All comfort: driving a Porsche, Jensen and Alfaholics restomods

Alfaholics GTA-R 290, JIA Jensen Interceptor R and Tuthill Porsche 911

Three of the best restomods around: Alfaholics GTA R 290, Jia Jensen R Interceptor and Tuthill Porsche 911

Today's vogue for restomodded cars is being reborn as performance takes over. Beloved classics are now thriving on the scene. We ride three of the best

I wish there were elegant reasons why we chose these three old cars for new or upgraded components – upgraded classics, restomods, whatever you want to call them – but the simple truth is that the concept is intriguing and we've heard good things about them.

They are a new kind of performance car if you like; everything modern supercars don't. They bring performance down to affordable levels but keep the craftsmanship and desirability high in the sky. At least the way I imagined it.

So here we are, in the circuit of Llandow, South Wales, with three of the best of them. The idea is to have a track drive today and a road blast tomorrow, with some boring everyday driving in between.

All three cars do differently. The smallest ones here have the branded GTA-R by its specialist builder, Alfaholics. It's a GTA-monkey Alfa Romeo that could be based on any 105/115 series coupe - it started in a 1967 1300 GT Jr. Alfaholics can just restore it for you, but if you check the full gamut of GTA-R options, you'll be spending the best part of £300,000 and have the car you see here, with a 12-point roll cage, seam-welded load-bearing body, titanium suspension bits, Alfaholics internal gearboxes and twin cams, the twin-spark four-cylinder engine comes from a 75, bored and stroked to 2,3 liters, equipped with a lighter innards and making 240bhp. The car weighs only 830kg.

Next to Porsche are Tuthill specialists who do ingenious things, old 911s, including rallying them, racing and driving on ice in them, which I am told is the most fun you can have in a car. This is a customer order to build a 1973 2.4-liter E-series 911, with a wide body. It's more of a road car than a track car, but lovely nonetheless. The engine is back in the 911's 2.4-liter period, and the car is ready for useful, fast-road specs.

Next to this is a Jensen Interceptor modified by Jensen International Automotive with a new twist: a supercharged 6.2-liter Chevrolet LSA V8 making 556bhp. So quite a lot of romance. Jia adopts an interceptor, stows away the shell, fits a jaguar-influenced independent rear suspension, and installs a mighty motor. Thin is not.

It's not a race car, but that's ok – its time will come on the road. For photos and videos, however, we drive Llandow on it and, according to an elastic band, do not have an engine. The reardrive supercharged Interceptor R is brutally fast in a straight line, driving through a six-speed automatic here. You can specify specifications in manual mode, but auto suits the behavior of the interceptor. It's a softly springy, comfortable car, with a shell that lives without the stiffening of the Alpha, so it feels more "classic". Still, it steers with a slow smoothness, and while the brake pedal is soft, as far as you think it's here only as an advisory, in fact, retardation is a good thing.

There's more to enjoy on the circuit in a Tuthill-modified 911, although you'd suspect one of its 2,0-liter Cup race cars would be even more interesting. But the 2.4 E's steering is fine, and the balance is good, albeit straying towards understeer thanks to the wide rear wheels and balloon tires. The engine is lustful and the backstage positive, and whatever Tuthill has done in the bushes and weight-control, it feels awfully solid. On narrower tires and lighter focused suspension, I imagine you could replace some sort of focus road track. Tuthill will build you one, however you want. After a day on the track, I took the 911 to the highway and then some back roads and loved it - and I never felt cooler than getting off it at the end.

More on that when Saunders and Disdale take on the story. Meanwhile, GTA-R is an absolute joy on the road. It rides on relatively narrow 195-section tires but still generates a ton of grip. Its heavy steering is full of reward and its engine revs up to 7500rpm as bold and melodious as any road-going four-cylinder in the world. The long-stroke five-speed is more precise than anything with a lever that has long been entitled to be, and the brake pedal is brilliantly weighted. All this without outside help.

But in circulation, that makes it. Before I drove the GTA R, the man from Alfaholics said it was more useful than the Ferrari 430 Scuderia, which I'm flattered with, 'well, he'd say something like a nod.

However, her balance is so good that I think he's right. Goes into a corner, there's a little bit of understeer that you can trail stop through, Or you can just turn in a little too fast, you're on gas and electricity by the way, with the GTA-R telegraph fine, she's about to slide, foursquare, but slightly biased, whatever you like. This might be one of the top 10 cars I've ever driven. On the track, at least. On road? For my colleagues.

Matt Do

Daily routine work

A long full day on the track behind the wheel went into the windshields of our three restomods, and we were already so close to trouble in any one of them had hot, smelly brakes. What can you say that - other than "Bravo"? This proves beyond a doubt that major mechanical car repairs like this are not just a show; this achieves quite significant results.

Now for some tough tests of a different kind. Our lodgings today are 50 miles to the west, near Carmarthen. But before we get to them, Disdale and I have two mission vehicles at McGore's service 50 miles east, pledging a vehicle that someone ends up needing for onward transportation. Sounds like an easy ride, but a lot of it will be done in the dark and cold, during rush hour. It will be the kind of miles that modern cars do so easily, but old ones don't at all.

Might be interesting:  Clubman's next generation mini could be reimagined as an SUV

I already know what time up is going to be as he pedals in the Porsche West – because when it got dark, drooling start at 6am, I drove it from the Midlands to South Wales myself this morning. But for some heavy controls and a particularly noisy set of pipes though, our 47-year-old 911 is pretty easy to drive. The brakes are great. Headlights and wipers first class. In many ways it doesn't feel like an old car at all.

The car has lowered torsion bar suspension, which makes for a ride that feels a bit sharper than wood bumps, and a steering rack that needs a lot of weight to get it further a quarter of a turn. If you took exception to the specs though, you would just commission the good people at Tuthill Porsche to tune the car in different ways. You can have whatever you want, after all, old 911s, they say, are supremely fit things. The engine is carbureted smooth, Torquay, strong-willed and powerful enough, with only the occasional tendency to stall when decelerating from a long cruise. It requires some care when you're accelerating from low revs to avoid over-fueling, while the notchy gearbox likes focused, well-timed shifts and the odd double clutch stroke. You'll both get used to it soon. Other than that, you just have to be careful not to put gasoline in the oil tank by mistake (the external oil filler just behind the driver's door was one of the curiosities in the E-series 911).

Alpha? It will take a little getting used to as I find out when Disdale moves on to our second leg with Magore. Babes, it's very noisy at work, but less so, thankfully, on a cruise - but it's still the kind of car in which, like a Porsche, you'll want to wear earplugs for long drives.

The roll-cage, deeply sculpted seats and four-point harnesses make it the toughest of the three to board with some headroom – and there's less front-handling room than the other two. But, God, what rewards are there when you get stuck in. It sounds completely unrestrained above 4500 rpm and goes like a stink. The handles are sublime, too, with more lightness and immediacy than the Porsche and better balance. Where you are, where you are going, you are very unlikely not to relax.

I certainly do – until twilight is around where we descend into total darkness and I find that the Alpha's LED headlights have an unfortunate tendency to turn off completely over and over again. Only for a few seconds, but long enough to focus on an unlit motorway. Sometimes this will happen when you point, or turn on the heater, at a completely different time without warning. Very Italian. Last I checked though, that's not what 10 year old Fiats do.

So far, at least Alpha headlights work 99.5% of the time. As we return to Jensen on the last leg of our evening of motoring, the mood of our journey takes a turn and the nasty side of the restomod property is revealed as we discover that the interceptor's side lights are working fine, as are its beams, but the dipped beam is not working at all. Oh. Jia's call suggests we check the wiring up to the foot-mounted DIP switch and fuse box, but doesn't provide any luck.

All we can do is limp the column to the nearest garage, buy duct tape and blank out the car's headlights as much as possible. Either that or let's have a blown fuse bring this whole test to a premature end. It's a comfortable interceptor car - and far more than either of the other two here, it should be noted - but not nearly comfortable enough to stand in a normal bed and cooked breakfast for a road tester who had a 16-hour work day.

Matt Saunders

On the open road

I'm sweating here, and it's not just because the Alfaholics GTA-R 290 doesn't have air conditioning, or with the four-point harness tight you can't reach the winder window. No, the cause of sweating is formation on the forehead, something for such an Alpha opportunist requires a fair bit of muscle for noise.

It's a crisp and clear morning after the night before, and last night the troubles of the headlights are forgotten. We ended our journey from the hotel near Pendine (leaving the parking lot took longer than expected as these cars draw the right kind of attention everywhere you go), on some winding roads in the Black Mountains – something that should ideally fit such cars where driving is what it all means. Even from the slide down the serpentine, the arms and legs work twice as hard as in the modern day, and it comes as a shock to the limbs to pamper the aid of nutrition. However, like all things in life, the more you work, the greater the rewards - and in the case of GTA-R, the rewards are very big indeed.

The compact and fast Alpha is perfect for the road, dancing in and out of corners with dizzying agility (looks at the boat like Jensen in my rearview mirror bobbing merrily from side to side as before trying bravely to keep in touch once again highlights the GTA- R dexterity). There's just the right balance of grip and slip, and the steering is hefty, but it's fast and precise and provides real feedback - not as much as a Porsche, but not far. The hard and short travel of the suspension sometimes puckered with sudden, sharp imperfections, but otherwise the GTA-R's corners are smooth and fast, riding bumps with aplomb.

And, of course, it's a glorious engine. Yes, it will spin to the skies, but on the highway you can shift and ride the wave of accommodating, digitally controlled torque. Even then it's still fast and physical, feeling closer to Caterham than anything else here. It's not something you can say about Jensen, although we all agree he feels more at home here in the mountains than on the track. Of course, it's bigger and heavier, but the focus on cruising comfort means more splash and splatter than the high-revving Alfa Romeos and Porsches.

Might be interesting:  First Drive: 2020 Aston Martin DBX Prototype Not

Surprisingly, traction is good, and there isn't too much for traction control, and the power steering is easy to steer here, even providing decent feedback. It's only when you really put pressure on that that the interceptor starts to feel its age, rapid changes in direction, resulting in those sea heels. Of course, if you want a sharper drive, then the adjustable dampers can be bolstered upwards, plus there's an option for an anti-roll bar at the rear. But when the long drive home from Wales beckons, it's Jensen's long cruising and wall-to-wall leather-lined and air-conditioning that I end up wangling along the way.

Falling between two perspectives of down-road dynamism is the 911. The purpose of this example is clear to make it as benign and as usable (the interior is refined), but that doesn't mean it's boring. The balloon tires and wide track mean it feels like nothing but reliability, but in classic 911 style, the nose bobs to the rhythm of the road and the steering squirms constantly in your hands, gently keeping you in contact with the asphalt.

Like the Alpha, it feels delightfully compact, allowing you to choose from a selection of lines and still stay determined in your lane, the front end will be where you put it thanks to strong bite and steering that builds up weight gently. What is most surprising, there is no unbridledness if you change your mind in the middle of the corner, and the Porsche just tucks neatly. And the brakes crack, firm the pedal and improve the progressive response of even the GTA-R.

If there is a let down, it is the engine. Sounds nice as he yells into his whirlwind, but, with less than 200bhp, he feels a little limp. It's not as onerous on the track, where you can keep her singing happily in close proximity to the redline, but here the low responsiveness isn't as strong, although those carbs lead to some coughing and spitting, allowing Alfa and Jensen to pull effortlessly on exit from the pin.

Naturally, you can upgrade the engine, adding muscle and tractability, which is exactly what happens in this particular car next. Therein lies the appeal of restomods like these. They are essentially blank canvases only limited by your imagination, taste and (significant) budget. Do you want spicier Jensen? No problem. Faster and more mobile-feeling 911? But of course. Alpha with air conditioning? It would be nice.

James Disdale

The Devil in Detail

jia jensen interceptor

Donor car: 1973 Jensen interceptor

Donor car cost: on

Restomodification cost: £320,000

Total cost: £320,000

Jensen shell is sandblasted, then any necessary welding is done and replacement panel added. The interior has been stripped and completely re-trimmed in Bridge of Weir leather and fitted with custom panels, electric power distribution plus an upgrade to the infotainment system and new blacksmiths tools. The front suspension is rebuilt and rebushed and its geometry is changed. An independent rear suspension is installed in place of the Living Axle, with uprated springs and adjustable dampers. Alloy wheels or three-spoke Jia wheels are offered. The engine is replaced with a normally aspirated LS3 or a supercharged LSA Chevrolet V8 and a six-speed automatic transmission (new cars get an eight-speed transmission), a traction control system developing recorders and AP brakes with ABS.

Total man-hours: 3000

Alfaholics GTA-R

Donor car: Alfa Romeo 105 Series Coupe

Donor car cost: £10,000- 30,000

Restomodification cost: £310,000

Total cost: £320,000- 340,000

Alfaholics how to start with an original car or one that hasn't been restored for ages. The seam of the shell is welded, it gets a 12 points roll cage and carbon fiber doors, hood and trunk. The aluminum twin cam engine is from 75 bored and stroked to 2,3 liters and uses engine management from Motec. There's still a lively rear axle, but a close-ratio window and a limited-slip diff give you Alfaholics internals. Titanium upper front wishbones, adjustable gas dampers and lightweight springs are also used. Power steering is an option.

Total man-hours: 3000

Tuthill Porsche 911 2.4 E

Donor car: 1973 Porsche 911 2.4 E (E-series)

Donor car cost: £90,000 (est.)

Restomodification cost: £150,000 (est.)

Total cost: £250,000 (est.)

The shells are processed and closed, the exteriors are rechromed, repainted and modernized with an extended body. Salon, trunk and engine compartment refitted and re-trimmed competition pedals, gearshift mechanism and steering wheel installed; electronic air conditioning added. The engine has been retuned for carburetors and a new exhaust has been installed. Lowered and stiffened torsion bar suspension fitted with new suspension struts and wide wheels. Competition-grade brake upgrade with new cylinder added.

Total man-hours: 1500

Best Read… omods

Eagle e-type: perhaps the most famous restomod there is, is based on one of the most famous cars in the world. In E-type, speedster, low drag GT and GT Spyder guises, all are exquisitely finished, fearsomely expensive and fantastic to drive.

Mg LE50: he watched the part, but the MGB was never good at driving. Not so LE50, designed front-line developments. It features Mazda's 210bhp 2.0-liter, six-speed manual and fully adjustable suspension. Good value for £65,000, too.

Lancia Delta Futurista: maybe the 1980s is ripe for the restomod revolution? If so, this 330bhp aluminum and carbon fiber three-door Integrale with Italian bodybuilder Automobili Amos could be the car to run it. There will only be 20, each £270,000.


EV conversion slammed by classic car experts

The best cars from the classic industry rebuild

Launch of Silverstone Lunaz to electrify British classic cars

Please appreciate the article
Translate »