Low, compact and distinctly angry: that’s my first impression of this Cayman ‘RS’ from Porsche specialists Autofarm as I approach it on a freezing January evening. The firm is best known for its work with the traditional, air-cooled flavour of Porsche 911s, but has applied its expertise – and in particular, its 3.7 litre engine conversion experience on M96/97 flat sixes – to Porsche’s inspired but often controversial coupe.
In essence, Autofarm has attempted to create a Cayman ‘RS’, but the subtext is clear – this is a full-fat Cayman, a Cayman uncorked, if you like: for all those curious and/or determined to unlock the full potential inherent in the car – and either way there’s a stormy debate right there in itself - this example is well and truly bursting out of the predetermined range structure decreed by the mother company.
Autofarm’s approach has been purposefully conventional; tried and trusted components used to build a track day focused machine. This black development car has everything achieved so far (all bar the carbon fibre rear hatch which wasn’t quite ready in time for our test – hence the tape around the Lexan rear ‘screen in the photos) and is therefore pretty hardcore, but Autofarm is developing its modifications in stages to suit the different tastes and objectives of customers.
In traditional Porsche RS style, this car is all about less weight, more power and an endearing avoidance of gimmicks. With its lack of ‘body styling’ additions, sensibly sized (18”) gold Volk alloys that you’re more likely to find on a tuned Skyline GTR (each around 2kg lighter than the standard Porsche wheels), and carbon panels, it has a very different look and feel to the typical tuned Porsche from an established European tuning house, and that, for me at least, is a refreshing change.
Anyway, that’s the theory; this is the practice. This car has Autofarm’s 3.7 litre conversion on the standard 3.4 litre ‘S’ engine, with Schrick camshafts, a carbon fibre air box, Milltek headers, sports cats and exhaust; a lightweight flywheel (half the weight of the standard one) and an ecu remap. The result on the rolling road is 367bhp and 295lb ft of torque, this being deployed through a stronger clutch and a Quaife LSD – yep, like the brand new Cayman, this Cayman does have a ‘diff’. According to Autofarm it's a cheaper alternative to dropping a 911 3.8 Carrera S engine into your Cayman.
Then there’s the carbon fibre bonnet and tail gate; the Lexan rear screen; lovely Recaro bucket seats (a large weight saving over the standard items); harness bar; strut brace; H&R springs and anti roll bars (working here with PASM); big brake kit with Brembo front discs, GT3 rears - and on and on it goes. The full list is extensive and detailed, right down to small items, such as a deeper sump with an extended oil pickup to cure the oil surge issues these engines can experience during circuit use.
Unfortunately, I don’t have any exact figures on the weight saving, but given that a standard Cayman S weighs a reasonably slim 1,350kg (reasonable, given a battery of airbags, crash structures, creature comforts and decent refinement levels, that is, and in context with market rivals) you’d hope to see a fair reduction in that figure, which puts the 367bhp into tantalising perspective. As a comparison, a 997 GT3RS weighs a quoted 1,375kg, has 409bhp and produces similar torque to this Cayman.
So I jump into the deep Recaro and twist the key. ‘BAM!’ it catches and settles to a much deeper, louder and frankly menacing grind on my left shoulder. Soon we’re spearing through the sub-zero night air, and when the traffic suddenly dissipates in front of us, and a gap of clear, straight road beckons I resist the temptation to work the gear lever, leave it in sixth despite the low revs and squeeze the throttle to the stop.
Why do that? Because the standard S certainly feels rapid when you thrash it through the gears, but I’m desperate to see if this S has the lungs to really step into the next league of ‘quickness’: proper, big-engined quick, in other words – and at revs and speeds where the standard car can slightly struggle.
The answer is swiftly forthcoming and boisterous. The cabin is drowned in a thudding boom, overlaid with flywheel chatter that clears as the note hardens and becomes sweeter on the ear. The tiny digital speedo begins to gallop upwards even as the car feels like it’s just hitting its stride, and the barrage of noise has now congealed into a proper Porsche howl as the speed piles on. Common sense and a respect for the law (well a nod towards it at least) eventually intervene, but a point has been made; I’m grinning; it’s got some lungs; point proved.
Of course, it gets appreciably better when you drive it as intended. The short shift kit, flywheel, remap and clutch are a stirring combo, and allow you to access stabs of the substantial top end power with a single ‘crack’ of movement, even if there isn’t quite the manic high rev rush of a GT3 motor. It would be interesting to get some proper figures, but subjectively there’s never really an occasion now where you’d call into question the performance of this Cayman. Dispatching other traffic can be done with ease, and even opening the throttle at lowish revs in second gear sees the car bolting forward immediately.
Sadly, an outside temperature of minus three degrees centigrade does little to put much heat or any of my confidence into the Michelin Pilot Sport Cups. A boot of second gear throttle - particularly when using the ‘harder’ engine map in ‘Sport’ - knocks the tail out quicker than if Eddie Murphy’s Donkey character in Shrek had just left his hoof print in the rear wing. That’s a shame, because although fun in itself, it feels as though with some proper loads going into the tyres this Cayman would be extremely rapid point to point. The Cayman traits of superb steering and beautiful natural balance now combined with the Autofarm modifications feel as if they’ll make for a very potent mix.
Nevertheless, with a 35mm drop, the suspension is certainly firm. It gets better with speed but larger intrusions such as cats eyes and potholes are deflected with a bang rather than absorbed. It’s personal choice as usual, but if you’re using your car every day or for touring this may not be the set up for you, but then this is intended as a fast road/track configuration. And the brakes deserve a mention too for offering immense reassurance and great pedal feel when you’re working them hard.
The bottom line: the total sum of all the mods including labour charges on this car comes to around £36,000 inc VAT. That means that even if you purchase an early Cayman ‘S’ with a few miles on it, you’re still looking at about £60,000 to replicate what you see here. Such a purchase requires a committed Caymanophile: that’s close to the squirming excitement of a used 997 GT3 and twenty grand up on a GT3 of the 996 variety, not that this Cayman needs to be shy in any comparison.
For Autofarm, that’s bang on their objective of creating a package that costs the same as buying a new heavily optioned Cayman S from the factory: the white, optioned-up Cayman S ‘RS style’ press car doing the rounds with the UK media recently cost a similar amount. And of course, the idea is that you can pick and choose your modifications, your level of power upgrade and your timescale for getting the work done as and when you want – and there are more developments in the pipeline, too. Forget the small reptile thing – this is the scary, fully grown saltwater crocodile variety…