This is one Porsche for which you'll need your brave pills
Locked away in the German countryside is an unassuming light grey building. It's two storeys high, and a sloping car park on the right hand side dips away to a few garages at the back. To drive down the road, you'd probably go straight past it. Sure, there's some glass frontage, but apart from a small sign, you'd be hard pressed to notice what they do there.
A Porsche Cayenne out the front, save the body kit, gives little away. But once you step inside, you realise that this is a grown-man's creche. You could spend hours poring over the collection of highly modified Porsches. This is TechArt, probably the most comprehensive tuner of the now Volkswagen owned sports car.
After day eight of our Full Throttle tour, we spent four or five hours still locked in a Ford Focus station wagon, pining for a bit of space. Having left Altenahr, and the Brabham BT92 - or M3 on steroids as we like to call it - we headed south-east to Leonberg in Stuttgart.
Well, travelled would be the word for those of us who weren't being chauffeured in sumptuous comfort, with 507hp at their right foot's disposal. Yes, George and I had drawn the short straw - it tended to have happened a bit too often for our liking - and missed out on seats in the BMW M5.
All wasn't lost, however, with our next destination to make up for the strained, but reliable 1.6-litre four cylinder screaming we had to put up with for so many dreary kilometres. That was of course, until we realised that the hotel we were set to stay at had a problem. There were no rooms available. Tempers frayed, and there were expletives uttered.
We had made a booking, but somehow it was mucked up and there was nothing. So we met with TechArt's PR manager Tobias Beyer, part way there, who got us to follow him to TechArt's building. A crackle came over the walkie-talkie.
"Um, guys, Tobias says we're going to have to sleep on the floor," said Jan, our photographer, with a distinct hint of concern in his voice.
"The floor of what?" George asked.
"The showroom...you know...in between all the Porsches", came back the reply.
"You're kidding, right?"
"Nope. There's nothing available."
It was a unique feeling. Having to sleep in the midst of millions of dollars worth of cars that most people only dream about. We would have asked for the keys for all of them, if it weren't for the fact we were so dog tired. So, the best surroundings, but possibly the most uncomfortable night's sleep was on its way.
"Man, you take the bait so well," laughed Jan. He took so much delight in riling us, and at this late stage of the night, we were easily riled. So we followed Tobias until we reached TechArt, where we made introductions, and then he jumped on the phone to the nearest few hotels.
Jan smiled at George and I, with a smug "Gotcha!" look on his face. I'm not sure who was ready to bury him alive first, but after being couped up in a Focus with no CD player and only German radio to listen to, it was a sure bet something nasty was going to happen. Thoughts of murder were quickly broken when Tobias hung up the phone.
"Okay, so there is a place not too far away. It's the closest we have I'm afraid. Just make sure you set your Sat Nav here, and we go to the hotel now." Which is what we did.
Of course, the hotel we ended up at didn't have free wireless internet, and Anthony and Alborz stood at reception, way past midnight, having a stand up argument over the fact that internet access was going to cost an arm and a leg. As it turns out, an arm and a leg would have been much cheaper and easier. I volunteered Jan's limbs.
Despite this, we had to have somewhere to sleep, and after an hour of settling in and reporting on the day, editing teasers and photos for the BT92, we crashed into bed, dreading the 7am wakeup call. At least George got his own room that night. He seemed to need it!
When time for breakfast came, there was a bit of a buzz around the table. Anthony had received a phone call from Mr Beyer. The smile on Anthony's face was enough to keep us all very alert.
"So, what did he say?" we all asked, almost as if in unison.
"They've got somewhere for us to test the cars," Anthony replied.
"And that is?...." Alborz asked waiting for a response. Anthony sat there just grinning like a fool. He seemed to revel in the suspense.
"It's a few kilometres from the factory. I'm pretty sure you'll like it. But we can only have it from 1pm to 5pm."
"Yes. Good. But what is it?" said Jan, who was keen to start thinking about the photoshoot. I chimed in, also adding that for the video we needed to know, so we could plan ahead.
"It's an abandoned runway." A silent cheer went around the table like a muted mexican wave. "It's nearly two kays long, and about 100 metres wide."
George nearly fainted, his motoring dreams having come true. Not only that, but TechArt had also arranged for access to King Ludwig's summer castle, where we could park the GTstreetRS and GTsport for an epic photo session. From a very nervous start, this was turning out to be one of the best parts of the trip.
We turned up at the TechArt headquarters (again), this time with a much more relieved outlook. We were met by Tobias out the front who escorted us inside to meet Thomas Behringer, the founder of TechArt. We sat down and had a coffee and a chat with him, where he told us that he's always been a Porsche fanatic, but reckons he could finish them off better. With the GTstreetRS sitting out the front as the pinnacle of his work, it's hard to disagree.
A factory tour was probably the best way to get an appreciation for the work that TechArt does. It's a literal maze of rooms and workshops. But the range of abilities and modifications available is staggering. Anything you want to change, you can. Colours, textures, styling, sound - you name it, it can be done.
The range of leathers and where they could be put was what most amazed me. An entire Cayenne cabin was being redone in a crimson carpet and cow-hide. And it was all pulled apart. The guys there know how to dismantle and reassemble any Porsche you care to think of. Time was ticking away, though, and we anxiously wanted to get out to that airfield.
Once back outside, Anthony and I walk straight past the GTsport, much to the dismay of Alborz, who has taken a shining to the Cayman-based car.
George was happy to pedal the M5 and Jan was clambering into the passenger seat of the GTsport. Its the GTstreetRS I'm interested in. The reason is simple. Take a Porsche GT2, tune the heck out of it, do some aerodynamic mods, and here's the result.
Anthony started the car. At idle it sounds like any other Porsche. A bit lumpy, gruff, slightly rattly; it certainly doesn't sound like anything 21st century, and to look at, well, there's not much to look at. Open the rear hatch - I'm not going to call it a boot, because it's at the back - all you see is a bright red pipe which splits in two, and a whole lot of wiring and metal housings.
It's a kind of magical place in there. There's a bit of mystery about it. You can't see what's going on, so you're hoping that the effect is worthwhile. Give it a rev while the car is just sitting there, and you'll be wondering what all the fuss is about. It growls and wooshes, but it doesn't rip your eardrums out of your head. It's almost sedate. Almost...
Push in the clutch, though, and click the stubby gear lever into first, and the whole experience starts to make sense. Without even moving, you can tell that this machine is purposeful. The clutch is incredibly heavy at first.
You can tell that the torque the twin turbo flat six makes must be monumental. And you'd be right. There are 860 Newton-metres on tap. Along with that, 515 kilowatts of power. That's 700 horses in the old money. And all harnessed by only the rear two wheels.
We headed off to Stuttgart, where the airfield lies. We did notice a heap of police motorbikes and a few cars up the end. Germanic discussions ensued with Tobias leading the charge. Jan's German wasn't going to cut it.
Eventually we made our way onto the field, being in awe of how immensely huge it was. We were told that Mercedes and Audi were both testing various systems here, including a camouflaged next generation SLK. As a spy photographer, you'd make a heap of money from sitting on the edge of this runway. But there's a gentlemen's agreement that anywhere else is fair game, but no photos to be taken here.
For our video shoot, we were under strict instructions to make sure the cars didn't get in the frame. But with the cars all over the place, how would we ever test these things? Tobias headed over to both of the cars being calibrated, and we were given the centre of the runway and around a kilometre of it to use. Fine by us.
We rolled out onto the centre and let the big boy rip. And gosh, were we in for a surprise. Remember that scene in Shine where David Helfgott is jumping up and down on the trampoline, naked, save a trenchcoat, but grinning from ear to ear? That's what this is. Madness and sheer joy, all rolled into the one moment.
Up to around 3500rpm, the turbo lag allows for slow, easy driving and a relaxed attitude. But leave your boot in for a little too long, and all of a sudden, the entire car shifts genres, and you're in a parallel universe.
The flat six starts to growl, there's a loud whistle, then a wooshing of air, overlayed by a drivetrain whine. The air rush continues to build, like someone has unleashed the worlds most powerful vacuum cleaner next to your ears.
The pitch increases as the revs do, and as the noise builds, the car hurtles forward in a relentless shove. Your lungs and stomach are compressed as the car's acceleration envelops you, and the TechArt keeps going until you've hit the limiter, at which point you whack in the next gear, and the whole experience builds again.
It's quite a surreal feeling, because it's nowhere near linear. There's nothing for a second, but after that, you get everything. In second gear, we thought the feeling was very similar to the Bugatti Veyron we tested last year, such is the GTstreetRS's brutality when winding up. In fact, it felt quicker than the Koeniggsegg CCX we tested on the same trip, probably due to the CCX's linear response when accelerating.
While all of this is fine, if not slightly unnerving, in a straight line, in the corners, it's downright scary. Not that it's uncontrollable, but you always feel like you've got a lion on the end of an elastic dog leash - it's only a matter of time before it snaps and bites you.
The lesson here is, unless you've got balls of steel and a 100-metre wide runway to play with (which lucky for us, we did), keep the stability control well and truly on. If you want to exploit its full potential, you'll have to be a very skilled driver, or have plenty of runoff.
If you do have the room or the inclination, it's the lowest of gears that you'll be able to play with. Shod with Michelin Pilot Sport Cup tyres (or semi-slicks in layman's terms) the grip is immense. Once warmed, the tyres bite into the tarmac with tenacious attitude, but because the engine is over the rear wheels, it can be provoked into severe understeer with steering inputs which are too quick.
You soon learn to match turn in with throttle application, and rather than throwing it into corners like a front-engined rear-wheel- or all-wheel-drive (which helps the front tyres by hanging all the engine mass over them), you press the pedal and turn in with one fluid movement. Then, you find a brilliantly balanced and devastatingly quick machine.
The other thing that gives the game away is the shift action itself. Nothing could be more perfect. There's a slight notchy click at the end of a fluid movement to alert you to the fact that the gear has been engaged. But it's not enough to prevent quick snaps from gate to gate. Fast or slow, you decide the level of attack when changing gears.
Finally, it turned five o'clock, and the whole runway became ours. Time for some speed runs. We couldn't get it up to top speed, of course - that would wait for the autobahn - but it certainly got up there. We saw 280km/h on the speedo, and with the end of the runway fast approaching, it was time to call on those brilliantly effective stoppers.
Hard braking into corners is also a matter of brake first, turn in, and then get on the gas mid-corner. If you leave your braking too late and try to brake while turning in, the back end push makes the nose run wide and a messy line results. But with carbon ceramic discs, six-pot fronts and four pot rears, the deceleration is magnificently rapid, not to mention stomach-crushing. Forget any notion that carbon ceramics are either on or off, too. The GTstreetRS proves that you can be progressive, or aggressive.
That's all well and good, but if it decides to take off like a Cessna at decent speeds, then it's all for nought. Thankfully TechArt's body kit isn't for show. Realising that the top speed of this thing is around 340km/h, TechArt spent many, many hours wind tunnel testing, tweaking, and finalising the aerodynamic package you see here.
An extra 10kg of downforce on each axle over the standard GT2 at 140km/h, and steadily increases thereafter. The nose has been extended, and includes a new carbon splitter, as well as an open bonnet leading edge, which forces the air into the bumper and up over the car. Combine that with the side diffusers on the bumper and downforce is not only increased, but also directed to the right places, as well as cooling the car more efficiently.
Side skirts and a larger rear wing round out the aero-pack. But inside, the modifications also continue. Our test car came with bright yellow seatbelts, which match the yellow stitching on the recovered pews. The stitching continues throughout the interior, lifting its ambience above something more than the sodden, grey, rainy-day look of the original. TechArt badging on the steering wheel and new instrument faces complete the transformation from mental GT2 to diabolically insane GTstreetRS.
As far as a package goes, the TechArt GTstreetRS comes pretty close to being perfect. Except for the fact that you've got to be very wary of its sideways snap under acceleration, it's as easy to drive as you like. The stability control takes care of that anyway, and when it does intervene, it's never stomping on your fun, but gently encouraging you to not be such a hoon.
By the time we wrapped up filming, the darkness descended, and it was time for a few more photos with both the cars in the centre of the runway. Jan worked his magic, and the photos you see here are the result.
The GTstreetRS was driven back to the factory along with the GTsport, and we decided to call it a day. Tobias invited us to dinner, where we feasted on the region's famous steak, and spätzle - a kind of fried noodle which is eaten extensively in the area. After arriving back at the hotel and uploading a quick teaser video for the Full Throttle DVD, we decided to call it a night.
The next morning we had one thing on our mind. Were we going to break the ABT Supercharged R8's autobahn record for this trip.
At 320km/h, Alborz and George certainly set the pace. We quickly got the filming on the roads out of the way, which were needed to round out the story on our video shoot.
Before I could even get near the steering wheel, Anthony ploughed through us, arms flailing and elbows blazing - there was no way anyone else was getting near that car. He had to show Alborz up.
We were directed to a certain part of the autobahn which was our best chance of hitting top speed. As we came over the crest of the overpass and looked down onto the autobahn below, Alborz and I (who were in the GTsport at the time) had a quiet laugh to ourselves.
There was absolutely no chance of getting a clear run. For some reason, it wasn't peak hour, but traffic conspired to pour water on any chance of a top-speed run.
Didn't stop Anthony trying. We followed, and with walkie talkie updates being fired back to us by George, and Jan and Tobias tagging along in the TechArt Magnum Cayenne (man that thing sounds insane), it was time for him to do his thing.
A clear stretch appeared for but a split second, and he was off. Four puffs of black smoke, and as hard as Alborz tried to keep up in the GTsport, being based on a Cayman and not having forced induction counted against it. We heard the air being warped as the GTstreetRS pulled into the distance.
Then we heard swearing. Lots of it. George was trying to translate it into English, but Anthony's outburst still made it through the airwaves. He only made 290km/h. Time for run number two. 295km/h. Run number three was 298km/h, and run number four never really got off the ground.
Time was bearing down, and as quick as the cars were that we were in, they couldn't wind back the clock. It was time to call it a day.
You never quite realise how much time it takes to spool a car up to top speed, slow it down, and turn around and come back the other way. As it turned out, we were nearing the end of our time with TechArt and the GTstreetRS. So we packed all the photography and video gear all into the back of the Cayenne and headed back to the factory.
It was time to hand back the keys and get our luggage packed. Once we'd transferred all the stuff from the Cayenne to the Focus, we all felt a bit lost. To compensate, we headed off to Kashmir's, the best Indian Restaurant in the northern hemisphere. Over dinner the TechArt guys thanked us for coming and invited us to head back at any time. Then, we headed south again, bound for Novitec.
It was a bittersweet moment at that point. We knew we were heading onto the twin supercharged Scuderia Spyder 16M, but I'd been drawn to the GTstreetRS from the moment I first picked up a brochure on it.
With performance figures to rival the big boys, the GTstreetRS is a formidable machine. 0-100km/h in 3.4 seconds is not to be sneezed at, neither is the 0-200km/h time of 9.9 seconds, yet it can still stretch its legs to 340km/h. Not only that, but it's a track-attack special which won the Hockenheim Tuner Grand Prix this year and last year, reliably and easily.
There's that mystique again. The GTstreetRS looks all riced up, and a bit overdone. But once you're behind the wheel, you soon realise that the intent belies the end result. It's more mind-blowing than you'd ever expected.
I thought that Porsches were good before but TechArt has proved that there's still plenty of room for improvement.
Be still my beating heart...