1975 Porsche 911S road trip – northern California

From out of the desert, a rider approaches the frontier town. His horse moves slowly; they’ve been travelling a long time, yet are in no rush to return to civilisation. From a shady porch on the edge of town, another man watches the approaching dust cloud with curious anticipation. If he could hear the music we can hear, he’d be off that chair and back indoors, pronto.

I grew up watching Westerns. My favourites always started like this; a man, on a horse, about to change lives. These riders were invariably sun-dried, wind-beaten characters that could tell the time of day by the smell of a horse’s sweat. They had seen pain, carried a pile of it inside and were ever on a quest. It was usually a quest for revenge, and the respite that comes with it.

I’ve dreamt of visiting a proper Wild West town for years, so arriving in Novato in northern California on this sunny afternoon is a real box-ticker. Situated 30 miles north of San Francisco, Novato began life as a collection of Native American villages. In 1839, the Mexican government granted Rancho Novato to a man named Fernando Feliz: the first of a series of territorial handouts. A few years later, following the Mexican-American War of 1846, the town became part of California.

The first American settlers arrived in the 1850s, planting orchards and vineyards. A post office and school were built, with the railroad arriving in 1879. Rolling off the highway in our rented Prius, newest settlers Glynn and Lipman cross the railroad tracks to the centre of this Western hamlet. We aim for the local saloon bar, otherwise known as Starbucks.

We’re in town to see a 1975 911S that I’ve found on the local Craigslist. It’s taken a bit of trademark blarney to get our foot in the door. Craigslist is notorious for nuisance respondents, so it’s understandable for seller Guy Kubowitz to think we’re a pair of scammers. “Let us put your car for sale in our brilliant magazine!” Who’d believe that?

Eventually Guy does believe, and agrees for us to come. We arrive early and scout for locations. This was once Gold Rush country, so we hit paydirt immediately: an abandoned railroad depot, dating back to the 1900s. It’s funny to be using the word paydirt in this part of the world; the term was first used here over 150 years ago, to describe something totally different.

I’ve been visualising this feature for a while now, and the various elements couldn’t be more perfect. Armed with our favourite frappuccinos, it’s time to go to work.

Guy has owned his 1975 Bitter Chocolate 911S since 2003. “I was looking for a sports car, something I could enjoy on my days off, get a thrill from and see some more of our country in. Flicking through the local small ads, I found a Porsche that sounded kind of special. It wasn’t far away, so I trundled down and took a look.”

The car was this 911S. Advertised by the elderly owner, it had led a sheltered life in affluent Marin County. The mileage was low and Sonnen Porsche had maintained it; the closest official Porsche dealer and one of the top Porsche centres in North America. This was no-expense-spared maintenance.

“When the 911S was new, I was 25 years old,” reminisces the owner. “I remember enviously ogling the cars as they burbled by on the freeway and promising that, if I could ever afford a sports car, it would be a Porsche 911.” Knee-deep in nostalgia, Guy bought the S on the spot.

Leaving the previous owner’s car bra, seat covers and mirror protectors in place (our shoot is the first time the sheepskin seat covers have ever been off), Guy enjoyed the car’s 175bhp flat six and the untouched interior for two years, until he got the itch many 911 owners will recognise; the need for more power. Question was, who could deliver it? After chatting with some local Porsche hot rod owners, one answer dominated: S-Car-Go Racing, in nearby San Rafael.

Rob King heads S-Car-Go, a name well known in northern Californian Porsche circles. After 19 years in business, there isn’t much Rob hasn’t tried, and the envelope pushing continues. S-Car-Go’s credits cover a multitude of fast Porsche 911s, including their current project: a 1,400bhp 996. It’s on my list for our next visit…

“When Guy first came to us, he just wanted to go fast,” remembers Rob. “He’d been enjoying the ownership experience in his highly original S, but it wasn’t at the top of the exciting scale. He wanted at least 300bhp. I told him, if he was really serious about upping the power by over 50 per cent, brakes and suspension upgrades would have to come first, to manage the incoming speed. Guy got the message, and that’s where we started.”

The 911S was in beautiful condition and to destroy it would have been sacrilege. Instead, then, Rob and Guy embarked upon a programme of go-faster goodies under a stock exterior. Enter the Gunslinger.

Classic Westerns often depict the bad guy as a sleazy egomaniac, with sparkly rings and silver revolvers. His nemesis – our hero – is the opposite. No fancy clothes or twirling six shooters. Under that plain exterior lies quiet capability. Talk less and say more, as the cowboys used to put it.

Most petrolheads would call this car a sleeper, or Q-car; standard looks hiding a performance powerhouse. Writer Bill Boddy coined the term Q-car in the Sixties, describing creations like the Lotus Cortina as Q-cars, in the mould of the Q-ships of the Second World War. Under apparently defenceless merchant vessel exteriors, Q-ships were armed to the gunwales, designed as a lure for U-boats.

While the oft-sunk Q-ships were not the admiralty’s best ever idea, the invisible assassin theme does have a certain romance. Far from the wide arches of the RSR and big tails of the factory Turbo, such understated subtlety is much more my sort of thing.

Painted bright pink, Gunslinger’s brake calipers are the only obvious external clue that this car might be less than ordinary. These brakes are rare items. No longer available to buy, the kit was manufactured by Race Technology. The calipers are Brembo, machined to fit SCs and Carreras.

The new brakes called for new wheels. As the 911S retains the narrow rear arches of its pre-1973 ancestors, you can’t go too wide on the back. 7×16-inch Fuchs wheels from a 944 Turbo were fitted all round, with Toyo Proxes rubber on top. Then attention turned to the suspension.

The front suspension was rebuilt, with spindles raised by an inch, Turbo tie rods and a bump steer kit. The rear suspension was also reworked, with RSR dampers and springs added when the power went in. New torsion bars were fitted front and rear. The rear antiroll bar looks like Smart Racing, but Rob is quick to correct my mistake. “Not Smart Racing. These are Charlie aluminium flywheel and RS clutch pack were fitted, while the gearbox synchros were changed for stronger Turbo items. We put a torque-biased limited-slip differential in, and added WEVO parts to the shift linkage.

“The 2.7 engine fitted to the 911S needs nothing like as much fuel as the Turbo, so we fitted Turbo fuel pumps front and rear and modified the fuel distributor head and K-Jetronic injection to suit. I have the Bosch machine required to set up the K-Jet system and we play with this a lot, with custom sensor plates, counterweight alterations and so on.”

Seven years into ownership of the 911, Guy’s building services company is feeling the pinch in the economic slump, and the car is up for sale. “I’ve spent about 60 grand on this car over the years, and it’s exactly what I wanted. It’s killing me to sell it but I haven’t got a choice.” I’m all too familiar with the problem; recently self-employed, with three capital asset Porsches sitting largely unused, I have also endured the dilemma of whether to sell, as the cash would certainly come in handy. But I am also faced with another dilemma, common to all motoring journalists; you want to buy every car.

Gunslinger is indeed a magic machine; engineering passion and creativity, packed into a period minter. I’d love to take it away with me – and Jamie is still considering it on the plane home – but finances dictate otherwise. When we later learn that the car has sold for a paltry $20,000, I’m depressed. Still, at least our ‘Turbo S’ will get to enjoy a whole new world; it’s coming back to Europe.

After we finish the photos, Guy and I jump in the Gunslinger and head for home. As we are north of town, and Guy lives south, we point the car at Highway 101 and go for it. Accelerating down the slip road, a new 911 Carrera passes beneath us at a decent rate of knots. “Catch him!” laughs Guy. I’m way ahead of you, brother.

Before the second word has slipped from Guy’s lips, we’re off in hot pursuit. Gunslinger redlines second gear some way past the US limit. I snick the WEVO shifter into third, pedal meets carpet and the boost launches us after the 997.

The High Noon movie myth had no place whatsoever in the real Wild West; well-matched gunslingers rarely faced each other in direct competition. As a gunman’s reputation was usually quite enough to keep trouble down, respected pistoleers rarely unholstered their weapons (that’s enough sniggering at the back, thank you). Shootouts were spontaneous, spur-of-the-moment affairs, started by someone else. Just like this one.

Rob King’s fast car pedigree is foremost in my mind as third gear boost builds and we close on the new boy’s back end. The driver is a Porsche guy; he spots us in his rearview mirror and pumps up the jam. What happens next is secret. A few miles later, he’s laughing and we’re laughing – smiles all around.

When Porsche built the 911S, it built a mini panzer. Here was a chassis capable of much more than its simple running gear as first suggested. In standard form the 911S was a fast car but, sprinkled with some S-Car-Go fairy dust, it really is the business.

As the sun sets over Novato, we’re sitting happily on Guy’s porch, sinking a beer and shooting the breeze. On the driveway is the Gunslinger, ticking contentedly after another day’s law enforcement. Cowboy Law that is; shoot up and keep your head down. Finish what you started. Talk less and say more.

This was taken from issue 72, for all Total 911 back issues visit Imagine Shop

 

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