You Don’t Need To Be A Professional To Race An Air-Cooled Porsche 911 Around Europe
Photography by Will Broadhead
It is the winter of 1970 in Great Britain, and the RAC Rally is underway. Like usual, cold, wet, and murky conditions prevail. Despite the weather there is a thick row of spectators standing along the sides of these woodland stages. Somewhere in amongst the people is a young Paul Bloxidge, just one of many fans hoping to catch a glimpse of their hero flying across these pocked and rutted British roads.
An excellent group of factory teams are in attendance, from the likes of Lancia, Ford, Alpine-Renault, and Datsun, but for Paul the lingering memories of this rally are the screaming 911s piloted by Gérard Larrousse and Björn Waldegård, watching them birthed the sort of motoring epiphany that happens to a great many of us when we decide what our favorite car is for the very first time.
Fast forward 48 years and Paul is standing alongside his good friend and navigator Ian Canavan. They are posing for photos in the middle of the Royal Automobile Club in London, next to Paul’s car, a 911 with license plate “KLM 544 N.” Paul and Camper, as Ian is known as, have just received their trophies as winners of 2018’s HERO Cup and Golden Roamer awards, presented to the best driver and navigator team across HERO’s challenging classic rally events. It is no small feat, and the kind of enthusiast-racer success story that has taken many years and many miles of competing to tell. In fact this car has competed in some 54 events in total at the time of writing. It’s the car that Paul dreamt of owning all those years ago, but since he fell in love with the rally version all those years ago he isn’t about to sock his away and not use it. This is his 1974 2.7 H-series Carrera, and it gets its share of exercise.
Before life with “KLM,” Paul had rallied before, competing up to 1981, but faced the familiar problem of balancing his passion for racing with home and work life and thus took a break from the sport for some twenty years. Of course, we all know that dormant passions can still flare back into your life decades later—the fire inside is nigh on impossible to extinguish completely—and in Paul’s case the memories of his own competitive driving coupled with that elusive Porsche 911 he wanted to own one day were never far away.
It was almost inevitable then, that after treating himself to a 996 for his 50th birthday, that the path back to rallying revealed itself. After acquiring KLM, the car was converted to a rally-spec around 2008-09. The previous owner had already added the RS-style ducktail into the mix (a customer option back in ’74), and the various modifications and safety features required to go rallying were fitted. Whilst some of us may balk at the thought of driving a car like this in the snow and dirt, but the purpose of this car was never a question for Paul.
It really does it all, with driver and car racking up over 50,000 miles over the course of those 54 rally events completed together, events that have seen the pairing competing in countries across the world.
From harsh and frozen winter environments, to the scorching heat of summer, Paul is ebullient with praise about the Porsches reliability in any condition. It has only ever let him down a handful of times, which is a strong track record considering the hammering the car receives and its age. Success for driver and car often leave out the skills and contribution of the navigator, particularly with the traditional map-reading methods used by the regularity rallies that Paul competes in with his Porsche.
With many stages taking place at night in remote and difficult landscapes, and with the human elements at the edges of exhaustion, a methodical and clear head is required for a successful transit across stages at the correct pace. In his co-driver and friend Ian, Paul has not only found a navigator with the right qualities to sit in the right seat, but also someone that he can get along with after days on end crammed into the car.
“We help and work for each other,” says Paul, and the pair’s efficient teamwork in the car has been a key part of the results they’ve earned over the years. They are well-respected among their fellow competitors, a group of people that Paul is also quick to recognize and thank for the times that they have stopped to help get KLM pointing in the right direction again (Paul does not include driver error in the car’s reliability tally!).
In the short time that I have been photographing and documenting the excellent HERO events, Paul and Ian and KLM have become familiar faces and favorites of mine. The noise of the flat-six coming towards me is always a welcome song to hear carried across the breeze, particularly during cold and lonely night stages. The patina of a well-used car makes it an endearing sports car to run into at the rallies’ various service stops. Of course, the constant abuse does extract a toll, and with Paul being 70 years old now, and with KLM requiring a good deal of TLC, Paul finds himself at a fork in the road with his car. He doesn’t know what his next move will be, but one thing is for sure: this car has provided a lifetime of memories that don’t need any rose-tinting. Regardless of rally victories and trophies in the case, Paul’s just in it for the sake of driving the car that he fell in love with so many years ago.