In a previous Macfilos article, I told of my 1977 Porsche 911 which I have owned for 20 years. I am very fortunate this is not my only Porsche 911, so let me tell you the tale about the second car. Among Porsche aficionados, the most coveted vehicles are the early 911s made from 1964 until 1973.
I had always wanted an early car but they were difficult to find in Australia and, perhaps more to the point, they were priced out of my range. As a result, I had settled for the later car back in 2000.
Then in November 2007, a friend mentioned that he had just been in New York and had dined with a lady friend who had left Australia back in 2000. The intriguing part was that she had left her 1971 Porsche 911 at a Melbourne Porsche specialist and had not been back to reclaim it.
The poor car had languished there for some considerable time before, eventually, the owner’s mother had arranged to pay the outstanding invoice and then had the car moved to her garden in inner-city Melbourne. It had languished there for a full five years. Within three days of hearing this, and after an exchange of emails and phone calls, I was on a plane to Melbourne to meet the lady’s mother and view the 911.
Fortunately, the car was under a heavy-duty car cover in a very small garden. Removing the cover revealed a very dirty but apparently intact car. The engine bay was not a pretty sight as you can see from the photo taken after the cover was removed. I could not assess the internal state of the engine but, as the price was right, I quickly decided that I would take a chance and buy. If the engine was history I could always on-sell the vehicle and, hopefully, break even.
Engine rebuild, tick
A deal was done. I handed over a cheque and the lady passed over a large file which I examined on the flight back to Sydney. Among all the detail, I was delighted to find an invoice for a total engine rebuild back in 2000, immediately prior to the owner leaving the country. The car had not been used since the rebuild. This, I thought, was A Good Sign from the gods.
When I arrived home, I was then faced with the most challenging part of the transaction – telling my wife. At that time we lived in a townhouse very close to the centre of Sydney. We had a tiny garage with an additional car space while my other Porsche resided in a rented garage a few streets away. Also, I was about to retire, and we were in the final stages of building another house – up the coast in Terrigal where we live now.
This definitely was not an auspicious time to be persuading my wife what an amazing buy I had just made. Anyway, the deal had been done so it was just a question of asking for forgiveness and agreeing to minimise additional expenditure on the car for a few months.
The 911 was transported up to Sydney and Porsche whisperer, Carlos at Cavaco Motors, who loves early Porsches, was soon at work on it. In four days he had it running, after cleaning out all the gummed-up petrol from the tank and fuel system. New tyres and two new batteries were organised – the car has two small batteries on either side at the front – and a number of small issues were fixed.
Now, my initial thought after buying the car had been to turn it into a track car for competition. But Carlos soon persuaded me that the car was actually very sound and deserved to be cherished and restored. So I decided to sell my extensive Leica M6 outfit (sigh, Ed), which I was not using, to fund the restoration.
Through the glass darkly
I had the bonnet/hood and one wing repainted and a new headlining fitted. The massive, non-original Recaro seats were removed and sold for a reasonable price and were replaced with lighter reproduction sports seats. The small “boy racer” steering wheel made way for a period-correct Momo wheel.
The car had a very dark window tinting film as well as the tinted glass, so it resembled a Mafia staff car. I tried removing the overlay for about ten minutes and then Googled “tint removal”. There was a local specialist who could remove it for $150. Done. His technique proved to be impeccable, and I have never found even the tiniest shard of tint in the car.
This particular vehicle has an early type 901 five-speed gearbox with first gear down below reverse on the left-hand side of the gate. So, to go from first to second you go up and then to the right and then up. It’s slow and unfortunately easy to catch reverse.
This layout was adopted by Porsche for racing as race cars only use first off the start line. There is no very distinct gate so the gearshift is still somewhat vague, despite fitting new bushes and spending considerable time adjusting it. The best way to describe the gearbox is that it is “challenging” After twelve years of often spirited driving, I still wrong-slot the gear lever from time to time. Porsche changed the gearbox shift pattern to a conventional layout in 1972.
Having brought the 911 up to a very presentable condition, I decided it was not going to be a garage queen. I resolved to drive it hard. It’s a decision many restorers face and, sadly, most decide to go the down garage-queen route and deny themselves the pleasure of driving their cars as Dr Porsche intended. The great thing is that the engine rebuild had been to a very high standard and the 2.2 litre flat-six is a beauty. It revs and revs and pulls really strongly.
I did run the car on race tracks a few times before caution took over. In 2009, I took part in the exciting Speed on Tweed event, with sprint laps around the streets of Murwillumbah in Northern New South Wales. I brought home a small plastic trophy.
In addition, I drove the 911 down to Victoria to run at Australia’s fastest circuit at Philip Island in 2010. I had never driven at Philip Island, and I attempted to learn the course beforehand by watching in-car YouTube videos.
My particular baptism of fire came very quickly when I went out for practice early on the Saturday morning. The track was slightly damp when I rounded the third corner at a fair clip only to find an MGB, which had spun, stalled sideways and blocking the road.
Rapid evasive action was taken, and I ended up on the wet grass. An equally rapid change of underwear was called for after that. And, perhaps, this served as the gipsy’s warning which shielded me from further mishap.
Wonderful but exhausting
Getting to Philip Island via the Victorian Alps is a long drive. But that is not a problem because the 911 is wonderful to drive, if exhausting. It’s like a go-kart with a body. The steering is superb – I can place the car exactly. It handles well and can be driven quickly as long as you know what you are doing.
The engine is super responsive with its big Weber carbies and it makes a wonderful noise. In anticipation of taking the car on the track, I fitted bigger brakes from a 1982 911SC so the stoppers are very good, despite the lack of servo assistance. I also “added lightness” by deleting the radio and even the aerial as well as changing the seats. The car now weighs only 1020 kg with half a tank of fuel and I can push it around my garage with just one hand.
On rough roads – that is most Australian roads – the car has more rattles than a millionaire’s baby and, when driven hard with the throttle on and off repeatedly, it is quite thirsty. It most definitely is not fun to drive in heavy traffic. The clutch is heavy – no servo assistance, just cable actuation – and, as I have said, the gearbox is hard work. It most definitely is not a candidate to be a daily driver. But on a twisting open road it is driving in its purest form. This is 100% sports car and every 911 derivative since these early cars has been a step away from that purity.
The Road Trip
I have driven the best part of 24,000km in 12 years and, nowadays, the big outing is the annual three-day 1300km trip with friends, in very similar early 911s, into northern New South Wales over spectacular driving roads. We have just done the 2020 Road Trip and it was as good as ever.
The biggest drawback with the car is that it has no air-con which makes it very uncomfortable to drive in the summer months. As the 1977 car has efficient air-conditioning, it’s a no brainer which car to use from November to April.
And as a postscript to my enthusiastic rave about my car, let me recount a little story. A fellow enthusiast who lives in Port Macquarie, NSW, told me the story of the sale of one of his early 911s in 2018. A potential buyer, who owned a 2016 model 911 (clue… a very different beast indeed), flew up to Port Macquarie from Sydney to see the early car.
He wanted to buy an early car because they were fashionable. The potential buyer drove the car about ten k from the airport and then said, “I’m going back to catch a flight home – this is horrible”. He had no concept that under that beautiful body which he so liked was a 1971 car which was a very different animal to the modern era 911 he owned.
So that’s the story of my 1971 Porsche 911, nearly 50 years young and still capable of providing a thrilling, pure-Porsche experience. You can find a similar report on my other classic Porsche 911 here.