Meet The ‘Terracotta Warrior,’ A Short-Wheelbase Porsche 911 Hot Rod Done Right
Photography by Naveed Yousufzai
The Terracotta Warriors are a stone army constructed and conscripted to guard an emperor’s tomb in ancient China. The name evokes a legendary, fearsome fighter, one that is quick, agile, and light on his feet. There is a short wheelbase Porsche 911 roaming the streets of San Francisco and the Bay Area beyond that possess many of the same attributes, and fittingly, its owner refers to it as the Terracotta Warrior. Unlike the stoic stone figures of its namesake however, this warrior is hardly immobile.
Gen Shibayama is well-known among Bay Area Porsche enthusiasts, as the collector and R-Gruppe member is keen on exercising his own small army. Gen maintains a sizable collection of primarily air-cooled cars, routinely purchasing, upgrading and restoring, and driving the hell out of them before deciding which ones are special enough to stay in his longer term collection.
His 1973 Carrera RS and 1967 911S are among these “forever cars,” as is Gen’s Ferrari 365 GT4 BB. He enjoys collecting, but his primary connection to cars is as a driver. Rain or shine, he is out daily, sometimes multiple times a day in his cars. He flogs his RS and S nearly every day.
As such, he has plenty of seat time under his belt. Most people in even modern 911s can’t keep up with him on a backroad, but with many miles behind the wheel of his basically stock, high-quality, short-wheelbase car under his belt, Gen wanted to have a more powerful, better-handling short-wheelbase car to complement it. Not wanting to modify his beloved 1967 911S, the quest began to acquire a suitable 911 to build as in the R Gruppe style—basically, a Porsche hot rod. With the help of his friend—fellow R Gruppe member and Porsche expert Erik Lind of Sports Purpose Garage—a suitable car was located, and the Terracotta Warrior started to take shape.
From Humble Barn Find Beginnings
The car Gen located started life as base-model 1968 911. At some point, this Porsche found its way to the Pacific Northwest, where it was later found languishing in a barn outside of Seattle—a genuine barn find.
Erik Lind elaborates: “The car was literally in a barn near Seattle. The previous owner apparently parked it after a brake failure, and it sat there for nearly 20 years. It was originally Burgundy and had been repainted here and there. The car had some scars on the left rear and right front, but was generally rust free and solid despite the climate. It was known to Danny at DG Vintage Coachworks in Washington, and because we had done a 1972 911S restoration with him in the past, he got the nod to do the metal, body, and paintwork on this car, which was put on a Celette, verified straight, and then rotisserie blasted, and sealed, with Danny doing all the metalwork.”
Next, the car was shipped to Erik’s shop, Sports Purpose Garage, in Livermore, CA. Erik had been a serial hot-rodder and customizer of everything from early American iron to Japanese imports and diesel trucks, and everything in between. He picked up a Porsche 914 about eight years ago and owned a few other Porsches (944 and 951 models mostly) in various configurations before eventually getting his 911 about six years ago. That car drove the eventual creation of Sports Purpose Garage in 2018 to service the needs of the local air-cooled hot rod community. The shop specializes in performance upgrades in the spirit of the original Porsche Catalog. Erik and his business partner Craig perform all the mechanical and electrical work in-house, and project manage other aspects like body and paintwork.
The R Gruppe Metamorphosis
The intention for this car was to give it a similar feel to Gen’s 1967 911S, but with “more of everything.”
As Erik explains, “The 911R-inspired cars definitely provided inspiration. We wanted to depart from those builds in certain key ways, but of course, some things are on the list for good reason, like using plastic windows in the doors, quarters, rear shield, and vent windows. We also used fixed vent windows like the R’s had, with the little bubble vents, and the rear plastic quarters are glued in and vented, also like an R. We chose to cut them down and make them flush while retaining the quarter window lower trim as we felt the reveal added a nice color break. In keeping with the R inspired design, we had Danny mold in the front and rear R lights into the fiberglass front and rear bumpers.”
The most unique part of at the Warrior’s look its bold hue, a rare 1955 Porsche color called Terracotta that was available on 356s for one year only. To contrast with the bold paintwork, Gen and Erik chose to Cerakote all of the trim in a color called Tungsten, as they felt it most approximated the look of old magnesium. The wheels are custom-made Group4 Torque Thrust replicas (a nine-axis scan of an original early magnesium wheel was done, and then Group4 modified it to accept standard lugs and normal, smaller valve stems, as well as adding a bead for radial tires).
Inside are a set of Classic Touring Seats, recovered by Tony at Acme Auto Upholstery in Pleasanton, CA. The woven orange material used throughout was custom made by AchtungKraft in Wisconsin, which also provided the driver side mirror. A recreation flat MOMO steering wheel and solid hub from Zuffenhaus sit above a shifter from JWest Engineering, all receiving the Cerakote treatment. The door panels and dash trim were also coated. In keeping with the scheme, another nice detail is the color-matched tachometer.
Heart of the Warrior
A trick custom engine lid grille came from Erik’s friend Florian in Germany at Spades Customs, but what’s underneath is the real party piece. Amazingly, this 1968 car, after years of hard use on the street, still retains its numbers-matching engine and transmission. The engine was sent to Holleran’s Performance in Auburn, CA, where it was made battle-ready. In the heart of the Terracotta Warrior beats an enlarged 2.5-liter with 10.5:1 compression and custom cams.
Everything is knife-edged, lightened, coated, and honed inside this minimalistic looking mill. A set of later-model 2.7 heads were chosen and converted to run twin spark plugs, and also ported and blended to help them flow better. John Holleran also rebuilt the transmission and installed an LSD. The car’s intake was modified with 45mm individual throttle bodies. The fiberglass engine tins and other accessories were coated to match, and great pains were taken to hide things like the vacuum lines and wiring to make the engine bay as clean as possible. It’s all business in here, aesthetically and mechanically. The end result is more than just numbers, but a good summary is that this engine now spins to 8000rpm and makes an impressive 220hp at the rear wheels. For a car of this size and weight, that’s a lot of naturally aspirated power.
The comprehensively modified and stiffened suspension consists of 21/25 Sanders torsions rods, Elephant Racing PolyBronze bushings, adjustable rear spring plates, Tarrett Camber Plates, Bilstein sports shocks, and RSR-style adjustable sway bars. Braking comes from a 23mm master cylinder with aluminum Brembo calipers and vented rotors from PMB Performance up front, and SC-spec vented rotors and calipers in the rear. It’s all put down to the pavement through sticky Avon CR6ZZ tires with an era-appropriate tread pattern.
“The car turned out exactly as I had hoped,” Erik tells me, “The Warrior has smooth torque delivery almost everywhere and tons of available power in every gear—it’s effortless. The lighter weight and stiffer suspension, reduced body roll from the sway bars, stickier tires, all of that make the car much more balanced and planted. The LSD allows you to put the power down and the brakes are amazing at scrubbing away your speed. It is enhanced in every way, yet still retains character of an early short-wheelbase 911, which would be a shame to try to fully erase.”
Gen Shibayama, the car’s owner, seems equally pleased. “The reason I decided to build an SWB 911 hot rod is that I really love driving my fairly original 1967 911S. That Porsche is a momentum car at its finest, a true lightweight at 2100 pounds, and with the high-revving two-liter, it’s something that shines on winding backroads. However, in order to drive it fast, you really need to keep the revs between 5000-7000 as there’s almost no mid-range torque to help you out below that. The suspension is also soft and floaty, so on the track or in high-speed sweepers it starts to show some limitations.
“So with all that said, I decided to build something faster and higher strung that would complement the mostly stock S, so I decided to seek a modern interpretation of the 1967 911R. The Terracotta car turned out to be the 911 that I really wanted! Even more of a lightweight at 1900 pounds, and with 250bhp at the crank, it’s a properly fast car. It keeps up with modern-day super cars, especially when the turns get tighter. With the grippy Avons and so little mass to move around, it corners very, very well and accelerates hard out of apexes—there are a lot of ways to make a car faster, but nothing can genuinely replace the effect of weight reduction.
“The EFI engine’s noise is exhilarating as you bring it up to the 8000rpm redline, and the close-ratio dogleg transmission enables me to keep the car near the height of its torque band. While I have not taken the Terracotta Warrior to the track yet, I feel very strongly that it will step up to the task. The suspension is very tight and motorsport-inspired, but it also does a bumpy rally road quite well, surprisingly. For some reason the short-wheelbase 911s have a negative image among some Porsche enthusiasts because of its increased tendency for snap oversteer and its weaker high-speed stability compared to the later, long-wheelbase cars. But I feel that with its stronger brakes and dialed in suspension and grippy tires, this car has corrected these negative characteristics, and what you’re left with is all the agility and less of the tradeoffs.
“An additional bonus on this build is that, while very noisy, it is still easy to drive on the highway and around town, and thanks to its improved low-end torque you don’t need to keep the revs as high. As an air-cooled Porsche enthusiast and a R Gruppe member, I have seen and driven many modified 911s, and what I did not want to create was an over-powered and un-drivable monster. I’m very happy with how the Terracotta Warrior turned out. It’s a fighter for sure, but one that’s easy to love, and live with.”
Sunday Cruising, At Speed
I met Gen at 7:00AM on a Sunday morning in the Marina district of San Francisco recently. The Warrior and Gen’s 1967 911S were lying in wait, tandem-parked in the narrow garage under the house, customary in San Francisco. A duet of distinctive air-cooled sound punctuated the quiet neighborhood as we eased out into the street. Behind the wheel of the Terracotta Warrior, I followed Gen as we headed toward the Golden Gate Bridge. The lightness of the car becomes immediately apparent—as well as every imperfection in the road. It’s got the torque to drive around in third all day, but this car is not built for boulevard cruising. It wants to hustle, constantly. The engine is happiest when it’s being wound out to redline, and no matter how fast you’re going the car feels like it wants to move forward ever quicker. It pulls in every gear. The short-throw shifter is a pleasure to operate, allowing for firm, positive changes that click into place with mechanical reassurance. The experience is aided by a solid clutch that grabs just when and where it should. It is nimble and precise, but this car still retains that old-school, early 911 feel—it’s simply, more.