Chimera

Dissecting a monster of a wide-body 964

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January 22, 2016

Call it the Weissach Wiggle—that momentary sidewise shimmy to which rear-drive 911s are famously susceptible when accelerating or cornering full bore over fractured pavement. Sometimes it simply furnishes a quaint reminder of the Porsche’s long-serving driveline configuration, while on other occasions—such as now, somewhere north of 130 on a cursorily maintained airport feeder road—it’s just eye-buggingly, pant-loadingly terrifying. Fortunately our driver, car owner Otto Bergés, is an old hand at this sort of thing, and we make it back to the site of our photo shoot to savor the ticking of hot metal and the faint whiff of oil on exhaust as the South Florida sun slips below the distant pines.

For a tyro Porsche-phile like your author, on loan from Excellence sister pub Corvette Magazine, Bergés’ 1991 Turbo Coupe can only be viewed as a true trial-by-fire introduction to the marque. For while the nose-mounted Cibies and tumescent wheel flares may suggest the famous 911 race machines of the 1970s, this is no half-baked tribute or slavishly rendered “clone” car. Rather, it represents nothing less than the radical reimagining of the 964 platform, as interpreted by one unrelentingly creative enthusiast.

Conception

Our journey to decode the genesis of this project takes us on an oversea voyage, albeit it a rather more limited one than you might expect. Instead of the Swabian foothills of Baden-Württemberg, we alight on the sultry Caribbean island of Hispaniola, where Bergés spent his formative years.

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“When I was five, my father bought his first Porsche, a white 1973 911 Targa,” says Bergés, now an attorney in the tony SoFla city of Fort Lauderdale. “I thought it was the coolest, nicest, fastest, sportiest car around. [I’d] been going to the races since I could walk because my father headed the organization behind motorsports in the Dominican Republic for many years…[so] I grew up very close to racing.

“The local racing hero, Luis Mendez, always drove to the track in a white 911 Turbo,” he continues. “I saw that car at least once a week during my childhood years, since he always parked it in front of his speed shop in the middle of the city. When it came time for me to [buy] a Porsche, I wanted it to be white because of [those two cars].”

That time would not arrive until much later, after Bergés had served stints in a variety of lesser European machines that even included one of Maserati’s notoriously unreliable (and occasionally self-immolating) Biturbo coupes. When it did, in March 2010, he quickly narrowed his field of candidates to include the one 911 model that encompassed his desired blend of classic looks and modern functionality: the 1990-1994 964 Turbo.

“I really wanted a 964, as opposed to an older 911 or a 993, since it still looked remarkably similar to the ‘classic’ 911,” says Bergés. “They’re air cooled and were designed with an upgraded A/C system—important in Florida—along with ABS, air bags, etc. After a couple of weeks, I found my car through Cars.com, being sold by the president of a PCA chapter in Arkansas. It had a PPI (pre-purchase inspection) performed less than 800 miles [earlier], so I bought it for what I thought was a fair price.”

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But while the 61,000-mile 911 might have been mechanically solid, it wasn’t quite ready for Pebble Beach—or even Daytona Beach, for that matter. The outside of the 19-year-old car still looked “OK,” according to Bergés, but a previously undiagnosed roof leak had allowed several deluges’ worth of rainwater to penetrate the cabin during the trip from Arkansas on an open trailer.

Having previously selected Coral Gables–based Porsche specialist Vertex Automotive to handle any required restoration and maintenance work on his new acquisition, Bergés sent the car there directly to have the leak sussed out and fixed, and the water-damaged electronics replaced. At that time the Vertex crew also performed a comprehensive tune-up, swapped in an upgraded stereo system, installed a 993 roof spoiler/third brake light (the rear glass had to be removed anyway, to effect the leak repair) and replace the existing “Turbo Twist” knock-off wheels with a smarter set of Keskin 3.6 Speedline replicas. Some stainless-steel dress-up bits for the interior finished off this initial round of work—as well as Bergés’ budget—and the freshly reinvigorated 964 was pressed into service as a semi-regular driver.

The car performed admirably in that capacity for a time, enduring around six months of what Bergés describes as “hot dogging,” and which we interpret as “regular excursions to the redline.” It’s perhaps not surprising, then, that the engine ultimately packed it in, shearing off the rear crankshaft pulley in fiscally ruinous fashion. Back to Vertex it went, for a total rebuild that involved using the crank from a 3.6 Carrera 2 engine to boost displacement from 3.3 to 3.5 liters.

Bergés claims to have been fully satisfied with his Porsche at this point, something we find perfectly understandable given its subtly personalized looks, buffed-up drivetrain and full complement of modern amenities. In fact, had things gone just a bit differently, you might not be reading about the car now. But then fate intervened, as it so often does, to shift the project into an entirely new phase.

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“In January 2014, a careless driver hit the front end of the car,” Bergés relates. “It was subsequently repaired, but one cannot reasonably expect to have new paint match the original, 22-year-old paint. Looking at the front of the car, [I could see] two different shades of white in each of the front quarter panels and across the hood.”

Bergés was able to overlook the mismatched finish for several months thereafter, but when spots of rust began to materialize on the right rear quarter panel and left door sill, he could no longer delay the inevitable. It was time for another trip to Vertex, this time for a full re-spray over the factory bodywork.

That was the plan, anyway.

Execution

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Like so many other customization projects, this one began with a rather limited scope in mind but quickly metastasized out of control as the process unfolded. In Bergés’ case, the downtime furnished by the car’s shop visit set his imagination wandering, and thoughts ineluctably returned to those two seminal 911s from his childhood. It’s not entirely surprising, then, that the first deviation from the stock bodywork involved the installation of a retro-inspired rear spoiler.

“After the expense of doing a glass-out paint job, I was not keen on retaining the OEM Turbo tail, as it was somewhat warped and twisted,” explains Bergés. “My love for older 911s led me to [contact] Gary Stratton out of Orlando, who made ducktails for Turbo cars. I sent him a plain 964 decklid, and he sent back a well-done ‘new’ Turbo ducktail.”

With the new-meets-old visual template established, Bergés turned his attention to the car’s wheels. Although the then-current set of 18-inch Work Brombachers featured the same basic look as the old BBS three-piece rims that Bergés remembered from the 911 racers of his youth, there remained one problem with the presentation.

“Even with 295[mm] tires out back, I felt the car lacked the aggressive look that all wide-body and racing 911s have, because the outer lip of the wheel was not deep enough,” Bergés says. But simply bolting up wider wheels without altering the car’s fenders was not an option, due to a variety of factors ranging from the measurements of the 964’s suspension geometry to Bergés’ very specific requirements for the rims themselves.

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After ruling out his preferred choice—vintage center-lock BBSs—for reasons of cost and availability, Bergés launched an intensive search for alternatives that ultimately led him to John James Racing (JJR). But while JJR offered real-deal center-lockers for the early 911 models, the company had never built a set for a 964. After several conversations with the JJR crew, Bergés had the company send him a five-spoke wheel half to “install” on the rear of his car for measurement purposes.

“[It] ended up sticking out way too much from the wheel well, which was something I anticipated,” recalls Bergés. “However, I did like the look of the…wheel, [which evoked] the old 917s and 911s from my favorite era of racing Porsches, the 1970s.”

At this point, it was clear to Bergés that the only means of creating the retro-racer look he desired was to stretch the fenders—a lot. After considering and ruling out several widening options, he settled on the voluptuous flares of the 1976 934—“the best-looking 911 of all time,” in his estimation—as his primary aesthetic bogey. The only step that remained was to find someone with the skill and vision required to execute the ambitious plan Bergés envisioned. Once again, Vertex came to the rescue.

“Alvaro Rodriguez, the man in charge of my car at Vertex since the day I bought it, introduced me to Michel Durocher, of MD3DUSA.com,” Bergés explains. “[Thanks to] Mr. Durocher’s incredible talent and skill, we [were able] to design these one-of-a-kind fiberglass flares that evoke a combination of wide-body elements.” In addition to the classic bolt-on look of the aforementioned 934, the resulting pieces incorporate the extreme width of the 911/RSR flares as well as the rocker-panel “cut lines” seen on the 993 GT2 and recent 997 racer. The result is a visual feast that is both utterly unique and unmistakably grounded in Porsche motorsports history.

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From a practical standpoint, the swollen bodywork also freed up the space needed to install a serious set of rolling stock: black JJR Pentas measuring 17 × 9.5 and 17 × 12 inches (front and rear, respectively), along with Michelin Pilot Sports in 245/40-17 and 335/35-17 sizes. As a dimensional reference, consider that the latter dimensions match those of the rear rubber installed on the current Dodge Viper, a car roughly six inches wider than a stock 964 Turbo. The word “engorged” comes to mind.

With the centerpiece of the transformation completed, it was time for Bergés to address the finer details, of which there unsurprisingly ended up being many. Blacking out the rear light bar, for example, provided a stylistic link to the 1974 RSR, while the addition of Vitaloni Sebring racing mirrors and a front tow tab further bolstered the retro-racer theme. In a final fit of obsessive detail chasing, Bergés tracked down a pair of Cibie auxiliary fog lights and commissioned a bespoke “3.5” badge from Rebadge.com for the rear spoiler. Along with the wheel locks, Porsche emblems, brake rotors and tow hardware, these bits were painted a subtle tawny gold to match the cabin’s caramel-leather upholstery.

Inside, the most obvious deviations from stock include custom sport hardback buckets from GTS Classic Seats and a Momo Prototipo steering wheel in place of the blocky, airbag-equipped stocker. The presentation here is notably less dramatic than the Stretch Armstrong–inspired exterior, but it nicely conveys the overall theme without impinging on the 911’s resolutely function-first cabin layout. Most important, it remains an ideal spot for availing oneself of the principal duty of every 911: driving.

Unleashed

Viewing a car such as this is one thing, but to truly discern the nature of this automotive chimera, seat time is indispensable. That brings us back to the strafing run mentioned at the outset, the one in which your author narrowly escaped soiling himself outside a Daytona-area jetport.

Even from the passenger’s seat, it’s immediately clear that the car’s 964 Turbo DNA remains fully intact. Although waiting for boost to build isn’t the exercise in sundial reading one would expect from, say, a 1976 930, the 3.5 flat-six doesn’t build a full head of steam until around 3,500 rpm. At that point the Borg Warner/Kühnle, Kopp & Kausch (KKK) compressor comes fully, hideously to life, thrusting the car headlong towards the 7,200-rpm redline as the GT Racing Megaphone tailpipes spit and bellow like a demented Wagnerian chainsaw.

Grip from the massive tires is formidable, though, as mentioned earlier, the car retains its atavistic penchant for lurid hip-wiggling when caned hard over expansion joints. But again, this is no first-gen Turbo, and the intensive tuning regimen to which Porsche engineers subjected the 911 chassis throughout the 1980s is evident in the way Bergés’ wide-body 964 quickly regains its composure.

In addition to serving up a taste of the car’s fearsome performance capabilities, the ride furnishes a striking reminder of the single-mindedness with which this generation of 911s was engineered. Convenience features have been kept to a (nevertheless fully adequate) minimum, interior surfaces are surprisingly firm and the overall impression is one of unremitting Teutonic seriousness. This is a machine built specifically for doling out healthy doses of vehicular violence, after all, and woe betide the Corvette or M3 driver who concludes otherwise. It’s as much a defining characteristic of the car as its intimidating visage, a fact not lost on Bergés.

“I’ve driven [it] at a velocity that few others have ever reached in a road-going car,” he admits. “And while I will never do it again, I’m happy to know that it has the outright speed to match its looks and attitude. I’m very happy about that.”

Also from Issue 235

  • 2016 Cayman GT4 & 911 GT3 RS at Road Atlanta
  • A very special 1973 911 Carrera 2.7 RS
  • Market Update: 911 GT2 & GT3
  • A 968 Turbo RS and a 968 Club Sport meet up
  • Carrera 3.2-powered 1973 914
  • The Porsche-Behra
  • Ferry, Butzi & Bott
  • The former Formula One star talks Porsches
  • Mission E
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