The Keen Project Safari 911 first drive review: a time machine for any adventure

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Chad was running late, and we were already pressed for time. This entire plan was rushed and slapped together via a phone call and a few text messages over the weekend.

The Keen Project Safari 911 build No. 2 by former race car driver Lehman Keen was in Minneapolis for a short time to celebrate Porsche’s 70th birthday. As soon as I saw that my friends Chad and Luis had the car in town, I needed a stint behind the wheel.

I shot a text to Chad: “Where are you?”

Chad called back moments later and screamed over the wail of the special 911's flat-6 engine.

“Traffic. Road’s closed. Rerouting. Be there in a few minutes.”

Soon after, I heard the wail myself as the car entered Watertown, Minnesota. I turned to see my new highlight of the week: a white 1989 Porsche 911 Safari with driving lights ablaze in broad daylight.

Chad got out of the car wearing a blue sport coat, white dress shirt, sunglasses, jeans, and dress shoes—business casual exiting a rally fighter built for desert duty, and the irony was still perfect. He tossed me the keys after pleasantries. It was time to drive.

READ: Interview: Lehman Keen, the man behind The Keen Project Safari 911

The Keen Project Safari 911 No. 2

The Keen Project Safari 911 No. 2

I opened the driver’s door with a loud click as I engaged the handle, plopped into the blue leather and plaid-covered race seat, and closed my eyes. Instantly my nostrils were filled with the musk of vintage German leather, plastic, carpet, and vinyl. My mind wandered back to my 1991 E34 M5— once again the regret of selling it burned, but didn’t last long.

“Are you ready for this?” Chad asked.

“Hell yes,” I said without thinking.

A quick turn of the key on the left-side of the dashboard—because this is a Porsche—and approximately 230 healthy horsepower from the chipped 3.2-liter flat-6 erupted to life. It was smooth, angry, and just waiting for me to give it the juice.

As we snaked our way across blacktop heading toward some county dirt roads, I was amazed at how quiet the 215/65 R16 KO2 tires were at 60 mph. The 4.0-inch lift combined with the beefy all-terrain tires soaked up any road imperfections, but a creaking noise emanated from the rear suspension.

The Keen Project Safari 911 No. 2

The Keen Project Safari 911 No. 2

Chad told me those squeaks were the poly bushings, and I later learned from Keen that newer builds have poly bronze bushings that feature bronze inserts with serviceable grease, but the owner of this car doesn’t want to give the car up to have them installed.

When the rear KO2s hit the gravel road I buried the throttle. The tach instantly jumped as the flat-6 came alive, and revved all the way out to its 6,500 rpm redline before I grabbed the black wiffle ball shifter and threw the tight G50 gearbox into third gear.

I looked down and asked Chad how accurate the speedometer was.

“Dead on, why?” he said.

We hit 80 mph without effort. I began laughing, maniacally.

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