We must wait for the day when automotive artisans reimagine third-gen Camaros or Fox-bodied Mustangs into immaculate carbon-fiber-bodied restomods that command six-figure prices. Until then, we’ll have to keep slumming with the 964-generation of the Porsche 911.
Of course, there are plenty of reasons why the penultimate air-cooled 911 is the frequent muse for high-end tuning outfits. There is no shortage of cars to start with, Porsche having sold more than 60,000 of all variants globally between 1989 and 1994. Interest (and values) are also high enough to find a market for expensive transformations.
The most famous re-creator of the 964 is undoubtedly Singer in California, which has been producing versions that cross the boundary from car to automotive art for more than a decade. But an increasing number of other shops are now getting into the same space. Last year, we told you about an EV version produced by Everrati in the U.K., although we struggled to see what the electric powertrain added to the experience.
Now here’s another British firm, but this one sticks with internal combustion. The small shop is called Theon Design, and it gave C/D the chance to experience a partially carbon-fiber-bodied 964 just before it was shipped to a buyer in Chile, hence the car’s CHI001 name. Oh, and that customer is a successful blueberry farmer, if you’re wondering about the reason for its violently violet color scheme.
As with many similar businesses, Theon Design was born from a personal passion, in this case, the quest of a man named Adam Hawley to build his own perfect 964 while working 9-to-5 as a car designer for big auto companies including Jaguar Land Rover. The car was eventually finished to a standard that had friends and acquaintances asking him to create something similar for them, leading to the establishment of Theon Design with business partner Lucinda Argy, who is also his wife.
While the Theon CHI001 shares its basic form with the 964, its detailing is clearly inspired by that of earlier 911s. It has lost the full-width rear light bar it was built with and gained both 930 Turbo-style bumper overriders and headlamp bezels. The original car underneath the conversion was a Carrera 4 sold in Japan, but it has been stripped to component parts and completely rebuilt. Structural changes include a carbon-fiber roof, trunklid, engine cover, and spoiler. The fenders and bumpers are made from a sturdier carbon-kevlar blend.
Weight saving over a regular 964 is around 220 pounds, according to Hawley, with the part-composite bodywork also making the car stronger. Up close, the attention to detail is close to obsessive, including touches such as the symmetric mounting of the twin ignition coils on the engine firewall and the invisible integration of a center, high-mounted brake light into the rear-window surround.
Theon’s customers have a choice of powertrains, including the intriguing option of a supercharger conversion the company has developed for the air-cooled flat-six. The CHI001 is running a naturally aspirated 4.0-liter engine; individual throttle bodies and careful internal balancing take peak output to 400 horsepower at 7100 rpm. It has also lost its original all-wheel-drive system, and power is now sent exclusively to the rear axle through a six-speed 993-generation gearbox and a limited-slip differential.
Not every part of the experience has been updated. Getting in, we find the familiar, slightly offset driving position, and although beautifully retrimmed in a vibrant hue to match the exterior paint, the cabin’s basic architecture is unchanged. But starting the engine reveals an immediately different character to a regular Carrera of this generation: first, the bark of the exhaust, which switchable acoustic flaps vary from loud to very loud; second is the immediacy of the engine’s responses to even slight accelerator-pedal pressure, thanks to an ultralight flywheel.
Comparing Theon’s car with a regular 964 is made complicated by the increasingly distant memories of what the original car was like when new, but this one drives with a level of poise and precision it seems hard to imagine that any stock 964 possessed even when factory fresh (with the possible exception of the famous RS variant). The CHI001’s steering feels direct and slack-free for an air-cooled 911. It retains hydraulic assistance, but this is now powered by an electric pump. Revised suspension geometry, stiffer bushings, and active dampers increase the precision with which the front end can be placed, although they also mean there is less sense of the 964’s fundamental rear-biased weight distribution in corners.
Easing the accelerator with the chassis loaded up tightens the line progressively but not snappily. The biggest dynamic difference is probably down to the modern Michelin Pilot Sport PS2s mounted on the period Fuchs-style rims, which give an abundance of grip. The ride is firm even with the adaptive dampers in their softest setting, but not uncomfortably so.
Yet the engine is the CHI001’s starring feature—impressively muscular low down but with what feels like an inexhaustible appetite for revs that the scalpel-sharp accelerator encourages a driver to exploit. The tachometer only goes to 8000 rpm, but the limiter is actually another 500 rpm beyond that. Working against just 2570 pounds, it feels 21st-century fast, too. The gearshift is perfectly weighted, and despite the switch to carbon-ceramic brakes, the middle pedal feels similarly natural in its responses.
This love story may have you question our critical faculties, but the car does have some downsides. The first is the price. While considerably short of the seven-figure expenditure required for one of Singer’s pixel-perfect offerings, a buyer will still need to pay Theon around $500,000 (at current exchange rates) to get something similar to this car—plus the cost of the donor 911. The second is the wait: The company already has a substantial order bank it needs to work its way through and can build at no more than five cars a year.
Beyond that, while “perfect” is a strong adjective to apply to any car, the Theon gets dangerously close to earning it.
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