To that end, he sourced a set of halogen reflectors and bulbs designed for a 1934 Ford headlight. He then hand-formed the headlight rings from brass and had them chrome-plated. The Lexan headlight covers were custom made by Great Lakes Aero Products over bucks formed by Irvine.
While body fabrication continued, van Raalte was busy moving the 986 steering column inboard three inches, along with the pedals. After weeks of trying to make the factory master cylinder work, the team opted for a Kugel Komponents under-dash master cylinder. Van Raalte removed the car’s full wiring harness and then carefully removed all wires for systems that would be deleted — and there were many. There would be no HVAC, no airbags, no power seats, no power windows, no power top, no rising rear spoiler, and on and on.
The body fabrication and re-engineering process took two years. By March 2010, the 0.063-inch-thick, 3003 aluminum body panels had all been formed — first TIG-welded from the inside of each seam and then top-welded and metal-worked. A single radiator holding twin cores was fabricated by Steve Long of Indianapolis to preserve the original coolant plumbing of the Boxster. The bare metal body panels were then removed and the extensively modified 986 chassis was prepped and painted in 2004 Porsche GT Silver.
Final assembly of the mechanical components was followed by installation of the body panels in September 2010. After the body was reinstalled, the car underwent 500 miles of test driving before final finishing. The fact that it was late fall in Michigan did little to deter the group from driving the car sans windshield.
Sorting the car was a matter of dealing with minor details and problems. The original plan called for a cut-down windshield much like the original 550. A Lexan windshield was fabricated and mocked up, but it simply didn’t look right. Using mostly hand-formed brass along with the lower corners of a Jaguar E-type windshield, Irvine created a windshield surround to fit cut-down E-type glass from Fire Fox Glass in Pontiac, Michigan.
The car turned out to be light, weighing in at 2,631 pounds including a full tank of gas. Van Raalte corner-balanced the chassis while accounting for the weight of the driver and achieved a cross weight of 15 pounds and a weight split of 1,326/1,487 pounds front to rear. While he assures us he could have dialed it in closer, he felt that was an acceptable street balance.
By June 2011, the car was in final paint and Tracy van Raalte had stitched up its rich, burgundy leather interior. The car was delivered to Howard’s garage on February 20, 2012 and made its first public appearance on May 26, 2012.
BUILDING A ONE-OFF CAR OFTEN RELEGATES IT TO LIVING IN A BOX, but the whole point of this exercise was to build a 550 with modern running gear — one that could be driven. That’s exactly what Howard does on a regular basis, and what a drive it is.
After a spirited run through the gorgeous Michigan countryside with Howard at the wheel, we pause for lunch. Then he hands me the keys. Entry is as easy as getting into a Boxster, and the aluminum doors click closed using the factory 986 latch system. The spartan padding on the Fibersteel reproduction Spyder seats is surprisingly comfortable, and everything you need to drive is in the perfect location.