See, Jeff Smith’s a kidder. The joke was on me when I drove his shocking red 3.8-liter 911E hot-rod for our 20th Anniversary issue (February, 2007). Yes, that one. “It’s got nice torque, doesn’t it?” said The Cruel One, a subtle hint at the fact that I — being used to the dogleg 901 shift pattern in my own early 911S — had been unknowingly starting out in second gear instead of first.
Sitting in the driver’s seat of his dainty silver 911T, the yin to his red 911E’s yang, I’m silently lecturing myself not to do anything embarrassing, like repeatedly starting out in second gear. From the well broken-in factory sport seat, I take note of the 915’s shift pattern and determinedly choose first gear, up and to the left. Above second. After a few minutes spent acclimating to the car’s familiar early 911 layout and feel, I head for twisty roads not far from Smith’s home in Portland, Oregon to get a better sense of how this 911T performs. Looking back, I suspect Mr. Smith knew exactly what would happen — and was looking forward to the laugh I would once again furnish him…
Entering the first left-hand corner at a moderate speed, I make a quick downshift and brake smoothly before turning in for the apex. Just before the left front tire clips the apex, I feather in some throttle. With the 2.7 RS-spec flat six coming into the meat of its torque band and propelling us toward the exit of the corner, the steering wheel no longer seems connected. I add more and more steering input, but the understeer makes it feel as if the rack-and-pinion steering has been replaced with two frayed lengths of clothesline.
Reluctantly, I’m forced to back out of the throttle, which is precisely when I feel the clutch in the ZF limited-slip diff release, causing all of my steering input to once again factor into the equation. This, of course, results in us swerving like a drunkard stepping off of a carousel. Ah yes, 185/70R15 tires, 210 horses, and an 80-percent lock-up ZF diff. That’s like LeBron James suiting up for the NBA Finals in a pair of Florsheim tassel loafers and an aluminum knee-brace. Entertaining from the sidelines, perhaps, but certainly not the way you want to head into battle. Of course, Smith’s sitting courtside today — and has a grin at least 50 feet wide.
So maybe 15×5.5 Mahle wheels and tall Vredestein tires aren’t the best choice of rolling stock. But then sheer performance isn’t what this 911 is about. It’s more of a touring car, something you might use to pick a lady friend up for dinner and perhaps a drink afterwards. It’s about style. From its stunning finishes to its tasteful color combo, this 911 reminds me of a concept I learned long ago: “Classic designs are always in style.” Like James Bond’s black tuxedo or a vintage Omega chronograph, a silver longhood 911 will never lose its ability to cause a slight catch in the breath of people who appreciate finer things.
True style — not to be confused with a trend — is timeless. The first 911s had style, but many of those that came later followed trends. By the 1980s, one trend was Slant Nose 911s with three-piece, 16-inch BBS wheels. The 1990s brought the 993 and 18-inch, flat-face wheels. Today, we have a multitude of RS and S-T replicas rolling around out there, most of them built on early 911s not so different to this one. No one knows how examples of this trend will weather the test of time, but you can be sure the silver early car you see before you will still be stylish in 25 years. This 911 has more than style, though. It has panache. Like Mr. Bond in his tux, it’s a classic. And, like the world’s favorite spy, it is civilized enough to take you out for a fine vodka martini, yet snap your neck if need be.
As it turns out, this is the first early 911 Smith bought. And though it appears to be a freshly minted garage queen, it’s been together for nearly 15 years — a testament to the abilities of a younger Smith at a time when most people his age were dreaming of Mustang 5.0s or mini-trucks with tilting beds. Asked what influenced him to restore an early 911 while still in his early 20s, Smith explains some of the influences from his youth.