The Legends Behind Lufgekühlt Built A Perfect Porsche 911 Safari Machine
There’s a good chance that if you’re even remotely an air-cooled Porsche guy that you’ve probably heard about the now 3rd annual running of Luftgekühlt, a Southern California Porsche party that attracts some of the biggest names from that close-knit community. This year, organizers Patrick Long, Howie Idelson, and a handful of others decided to take things to the next level by enlisting the handiwork of automotive legends like Rod Emory, Joey Seely, Jeff Zwart, and a litany of friends from Germany to build a special rally-ready “Safari” 911 to be auctioned at the event by RM Sothebys, benefitting their pal Butch Walker’s Pancreatic cancer research foundation, The Autumn Leaves Project.
I had the distinct privilege of getting to spend the morning with this rat pack of sorts, photographing the car as it went through its first shakedown in the picturesque hills of Tejon Ranch in Lebec, California. After a frigid mountain dawn shoot, I spoke with Pat Long on how the whole thing came together.
Ted Gushue: Pat, tell me about the build.
Patrick Long: This is a collaboration of a lot of bench racing. We’ve been toying the idea of trying to put a car together that’s an extension of the Luftgekühlt story and guys like Joey Seely, Jeff Zwart, and Rod Emory have been our biggest supporters from day one with the show, and just so happen to be some of the best in the business in the rally and classic car world. So I said let’s combine the two and see if we can pull this off. I think the proudest moment is how quickly everybody came together, and did this for the Pancreatic Cancer research through the Autumn Leaves Project. As soon as there’s an aspect of charity I think everybody just throws in and that’s been cool to see.
TG: How’d you pick out the initial car to start the build from?
PL: I think a G-model was the go-to for a lot of reasons, and probably the main one was the lineage to what Porsche did with the G-model in Dakar. This car, specifically, was because of the timeline. To pull this all together in two months, we had to start with a really clean car. Some of the purists might give us a hard time for doing it with such a great car, but the fact of the matter is is they built a ton of these cars—and as much as they are, they’re just a specimen stock—and pure beauty. I mean, that’s the first vintage car I bought, an ’86, I love this vintage but we had to start with a clean car because we didn’t want to do body, we didn’t want to do an engine reseal, things like that. It’s a 79,000 mile, ‘85. It’s had everything it’s ever needed. I have every single piece of documentation, service record, and it’s just a queen of a little car.
TG: Awesome. What was the first thing that came off the car?
PL: The engine came out it quicker than I realized, but the real focus initially was the suspension. How to take this idea of an off-road 911 to another level because so many guys whack up their ride height, throw on a set of knobbies and a graphics package and call it a Safari, and I wanted form to follow function. That’s why my first call was to Joey Seely.
He’s a guy that’s been a suspension expert for a lot of years. He was a mechanic on my car at Le Mans in 2005, and he was always a guy that aligned the car, that put the car across the pad, that had that understanding. His relationship with KW and ERP, it just brought that focus together. First thing that came off was all the suspension. They decided to go coil over full a-arm suspension, and then the next focus was on skid plates and bumpers to make this thing bulletproof so that it could really be enjoyed. No sense in just bolting on some aesthetic bumpers for the idea. We wanted these things to run deep into the veins of the car.
That’s where we called up Rod Emory because he’s been building these cars for over two decades. He knows what works and what doesn’t so again, we wanted to be able to hit a dip and get through it and not have something fall off of it. Every single aspect of this car has been engineering focused rather than aesthetics and at the same time, just trying to do it tastefully. Tires and wheels were a big debate because again, I wanted real function of off-road capabilities and an on-road, daily driver aspect and a lot of people told me first you need to find your tire and then your rim, which sounded backwards to me, but it shows how naive I am.
We linked up with Pirelli on a purpose built rally tire that is a hardened compound but casing and construction is sports specific to rallying and it’s an active, competitive tire, even today. Then Braid Wheels with everything they’ve done not only with 911 rally, but just across the board with on-road Porsche stuff and rally stuff outside of these guys. They came through a recommendation from Pelican Parts, who’s been really the glue on every little link of product, that we needed to basically freshen this whole car up.
Paul at Braid is a rallier himself and has a G-Model, and so he had a ton of advice as far as wheel spacing, offsets, even lug nuts and stud lengths and all that type of stuff, from years of racing. Every single piece of this car has some idea of experience behind it. That was the most fun is that the phone calls, it was always a “yes,” and that I wasn’t expecting.
TG: What did Rod do aesthetically besides the skid plates and the roll cage?
PL: The bars, the skids was Rod and his team. They did this all in CAD. We looked at function and aesthetic and what’s been done on these cars.
The world of vintage 911 in motorsport is one in the same and I didn’t realize that getting into this, so it’s been fun to just touch every little piece of what my life for the last fifteen years on this car. Even the roll cage for instance, we went with a full cage that’s integrated into the frame rather than just putting a bolt in half cage that looks cool.
Each part of this has been touched. The engine was out, we put a limited slip in it, you’ve got to have for the off-road stuff. The initial concept when I thought about putting this all together in a couple of months, I was like, “We’re not going to do anything powertrain related. We’re just going to make sure it’s durable and can hit some cool jumps,” but in the end, every single piece of this car has been gone through and on the engine side, Pelican Parts wanted to have a DIY aspect to our partnership, so they did a couple of videos and just freshened up the engine with a lot of different, cool little upgrades. It’s not about horsepower, just about reliability and freshening. We didn’t modify any of the internals, we just went through everything, checked everything, and just made sure that we were selling a car that had been thoroughly gone through. Not only did it start out as a clean piece but it’s been gone through by some of the best.
TG: As a clean piece what would this car go for?
PL: Man. The G-model market, mid-’80’s, 78,000 miles, this car is a $40,000-plus car before you get going in today’s market. Paint is mostly original, it’s not a re-spray. We went to Tony Leon and he buffed and sanded everything and just got the rockers off of it. There’s never been any hits on this thing. The floor is original. Everything was pretty damn clean but we just wanted to make sure structurally everything was super solid.
PL: Yeah, it’s a sweet car. Things like the dash are all original. I wanted to leave some originality. We left the original colors that are on the COA. I didn’t want to to strip the originality out of the car. Everything’s included with the car and been preserved, so everything from the wheels to the seats to the radio is OEM in there.
PL: That was an important part for me is that if we were going to do this with a clean example was to make it reversible, even if it never is, is still a principle thing for me about preservation.
TG: You’d also piss off a bunch of people if you didn’t.
PL: Yeah. No, that part of it, I’ve been nerding out on that element for the last couple of years and so it’s useful to have everyone’s perspective before you do something like this.
TG: How did you guys link up with Butch Walker and his foundation?
PL: Butch, he’s a friend of Howie Idelson through the Palisades/Malibu circuit and also a big friend of Deus, who has been a partner of ours from day one. We did the first show at their little hub because that’s where Howie and I were meeting on business relations and I said, “Dude, wouldn’t it be cool to throw a Porsche party right here on Sunday morning?” Everybody’s first reactions were like, you can’t do a car show here, it’s too small. Butch is a motorcycle guy and a Venice guy and so it was a fit for charity that’s really close to his heart, raising awareness and funding for pancreatic cancer which he lost his father to. I think as we do more with Luftgekühlt we’ll recognize and contribute to different charities. I think that it’s something that’s a fine line because it’s done so often, but all the proceeds of this car go to the charity. This is not a smoke and mirrors type of exercise.
TG: No one’s getting rich here.
PL: No, and that’s the thing with Luft is that the relationships and the venues are probably as key and prioritized in our brand as the cars themselves. Purists would maybe hate that. Car people would hate that, but once they come to an event, there’s an education and a cross pollination between the venue’s demographic and the car guys’ demographic and there’s a lot of commonality, there’s a lot of small world relationships that cross over, and it’s a tall order to keep up on that and keep introducing new brands to the car world and the car world to brands like Modernica, Bandito Brothers, Deus, motorcycles, cinematography, furniture. It all goes together.
Photography by Ted Gushue