x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Architect turns his focus to making his Porsche 964 race-ready

My Car Graham Henderson hopes to put his 1990 Porsche combo on the track with 500hp.

Graham Henderson with his reinvigorated Porsche 911, at House of Cars Garage. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National
Graham Henderson with his reinvigorated Porsche 911, at House of Cars Garage. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National

An enthusiastic Scottish architect with an infectious personality, Graham Henderson likes a challenge and is as eccentric as the vehicles he builds and drives. With a personal mantra of "If it isn't broke, I'm not trying hard enough", it's no surprise he spends a lot of time in the workshop fixing and building cars.

A common sight around the roads of Dubai and Abu Dhabi in his replica of the VW Beetle from the Herbie movies, self-confessed petrolhead Henderson has been working on a four year labour of love - a 1990 Porsche 964 - which he hopes will soon be appearing on the UAE's roads and racetracks.

"It's a conversion of a classic air-cooled Porsche 911. We call it a 9693 because the shell is a 964 designation and the engine is a 993, so we joined the numbers and dropped the four, making it a 9693. We even got a little '9693' badge made in Porsche scripts to finish it off nicely," he says.

"We blew up the engine at the track at Dubai Autodrome about three years ago," he proudly announces. "Since then it's been totally stripped down and refurbished as a road car that can also be driven at weekends at Yas Marina Circuit and the Autodrome."

Henderson explains the most unique thing about his 9693 is the marriage of technologies, as its 1995 993 380hp 3.6L air-cooled engine has been worked on by mechanics who have cleverly managed to get the electronic brain from the 1990 talking to the engine from a 1995. "This has been a frustrating process, requiring tender care, loving attention to detail and a lot of patience," Henderson explains.

The Porsche's 1990 body shell was stripped and all extraneous external clutter removed for weight saving and aerodynamics. The door handles have been drilled and low-profile door mirrors fitted. Front splitter and single windscreen wiper options have been added and the interior has also been reduced to its bare essentials to maximise the car's power-to-weight ratio.

"It's been in the workshop for such a long time as we've done things in a slow and sure manner since the day I bought it, without compromising in any way," he says. "It's involved many really talented people from quite a few workshops and we've shipped in parts and tuning gear from all over the world."

However, even after three years' graft on the car it still has a long way to go before it reaches UAE GT racing specifications. According to Henderson, it needs a new fuel cell, better safety equipment and a new interior for the engine, with lightweight titanium parts and balanced cranks to make the grade.

"We'll get there one day," he says with conviction. "And if we had 80 more horses in the back I'm sure we could lap Yas Marina Circuit faster than a road-going Aston Martin. That's part of the dream and one day we'll have an air-cooled Porsche that generates more than 500hp - I'm not sure how exactly but that's where we're heading long term," he adds.

"I think it's cool and most people understand it's a long-term evolutionary project. I'll never forget the look on my 11-year-old son Alex's face when I told him he can have the 9693 when he turns 17. It was a primal instinct and reminded me of how I felt when I bought my first Porsche and how my own father looked when he announced he was buying his first air-cooled 911," he beams.

Henderson admits the Porsche is an ambitious project that may never truly be finished or perfected, which, he explains, mirrors his outlook on art and architecture. With more than 275,000km on the Porche's clock and regular thrashings planned on the racetrack, it's likely Henderson will continue to be more regularly seen driving his Herbie Beetle or hanging out with his friends at Jebel Ali Cool Car Klub (Jacck), of which he is a founding member.