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Roofless wonder - First drive: PS 911 Spyder

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Porsche might never have built a 911 Spyder, but that's not stopped Paul Stephens from having a crack. It's rather good, too!

It’s perhaps a strange quirk of history that Porsche has never built a 911 Spyder, but that hasn’t stopped Essex-based Porsche specialist Paul Stephens from realising his own vision of just such a car.

Staying true to the Spyder philosophy of a roofless, low weight and low drag design, Stephens took a rather sorry 1989 3.2-litre Targa and set about creating a car that takes the pared-back build and truly in-yer-face sensory stimulation of an old-school 550 Spyder, but with the manners and mechanical refinement of a more modern air-cooled Porsche.

The visual transformation is spectacular. The low Perspex screen that wraps around into the tops of the doors is the most dramatic aspect, while elements such as the 70s-style long bonnet - complete with exposed fuel filler – give the Spyder a sleek nose and knee-high stance.

The front and rear wings are standard steel Porsche items, but the bonnet skin, doors, rear deck and engine cover are all hand-crafted from aluminium. It all contributes towards a 350kg weight saving over the Targa on which it’s based, despite 50kg-worth of concealed bracing that sits beneath the double-humped cover behind the seats. Stephens is considering re-profiling these humps as he’s not completely happy with them, and while it’s true this area of the car can look awkward from some angles there’s also no doubt when you see the car in action it looks extremely striking.

The interior is a particular triumph, in particular the unbroken sweep of the rounded alloy dashboard and door tops. Combined with the retro-faced instruments, bespoke alloy switches and tightly trimmed red leather seats it’s a wonderfully evocative – and comfortable - place to be. 

While the looks are most definitely out of the ordinary the PS 911 Spyder’s mechanicals are pretty much standard late 930-generation specification. Perhaps most importantly this means a G50 transmission, which has a more precise shift quality than the older 915 ’box. The brakes are standard and plenty powerful enough to slow the 950kg Spyder and the 3.2-litre engine retains a broad spread of smooth power and torque. Stephens fitted a lightweight flywheel to give the long-stroke engine a bit more fizz, while a remapped engine ECU improves performance with a useful uplift from 231 to 250bhp.

Exhaling through a pair of 3in diameter exhaust pipes it sounds wonderful, snuffling and gruffling in fine flat-six style. It’s this soundtrack that’s at the heart of the PS Spyder experience. You’re totally immersed in the action without every feeling overwhelmed by the level of exposure to the elements.

Sunglasses or goggles are advisable as the odd stone or errant bumble bee can find their way over the vestigial ‘screen, but you don’t get the beating you might in, say, an Ariel Atom or aeroscreen-equipped Caterham Seven.  Better still, thanks to the late-1980s underpinnings (thoroughly refreshed and fighting fit) you’re also fully engaged in the process of driving, and at a pace to make your favourite roads extremely entertaining.

The PS Spyder is a labour of love for Stephens. The level of craftsmanship is high, the attention to detail gratifying for 911 nerds and casual admirers alike. More than 2000 hours of labour have gone into building the car, so it’s a showcase for what Stephens’ company is capable of rather than a purely commercial exercise. That said if someone wanted a PS Spyder Stephens would be happy to build one. On the evidence of my all-too brief time behind the wheel it would make a unique and infectiously entertaining addition to your motoring life.

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