What Makes the Singer ACS a Real Desert Race Car

Chris Perkins
·4 min read
Photo credit: Singer Vehicle Design
Photo credit: Singer Vehicle Design

From Road & Track

The Singer All-Terrain Competition Study (ACS) is not just a lifted Porsche 911. Nor is it like any 911 the California company has previously "reimagined." This is a real-deal desert race car, designed not to simply look cool and follow a trend, but to actually compete in harsh off-road events like the Dakar and the Baja 1000. For engineering geeks, it's a feast of cool details. We spoke with Singer CEO Maz Fawaz to get the rundown on one of the wildest 911s we've ever seen.

"Unlike [our] other restorations, we started with a roll structure, because it's a racing car," Fawaz says. "It looks like you melded a 964 and a desert racing car when you take the body off." None of the body panels on the car are structural—they simply cover up an FIA-spec steel tube roll cage and the basic structure of the 964 underneath. Carbon fiber is one of Singer's specialties, so naturally, the body panels on the ACS are carbon. Fawaz says other materials, like fiberglass, can be used too, reducing replacement cost when the bodywork is inevitably damaged with heavy use.

The suspension setup on the ACS is defined by its tires: BFGoodrich K02s, ideal for desert terrain but extremely heavy. Fawaz, himself a Baja racer, says this car isn't designed for huge jumps like a trophy truck but to deal with tough sandy terrain while handling like the smaller vehicle it is. Singer tapped U.K. specialist Tuthill Porsche to help develop the chassis, as the company has multiple East African Classic Safari Rally victories to its name, all in 911s. Plus, company head Richard Tuthill ran the Baja 1000, so he knows what these sorts of cars need.

Photo credit: Singer Vehcile Design
Photo credit: Singer Vehcile Design

Bespoke subframes are bolted to the monocoque, with twin five-way adjustable dampers at each corner. Singer and Tuthill had to use twin dampers to get the damping capability needed for off-road racing—individual units would have been too tall and heavy. There's also a reliability benefit, as if one damper fails, there's still a second at work. That sort of thing is critical in desert racing, where the car may have to go long stretches between repairs.

Singer and Tuthill also developed a bespoke all-wheel drive system for this car, one not based on any other 911 setup, with mechanical limited-slip front, center, and rear differentials. Fawaz doesn't know the exact front-rear torque split yet because that's what Tuthill is working on right now. All the differentials are adjustable, and there will be different settings for different terrains.

When I initially saw the engine spec, a 3.6-liter twin-turbo flat-six making 450 hp, I assumed it was the unit from the 993 Turbo cranked up a bit. That's not the case. Singer developed a new turbocharging system for the3.6-liter 964 engine it typically modifies, with twin intercoolers and twin charge-air coolers cooled by a radiator mounted in the front clamshell. So this air-cooled 911 is partially water-cooled. Those big, heavy tires once again played a role in defining the engine: Singer wanted lots of torque and a broad powerband, which meant turbocharging was the way to go. "And it will take a beating in a very tough environment," Fawaz adds. "Hot, sand, getting the crap kicked out of it… It has to be bulletproof, which you learn the hard way in off-road racing."

Photo credit: Singer Vehicle Design
Photo credit: Singer Vehicle Design

What's exciting is that the ACS won't be the last turbocharged car from the Singer workshop. Fawaz says it's still early days, but this engine serves as a sort of development platform for other cars. "Turbocharging will be in our future. And this is the first foray into that. So we're quite excited," he said.

The client ordered a second ACS to be set up for tarmac rallies. Fawaz says that at its core, the ACS is a desert machine, but because it's light and powerful, it should be very competent in other environments.

And the best part? This thing will be used. Fawaz expects the owner will do around 15,000 to 20,000 miles a year, with lots of off-road competition. Given the COVID-19 situation, it's impossible to say now where and when the ACS will compete, but suffice to say this isn't Cars and Coffee fodder. "It's not like we did it for Instagram or something. I wouldn't be able to stand that," Fawaz said. "This is a very serious piece of kit."

Photo credit: Singer Vehicle Design
Photo credit: Singer Vehicle Design

Serious though it may be, there is something humorous about the ACS. "Racing across the desert, you can just take a helicopter if you're interested in getting there faster," Fawaz says. "There's always a better solution. But that's not the point."

The Singer ACS represents a very specific kind of madness. In today's world, an air-cooled 911 is an expensive, silly thing to take racing in the desert when you could just buy a trophy truck. But that's the fun. The ACS exists simply for its own sake, to answer a question few have asked. And we're better for it.

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