I sold my ’81 911 SC on a beautifully sunny and soul-crushing day in March 2014. It left on a flatbed truck, an undignified method for the best sports car in the world to travel. At that moment, it wasn’t my favorite 911, even though it was mine. I hadn’t driven it for a few years. My favorite 911 is almost always the most recent example I’ve driven—even if it was a 996 Tiptronic cabriolet. But having just driven both the legendary Magnus Walker 277 1971 911 T and a Sharkwerks 2008 997 GT2 back to back on some of California’s best canyons as well as our test track, how could I choose a favorite now?
The story of 277 is a simple one. Boy meets Porsche, boy modifies Porsche until it is far more than the sum of its parts. The modifier in question is Magnus Walker, who in the last few years has become a bit of a Porsche shaman. Walker is not a typical tuner. He isn’t building cars for customers, he isn’t building race cars. He’s just the guy we would all be, given the chance. He buys the cars he likes and modifies them to his vision. He has a style, but very few rules.
His 911 is similar to other long-hood cars I’ve driven, but still has a distinct personality. Since its launch, the 911 has been a mass-produced car. Although the numbers in the early days are a fraction of what Porsche puts out today, the cars were still built on an assembly line with identical components pulled from boxes. There should be no illusion that these were handbuilt cars. Today, examples of this vintage and used as the gods intended have become a bit more handbuilt—or maybe hand-rebuilt, to be more accurate.
The majority of this car has been upgraded, repaired, or replaced. This is how the car is shaped. The guy turning the wrenches endows the car with pieces of himself. A car, like a child, is a combination of instinct and environment. Porsche endowed it with a certain amount of nature and then, over time, the nurturing has come from owners.
Walker’s nurturing includes suspension refinements that keep the racy aesthetic, along with an interesting engine choice. The easy way with an early 911 is to swap in a newer, fuel-injected engine. It’s simple and it works, so it’s hard to fault. Walker, on the other hand, likes older, pre-owned race engines found on the relative cheap. His is assembled within a ’66 2.0L aluminum case. He has a 66mm crank with 92mm pistons. That totals 2.6 liters of delightfully revvy and almost comically oversquare displacement.
If “stump pulling” is your gauge for low-end torque, the most gardening you’ll be doing under 4,000 rpm is uprooting a sickly daisy. It spins to a GT3-like 8,000 rpm, making incredible noises along the way. It breathes through Weber carburetors and the exhaust comprises equal-length headers and a twin-tip muffler—simple and effective.
Suspension specifications are equally straightforward. The only exotic pieces are modified front struts. MacPherson strut suspensions always suffer when the car is lowered. The roll-center (the axis around which the body rotates from cornering forces) drops down the more the car is slammed. It will drop faster than the center of gravity, causing even more body roll. Walker had the front spindle relocated higher on the strut housing. It keeps the suspension geometry the same while lowering the body. It also helps reduce bumpsteer and keeps the wheel in the favorable area of the camber curve. Aside from that, stiffer torsion bars and antiroll bars are used with Bilstein Sport dampers.
The wheels are a collaboration with Fifteen52, a company renowned for being on the cutting edge and creating trends. The design looks like a typical Fuchs, but with the raised spoke cut out. Walker uses Hoosier R6 tires every day. The R6 is essentially a race slick with just enough tread drawn on it by the factory to get a DOT stamp. This particular set is more than a year old and probably fit for retirement. It doesn’t seem to slow down the car. Inside 277 is more race-car functional than restomod lounge that’s so often the case in older Porsches. This is exactly the opposite of something like a Singer. No popular spring-gated upgraded shifter. The race seats and belts are well worn from hours of track time. They don’t match: One’s a Sparco, the other a MOMO. The gauges are stock, the speedometer’s broken. The MOMO steering wheel fits so perfectly it should have been standard equipment. The stock plastic shift knob for the 915 is so small by modern standards that it makes me smile on the first couple of shifts.
The ’08 Sharkwerks GT2 is 37 years newer. The jump from 277 to Alex Ross’ latest creation makes it seem like 137 years. It makes me appreciate how fast cars evolve. Even without driving them. Walker’s 2.6L produces a satisfying if sometimes elusive 220 hp (my estimate). Ross’ car is rated at 775 hp. Let’s call it three and half times more. Evolution Motorsports (EVOMS) provided the creatively named EVT775 kit. Nearly everything external of the heads that flows intake air or exhaust gas has been replaced: turbos, intercoolers, throttle body, headers, catalytic convertors, all the way to the mufflers. The results border on brutal.
Most of the replacement parts shave a pound or two here or there; the Champion Motorsport wheels are probably the biggest win in the war on weight. The 19-inch rears are each 8 pounds lighter than stock, while the fronts are 5 pounds lighter. Ross uses Michelin Pilot Sport Cup tires, an aggressive road and track tire Porsche has been favoring on its fastest models.
I jumped headfirst into the deep end, taking the GT2 on a technical canyon road east of Los Angeles. In recent years, the stock 997 GT2 RS is one of the few cars to have scared me. I (along with our testing director and just about anyone else who got behind the wheel) had great, big, smoky spins while testing at El Toro airfield. After testing, I actually contacted Ross to see if he wanted to start a project GT2 RS-dualie. Our research indicated that one of the biggest problems was simply a lack of rubber at the rear. Naturally, the stability control stayed on for the entire day in the canyon.
Torque delivery is far more linear and predictable than stock. The factory car is tuned to deliver a big wallop of torque that smacks you in the kidneys all at once. Great fun when trying to impress friends, not as amusing when trying to exit corners quickly. The EVOMS kit doles out torque in a more predictable fashion, although a fast foot still coaxes far more than the rear tires can handle at any speed we experienced.
Even before driving the flyweight 277 for comparison, the GT2 has a heaviness to it. Maybe it’s all the stout hardware, maybe it’s all the grip. After a few miles acclimating to the power delivery, I’m able to link corners together. Normally in a car like this, all my attention is focused on keeping the power in check. This car has an area between 3,000 and 4,500 rpm where it behaves like a normal 911 and not a missile. When a longer straight appears, rolling into the throttle a little more brings acceleration very few humans will ever experience in their lives.
The brakes are the original PCCB units from the factory, but any sort of improvement would likely require a larger tire or more downforce to really see any advantage. I also doubt an upgraded system would provide greater stopping power without hurting daily usability.
The 997 was the last 911 to have hydraulically assisted steering. Some say the electric rack has ruined the car. The furthest I would go is that the EPS has changed it. Still, this car has the frenetic steering drivers associate with 911s. It kicks back at the slightest provocation. It translates painted lane markings into tactile feedback. More interestingly, when all that horsepower hooks up, the front end becomes noticeably lighter.
Falling into the race seat of 277, I wondered if driving it second was a mistake. Would it feel like an underpowered relic? The entire car buzzes with the engine. Literally spine-tingling, sometimes spine-shaking. The unassisted steering requires some muscle, but screams through your hands. It smells like an old Porsche: oil, gas, and other things probably long since banned by the EPA.
It snakes through the canyons. It requires a lot of steering, both the amount dialed in and the attention paid. It’s nearly impossible to hold a constant line without mid-corner correction. It flows with the landscape, following the camber. The shifter throws remind me of Venice, specifically gondoliers pushing boats through the canals. Even 15 minutes in, I come up short reaching for odd-numbered gears. The pedals are perfect, floor-mounted, nicely spaced. The human ankle and foot are hinged near the floor, clearly designed for a 911. The power can’t be thought about in the same plane of reality as the GT2, but is easily as satisfying. It gains and loses as the road rises and falls, a level of Zen not found in modern cars.
That evening after driving both, I didn’t know which was my favorite. The following day at the track would give me more information. It was decided that not much would be gained from acceleration testing on these two cars. Hard starts are tough on drivetrains, and the outcome should be pretty obvious. So we did figure-8 testing.
Again, I spun a GT2. This time, however, it was me getting all cocky and not the car biting me. The two cornering sections of the figure-8 are constant radius turns, so keeping constant power is tricky. You have to time delivery with the exit. Get it right and you see 85 mph before laying into the brakes for the following turn. The braking is also brutal, peaking at 1.3 g.
The other end of the spectrum is where 277 lives. At the end of the straights, it pulls a respectable 71 mph but still peaks at 1 g in braking. The amazing thing is how similar both cars are in lateral force. The GT2 averages 1.1 g around the skidpad sections, while 277 averages 1.06 g. The big power difference means the GT2 laps the figure-8 in 22.8 seconds, making it the second-fastest Porsche we’ve ever tested, behind only the 918. 277 turns in a respectable 24.5-second lap, faster than a new Cayman. It could have been faster with newer tires, but wouldn’t have been as much fun. It grips, but it’s alive—it moves, it responds. This is what a driver’s car feels like.
I think I favor 277 a little more. The Sharkwerks GT2 is a monster of a machine that works well as a daily driver, a canyon runner, and a track-day weapon. It’s shocking how easy it would be to drive week in, week out. 277 would be tougher to live with on a daily basis. I wonder how Walker does it. He owns a fleet of Porsches, but 277 is his go-to. So I ask: “Is this what you use every day? Is this how you get to work and back?” His reply comes with a wry smile: “No mate, I walk. It keeps my carbon footprint low.”