Under The Engine Cover With Air-Cooled 911 Restomodders Doing Frame-Up Work In Hamburg
Photography by Roman Rätzke
The steep price climb in air-cooled Porsches that’s taken place over the last decade has led to a world where even the most rusted shells are worth saving, which means the population of roadworthy specimens has been climbing instead of falling. There are more chances to own one, more chances to modify them. Air-cooled 911s “hot rods” are only getting more popular as a result, but not all of them are built the same. To add anything to the car, you have to know what you’re starting with in the first place, inside and out. Fine eleven is one of many shops doing ground-up restoration work to OEM specification, but they’ll happy oblige you if you want to add a little bit more to your air-cooled 911.
If the name doesn’t ring a bell to you, it’s probably because you’re not involved in the air-Porsche scene in Hamburg, but if you’re really into this stuff you’ve probably found them like I did, on Instagram. The account wasn’t all cell phone photos of workshops like most, but full of elegantly shot classic Porsches arranged like a love story for the 911. The company is responsible for bringing Porsches back to life, and they do so with just the right amount of twist. I recently reached out to Jasper Eckert to talk about creating a different take on Porsche restoration.
Monika Repcyte: Where does your passion for air-cooled Porsches come from? Your company began in your family, was it just something passed on from one generation to the next?
Jasper Eckert: You guess correctly! My grandfather owned a Jaguar and Morris dealership in the ‘60s, and my dad has been working with air-cooled Porsches since the mid-‘80s. Back in those days he had a focus on restoring the bodywork of 911s, 930s, and 944s after they’d had heavy accidents. As a kid, I was often told the story about the very first car I had the pleasure to be a passenger in: it was a 1991 Midnight Blue 964 Turbo. Later on, I remember spending lots of hours in the backseat of our 1976 911S coupé in Sahara Beige. Whether from a professional or personal perspective, classic cars and especially Porsche have always played a special role in our family.
MR: How did they get into the restoration business?
JE: My father has been running his own car dealership since 1991. Back then the restoration of classic cars and air-cooled Porsches was an important part of the business, but it was not the only one; we were also selling and repairing modern cars. In 2014 we finally decided to focus exclusively on air-cooled Porsches though, and we established the current brand, fine eleven. Obviously this decision was primarily driven by our passion for the cars themselves, but not only because of that. We saw a large demand for high quality restorations and custom Porsches built in Germany, and especially in our area around Hamburg.
MR: How many people are on your team today?
JE: In total, it consists of ten people. There are five mechanics and each one of them has his special field of focus, ranging from the bodywork, the engines, gearboxes, chassis, etc. Besides that, we have a strong ambition to preserve the knowledge around the craft of restoring and maintaining air-cooled Porsches, so we always have two apprentices. And ultimately, there is my father, my mother, and I also working. While my father and I are actively searching and undertaking new restoration projects, overseeing the coordination of the business itself, my mother is in charge of the bookkeeping.
MR: Your company oversees the whole restoration process in-house then, so which is the most fascinating part of reviving one of these cars?
JE: Since each step of the restoration and the marketing has its own charms, it is quite difficult to pinpoint a favorite. For me, the very moment we acquire a new restoration project is probably the most interesting. It’s a very intriguing moment you can’t get at the end of even the best work. The first time you inspect the car, you must pay attention to every detail, work out the particularities of its condition and original specifications, ideas immediately pop into your head, a certain vision how to proceed starts mapping itself out and you grasp at least several hints of how the final outcome might look. The creative process becomes even more fun when we let ourselves distance away from the original factory specifications of the car.
MR: Tell me more about how that happens.
JE: We always encourage the owners of the cars to take active part in the restoration process. In that way, not only can they add their own marks to the project, but they get to know the car to the last detail. Isn’t it fascinating, knowing your own car below the surface to this degree? As a standard in our company, the car owners receive daily updates on his restoration project with pictures and short videos.
We have noticed that the process of restoration, with all its ups and downs, is enjoyed so much by our clients that some even feel a bit sad once the car is finished! That moment of turning the ignition key of the restored car for the very first time can be indescribable though…
MR: What kind of marketing does a well-built Porsche need, though, really?
JE: An air-cooled Porsche doesn’t really need marketing at all it seems. In most cases, a quick test run is enough for the enthusiasm to catch on. That’s not to say we don’t put in additional efforts. We are trying to present our cars in an emotional way – our photographer Roman Rätzke takes them out for a ride in natural settings or in front of industrial architecture, which emphasize the design characteristics of these stylish cars. Pictures indeed say it all. We usually have something between 400 to 600 pictures showcasing the transformation a car undergoes in our workshop. After reviewing this extensive documentation, very few questions remain unanswered. If someone tells you something, it’s not the same as seeing it for yourself.
MR: What was the most intriguing, memorable, or challenging restoration you have already accomplished?
JE: Early SWB 911s are often quite challenging. During the restoration, we usually face problems in the bodywork, such as heavy rust or previous accidental damages, which had been poorly repaired or neglected in the past. Over the course of the last two years, we built up a lot of early 911s from scratch. One particular car sticks out as an extremely negative example regarding its condition when it came in.
The car in question had been acquired by one of our clients over twelve years ago, a 1967 911S sunroof coupé in Dolphin Grey. Just from these very basic characteristics you can already tell that not only it is an extraordinarily beautiful car, but a very precious example of early 911S as well. Unfortunately, this car endured multiple heavy accidents and suffered a lot of rust holes before arriving into our workshop about two years ago. We were forced to build up the car almost from nothing. After we removed all the rust and paint, one of our coachbuilders said: “Well, at least the roof looks alright.” Now the car is in flawless shape and is enjoyed by its owner, often, but achieving this was indeed challenging.
MR: You have undertaken another very challenging task recently…
JE: Yes, you’re right, another exceptionally challenging project fell into our lap. It’s a 1966 911 coupé with a rare sunroof option. The original color of this 911 is 6606 Irish Green, and it still has its matching numbers engine and gearbox. The car was first delivered to California in the beginning of 1967. During its life, it changed colors from the original green to burgundy and finally silver. Besides that, it suffered from a slight rear accident after which it was repaired but never brought back to life. So the half-finished car sat in a barn in California for almost 25 years until we discovered it more than a year ago and brought it back to Germany. Due to heavy rust and the bad general condition a full restoration was simply inevitable. We completely disassembled the car for paint stripping as the first step of the restoration. After that the car was set on the repair bench and underwent extensive bodywork (approximately nine weeks of labor) in our workshop. Now it is being prepared for the paint job but before the metal gets covered in paint, and we quickly got Roman to document the bare body.
MR: What are the main characteristics that you focus on enhancing while restoring an early 911 beyond its original specification?
JE: When you get behind the wheel of any air-cooled Porsche, it doesn’t matter if it’s a 356 from the ‘50s or a 993 from the ‘90s, you can immediately tell that within their specific period of time, each one acted as a perfect specimen of an agile sports car. Having this in mind, we try to enhance certain things, which provide an amazing driving experience without destroying the initial character of the car. Each production Porsche for us is an intermediate step towards building the perfect sports car.
So what fascinates us the most are these little improvements of each model, taken in the bigger context of technical development. Of course, these intermediate steps have slight imperfections, because an early 911 from the ‘70s is not supposed to be driven and feel like a modern sports car from the ‘90s. That’s why preserving the individual character of each car is the very definition of a successful restoration.
When it comes to choosing which characteristics we seek to enhance, it really comes down to everything you feel in a car: the agility while accelerating, steadiness and balance in turns, and the sound of the car in almost every situation. There is a large variety of things you can do to achieve slight improvements, without replacing too much of the car with completely new parts that take away a lot of the car’s soul. Even though the preservation of the individual car is our imperative, we always encourage our clients to play around a little with minor modifications such as different materials in the interior, like period-correct tartan fabric or leather instead of the original leatherette, boucle carpets instead of velour carpets, etc. In this way, we create a one-off air-cooled Porsche that could be as much as a change in fabric or much more.
MR: What are the most common restoration challenges you encounter? Those you’ve already mentioned aside.
JE: Quite paradoxically, the most common restoration challenges we encounter are neither technical difficulties nor questions of craftsmanship. It’s rather this absolute necessity to balance the client’s expectations with the characteristics of an old car and the process of the restoration itself.