Wednesday, August 17, 2022

German Insanity In A Gemballa GTR 600

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The year is 1999 and your investment portfolio is booming. Your Dell and Cisco shares have gone through the roof, and let’s not even get started on your Microsoft stock. It’s time to treat yourself for some clever business moves, and what better way than with a new set of wheels to park outside Harrods on the weekend?

Mercedes-Benz SL 73 AMG? Too soft. Pagani Zonda? No room for shopping. It also seems a little slow, to be honest. A Porsche 911 Turbo is a tempting choice, but your accountant has just bought one and you won’t be seen dead in the same car as him. So you ask a few mates for some advice, and it’s the oligarch’s son who mentions a funny-sounding company called Gemballa. He sends you over a sales brochure, and you see something called a GTR 600.

The car you can see in front of you is a unique example of what the mentalists at Gemballa got up to in the ’90s. What was originally a Midnight Blue 993 Turbo is now a GTR 600 Le Mans Biturbo.

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What does that mean? In short, 610bhp of flat-nosed fury. What would have been without a doubt one of the fastest and most terrifying driving experiences you could have had at the time, and will still be today.

Let’s start with the engine, as not many of the original internals remain. The capacity remains at 3.6L, but now with reinforced connecting rods and pistons and an upgraded head gasket taking the compression ratio to 8.0:1. At the sides of the flat six, aggressive high-lift camshafts and an entirely strengthened valve-train ensure reliable, high performance timing. Thus making the most of the boost that the uprated twin KKK turbos are pushing through the engine.

A full upgraded exhaust with high-flow catalytic converters, a high-capacity air intake and the largest intercooler I’ve ever seen fitted to a Porsche keep the engine breathing easily, and staying cool.

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I’m not joking about the intercooler by the way. You cannot see any of the engine once the boot is popped. At all. In fact, the intercooler is so big that it doesn’t fit under the original lid, which is why a GT2 item is compulsory with the GTR 600 upgrade.

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This car actually runs at 610hp, but unlike a GT2 the power is put down through all four wheels making it marginally more useable as a road car. I really don’t think that means much in this instance, however.

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The story goes that in 1997, the original owner sent his Turbo off to Mr Gemballa for a 570 Biturbo conversion. The car was still blue, and power aside had a few upgrades such as stronger gearbox mounts and some GT2 body styling. Sports suspension and the big brake kit were fitted at this point in time too. The owner was so enamoured by his ‘new’ car that the following year he went all-out and sent the car to Gemballa with an open chequebook to make the fastest, most heavily upgraded 993 they could.

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Uwe Gemballa himself was so impressed with this brazen attitude that he personally oversaw the conversion, including regular correspondence and hand-written notes to and from the owner. I guess when someone’s paying you £175,000 (US$250,000) to upgrade their car, the least you can do is be their pen pal.

This 18-month build was when the car became what you see today.

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The presence this car carries is astounding. It’s clearly no longer Midnight Blue, and I think it’s all the better for it. The reason this car is unique amongst the four GTR conversions performed by Gemballa is that it has been converted to their flat-nose Le Mans-spec front end.

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The aerodynamic front wings work tremendously with the aramid-fibre (Kevlar) GT2 RSR wide-body, which is necessary to house the BBS Motorsport split-rims. Measuring 18×9.5-inch and 18×11-inch front to rear, they do the best they can to help put the power down to the road.

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Not only are the arches aramid-fibre, but the full GTR spec also includes an aramid-fibre bonnet and aramid doors with Lexan side windows. The UK-based owner decided against the plastic windows and chose to retain the original doors and electric windows.

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The GTR bodykit also includes the ‘race’ front bumper, Gemballa Turbo ducted side skirts and widened rear bumper to meet the arches. The side skirts are fully functional, ducted to cool the rear brakes. The rear bumper is plain, but with enough wing to rival an Antonov AN-225. I reckon any more rear-end styling would be overkill.

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Braking has been heavily upgraded with a set of bespoke Gemballa-Brembo 8-piston front callipers with 380mm discs. At the rear are 345mm discs with Brembo callipers.

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Gemballa offered a wide range of suspension upgrades for their kits and on this car, surprise surprise, the owner opted for their most advanced dual-spring H&R coilovers. Stiffer rear subframe mounts, stiffer anti-roll bars and the factory-optioned front bracing have tightened up the handling of the GTR.

After all, with 610bhp on tap and very rudimentary electronic aids, the last thing you want is any slop in the controls when it comes to handling.

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It’s not all high performance thrills though; this 993 is actually a very luxurious way to terrify yourself. Gemballa roll cage aside, the interior of the car is beautiful and, again, a unique spec. The blue/silver leather was a factory special order through Porsche Exclusive Manufaktur. This is Porsche’s ‘the world is yours’ department, responsible for some of the most beautifully (and most questionably) specced 911s in history.

Not wanting to lose comfort, the factory electric sports seats have been retained, and there are lovely touches throughout the cabin to really elevate this car beyond other ‘lowly’ 993 Turbos.

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Door straps, pockets and pull handles are all blue trimmed, whilst the gauges are light silver to match the perforated leather seats. I approve of the upgraded sound system too. A lot of ‘high performance’ street cars have the sound system taken out which I think is ridiculous. Music makes day-to-day driving a lot more pleasant, and this car was properly used – 17,000 miles under original ownership, which is good going for something this rare.

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Even the race steering wheel has been trimmed in Porsche silver leather, with an exposed carbon fibre top section. The sides of the wheel are black and perforated for practicality. After all, they’re most likely to get dirty.

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The roll cage itself is carbon fibre skinned, and there are choice carbon touches throughout the cabin such as the instrument surrounds and Gemballa carbon handbrake lever.

A Gemballa Biturbo embroidered rear seat delete carpet tidies up the rear of the cockpit around the cage, and the sporting intent is highlighted by the programmable shift light controller by the gear gaiter.

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The coolest touch though? The central panel on the dashboard. An oil pressure warning light and gauge aren’t that special, but the big f**k-off red ‘start engine’ button in the middle is just insanely cool. The forbidden boiled sweet, reach for it and you’re about to unleash an animal on the roads.

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I wish I’d been able to spend more time with the car, but in reality I got lucky and caught the team at Hexagon Classics on a ‘moving day’ as they were re-arranging their showroom. They were gracious enough to put the move on hold so that I could get the Gemballa alone for a few minutes.

I’m sure 99% of you will not be aware of who Hexagon Classics are, but beyond selling some of the rarest classic and performance cars in the UK today their history is phenomenal. Keep your eyes peeled for a Part 2 of my visit, as the rest of the collection can’t be missed.

Mario Christou
Instagram: mcwpn

Gemballa 993 Brochure
1999 GEMBALLA FOR 993 BITURBO 2
1999 GEMBALLA FOR 993 BITURBO 3
1999 GEMBALLA FOR 993 BITURBO 4
1999 GEMBALLA FOR 993 BITURBO 5
1999 GEMBALLA FOR 993 BITURBO 6





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