“Yeah, that part of the project turned out a little nicer than we had hoped,” reflected Tony Smetona as I examined the jambs around the engine opening.
Hmmm, that’s a perplexing statement coming from someone who was entrusted with the restoration of an extremely desirable automobile. Don’t construe this to mean that Tony and his partner Richard Humphrey had low expectations when they began the restoration of RS #9113600635. Rather, think of it as a telling commentary on how difficult it can be to balance high-quality restoration work and customer expectation while thoughtfully replicating the methods and, yes, even the flaws incorporated in a production Porsche of the 1960s and ’70s.
The 1973 Carrera RS just might be the most discussed Porsche model of all time. It was a huge hit when it was introduced to the press 40 years ago, and since then the Carrera has maintained its status as “the” blue-chip collectible in the 911 catalog. Thousands, perhaps millions, of words have been penned about the history, philosophy, development process and subsequent success of the RS. Instead of retelling the legend, we will focus on how a planner, two talented craftsmen and a willing benefactor (cue generic bank-caper movie theme music) teamed up to push the outer limits of the restoration craft and redefine obsessive-compulsive behavior as it applies to Porsches.
The project began with Bill Morris, an amateur vintage racing driver and professional neurosurgeon from Tacoma, Washington. Bill wanted to scratch the 2.7 Carrera itch that had been working on him for a while. Knowing there were a lot of questionable cars out there, Bill reached out to Dirk Layer to help find a “no stories” example. Dirk has been surrounded by Porsches since childhood and as a youth developed a passion for authenticity and an appetite for the coolest of cool early Porsches. Even in his early twenties, Dirk had the vision that most of have just only in hindsight. He was vintage racing a 911R at a time when many Porsche hobbyists had never even heard of the rare racing 911. Much of Dirk’s time nowadays is spent locating, inspecting and vetting special cars
(particularly Porsches) for a refined clientele. He has an eye for detail and little patience for cars that are billed as restorations but under closer examination are found lacking in the accuracy he insists upon for his clients.
Fortuitously, about the time Bill went looking for a good RS, Dirk had just obtained a car that he had been chasing for quite a while. It was an early second-series Italian delivery car that had been owned by three individuals (two in Italy and one in the U.S.). The car itself was not especially remarkable, delivered in the fairly common combination of Grand Prix White with blue trim. More important than color and options was that it was a well-maintained, numbers-matching car with an excellent history. It was the perfect car for Bill.
If you have restored a car, you know how difficult it can be to find a restoration shop that is honest and reliable, willing to listen to direction and able to finish a project to a high standard in a reasonable amount of time. Now imagine if you are shopping not for your own project but for multiple projects belonging to a demanding clientele. The pressure increases! This was exactly the situation Dirk faced when he stumbled across two guys in Southern California who were turning out stellar restorations after work in the evenings. In fact, one of these “amateur” restorations that caught Dirk’s eye had just taken Best of Show at the Dana Point 356 concours.
Of the pair, Tony is the pragmatist. He is a former Formula Atlantic crew chief and self-taught paint and body man with chops in that realm that match his suspension and set-up skills. Richie is more the “Rainman” type. He studies hardware plating, inspection marks and undercoating texture obsessively. Need to know what style of fender bolt was used on a specific year? Richie can tell you along with the type of washer and the kind of plating used.