1970 Porsche 911S restoration
The car was in very poor condition when I found it,” says Alan Drayson of Canford Classics, with world-class understatement. “It had been in a workshop fire, filled with water by the firefighters, then pushed outside and left to rot.” It’s almost impossible to believe that we’re talking about this 1970 911S: an immaculate 2.2-litre coupe in sparkling Metallic Silver.
“For example, the interior light had melted and was hanging three inches from the ceiling. The ignition key had also melted, although the Porsche script was still visible. Fellow restorers told me the car would never see the light of day again – that was like a red rag to a bull.”
Comparing himself to a bull might sit right with Alan, but he’s one of the least bullish restorers I’ve met. His Canford Classics company’s approach is best summed up as a focus on process. “When restoration is focused on the finish, you miss details in the middle. We work on process first, and expect results to follow,” he offers humbly. The proof that they follow is parked in front of us.
My first encounter with Canford Classics was in an internet thread, four or five years ago. Rebuilding a car for a customer, Alan had all the suspension parts stripped, rebuilt and refinished; new powder coating, new plating, new bushes et al. He then arranged the perfect parts and took a picture, sharing it with the collective. It was the first time I’d seen it done, and it left a strong impression.
“It just seemed like something people would enjoy,” laughs Alan as we discuss how that’s now the norm in restoration threads. “I’ve searched hard for the right companies to use for plating, chroming, anodising and trimming. I’ve been through five different seal manufacturers, a bundle of carpet suppliers, and a number of bodyshops, to find suppliers who really understand what we’re chasing for our customers. When you find the right people, their work is a joy, so I like to share that out.”
It’s a fresh attitude in an industry where many specialists are closed doors to those who can’t afford them. “It’s all in the scene,” says Alan, who cut his teeth rebuilding air-cooled Volkswagens while still at school. “If I add something to the scene, it keeps the scene alive. An energised classic landscape is good for owners, good for newcomers, and ultimately good for me.”
A week ago, I shared time with a 1968 911T, restored by Canford for a European customer; Slate Grey and immaculate throughout with a freshly rebuilt engine. In my opinion as a used-car-market professional, the Porsche was exceptional and sold too cheap. This S is even lovelier; certainly one of the best rebuilt early cars I have ever seen. Putting a price on it is not going to be easy; no money will ever cover the rebuild cost. What’s most amazing is the fact that it exists.
“There was never a question of not restoring this car,” explains Alan. “A 2.2 S is rare, right-hand drive is rarer and it also had a twin; another right-hooker S in silver with black sports Recaros, that we’d previously worked on. The cars had similar chassis numbers and sequential build numbers. The chances of finding that are minuscule, so it was always coming back to life.”
Most people would have reshelled the car into a less rusty chassis, but that is not the Canford way. The point is preservation; interfere with matching numbers, or stick the chassis plate on something else and originality is no more.
When the car arrived with Canford, the shell was braced with metal bars to stop it flexing. Once the chassis measurements and window apertures had been immobilised in metal, the exterior panels began to come off. Some time later, Alan’s 911 was a fish skeleton, sent for stripping before being bolted to a Celette chassis jig.
Barry Carter was the man chosen for the metalwork. I’m dizzy just thinking about how mental he and Alan are for even taking on this car but, once again, their main concern is process; the step-by-step journey to rebuild the rustiest right-hand-drive Porsche 911 I have seen in my life.
For the distressed chassis of this silver S, most repair parts were handmade. Every curve, every fold, every crease instilled at source was re-created. Although the remains looked like 40-year-old used tissue paper, Carter brought his considerable repertoire to bear in reconstruction.
Dashboard, lower front corners, inner wings front and rear, unobtainable inner roof rails, complex parcel shelf assembly; all were remade to perfection. Every bolt-on panel was replaced, along with the roof, inner and outer sills, tank support, and front and rear slam panels. The expertise employed cannot be overstated.
While Barry worked the body, Alan was restoring other 911s. A right-hand-drive RS Touring, chassis number 1234, went through the workshop, with an assortment of long and short wheelbase S and T models. Work began on a factory T/R and Alan’s other car; an Albert Blue ST re-creation, with a 300bhp short-stroke engine on throttle bodies, and an MSA-standard, roll-caged bodyshell.
“I love original cars, but you have to push the envelope and keep developing your skills,” says Alan. “Doing the
same thing, every build, would induce tunnel vision, I’m sure. We add variety by taking on a range of projects and giving them all 100 per cent. Every car built is better than the last.
“We’ve just bought a 912 back from the western deserts of the USA,” Alan continues. “It’s been in the sun forever so there is absolutely no rust, but the all-original paint is burnt, cracked, bleached and faded. The plan is to redo the mechanicals and retrim the interior, then leave the exterior as it is. That patina only comes over time; there is no way to re-create it. It’ll stay as it stands, and we’ll use it as our courtesy car.”
With the lengthy bodywork restoration still ongoing, Alan sent the engine and gearbox to Mike Bainbridge for overhaul. Although the original pictures show a barnacle-caked flat six with a crusty transmission fused to the flywheel, it has all come back to life, so the car is still matching numbers.
The rebuilt engine is topped by fully rebuilt mechanical fuel injection; new old stock (NOS) Bosch injectors and every part refinished. The throttle bodies were stripped, shafts rebushed, intake shafts bored and new butterflies made with the correct chamfer. Then the parts were plated, refaced and rebuilt. As Porsche now only supplies steel link rods, Canford painstakingly remade original-type alloy link rods and ball sockets.
As the engine and transmission leapt the final hurdles, the bodyshell was on the home straight. The external panels were fitted and properly gapped, with hours of work spent resetting panel mounts, and making and modifying shims. Effort expended here always pays off many times over once the paint goes on.
With the body back together, the shell was stripped for the second time, to give a perfect base for primer and paint. The plating pictures were back, with shots of rebuilt bonnet catches and door locks appearing online. Alan also rebuilt the brake calipers, fitting Canford’s own stainless steel pistons.
The external brightwork was stripped, polished and anodised. The pedal box and gearshift were stripped, replated and rebuilt. The gauges were refurbished, as they were original to the car with the correct ink date stamps. The ‘Deep 6’ Fuchs were refurbished and fitted with Pirelli CN36 tyres. Everything was falling into place, including an unrestored bonnet badge – Drayson doesn’t like all things new, it seems.
“This is how we work,” says Alan, “always to a schedule. I remember a soul-destroying encounter with a Volkswagen restorer while I was still at university. I delivered it, gave him some money and went back a few weeks later to see how he was getting on. He hadn’t touched the car. You’ll never experience that here.
“Up to now, we’ve not had the luxury of space. Although we’re currently moving units and bringing all of our services under one roof, starting small has been great for the way our restorations are organised.
“We start with a dismantled car and list what needs to be done. The shell is sent out for stripping, and we plan the welding and bodywork. In the meantime, other parts are being refurbished. By the time the car has been rebuilt and painted, the parts that came off it are like new, on the shelf and ready to bolt back on.
“What really helps with reassembly are the number of NOS parts we’ve collected over the years, and the number of proper parts we now produce. For example, our engine bay stickers are as right as they can be. We’ve painstakingly re-created every nuance of the originals, including tiny details that others might ignore, like the open number ‘4’.
“Why would you make new parts to a low standard?” Alan asks. “If what you are sending to market is not the best available, then a better product is already on sale, so you’re wasting your time. Either make the world’s best, or buy what’s already out there. The same goes for your choice of project partners.
“Take the work on the 911S steering wheel. Some trimmers get a piece of leather, run a stitch down it while it’s apart and then stitch it once to close it up. It works, but it’s not correct. Our trimmer finds the right leather, wraps it and stitches in one direction, then turns around and does it back the other way. It looks and feels amazing and, of course, is totally correct.
“This is why I love my suppliers. When the car’s finished, I take it around to them, showing them their work in context. They really enjoy this, and they do flawless work every time.”
Flawless is the best word to describe what sits in front of me. We’re with the S at Bob Watson’s dyno in Oxfordshire. Alan brings all his finished restorations here, to fine-tune the fuelling, check the CO and make sure all is tickety-boo.
“A restoration or rebuild is not finished when the bits have been bolted together,” Alan insists. “The three or four weeks afterwards are an important part of the process. You’ve got to drive the car and ensure all is resolved before it goes to the client or is advertised for sale.”
Walking around the S, not a hair is out of place. Alan’s paint is peerless; the silver gleams with tiny grains of metallic shining under this April sunshine. It’s a privilege to click the driver’s door and slide inside, where that melted key awaits. “I had to keep it,” smiles Alan. “As a reminder.”
Everything works. The refurbished clocks are rock steady, and the electric windows are the fastest ever. The Recaro seats feel glorious around me as we reach the sunlit lane leading to the main road. At low speed, the silver S feels stiff and new, floating into life as we climb through the gears. Driving along, windows open, Alan and I simultaneously suggest heading off into Europe and having big adventures. With any luck, that’s what’s in this car’s future. It’s perfect for the job, and it could be yours for £90,000.
As we say goodbye, my final question is where Alan’s obsessive attention to detail comes from. How does he bring these basket cases back from the dead? “I don’t know,” he says. “It might well be to do with university. I spent years in school, doing a degree in Geology, a Masters in Coastal Geology and then a PhD in Seabed Geomorphology. When you study that hard and for that long, you understand the value of a structured approach.”
Discovering Alan’s doctorate, it all makes perfect sense. This is the science of restoration passion, brought to life by Alan Drayson, PhD. I can’t wait to see what the Doctor does next.
This was taken from issue 75, for all Total 911 back issues visit www.imagineshop.co.uk/