Barn Finds, Flatbeds, Redemption: This Is My Tale Of Two Porsches
Night photos by Art Machines // On-track photo by Sideline Sports Photography // All other photography provided by Jack Chesnutt and Mark White at Accumoto
As in fishing and romance, the story of “the one that got away” also applies to cars, and certainly to 911s. You can be haunted for years by memories of that other car, the one you had, and then sold to soon. This story has a happier ending.
The Barn Find
Spin the wheels back 30 years to find me visiting my mother in Missouri. She wanted me to meet her new neighbor who lived up the hill about a quarter of a mile away. This is rolling Missouri farm country and very rural, so I was glad that my mom, who lived alone, had a good neighbor.
So we had dinner at neighbor Vicky’s big farmhouse, and eventually the subject turned to cars. At her mention of “an old Porsche” out in the barn, I sat up in my chair and started asking questions.
It was a 1980 911 SC that she seldom drove but duly loved. She had bought it in California years before when she lived on the coast, “young, blonde, and single,” and it reminded her of those sunny days. Of course I asked to see the car; white, with a dark brown interior, no sunroof, and a set of classic Fuchs wheels. When I noticed a large tray under the engine, Vicky told me it “leaked a little oil.” As we were leaving that night, I told Vicky to please let me know if she ever wanted to sell the car. She just smiled and said it wouldn’t be “anytime soon.”
Years passed and I would joke with Vicky about selling the 911. My younger brother (a motorcycle rider and all-around gearhead) talked wistfully about the white 911 in the barn up the road from Mom’s house. Then, in 2012, he called me whilst visiting Mom in Missouri. He was a bit breathless too. “Vicky wants to sell the 911!” I almost dropped the phone. My brother probably would have bought the car on the spot, but he had (and still has) a garage full of motorcycles.
Still, I felt pressure to make a deal in a hurry. Vicky said she had been expecting my call. The car was now for sale because she’d inherited a huge late-’60s Chrysler, and she needed the barn space for parking. She was happy to sell the 911 to a friend of the family (me!) but wasn’t sure what it was worth. I had already combed Pelican, Rennlist, and several other classified sites for prices and told her it might be worth anywhere from eight thousand to eighteen thousand—this was obviously before the big run-up of air-cooled Porsche prices. She laughed and said it couldn’t be worth that, and suggested $7,500, “because it’s old and it has that oil leak.”
Little Did I Know
It was a critical moment. I wanted to give her a fair price, but I also knew I was violating the most primal law of used car sales: I was about to buy something over the phone without having it checked out by a good mechanic. I hadn’t even driven the car! Just looked at it in the barn from time to time. My brother the gearhead became my eyes and ears. “It pulls like a thoroughbred! It ran right up to 100 on the interstate!” He went on to let me know it had good brakes, blew no smoke, nor made any expensive noises. And it had a stack of maintenance records. I was sold, and the Porsche was sold to me (not looking like it does below).
Two months later, I flew to Missouri with my son, who’s in his mid-20s. Our plan was to pick up the 911 and drive it back to Colorado. That evening, when the final check was written, bill of sale and title signed, and keys handed over, I started the car in the barn. Oh what a sound. After a short warmup, I backed it out and headed down the long driveway to the highway in first gear, stopped to check traffic and pulled out. There is no sweeter sound than an air-cooled flat-six revving up. Second gear, just starting to wind out… Suddenly with a heart-stopping thump, it popped out of gear, and left us with an ominous ticking noise in the transmission. There is no sound more sickening. It wouldn’t go into second or third. I coasted to the shoulder. I had driven about 250 yards.
There is always hope in the heart of a used Porsche buyer. When the little foreign car repair shop in town received the 911 from the flatbed, the prognosis was “Oh, it was probably just a transmission bushing.” I prayed to the gods of German engineering that it was. A day and a half and $200 later, the problem was not at all fixed. The great father and son excursion in a 911 turned into a slow father and son U-Haul truck/trailer drive to our home in Colorado and a first-rate mechanic in Boulder. We did get some thumbs-up along I-70 from passing Porsche drivers. Little did they know.
Little did I know too! The prognosis from the mechanic was that it simply had a bad transmission; at least two gears in need of replacement. Also, ominous sounds from the overhead cam-chain tensioners, and at least one cylinder not firing at all. After learning that I was already out $8,600 on the car and moving expenses, the mechanic declared that the car was not worth the cost of fixing it. “Underwater” was the heartbreaking term he used.
Then came a rapid switch from a worried sense of impending checkbook depletion to growing desperation to sell the 911 before divorce papers were filed. The same day I received the deadly diagnosis, I listed the car on several websites. The ideal buyer would own a Porsche shop and have an extra transmission on the shelf. That buyer found me.
New Life for an Old 911
Mark White was the first caller who did not hang up as soon as he heard “bad transmission and bad engine.” I was totally up-front about what was wrong with the car. I even connected Mark with the mechanic in Boulder and urged an honest exchange of information. Sale price: $8,500. I would be out just a hundred bucks at the end of the day. No Porsche of course, but my marriage was intact. I never thought Vicky or my brother were aware of the problems that were lurking in her car, but I was heartbroken.
In addition to owning a high-end Porsche operation near Milwaukee called Accumoto, Mark is a perceptive guy. He could see that I was parting company with a car that had emotional and family ties. His business is primarily a workshop where Porsches and Audis are prepped for racing, so the white SC was to be a new business venture for them: a street and track-day car built to the highest quality. For the next several years, Mark kept me and Vicky up to date with emails and photos of his work on the 911. The tired and dated interior was stripped out. The suspension needed an upgrade. There was mouse poop and more than one wasp’s nest under the hood too, but it was structurally sound. He named it “Dirk.” The project was nothing short of a Cinderella-esque. New Accumoto-designed lightweight fiberglass bumpers replaced the accordion-style units to smooth the body; supple black leather with diamond stitching was carefully chosen to line the interior and the seats came from a 996 GT3. The fuel cap was moved to the center of the bonnet, and more little touches like drilling the door handles (to add lightness) and a hollow/vented shift-knob make the build unique. The power plant at its heart is still from a 911 SC, but with larger pistons, twin-plug ignition, and a PMO injection system. The coil-over suspension system is the result of brainstorming sessions between Mark and the techs at JRZ.
It certainly looks the business; the paint and striping are just the right look for a car that you can drive to the track for a few laps before packing up the helmet and driving home again. And, for me, the best part is that it’s still a white car. The entirety of the work took more than three years, and the result is nothing short of a car fit for a centerfold. Sometimes it’s a good thing to let go of an old Porsche. I had owned it for all of 3 weeks.
The Second Attempt
I had several years to reflect on my mistakes with that car, and I knew there would be another 911 in my life. Another SC or Carrera was the goal, so I studied and shopped for four years. Mark at Accumoto was a helpful advisor whenever I’d forward him an ad, and I was casting wide net, considering cars from all over the United States. I found plenty of black, silver, lots of red, but then, in the summer of 2015, one ad stuck out.
It was another white 911 SC. This one an ’82, with a rebuilt engine and transmission. New shocks, Turbo tie-rods, upgraded cam-chain tensioners, a sport exhaust, and the A/C and plumbing deleted. All my boxes were checked off and I had the green-light from my wife. I didn’t know where the car was exactly, but I didn’t care. Mark approved of the way the car sounded in the ad, so I had some further confirmation it was the right one for me. How far away was it? Oh. In Broomfield, CO, only a half hour away. No plane ride. No tricky PPI coordination—a local shop gave it two thumbs up. It was luckily a local car, and a very good one at that. So good that there have been no breakdowns, no flatbed pickups on the side of the road. No drama at all over the last two years and 7,500 miles. It’s not a car like Dirk, but it’s all that I need for the canyons and mountain roads of Colorado. Heck, any 911 spun past 5,000rpm on a curving mountain road is a joy, so this no-name car is just fine!