The pedals, the shifter, and the hammered aluminum insert holding a covey of Palo Alto Speedometer-sourced gauges make you feel instantly at home. Gripping the appropriately thin steering wheel makes you feel like you’re driving an old car, yet there is nothing old about the way the car drives. A trained eye picks up on traces of the Boxster S — the shifter, parking brake, and inside door handles come to mind — but most people won’t realize that’s a Boxster carpet set on the floor. These modern bits are at home with the vintage styling of the car, no surprise since they were meant to echo the 550’s forms. A custom center console fills the void between the bucket seats so well that the seats appear to be made for this car.
Hit the starter in a genuine 550 and an exotic, oft-temperamental four-cam flat four will roar to life. Turning the key in this car fires a four-cam flat six — one with VarioCam and more than twice the power. The Stebro exhaust is vocal, and the stock 986 shifter slides easily into gear after depressing the stiffer-than-stock clutch pedal. If I have any complaint at all, it’s that my longer legs barely fit under the steering wheel because the seat is non-adjustable and installed to fit Howard perfectly.
Once underway, the car is simply a joy to drive. Unlike many modified cars I have driven, this one is totally competent. Past the seating position, there’s nothing to “get used to.” No, this one drives without special effort and with virtually no drama.
Shaving over 400 pounds off a Boxster S makes everything better. Acceleration is amazing — and yet it is not until you look down at the vintage speedometer that you realize you are quickly approaching triple digits. The car isn’t scream-like-a-12-year-old-on-a-roller-coaster fast, but it has a seamless and seemingly endless surge that gets you up to speed quickly. Very quickly.
At 80 mph, the only hint of speed in the cockpit is our pair of large grins. The car is begging to go faster, but the realization that I’m driving a handcrafted, one-of-one car keeps things in check. Happily, the weight loss also contributes to improved braking and cornering and, even with taller tire sidewalls, the car simply turns-in on command with perfectly neutral balance. The Leda dampers are “performance firm” without being harsh, and I never experience one bit of cowl shake or hear so much as a squeak.
Getting modern feedback through a thin-rimmed banjo steering wheel is a sensory contradiction. Fortunately, it’s one that you fall in love with. You’re probably wondering about wind noise. Strangely enough, there isn’t any. Behind the low, custom-fabricated windshield, Howard and I barely have to raise our voices to carry on a conversation.
All of the great Porsche engineering is somehow heightened by the envelope of hand-formed aluminum and the gorgeous flowing fenders — a melding of two Porsches 48 years apart. As we enter Leland, summer tourists turn and stare as we glide by. Over the last three days, I’ve come to appreciate this incredible project and, even more, the people involved. It was a group effort brought about by a handful of talented Porsche lovers who overcame significant obstacles to build what I’d qualify as the best modified car I’ve ever driven.
Maybe Howard says it best, though: “This car just makes you want to drive. Leland is about six miles from my house, and I can generally get there and back in about an hour because every time I leave in this car, I take the long way home.”