News of Ken Block’s death in 2023 shook the automotive world. What better way to pay our respects than by chasing his incredible Tuthill Porsche rally car across the countryside?
It happened when Great Britain is sleeping, and we found out second-hand thanks to the nature of time zones. A bleary-eyed, first-thing check of a lock screen revealed a notification: ‘Ken Block has died’.
Not that processing it became any easier as the day wore on. Ken Block, a man who seemed so full of energy and joy and nowhere near ready to begin lifting off the throttle, struck down in the pursuit of fun. The tributes have since flowed – it’s clear to see the impact that such a talented driver and brilliant creative mind had on an increasingly online, connected car community.
Communities mourn when they lose one of their own, and in January 2023, less than a week after Block’s death, Tuthill Porsche is invited to display one of the rally cars that it built for the great man, at the Bicester Heritage Sunday Scramble. And we were invited to tag along.
Many of the cars Ken Block made famous remain in Utah, once his home, and the state that hosts his band of fellow visionaries at Hoonigan. This car, though, currently resides a short hop across the countryside from Caffeine&Machine in Oxfordshire.
Not since they were being built by the Porsche factory team in the 1980s has anybody nailed the formula for a rally-prepped Porsche 911 quite like our friends at Tuthill. Each year, they ship a fleet of air-cooled machinery, complete with off-road shocks, bash bars and all manner of motorsport bits, out to Kenya to compete in the East African Safari Classic Rally.
This is an annual multi-day test of endurance for historic rally cars, covering thousands of kilometres across the searing Kenyan plains, channelling the spirit of the original Safari Rally. Piloting one of 13 Tuthill-built cars in the 2022 edition last February was Ken Block, with his long-time codriver Alex Gelsomino riding shotgun.
The duo brought the 911 home in 19th place, although simply finishing an event like the East African Safari is an achievement worth celebrating. It was privately sold in May 2022, but has remained in Tuthill’s care since then.
Sure, they could trailer it to Bicester and back, but this monstrous, standout 911 is road legal with an MOT – why waste that?
The quarterly Sunday Scramble has rapidly become a staple in the UK car calendar, and attracts some serious metal. On its perch on a grass verge toward the middle of the site, though, the Block 911 really feels like the centrepiece. All morning, it’s swarmed with people, phone cameras pointed its way. Clearly, the emotions are still very raw for a lot of visitors. It’s wonderful to see it in situ here, but cars like this are best viewed in motion.
As the morning turns to afternoon and visitors begin filtering out, we have the opportunity to follow the Block car back to Tuthill’s base near Banbury.
We set off from Bicester, with a vivid green example of Tuthill’s 993-based SCRS project in tow. Usually, this car would be getting all the attention, but Ken was never someone to fly under the radar with his cars.
The only thing louder than the unsilenced 3.0-litre flat six is the unapologetically bright racing livery by Ricardo Gonzalez, a Brooklyn-based designer going by the alias ‘It’s a Living’. The car emits that uniquely intoxicating petrol aroma of all old race cars, and leans almost comically on its long, soft rally shocks around the A43’s myriad roundabouts. The convoy gets more than a few headlight flashes and waves as it cuts across the wintry countryside.
Just seeing this car out on the road would be a sensory overload in itself, but doing so with the emotional weight of Ken’s passing still so heavy makes it one of those things that’s likely to stick with you long into the future.
Back at Tuthill, there’s a chance to reunite the car with the small but passionate team of rally techs who built it, before a few celebratory skids – because what better tribute could there be to a man who made having fun with cars into an art form?
It’s fitting, too that the 911 remains as raced. It still bears the scars of its Kenyan adventure – jagged edges along the bumpers and skirts where the brutality of the terrain has taken its toll. The most touching reminder of this car’s brief but famous competition life is on the inside, though. Hanging from the rear-view mirror are two chunky comms headsets, labelled with unassuming white stickers. They quite simply read ‘Alex’ and ‘Ken’.
It’s still difficult to process the fact that we won’t see any more of Ken’s inimitable driving appear online, but it’s little things like this that remind us of the incomparable legacy he’s left behind for a generation of enthusiasts.