It was previously published in the PCA magazine.
901 -The Find
What made our ability to recall the 300032 serial number important was about to become clear to us. While strolling through the Porsche section of vehicles, looking at both display and For Sale vehicles of all ages, we noticed a bright red 911 with a sign indicating, “For Sale, 1966 911S, $4600” (yeah, I know there is no such animal, but the fellow selling the car did not). It was clearly an early car, and the lack of any indentations for decals in the engine compartment was something I didn’t recall ever having seen. That led to a few more casual observations, noting the lack of rocker panel trim, the four screw horn grills (at least on one side), the “different looking” wood trim across the dash. I finally asked to see the front compartment to check for rust, but was really in search of the Porsche’s serial number. You should note that while VIN number plates are riveted to the early cars in three places, the serial number is also stamped in the vehicle in the front compartment, pretty close to the heater compartment door. Anyway, the sellers said sure, take a look, and opened the front lid for us to examine. There, stamped into the car we saw the serial number, and it was 300020. (Just to refresh your memory, the earliest known number we had read about was 300032, 12 numbers newer than the car I was looking at).
It’s at times like this when (if I could) I’d have danced a jig, or screamed out what I’d discovered, or something equally as stupid. Somehow I managed to bottle up my emotions, thank the guy for giving me a look, and casually mention I’d ask my wife for her opinion. I gave little hope of anything further happening, mentioned there was significant rust, and wished him good luck in getting rid of it.
Lori and I made quickly for the closest Beer Stand, completely disregarding the fact it was about 10:30 A.M., to calm shaking nerves, to discuss the importance of what we had just found, and to decide what to do next. The conclusion that we wanted the 901 was made quickly, given it was really a 901. We concluded that, in order not to look either too anxious or too stupid, we’d negotiate a better price and condition the sale on our “mechanic” checking out the car. The actual negotiations went pretty quickly, starting at an offer of $4000 a compromise price of $4300 was agreed on, and it was decided we’d meet the owner at his home in a couple of hours to pick up the car for inspection. While waiting nervously for the assigned time, we called our good friend Bob Cutshaw, a Porsche expert (and owner at that time of a 1965 911) and explained our situation. He agreed to attempt to confirm the vehicle’s age that very afternoon, if we could simply drive out to his house about 50 miles away. We agreed.
The trip out to Bob’s house was not without trepidation. The 901 felt extremely loose (we learned why later), but we drove slowly and got there in one piece. Bob spent quite a bit of time over, under, around and through the car and confirmed that this was the real deal. He commented that very first day, however, that we’d be money ahead to simply cut out the factory serial number stamping, weld it into another early car, and just say it was number 20. We all laughed, but in hindsight, his estimate (at least in terms of dollars) may have been understated. Nonetheless, we returned the car to the seller with check in hand, got the pink and transfer docs from him, and headed home. We now owned the oldest known 901 in the U.S., and as far as we knew anywhere in the world.
That day was a milestone for sure, but it was only the very beginning of a long, expensive and rewarding restoration project. While the details of that is a story for another time, we’ve included a photo of the finished 901 that was used in a European Car magazine cover story many years later. While that’s part of the “other story”, we wanted you to enjoy seeing what we ended up with.
You know, you find something historic like this and you really have no idea where you’re going to go next. Finding the car was like kismet, and we literally felt that a restoration was almost like an obligation we owed to the car. We simply knew it would have been “just plain wrong” to walk away, or to advertise the car based on the serial number and sell it for a quick profit. At the same time we knew we had zero idea of exactly what it was to mean in terms of time and money to put the 901 back to its original condition, but nonetheless we knew we had to.
This dilemma simply pointed to just another of the many reasons why belonging to PCA has been so great for so many years. Many Porsche folks in southern California and beyond knew of a former IMSA driver turned shop owner named Don Kravig. Don’s shop was the hangout in Riverside California for all the local PCA members and bench racers. It was “the place” to simply be around to hear the stories of yesterday, while watching wonderful racing (and street) Porsches come in needing help, and go out as Dr. Porsche intended (or maybe even better). Don was truly a legend, having started the “Rowdy Riverside” region, having been the Zone 8 rep, and simply not having one pretentious bone in his body. We’ve all heard the expression that someone is simply “one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met”, well that was Don Kravig.
Ultimately lots of our region’s PCA members and friends played roles in the restoration of Number 20, but none larger than Don. First off, he agreed to do his work on 20’s restoration at a discounted rate given we’d let him do it as “fill-in” work. We agreed to that without hesitation, figuring that most of everything would need to be rebuilt, and then reassembled. I did quite a bit of the disassembly to start the project, with Lori taking zillions of photos to be used (we thought) for putting it all back together. In fact tons of the parts were wrong (not from 1964, hence wrong), so the pictures now simply serve as a reminder of the scope of the effort.
Don completed the rough body work, which required removing the pan that was nothing more than pop riveted sheet metal with resin floated over it, and the rocker panels. One of the door panels had been repaired with a flattened Coors beer can after some other misadventure. The overall story goes that the 901 must have been parked on ice in winter, and not retrieved before the thaw. The rocker panels were full of silt, like you’d find in a river bed. We’d never know if that was true, but it made a great story to match the fact that virtually everything below about 6 inches up the side of the body needed to be refabricated (yeah, not replaced, refabricated).
Once all the mechanicals were out of 20, and the basic structural work was completed, Don, Lori and I took off for Reno Nevada. You may remember that Porsche Cars North America (PCNA) used to have a distribution center in Reno, as well as a restoration facility. We discovered this while on a PCA tour to the facility to test drive every car in the Porsche line-up in 1991. It was then we determined that, while it would have no doubt been cheaper to use a local body and paint shop, it was clearly more appropriate to go to Reno and have the “factory guys” do the work. The trip up, sitting three abreast in Don’s flatbed, was completed at somewhat higher than posted speeds. I will always remember the sensation of drifting in a flatbed truck, and when saying I didn’t know that was possible, Don winking and saying something to the effect that you can drift in any vehicle if you know how.
We got to Reno, dropped off 20, and agreed to return the following week to see what the removal of the paint would do to PCNA’s estimate. The next week Lori and I flew up. The 901 really didn’t have many body panels that were without damage, but we managed to agree to a “not to exceed” price for all the repair, straightening, bodywork, and painting.
There were numerous hiccups along the way (like when they tried to repair the dent in the gas tank and ended up “exploding” it – a $2000 oops they graciously absorbed), but too many to write about. I’ll be happy to recount them in person, just ask. In any event, months later the Reno portion of the 901 restoration was completed. After revising their billing rate from customer rate to shop rate to minimize the impact, they still had exceeded their estimate by $6000. I was, and still am, impressed by the fact that while I was made aware of the overage, they completed all the work in an outstanding manner and held firm on their original estimate. In my opinion too many companies either tell you they were short on the bid and ask for the money, or work up to the agreed upon dollar amount and then stop. Not Porsche.
It seems to me this is a great place to stop the story for now. We still have to go get 20, bring her back to southern California, and do lots more before the 1992 Porsche Parade in San Diego we’d been aiming for.
I really do hope you are getting as much of a kick out of this story as I am the trip down memory lane. There’s more to come…
The months that followed were again at a “fill-in” labor rates to keep the ever expanding budget as under control as possible. Nonetheless the 1992 Porsche Parade in San Diego was approaching, and the job of locating and obtaining numerous missing pieces, and to putting the 901 back together became a priority. There will literally bazillions of small items to collect, but Don assured us he’d handle the mechanical items if we could come up the interior stuff. We agreed and set out to find the missing pieces. Three major pieces stick with me clearly to this day.
First was the steering wheel, which while similar to other early 911 wood wheels, differed in that the wheel was lighter due to having an aluminum spine. The weight might not have been noticeable once installed, but the very early 911 steering wheel spine was also exposed around the entire center of the wheel. The only one I knew of belonged to our friend Bob Cutshaw (the guy we took the car to for some sort of certification on the day we had found it years prior). Bob mentioned it was the only thing left from his own early 911, and that he really didn’t want to part with it. Thus began months of searching, which ironically ended up pretty much in our backyard. Being PCAers you probably have heard of Parts Obsolete in McMinnville Oregon. What some of you might not know is that they used to be located in Costa Mesa California, and were know as Porsche Parts Obsolete. I called them from Riverside and asked about the steering wheel. The small world part is that one of the owners and I had gone to the same high school (Costa Mesa High), and when discussing what the project was they are agreed to sell me a correct steering wheel. It was cracked and in need of repair however, so while the price was good. The steering wheel reminds me of the next noteworthy missing item.
The second item was the wood for the dash. The 901 came with some of the wood dash pieces still in place, but not all of them. It should be noted that the early 911 wood dashes had a thin metal backing on them to retain their shape and allow for removal and replacement. The 901 wood dashes had no such backing, so removing them effectively destroyed them. During our months (years actually) of searching out other parts I came upon a (complete) set, which was also in sad condition. While the pieces were not restorable, they were good enough to be used as templates for a wood craftsman to fabricate a completely new set. A friend of ours, Sandy Dustman, who lived in Cambria California at the time, in addition to being a craftsman, was a car nut. Once the project was described he was on board, and actually made a complete set of wood pieces from a single piece of teak that had come from a U.S. Navy ship which an been decommissioned after the first Gulf War. The dash came out beautifully, and when I showed him the damaged steering wheel he agreed to make it look like new too. Hence a matching set, the steering wheel and dash wood looked perfect.
The interior of the 901 was sort of a mystery until late in the process. Small pieces were actually direct carryovers from the 356C, including the coat hooks and headliner material. I confirmed this by calling Dr. Brett Johnson, the author of the Porsche Guide to Authenticity series of books. It was quite nice of him to take the time to pull out his notes from his 911 research of years prior in order to provide us with this missing information. The real fun part, when I was disassembling the seat mechanisms, was the discovery of the black and white herringbone material. It had always been our thought that the 901 might have used this material, but at that time no one had been able to confirm it for us. Finding small scraps remaining on the seat after one or more upholstery jobs were removed was wonderful. To make this finding even more fortuitous, when the 901 went to Auto International in Solana Beach California (they’ve moved since then), they had just enough original factory material remaining to do one more set of seats. Timing is everything, and time was running out to be ready for the Parade.
The 1992 Porsche Parade was held in San Diego California. The 901 literally had the final restoration steps completed just two days prior to loading it back on Don Kravig’s flatbed truck for the short trip down the freeway for the Concours. The morning of the Parade Concours at Mission Bay was foggy, so lots of cleaning on site was needed to get the 901 ready to show. Again, as throughout this wonderful experience, lots of our PCA Riverside friends were on hand to pitch in with final preparations and simply as a cheering squad. When the scores were posted the 901 had won its class and we brought out the champagne for everyone to celebrate. Another close PCA friend and mentor, Bill Barnard, was able to see the 901 win a trophy at the Concours Banquet that same evening. Bill has actually gotten Lori and I into PCA in 1986, and was a head cheerleader on this project in spite of failing health. Bill’s condition worsened the day after the banquet, and he returned home to the desert. He passed away on the Thursday of Parade Week, and black armbands could be seen at every remaining Parade event. Nonetheless, our last memories of Bill where wonderful ones of his enjoying seeing the 901 he loved as much as we did being victorious.
Lori and I held onto the 901 for a few more years. When we decided it was time to make room for new projects we contacted a broker named Sam Cabiglio to see about finding it a new home. Sam is a broker, who among other clients, buys and sells all of Jerry Seinfeld’s Porsches for him. Knowing that we were hoping the 901 might end up in the Seinfeld collection, but as it turned out the new owner was a gentleman from Newport Beach. The 901 went out of sight for many years after he purchased it until, as we were told by Sam, the new owner became ill and decided to donate the 901 to the Peterson Auto Museum in Port Angeles. Before moving to Washington Lori and I visited the car at the Peterson on more than one occasion. We met the curator and, after proving we had in fact owned the 901, we discussed our involvement in restoring the 901. The stories we told the curator as pretty much what you have been reading in these three 901 articles. As thanks providing this further background information Lori and I were given a personal tour of the museum and (even better at the time) all the “other cars” in the non-public basement. The following photo was taken of the 901 in the Peterson basement, where it still resides.
As I mentioned previously, I hope you enjoying taking this little trip down memory lane with me. I know there are lots more details and antidotes, so if you are interested just let me know at our next event and I’ll talk your ear off.