So what about the R Gruppe’s May 2012 Treffen? English’s car was ready — finished under budget with three days to spare. It proved a hit in Solvang, winning the club’s most coveted “GT” award.
Stepping into this 912-turned-911R, I’m immediately reminded of the saying, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” This is a poster child for Porsche purity. It lacks any pretension of amenities. There is no carpet, no headliner, no passenger sun visor, no glovebox door, no radio, no clock, no ashtray, and definitely no cup holders. The seats have great patina, with faded corduroy centers. A thick rubber strap keeps the featherweight door from opening too far.
Seated firmly in the spartan cabin, my gaze falls on the three-gauge instrument panel dominated by a 10,000-rpm tach, which is urging me to find a reason to exercise it. Upon turning the slim ignition key, the sensation of a tin can with an engine attached is overwhelming. As the revs climb, an angry beast behind me is trying to get out. With each swing of the tach needle, its scream rises in pitch, accompanied by a raspy racket that keeps growing edgier and harsher.
There doesn’t seem to be a muffler.
Five minutes into my test drive, I’m convinced there isn’t. I’m also convinced this is the lightest 912 or 911 I have driven. The usual adjectives attributed to early 911s — agile, responsive, nimble, tossable — lose all relative meaning. Piloting a car this light is a singular experience. The connection between car and driver is sublime. As soon as I begin an input, the car completes my intention. Instantly, I’m rewarded with what I wish for. It’s like winning the lottery, over and over again.
Some might consider a narrow-body, short-wheelbase 911 like this dainty — or argue that more modern and capable Porsches outclass it. Such talk would fall on deaf ears this day. This is a Porsche that feels noticeably less numb and far more involving than any GT3 I’ve driven. It’s also a car that can be taken closer to its limit at real-world speeds. When longtime enthusiasts sit around and reminisce about pure 911s, this is the one they are describing.
Even with a passenger on board and 50 fewer horses than a 911R, this 912 continues to impress with each eager blast down a straightaway or razor-sharp turn. The 2.2 provides ample torque and doesn’t need to be taken above 6000 rpm like a real 911R. The five-speed 901 is unexpectedly tight, with an engaging mechanical quality. The modern yet modest tires, sized 205/55R15, provide plenty of grip. And the chassis, with 911S brakes, 18-mm/23-mm torsion bars, Koni shocks, and 15-mm front and rear anti-roll bars, proves a perfect match.
The chassis plate may read 912, but it doesn’t matter. Almost 500 pounds lighter than a ’67 911S with similar horsepower and torque, this Porsche moves out unlike any stock early 911 I’ve driven. With a total investment of under $25,000, well, you’d be hard pressed to find a better return on your investment these days.
It’s a perfect example of what can be done when you put your mind to it. Others are sure to follow, especially as they consider the advantages of working within a budget. English welcomes that. “I hope to light a fire under people out there to do as much of the work as they can by themselves,” he says. “It’s not only fun, it’s enjoyable once you get into it — and you can save heaps of money.”