Some cars are built, others are developed. This 2006 Cayman S falls into the second category. For the first 2,000 miles of its life, it was merely a superb, unmolested product out of the Porsche factory, then its owner (who prefers to remain unheralded) decided to give it more of a trackable edge. Sounds straightforward, doesn't it? But it's funny how cars rarely stick to the script.
Blowing a whole wad of cash on a bunch of go-faster parts is fun in its own way, although the more finely balanced a car is-the Cayman being a perfect example-the easier it is to throw everything out of whack. Improving a Porsche-making it faster, getting it to handle better-means having to do everything Porsche engineers have done and then doing more. And spending more money.
It turned out that some of the new parts from a less-than-thorough aftermarket supplier didn't fit right. A new 4.1-liter engine had to sit a fraction of an inch lower in the bay; shock absorber tubes had the wrong diameter. Time to call in an expert. Michael Pechstein of Vintage Motorsports, Pottstown, Pa, stepped up to the camber plate. His company not only looks after classic exotica, as its name suggests, it also has a facility to design, develop and make one-off track specials. VM started by building new engine mounts and fitting an aero kit.
"At that point, we took a couple of steps back and decided to go through everything," says Pechstein. Then came the first of two great ideas: OEM Plus. Parts from 996 and 997 Cup cars were brought in. Note the 997 Cup front end. And the braking system is from a GT3 Cup; basically Brembo, running twin 997 GT3 Cup master cylinders and augmented here by Wrightwood Racing discs with aluminum hats: 348mm (13.7 inches) up front and 330mm (13 inches) at the rear.
There's something classy and cool about Porsches running black and chrome rims, evoking the old Fuchs alloys. These wheels are three-piece BBS E88 18-inchers, running nine inches wide up front and ten inches wide at the rear. Although the car sometimes uses Yokohama slicks, the rubber here is Hoosier R6 competition, sized 245/35 and 275/35. "The Cayman's ABS system is susceptible to tire changes, so we had to address that, but we nailed it."
And so to the second good call. If there's one name inextricably linked with racing Porsches in America, it's Penske. That's a whole bunch of trackside research and development right there, a lot of which has gone into suspensions. Penske produces its own racing three-way adjustable (rebound and high/low compression) racing shocks for Porsche Cup cars, and a set has gone into this Cayman.
"We were really after the handling," says Pechstein. "There was a lot involved in making it handle right every time." It took a year of fine-tuning, with Penske engineers coming to track sessions at Thunderbolt in New Jersey and Watkins Glen, plus the input from hot shoe David Donohue, who is no stranger to winning races like Le Mans and the 24 Hours of Daytona. And certainly no stranger to Porsches. "It's fun and forgiving," says Donohue. "There's no drama. It just goes."
As anyone conversant with the dark art of suspension tuning knows, lowering a car screws up the geometry, affecting the roll center. By using the Penske pieces and Hypercoil springs, this became a non-issue. "We have a really trick suspension now," says Pechstein. "We can make quick spring changes. There's a lot of adjustability there." Does that mean the car can be driven in comfort to the track and then get stiffened up for the more exciting part of the day? "Not really," says Pechstein. "We tend to adjust for different tracks. Although if you were driving this car solely on the road for a few months, we might make some changes. But it's a very usable car, friendly to drive."
That bigger engine didn't pan out, so the car is currently running a stock engine and gearbox (along with a 9ff single-mass flywheel). "The factory ratios are really nice for street and track," says Pechstein. There is an aftermarket limited-slip differential in the mix at the moment, but Pechstein is unconvinced as to its reliability. "We might remove it and go back to the open rear," he says. "With the Penske shocks and extremely adjustable suspension, it's not too difficult to keep the car flat through the corners. That translates to little or no inside wheel spin."
In the meantime, Pechstein is building a new engine that should be ready for the summer, using the Boxster/Cayman M96 engine as its base. "We will have a custom crankshaft," he says. "Then we can deal with the known issues of the intermediate shaft." By that, he means oil leaks and bearing failures. "It will also have six throttle bodies and Motec ignition." The car already sports a center radiator from a GT3 (under which is an unnamed power steering fluid cooler) and a Porsche oil cooler originally meant for a 3.8-liter engine.
By fitting custom RS-type door panels, it means the car loses some storage space from those large standard pockets, but gains some clearance for the six-point roll cage Vintage Motorsports created and installed. The driver and passenger are held in place by Recaro Profi seats and Schroth Enduro racing harnesses.
If anyone reading this has considered the amount of time and expensive parts put into this car, and had a feeling of impending dread, here's some bad news and some good news. Turning this Cayman into what is essentially a mid-engined 911 (a better layout, some would argue) has cost the best part of $100,000. That's the trouble with being a trail-blazer. And that sum includes the parts that were ultimately left off.
There is some hope, though, for those of us who would like something similar but don't have a well-paid gig at Goldman Sachs. "To do it again to another car would certainly be cheaper," says Pechstein. And unlike a lot of project cars, this one feels complete. "There are no loose ends in the car," says Donohue. "It's really nicely done."
Transverse front engine, front-wheel drive
3.4-liter flat six, dohc, 24-valve
Six-speed manual, 9ff dual-mass flywheel
Hypercoil springs, Penske three-way adjustable dampers
OEM 997 GT3 Cup assemblies, Wrightwood Racing rotors, Pagid pads
Wheels & Tires
BBS alloys, 18-inch
Hoosier R6, 245/35 (f), 275/35 (r)
OEM 997 GT3 Cup front end
Custom six-point roll cage, Recaro Profi seats, Schroth harnesses, custom RS-style door panels