Autonomous cars are coming. It may not be in the next few months, or even years, but the human connection between a car and the road is coming to a close. Many see this event as a boost in safety, as taking the human element out of the car has the potential to lead to fewer mistakes and accidents; a valid argument for autonomy. However, there are those that will lament the death of that quintessential human connection between driver and machine. Peter Nam, CEO of Guntherwerks, is one of those individuals and aimed to keep that connection alive with the 400R.
Built off Porsche’s 993-generation 911 architecture, the Guntherwerks 400R imagines what Porsche would have built if Stuttgart had developed a 993 GT3 RS (the variant was introduced for the 996 generation). The base car has been thoroughly modernized using 2017 manufacturing techniques to build a car Porsche never built. A naturally aspirated flat-six sourced from Rothsport Racing supplies the 400R with 400 horsepower and 330 lb-ft of torque, while carbon fiber fender flares, its hood, the rear spoiler, and a set of seats all do their part to decrease the 400R’s weight to become a punchy maniac’s machine.
We sat down with Peter at the headquarters of his other company, Vorsteiner, which is a purveyor of high-quality custom body and aerodynamic kits for exotics, and talked about his passion for all things Porsche, the death of the car/driver connection, and what made him decide to build a half-a-million-dollar custom 993.
Automobile: What was the impetus for the Guntherwerks 400R?
Peter Nam: I’m a GT3 fan. I’ve had all the modern GT3s, but the GT3 didn’t start until the 996-chassis. There was always this missing-link in the air-cooled world for me because of this. I wanted a car with the analog driving feel and that emotional connection to the driver, as opposed to modern-day cars. When you get to water-cooled cars, you start to lose that connection. You start to feel the computer between you and the car, and you don’t feel as connected. Of course Porsche’s modern GT3s have been able to maintain that steering feel and connection with the driver to a degree, but the 993 was the ultimate driver’s car. You talk to any Porsche enthusiast and they’ll say that the 993 was the best Porsche 911 ever built. It’s the halo of Porsches, but Porsche never built the ultimate 993. We wanted to finally build that car.
AM: What made you say, “we can build a half-million-dollar 911.”
PN: It started purely a passion project. Everyone in the office, and all of my friends, thought I was crazy. At least up until the point that the car made its debut at The Quail. Everyone then understood. We’d been doing body kits for high-end exotics for 14 years very successfully and Guntherwerks started with the realization that we had the capability to manufacture 80-percent of the car in-house.
AM: You’re using Rothsport Racing as your engine supplier, how did you get together with them?
PN: Before we even started the project, we wanted to make sure that we could source the power plant. We wanted to go with whoever was the absolutely best-of-the-best, and when we saw Rothsport’s facility—they even had an engine dyno room, which a lot of people don’t have—we knew it was the right fit. Rothsport’s operation is one of the most famous air-cooled Porsche engine builders. They have amazing racing background and they know these air-cooled engines inside and out.
AM: Have you talked with other Porsche builders? Emory, Singer, Magnus?
PN: We haven’t. We have our own philosophy on this. The car was originally built as an homage to the 993 GT3 RS that Porsche never built. That was our stated goal. We didn’t care what other people were doing. Singer and Emory make great cars, they do their thing, make vintage backdate cars. We wanted to build a 993 GT3 RS regardless of what else what out there in the market. Rather than take examples from everyone else, we said, this is what our vision is and this is what we’re going to build.
AM: Have you talked to Porsche since the launch?
PN: [Laughs] No, so far they haven’t communicated with us. We were worried about getting a Cease and Desist, but I’ve heard through the grapevine from people associated with Porsche, and some that work at Porsche, that because it’s a very period-correct modified car, they’re okay with it so long as we don’t call it a Porsche 911. It’s the 400R, very similar to the 911 Reimagined by Singer.
AM: Where did the name Guntherwerks come from?
PN: It was inspired by a German-American mechanical engineer at NASA in the 1960s named Gunther Wendt. He was known for his meticulous mechanical, reliability, and engineering prowess. He’s actually portrayed in the movie Apollo 13, and Tom Hank’s character, Jim Lovell, trusted him and knew he could rely on his technical capability. That was the same ethos that we wanted for this project and that’s where we drew the idea for the name from.
AM: What does the typical customer look like?
PN: Our typical customer is Porsche people. They own a number of different Porsches and some own many Porsches. Some are slightly older in the sense that they used to run 993s and 964s when they were younger. Our latest customer to sign up, however, had a 993 GT2 Evo as a poster car on his bedroom wall when he was growing up, so what he loved about the car was that the looks aren’t a million miles away from the GT2 Evo, but an evolution of those looks, so it still has that feel. He always wanted an air-cooled 911 and this was just a perfect fit for him.
AM: To the point that most of your clients are Porsche people, and own multiple Porsches, are you sourcing the 993s or are they coming from the client’s own collection?
PN: Some of the customers are supplying their own cars and some have asked us to source a car. One customer has a minty 4,000-mile 993, absolutely perfect, and he’s not touching it, but asked us to find one in similar spec to his. It’s pretty 50/50 right now.
AM: What do you say to people that think you’re bastardizing the best 911?
PN: One of the most important aspects of the 400R project was that we didn’t want to change the car just to change the car and make it different. We wanted to improve on what was already there. In terms of design, we had made every piece like Porsche would’ve made out of its factory in 1995. So, the design language of the car, the fender lines, the bumpers, everything is done in very much the Porsche design language and it looks completely factory. If anything, we’ve been getting compliments from the purists that say, “Wow, this looks like something directly out of the factory. It doesn’t look aftermarket.” We haven’t lost the soul and essence of the car. We’ve maintained it and improved it. There’s a very fine line between changing and modifying a car and ruining the car. We wanted a very OEM design style and driving perspective.
AM: We heard that you moved and changed the power steering pump.
PN: So the 993 is famous for its steering feel because of the hydraulic system. The design of the car is that the engine is at the back of the car and the power steering pump is hanging off the engine and runs hydraulic lines to the front to the steering rack. It’s very, very inefficient. But if you look at what Porsche was doing when it was racing 993 RSRs, Porsche moved the power steering pump to the front and powered it off a supplemental electric battery. It’s still hydraulic, but electrically powered, and there are two benefits to that. First, the pump isn’t sapping power from the engine any longer. Even with a Rothsport engine, that pump could still sap about 5-6 horsepower. And second, it improves the car’s overall weight distribution. We just copied Porsche’s racing notes and applied them here. It was an easy choice to make.
To add to that racing history and heritage, there’s also a centerlock option coming.
PN: Yeah, that will be fun to reveal to the public. It’s definitely something that’s unique to us and this build. It’s cool.
AM: Are all 25 cars already sold?
PN: Well, there are very few slots left. Actually, those may be gone. We’ve just had a frantic call from the manager of a certain musician to high-tail my ass up to Los Angeles to get their deposit. It’s getting pretty manic. It was very surprising, especially since it’s really only been three weeks since its debut. Part of the appeal, at least we think so, is that there will only be 25 cars built.
AM: Now that they’ve all essentially been sold, is there something else in the works that will satisfy what is apparently a ravenous market?
PN: We have the next car planned for The Quail next year. We can’t really reveal any details just yet, but it is in the German category. It will be a groundbreaking car.