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Convalescence to Confluence: How one man’s Porsche 912 got a new six-cylinder heart

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Article and photos by Alan Wagner

A little before reaching the crest of the hill, I applied the brakes, glad to enlist gravity to help slow my 1997 Porsche Boxster before negotiating the blind, 90° Turn 6 at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. After the turn, I got a glance of what looked like a dark red Porsche 911 occupying most of my rear-view mirror. It was a beautiful early model that I had seen in the paddock but not on the track.

The 911 seemed tethered to my rear bumper through the 45° right-hand Turn 7 and entering the short “Hurry Downs” straightaway. I signaled the driver to make a pass before the braking zone for Turn 8, a hard left just before the Carrousel. I was able to stay close through the Carrousel, and the infamous “Kink” beyond, but once we were on the relatively straight portion of the track called “Kettle Bottoms,” it pulled away quickly. I was equally surprised and impressed that the car seemed to have so much more power than my Boxster. Being relatively new to the Porsche marque at the time, I made the false assumption that “older equals slower.” More on that later…

At the end of the session, we pulled into the paddock, and I looked for the 911 that had made such a favorable impression on me. It turned out to be owned and driven by Dave Zimmer, the artisan behind “Paintwerks,” a paint and body shop in nearby West Bend. Dave had hosted a tech session for the Milwaukee Region of PCA in his shop a few months prior, the topic of which was “Maintaining the Paint Finish on Your Porsche.” The featured car at that tech session was a 356 that Dave had restored for a client. I remembered him talking about the brand of wax that he used, and about clay bars, but I didn’t recall seeing the red 911 around the shop that day.

After reintroducing myself, I asked Dave, “What engine do you have in your car? It really seems to have a lot of power.” He explained that the engine, an air-cooled flat six, was not original to the car and that his “911” was, in fact, a ‘69 912. Just before he acquired it in 2008, Dave had been laid up for a couple weeks following a surgery. During his recovery, he was perusing some car magazines and found a beautifully restored 911 that he admired — a lot. He told his wife, Lynn, “I want to build one of those.”

Dave found the perfect candidate car on eBay and bought it sight-unseen. Although it came from New York, Dave found evidence that the car had spent some time in Massachusetts and Missouri, as well. Dave says, “What came out of my convalescence is the real cost of health care. But, I’ve never felt better!”

The 912 was in surprisingly decent condition. Despite spending time in the Snow Belt there was little rust, making it a good candidate for the type of Porsche he envisioned, something he could have fun driving on both road and track. He was not worried about stone chips or matching numbers, which was a good thing because one of the car’s previous owners swapped out the original four cylinder boxer for a 2.2-liter, six-cylinder 911 engine.

Dave removed the engine and sold it, then acquired a newer, more- powerful 3.2-liter flat six from a crashed 1988 911 Carrera Targa. When the engine arrived in Wisconsin, Dave confirmed that it met the advertised 3-5% leak-down rate and then brought the engine’s maintenance up to date before installing it in his car.

The transmission is from a 1984 911 Carrera that Dave found on eBay. He met the seller at the Hershey Porsche Only Swap Meet in Pennsylvania to consummate the deal. Dean Fabritz of Fabson Engineering A.G., in nearby Cedarburg, Wisconsin, rebuilt the transmission using stock 911 components, including the addition of a limited-slip differential.

Dave mounted the new engine and transmission in the car himself. But, he gratefully acknowledges the many hours spent conferring with Tom Petrushka of Mayo Performance for his assistance in getting the wiring harness installed correctly. Dave performed “brain surgery” on the car by installing a new computer chip from Steve Wong. He also added an SSI free-flow exhaust system.

“Almost nothing on the car is original,” Dave says. More engine power requires more braking capability. So, he installed Carrera 3.2 rotors and early Boxster brake calipers fitted with Hawk track pads. To facilitate initial brake set-up, Dave installed twin master cylinders incorporating brake-bias adjustment capability. He also replaced the pedal cluster in the cockpit. 

Suspension components were also upgraded. Out came the stock, steel rear trailing arms and in went aluminum units. He also replaced the front struts with Bilstein units and raised the front spindles to lower the car while keeping correct suspension geometry, which reduces bump steer and improves handling. Dave added stiffer torsion bars and Bilstein shocks front and rear to reduce body movement in anticipation of the time he’d spend on track. 

Dave was almost disappointed that more of his skill as a restorer was not required, though he did add flares at all four corners of the car to accommodate aftermarket two-piece BBS wheels and wider, more track-worthy tires than the skinny setup appropriate to the car’s vintage. He cut away the existing metal around the wheel wells and replaced it with aftermarket stamped-steel Turbo-style flares, welding them into place. The front flares required some modification to fit as well. At the front of the car, he added a fiberglass, aftermarket bumper with a small front splitter and provisions for a center-mounted oil cooler prominently exposed to the airstream — similar to what one would find on a 1973 911 RSR race car. A ducktail rear spoiler completes the aerodynamic package, which Dave chose over a whaletail spoiler because he considers the ducktail to be more appropriate for the car’s vintage.

After the bodywork was done, Dave looked for a new color that would provide a bit more of a “wow” factor than the original white. The color he selected is what he calls “Paintwerks Pearl.” One perceives the color differently depending on whether it is viewed in the sun, where the car looks dark red, or in the shade, where it appears to be maroon.

Securing driver and passenger are late-’70s 911S sports seats that Dave covered in new, tan vinyl purchased from Autobahn Interiors, along with new matching carpeting. The car’s rear “seats” were removed and replaced by a rear-seat-delete carpet kit.

On the dash, Dave installed a cherry wood panel with matching grain across its three sections. The instrument cluster features a non-standard, red, apple-sized warning light just to the right of the speedometer which is connected to an oil-pressure sensor — an extra measure of protection. If the oil pressure drops to less than 18 psi, the light comes on. It’s impossible to miss.

With its relatively stiff springs, the six-cylinder 912 is great on the track but not ideal for long road trips. That’s what Dave and Lynn’s ’85 911, acquired in 1997, is perfect for.

Oh yes, regarding the Porsche’s performance that initially intrigued me, Dave believes that the 3.2-liter six puts out about 240 horsepower in its current configuration, up from 217 hp stock. The car, in track trim, weighs 2,400 pounds, which means it has a weight-to-power ratio of approximately 10 pounds per horsepower. By comparison, a ’97 Boxster (986) has a curb weight of 2,822 pounds and 201 horsepower, yielding 14 pounds per horsepower. In retrospect, it should not have been surprising that the 911 pulled away from my Boxster so quickly at Road America. Interestingly, when I asked Dave what is the fastest speed he has seen on the track, he replied, “I don’t know, because I always cover the speedometer with tape so I won’t be tempted to take my eyes off the track to look at it!”

While Dave’s car is more than capable on the track, it’s also a head-turner on the street. He has entered it in a couple Concours d’Elegance: the annual concours on the street in downtown Elkhart Lake (then called the Road & Track Concours), and the concours sponsored by PCA-Milwaukee Region as part of its 50th Anniversary celebration. In the latter event, Dave’s car won the Peoples-Choice Award.

Although the car’s numbers don’t match, that clearly doesn’t bother Dave, who now has the Porsche he’d been looking for – one that’s both stylish and fun to drive.




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