It Takes Luck to Find the Perfect 911
The air-cooled Porsche 911 came in many different flavors: Grand Turismo, hardcore track machine, stealthy autobahn missile, and turbocharged adrenaline pump, with customization between models made relatively easy by a long factory options list. The result of all this cross-pollination is a second-hand market made up of very unique cars; finding two identically specced 911s isn’t easy. A benefit of Zuffenhausen’s generosity is that classic 911s are a lot like Legos: if you can’t find the exact car you’re looking for, just build it from a pile of easily interchangeable parts.
Hank Gries was incredibly lucky when searching for his dream 911, because someone already had the good taste and courtesy of building it for him—they simply weren’t aware of it at the time. One of the loveliest ’74 Carreras we’ve seen in a while, Hank’s has benefited from a lot of high-end upgrades, all executed in a subtle and tasteful way. Below, we give him a good grilling.
Q: Can you tell us a bit about your car?
A: Well, it started life as a 1974 Carrera that was delivered stateside in September of ’73. I found it about two years ago up in San Francisco at a really cool classic and exotics boutique shop called Cars Dawydiak. It was built about eight years prior to that by local Porsche specialist Patrick Motorsports, who used it as kind of a project car. Patrick designs and markets a lot of aftermarket upgrades for air-cooled Porsches, and my car has a lot of their stuff fitted—it’s a 3.0 block with 3.2 stroker kit, J&E high-comp pistons, uprated cams, rods and so on. It was once dyno’d at about 290 HP, and with only 2,400 lbs. to push, it’s pretty quick—easily 997 GT3 territory, until it comes to the twisties anyway, then they really blow me away! Big brakes and a lot of suspension work round off the package.
Q: How did you choose your particular car?
A: A friend has a Turbo-look ’87 911, which is all blacked-out and looks really mean. That car definitely influenced my decision to get a 911.
Q: What is it that you love about your car?
A: I know it’s a bit of a clichéd answer, but I just love to drive it. It’s totally unique, and the color is fantastic: depending on the light it can be many different shades of yellow, and under fluorescents it just glows like neon. When it comes down to it though, it’s all about putting the hammer down. It takes a lot of respect to drive well; being an early 911, there’s a pronounced pendulum effect to the handling. Just being able to keep it on track feels like an accomplishment and driving it well is very satisfying—the challenge is its own reward.
Q: So it’s not for beginners?
A: Well, actually, I feel like an old 911 can actually be great for beginners. If you come into it fresh with little or no experience of performance driving other cars, you can really grow with it. Learning how to drive well in a classic 911 means that once you’re accustomed to it, you can drive just about anything, because you started with what’s probably the trickiest car to master.
Q: Is there anything you’d change about your 911?
A: It’s pretty loud. I have it pretty much stripped out, with no A/C or sound proofing. I like it as-is, because it’s all about performance. It has everything I need and nothing I don’t, but sometimes it’s a bit of a chore to drive on the freeway. I drive it a lot, so I’ve been thinking of maybe adding some Dynamat or maybe a spray-in, sound-deadening material in order to make it a bit more civilized on a daily basis. I’d also like to give a WEVO short shifter a try.
Q: What’s your idea of the ideal drive?
A: Oh, probably up and down the Pacific Coast Highway. A lot of the little mountain and valley towns scattered around California are also full of fantastic driving roads—they’re usually full of guys on sports bikes, and anywhere there are bikers there are bound to be good driving roads, too.
Q: How often do you drive the car?
A: This time of year when the weather is nice, I drive it as often as possible. Most days I’ll drive it to the gym at about six in the morning. Even when it gets very hot in the summer, I’ll sweat it out with no A/C—it’s just too much fun to drive to let it languish in the garage.
Q: Do you ever track it?
A:Yeah, about once a month. There are quite a few good local tracks here in Phoenix. I used to frequent Firebird Raceway, but I guess they’ve recently lost their lease, so I’m not too sure about its future. I also like Arizona Motorsports Park, but they’ve got a pretty restrictive decibel level cap—pretty ironic seeing as they’re adjacent to an active fleet of F16’s at Luke Air Force Base! Inde Motorsports Ranch is another place I like to track at. The local Porsche Club of America chapter’s very active.
Q: Are there any other Porsches you’d like to try someday?
A: Well, this is my first Porsche, so I’d of course love to have an opportunity to drive all of them! As far as owning, though, I really love the 928, especially the GTS. I know they’re a maintenance nightmare, but they look amazing—there’s just something about them. I know the purists aren’t big fans, but I don’t care.
Q: Anything you’d like to touch?
A: I just want to say that I’ve really enjoyed being part of the PCA. I was new to the Porsche experience and half expected many fellow owners to be snobby or aloof, but by and large everyone’s been just the opposite: friendly, helpful, and just fun to hang out with on a track meet.
It’s a special car, the kind you’re never really an owner of—you’re more of a custodian than anything, taking care of it for the next generation.
Photography by Stephen Heraldo