It isn’t often that you get to drive a 1,000-hp car, let alone one with over 1,100 hp. So when I was offered two cars of just over this power level in one day, I thought all my Christmases had arrived at once. You can imagine my dilemma as 9ff boss Jan Fatthauer offered me the keys to the first production 9ff GT9-R, rated at 1,120 hp, along with a 997 Turbo, whose similar engine was tuned to 1,150 hp. The million-dollar question was which key to snatch first.
In the end, I plumbed for the GT9-R, as I was curious to find out how far the GT9 had evolved from the metallic blue prototype I drove at the Ascari Race Resort in Spain in April 2008. My adventure with that car will be etched into my memory forever as it accelerated even harder than the mighty Bugatti Veyron, a car that had left me reeling with the pace that belied its 4,200-pound heft.
The other enduring impression I had of my first drive in the GT9 was that of a recalcitrant beast. After I had squeezed between the side protection crossbars of its full rollcage and its low roofline, I found that the driver’s seat was locked in position for the lanky Fatthauer. Even with seat padding installed, I was not in my optimum driving position. This was not the greatest introduction to driving a 1,000-hp car.
The GT9’s straight-line performance however was beyond stupendous. Relatively light at 2,900 pounds, and endowed with what is best described as an intergalactic warp engine, the GT9 turned the familiar flat-out kink on the back straight at Ascari into a real corner that required firm, confident braking on the approach. Its sheer speed compressed this straight, where I can normally settle in and relax for a few seconds in a GT3 RS or Ferrari Scuderia, into a brief pause for breath.
Just a week after I drove it in Spain, the GT9 ran to 254 mph at the Papenburg high-speed test track in Germany, on a mere 987 hp. Fatthauer explained that continuous development for the production GT9-R now enabled him to extract a sensational 1,120 hp from this engine, with no ill effect on reliability. In bald terms, that is around 14 percent more power. How fast did you say you wanted to go?
While you can calculate the development cost of such a car in man-hour terms, it is always hard to quantify the wealth of experience contributed by its designers and the skilled engineers and craftsmen who put the car together.
The exact antithesis of the dreamers and wannabes that populate the specialist car industry, Jan Fatthauer was Deputy Head of Development at Brabus for many years. He then held the same post at Ruf for two years before heading back to his native Northern Germany to set up 9ff in 2001. These prior experiences made him well aware of the design, development and manufacturing costs of specialist vehicles, and how to control them. So when I asked him the pointed question of how many GT9s he needed to sell to cover his development costs, I was not surprise when he replied, without hesitation, "Two." I then asked him how many he had sold so far. "Six," he said, breaking into a smile. "I originally planned to build up to 20 GT9 and 5 GT9-R models. However, in the meantime, I have found a niche market for a GT9 Clubsport track day model, and I will make as many of these as demand dictates." At $565,000 (395,000), the GT9 Clubsport is the least expensive model, with the GT9 and GT9-R costing $701,000 and $987,000 (490,000 / 690,000) respectively.
Including the black-and-gold GT9-R I was about to drive, there were four GT9s present in the workshop during my visit. Two more GT9-Rs were in various states of build as was the first GT9 Clubsport, a version for track day enthusiasts rather than the stratospheric top-speed runs that made the original GT9 a household word with V-max junkies.
The most visually distinctive and best looking of the GT9 trio in my books, the Clubsport has much larger wheel arches to cover 11x18 and 13.5x19 BBS centerlock wheels, shod with 295/30ZR18 and 345/30ZR19 Michelin Cup tires. This wide arch look gives the Clubsport a more purposeful appearance, reminiscent of the 911 2.8 RSR.
Resplendent in the famous light blue and orange Gulf colors, this first production Clubsport is destined to share garage space with the similarly painted 9ff GT3 Biturbo that its owner took delivery of last year.
By now, Fatthauer had wheeled the black GT9-R outside, and I had the chance to examine the car in detail. Where the blue prototype lacked a rear panel at the time I drove it, the production car looked really up and together, with a flawless finish to its panels and paintwork.
The first time you open one of the carbon-fiber doors, you think it is going to come off in your hand it is so light. The integrated rollcage of the production GT9 does not use the stout crossbars anymore, so getting in and out of its nicely trimmed interior is a much more normal experience. I asked about side crash protection, and Fatthauer explained that because the GT9 prototype used the center section of a GT3, it had to have those massive crossbars just like a Carrera Cup car. This was because once the rear of the bodyshell had been removed, the remaining floorpan was too weak to resist a substantial side impact.
"On our production cars, we use the GT3 front up to the A-pillars, and build up the rest of the car using a steel tubular frame, with the body panels in carbon composite," he explains. A very "strong but light carbon-Kevlar tube in the doors provides side impact protection, and when the door is closed, this forms a rigid structure joining the A- and B-pillar elements of the built-in rollcage."
For more stability and progressive handling at speed, the wheelbase is extended 30cm over that of the GT3. The 2,923-pound GT9 is also significantly lower than the GT3, and has a flat bottom with a rear diffuser. In fact, as so many Porsches, Ferraris and Lamborghinis now have lightweight carbon-fiber race seats, the only real giveaway to this car’s serious intent is the racecar MoTeC LCD instrument display and the bespoke lightweight steering wheel with green and red buttons to control the sequential up and down shifting of the heavily strengthened GT3 six-speed manual gearbox. To work the correct way in this mid-engine configuration, the gearbox has to be inverted and placed behind the engine.
In between the engine and gearbox is the unique compound organic clutch unit. Using two organic clutch plates bolted to a steel center, it solves the age-old dilemma of combining the strength of a sintered racing clutch with the lightness and progression of an organic one. A Drexler limited-slip differential is fitted to optimize traction. Like many 9ff cars, the manual shifter is equipped with the Cartronic SQS-G (Sequential Shifting System). But instead of using a sequential shift lever on the floor like on the 911-based cars, 9ff came up with an in-house electro-hydraulic actuation system for the mid-engined GT9.
In fact, you can have one of three different types of gearbox on the GT9-R: six-speed manual, six-speed sequential and five-speed Tiptronic. We can’t imagine though, that any serious driver would opt for the old Tiptronic slush box, which is only available in combination with the least powerful 750-hp engine option. The Stage 2 engine tune is 987 hp as per the GT9 prototype, with a new pinnacle of 1,120 hp as the ultimate Stage 3. The extra 133 hp takes the GT9-R to 260 mph, with 0-186 mph covered in just 14.9 seconds. Despite the potential traction issues of rear-wheel-drive only, the claimed 0-62 and 0-124 mph times are 2.9 and 7.4 seconds respectively.
Fatthauer explained that the engine is easily upgradeable from Stage 2 to 3, so that an owner can get used to the 987 hp before coming back for more. This does not apply to Stage 1 however, as this is a 9ff modified version of the factory GT1-block-based 997 Turbo 3.6-liter Variocam Plus engine rather than the highly modified 4.0-liter used in the GT9 Stage 2 and 3 motors.
For this, the 3.6-liter Porsche GT1-based flat-six is taken out to 4.0 liters with a bespoke steel crank, titanium connecting rods, larger-diameter barrels and forged pistons. Cylinder head gas flow work and bespoke camshafts with solid lifters optimize the top-end for life at high revs.
"Our high-revving biturbo engines require as much under-piston cooling as possible," says Fatthauer, "so we use the GT3 variant of the GT1 block, which has a dual oil-spray system for cooling the underside of the pistons. The lower-revving 997 Turbo 3.6 variant of this block only has a single oil sprayer per cylinder."
The intake and exhaust systems are also bespoke for this engine, with the Garrett-based turbochargers modified in-house to suit. The ultra-efficient 130mm (OE: 70mm) thick intercoolers have double the cooling capacity of the factory Turbo ones, and their unique housing design further improves air throughput for even greater efficiency.
Built for high revs, this motor produces its 1,120 hp from 6400 to 7600 rpm, and has another 200 rpm of headroom before the electronic rev limiter in the specially mapped ECU calls a halt to the proceedings.
The 840 lb-ft of torque is simply stupendous for any road legal motor, let alone a mere 4.0-liter six-cylinder. Equally impressive is the fact that peak torque is sustained on a plateau from 5300 to 7500 rpm, delivering mind-numbing performance in a car weighing less than 3,000 pounds.
The front suspension is by MacPherson struts with coilovers, while the rear uses a five-link design with race-style pushrod actuated coilovers. This bespoke suspension, which uses H&R springs and JRZ dampers with external fluid reservoirs, has an adjustable antiroll bar at each end. All the suspension arms and top mounts have Uniball joints.
The 9ff forged alloys are 8.5- and 11.5x19-inch with 235/35ZR19 and 325/30ZR19 rubber. For top-speed runs, these are Continental SportContact Vmax tires, with Michelin Cup tires the road and track day alternative. The massive Brembo brakes use 380/350mm cross-drilled discs clamped by six-pot monoblock calipers.
It is very unusual for a turbocharged motor to rev this high and this freely, but with even bigger turbos than the original GT9 in this 1,120-hp Stage 3 version, I could feel the difference immediately the first time I opened the taps fully.
While it is easy to say that the acceleration is awesome, in the midst of all the furious noise and g-force, you realize that the power is also delivered very smoothly and progressively. Apart from making the car more user-friendly, this characteristic mitigates the stress on the drivetrain and chassis despite the huge horsepower and torque numbers involved. Where the Bugatti Veyron impresses you with its sheer speed and overall competence, it can feel aloof and remote at times, as if the breathtaking abilities of its engineering are shielding you from the pure physics.
The GT9-R is never going to be as refined as a Veyron. It is far more visceral and involving on several levels, and places you right in the middle of the proceedings. So while the Bugatti can be driven at normal speeds by a normal driver, only requiring an experienced hand at high speeds, the GT9-R requires a competent driver from the word go.
For instance, with no DSG gearbox, you still have to operate the clutch when you press the shift buttons on the steering wheel. With racecar features like a single-mass flywheel, it sounds and feels mechanical, raw and old-school. This is a serious driver’s car, and never pretends to be otherwise. The small band of hard-core enthusiasts who knock on 9ff’s door know this, and crave the experience.
If you want the same power wrapped in a more subtle and accessible package, look no further than the black 997 Turbo. The owner of this car wanted a stealth fighter that no one would suspect was anything other than a stock Turbo with a larger front spoiler lip and side skirts.
At a glance you would be hard-pressed to even see that it wears GT3-style wheels, as their black finish makes it hard to pick this out until you get right up close. Even the interior is bog standard, lacking even the optional factory sport seats.
Opening the engine cover however, reveals the crown jewel, as the 1,150-hp GT9-R motor stares you in the face. Yes, you read that right. 1,150 hp, 30 more than the normal GT9-R Stage 3 output!
The Turbo’s owner had asked to see what 9ff could get out of it as a one-off, and with a few further tweaks to the pistons, cams and combustion chambers along with a slight increase in compression ratio this is the result. The tighter packaging in the Turbo shell means that air-to-air intercoolers have to be used. As these are less efficient than the water-air intercoolers in the GT9-R, a higher boost pressure of 1.9 bar is required to achieve this power level, compared to 1.7 bar in the GT9-R installation.
Gearbox reliability becomes an issue when the engine tune exceeds a certain point, and the question is then whether to base your mods on a 996 or 997 Turbo box.
While many motorsport gearbox specialists produce alternative gear ratios for all six forward gears of the 996 box, the same is not true for the 997 gearbox. So far, only one or two companies make alternative 997 gears, and these are limited to taller Fifth and Sixth ratios.
However, the downside of the 996 gearbox is the fact that it only has double synchros for First and Second gears, and single synchros for the four higher ratios. The 997 gearbox has triple synchros on its first two gears and double synchros for four through six, making the shifting lighter and smoother. Since the Turbo’s owner intended to use the car as daily transport, he opted for the compromise of a superior gear change over perfect ratios. Even so, this is still the fastest 997 Turbo I have ever driven by a country mile.
To handle what is effectively more than double its original output, this ’08 997 Turbo has a height-adjustable Bilstein PSS16 suspension. It also features a front lift system that can raise the nose 50mm at the touch of a button to clear ramps.
A Drexler limited-slip differential makes the most of the Turbo’s all-wheel-drive traction, and behind the 8.5- and 12.5x19-inch GT3 RS alloys, shod with Continental Vmax rubber rated to 236 mph, the factory PCCB brakes are up to the task of stopping this manned missile.
With four-wheel drive and the chassis upgrades, the Turbo can deliver all of its power all of the time, underlining just how much of an aid to performance all-wheel drive is. The car simply squats down and launches itself off the line with no histrionics. And thanks to the slippery diff, the car rockets off into the distance arrow-straight as you punch through gear after gear.
So there you have it, two 9ff cars from opposite ends of the user spectrum, their common link being the same bombastic 4.0-liter twin-turbo flat-six. For me, experiencing the full might of their combined 2,270 hp in the space of a few hours really made it a day to remember.
Longitudinal mid-engine, rear-wheel drive
4.0-liter flat six, dohc, 24-valve. Custom Garrett turbochargers, custom intercoolers, software
Six-speed sequential manual
Custom coilovers with H&R springs, JRZ dampers
Brembo six-piston monoblock calipers, 380/350mm rotors (f/r)
Wheels and Tires
9ff forged alloys, 8.5x19 (f), 11.5x19 (r)
Continental ContiSportContact Vmax, 235/35 (f), 325/30 (r)
Peak Power: 1,120 hp @ 6400 rpm
Peak Torque: 840 lb-ft @ 5300 rpm
0-62 mph: 2.9 sec.
Top Speed: 260 mph
Longitudinal rear engine, all-wheel drive
4.0-liter flat six, dohc, 24-valve. Custom block and heads, custom turbochargers, custom intercoolers, software
Six-speed manual, Drexler limited-slip differential
Bilstein PSS16 coilovers
OEM PCCB assemblies
Wheels and Tires
OEM GT3 RS alloys, 8.5x19 (f), 12.5x19 (r) Continental ContiSportContact Vmax
Peak Power: 1,150 hp