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Halfpanzer

Halfpanzer



Halfpanzer

Oil Stain Lab's Half-11.

 


Words Chris Nelson Images Jade Nelson & Ean Sierra


 

After a day of drinking beer in the oppressive summer heat of California’s Palm Desert, brothers Iliya and Nikita Bridan did something that they’d talked about doing for two years: they went into the garage, took out a reciprocating saw, and used it to cut the steel unibody of a Porsche 912 coupe in half. “We had nothing at that point, we just wanted to get started,” Nikita says. “This entire project, we have not thought far at all; it's literally been spur of the moment, one day at a time.”

The street-legal Half-11 is the first build to come out of Long Beach’s Oil Stain Lab, run by the 33-year-old Bridan twins, whom we first met in Issue 031 when we featured their safari-style 1974 Alfa Romeo 105 GTV, the Dropped Alfa. The brothers first discussed the Porsche-based Half-11 project about five years ago after a conversation about the SCCA Canadian-American Challenge Cup, or Can-Am, and the car that eventually killed Can-Am: the Porsche 917 Spyder.

 

The Can-Am racing series ran from 1966 to 1974 and is remembered as one of the most entertaining automotive brawls ever, because the sanctioning body imposed very few restrictions on teams and allowed for highly innovative engineering, like Jim Hall’s 1970 Chaparral 2J “sucker car" that used ground-facing fans to create negative vacuum pressure and dramatically increase downforce at any speed. In 1972, Penske Racing entered the Can-Am season with the Porsche 917/10 Spyder, and the following season debuted the 917/30 Spyder, which had a 1,500-horsepower, 5.4-liter, twin-turbo flat-12. Piloted by legendary engineer and driver Mark Donohue, the “Turbopanzer” so impressively dominated the ’73 season —  winning six of eight races — that the SCCA imposed fuel-consumption rules to encourage more competition. When Porsche couldn’t return the following season, upset fans lost interest in Can-Am. In ‘74, only five of the eight scheduled races actually happened, and the original Canadian-American Challenge Cup came to its end.

“Our love is the 917, and originally that's what we wanted to build,” Iliya tells us. “It's such an ultimate car, but we just couldn’t build it, because we couldn’t put a Porsche flat-12 in it. We can't afford it. And we couldn’t use a flat-six because it’s not enough power, and it's not going to scare you or try to kill you. Then we thought, ‘Why don't we just do this Can-Am kind of 911?’ The next day, I did this digital chop-job of half a Porsche and half an exposed Formula One car in the back as a test. The wheelbase was massive because it has a V-12, and it was proportionally funky, but as a proof of concept or as a guiding light, it was super cool.”

While they knew they’d use the shell of a 1966 Porsche 912 coupe that sat unloved in the backyard of their house, they knew little else about the direction the build would take, which is why the Half-11 project lived only in their minds until that fateful, drunken afternoon in the desert. They had shaved pieces of sheet metal but had no chassis to hang them on, so Nikita taught himself how to use Fusion 360 simulation software and went through 30 iterations of tubular geometries for the wide, short, nearly square-footprint Half-11 before commissioning a shop to bring the design to life. “Those guys totally fucked us,” he says regretfully. “I think they thought we were completely high or just not very intelligent based on the project, and they were greatly disappointed when we called them out on it. It deteriorated really badly to the point where we had to call the cops because they wouldn't let us have the car. It was a disaster.”

 

Iliya adds, “Basically the car sat for another six months after that. We thought we were finally on our way to getting this project going, and then two weeks in, we had to pull the plug because of these guys. All we'd done is cut our car in half, and already we were fucked. It was a huge setback and a really big mental hurdle for us to overcome — to even trust people again, or to trust a shop.” 

In hopes of keeping their spirits high and creativity flowing, the Bridans began doing elaborate digital renderings of the Half-11 and dropping the car in different scenes from automotive history. Iliya says, “We wanted to tell a car design story in a different way than had been shown or told before. This is revisionist history, and it opens up the story to more people than just car guys. Maybe it offends the purists, but it includes far more people and diversifies the group that we’re talking to.” They received a lot of backlash from the automotive community when they shared the images on Instagram, but that’s exactly what they hoped for. Nikita says, “I love it when people says our posts are fake, because pretty much everything on Instagram is fake. What we’re doing actually forces you to stop and look at an image, to actually engage with something — like something has to be wrong with the image to startle you out of your blasé.”

                                                                  

They felt reinvigorated, and as the sting of their unfortunate encounter with the first chassis shop faded, the Bridans reached out Joe Scarbo, founder of Scarbo Performance in Lake Forest, California, a shop that specializes in properly triangulated, efficient spaceframes and suspension design. Joe says, “When we were introduced to one another, we quickly realized that we were both the missing link in the vehicle manufacturing process for one another. We were able to use many of the existing components we built for our replica Formula One cars for the Half-11, and design a bespoke chassis to accommodate both the Bridans' bodywork and our F1 parts.” Scarbo Performance finished the chassis in four days, and then the Bridans started working with wheel manufacturer Rotiform to create bespoke three-piece, center-lock, 15-inch wheels that were then wrapped in hand-cut Avon racing slicks: 11-inch-wide fronts and 15-inch-wide rears.

 

Once the Bridans had a roller, they decided that the hacked-up 912’s steel bodywork wouldn’t work for the Half-11, and that their creation would look best dressed in aluminum, though neither Iliya nor Nikita knew anything about metal shaping. They reached out to master metal shaper and collectible car restorer Jake Krotje of Flying Dutchman Industries in San Marcos, California, and when Jake saw the Half-11’s framework he immediately wanted to be part of the project. 

The minimalist bodywork aims to replicate the somewhat simplistic aerodynamics of the Can-Am era, with a low rear wing, a front diffuser that draws inspiration from a modern GT3 car, and small canards that deflect air away from the wheels. “The most challenging part of the bodywork was the large radius transitions between the hood and the fenders, and the fenders to the flares,” Jake says. “I’m still not done with them yet. I’ll get them dialed when the car comes back in the final stage for metal finishing and polishing.”

 

As difficult as the Half-11 build had been for Iliya and Nikita, nothing caused more mental frustration than trying to figure out the perfect mid-mounted engine for the car. They considered everything from air-cooled flat-sixes to the high-revving, Porsche Cayenne-based V8 that came from a Daytona Prototype race car, but in the end, the brothers decided that if they needed something powerful but also lightweight and small — given how the back end of the Half-11 is dramatically tapered — it would be best to go with a highly modified version of Chevrolet’s venerable LS engine. Nikita says, “When we made the choice on the LS, we thought it would be a great way to evaluate the chassis, which was the biggest question, and with the LS we know we can run it hard.”

Built by JMS Racing Engines in El Monte, California, the Half-11’s engine produces about 650 horsepower and redlines at 9,000 rpm, and it is built to handle endurance road racing, with PRC cylinder heads, an external water pump, eight fuel-injected throttle bodies with custom-printed velocity stacks, and a low-profile, stage-three dry sump oil system that allows the LS to be mounted much lower in the chassis. Iliya designed the beautiful equal-length, eight-into-two exhaust system, which uses one-millimeter-thick tubing that subtly transitions from D-shaped pipe to fully round. The engine is mated to a six-speed transaxle from a 996-generation Porsche 911 GT2, which is flipped upside-down to function correctly in the mid-engine car.            

As of this writing, the Half-11 is at RSMOTORSPORT in Sacramento, California, where shop founder Riley Stair is installing the engine and wiring and plumbing everything necessary for the Half-11 to fire up for the first time. Riley says, “Since we are going to make the car accelerate, being able to direct and slow down all of that horsepower also needs to be made possible, so building the braking system and steering system are on the long list of necessities as well.” He adds, “The Half-11 is a testament to the Bridans' creativity, and their willingness to throw their minds at an idea with passion and drive, and I have immense respect for that.”

 

Iliya and Nikita Bridan are unafraid to chase down their strangest, most romantic visions of automotive bliss and will them into existence, and we too have immense respect for that. Though it isn’t yet finished, the Half-11 has caused quite the commotion in the automotive world, and the Bridans are already getting requests from potential customers who want a Half-11 for themselves. While the Bridans do intend to oblige some of those requests, it will cost each of those individuals no less than a half-million dollars, and none of those cars will be built anytime too soon — because first, the brothers need to focus on finishing their own Half-11.

 


Originally Featured in Issue 044 of Iron & Air Magazine

 

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