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The rear view of a white Russell Built Fabrications Baja 911 sliding in the desert

Russell Built Gets 964 Porsche 911 Cabriolet Dune Jumping

After several years of fabricating parts for Singer, TJ Russell wanted to build an air-cooled Porsche 911 that could tackle Baja. So, he founded Russell Built Fabrications, and is now turning 964 Porsche 911s--Cabriolets and Carrera 4s included--into dune-jumping machines.

Few trends in the world of classic cars have been as inspirational as the Safari 911. To some, the notion of taking a Porsche 911 off-road, especially a valuable air-cooled model, might seem ludicrous. However, it has historical precedence; and, more to the point, that sheer incredulity is part of the fun. The last few years have seen Porsche toy with the Safari notion and plenty of air-cooled builds from independent shops. But few are as wild as the one Russell Built Fabrications made out of a 964 Porsche 911 Cabriolet.

From the mind of Singer’s former fabricator comes a 964 Porsche 911 ready to catch Baja air

The rear view of a white Russell Built Fabrications Baja 911 sliding in the desert
Russell Built Fabrications Baja 911 rear view | Russell Built Fabrications

You might not be familiar with California-based Russell Built Fabrications’ founder, TJ Russell, but you might know his work. Before he founded his eponymous company, Russell fabricated parts for renowned 911 restomod company Singer.

But after roughly a decade of that, he wanted to try something else. Something that combined his love of classic 911s with his enjoyment of motocross and riding ATVs in the desert, Hagerty explains. And taking inspiration from Porsche’s 1970s and 1980s desert racing programs, he decided to make a 911 fit for conquering Baja.

Porsche 911 tuners and builders sometimes specialize in specific model generations. Gunther Werks, for example, typically works on 993s. Meanwhile, Russell Built uses 964 Porsches for its ‘Baja 911’ builds. And not just coupe models, but Cabriolets, too. Given that convertible cars are typically less rigid than the solid-roof versions, this might seem like an odd choice. But the custom roll cage Russell Built welds into the 964 Porsche makes it a non-issue, PistonHeads says.

That roll cage, though, is just the start of the modifications Russell Built makes to the 964 911. Practically no part of the car is left untouched. The shop extends the wheelbase by three inches and adds 14” of track for extra stability. However, it leaves the 964 911’s handling characteristics and weight distribution intact.

Next, it replaces the 964’s steel body panels with lightweight composite copies. And for additional strength, Russell Built reinforces the chassis with a custom tube frame, Road & Track reports. The shop also seam-welds the chassis and adds a ceramic coating and additional sound-deadening material. This increases occupant safety and cuts down on heat soak, NVH, and dust intrusion.

And we’re just getting started.

Want to make a 964 Porsche 911 jump dunes in luxury? Modify every last bit of it

The black-and-green interior with steel roll cage of a Russell Built Fabrications Baja 911
Russell Built Fabrications Baja 911 interior | Russell Built Fabrications

Regarding the suspension, the only things Russell Built’s Baja Porsche 911 retains from the stock 964 are the pickup points. The new suspension features chromoly steel and aluminum components as well as three-way adjustable coilovers and a NASCAR-style adjustable rear sway bar. And because this is a Safari 911, the modified 964 now has 12” of front travel and 13.5” of rear travel. The long-travel suspension, combined with the 30” Toyo off-road tires wrapped around fifteen52 Integrale wheels, also gives the Baja 911 13” of ground clearance.

Then there’s the Baja 964 Porsche 911’s powertrain. Rothsport Racing punches the standard 3.6-liter flat-six to 3.8 liters and fits custom internals, throttle bodies, and a manifold, plus a Motec ECU. As a result, rather than 250 hp and 228 lb-ft of torque, the Baja 911 makes 365 hp and 310 lb-ft of torque, Autoblog says. And that power goes through a 996 Turbo’s six-speed manual to either the rear or all four wheels, depending on the donor 964.

Not only is Russell Built’s 911 more powerful, but it’s also lighter than stock. Russell estimates his finished Carrera 4 Cabriolet build is about 100 lbs lighter than stock. That’s impressive given that the shop’s Baja 911 isn’t a totally spartan race car. In addition to the Sparco racing harnesses, the interior has carpets and leather-and-Alcantara-upholstered carbon-fiber Sparco seats. There’s even a lockable rear storage box. Plus, besides the dials for adjusting differential, brake, and torque bias, the Baja 964 911 has a Motec digital display. And buyers can add things like heating, A/C, navigation, and an audio system.

Russell Built’s 964 Safari Porsche 911 blew The Smoking Tire’s Matt Farrah’s mind in the desert

The Smoking Tire’s Matt Farrah knows a thing or two about Safari 911s. Until fairly recently, he owned one made by racer Leh Keen. However, for him, Russell Built’s Baja 911 “is the end of 911 modification.” Inasmuch as “you can’t modify any more things,” he says.

And the sum total of all those mods is a car that TJ Russell describes as “a lovechild…between a Trophy Truck and a GT3 RS.” The Baja 911’s long-travel suspension “accentuates” weight transfer and body movement, Farrah says. That’s a boon in the desert, as it lets you know exactly how the car is behaving. And, arguably, more importantly, it means this modified 964 is a delight to slide around in the sand.

On top of the handling, the Baja 911’s 996 Turbo-sourced transmission shifts with “tight and precise, crisp” movements, Farrah reports. You can rev the air-cooled engine “with reckless abandon” confident that it can handle the abuse. Plus, even with the AWD system set to RWD only, the car’s weight distribution means it can power up even steep inclines. “Where can’t you go? What can’t you do?” Farrah asks in the video above. The answers seem to be ‘nowhere’ and ‘nothing,’ respectively.

How much does one of these ‘Baja 911s’ cost?

The rear 3/4 view of a red 1990 964 Porsche 911 Carrera 2 Cabriolet on a South African mountain road
1990 964 Porsche 911 Carrera 2 Cabriolet rear 3/4 view | Kian Eriksen/Total 911 Magazine/Future via Getty Images

Russell Built Fabrications can turn any 964 Porsche 911 into a Baja 911: Cabriolet, Carrera 4, etc. TJ Russell actually prefers using Cabriolets, PH notes, as they’re less collectible. Indeed, a 964 Cabriolet is usually about $30,000 cheaper than a Coupe in similar condition, Hagerty reports.

That being said, getting a classic 911 ready to conquer the desert doesn’t come cheap. Builds start at $380,000 and run up to $650,000 depending on options, Car and Driver says. You could buy several F-150 Raptors or Ram 1500 TRXs for that much. But then, Safari 911 builds have never been about practicality or value. And if Farrah’s reaction is any indicator, the fun might be worth the price.

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