If you tried to enter a Porsche 911 GT3 Cup car in a budget racing series like the 24 Hours of Lemons, I'd tell you you're out of your goddamn mind. But if you said it was actually built from an obscure Korean spec series race truck, I'd say the same thing, just supportively. A race shop in New Zealand is doing just that: Turning one revered spec racer into an entirely different, jankier one because...who knows? It's funny, that much is for sure. So is its name: the Ssanger.
This I learned from its builder, Nick Mitchell of Kiwiland's Mitchell Race Xtreme. You may know them as the shop that fit an IndyCar V8 to a Ferrari 458 GT3. That car was built for Deon Cooper, one of the owners of the NZ division of Ssangyong—that less-successful Korean automaker that made '90s Hyundais look like Hondas by comparison. Before Ssangyong got bought out, Cooper sought to boost the brand's profile with a spec series for its Actyon Sports pickup truck, and MRX was the team chosen to engineer it. This'll be important in a moment.
About a year ago, MRX was restoring a 1980 Porsche 911 SC (930) for Cooper, who went to pick up parts at a Porsche dealer. While he was there, he noticed a caged shell sitting out in a field on the lot—a 997 GT3 Cup that was damaged in a crash. The car had been stripped for parts, and its skeleton left to grow moss. He asked MRX if they could put a Ssangyong frame underneath it, and the dealer how much it wanted for the shell. The answers were "yes" and "Free-99," respectively, and thus the Ssanger (also sometimes called the FrontPorch) was born.
Mitchell set to work repairing the Porsche body to mate it to a Ssangyong ladder frame. To do so, he replaced the crunched sheet metal with fresh material, then cut out the frame rails fore and aft of the cabin. That readied it to mate to the boxed frame from a 2015 Actyon Sports donor, but with a few feet cut out of its midsection to match the Porsche's wheelbase. Grafts like this are a common way to build oddly bodied off-roaders, but Mitchell was still astounded how easily the two fit together.
"You would be amazed how close this thing was, it was like a match made in heaven," he said.
While the body may be pure Porsche, the mechanicals are much closer to one of the Actyon Racing Series track trucks. It keeps its double-wishbone front suspension (with revised upper mounts for better geometry) and coil-sprung solid rear axle—though it now uses coilovers at all four corners. The brakes are enlarged too, but the steering is still Ssangyong, as is much of the drivetrain. If you can consider it Ssangyong's in the first place, anyway.
The Actyon Sports wasn't powered by a Korea-designed powerplant, or a GM LS3 V8. Instead, Ssangyong brought in Mercedes M111 four-cylinders, the 2.3-liter motors used in '90s C- and E-Classes. The motor got a complete makeover for spec racing, generating 240 horsepower on its way to 9,000 rpm. In this truck—car, thing, whatever—it'll be mated to a six-speed Quaife sequential transmission.
Of course, with the series it was designed for seemingly dead in the water, that leaves one place for the Ssanger to race: Lemons. That sounds obvious, but it's a bit of a head-scratcher if you're familiar with the junker racing series. They're supposed to be competitions between cars worth $500, and built from road cars, not purpose-built race cars. The Ssanger seems to be more the latter.
But since the Ssanger's technically just a Porsche body on a truck frame, not a 911 Cup car, it's in the right spirit. It doesn't hurt that Lemons NZ's sanctioning body NAZCAR (yes, really) has a class for "Limes"—cars that are too fast for Lemons. That doesn't just make it more inclusive and give the tryhards somewhere to compete, but also makes it easier to fill out fields.
Even so, it'll be interesting to see how Lemons treats this super-Ssangyong, both in New Zealand and in the United States. Mitchell speaks of shipping the car Stateside for a race at Laguna Seca, where the Ssanger would no doubt Corkscrew with a few racers' heads. And by the sound of things, maybe run circles around them, too.
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