Supercharged 470bhp 2001 Porsche 911 Speedster 991.2
Porsche never made a 996 Speedster, let alone a supercharged one, but that’s exactly what Vinny Canakiah has created. Does this unusual Porsche have a clear identity, though? We explore the curious duality of this 911 on a British winter’s day...
Words Nicholas Found
Photography Dan Sherwood
CRUISER AND BRUISER
A custom supercharged 996 Speedster
I’m standing in the middle of the countryside. Bright blue skies have tried their best to shift the heavy rain from yesterday, but it’s eleven degrees Celsius outside and I’m cold. Even so, I’ve just been handed the keys to a topdown, rear-wheel drive, supercharged 996 producing as much power as a GT2. This particular Porsche, however, has a narrower footprint. Such a mix of 911 personalities on greasy roads is a recipe for disaster, surely?
YOU CAN CARRY IMMENSE SPEED INTO CORNERS, BUT THE HANDLING IS SUPPLE, RATHER THAN AGGRESSIVE
I thought so, but spend some time digesting the car and you realise it’s not as black and white as things first seem. Granted, the car is very black. Black paintwork, black alloys and black interior. Walking up to this 996 for the first time, it looks as understated as a monk. You’d never know it boasts a Vortech supercharger under the smooth Carrera engine lid, helping to breathe around 470bhp into the otherwise standard 3.6-litre flat-six. I say around 470bhp because this is the claim made by VF Engineering, the company responsible for the supercharger. The car’s exact power output isn’t known. “It’s pub talk,” says Vinny Canakiah, the owner and Porschephile responsible for creating this sleeper.
As I walk around the car, the polished Basalt Black paintwork twinkles like a clear night’s sky. It draws you in and the car slowly reveals itself as no ordinary 996 convertible. The front bumper has been lifted from a GT3 RS. The black wheels are Kerscher-manufactured Fuchs lookalikes with a satin lip. They hide bigger Turbo brakes, which are almost pressing against the spokes. As I approach the rear end, I spot a badge on the engine lid. It reads supercharged, and I glance up to see two body-coloured humps where you’d expect to find the rear seats. This, so Vinny tells me, is his idea of a 996-generation Speedster. He’s adored Speedsters since the 1989 Carrera 3.2 run-out model, of which Porsche made a shade more than 2,100 examples. It’s not the only leftfield 1980s hit to grab Vinny’s attention over the years — not only has he owned a GMC Vandura kitted-out to look exactly like the famous four-wheeler driven by Mr T in The A-Team, he’s currently the proud owner of a Pontiac Trans-Am every inch a replica of KITT from Knight Rider. This is someone who isn’t afraid of going allout once he has an idea. The starting point for this 996 Speedster conversion occurred more than a decade ago. When Vinny bought the car as a standard 2002 Carrera Cabriolet, he was offered a supercharger kit to go with it. Not one to turn down an interesting idea, he accepted and immediately commissioned installation. From there, he started to enhance almost every area of the car. It’s about “continuous improvement”, to use his words.
WHILE I HAVE NO DOUBT I COULD LIGHT UP THE REAR TYRES, THE LIMITED-SLIP DIFFERENTIAL IS A WELCOME COMPANION
THE MISSING LINK
Above Not only is this 996 carrying a bespoke Speedster rear end, it’s also hiding a supercharger
TURN THE KEY AND THOUGHTS ABOUT THIS BEING AN UNDERSTATED 911 ARE JARRED BY THE HIGHLY VOCAL DANSK EXHAUST
The 996 Speedster is a model Porsche didn’t produce, of course. The Speeder lineage began in 1954 as a stripped out, more track-focused 356. Every 911 since the 930 has received the Speedster treatment, except for a hiatus in noughties, meaning the 996 missed out. In some ways, this seems remiss. After all, at the time, the 996 was Porsche’s most popular 911, as demonstrated by 175,164 units manufactured. Crucially, almost two in every five 996s sold were drop-tops. Moreover, Porsche made an almost unbelievable number of variations of the 996, totalling twenty-six models across two generations between 1997 and 2006. Not one Speedster, though. I’ve never really understood why. That was until Vinny’s wife turned up halfway during our photoshoot in rural Hertfordshire. She was driving a white Volkswagen Passat estate, the antithesis to Vinny’s 911, and was on standby to keep the Speedster humps safe in case the Porsche’s fabric roof needed to go up. This is when the penny dropped. As we know, back when the 996 was being penned, Porsche was in financial trouble. Like the Carrera 3.2 Speedster which inspired Vinny, the Speedster humps on this 996 hide a soft top beneath. But unlike his 996, the humps on a 930 Speedster use a series of metal arms, pivots and latches in order to lift up and reveal the fabric roof below. It can then be raised, but because it’s smaller than the standard convertible hood, the humps can fall back in place neatly behind it. Back when the 996 was in production, developing such a complicated roof would have been crippling for a company keeping an eye on its balance sheet. Instead, the Speedster humps on this 996 were created from fibreglass by Turismo UK and use a series of bolts which can be unscrewed, with the humps lifting out — by hand — to reveal the original soft top below. A much simpler solution. Except with the soft top up, there’s no practical place in the 911 to stow the humps you’re left with, hence requiring a wife with the ability and willingness to chauffeur humps around in the back of her Volkswagen.
Above Looking at the back end of this highly modified 996, it’s a wonder Porsche didn’t make a Speedster version of the first water-cooled 911 — lovely, isn’t it?!
Below Speedster humps are a neat idea, providing you don’t need the 996’s back seats
Finding a partner like this is rarer than any 911 you can think of. Although faffing with detachable roof panels might not seem compelling in the twenty-first century, I’m all too familiar with the situation, insofar as having to deal with Allen keys to get a roof on and off, then finding there’s no space in the car to put all the bits I just poured blood, sweat and tears into removing. You see, in addition to my treasured 997 Carrera S, I own a Series 1 Lotus Elise. The difference is, while Vinny only occasionally drives with the roof up on his 996, I don’t like convertibles that much, and tend to drive my Elise with a hard top on. I fully appreciate my hypocrisy in buying a car exclusively available as a convertible and not particularly wanting one. It was time to get behind the wheel to see how this 911 coped with its extra firepower. Opening the door to see two seats in a 996, I feared climbing in would be like getting into a Boxster, considering each car’s already close relationship. I needn’t have worried — this 911 is dripping in detail. Swoop down into the seats and they hug you. They’re the ohso- desirable optional Sports seats, with the shells colour-coded black to tie-in with the rest of the car. The dashboard, arm rest and even steering column cowl have been lavished in gorgeous matte leather, the work carried out by Wokingbased automotive trimmer, DesignLS. Reach out and you feel the steering wheel has been given similar plush treatment from Royal Steering Wheels. These changes really lift the interior when compared to that of a standard 996. Then I start to think about all the other details I saw around the car, some insignificant at the time, but they begin to add up to create a package detached from most other 996 cabriolets. The fuel filler cap, for instance, features an aluminium look matching the rims of the alloys, but also a leather tongue made by Hubbard Upholstery, flapping down to protect the front wing from petrol spillages, reminiscent of an air-cooled 911, a 944 or 968. Even the strobe indicators. They’re not to everyone’s taste, and perhaps more of a nod to Knight Rider than anything else, but the point is this aspect of the car has been thought about and enhanced.
Above A Jekyll and Hyde affair, this 996 offers all the comfort of a cruiser, with the ability to turn into a monster when provoked, as Nick discovered during his time with the car
One detail I really wished for was heated seats. This 996 didn’t have them, which is almost criminal in an open-top car on a cold winter’s day. The only solution was to fire up the engine and get the heater blower going. Turn the key and thoughts about this being an understated 911 are jarred by the highly vocal Dansk exhaust, which protrudes out from the bodywork like sticking two fingers up to drivers of cars behind. This 996 originally came with a switchable Porsche Sports Exhaust (PSE) system, and it still has the dash button to suggest so, which if functional, would allow you to whisper through towns and then blast between them in a tail of noise. I’d be tempted to reinstate the system to play to the sleeper image. The supercharger is surprisingly quiet. At idle you really have to listen out for it to know it’s there, which is hard over the din of the exhaust. And pulling away for the first time, there’s little hint of what lies beneath the surface. What is immediate is the gear change. My 997 makes use of a factory short shifter, meaning I’m familiar with Porsche’s interpretation of a short throw. But this is something else. Going from first to second, the throw is minimal. Outrageously so, though its tightness means second to third doesn’t like to be rushed. I have no doubt you get used to it, but it made me smile as it reminded me of a classic 915 gearbox in some ways — it needed to be respected to get the best from it. I liked it an awful lot and dreamed of replicating it in other 911s, but it’s a Frankenstein unit fashioned by North London servicing specialists, Porschetech, which Vinny commissions for all servicing and maintenance work on this 996. It started out as a Function First upgrade, which critically replaces plastic bushes prone to flex with ball bearings, tight as a drum. Vinny, however, “wanted something more”, hence the custom billet short shifter to reduce throw. The result is notchy and positive.
Below Magnus Walker was a fan when he encountered the car at the now legendary Urban Outlaw Ace Cafe meet back in 2017
You’d look for any excuse to use it. Thankfully, we’re on the doorstep of A-roads and dual carriageways, which is where the supercharger comes alive and reveals another side to this Speedster. The blower is belt-driven from the crank, with the air it is forcing into the combustion chamber kept as dense as possible with a water-fed intercooler. There isn’t an overpowering whine, the like of which characterises so many supercharged engines. More than anything, the engine howls from the exhaust above 3,000rpm and delivers a linear power delivery much like a normally aspirated Carrera, except power continues to build and build in a relentless wave of torque. This thing feels quick even by 992 standards. As revs build, it feels like there’s no let-up in power. I often have to ease off. The standard Carrera gearing feels long, which is why I frequently find myself running out of road before I can climb past 5,000rpm to peak power. When I do find a stretch of asphalt for full throttle, I feel the RSS semi-solid engine mounts — joined by stiff transmission mounts — keeping the car taut as it tries to stand on its hind legs. The power hits me in the gut as the rear squats down and the front splitter scrambles to keep the front wheels from lifting. It’s hard for the chassis to compete with 470bhp. This 996 may have GT2 power, but it definitely isn’t one, which is harder and even more ballistic in its delivery. The GT2 delivered 462bhp from its bi-turbo engine through the rear wheels. It quickly gained a reputation as being a ‘widowmaker’ because its delivery would bite at typically high speed. This supercharged Speedster should in many ways be more terrifying, not least because it’s also two-wheel drive, but maintains standard Carrera tyre widths at 225mm up front and 285mm at the back, down on a GT2’s 315mm rear rubber. One thing Vinny’s 911 does have, though, is Porsche Stability Management (PSM), unlike a GT2, which has no traction control at all. On a greasy day like this, I’m quite happy to have PSM at my disposal. And while I have no doubt I could light up the rear tyres, the limitedslip differential is a welcome companion alongside the predictable delivery of supercharged power (compared to bursts of turbocharged power). Put it this way, the power delivery of this Speedster inspires confidence, rather than nerves. The LSD is present because this 996 came from factory with M030 suspension, which gives a firm yet supple ride. As I flow down an A-road, the steering is beautifully linear. It has a lovely and consistent weight to it. Having driven a 992 a matter of days beforehand, this Speedster is a painful reminder of how intuitive steering feel used to be. And fortunately so, because turning off onto narrower and pot-holed roads, I need to work it —there’s no nose lift to save your chin from scrapes and bumps. I have to constantly remind myself this 996 wears a GT3 RS front bumper, complete with a now-unavailable motorsport splitter travelling about as close to the ground as the stomach of a crawling baby. I find myself nursing the car like a new-born over undulating roads. I don’t want to be the one to find out how much a 996 front splitter is to replace, after all.
Above Vinny is no stranger to unusual cars — his 996 shares garage space with a replica of KITT from Knight Rider
It’s in these delicate moments the 996 reveals a docile side to itself. Navigating potholes and threading through town, I thought 470bhp tuned from an aftermarket kit would make the car hot and bothered, more like a kangaroo at low speeds than a car. But it didn’t. Whoever did the engine mapping at software tuners, GIAC, should be given a Nobel Peace Prize. The way this personalized Porsche manages to smoothly deliver surging power without completely smoking-out emissions, as well as calmly idling at 900rpm while controlling heat from the jam-packed engine bay, is a set of skills the best politicians in the world would envy. It’s one thing making a car responsive at full throttle, but it’s a harder task to make it well-mannered when pottering around. With this in mind, I say the following words with the highest praise: below 3,000rpm, Vinny’s 996 behaves like a regular Carrera. Its mix of personalities left me confused about what it’s trying to be, though. It loves to go fast, but the chop top makes me want to cruise. You can carry immense speed into corners, but the handling is supple, rather than aggressive. The gearbox is tight, but the ratios are long. Needing to ponder, I stopped for food at Feathers in Ware. It’s a seventeenth century pub which has been brought up to date with a gastro flair, a bit like enhancing an old Porsche to make it more usable today. I went for the venue’s award-winning steak and ale pie. And, as the food was served, I had an epiphany: this is Vinny’s 996 Speedster on a plate. The addition of a supercharger doesn’t make the car as hard-edged as a jalapeño pepper, like I expected. Nor does the Speedster conversion on a Carrera shell make it as soft as butter. It’s something else completely. This is a meat-and-two-veg 911. Tucking into my dish, the dollop of mash cuts through the punch of steak and ale just like a convertible adds a roundness to supercharged power, while the cleanliness of fresh vegetables is as crisp as the steering and gearchange. Dish it up on a plate as solid as a 911 and it just works. These might be contrasting ingredients, but they come together to create something greater than the sum of its parts, because what matters is the execution. In this 996’s case, it’s clear Porschetech has done a fastidious job at maintaining the car alongside Vinny’s vision.
Despite the strong power figures, this isn’t a car you drive flat-out to attack a B-road. It’s never going to be as stiff as its coupe sibling. Knowing that will spoil the fun for many, but this is a car you drive at eight tenths, which is no bad thing if you want to enjoy a sports car on UK roads. You bask in the gear change. You soak in the weight of the steering. You absorb vitamin D from the open top. You ride the relentless torque from the supercharger when you want to put a massive grin on your face. I really thought I didn’t like convertibles. I’ve been converted.
Above and below Supercharger brings output to a whopping 470bhp, eclipsing that of a 996 GT2, but in a Carrera chassis.