Last October, one week after Rennsport Reunion VI, I fulfilled a childhood dream and got a 911. I had kissed the dream goodbye, given their insane acceleration in value in recent years, so I wasn’t looking for one or “in the market.” But then it’s not just any 911: one humble, scruffy, high mile 1982 911SC has always been my favorite of all I’ve had the privilege to work on and drive, the one I most wanted to take home. This is that car.
Its history is a little unusual, as it started life as the street car of a German gentleman racing driver, Siggi Brunn. You may recognize the name of Brunn Racing, which still services top European historic racers. Note the 911's Heidelberg front plate, its original German registration. Siggi owned 908s, a 917, and other significant race cars. Around 1984 or 1985 he sold it to his friend Jim, a California shop owner, Porsche mechanic and crew chief for the 1980 Trans-Am series winning 911RSR of John Bauer and the Wynn’s Dick Barbour 935 among others, who had come to know Brunn through various racing endeavors. It was then brought to California and Federalized as a gray-market import, common business at the time, and Jim’s name is in the door tag as Importer. Shortly thereafter he sold the car on to a client named John, a pilot, rancher, and inveterate gearhead who kept it until his passing in 2017, ultimately accruing 231,337 miles over the ensuing three decades.
The car was cared for by Jim’s shop, where I started apprenticing and sweeping floors in 1996, as a sophomore in high school. I have thus known and worked on this car since then, when it already had 158,000 miles on the odometer. By that time it was a little rough around the edges, its luster faded, but on the button mechanically and well loved. This is what drew me to it, its well earned patina, as well as the low-key European spec and unique interior. Remember, identical looking 3.2 Carreras were only 8 years old at this time, inevitably with either aftermarket chrome, gold, or polished wheels, whaletails, sheepskins and car phones, still driven by slick haired lawyers and brokers. Flashy cars for flashy people, not yet a cultural phenomenon. But I’d been obsessed with Porsches from a young age, so a rough and ready 911 like this, driven by a down-to-Earth guy in worn jeans and work boots, stood out and pulled me in immediately.
Upon John’s untimely death, his wife called us to ask how to sell the car. Saddened by John’s passing, I suggested some venues to sell it, ballparked its market value in the $25,000 range, promised to think on who to tip on the car, wanting to both reduce her burden in having to deal with it and everything else, and to find the car a good home. It was only later that night that my mind set off racing. I lay awake in bed and recalled roughly 10 years earlier when a family friend passed and I was asked how to sell his forlorn Ferrari 308, a car that had a significant influence on me. I’ve written about him and that car on Live and Let Diecast:
I was in my 20s when that one slipped through my fingers, though it was never really near their grasp. Though I know there was absolutely no way I could even remotely afford or justify buying that or any Ferrari, ever, I regret having not at least made some kind of effort to own a car that meant so much to me. So when the 911 came up, it kept me up at night. I had mostly been daily driving a string of joyless beaters for years, and two decades in the automotive repair business had destroyed my automotive enthusiasm. Cars of my own were certainly not a priority other than ensuring that the family Sienna was safe and roadworthy for my wife and young kids. My long-term 1968 2002 project sat untouched in the garage, interest and motivation long lost. My Vanagon, effectively my first car, sat out front, silently returning to the Earth. Other accumulated non-running cars and parts sat elsewhere, weighing me down. Yet here was my one particular favorite 911, with mileage and condition that put it at the low end of the market, tantalizingly close to normal guy money. I felt joy for a car fizzing up again. It would be my only chance to reclaim a dream. I had to try.
To that end, I called the owner (John’s widow, a wonderful woman named Rebecca) to ask if I could try to buy it. She immediately said yes, that she wasn’t in a hurry and that I could have time to figure out the money. Even said I could make payments if needed. So in May of 2018 I went up to their farm in rural Paso Robles to check the car out and talk about it, as it had been some time since I’d seen it. To my surprise she offered me the car for $18,000, to which I agreed without hesitation. I then set about selling almost everything I owned with wheels: my 2002 and all its extra parts, owned since 1999. The old family Vanagon, in my life since 1984. My old Audi 4000 former daily and then LeMons car. A trip over the Sierras to deliver a Sport Quattro hood and NLA European H4/H1 headlights for 4000s and UrQuattros to a renowned Audi builder from Colorado. My purple ‘95 F150, just as it was finally sorted out. A beater E36. Extra wheels. Unridden surplus bicycles and skateboards. 1:18 scale model cars. Decades of accumulated shit, large and small, gone. I recycled, gave and threw a bunch of stuff away, too. No emotional attachment was too great to break for this, except one: The only car that stayed was grandpa’s old Lancia Flavia, for obvious reasons. Even if it hadn’t been for a very specific purpose, the process was deeply liberating, a lot of baggage gone. I co-opted Colin Chapman’s famous phrase and called it Project: Simplify and add Porsche. I was very fortunate that my father-in-law gave me his old beater Nissan hardbody gardening truck to use as a daily. Even after selling all that stuff I came up short, so I secured a loan from the local credit union for the rest. I was not going to let this car go.
My goal was to have the car before Rennsport Reunion VI, to drive it up and camp in proper dirtbag sports car style. I missed the first two West coast Rennsports for the birth of my children ( a good reason if ever there was one, right?), and I’d heard suggestions that the next might be held elsewhere, which would put it out of reach. Needless to say, it was a must-make event. I skipped the Laguna Seca IMSA weekend, which I’d been camping at for 20 years, because I couldn’t afford both and the scheduling was awful with both in one month. For a variety of reasons, I only got to spend one crowded Saturday at Rennsport, without the car. Still, it reaffirmed my choice to pursue it, and a lifetime of obsession with Stuttgart’s cars since childhood. The next weekend, with the blessing of my wife and children present, it was mine. Money and title exchanged, I got in, sat quietly for a second, whispered “here we go”, and hit the key on the left. It cranked awhile then came to life, misfiring at first as it built pressure to the injectors after having sat for awhile. I idled it for a minute, taking in the smell of the interior, then put the cranky 915 box in gear and backed out onto the dirt driveway, past my family waving excitedly from the Sienna. I’m pretty sure there was an onion farm nearby. Also it was really dusty. From the dirt road, of course.
After driving and tinkering for a couple of weeks, I washed it for the first time late in October. I then took it down to my local informal Oktoberfest show with my 3 year old in her car seat, parked next to JoshyRobots’ famed red-door ‘69 911T with his 3 year old in her car seat, and wrote “VW Sports Beetle” on the car card. Two beat up and loved 911s with dads & daughters, flying the flag for using your damn car.
I use for beer runs, to pick up dinner, to go to the hardware store, it’s not afraid of rain. The paint looks much better in pictures than in person, it’s got rock chips, scratches, and other cosmetic flaws. It lived outside until shortly before Thanksgiving, until I could finally fit it in the garage after cleaning out the 2002's remnants. My kids love washing it, though after giving it a thorough detail to protect the paint I plan not to do too much of that because I like dirty Porsches. I now have two pages of to-do list, from alignment to valve adjustment, which will take a great deal of time to work through. I try to drive it one or two days a week on the easy commute, as I bring it closer to what I consider full “take it anywhere” roadworthiness. Getting it through smog is and has always been a pain in the ass, because it’s a European market car with different cams, higher compression, different injection setting, and an aftermarket catalyst. It is far from perfect, but it’s a 911, indeed the 911, and it’s mine and I don’t care about anything else.
It’s a throwback to a simpler, less worrisome time. I drive and repair Germany’s modern cars on a daily basis, and with very few exceptions (mostly from Stuttgart) I don’t really like any of them. I don’t care about infotainment, connectivity, variable ratio steering, active suspension. I understand why they exist, and even why people like such things, but after a life spent fixing the failures of other people’s complex German machines, I like to keep mine simple. This car, then, is as close to a time machine as I can get. It not only takes me back to my childhood love of cars, but to the ones I cut my teeth on and thus enjoy best. It’s so wonderfully analog. No power steering, no power brakes (no airbags, we die like real men, etc...). Excellent visibility in every direction. It’s a cliche, but everything requires a confident touch, a meaningful command, and it’s deeply rewarding.
I’ve driven a lot of Porsches over the years, but never hard, because they weren’t mine. While I still haven’t leaned on it anywhere near the limit due to old tires and my own lack of confidence, it’s a joy to explore. The 3-4 shift at 6,000RPM is pure magic, the ratios just right, making me feel like I’m in Le Mans, accelerating out of Tertre Rouge in pursuit of Erich Stahler’s Coda Lunga 512. There’s a short country road that constitutes my “long way home”, which I’ve been driving since the day I got my license. It’s a short and simple route, straights punctuated by undulating twisty bits through rolling hills, but until I got the car I’d spent more time cycling than driving it in recent years. Now it serves as a neutral ground, the coffee shop where I meet the car for a chat as we explore one another’s idiosyncrasies. I’ve gotten away with more than my fair share of stupidity out there, but now older and wiser, I treat both road and car with respect as there are a couple of high-consequence sections should I get it wrong.
Beyond driving it, the interior has just the right smell of aged German leather, vinyl, carpet, and a hint of gasoline, evocative as only old cars can be. I like to just sit in it. I’ve so far resisted the urge to rotate the tach and speedo to place the upper ranges straight up, the racer move, because the steering wheel obstructs rather important numbers. If I’m out to drive hard, that only takes a minute anyway. The seats were originally Pasha, Porsche’s famed checker pattern, but were reupholstered at some point due to wear, and Pasha was not readily available. Now that it is, I’ll have to save up to get that sweet, sweet cloth back in the car. Perhaps my favorite interior feature of the few amenities it has is the old Alpine tape deck, which has given me an excuse to dust off all my old cassettes that I never got around to throwing away. The first album I queued up was Led Zeppelin II, track 7: Ramble On. I absolutely love it, it’s staying. Perhaps later I’ll write an objective Oppo Review, but that’s utterly impossible for the foreseeable future because I’m smitten.
The worst thing about the car is the sack of meat behind the wheel. I feel very self-conscious when driving it, like everyone is watching me, judging me, assuming I’m an asshole, but I don’t drive that way. It’s the car I’m in, the badge on it, even though it’s about the most modest 911 out there. They don’t know it’s 35 years old and has been to the moon, or that I paid Kia money for it and work on it myself. I don’t feel like joining the PCA. I feel guilty for having a frivolous old sports car in a polarized world so full of bullshit, tragedy and suffering. I worry for my kids’ future and that of humanity, indeed our world; there are infinitely higher priorities than playing with cars. I certainly can’t reconcile it with my environmental conscience. But old Ed Abbey raged against the machine while driving a big red Eldorado convertible. I guess I’ll rage against it in an old white Porsche. Humans are contradictory creatures, and I hope the world allows me this one for awhile. That’s the story and this, finally, is my 911.