Exclusive drive of the Fifteen Eleven 3.8-litre 400bhp Porsche 914

Exclusive drive of the Fifteen Eleven 3.8-litre 400bhp Porsche 914

The best days are the ones you weren’t quite expecting. The same applies to cars. Enter the near 400bhp Fifteen Eleven Design 914. Put simply, we didn’t see this one coming!


Words Steve Bennett

Photography Dan Sherwood


RESTOMOD REDEFINED

400BHP 3.8-LITRE REIMAGINED 914

It doesn’t happen often, but every now again, a build comes along and stops you in your tracks. It’s even better if you’re least expecting it. No surprises, then, this is one of those ‘least expecting it’ moments. It started with a call from the boss, Dan Furr. Can I get my backside over to photographer Dan Sherwood’s gaff tomorrow? Yep, I can. What’s the gig? A 914 restomod from an outfit named Fifteen Eleven Design, located in Bakewell, Derbyshire. Vague cranial bells chime. A quick Google search reveals news stories announcing the project as far back as 2021. Renders of a proposed prototype exhibit a selection of vivid Porsche colours from the 1970s. Yep, I remember now: Cayman S-powered, destined to reach production, rally team connections.


Exclusive drive of the Fifteen Eleven 3.8-litre 400bhp Porsche 914

The proposed car looks good, but anyone can put out a few CAD images. There’s nothing more for me to find online, other than the same teasers multiplied many times by contenthungry online news outlets. Hang on a minute. What’s this? I’ve spotted a snatched photo taken during a cars and coffee event at boutique automotive hangout, Caffeine & Machine, two days ago. The 914-looking creation I’m eyeballing looks pretty cool and very much pretty real.

EDITOR FURR HAS SENT MYSELF AND MR SHERWOOD TO TAKE CARE OF BUSINESS A FULL DAY BEFORE THE OFFICIAL PROJECT PRESS RELEASE GOES LIVE

Exclusive drive of the Fifteen Eleven 3.8-litre 400bhp Porsche 914

I don’t mind admitting the name Fifteen Eleven Design hadn’t registered on my radar, but the name of parent company, Mellors Elliot Motorsport (MEM) most certainly had. It sometimes pays to be old. Chris Mellors of MEM is a well-known name on the British rallying scene. As a driver, he was often sideways in a variety of formidable four-wheelers, most notably the mighty Ford Sierra RS Cosworth and MG Metro 6R4, which he made good use of in the 1980s. I doubt he’ll remember, but our paths crossed at many events, back when I wielded a notepad for a motorsport weekly. It’s always good to have a connection like this when reviewing a car in the present, however tenuous the link.


Exclusive drive of the Fifteen Eleven 3.8-litre 400bhp Porsche 914

A further confession: I’m a little sideways myself, certainly in terms of MEM’s more recent rallying achievements. As I discover, it all happens out of Bakewell. Specifically, MEM has twelve FIA World Rally Championship titles to its name and is currently running Proton’s works team with great success.

Excuse the slight ramble, but this is how these things sometimes happen, not least because 911 & Porsche World is the very first media outlet to arrive and drive the Fifteen Eleven Design 914.


Exclusive drive of the Fifteen Eleven 3.8-litre 400bhp Porsche 914

In fact, Editor Furr has sent myself and Mr Sherwood to take care of business a full day before the firm’s official project press release goes live. A scoop, then? Absolutely. I confess, I’m quite excited.

Nestled in the heart of Derbyshire’s Peak District, Bakewell is a pretty place, but it’s not half as arresting as what awaits. This is the ‘stopped in my tracks’ moment. I am genuinely taken aback, as is snapper Sherwood. In a world of 911 restomods and Singer 964 lookalikes, we’ve been craving something new, something different, and here it is, complete with its retro Porsche shade of Stone Grey. There is a moment of comedy as Sherwood manages to lock me in the camera car, leaving me to bang on the window as he makes first contact with Chris and son, Ben. Released, and slightly embarrassed, I babble effusively. The old maxim of ‘if it looks right, it is right’ has never been so spot-on, which is half the job done. But there’s so much more. Time for a chat over a coffee.


Exclusive drive of the Fifteen Eleven 3.8-litre 400bhp Porsche 914

First up, Fifteen Eleven Design is run by Ben. It’s separate, but closely associated to MEM and handles bespoke builds and restorations. Fifteen Eleven? It’s the date Ben’s daughter, Poppy, was born. Recent work?

Recommissioning the Williams FW07 ground-effect Formula One car Alan Jones raced to victory in 1980. Ben has also overseen development of a Speedster-styled Mk1 Ford Escort and a stunning Maserati 3500 GT Inezione, runner up at Salon Privé. Diverse, but not necessarily pointing in the direction of the Porsche restomod scene.


Exclusive drive of the Fifteen Eleven 3.8-litre 400bhp Porsche 914


LOOK TO THE FUTURE

“It was a moment of wondering what Fifteen Eleven Design should do next,” Ben relays. “The idea of a Porsche restomod appealed, but I didn’t want to build a 911, which I felt would be too obvious. I’ve always had a soft-spot for the 914. Decision made!” It sounds easy, but then again, when your company is closely associated with a hugely successful enterprise recognised for preparing world-class rally cars, you’re already halfway there. As I am about to discover, rallying and the ethos of what makes a good all-terrain competition car looms large in the concept and build of the Fifteen Eleven Design 914.

It looks amazing, in a short, stubby sort of way. The overall aesthetic is complemented by wide wheel arches, side scoops and arch-filling eighteeninch replica Fuchs wheels. What exactly are we talking about, though? A Cayman S chassis with a 914 body grafted on? A 914 chassis and body, but with Cayman S mechanicals in place of the old flat-four? Is there a donor Porsche? No, not really.

Let’s get the 914 connection out of the way. The Fifteen Eleven Design car uses only the 914’s floorpan, doors and windscreen, plus some interior bit and bobs. That’s it. The rest is bespoke, built on a jig from the floorpan up. A deeper detail dive to come, but at this point in our story, it’s worth talking about the car’s dimensions. You’d be right in thinking this striking two-seater is bigger than a standard 914, but by only five millimetres in the wheelbase, sixty millimetres in height and three hundred millimetres in width.


Exclusive drive of the Fifteen Eleven 3.8-litre 400bhp Porsche 914

The initial body design was created in CAD with the assistance of Derby-based DG Design, a company well-known in the world of automotive design and development. The DG team helped to create a Virtual Reality (VR) prototype, which could be viewed with VR goggles to give Ben a full 360° perspective of the car. The process also allowed the refining, adding and subtracting of details in more or less real time. “We spent nearly a year spinning the full-scale model,” he recalls. “There’s nothing quite like bringing a design to life. With VR, we could walk around the car, making sure every element of it was perfectly in proportion, eliminating awkward angles or curves.”

As you can see, the look is entirely faithful to the 914, albeit without pop-up headlights. Illumination is instead taken care of by big, circular LEDs recalling the spotlights fitted to the front of the 935/78 ‘Moby Dick’ race car. They’re built into an all-in-one carbon frontend and splitter channelling air to a front-mounted radiator, which is vented through the curvature of a swooping bonnet scoop. Extra width in the track is accommodated by the wider arches, while the Targa rollover hoop is slightly wider and chunkier for additional strength. At the rear, a full-width ducktail-inspired spoiler sits proud above a one-piece carbon apron.


Exclusive drive of the Fifteen Eleven 3.8-litre 400bhp Porsche 914

With all parties happy with the concept and the overall look, DG Design supplied the CAD data to design partner, Rallytech 3D. In the world of rallying, Rallytech is the go-to manufacturer of carbon-fibre panels and even full bodyshells. The Chorley business serves MEM, as well as individual clients and motorsport teams around the world. Like I said earlier, influence from rallying features heavily in Fifteen Eleven Design’s thinking.

Technical drawings and body panels sorted, it was back to the prototype jig. For sure, a floorpan, doors and a windscreen does not a chassis make, but this is where the Fifteen Eleven Design 914 differs from other restomods, save, perhaps, for seriously high-end creations, such as carbontubbed cars from RUF Automobile or the 911s we see rolling out of Singer Vehicle Design and Gunther Werks. Indulge this little flight of fantasy, if you will: think Group B tarmac rally car and you’re not far off. You see, what Ben and his team have created is a custom chassis and steel shell with integral T45 tubular structural reinforcement, including massive sills and suspension turrets for absolute maximum rigidity, something the original 914 wasn’t exactly known for.

Exclusive drive of the Fifteen Eleven 3.8-litre 400bhp Porsche 914

Torsional stiffness is crucial for any competition car. More so for a rally car, especially when considering suspension, which I’ll come to shortly. Interestingly, when designing the custom shell, Ben’s team took the opportunity to move the bulkhead forward to enhance cabin space and legroom.

With a complete carbon-clad custom bodyshell ready and waiting, it was time to introduce the Cayman element of the build. The suspension pick-up points have been engineered to directly take the 987-generation Cayman’s front and rear suspension and subframes. This makes perfect sense. There is, after all, very little out there that can better this all-alloy multi-link set-up. Even the 987 Cayman S’s brakes have been carried over, but Ben didn’t rely solely on Porsche equipment. This is where rally influence once again enters the equation: Fifteen Eleven Design substituted standard 987 Cayman S dampers for Reiger three-way adjustable coilovers. Unfamiliar with Reiger? The Dutch brand is renowned in the world of rallying and rallycross for its class-leading suspension solutions. The super-stiff shell, combined with Reiger damping and MEM know-how, promises much. Talk from Ben and Chris is of real-world compliance and disdain for suspension incapable of working effectively on UK roads. These are men after my own heart — we have a good nerd-off about suspension, spring rates and “hateful” polybushes. On this note, the Fifteen Eleven Design 914 is making use of standard rubber bushes and “sensible tyre profiles”. Indeed, sticky Michelin Pilot Sport tyres are wrapped around the deep-dish staggered Fuchs replicas, produced by Group 4 Wheels.


SUPERSIZED SIX

The engine and gearbox? Cayman S, of course! While the 987’s standard flat-six would be perfectly adequate, Fifteen Eleven Design has really gone to town, taking capacity out to 3.8 litres and fitting forged pistons, steel rods, a custom exhaust and a Life Racing ECU for maximum control over ignition and fuelling. Talking of which, as is the case with either a 914 or Cayman, the fuel tank is at the front. Far from standard issue, however, it’s a bespoke carbon fuel cell with an FIA-compliant bladder. Also up-front is a custom-made aluminium radiator. Power? Between 380bhp and 400bhp. Plenty for a car weighing just a thousand kilograms.

I’ve used the words custom and bespoke liberally. In reality, with the exception of the running gear, there’s not actually much Cayman in this build, so much so Fifteen Eleven Design won’t be sourcing complete donor cars for series production — Ben confirms his company will buy the required components off the shelf, direct from Porsche. “The cost of stripping and refurbishing parts from a donor vehicle isn’t far off what you’ll spend buying the same parts new,” he confirms. Buying individual items also means he doesn’t need to concern himself with the disposal of redundant Cayman shells. Effectively, then, this is a brand-new car, the result of a huge amount of manhours, all of which goes toward justifying the price. If you’ve made it this far, you’ll know the numbers are going to be punchy. Again, this something I’ll come to momentarily.


Exclusive drive of the Fifteen Eleven 3.8-litre 400bhp Porsche 914

In the meantime, the interior beckons. It’s a bit of a stride to get over the elevated and beefed-up sill, but the inviting, leather and Alcantara-trimmed Recaro driver’s chair adds a touch of class and refinement to what has thus far been a motorsport-dominated build. There is much exposed metal, but the rear bulkhead is neatly carpeted and the inner sills are leather-bound, as are the door cards. The 914’s simple dash layout is retained and looks good, trimmed in a combination of dark brown and grey hide. Down in the driver’s footwell, AP Racing pedals sprout from the floor. Finishing touches? A MOMO Prototipo steering wheel (obviously) and a tactile 917-style wooden gear knob decorated with the Fifteen Eleven Design rainbow motif, a design reference to the colours of one of Chris’s early sponsors.

The paintwork is flawless, a state not always easy to achieve when working with carbon-fibre. It’s the work of motorsport specialist body shop, Normandale. Clients include several Formula One teams, plus a number of independent Porsche specialists you’ll know from these pages. Suffice to say Normandale knows a fair bit about the dark art of painting composite materials — look closely and you’ll notice the Porsche stripes on the sills are, in fact, exposed carbon-fibre. Elsewhere, gold badging adds a nice touch of bling to the sombre grey.

Is there a duff angle? Not to my eye. Really, I’m quite infatuated and I haven’t even driven the car. That’s Ben’s prerogative, what with this semi-opentop stunner being his creation. I’ll hop in the for the ride and control briefing in advance of taking to the wheel. Like father, like son. Ben is a skilled rally driver, currently competing in the British Historic Rally Championship, where — rather like his 914-inspired creation — his boxy weapon of choice is decidedly leftfield: a Toyota RA40. It’s a replica of the car campaigned by Björn Waldegård in the 1980 World Rally Championship and pretty much the only RA40 currently competing worldwide. It’s also super-rare enough to be invited to the Goodwood Festival of Speed. We trickle out of Bakewell (no tarts, yet) in search of some Peak District asphalt to play on, turning heads as we go. From the passenger seat, the car feels solid, planted and suddenly, very, very quick. I’m talking GT3 levels of quick, but unlike so many ultra-stiff modern GT Porsches, this car simply glides over the rough and rippled surface below.

Ben generously invites me to take up residence in the driving seat. To begin with, I engage in a couple of runs with Sherwood taking photographs from the passenger pew. As regular readers will know, he’s no stranger to modified cars, as highlighted by his ownership of a modified second-generation 996 GT3, along with various tweaked and tuned Japanese sports cars. “The suspension is amazing,” he exclaims, noting how cars of this ilk usually bounce around all over the place, doing their best to prevent him from capturing a sharp picture. No such frustration today. Finally, a full bite of the Bakewell tart cherry. Logic suggests driving the Fifteen Eleven Design 914 should feel very much being in charge of a Cayman. The footprint and weight distribution are near identical to those of the 987 and the driving position is just fine for my lofty dimensions. Comfort and full control equates to confidence behind the wheel.

The best cars are not fast and furious. No, the best cars are those you can relax into. This sounds like a crazy description for a near 400bhp roadster weighing just a tonne, but the way this modernised (weaponised?!) 914 lookalike gets down the road is beguiling. The faster you go, the better it gets. The super-stiff shell allows the suspension to work brilliantly. I’ve often thought the perfect UK-biased chassis set-up is probably something akin to a tarmac rally car.

Fifteen Eleven Design has proved the theory. After all, what is rallying all about if it isn’t to go very, very fast on rough surfaces? Too many modified cars are conceived for the track, but race circuits don’t represent the real world. Conversely, the Peak District’s roads are very real in every sense. They’re turbulence in distressed tarmac form. This modern take on the 914, complete with its Cayman and Reiger underpinnings, simply rises above the mayhem and skims across the broken surface. Skims? Maybe it would be more appropriate to say it dances across the surface — the mid-engine layout’s influence over changes in direction is apparent. Turns are startling in their immediacy, as is stability under braking and cornering, the Michelins never overwhelmed by sudden spikes in weight transfer.

The amazing chassis control allows the power to be properly utilised, helped along by the car’s dinky proportions, which are compliant with the narrow roads. The 987 Cayman S’s six-speed manual gearbox is one of Porsche’s best cog swappers and the S-specification brakes make easy work of slowing the action when required, which isn’t often. Reassuringly, this Fifteen Eleven Design build encourages speed to build and to be carried. As mentioned at the top of this article, the best days are the ones you don’t quite expect. This is definitely one of them. “What do you think?” asks Ben, back at base, when I’m finally prised from the driving seat. “I think I’ve just driven one the best Porsche restomods, bar none,” I reply, but really, this is much more than a restomod. It may look like a 914, but there’s barely any 914 in the mix. There is obviously more 987 Cayman, but ultimately, what Fifteen Eleven Design has done is use Porsche parts to build a mid-engined sports car from the ground up.

There is a price to pay. £350,000, in fact. Steep? Well, sure, it’s out of my league, but that’s not really the point. This is a bespoke, hand-built sports car. I confess, I pinged a few pictures to a wellknown player in the restomod game, who wasn’t at all surprised at the price tag. I can’t wait to see the first Fifteen Eleven Design customer cars. Imagine one of these in Viper Green? We’ll make a return visit for that one. MEM and Fifteen Eleven Design might be new players on the Porsche scene, but sometimes it takes a step back and fresh perspective to challenge the status quo. The 914 is a leftfield approach and all the better for it. Having said that, what if Ben could sprinkle the same genius on a 911? There’s a thought.

ULTIMATELY, WHAT FIFTEEN ELEVEN DESIGN HAS DONE IS USE PORSCHE PARTS TO BUILD A MID-ENGINED SPORTS CAR FROM THE GROUND UP

Above It’s fantastic to see a fresh take on the 914, a Targa-topped twoseater providing the blueprint for the allconquering Boxster.

Above Considering the 914’s mid-engine layout, not to mention the 914/6’s use of a Porsche flat-six, 987 Cayman S powertrain makes perfect sense.

THE FOOTPRINT AND WEIGHT DISTRIBUTION ARE NEAR IDENTICAL TO THOSE OF THE 987 AND THE DRIVING POSITION IS JUST FINE

Above and below Four hundred galloping ponies let loose in a carbonclad bespoke shell weighing a tonne are kept in check by motorsport-spec Reiger coilovers and Cayman S brakes

Above Climbing into the lavishly appointed cabin requires you to step over a massive sill emphasising how stiff the chassis is, but thanks to carefully considered suspension, the ride is never too firm.

Above 914’s pop-up headlights have made way for 935-style circular LEDs housed in a carbon apron.

Facing page Powered by a 3.8-litre flat-six, Fifteen Eleven’s 914 is a very rapid roadster.

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