‘You can have any 10 cars, money no object. What are they?’ That was the question Autocar’s Matt Prior posed to his Twitter followers a couple of months ago. Scroll through the 714 responses and nominations for the McLaren F1, Ferrari F40, Honda NSX and Land Rover Defender all crop up regularly. But the most popular car, by far, is the Porsche 911.
The problem – and it’s very much a #firstworldproblem – is which Porsche 911 to choose. Perhaps a pure and pretty 2.0 from the early 1960s? Or a Carrera 2.7 RS, the original Rennsport with its iconic ducktail? Maybe you’d prefer the ‘widowmaker’ 930 Turbo, the fearsome 993 GT2, the limited-edition 911R or a brand new 992 GT3? After 58 years of continuous production, the world’s greatest sports car offers an embarrassment of riches.
Me? I’d like something that combines the classic look, air-cooled character and modest footprint of earlier 911s with modern road manners and reliability. I’d also want a car that I could conceivably drive every day. Even if I had, er, nine others to choose from. Turns out I want something like the Porsche 911 by Theon Design.
A Porsche obsessive
Theon Design is based in so-called ‘Motorsport Valley’ near Silverstone, an area rich in Formula One suppliers and engineering expertise.
Co-founder Adam Hawley is an experienced car designer, having honed his craft at Jaguar, Lotus, BMW and Lexus. He’s also a lifelong Porsche obsessive, who turned his passion into a business after building his own restomod 911.
“It was a 1979 SC with the engine from a 993 Supercup racer,” he reminisces. “Every time I parked or filled up with fuel, people would stop me and ask about it.”
In his office above the workshop, Adam still has the die-cast 930 Turbo he played with as a child. “It was the only toy car I didn’t smash up,” he laughs. “Now I get to play with the real thing.”
Refine, not reinvent
Theon Design only produces three cars a year, a process that takes around 18 months, and each one is unique. Despite this blank canvas approach, Adam says they retain their essential “Porscheness”. Theon’s mission is to “refine the classic 911, not reinvent it”.
Each project starts life as a 964-era (1989-1993) 911, which Adam can source for you if needed. The body is stripped down and rebuilt in steel or carbon fibre, with 3D design software to ensure perfect symmetry. Engine options range from standard 285hp 3.6-litre to a fiery 400hp 4.0 with an RS crank.
The car I’m here to drive, named ‘Hong Kong 002’ after the location of its soon-to-be owner, has steel panels, carbon bumpers and a 371hp 3.8 flat-six. With just 1,248kg to shift, that should be ample.
Porsches of the past
Adam says he is “fixated on detail” and a walk around his latest creation leaves you in no doubt. Panel gaps are perfect, the khaki green paint is lustrous and the car’s stance – lowered on KW Variant 3 suspension with deep-dished Fuchs alloys – looks spot-on.
Porsche geeks can play a game of spot-the-influence, too. The electric bullet mirrors are inspired by the 991 Speedster, the ducktail spoiler riffs on the 2.7 RS and the quad tailpipes are a hat-tip to the 930.
The overall look is quite subtle, though: a classic ‘long bonnet’ 911 with a hint of modern muscle. You could, in theory, go for flip paint and a double-deck rear wing, but Adam may try to talk you out of it.
Retro meets modern
You’ll discover more surprise-and-delight features inside. Plastic switches are recreated in tactile aluminium, while gorgeous woven leather swathes the dashboard and Recaro seats. The original DIN radio is ditched for a wireless phone charger and Bluetooth speakers.
Again, there are respectful nods to Porsche’s past. The armrests resemble those of the 356 and the sculpted rear seats are inspired by the 928. Recessed green gauges and a Nardi steering wheel were both features of pre-1974 911s, too.
At heart, though, this is still a 964, with an upright windscreen, skinny roof pillars and quirky, floor-hinged pedals. As I twist the key and the engine barks boisterously into life, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
The joy of flat-six
You can keep your 2,000hp electric hypercars – and indeed your twin-turbocharged new supercars. Give me the linear response and intensity of a naturally aspirated petrol engine every time.
The 911 breathes through AT Power individual throttle bodies and drives the rear wheels via a six-speed manual gearbox from a 993. Alternatively, start with a Carrera 4 and you could have a four-wheel-drive version.
Smooth and flexible – maximum torque is 300lb ft – the flat-six is perfectly amenable at low speeds. Yet it longs to fill its lungs and wring out more revs. On a quiet A-road near Theon Design HQ, it inhaled the tarmac without pausing for breath.
The noise is just epic: a guttural induction roar that rips the air asunder as it builds to a 6,900rpm crescendo. Then Adam twists the former fog light switch, the exhaust baffles close and all is calm again. Phew.
Finding a better balance
Porsche 911s of old are famed for their ‘challenging’ handling – largely thanks to the engine being behind the back axle. Cleverly, via lightweight parts and relocating the air-con and power steering pumps to the front boot, Theon has mitigated this effect. Front:rear weight distribution of 43:57 is a huge improvement over a standard 964.
Behind the wheel, that translates into feeling less like a trad 911, but better balanced and more exploitable as a result. The car turns in eagerly and holds its line with unwavering focus and huge grip. Naturally, the lack of 2021-spec electronic stability systems lingers at the back of my mind, but this Porsche only starts to feel intimidating when I remember how much it costs. We’ll come to that in a second.
If I have a gripe, it’s that the suspension set-up is rather firm and unforgiving – particularly for city driving. I’d be tempted to slacken off the coilovers a little and fit some softer seats. I want to drive this car every day, remember? If only.
One for the list
There are other Porsche restomods available, of course, not least the 911 Reimagined by Singer. However, while Theon Design’s effort has a similar aesthetic and equally flawless finish, it costs from £300,000 – around half the price of the Californian car.
If you live in the UK, you can also visit the workshop in Oxfordshire, meet Adam and see your car being built. An important consideration when every detail, from the paint colour to the leather trim around the fuel filter, is bespoke.
One for the dream garage, then? Absolutely. This is a car that ticks all my boxes. Not that I wouldn’t squeeze a few other 911s into my top 10, you understand. A 3.0 RSR or an SC RS? A 964 Turbo 3.6 or a 997 GT3 RS 4.0? Nobody said this would be easy…
Tim Pitt writes for Motoring Research