Featured: Growing Up In The German Tuner Era, Obsessing Over BBS Wheels, And Touring The Country Led To This Porsche 997.2 Safari

Growing Up In The German Tuner Era, Obsessing Over BBS Wheels, And Touring The Country Led To This Porsche 997.2 Safari

By Naveed Yousufzai
October 18, 2021
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Photography by Naveed Yousufzai

People have been modifying 911s for nearly as long as Porsche has produced them, but I feel like it wasn’t too long ago where making any sort of major changes that weren’t in pursuit of lap times would be considered sacrilege. However, the increased popularity of personalization in the past decade or two brought on by things like the RGruppe crowd, outlaw builds, and the Bisimotos of the world led the way for more out of the box builds. Purists will always exist, but it just seems like there are less of them these days. But then again, what’s so impure about turning a 911 into something more robust, something more at home off the road? It’s not like Porsche took their halo supercar rallying in the Dakar…

With the big names in customization like Singer and Tuthill leaving their impressions on us and helping push the narrative to a more open minded approach to “Safari” cars, many of us are taking notes on the full range of fun-having possibilities in Porsches. And some of us, like Asim and his 997, are taking it to heart. There are more radical and more expensive Safari builds out there, but those cars are typically part of much vaster collections and paid for with much deeper pockets than the average 911 owner, which makes car’s like this special not for being hyperbolic, but for being realistic. Of course this is all in relative terms, as jacking up a sports car and thrashing it around in the dirt is still pretty far removed from the average car owner’s experience. I sat with Asim recently to learn more about his road to off-road.

Naveed Yousufzai: Tell me about some of your background with cars—how’d you become interested?

Asim: It came from my family. I’m originally from Bosnia, where in the 1980s they manufactured the Mk2 Golf in Sarajevo. Everyone in my family drove an Mk2. Diesels, tiny gas engines, and sometimes Syncro variants—I was exposed to them all. 

When the war broke out in Bosnia in the ’90s, we fled to Germany, where as a kid it was hard to ignore automotive culture. How could you? It was the peak of tuned German cars—widebody Riegers, Oettingers, and BBS was something I was seeing a lot of around the age I started going to school. Our neighbor drove a green BMW E30, while on TV the movie Manta Manta was regularly being shown after its release in ’91.

We then moved to the United States in 1997, when the FIA GT1 class was all the rage among car-enthused kids like me, so in those early days where I barely spoke English and my parents were just trying to find their way around a new country, language, culture, and life, my mom would buy me car magazines. I distinctly remember a road test in Road & Track of the Mercedes CLK-GTR, and especially those amazing cutaway drawings they used to include. I was hooked. I thought the shape of those cars and how they attempted to evoke a street car was just the absolute coolest.

NY: That’s quite the international history, and it sounds like you’ve been all but destined to be into German cars. How did your childhood interest manifest itself once you got your license?

A: Well, fast-forwarding to my college years, I thought I’d become something “official,” so I went to school to become an architect. It wasn’t for me, but I changed my major to engineering because I still liked the idea of creating stuff. And engineering is probably the most direct way to working in some kind of automotive field, and I obviously never stopped liking cars.

Around that time, I was given a BMW Style 44 wheel by a family friend to resell, which I did on a site called vwvortex.com—many of the old VW and wheel guys will get nostalgic reading that I’m sure. This was the genesis of my true involvement with cars beyond the “I really like them” stage. I started finding out about the huge scene of wheel enthusiasts, and in particular, the one around BBS. I started buying and selling BBS wheels wherever I could find them, to the point I became somehow one of the de facto BBS guys who could tell you about every PCD, bolt pattern, offset, center cap style, all that minutiae. This was well before I got a car of my own. 

And once I did, it felt like I’d come around full circle to my childhood, seeing as my first car was a Mk2 Golf! It was a GTI 16-valve, but it didn’t have the right BBS wheels I was after, so I bought a second parts car just so I could get the correct BBS RAs. It also didn’t have the Recaro interior, so I transplanted that into the GTI too—I was making the very best version of what the car could be—well before it was mechanically sorted, I should add—because it harked back to the cars my family drove, and growing up with the German tuner culture. But perhaps it was also due to my many hours of drawing cars and improving them on paper, except now I had the ability to do that with a real one. 

I then transitioned from VWs to BMWs, as one almost always does. Multiple E30s and E36s followed, and they pretty much all wore BBS. And then I found myself going against the grain of the fan favorite basketweave designs and leaned into other parts of the company’s motorsport heritage, meaning I had turbofans on all my cars a decade or so before closed-face race wheels became popular again. I then made the within-brand pivot to focus on BMW M Coupes—they were just so otherworldly. Exaggerated in all dimensions, giant dish wheels, and extremely rare to boot (they also had great utility!). One M Coupe led to another M Coupe, and by the time that period was over I had had three Z3 M Coupes, one standard Z3 Coupe, a Z4M Coupe, and the pinnacle of that era for me was a Phoenix Yellow S54-powered Z3 M Coupe that I put almost 40,000 miles on—most of them fun ones.

NY: So you started with VWs, transitioned to BMWs, and eventually made your way into the Porsche world; I think that’s pretty in line with what I hear from a lot of German car enthusiasts, but what was your specific path?

A: Incidentally, the first Porsche I ever drove is the one I still have, and the one that inspired the creation of this 997 Safari.

I drove my 2009 997.2 C2S year-round in Chicago for also about 40,000 miles, and up and down the country to the smokies and the Tail of the Dragon, and it was ultimately the car in which I packed all my life’s belongings and drove to the west coast with to start life in San Francisco. It’s got everything: carbon buckets, full leather, aerokit, contrasting tan and black interior, Champion wheels—all the individual pieces to make even the most jaded 997 enthusiasts get a little weak in the knees. 

Once I got here, I happened to also stumble upon two other 997.2s which I drove for a bit, improved, and eventually sold. So when I found this Aqua Blue car, I thought ‘Well I’ve tried everything… except… taking one off the road. I already had a car fully specced out that I drove all around the country for five years, so what else was there but to drive all around in an even more literal sense? I think it was also partly due to the pandemic and needing a creative outlet when we were all cooped up, and maybe my inner child wanting to tinker and modify.

NY: Once you decided to go this route, how did you actually plan and execute your ideas?

A: This was when the Safari scene really blossomed. Leh Keen’s cars, DIYs, all sorts of air-cooled projects had been done already, but I hadn’t really seen anything well executed for the 997 generation. Especially on the heralded “very desirable” 997.2, so I said why not give it a try? The blue color screamed for a Rothmans livery, and who doesn’t love blue on white in general? 

So, in the beginning of this year, I started shopping for parts and suppliers that would be willing to help and sending this render I had made to everyone who would take a second to peek at it. A little different from my drawings as a kid, but maybe actually quite similar…

And with this effort came hundreds of back and forth emails discussing how the heck to get suspension geometry right on a car that hundreds of engineers probably spent many years perfecting for use on the street. Some might argue that I was actively ruining a very desirable spec 997.2, but I thought I was improving it, or at least improving it for my usage. 

When that first invoice came up to build the coilovers and order wheels that were three inches smaller in diameter than the factory ones, I knew I’d passed the point of no return. That’s when I really sent it and started collecting all the parts to make the car really cohesive—white wheels with a white roll bar, a matching GT3 alcantara steering wheel, matching white bucket Recaro Pole Positions… I couldn’t not have some extra lights on the front like any proper Safari build, so a custom light pod was sourced next. And well, what would it be without any kind of spoiler? Most people seem to love the ducktails and such, but I went with a fully functioning Turbo spoiler instead.

It’s cool to build an off-road-capable 911 in general I think, but I think the real fun is in tying the aesthetic and mechanical modifications together into something cohesive. I think Leh Keen has done a fantastic job at that with his funky interiors, and I wanted to follow that ethos of paying equal attention to how the car looked as you would to how it performed. 

NA: Yeah, I couldn’t agree more with you there. I think that the Safari approach on any-generation 911 seem to just, work. And I mean that in terms of driving performance as well as visual impact. I mean who looks at the factory Rothmans rally cars from the 1980s and says that’s a waste of a Porsche?

A: And I don’t baby my cars, so it makes even more sense to me. They are first and foremost, transportation. Of course we can appreciate what they stand for beyond the base act of moving us around, but that is the core of what makes cars interesting. I’ve made amazing friendships through cars, started companies with some of those friends because of them, and have viewed some other parts of life differently because of them.

In fact, I got my current job here because the guy in Chicago from whom I bought the floor mats that are in this Safari car knew the recruiter at my company. Floor mats! So really, I owe much of my California life and deep foray into this chassis because of something as simple as some rubber to keep my car’s carpets clean.

My black car has 105k and the blue one has about 90k on the odometer. At these points in their lives, why try to slow down into graceful aging? I’d rather give them a new outlook, and that’s what I think this car has now. It spent its life on the west coast being used as a commuter with hardly any time near redline, and now it’s being pushed to its boundaries in a way that very few of its contemporaries ever will. I think that’s pretty cool, and maybe even my own lighthearted snub to the collectors who only care about upholding values while forgetting to also enjoy the darn things.

NY: Ah yes, the value aspect. We know that 997.2’s are shooting up right now, with some saying they’re the last generation of predominantly analog 911s. Does it ever trouble you to think that perhaps you’ve handicapped your car’s value?

A: The only non-removable modification is a few holes in the hood to mount the light pod— everything else can be returned to stock spec if 20 years from now the 997.2 echoes the longhood market rally that happened a while back. But that all feels silly to think too much about. I’d rather just keep driving and enjoying these cars every day. Having this one in a place like San Francisco is also hilarious, and never in my life have I received as many thumbs up and seen people hanging out of their window to yell something or take a photo.

NY: Built for yourself, to drive and enjoy regardless of what the latest collector movement is. I like that mentality, and it’s something I try to live by with my 964. I think this is a fair place to end, but do you have any final thoughts you’d like to share?

A: Porsche is about to release their own Safari 992 and bring this whole mixed-purpose sports car thing to the forefront for real. I’m just glad that I am a small part of it. It isn’t for everyone, but it really speaks to the little kid in me that was drawing cars, modifying them in realistic and unrealistic ways, and seeing automotive culture grow and shift around me as I grew up and learned. We often forget to think about the roots of our hobbies and interests beyond just mentioning them, and in another few decades I’ll probably look back on this time in my life with similar nostalgia. I was set up at a young age to arrive at cars like this, I think. I might not be designing cars, but I think I’m having at least as much fun doing stuff like this. From pencil and paper to here, I’m following my visions to personalize and improve upon my favorite cars—my eight-year-old self would probably think that’s pretty rad.

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