Technical excellence gets soul

It takes a certain breed of person to drive a Gemballa Porsche, especially one as brazen as this GT550. You can't for instance, imagine this customer relaxing in the evening with a cup of hot chocolate and a little Vivaldi. Arriving at the club with gold-plated teeth, a MAC-10 wielding bodyguard and his harem following a discreet distance behind in a blacked out Hummer? Yes, that does sound more like it, this isn't a car for an angel.

See there's nothing subtle about this machine, or many that have gone before it, and that has helped Uwe Gemballa build a formidable business in Leonberg, Stuttgart, supplying overblown cars to the ludicrously rich. The Avalanche is his most famous to date, taking the 996 Turbo right up to 750bhp. But the 997 has presented a few problems.

The advent of VTG in the twin-turbo has been greeted as the greatest use of technology since Internet pornography, but the tuners have been privately tearing their hair out. They can't simply throw the turbos in the bin and strap a larger pair to the engine now, it doesn't work that way, and they've been feverishly working on replacements behind the scene.

Until it comes, the big power conversions are a thing of the past unless they ditch the whole engine and install a 996TT. So this relatively mild enhancement is the best even the fearsome Gemballa can do right now.

That's about to change, they cracked the Enigma code when we were on the airstrip with the GT550 and they're already putting together the next generation Avalanche. They work fast in Leonberg, so expect the next generation mighty soon, but this is still one of the quickest conversions out there and more than enough for most Turbo drivers. Especially in Tiptronic form, as that is faster than the manual in standard form.

The GT550 comes with, perhaps unsurprisingly, 550bhp and 575lb/ft of torque, courtesy of a new exhaust, an engine remap and more air hitting the turbos. That rear wing isn't just for show, those air intakes genuinely work and force yet more cold air to the engine that is still in the wrong place - if you believe in science.

Predictably, then, this car accelerates like the outer case of a nuclear bomb. Porsche's figures were conservative to begin with and now this car will scorch to 60mph in 3.6s, maximum, and will beast it right the way up to 198mph. The extra power truly makes itself known in the mid range acceleration as it just hammers up through the gears. More interesting, though, is the way it feels.

The figures alone would never justify the investment, but there's more. The only real problem with the 997 Turbo, in stock form, is that it is all things to all men and as such it needs to have comfortable ride and handling, an exhaust note that doesn't hurt after hours at the wheel and all manner of other refinements. But you can't please everyone all of the time and a lot of owners have complained their car is a little dull and although it is faster than a Greyhound on Amphetamines it just doesn't feel it.

Gemballa has rectified the problem with a few neat tricks. First the exhaust is now so fruity it feels like they've cut holes in the floor as the roaring Flat Six invades the cabin from the moment you fire it up. Under hard acceleration there's a deep, rumbling aggression of a quake ripping through the Earth's crust. It's that loud, it's that sexy.

The company has also dropped the car by 40mm with new springs and fitted new 20" wheels that, when you think about it, will cut into the ride quality that Zuffenhausen spent so long perfecting. And the effect is pronounced. The car now skips off serious ruts in the road and juggled down the tarmac. The wheel kicks and pulls and with a real gearbox to play with it might even have been a handful. Of course with four wheel drive there to keep it going forward however many wheels are off the ground it's still going too take care of you.

By not soaking up every imperfection in the tarmac, though, the GT550 feels like it's handed some level of control over to the driver who spent so much money to enjoy a special experience, rather than doing all the work on your behalf and killing the fun.

With the looks, Gemballa will go as far as the limits of your own imagination and this driver clearly wants to show off. The silvered carbon-fibre look won't be for everyone, but at least these aerodynamic parts actually do something.

Uwe Gemballa is proud of his link with Stuttgart University that allows him to use the wind-tunnel there and his bodykits get the full treatment that is usually reserved for the manufacturers and F1 teams.

The front wing reduces front end lift and drag at the same time, which isn't bad going, and the whole package channels air towards those vacuous intakes set beneath the rear wing and into the brakes. The rear is just as aggressive, too, with a clear view through the mesh into the rear of the car, high-set exhaust exits and more of the silver trinkets.

And should the owner have chosen not to take Porsche's ceramic brakes, Gemballa has an almighty upgrade kit that goes all the way up to 415mm discs on the front married to eight-piston callipers and 380mm with four pots on the rear. You'll never really want for more, if you do then trust me you'd have found a way to crash in a bouncy castle.

Gemballa's GT550 is a work of art and hacking in to the 997 Turbo's near perfect state. They haven't just hung on a set of wings, they've put some horns into the equation, too. The angel has fallen, and it feels all the better for it.

Gallery: WCF Test Drive: Gemballa GT550

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