Alter Ego

This brutal 993 belies the owner who turbocharged it himself.

Alter Ego 1
March 4, 2011

Princeton Wong’s 993 lacks subtlety. Nearly all of it. Tracing the lines of this Porsche from front to rear, the only suggestion of restraint is the lack of a rear wing. In case you’re wondering, that particular piece of bodywork is back in the shop, awaiting track duty. In its place is a plain decklid rendered in carbon fiber, because Princeton’s Midnight Blue 993 is destined for a more leisurely stroll on the twilit streets of Houston tonight.

“I’ll drive us to a parking lot,” says Jason Herrera, the car’s caretaker and Princeton’s project mentor, after refusing to toss the keys my way. “You can get used to the clutch there, before you drive it on the street.” I shake off the face slap and mutter something about having driven some pretty finicky Porsches. He nods silently and smiles. I drop in over the thigh bolster of the passenger Recaro SPG, rotate in, and fumble with the Sparco five-point harness.

The 3.6 takes some throttle to coax it to life. Considering the fact it’s turbocharged, the engine has a surprising exhaust note: It’s two parts GT3 RSR, one part industrial tree shredder. “You should have heard it before the turbos,” remarks Jason, his voice elevated above the gurgling din of idle. “Princeton wanted straight pipes. It was really loud then.”

Jason eases the 993 onto the highway. He has a parking lot in mind, and soon I find myself concentrating on the differing textures of every seam on this stretch of Texas asphalt, perfectly rendered through my backside by the factory RSR/Racer’s Group suspension. We exit the highway and turn into the empty parking lot of a computer superstore. Pagid Yellow brake pads sing as we stop in the middle of the blacktop. I hoist myself from the 993 and, as I round the nose, resist the temptation to say, “Okay Jason, just watch this.”

My prudence is duly rewarded: Stall. Stall. Buck, buck, stall. Dustin Hoffman’s “I’m an excellent driver” line in Rainman echoes in my recently overconfident head. The featherweight, custom-machined GT3 RSR flywheel and Tilton twin-disc carbon racing clutch feel like an on/off switch, but that isn’t the only thing I’m fighting. After a bit of play at the top of the throttle, stiffness builds quickly, and it takes a fair bit of pressure before gas-pedal travel frees. This makes finessed throttle control a challenge. On the fourth try, though, success is mine. After a couple more, I find myself awaiting an opening in traffic. Stall.

Alter Ego 2

Power from the 3.6-liter six — boosted by two Garrett GT30R turbos — is abrupt and dramatic. The Racepak UDX dash is unlit, and at dusk I trust my ears to pick out the shift point. It comes quickly, and I bounce off the 7000-rpm limiter once or twice under hard acceleration. For all the raw severity afforded by 441 hp and 357 lb-ft of torque at the rear wheels, power delivery feels more linear than I expect…at least, once I pass through the throttle’s pressure point. Braking for a turnaround, the Pagids sing as Tial 44-mm V-band wastegates alternately ping and tap. An attempt at a heel-toe downshift is rebuffed by the pesky throttle.

Turn-in is crisp and instantaneous. The platform feels noticeably stiffer than a stock 993, owing in part to an Autopower four-point roll cage. A sure-footed feel at the nose makes up for any vagueness at the rear due to the very stiff suspension. I sense playfulness back there, and that’s quickly confirmed as I transition to throttle…

Okay, maybe you’ve heard about or even experienced the oversteer associated with short-wheelbase 911s and with early 930s coming on boost. Well, compared to Princeton Wong’s 993, those cars are sunset walks on the beach. My “Are you freaking kidding me?!” as the rear steps out is immediately followed by “Wheeeeee!”

Self-preservation instincts quickly kick in, though. What surprised me in the last corner demands subsequent respect. While rear-end traction might be improved by softening the rear suspension relative to the front, it’s possible that the car’s owner likes it this way! Either way, I’m left with a stupid grin on my face, blathering something to Jason about this being the most brutally raw street 911 I’ve driven.

“Yeah, it’s funny,” he replies. “Princeton’s personality is nothing like the car he built. He’s a really laid-back, easygoing guy.”

Alter Ego 3

“Yeah, that’s pretty much true,” chuckles Princeton when I talk to him a few weeks later. “I’m pretty quiet. Usually, anyway.” In 2002, as a University of Houston sophomore, Princeton began looking for a 911 as an afterschool project. He had just sold a tea/smoothie shop in Austin and was seeking something to fill his free time and satiate an interest in things mechanical.

“At first, I looked for a pre-1975 911 chassis to completely rebuild myself, so I wouldn’t have to worry about emissions as much. But, somehow I ended up with a ’96.” Since he was starting with a 35,000-mile 993 Carrera, he altered his plans: “It was a really good example, so I thought I should keep it relatively stock and not mess up one of the last air-cooled 911s.” Weekend jaunts through the Hill Country west of Austin and the occasional track day kept the 993 well exercised. “I drove it mostly as-is for not quite a year. I put in small modifications — racing seats, steering wheel, harnesses — pretty mild stuff.”

A minor fender bender led to a rethink. He had already been hanging around the shop that Jason co-owned at the time, Autologic. Peer pressure soon overwhelmed Princeton: “I kept seeing these super-modified Hondas and NSXs, and I started thinking about that for my car.”

His first step was to ditch the mufflers in favor of straight pipes coming off stock headers, exiting on either side of the license plate. Inspiration there came from Porsche 935s, Kremer examples in particular. Says Princeton: “I love the raw look of all the mechanicals hanging in plain view (from the rear of) those race cars.”

Next, he and Jason tore off the stock suspension and bolted up Bilstein/Porsche RSR coil-overs mated to Eibach springs. They raided The Racer’s Group parts bins next, buying front monoball camber plates and adjustable monoball drop links, rear monoball upper mounts, monoball drop links with adjustable mounts, spring hats, and lock rings. TRG anti-roll bars capped the suspension mods, 25 mm up front and 22 mm in the rear, set full stiff. “At the time, I hadn’t learned much about suspension technology, so I went with something relatively proven,” says Princeton.

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With the radical suspension mods came wide-body fenders and rocker panels from Clubsport, along with a “GT2 Evo 2” front bumper/splitter and rear wing. Aesthetic inspiration came largely from the Roock wide-body 993 featured in the October 1999 issue of Excellence. “It had the flares and the GT2 Evo parts. I was dreaming of something like that.”

18-inch Kinesis K28R wheels (measuring 10 inches wide up front and 11.5 inches wide in the rear) with 285/30 and 315/30 rubber were chosen to fill out the swollen fenders. The carbon clutch capped the racy nature of this round of modifications, and Princeton drove the 993 in that configuration for nearly a year.

An injury at the beginning of his senior year at U.H. set the next major phase in motion: “I had an accident in a sculpture class,” says Princeton. “We were putting plaster and sculptures into a dumpster, and it fell over on my leg.” The resulting ankle injury immobilized him.

“I couldn’t drive, so I just started fabricating stuff,” explains Princeton. During “boring” lectures, he’d already sketched a turbo system for the 993, so he started giving form to those ideas. But first, he had to convince Jason to give him access to the equipment necessary for parts fabrication — a tricky part of the equation, but one in which he was ultimately successful.

“When I decided to go turbo, I built the path of air from the exhaust up — hot side, then cool side,” explains Princeton of his process. “Exhaust manifolds, turbo mounting, intercooler piping and location, then intake plenums, in that order.”

Alter Ego 5

He fabricated equal-length headers from 321 stainless steel. Up-pipes, downpipes, and wastegate dump tubes were formed from 304 stainless. Ceramic coating on all tubing and the wastegates protect these parts from extreme heat. The GT30R ball-bearing turbochargers feature a custom, four-bolt exhaust housing.

“I crammed the largest Garrett intercooler cores I could fit into the areas where the stock mufflers used to live,” he explains. He fabricated custom end tanks for these. Tial 50-mm blow-off valves were placed just before the intake. “After the intercoolers, I worked on the top end. I was making this huge intake plenum fed by one throttle-body. But midway through that, I ended up getting TWM individual throttle bodies, so I built plenums above those.” He modified the TWMs so he could retain air-conditioning — important for Houston summers — and installed dual Golden Eagle vacuum manifolds.

According to Princeton, “modifying the TWMs to accept a plenum on top and getting all that stuff aligned” was the biggest challenge of the project. This is where the throttle linkage issue resides. “The way (the pulley) transitions with the linkages on the TWMs, it starts off facing backward.” That played havoc with the linkage, and Princeton isn’t satisfied with the current setup, either. “It’s kind of annoying, and I haven’t gotten around to working on it,” he admits.

He upgraded the Bosch fuel pump and installed Pro-Lite fuel lines, Earl’s Ano Tuff fittings, and a Precision fuel filter. Next, he fabricated billet aluminum fuel rails to feed the six Precision 1000-cc injectors. An Aeromotive fuel-pressure regulator and a Marshall fuel-pressure gauge round out the fuel system modifications.

As intake work continued, a Formula SAE team offered a Motec M48 ECU for a price that was too good to pass up. Princeton soon worked it into the equation, as well, calling on Sam Shalala at Protechnik to help sort through the initial setup.

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Early on, Princeton recognized the need for effective heat management in the crowded engine compartment, so he engineered several elegant solutions. The first focused on the intercoolers. “Because I decided not to cut holes in the fenders to push air through the intercoolers, I designed a custom ducting system fed by the engine cooling fan,” he says. As a result, higher engine speeds equal more air. Also, he customized the rear bumper to vent hot air.

Princeton fashioned a fluid cooling system that pumps coolant through the twin turbos. A custom aluminum coolant tank, a Meziere water pump, and a Setrab cooling core reside in the rear-seat area. The system pumps Evans waterless coolant, which he says “has an extremely high boiling point, so I don’t have to worry about cavitation or boil-over in the closed system.”

Princeton also added oil capacity with a trunk-mounted Setrab oil cooler “because there isn’t enough room behind the bumper for the size of cooler I wanted (22×7×2 inches).” The cooler sits in a custom aluminum enclosure and draws air from two small holes in the front bumper. The air exits through tubing directed at the brakes. “(That) air is still much cooler than the brake-disc temperature,” offers Princeton. Finally, he installed a Westech oil scavenge pump to ensure sufficient lubrication of the turbocharging system.

As the mechanicals came together, focus shifted to weight loss. Aggressive weight loss. Suffice it to say, the process of shedding well over 400 pounds is worthy of a story all its own. Exterior savings came from a carbon-fiber hood and rear decklid, fiberglass front fenders, a carbon sunroof plug, and details like removing both side mirrors. Inside, all sound padding was removed, all carpeting was replaced with Perlon, RS door panels took the place of the comfort-oriented panels, the sound system was ditched, and the stock VDO instruments were all dumped in favor of the Racepak dash. And on and on.

The front bumper trim under the leading edge of the hood was replaced. “I had that custom made of carbon,” says Princeton. Savings there? About 200 grams. Deletion of redundant interior bolts and fasteners? Perhaps a pound. Removal of all unnecessary electrical and motorized bits simplified the wiring harness. “The engine wiring harness is a Raychem unit that’s really pared down, too. It’s a lot lighter than normal.”

So, how much has Princeton driven his 993 since completing it in early 2007? The answer is an unfortunate “not too much, maybe 500 miles.” Upon completing his degree in graphic design, Princeton uprooted to New York to be with the other love of his life, Mimi, after being hired as an art director for a New York-based advertising company. The 993 stayed behind. “It’s just ridiculous to keep a car in New York. I can park my Honda on the street and not worry about it,” explains Princeton.

Is there a reunion in the offing? Someday. “Once I move out of New York, it would be nice to find a place I can actually keep it,” says Princeton. But it’s clear that the 993 isn’t out of mind: “We’re thinking about converting it to run on ethanol within the next year or so, and I’ll probably revisit the suspension with a two- or three-way adjustable system. Also, Jason keeps bugging me to open the engine and build (the internals). More than likely, he’ll convince me.” Of course, that would allow the turbos to safely run far more than the current (and conservative) 0.6 bar of boost. Says Princeton: “Yeah, the GT30Rs are way overkill for the engine right now.”

Reflecting on the build process, he returns to the beginning. “My parents thought I was crazy when I started tearing apart a car I had never worked on before.” He mulls over his words a moment and then rephrases. “Well, actually I hadn’t worked on any cars before. At all.”

So, just to get this straight, Princeton, you had never worked on a car in your life, and your first-ever project was transforming a Porsche 993 into a flame-belching, turbocharged Godzilla?! “Yeah pretty crazy, right?” he responds. Nah, Princeton, actually it’s pretty cool.

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