it up only enhances that. The 400R's exhaust, which borrows its switchable silencer from a 997 GT3, fills the cabin with the familiar sound of an air-cooled flat-six. Intensified here, with a harder, racer's edge, the GT3 authenticity added to by the characteristic rattle of the clutch release bearing when the car's idling. The transmission is a six-speed manual, with a single-plate GT2 clutch, driving the rear wheels though a 40per cent locking rear differential. The gear stick feels familiar, it's borrowed from a 996 GT3, the linkage it's attached to shortened for quicker shifting, though, and its movement accurate and precise. The clutch's bite is high, but the pedal feel is spot on, the anticipated recalcitrance from the drivetrain after reading the 400R's racer-like specification simply not evident.
The engine's enthusiasm for revs and immediacy is its signature, the lightweight single mass flywheel helping it to spin up to its 7,800rpm redline eagerly. Gamroth lets on that it could rev higher still, but with its road car status there had to be concessions to longevity.
Not that you'll feel it lacking, even if under 3,800rpm you might find yourself grabbing for a lower gear for the biggest accelerative hit. There's a potential fix, Gamroth admitting there's another map possible that'll add some lower rev torque without impacting on the output elsewhere. There are two maps presently, as opening the exhaust changes the fuelling on the engine - giving the 400R some cruising civility on a long-haul when it's quiet - though today's about difficult, twisting canyon roads, so the button stays on its loudest, most focussed setting. There're no other distractions, just three pedals, that engine and a chassis that's proving to be something of a revelation.
The steering feel here is like little else I've experienced. Rich in detail, it's hugely informative without being overly busy, the turn-in as immediate, if not more so, than the current 991 GT2 RS. Its weighting is spot on, too, that linear, faithful response at the front axle complimented by suspension which delivers a beguiling mix of taut control and a supple, composed ride.
There's just no corruption, no bump steer, despite the sizeable contact patch, the 400R's ability to track straight and true over some far from perfect surfaces being exemplary. It's all in the damping, says Seely, who's kept the spring rates back and let the fluid do the work. It allows more heat to get in the tyres, the square track aiding with the turn in, the grip huge and traction similarly so. When it does begin to break loose at its limits, it's an easily read, and exploitable transition.
The lack of mass helps it everywhere, the brakes wash off the hastily gained pace with impunity, the car working beautifully as a whole. Driving it is an immersive, sensation-rich experience that's utterly contemporary in its performance, but retrospective in its engagement. Not once do I feel the desire to change a setting, remove an electronic control's threshold or switch off a driver aid as I would in something current. That's a uniquely exciting mix, and the antithesis of what modern sports cars deliver.
I hate and love the 400R in equal measure. I hate it because I know my own 993 will never drive like this, and love it because I know that it's possible. History has the capacity to teach us a lot, and Gunther Werks has applied it perfectly. It really is that good.
SPECIFICATION - GUNTHER WERKS 400R
Engine: 3,9996cc, flat-six
Transmission: 6-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 438@7,800rpm
Torque (lb ft): 315@6,500rpm
Top speed: N/A
Weight: 1,211kg (Unladen)
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