On the Shoulders of Giants

This 997 Turbo coupe pays homage to a storied Porsche-racing house

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December 9, 2016

If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.

—Isaac Newton, 1676

Sorry for going all ontological on you right up front, but given our subject matter, it only seems appropriate to ask: What makes a successful Porsche-racing tribute car? Is it simply a matter of daubing on a “throwback” paint scheme from the marque’s motorsports heyday, bolting up a handful of track-inspired body bits and calling it good?

Not if you’re 32-year-old Harris Snodgrass, owner of Jacksonville, Florida–based tuning house fiveninedesign and scion of one of the most respected families in the Porsche sphere. For him, crafting a proper automotive homage is much more than a job: It’s a matter of professional pride, and a means of communing with a beloved relative who departed too soon. It’s a task that would overtax the skills and vision of most car builders, but as we’ll see, Harris Snodgrass is no ordinary customizer, and his 2009 911 (997.1) Turbo is no ordinary car.

Legacy of Speed

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To fully appreciate the significance of our subject vehicle, it’s helpful to travel back to the start—specifically, to 1960, when Hubert Brundage launched the Porsche-exclusive Brumos Racing team. When Brundage died five years later in an auto accident, Peter Gregg purchased Brumos and, along with business partner Robert Snodgrass, guided it to six IMSA GT titles and three Trans-Am championships over the next decade. Gregg himself met a tragic end in 1980, and Snodgrass took control of both Brumos Racing and the Brumos automotive-dealership group in 1990.

As son Harris puts it, the elder Snodgrass was far from the typical buttoned-down business executive one might imagine. “Many people weren’t aware of his passion for modifying cars, even though he was a robust car fanatic. He loved racing, he loved the business and for fun, he loved building and ultimately selling [the] vehicles he tinkered with.”

More success followed in the 1990s and 2000s, as Brumos Racing successfully adapted each new generation of Porsche performer for the rigors of top-level competition. It seemed that a long and prosperous future was assured for the team until the night of April 24, 2007, when Robert Snodgrass passed away unexpectedly in his sleep at the age of 64. “Lovers of sports cars and sports-car racing in particular [have] lost a kindred spirit,” wrote Autoweek at the time.

But while Harris had lost his father, Robert’s dedication to, and love of, all things Porsche was an invaluable bequest. And it would not be long before that gift found a most suitable mode of expression.

Following stints with Brumos and Lamborghini Miami, Harris Snodgrass launched fiveninedesign as an independent entity in 2012, and the firm quickly established it as one of the top customization houses in the car-besotted Jacksonville area. This success is immediately evident when we arrive for our photo shoot, whereupon we’re greeted by a splendidly turned-out, matte-black Aston purring past in the parking lot.

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“Retired [NFL Jacksonville] Jaguar,” notes Snodgrass nonchalantly.

But while Snodgrass is happy to enhance the looks and speed of anything on four—or more, or fewer—wheels, he’s clearly happiest when tweaking, driving or simply discussing a certain rear-engine sports car. As you might imagine, he owns a few, too.

“We have a beautiful 1967 911S that is an unrestored, all-original car, that just won at the Concours D’Elegance in Amelia Island,” he says. “Also, a 1974 Porsche Carrera 2.7 that is a 27,000-mile original. I am always working on a unique Porsche project that will

feed my desire to create. Currently, it is a 4.0-liter, GT2-spec street/Cup car that weighs around 2,700 pounds and makes a tad over 900 horsepower.”

There are others—a 1991 911 Turbo (964), and even a 1970 914-6—but the car we’re here to see is arguably the most impressive, and certainly the most personally significant, of the bunch: the 2009 “RFS59” Turbo. The product of an eight-month conversion that consumed around $80,000 in hardware upgrades alone, RFS59 is the ultimate expression of the Brumos Racing legacy, made manifest in a 640-horsepower street car that knows nothing of conventional strictures on speed or style.

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Building a Beast

The first part of the car’s appellation—RFS, for Robert Frederick Snodgrass—is easy enough to decode, but the numerical portion requires a bit more historical context. Of the many successful Porsche racing machines to have competed for the Brumos team over the years, perhaps none are more legendary than the series of #59 911s driven principally by Hurley Haywood from the early 1970s through the late 2000s. Like all Brumos cars, they wore the distinctive red, white and blue paint scheme that was the team’s visual calling card.

But while Harris Snodgrass’s original vision for RFS59 called for a 997 wearing identical hues, tracking down a Carrara (yes, Carrara, not Carrera) White example to serve as the project’s basis would prove daunting. When a nationwide search turned up no suitable candidates in that shade, Snodgrass relaxed his buying criteria and scored a 16,000-mile, Cream White Turbo coupe from a Chicago dealership for around $83,000. As we’ll see, what was initially viewed as a compromise would come to form a critical aspect of the car’s aesthetic theme.

Following no small amount of preparatory work—“[I] spent more time planning the execution than actually executing the build,” says Snodgrass—RFS59 finally started to take shape. From the beginning, the idea was to create a car that was utterly unique and yet instantly identifiable as a modern exemplar of the Brumos Racing ethos. To achieve that goal, Snodgrass made liberal use of existing aftermarket parts, but modified many of them for a bespoke look.

Perhaps the most prominent example is the Liberty Walk aero kit, which lends the car the steroidally engorged looks of a 1970s FIA racer. The resemblance is, of course, completely intentional.

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“The RFS59 is loosely based off of a 934 RSR…with the exposed bolts on the over-fenders,” says Snodgrass.

It’s an undeniably aggressive look, but getting the Liberty Walk parts to fit the way Snodgrass wanted did require a bit of cosmetic surgery. Jacksonville’s Breitling Autoworks wielded the scalpel, trimming all four fenders and reshaping the rears to center them around the planned larger wheel/tire combination. The kit was then “glassed in” to the car, thus eliminating the factory black-rubber gasket that had previously separated the flares from the rest of the body.

Moving rearward, Snodgrass elected to discard the tallish Liberty Walk spoiler and sub in a subtler, and more historically apposite, ducktail piece from Getty Design in California. It, too, was adapted specifically for the project.

“[Getty] builds these ducktails for most naturally aspirated variants of the cars, but he custom built this one for us incorporating the ducting for the turbo intake,” says Snodgrass. “It is an OEM-like fitment and such a cool key feature of this build, because all Turbos have wings, and most of this type have big Cup Car–spec track spoilers.”

It was during the body-modding process that Snodgrass decided to not only preserve the factory Cream White paint, but make it a focal point of the car’s presentation. Instead of an exact recreation of the Brumos red, white and blue, RFS59 would proudly wear a “relic’ed” take on that familiar scheme, one evoking the time-yellowed keys of an antique Bösendorfer grand piano—or perhaps a certain well-known endurance racer from the team’s formative era. Similarly “faded” body-length stripes of pink and sky blue complete the illusion. It’s a brilliant workaround, both conceptually apt and visually arresting, and RFS59 is the better for it.

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The retro-racer theme carries over to the interior, where Snodgrass began the makeover process by tossing out the factory seats in favor of aggressively bolstered Agency Power Ring GT buckets for the driver and passenger. The rear “seatlets” were left out for good. Naturally, he customized the Agency units to fit RFS59’s distinctive look, refinishing their carbon shells in Cream White and upholstering them in Sand Beige leather with black-and-white houndstooth inserts.

A bolt-in Agency roll bar—powder-coated Cream White, naturally—Rennline pedals and track mats, and a Schroth four-point harness bolster the car’s track cred without exacting a commensurate penalty in the area of occupant comfort.

Equally functional but considerably less subtle is the German-made CAE shift mechanism, which, with its extra-long shaft, exposed inner workings and forged-aluminum construction, resembles nothing so much as the Terminator’s tibia. Armed with cables from a GT3 Cup car, the unit serves up the short, slop-free shifts one would expect from, well, a GT3 Cup car. All the better to make proper use of the immense power flowing from RSF59’s enhanced drivetrain.

Street Lethal

Thanks to the 2009 997 Turbo’s stout engine internals, summoning race car-quality output from RFS59 was a comparatively simple exercise. An engine-computer remap from Jacksonville’s Mase Engineering works in concert with ID1000 fuel injectors, BMC air filters, and custom exhaust-bypass pipes to generate a dynamometer-verified 640 hp and 570 lb-ft of torque on 93-octane pump gas. For reference, the ferociously quick 2017 911 (991.2) Turbo only manages 540/523. Aside from a few supporting mods—upgraded boost hoses, a larger radiator and the like—and a Sachs Stage 2.5 clutch for the six-speed, the rest of the car’s drivetrain remains stock.

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It’s a different story under the body, where Snodgrass replaced the electronically controlled factory suspension hardware with a full KW V3 coil-over setup featuring remote reservoirs. Add in a GT2-spec alignment and corner balancing, and RSF59 is the very definition of a dual-purpose performer.

“The aftermarket suspension really set the car up right,” notes Snodgrass. “KW always does a great job making a suspension that is not overbearing on the street. With the adjustable rebound and dampeners…the car is comfortable for day-to-day use.”

Having perused the current crop of aftermarket 997 wheels and found it wanting, Snodgrass enlisted Velos Designwerks to craft a one-off set of rims for RFS59. Finished in gold with polished lips, the resulting rollers supply yet another visual link to the 934 RSR Turbos of the 1970s.

“They were designed to mimic a full-faced classic BBS wheel,” explains Snodgrass. “We incorporated an 18-inch face on 19-inch barrels, to squish the spokes [and] give the car a more classic look.”

Toyo rubber measuring 265/35-19 and 325/30-19 (front and rear, respectively) and Pagid pads for the stock 997 Turbo brakes complete the package, while a custom underbody skid plate from Stage 6 Motorsports provides extra protection in the event of an unplanned interface with a manhole cover or speed bump.

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“Precise and Perfect”

Since completion, RFS59 has proven its mettle as a rolling advertisement for fiveninedesign, racking up some 2,000 miles on roads around the country. Of those, one trip in particular stands out for its owner.

“My favorite moment in the car was doing the Magnus Walker Road to the Rennsport Rally in late 2015,” he says. “I had the opportunity to drive the car with about 100 other invited Porsche enthusiasts from Walker’s home and shop in Los Angeles all the way to Laguna Seca, with a stop at Willow Springs, [where we] ran 10 to 15 ‘warm’ laps. With the great all-wheel-drive system and the very sticky Toyo R888s, I could tell the car would be a blast at nine or 10/10ths around a track.

“Once at the Rennsport Reunion V, the car was parked under the Brumos transporter and put on display amongst the Brumos Racing 917/10, 918 and GT3 championship car. Following RRV, it was driven all the way down the Pacific Coast Highway from Monterey to Los Angeles, where it was housed until SEMA [the Specialty Equipment Market Association show in Las Vegas].”

As for RFS59’s performance, Snodgrass feels he’s achieved his overarching objective of combining equal doses of speed and usability in an elegant, historically faithful package.

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“The goal was to build a great, all-around-performing car,” he says. “Not a monster-accelerating track beast, but something that would stop, go and turn like a real Porsche. Not over the top, just precise and perfect.”

More importantly, he’s confident that RFS59’s namesake would be pleased with the car that honors his memory.

“I built something that I thought he would be proud of. [While] he may have never built this car himself—cutting the fenders out of a perfectly good Porsche—he surely would be proud of the machine that I have created in his honor.”

Ever Forward

Brumos Racing was wound down as an official racing entity in 2013, and the dealership group sold two years later. Rumors swirl about the team’s possible return to competition, possibly with former Brumos shoe Haywood as a co-owner, but as of this writing, they remain just that: rumors.

What’s next for RFS59? After two years under the stewardship of its creator, the car will soon be headed to a new home in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. And while Snodgrass admits that he’ll miss this seminal 911 custom, he has taken steps to ensure that it doesn’t stray too far from the Brumos fold. He’s also looking forward to a new customizing challenge, though one with a familiar theme.

“Most of my projects eventually find good homes, and almost all of the owners remain close to me,” he says. “I have first right of refusal on [RFS59], should he ever decide to sell it.

“My plans for the future involve building another tribute car for Brumos, to keep the legacy, and #59, alive.”

And so the legend not only lives on, but spreads, like a previously unseen vista unfurling toward a distant horizon.

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