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Singer Vehicle Design | PH Meets

The premise behind the new DLS was simple: building something that would never, ever be beaten

By Dan Prosser / Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Having spent a decade restoring air-cooled 911s in California - in the process building a rock solid brand and pretty much creating a new industry out of nothing - Singer Vehicle Design had license to do whatever it wanted. Turns out, what Norwich-born Rob Dickinson and American Mazen Fawaz desperately wanted to do next was another reimagined 911. Albeit with a difference.

"The whole idea with DLS - and we can't say it without sounding like real pompous dicks - was to do something that would never be beaten." That's company founder Rob, who talks so bluntly and freely that if you didn't already know he spent the early part of his adult life fronting a rock band and not climbing a corporate ladder, you'd soon work it out. "We wanted to create a car that would be historically important; one that would get into the Porsche books that will inevitably be written. And we knew we couldn't do it sitting in California. We had to work with a proper engineering company. For us, the 911 is the most important sports car in the world and it's nothing more than it deserves."

Ask again a day later and both Rob and Maz, as he's known, will tell you they really just wondered what the ultimate air-cooled 911 would be like (they both admit to being hopelessly obsessed by Porsche's dainty sports car). So they set about creating it. Like the cars that emerge from Singer Vehicle Design's workshop on the West Coast - now referred to as Singer Classics - the DLS is a 964 restoration, but with serious funding and an unprecedented level of expertise lavished upon it. The primary technical partner is Williams Advanced Engineering - the consultancy division of Sir Frank's Formula One team - but Singer also worked closely with Michelin, BBS, Brembo and others in pursuit of the best possible results.

The machine - DLS stands for Dynamics and Lightweighting Study and the car is the result of it - isn't a trackday special, although I'm told it'll find its way around a circuit very happily indeed. Instead, it's been developed primarily for road use and even with day-to-day driving in mind. But to equip it with a level of performance and dynamic ability that no air-cooled 911 road car has ever known before, Singer pulled out all the stops, reaching far higher than the factory ever did. The front suspension, for instance, is a bespoke double wishbone setup. The rear suspension is bespoke as well. And anything that could be made out of carbon fibre or titanium or the hollow bones of tiny birds has been. Specify your DLS in the right way and it won't weigh any more than 1,000kg.

Perhaps the real innovation is the four-valve-per-cylinder head, a pair of which sit atop what is still an air-cooled engine. That's a first. The engineering challenge was titanic but has yielded 560hp without any form of forced induction. That'll give the car a power-to-weight ratio not unadjacent to a Bugatti Veyron's. There's so much more about this car I can't possibly list it all here, except to say it's been completely overhauled aerodynamically as well. Its ducktail spoiler actually does something; it's no longer an ornament.

Of course, the wonderful thing about selling 75 restored 911s at $1.8m apiece is that you can sit back and watch your bank balance swell as though you've won the lottery. Or not. "Everybody thinks we're making so much money," comments Rob. "We won't tell you how much we've had to spend on this project, but it's cost three times more than we thought it would. It's bonkers. We spent $500,000 engineering new door seals."

"What a lot of people don't understand," adds Singer MD Maz, "is that there's no economy of scale at 75 cars. You may as well be doing one. And it's f****** expensive. Everything is important? I joke it should be everything is expensive."

Rob jumps in: "But there was never a moment when we said, 'Nah, let's not bother.' It's a mad, neurotic attempt to to do something highly unusual and very, very good. We did everything. It doesn't really make business sense. I know that nailing what Singer can possibly stand for with this car will ultimately be good for our business... it's just not making much business sense at the moment!"

Neither Rob nor Maz embarked upon this project knowing it would scarcely wash its face, but nor were they prepared to compromise on the final product in order to turn a profit. That unbending attitude probably tells you why a car like this has never been created before. "Nobody quite gets the historical importance of this thing yet," reckons Rob. "We know how good the car is and once people start to drive it and see a few around [that will change]. Ten years from now when the new 911 is electric, the DLS will be seen as a line in the sand as to what this ancient old stupid piece of engineering could be."

What's curious to me is that the pair set out to be deliver what they hope will be a seminal 911. That ambition has driven them for three years. But Rob and Maz are both so close to the project they haven't yet realised this: they are in fact creating a seminal performance car full stop.

And the automotive world is sitting up and taking notice. "I think we've entertained most of the car companies on planet Earth," says Rob. "We wanted to do something that was respectful to Porsche's heritage. Other companies have spotted that maybe we did a reasonably solid job of it and are interested in what we could do for them. We've said no to all of them."

That being the case, what'll be next for Singer Vehicle Design? Rob and Maz remain tight-lipped. But you can be sure there is more to come; they certainly aren't about to wind the company down. "This whole process has been so costly," says Maz, "but in exchange, we could probably walk into any OEM tomorrow and do a deal. What would you pay for that? What's the size of the cheque that gets you into that position?"

Rob knows that whatever they turn their attention to next, it must be for the right reasons. "The day we do something that isn't simply for me and him to drive," he comments, pointing to his business partner, "is the day we'll have a catastrophic failure."

As they stand on the brink of achieving something remarkable, I wonder if Rob and Maz have found the time to enjoy the process. "Some parts have been tremendous fun," notes the latter, perhaps recalling the Spanish test tracks and many happy hours at the wheel or in a bar alongside DLS development drivers Chris Harris, Richard Tuthill and Marino Franchitti, "but we've also been through periods of dread. It's a slow process too; you don't do any of it quickly. These last five yards feel sometimes like they could take 10 years, but then you take a huge leap forward and it's just fantastic."

"Enjoyment?", asks Rob. "Dude, I don't know the meaning of the word. But would I give it up for anything else? No chance. It gets me out of the bed in the morning. It drives my life."

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