The Porsche 911 Customized by Singer – /CHRIS HARRIS ON CARS


[CAR ENGINE] CHRIS HARRIS: I’ve wanted to
drive a Singer 911 from the moment I first saw the car
several years ago. And finally the chance
has arrived. This is a machine rooted in
passion, obsession, and perfection. Each Singer is born in this
shed somewhere in LA. We’re going to spend some time
with the man behind the car, Rob Dickinson, and then we’re
going to drive it on some Californian twisties, and then
we’ll take it to a circuit and let it move around
a little more. And by the end of the show, I
sincerely hope that you will feel you’ve seen what goes
into making one of these gorgeous machines. ROB DICKINSON: If you come in
here, this is what the car was going to look like. I started to think,
why can’t– you’ve got this wonderful
interchangeability of parts in the air-cooled era. Why can’t you try and create– I know you wouldn’t want to
use the word “market,” but suggest to the world that
maybe there could be a possible ultimate 911. So cherry pick from all of
these wonderful parts. Let’s take the best engine,
shove it in the best chassis, put the best brakes on it, best,
best, best, best, best. Develop it properly, so
it doesn’t feel like a Frankenstein car. And then present it to the
world, to a bunch of guys that maybe have never driven
a proper, sorted air-cooled car before. And then it snowballed, and the
wheels became available. And we thought, ah, bigger
wheels, bigger brakes. And as you can imagine, the
slippery slope started. But this is a car that we’d
still like to investigate. A simpler car, a less exotic
car, a less extravagant car. Still beautifully executed
and beautifully done. Maybe sold in a modular way. So we sell a body kit, and we
sell a wheel and brake package and a suspension package. All nicely boxed so people
get stuff that’s been properly developed. They screw it on and it works. A lot of these guys are at the
mercy of some of these Porsche shops by having stuff screwed
on that hasn’t necessarily been developed to work
as a team, and all that kind of stuff. We think that maybe we can use
the big, fancy car as a trickle down thing. So maybe we can offer something
to guys like me who can’t afford what we do. Kind of grassroots guys who love
these things but maybe appreciate what we’ve done with
this crazy car, but it’s obviously maybe not something
that they can afford. And do something that I can
afford and they can afford. CHRIS HARRIS: That’s me. ROB DICKINSON: And that’s maybe
plan B for next year. Give you some idea of– CHRIS HARRIS: You’ve got
to see this Mac. Come look at his Mac. This is a [BLEEP] war zone. ROB DICKINSON: Sorry
about that. So these are the early days. These are the early days,
clay modeling. We wanted to sketch one side
of the car in here. So this is the ’88 3.2 Carrera
that became the orange car. So this is our early– we’d just got the 17-inch
wheels, [INAUDIBLE] prototypes. CHRIS HARRIS: It was all just
hand clay sculpted. ROB DICKINSON: Hand
clay sculpted. So anyway, so we sketched
the car in here. And then we took it to the prototyping facility in Irvine– Aria Group– who then digitized one side. And then we clayed the other
side of the car. Just see, it’s starting to
make a lot of sense. That took us a year. A year of [BLEEP] work. Going, I’m going to [BLEEP] this car up. Everyone is going to laugh at me
if I don’t get this right. Total stressing. The first set of molds for
the first two cars were lifted off the clay. And then when we realized that
we were going to move to the 964 chassis, we had to
redo everything. But this company spent a whole
month and a ton of our money to get the 964. Because we had to retool
for the 964 because of the wheelbase. CHRIS HARRIS: Did you have
to do everything again? ROB DICKINSON: The wheelbase
was different. I’ve got photographs of that
if you want to see [INAUDIBLE]. CHRIS HARRIS: That’s
just nuts. ROB DICKINSON: The idea
was just to clean it up a little bit. Take some of the jowls out of
it, and just give it a little bit of a nip and tuck. CHRIS HARRIS: And that ended
up taking two years and hundreds of thousands
of dollars. ROB DICKINSON: Yeah. When we first came up with this
idea to do this Singer thing, it was going
to have these. It was going to be a 15-inch
wheeled car. CHRIS HARRIS: But
you could do it. That’s what we did. ROB DICKINSON: Yeah. And then these wheels came
along, and we started to think, wow, bigger wheels
means bigger brakes. Opens up a few possibilities. We knew these tires were cool,
but, as you say, compromised. We wanted to use the 270/45 on
a 9-inch rim, which I think you probably put this tire
on your 9 inch on the back of your car. So, anyway, I had some special
10-inch wheels made up. So this is a 10 by 15 Fuchs,
cut and welded here for the purposes of the prototyping
that we were going to do. And I just wanted that perfect
kind of stretch. CHRIS HARRIS: That is
perfect, isn’t it. ROB DICKINSON: Didn’t look
like it was too chubby. Didn’t look like
it was a ricer, kind of overly stretched. But I tell you what, Chris,
the guy that does these wheels, Harvey Weidman, is– he does these wheels and
everyone calls them works of art, and they are. In my view, the wheels
maketh the car. The wheels and the tires
maketh any car. You can have the [BLEEP] car in the world, you put
the right wheel and tire combination on it, suddenly
it goes, oh, I fancy that. You know that. CHRIS HARRIS: And, obviously,
their relationship to the body work as well. ROB DICKINSON: Exactly. CHRIS HARRIS: Without wanting
to bring it down to a base level, they just look
right, don’t they? ROB DICKINSON: Yeah. I mean, the car has to look
planted and confident. There’s a confidence to the
car, I think, which people immediately pick up on. I don’t think there’s– it’s difficult for people to
quantify and put their finger on it sometimes, but there’s
a confidence. We didn’t want to create
an overly aggressive, macho-looking 911. 911’s, to me, have always had
a friendly face and a businesslike rear. And we wanted to retain that. We wanted the car to not scare
girls and for it to be not just a male, red-blooded thing,
but to be beautiful. If ever a car authentically and
truthfully betrayed its underpinnings, it’s
the Porsche 911. It’s shaped– it’s got no engine
at the front, so it’s got no high bonnet. It’s got round headlights,
because they’re the most functional and efficient. An engine at the back,
and the body shape suggests that it has. It’s got enough space for four
people, at a pinch, inside. It is the car. It is the only car you could
potentially have to have in your collection. And the whole deal with the
Singer was to try and create a wonderful compromise where we
pulled in all these fabulous things from the air-cooled era
to make one car that you could– if you only had to have
one car in your garage, and maybe you’d like to take it
to the track occasionally. Maybe you’d like to put your
kids in the back occasionally. Maybe you’d like to commute
to in it occasionally. Maybe, the wonderful duality
that is the 911, we could turn the volume up a little bit and
make it as sexy, as desirable, as efficient, and as
fast as possible. And that’s what the car’s
about, really. CHRIS HARRIS: I can’t say
any more than that. It’s a very, very, erudite
description of what is, in layman’s terms, just
a plain horny car. ROB DICKINSON: Thank you. CHRIS HARRIS: Lovely. Lovely, lovely, lovely. Now look, I could have talked to
Rob about the gestation of this car for hours. And it’s clear that Rob could
have reciprocated the favor because it basically
involved discussing every cool car in existence. But there comes a point when
reality beats theory, and I just wanted to drive
the car itself. I really wanted to drive
the car itself. The Singer on the road. Well, first of all, we’ve got
quite a firm ride on this car. It’s solidly mounted at
the back side, no bushings or rose jointed– quite busy. But the [INAUDIBLE]
isn’t too bad. It’s got all that sound
deadening in it. Steering– direct and power assisted, but
this lovely little prototypal wheel just wriggles around. If you’re someone that’s
bemoaning the lack of hydraulic assisted steering in
a 911, don’t come and drive one of these, because it’s just
going to make you feel even more angry about
electric steering. Noise, well, yeah,
it’s all there. This engine is lovely. Nice road car engine as well. This car’s got quite
short gearing. So, first, second, third,
nice and short. Gives you load of punch
out of slower turns. Gearshift Itself
is exceptional. They’ve taken the standard 964
shifter, taken as much rubber out of it as possible,
made it really direct, and it’s lovely. [CAR ENGINE] CHRIS HARRIS: On a windy,
little, mountain road in California, in
uncharacteristically bad weather, it has to be
said, [INAUDIBLE] lots of traction. Lots of traction. It feels very 911 at the
front, but nicely so. Oh, yes. Oh, yes. Do you know what? There’s a sense of occasion
sitting in it, which kind of makes you overlook some
of the stuff. Knowing what we know about the
underpinnings, there’s so much you can do with the dampers and
the springs anyway, you could get this car to handle,
I think, pretty much the way you want it to. And it’s really not far
off the way it is now. They haven’t even started
doing the full testing on this car yet. The engine’s lovely,
just lovely. Wow. There’s some nice scenery
around here. Oh, I know I crap on about it,
but older 911’s are such lovely cars, and they make
amazing bases for these kind of exercises. What a car. What a car. You could live with this
every single day. It’s lovely. The cabin. I want to tell you
about this cabin. You need to sit in it with
me to feel the quality, to smell the hide. It’s just utterly, utterly
beautiful. And people look at it. They really, really
look at it. As a road car, it’s a nice
balance of fun, excitement, but competence. Special mention for the sound
deadening, as well. This is much, much quieter
than I ever got my green 911 to be. Although it’s quite booming
in the exhaust area. Again, I think a bit more
on the exhaust. It’s just a really
nice place to be. But is it a bit better on
a more open race track? I suppose we have to go and
find out, don’t we? Now hold that thought
for a second. Before we get ragged on the
circuit, you need to witness the crazy level of detail
invested in each Singer. Maz here is the fountain of
all knowledge about what’s happened to the car, and
why they did what, and everything else. And we discussed earlier that he
was a tits, rather than an ass man, so we’re going to start
at the front of the car. OK? Right. This doesn’t look right to me. -It’s not. CHRIS HARRIS: I know
the inside of 911. This has been played with. -Well, to begin with, we
use the long hood. So the latch for the
964 is about here. So we cut that piece out
and we buy the latch from the early car. However, we have to accommodate
for lots and lots and lots of cooling
down below. So we’ve built this box. Actually, the fabrication
starts about there. And we remap the ABS unit where
it belongs and try to make it look like it
was born that way. CHRIS HARRIS: So we’ve got lots
of cooling going under here which is beautiful–
we did some cut away so you can see that– but, little fan units. The build quality is very
much motorsport. It just looks like a
racing car to me. It looks like a beautifully
built racing car. Which is apt because these
light units are from a– -LMP. Hella has an LMP unit that
they supply to everybody. CHRIS HARRIS: And it’s because
it will go up and down for flashing? -You got it. CHRIS HARRIS: OK. -And it’s pretty. And it’s the right size. CHRIS HARRIS: It’s utterly
beautiful. And how much is one of those? -Probably $400 or $500. CHRIS HARRIS: Do you need the
fuel filler cap that big? -Yes. No, no, no, no. A lot of what we do is governed
by how it looks. But underneath there it’s
fully functional. CHRIS HARRIS: That’s
just beautiful. So, top mounts, Ohlins? -The top mounts, these are kind
of a prototype piece. There’s a company on the
East Coast that are building them with them. They’re sealed. So again, what we did was we
went to a lot of race car guys, the sort of best in
class race car parts. But they don’t make street car
stuff, so we have to ask them to adjust what they’re doing for
what we do, which is build a road car. People think they want a bunch
of motorsport bits on, but once you go down the road and
things are clanking and clacking, it gets old
very, very quick. CHRIS HARRIS: I’ve been
there, done that. Now, 17-inch rims give you the
chance to have big brakes. So this is the classic 993
Turbo brake setup, is it? -You’ve got it. The idea was that it
would bolt up, no problem, kind of no BS. It would just work. And we took a look at– we worked with Brembo for a
bit to look at an actual motorsport caliper and rotor. And it was just sort of exactly
what we were trying to avoid was a car that just
wouldn’t work well, or wouldn’t feel right or have
some compromise to it. What was nice is Porsche
did a lot of the work. And we tried to take the best
stuff that they did and stick it on here. We knew it would work. We knew it would fit. It’s pretty easy to
ruin a great car. We had to leave the OEM world
for things like modern damping, though, which is– CHRIS HARRIS: Been
down that route. That’s a beautiful looking
Ohlins three-way, which is just stunning. But outside of that, there’s so
much bespoke bracketing and bits and bobs to hold
new body panels on. It’s all completely different. -Yeah. These are all ours. We either make them here
or we have them made. And everything’s new. There’s nothing re-used. There’s nothing old. And, of course, there’s a
lot of electrical stuff. Everything matters, every bit. This is for a turn signal. CHRIS HARRIS: It’s absolute,
high quality, motorsport connector, isn’t it? -It’s as good as it gets. CHRIS HARRIS: Cabin. So what we haven’t said is that
this is based on a 964. That’s quite well known. But, again, completely new. I mean it’s a re-dipped
shell, isn’t it? Everything’s been completely
made to look new. -The shell’s been taken down to
metal and then given this E-coat, which is an
anti-corrosion coat, before the carbon panels are
bonded to the car. We adjust the dash. There’s no air bag, but we
filled a bunch of holes and made a few adjustments
here and there. This, of course, accepts that
big milled aluminum dash panel that attaches in
front of here. And, if you noticed, we could
get a new one of these old OEM 220’s and stick it
behind the dash. And we’ve adjusted the
way the buttons work. This is the OEM HVAC unit, but
it’s been refaced and painted. We tried to make it look a
little old school without losing any functionality, which
is always a balance. And certainly, electronically,
everything has to be replaced in here. This is a bespoke harness,
front to rear. CHRIS HARRIS: How much does
the harness cost? -A mere $30,000. CHRIS HARRIS: This carpet
is actually– this is 356 carpet, isn’t it? It just looks perfect. Coarse, hard wearing,
but again, somehow feels luxurious. I don’t know how you make some
thing that looks like it’s got Labrador hair sticking
out of it feel luxurious, but it does. -Underneath the carpet is
the sound deadening. We hired a gentleman who spends
his time quieting private planes. So he deals with problems that
no car manufacturer has ever approached in terms of
sound and weight. So it’s covered in
multiple layers. It doesn’t look very scientific,
but it’s actually how they do it in planes. There’s a strategy in
the layering and the types of materials. And he spent a lot of time in
the car with microphones and another kinds of measurement
machines, and this is the package we have right now. CHRIS HARRIS: Engine
bay, come on. Business end. Motor by Cosworth? -Yep. CHRIS HARRIS: How many liters? -3.8. CHRIS HARRIS: And we’re
saying 350 horsepower, but I drove it yesterday. Feels like it might have a bit
more than that to me, unless they’re lying about the weight
at 1,200 kilograms. Wow. A thing of beauty, again. GT3 crank in this one? -GT3 crank, individual throttle
bodies, coil on plug, so there’s a gaping hole where
distributors would be. CHRIS HARRIS: Piston
and rod to your design, or just the piston? -Cosworth specified all the
outsourced stuff, so they had Carrillo make us a rod, a very
special, lightweight rod that’s still going
to work for– it’s still going to be
a 100,000-mile motor. And a piston– they really spec’d
the whole thing. We hand them a case, a few other
bits and bobs, and some heads, and everything else comes
in from other suppliers. And then they tolerance them,
and put it together, and stick it on the dyno for a day,
and ship it over here. CHRIS HARRIS: Now what I suspect
we can’t see on this car is one of the most important
in the whole story. You’re switching to this new
bespoke panel widths and panel shapes for the front
of your fenders. And they’re made from carbon. -Yep. CHRIS HARRIS: So can you show us
where the carbon begins and where it ends? -Well, this car has
a carbon roof. So effectively, the stock window
frame is still here, but we’ve cut out very close
to the lines there. It has a carbon roof bonded on
that comes down to about here. Then the panel, which is a
little tough to see, but everything on this side of the
chassis– so the outside the window frame– is completely
composite, starting here, all the way down and through
the front of the car. So before this is put on, it’s
just an odd kind of skeleton of the inside of the window,
which is metal. So from here forward, of course,
the hood, the bumper. We’ve got steel up here. Of course, this doesn’t
change. CHRIS HARRIS: Yeah. -But yeah. And it’s tremendously strong
and its tremendously light. CHRIS HARRIS: And the molds,
obviously all yours. -Yeah. CHRIS HARRIS: As you’ve probably
now realized, the lengths they’ve gone to to get
to the stage where it’s all repeatable, that’s the
impressive thing. You’ve reached the stage
now where you can see. Look at the quality
of this product. And it’s all repeatable. It’s just that you’ve got to
write the check to buy all the expensive bits. -And we went through several
stages of tooling. It didn’t happen
the first time. We really had to try,
and try, and try. As much as you try to engineer
it, it doesn’t matter until you stick it on the car
and make sure it fits. Then you have go back
and retool, readjust until you get it right. Now it’s right. CHRIS HARRIS: How many
thousand dollars? -Depends on the spec. As low as high threes,
mid- to high three’s, but as high as 500. It depends on– CHRIS HARRIS: As low
as high $300,000? -Yeah, it’s– CHRIS HARRIS: You do understand
the dictionary definition of the word
low, don’t you? Just beautiful. Just beautiful. And now, you probably think it
would be a crime to take this piece of four-wheeled OCD
onto a racetrack. But that’s not a notion I’ve
ever felt any sympathy for so, this is the track bit now. But here’s the thing. It’s not actually very easy
to jump into a Singer and just drive it. Not because the car’s
obstructive but because you’re constantly distracted by the
details, the sheer beauty of the shapes, the dish of the
wheels, the gorgeous seats, the, well, just everything
really. It oozes levels of
undiluted want. Dangerous levels of the stuff. But eventually, you have
to just wring its neck. [CAR ENGINE] CHRIS HARRIS: Of course, the
Singer 911 is not designed to be a track car, but the guys
wanted to have some track performance. And It’s got just that. They’re claiming 350 horsepower
from this Cosworth designed and developed
and built engine. Well, to me, it feels every bit
as strong as that, maybe even stronger. The car weighs 1,200 kilograms,
but it hasn’t had much development, even though
it’s got these three-way adjustable Ohlins dampers. So at the moment, it’s
a very sharp car. Really drives like
a classic 911. You’ve got to stop it
in a straight line. If you back off, it
wants to rotate. So you’ve got to keep
your footing. And then, it’s glorious. Listen to it. We just back off, though– [CAR ENGINE] CHRIS HARRIS: It’s so beautiful
to look at, and the driving experience matches
the beauty. And that’s why it’s one of the
more special cars that I’ll drive this year. It’s just gorgeous. OK. You can argue that it needs a
set of [INAUDIBLE] tires, and the brake balance [INAUDIBLE] forwards. And there’s many things you
could say about it as a track car, but it’s not designed
to be a track car. If you bought this thing and
you were brave enough to go and do a track day in something
so gorgeous, you wouldn’t be disappointed. I actually quite like
the edginess of it. But there’s a few things
they can do to iron the chassis out. But look at me, it’s
not as if I’m not enjoying myself, is it. [CAR ENGINE and TIRES
SQUEALING] CHRIS HARRIS: The engine is just
lovely, lovely, lovely. It responds and breathes the
top end like a water cooled engine, like a GT3 engine. But it’s got a GT3
crank in it. [CAR ENGINE] CHRIS HARRIS: Look where I am. I’m in the middle of a desert,
on a beautiful, sparse racetrack, with a car that is
making a noise like that. There’s worse days, Monkey. There’s worse days. Standard Michelin sport
tires, they do a perfectly good job here. They’re getting a bit ragged
on the shoulders. Other than that, just a
sensational motor car. [CAR ENGINE] CHRIS HARRIS: [INAUDIBLE]
is electric. Proper old-fashioned, floor
hinged pedal box. It’s just the classic 911
experience with more performance, more beauty, and
some creature comforts, and some skids. [CAR ENGINE] CHRIS HARRIS: Fantastic
motor car. Oh, yes. The Singer shouldn’t have, and
doesn’t need, great track performance, but out of the box,
it’s not far away from having it already. It’s a special thing. Could you really spend half
a million dollars on a reimagined 911? If I had the folding, you
know what, I could. In many ways, this is my perfect
car– small, fast enough, challenging, exciting,
beautiful, and altered in a way that concentrates the bits
of old 911’s that I love, and yet updates the bits that
I would happily discard. What more can I say than,
what a spectacular way to start 2013.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *