PORSCHE 924 SUPER TOURING
Long-distance racers and station-wagons? That’ll be #DP-Motorsport
! Back in #1981
, they specialised in slant-nosed 930 conversions and 935 endurance racecars. They also built eight Cargo shooting-brakes based on the 924 Turbo. Words: Johnny Tipler. Photography: Antony Fraser.
Sports estates: style icons or practical load carriers? Just how valid are they, based on models designed for speed and sport? I’m not so sure, given that I can accommodate a five-piece drum kit in a 911, and a comprehensive Lidl shop aboard a Boxster. This is true of a frontengined Porsche too, and that suggests an estate-bodied sports GT is merely an aesthetic evolution or spinoff without any real practical benefit. Fair enough, then. But this Porsche station-wagon is not only a looker, it has an intriguing provenance too. Say hello to the DP Motorsport #Porsche-924-Turbo-Cargo
We’ve braved the wintry North Sea crossing aboard Stena’s luxury liner, and we’re viewing the car at Johan Dirickx’s 911Motorsport garage near Antwerp, Belgium. Set amongst a coterie of supremely indifferent 911 RSs, it’s an unusual object, though sleek and individual enough to hold its own, cheeky monkey. You get the feeling though that Johan is tolerant of it, rather than effusive. ‘It’s kind of cute looking, it drives well, and it’s something rather special and distinctive,’ he admits.
The maker’s prefix gives the game away. Partly: DP Motorsport made its name producing slant nose bodies for the twinturbo 935 racing cars – notably the Kremer K3 and K4 run by Kremer Racing in the late-’70s and early-’80s, Le Mans winners with Klaus Ludwig and the Whittington brothers in 1979. Serious pieces of kit, as are the prototype bodyshells that DP produce today for race teams and specialists, alongside more frivolous fare such as cosmetic ancillaries like mirrors, wings and spoiler kits for production Porsches. Back in 1981, this expertise enabled DP to create its take on the sports estate, based on the 924 Turbo, which they endowed with the optimistic though no doubt tongue-in-cheek nomenclature, the Cargo. ‘I always loved shooting-brakes,’ says Johan, ‘and I thought it was a fun idea to make a sportscar into a shooting-brake. As we’ve seen more recently, Porsche played around with the Panamera as a shooting-brake, so it’s a kind of style that people seem to like; but actually there’s not much more room in this than there would be in an ordinary 924.’
Of course, its flared-out wheelarches reminds us straight away of the 924 Carrera GT of 1980, essentially a 924 Turbo with glassfibre-reinforced polyurethane wings and valances, though in fact it’s less fussy, with just the single NACA duct in the bonnet and fewer slats and vents. Johan used to own a pukka 924 Carrera GTS, and out of interest he put the wheels of that car onto the 924 Cargo and discovered the body was significantly slimmer than the GTS’s. ‘Basically it’s a 924 Turbo that Ekkehard Zimmerman widened to get the look of a 924 GTS, but when we measured it we noticed that it’s much smaller.’ Finished in sober silver, it’s easy to mistake it for a 944 today, so accustomed are we to the broad flanks of the front-engined Porsche. That’s when viewed from the front. But where do you look for inspiration for the lift-up tailgated rear?
Sure, there’ve been a few precedents over the years, most notably the #Reliant-Scimitar-GTE
; you might recall the Triumph TR4 Dove, the Volvo 1800ES and the Sunbeam Harrington Alpine; or perhaps the Aston Martin DB6 and DBS Estates, and the Jensen-Healey GT, Lotus Elite Type 75, Gilbern Invader GTE and the Jaguar XJS Lynx Eventer also spring to mind. Some might cite the Kamm-tailed Ferrari 250GT ‘Breadvan’ as a stylistic cue, although that never had any pretentions as a load carrier.
As you’d expect, Porsche itself was not oblivious to the concept. In 1984, Dr Ferry Porsche was presented with a one-off 928S station wagon for his birthday, which is on display in the factory museum, by which time the DP Motorsport Cargo had been on the streets for four years. But Porsche was never seriously tempted to make an estate version of their other front-engined cars.
That left the way clear for aftermarket tuners to take up the baton – two in particular. On your marks, Ekkehard Zimmermann, founder of Overath- (Cologne) based DP Motorsport, and Günther Artz of Autohaus Nordstadt in Hanover. The Zimmerman estate cars were based on the #Porsche-924-Turbo
and 944, while Artz targeted the 944 and 928 as well. Artz was slightly more prolific, creating maybe twenty 924 Turbo estates to DP Motorsport’s nine. While DP Motorsport is best known for its renditions of the 930 in slant-nose 935 guise, Artz was more catholic in his choice of subject matter, even creating a mid-engined VW Beetle on a 914/6 chassis and a Mk 1 VW Golf on a 928 shell. Artz’s 924 Combi aped the 924 Carrera GT’s rear wheelarches, and cost Dm63K (£23,500) in 1981.
Founded in 1973, DP Motorsport (the initials stand for Design und Plastik) is still going strong, run by Ekkehard’s son Patrick, prototyping bodyshells for racecars and specialists and creating and supplying accessories such as mirrors and spoilers for most Porsche sports models.
As well as the Le Mans win, DP Motorsport milestones include the Kremer K4, Kremer CK5 Group C car, the DP 935 II, a road-going 962 in 1991, and the twinturbo 996 DP5 of 2005. ‘Zimmerman was an aerodynamic genius,’ vouchsafes Johan, ‘and he developed the aerodynamics of the 935s. He made the bodies for Kremer Racing, and he made the DP 930s, the 935s, the Kremer K1, K2, and K3, which were all an evolution of the theme, and there was a very intense collaboration between Zimmerman and Kremer. And in that respect the 924 Cargo, which was produced at pretty much the same time, has a rather interesting pedigree because if you put it alongside the 1979 Le Mans winning K3 you have the same logo and the same development.’
I spoke with Patrick Zimmerman, son of DP founder Ekkehard, to find out how the Cargo was made. ‘We first developed small modification parts for customers who wanted to embellish their vehicles, such as front spoiler, rear rack and sills, and as interest grew we expanded our program to include full fronts, wings with half sills, large rear tail panel, bonnet and doors. For the 924 and 944 Cargo, the entire roof, tailgate, side panels, B-pillar, C-pillar and tailgate inner frame were modelled as a clay buck and pared away to achieve the desired styling.’ More fundamentally, the rear roof panel and tailgate section is mounted on a steel subframe with corners braced across the angles, and welded onto the base 924 shell. Each car took around four months to build, and that included fabricating the cabin upholstery in-house as well.
The initial idea to create a 924 Combi was Ekkehard Zimmermann’s. ‘We built a total of nine Cargos,’ Patrick explains, ‘and two or three of those were 944s, done around #1988
.’ So at least six were 924 Turbos. ‘We would only modify the 924 Turbo engine and suspension if asked to do so by the customer.’ The first DP 924 Cargo’s design received TüV approval, which worked for the rest of the series. Some DP Motorsport cars have a DP VIN plate, some have a Porsche VIN plate, which is what our subject car presents. Chassis number is WPOZZZ93ZCN100203.
DP Motorsport took commissions from owners who fancied the shooting-brake look, rather than buying into a new car on a speculative basis. According to Patrick Zimmerman, one reason for the popularity of sports station wagons was Scandinavia’s idiosyncratic tax laws. Sports cars attracted high taxes as luxury vehicles, whereas a Combi was taxed as a truck. However, at £13,101 on top of the purchase price of the 924 Turbo it was an expensive conversion in the first place. The later 944 S2-based dp44 version created in 1988 is conceptually similar, using the rear roof section of the VW Passat Variant as the basis for the conversion, supported on a similar tubular steel subframe as the 924 Cargo’s to provide structural rigidity.
Like other specialists including Ruf and TechArt, DP Motorsport would take on a client’s newly acquired car and get to work on it. ‘I think this one was already converted from new,’ says Johan, ‘because it was first registered in Belgium and when the car was new you could not cut it up and then register it afterwards, so I think the car was like this from new because it was a unique homologation to get it on the road back then. It’s pretty well built, too,’ he reflects; ‘it’s all good quality and you wouldn’t think of it as being a kit car, you’d rather assume that it was built in the factory as a prototype.’ The conversion appears not to have affected the weight of the car at all. According to the documentation, the Cargo tips the scales at 1500kg, and the gross weight of a standard 924 Turbo was the same; odd, in view of the polyurethane panels.
Our feature 924 Cargo was first registered on 11 September 1981. Two years ago, Johan’s curiosity was aroused by the red dp44 on DP Motorsport’s website when he was considering buying a slantnose 930. ‘They told me they still had a Cargo kit available to build another one, so I was thinking of commissioning the transformation of my 968 Club Sport into a Cargo, and then my mechanic Joe (Pinter) told me there was this silver 924 version for sale in Belgium. It was standing in a junkyard, and apparently the owner was about to move to Majorca and was clearing out. I bought it basically because I wanted to make a service vehicle for the garage out of it, but actually as a service car it just doesn’t quite make it! The idea was to drive it around and to service our clients when they were doing a rally, carrying material in the back, but it’s not really big enough.’
Johan walks me round the car, and we tap the panels to identify those which are polyurethane and which are steel. The roof is half and half: the original section over the two main seats is steel and rearwards from the B-pillar it’s polyurethane. ‘They cut the original shell away across here and bonded on the flat rear section to create the estate car look,’ observes Johan. ‘If you look very carefully you can see the line across the roof where both parts have been bonded together. You can see where it looks to be rippling slightly.’ The front and rear wings (fenders), valances at both ends, the rear tailgate, all are polyurethane. The doors are steel, as is the bonnet, and that seems quite odd in itself, because if you are going to the trouble of making polyester wings, roof and front panel, then why not make a polyester engine lid? A ‘secret’ button in the driver’s door frame opens the rear hatch, which swings smartly upwards on powerful hydraulic dampers. The cargo deck is neatly carpeted in the same piled fabric that clads the rest of the cabin, and there’s a hatch to a cubby box in the floor and another ‘smuggler’s box’ behind the right wheelarch. A semi-circular hump indicates where the spacesaver spare wheel is housed within the left rear panel behind the inner wheelarch. ‘It’s nicely finished; it’s not what you would call a kit car finish.’ The fuel filler is located in the right-hand rear Cpillar. As for the roof bars, we are sceptical that they would support a packed Thule topbox, and a surfboard would impede the rear hatch opening. Probably ornamental, then. We open the bonnet. It’s a stock 924 Turbo 2.0-litre straight-four, all pipes shiny and clean and very well presented, having been removed in Johan’s workshop while the car was overhauled. ‘We rebuilt the transaxle gearbox, the rear diff, the brakes, but we didn’t do the suspension because I thought it was good enough, and we didn’t do the engine because I thought that was good, too.’
One of the most prominent features is the five-spoke star-shape German-made AZEV wheels, shod with Hankook 265/40ZR17 tyres on the back and 215/45ZR17 on the front. Johan isn’t impressed. ‘If I keep the car I will put it on Fuchs wheels, but it’s registered with those wheels and I keep them on because every year it has to go back for the MOT and if I put on other wheels they make a real hassle of it. These are 17in diameter, and I want to put on 16in Fuchs wheels but the car is only homologated with these.’ The angle of the front wheels displays a large degree of negative camber, and Johan thinks the suspension must have originally been a little higher than it is now: ‘but it is typically ’80s, and I suppose that was the way we thought our cars should look back then. Now I’ll order adjustable suspension so we can change right height and stiffness, and I think it will be maybe two centimetres higher than it is right now.’
Being a 924 Turbo, the steering wheel doesn’t adjust and it doesn’t have power steering, but in practice it feels pretty good. I’m not conscious of being in the normal 924 seating position, and instead I’m sitting pleasantly low. It’s not like the normal ’70s car where you have to adapt to the seating position. The aftermarket RS-style wheel helps here, and it doesn’t rest on my thighs like the standard one would. The seats look more like 911 items, maybe 930 Turbo, which could fit with DP’s penchant for delivering extravagant 930s and making standard seats redundant. ‘They have the big bulges on the sides, and they look good with the Porsche logo striping,’ says Johan.
The rear seats fold down to make a flat cargo deck, and they also have the Porsche script on them; I think they are probably reupholstered 924 seats. ‘All interior panels are polyester, clad in leatherette, and they are different from the original ones – just check the ribbing on the inner door panels – so DP made those too.’ It’s got electric windows but no sunroof, perhaps because of the dual material roof. All the cabin furniture is present, down to the console ashtray, the switchgear and Blaupunkt radio, and the handbrake is low down on the left of the driving seat. The instrumentation is comprehensive enough, if dated looking: it is simply a typical manifestation of the early 1980s.
Let’s see how this Cargo car goes. The steering’s not too heavy, and you don’t need power steering to move it around, and it manoeuvres pretty well at low speed. I’m pleasantly surprised at how nice the driving position is, the seats are supportive and comfortable, and it’s a neat RS-style wheel, so that on the move, even without power steering, it’s actually very easy to drive and I do rather like it. The urge from the turbo is pretty lively. I’ve got the pop-up headlights on, which helps me locate where the front of the car is, helping pinpoint apexes when turning in. The brakes are firm if not dramatic, though there’s not much feel through the pedal, while the accelerator is decently responsive. The ride over the Belgian pavé cobbles is juddery, as you’d expect, but not so uncomfortable for the passenger. The tiny racing mirrors are not great looking, especially in the context of an estate car, and are not terribly effective in practice. I have to peer into them to actually see anything very much, so I’m relying on ther main internal mirror. There’s a new gearbox selector gate to learn as well, because of the dogleg 1st gear, though I’m familiar enough with the concept from driving early 911s. But this is like a #Porsche-924
gearbox but with a dogleg gate, and though one quickly becomes familiar with it, it does give quite a different impression of the way the car drives. First is easy enough to locate, though, and the ratios are decently spaced for regular motoring. I’m using between 2,000rpm and 4,000rpm during normal progress, and on the country lanes I don’t need really more than 3,000rpm. But for getting the best acceleration out of it I’m going up to 4,000rpm when the turbo chimes in and it really does feel like a sports car. This is a funky little car indeed to drive; it’s quick and its rasping four-cylinder engine provides decent performance once the turbocharger comes into play. Handling is equally competent: there’s no body roll, and it steers properly and responds to throttle induced under- and oversteer, cornering with confidence. The wide tyres provide decent grip and there’s no tramlining effect. It’s a great drive, and seems more nimble than a 944.
When we arrived at Kontich to shoot the Cargo, Johan was deeply ambivalent about whether to keep it or not. His backup plan was to trade it against his “Happy People” Per Eklund rally 911, and mechanic Mike van Dingenen had scrupulously overhauled it to that end. ‘I think it will grow on me over a couple of thousand kilometres,’ he says, ‘so I might as well take it apart and have the engine overhauled.’ As I whizz it to and fro on our photoshoot route for the benefit of Antony’s lenses, Johan watches attentively. I can’t claim my wheelsmanship sways him particularly, but the spectacle does concentrate his mind. ‘I’m definitely going to hang onto it,’ he declares. ‘It will also benefit from more modern suspension; we’ll raise it a little bit and just have fun with it. It’s a little period piece, very ’80s, so it’s very much a symbol of my youth!’ Whether he regresses and takes up playing the drums on account of it is another matter entirely.
CONTACTS: Stena Line, Harwich to Hook-of- Holland: stenaline.co.uk 911Motorsport Blauwesteenstraat 122 2550 Kontich Belgium Tel: 0032 (0) 475 270 404 Web: 911motorsport.be Email: [email protected]
Above: Looks great on the road! Left: 924 Turbo engine puts out 170bhp. In reality, load area isn’t much more than in standard 924, although there is a good deal more height. Interior is standard 924 Turbo, but with later steering wheel and 911 seats.
DP Motorsport specialises in plastic mouldings and one off components, so no surprise that the custom made panels are exactly that, or polyurethane to be accurate. The roof panel is half polyurethane, as are the front and rear flared arches and the front and rear aprons.
They cut the original shell and bonded on the flat rear section to create the estate car look, says Johan.
Each 924 Cargo took DP Motorsport four months to build in their Overath workshops. A total of nine were built.
Left: DP Motorsport logo is familiar, while ‘cargo’ logo is typical of the period. Deep dish AZEV wheels have always suited the 924/944 well. NACA duct in the bonnet feeds intercooler.
It’s kind of a stubby looking thing, but very modern looking given its early ’80s build. Handsome too, and you can’t but think that Porsche could have flogged a few of these had they built something similar.