Frankenstein’s Restomod: This Porsche 912 Is Powered By A Subaru STI
Photography by Ian Wood
When I think of 912s it’s all easter egg colors, chrome roof racks, and drivers who tend to be a bit more down-to-earth than your typical flat-six diehard. The letters S, T, and I conjure up World Rally Blue exclusively, NEOchrome lug nuts, and fourth owners abusing their poor Subarus after slapping a few askew energy drink stickers on the rear window and invoking the spirit of K. Block to guide them sideways through a parking lot at the local mall. But by fusing the two together, Mike and Mat Davidson have created something different. They built it together in a condo carport, and after five years of teaching themselves how to do it on their own, the two engineers (Mike mechanical, Mat software) have managed to merge two seemingly disparate ends of the automotive universe into one of the most intriguing hot rods in the Porsche scene or otherwise.
My first and so far only encounter with the car they call the 912R-STi came near the end of this year’s LA-held Luftgekühlt, and after walking through rows of 911s all hot-rodded within a pretty narrow band of variance (that’s not a bad thing, because there’s nothing wrong with tried-and-true when it leaves you with a 911 sitting pretty on big rubber with a set of Cibies on its nose), the Davidsons’ Porsche was a welcome deviation.
It hides its secrets at first glance though, and if you don’t notice the radiator piping running along the rockers you might assume it’s all status-quo here: ATS Cookie Cutters with some sticky stuff around them, RS-style bodywork, a bolt-in cage, a Prototipo wheel in front of some plaid buckets—it’s a handsome car that doesn’t present itself as overly aggressive, yet there’s nearly 300hp to push its sub-2,000-pound short-wheelbase self around. Though clearly modified, I’d still consider it a sleeper up to the moment the deck lid is lifted to the sight of a beefy intercooler. If you’re curious to know how it came to be, here’s the story of how two brothers, a beat Bel-Air, repurposed 914 plans, and a hearty dollop of willpower led to this point.
Mat and Mike grew up in the midwest, and after graduating college, Mat moved to the Bay Area for work, tinkering in the evenings on a ’75 911S project at the time. Mike, the younger of the two, was still in school closer to home, and was hoping to build a very different Porsche in the near future: a 914. His father had given him a thoroughly rusty 1957 Chevy a few years earlier, and after trying to save something that was keen on resisting such efforts, he decided it might behoove him to trade it for something that wouldn’t. Mike found someone in Monterey selling a 1967 912, proposed a trade, the cars criss-crossed the country on trucks heading in opposite directions, and Mike had replaced his rough Bel-Air with a rough 912 that barely held an idle.
He finishes up at school, packs up and moves west to the Bay Area like his brother, and all the while Mike’s trying to get the 912 into reasonable working order, but hand tools with just one set of hands to use them in cramped starter-apartment garages can only go so far. Mat and Mike took the project Porsche for a New Year’s Day drive in the Santa Cruz mountains one year, and found their tipping point—it wasn’t just a car in need, it was unsafe. Rust had done more than swiss-cheesed parts of the bodywork, there were maws of open space where metal had once been, and so the 912 was parked in Mat’s garage in San Jose where they would start the long process of stripping and restoring it.
Mat knew how to do some basic welds and had done some paint and body stuff on his own Porsche, but it was a self-taught bag of tricks and with full-time jobs the work went slowly at the beginning, with the first two years spent almost exclusively on welding the car back together. They had a nebulous idea of where they wanted to go with the project—it was never going to be restored to stock spec—and in the process of putting fresh metal in the floor and front suspension pans, the rocker panels, the striker panels, and one of the taillight buckets, Mat also welded in metal 1974-’77 flares and filled the joints with lead as they would have done at the factory. Perhaps they weren’t certified Porsche techs, but they weren’t about to half-ass it.
Seeking higher performance from the get-go, the plan always involved a good deal of fiberglass bodywork, and they sourced the bumpers, fenders, and duck tail deck lid from a local racer. These weren’t his pristine garage-kept spares either, so like every other panel on this Porsche, these too needed some significant work to get sorted. Eventually though, Mat had everything prepped and primed (all done in his condo’s designated parking spot), and the shell and its ancillaries were sent out for paintwork at a local shop. Mike moved to Orange County for work, but Mat had recently bought a house in San Jose so the car stayed with him while the brothers worked out a plan to get the 356-based boxer four running. They wanted to rebuild it into a flat-four hot rod job, but once they started tearing it down those plans changed when they discovered the motor was indeed made by Porsche, but not for a 912. Specified as type “marine,” they were literally working with a boat motor. Three trials and three errors of carb setups later, they decided to ditch it.
Not long afterwards, Mat gets home after a day at the office to find his path blocked by a large wooden pallet in his driveway—with a motor and transmission sourced from an ’06 Subaru WRX STi sitting on it. A few weeks later and a brand new TIG welder shows up in the same fashion. Mike had always wanted to swap a WRX boxer into the 914 he never got to build in college, so why not just do it with the 912 instead? Mike—he’s the mechanical engineer—had some experience with welding aluminum, so after shipping the TIG machine and the powertrain to his brother he taught him the basics and the two got to it.
Using an adapter made by Kennedy Engineering (if you’re surprised this existed, you’re not alone), the brothers mounted the STi motor to a Porsche 915 transmission, and sold the Subaru transmission and headers to buy stainless steel exhaust pieces in order to fabricate their own system with equal-length headers. The TIG welder came into play when they began tackling the issue of cooling a modern turbocharged motor that’s not used to being stuffed in the back of an old rear-engined coupe. There are three radiators in the 912R-STi: one in the front bumper, one in each fender, and without cutting into the tub as is commonly done for such jobs, they eventually built a system of aluminum pipes and silicone elbows that would hold pressure and keep the Subaru stuff happy.
A company called iWire supplied a wiring harness, and after getting it all plugged in and routed, the project car finally shed that title after five years of patience and hard work. Today they are simply enjoying what they’ve built: an outrageous, out-there, but totally right car. The goal was to build a 912 hot rod with a flat-four after all, and this is the kind of creativity that’s helped the early 911 and 912 maintain such a populous and diverse following.
The car lives in Orange County with Mike now, where he auto-crosses it on occasion and takes it to shows so people like me can excitedly ask what in the hell we’re looking at. To describe the driving experience, I’ll let the ones who actually have some tell you what that’s like:
“The car itself is a total sweetheart to drive. It starts, idles, and accelerates like a modern Subaru, but steers, shifts, and brakes like an old Porsche. Under 3K RPM it’s as comfortable as any car I’ve driven: soft, compliant, no lurching of a big high-strung carb’d motor to snap your neck around. Once the engine is uncorked though, 3K and up, the power is savage, and feels almost endless. The motor last dyno’d at around 300hp at the wheels, and it made 265ft-lbs torque. More than enough for a sub-2000-pound car.”
I’d say so, and not to take a dig at Porsche purists, but if you don’t think this is cool then I doubt many people think you are. Summarize the story and tell me it’s not perfect: two brothers, both building cars in college, they move to the same area, then a bit further away, but all the while they’re collaborating on this bitchin’ Porsche. It was likely beyond what most would deem savable, and rather than presenting the world with another Bondo’d-up lump of a “restoration” they’ve built a totally unique machine that’s wildly different than its starting point in 1967 but that’s still respectful to the marque. Hats off.