Hodinkee’s Ben Clymer Is The Latest Custodian Of Jeff Zwart’s ’65 911
Photography by Ted Gushue
I’ve had the pleasure of knowing Ben Clymer for the better part of 6 years now. When we first crossed paths he was just going down the rabbit hole of the watch world with his publication Hodinkee, which has since grown into what I can only consider to be the New York Times of the horological world. Alongside his passion for tiny engines you can wear on your wrist, Ben has always had a deeply passionate foot in the automotive world. Needless to say when he called recently to say that Jeff Zwart’s 911 was now in his garage in Bedford New York, I was very excited.
Ted Gushue: So how did this 911 start its life?
Ben Clymer: This car was born in July 1965, which was the first full production year of 911s as we all know. Obviously the ’64 was the first real 911, and of course the first few chassis were 901’s, but ’65 is kind of considered the first full production year of 911. I’ve always been attracted to the archetypal instances of iconic products. I have first examples of the Rolex Daytona. I have first examples of the Omega Speedmaster, things like that. This was just a natural next step in the car world. I was never, ever a 911 guy. It wasn’t something that appealed to me because there are so many other beautiful things out there. Just like, to this day, I’m not really a Rolex Daytona guy, and yet my favorite watch is, in fact, the first year Daytona.
TG: For you is there a parallel between the number of 911s that were made and the number of Daytonas that were made, in terms of perceived scarcity vs reality?
BC: Oh, thousands. We don’t know exactly how many Daytonas. If you’re talking about actual Daytonas, we’re talking hundreds of thousands. If we’re talking Paul Newman Daytonas, at least 5,000? These are not rare things. These are not rare objects at all. And you see a lot of them out there and they are relatively rare in the sense that demand outpaces supply, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t, right now at this moment, sign on to Chrono24 and find 10 of them for sale. Of varying quality, for sure, but they are not rare objects at all.
TG: Tell me about the first owner of this car.
BC: The first owner of this car was actually a really compelling part of the story. It belonged to a man named George Giusti who was actually a semi famous Madison avenue Ad-Man in the 1960’s, a real Mad Man, so to speak. Not only was he a Mad Man, but also a creative director, he was an illustrator and an artist, and there are several well-known published books by George that you can find on Amazon and eBay right now. What’s amazing also is that this car was imported through New Jersey, and went to George, who kept it in the Westchester New York area, which is where I keep it now, so it’s really come full circle.
He was an absolute character of his era. Whenever you see a picture of George he’s often wearing thick-rimmed glasses, an ascot, he’s really a man of the mid-1960s in every sense. To just imagine this guy driving around Manhattan and Westchester in this beautiful, Ivory 911, which was a totally foreign thing back then, is just this beautiful vision. It really sold the idea of this for me.
TG: Who did the maintenance on it?
BC: There was a Porsche dealer in the area that did it, the car came with the original title, it came with this original service book, so it’s documented exactly what was done at every service with tear out sheets in the booklet up till 27,000 miles, which is amazing, because the car, to this day only has 33,000 miles on it.
BC: So there was another owner in between, a guy also based here in Connecticut, who Giusti sold the car to in the early ’70’s. This guy then kept the car until Jeff Zwart acquired it. Having the car go from George, who was interesting on his own right, to Jeff Zwart, who is not only this artistic, passionate guy who directed the coolest Porsche commercials over the years, but also a legendary Porsche driver and also just a great, honest guy, really was the icing on the cake for me.
Through a friend [and Petrolicious Star] Spike Feresten, I got to be introduced to Jeff Zwart. I talked to him about this car. I didn’t buy it directly from him; he ended up selling this car a few years ago to buy either a 904 or a 959, or something crazy. Some absurd car, and he just said point blank, “I love this car, it brought me back to the earliest days of driving my dad’s car”, because Zwart actually learned to drive on chassis number 35 of a Porsche 901. The true, true original car. He said, “This is the car that brought me closer to that of anything I’ve ever driven.”
So he had nothing but great things to say about the car, and at the time he’d already sold the car a few years ago to a dealer in North Carolina, the Road Scholars, who I ended up buying the car from.
TG: Is this a car that you could see yourself owning for life?
BC: This a lifer. It’s one of those things that I think is the most “me” of almost anything that I own. Including some of the Daytonas and things like that. Just to give you a parallel to the watch world, which is obviously my world, I’ve owned seven different manually wound Daytonas. The very first Daytona I bought was the first series Daytona. And that is the watch that I still have. I have sold almost all the others. It very closely identifies with my own identity. Because it’s very much understated, it tells a story, it tells the story of what the Daytona was about in the beginning. Just like this car tells the story about what the 911 was about in the beginning. Which is a totally different thing than what it is now. To me, having an un-restored 33,000-mile 911 is as good as it gets in a German 911. I don’t think there’s another one that I would want, honestly.
TG: What’s it like to drive?
BC: It’s amazing. It’s an amazingly pure car. It is so solid; it’s really bulletproof. I have, and still own a 356, which is just a little bit earlier, it’s a ’62. That car is real 1950’s technology. It’s so heavy and so slow. Still beautiful and fun to drive, but it really feels old, whereas the ’65 911 feels like a massive true leap forward. If you read any reviews of the period, Car and Driver April 1965, this is a truly revolutionary step in automotive design and automotive performance. Brakes, 130 horsepower … my Porsche has 75, we’re talking about almost double the horsepower overnight. It was also considerably more expensive than any 356, which is why they brought out the 912, to kind of put down the naysayers. The car is spectacular. I’ve been lucky enough to drive some really special cars; this is probably the best driving car I’ve ever experienced.