This driver’s seat was made to fit someone else. A lanky, six-foot six someone else, to be exact. It’s narrow and bolted to the floor, so it’s a very long reach to the controls. With two pillows behind my back, the small suede steering wheel and “tall-man” shifter finally fall comfortably to hand.
Twisting the ignition key shatters the still Southern California desert air. Gingerly engaging the racing clutch, the black 911 coupe leaps forward as if tugging at its leash. With a “breathed-on” 3.6 out back, there’s no lack of urgency. The short gears aren’t hurting, either. The monster-sized tires promise big grip, but I’m reminded of some simple advice: Discretion is advised whenever you put this much torque to the ground in a chassis this light.
I tense slightly, but hammer the flat pedal home anyway. The interior noise is deafening, a howl that crescendos and reverberates in rhythmic waves. The stench of perspiration mixed with race gas fills my nostrils, an acrid odor only a race car can provide. As the scenery blurs, the road’s every nuance is telegraphed directly to my hands, feet, and rear end.
This car has all the subtleties of a hyena. It screams. It bays. Throttle response is instantaneous, braking stupefying, and turn-in brisk. So direct is the connection to everything happening beneath and in front of me that I’m soon driving harder than I expected I would.
It’s a good thing this 911 corners like it’s on rails because we are taking up the entire canyon lane with just a few inches to spare on either side. The balloon-like Avon race tires on all four corners create a Sasquatch-sized footprint, but they also yield a supple ride. Did I mention they’re insanely grippy, too? Any attempt to break the rear tires loose is met with utter futility. Again and again I try to elicit oversteer. No dice. No matter how hard I try, this 911 will not surprise me — even if my senses tell me I should be concerned. So I settle in for the long road ahead, relishing in the visceral experience provided by Mike Gagen’s ever-changing early 911.
When Gagen bought this 911 in 2002, it was a 1969 T that had been converted to look like an RS 2.7 by Alain Jamar, longtime Porsche Owners Club magazine editor and GT1-class racer. Gagen, of San Diego, recalls: “It was a dual-purpose car with a thousand miles on it after a total restoration with new pans and paint. A 3.2 had been installed along with a close-ratio 915, Turbo brakes, and 16×7s & 9s.”
He recalls the 911T was “too nice to track.” But that didn’t stop him from enrolling in the Porsche Club of America San Diego Region’s autocross program. After three years of autocross, driver education, and time-trialing, it was time. Gagen asked Jae Lee at Mirage International in San Diego to install custom-valved Bilsteins and adjustable anti-roll bars. An aero package, Helix Motorsports six-point roll cage, and other racing bits were put in soon after. It wasn’t long before Gagen had his PCA club racing license.
Entrance into the GT3 class led to a second incarnation of the once-humble white 1969 T. That’s when Gagen made the big decision to re-body the car as a longhood RSR. On went 935 mirrors, a plastic rear window, and a bigger wing. New front and rear bumpers, along with running boards, were one-off prototype pieces, and the flares were custom shaped to accommodate 18×11 and 18×13 wheels.