words and photos by felix page
Keeping up your enthusiasm for a classic car can be difficult over winter, with conditions not always favourable. If you're using your car everyday, then it can become a chore to de-ice the windscreen in the morning and if it's dark and wet when you leave work, suddenly taking the long way home loses its appeal. As for DIY maintenance, the daylight hours are significantly reduced and cutting cold knuckles always seems to hurt more. But perhaps the weather I experience in the UK is simply not cold enough?
Patrik Andrén lives in rural Sweden where a harsh winter is guaranteed every year and yet he looks forward to it! Walking over to his car port, our feet are submerged in the fallen snow. Pulling the tarpaulin to one side, there's a Porsche 924 Turbo waiting. It looks dainty on narrow studded ice tyres as Patrik opens the door and clambers into the bucket seat. Standing back, I'm surprised to hear the car fire first turn of the key in -14 Celsius. With the car manoeuvred out of it's hiding place, I get in and we drive a short distance down the road. Our road positioning is unusual, with the main road well gritted, we must try to keep the studded tyres rolling over snow and ice or else risk ripping studs off as they scrape the tarmac.
So close by that it may as well be in his back garden, Patrik takes me to a lake. Of course, in such cold temperatures it has frozen over, leaving an icy blank canvas. This has been covered with more snowfall and a plough has confidently been driven onto the lake. With the ice approximately 40cm thick, there's the occasional crack to be heard faintly in the vicinity. A circuit is improvised and then created using the plough.
"the feeling of driving on a big piece of ice with a lot of cold water underneath is not lost on me."
A mix of tight turns with long flowing curves, it's an efficient design in a limited space and there's even a pit lane should others wish to join in the fun. Patrik's daily driven Audi A3 is first on track for a few sighting laps to ensure the ice is in good condition and not slushy or torn up by previous attempts. With the Audi being front wheel drive, it's not visually spectacular but the feeling of driving on a big piece of ice with a lot of cold water underneath is not lost on me. Happy with his circuit knowledge and the condition of the surface, Patrik swaps to the 924 Turbo.
An S1, underneath the lightweight fibreglass bonnet it's running a standard engine and has only required work once in the last decade of track days and spirited driving. However, whilst the engine may be standard, there are more modifications made elsewhere. The interior is partially stripped out, with a roll cage and Sparco bucket seat.
It's the suspension which is most impressive. Fully corner weighted, it sports Bilstein shock absorbers and interestingly torsion bars and rear strut towers from a Porsche 911 turbo. Undoubtedly, the main modification is the use of ice rally cross tyres on the original spider web wheels. When on tarmac, it usually has 16x8 wheels or a staggered set of cookie cutters.
It's immediately apparent that Patrik is a master of his craft, as the turbo punches us down the straight and he sweeps it through the first turn sideways. The steering input is frantic yet calculated and the dogleg gearbox of the turbo lends itself well to the task at hand. The speedometer is easily passing 100 kilometres per hour as the snow bank streams by the side of the car, and often the front, such is the angle of attack. It's a hectic ride unlike one I've ever had before. Carving through the curves, there's little G force as the car glides over the ice. As one Scandinavian flick leads to another, we're held in place by the bucket seats.
With a few laps under his belt and suitably reassured by my laps in the A3, it's my turn to take the driving seat. Having not driven a 924 Turbo until this point, I'm in at the deep end or hopefully not! With cautious use of the throttle, I suddenly come into the boost and initially I wrestle to keep the car straight. Confidence growing, it's soon second nature to catch it on the straight before it breaks away. When it comes to turning, it's oddly familiar, having driven a 924 N/A for a few years, with a few spirited runs up Prescott Hill climb too.
"If you have a 924 Turbo and some studded tyres, a frozen lake is truly the ultimate playground."
The car behaves as you'd expect of a 924 and it doesn't take long before I'm going sideways. Patrik is somewhat surprised by this, but I explain the temptation of a wet roundabout is all too much sometimes. Acceleration on the straights is impressive, with the turbo relishing the low temperatures. If you're too heavy on the throttle, it's easy to lose the back end but with a little modesty, it's very well controlled. What's most striking is the braking force available, it scarcely seems like we're driving on ice at all! The car pulls up sharp and true and doesn't have any more tendency to lock-up as it would on tarmac.
Come the afternoon, the light begins to fade and this signals the end of our time on the ice. Chasing the 924 Turbo through the woods as Patrik cruises home, it's an experience I'll never forget and I'd like to thank him for his hospitality and generosity. If you have a 924 Turbo and some studded tyres, a frozen lake is truly the ultimate playground. Finally, I'd be lying if I said we didn't have to pull it out the bank with the Audi a few times...