Oregonian Gary Engel decided that he couldn’t afford to have someone else build his dream car to the exacting standard he envisioned—so he decided he’d do as much of the work as possible himself, and if it took a lot longer than he’d hoped, so be it. It has, in fact, taken the better part of 20 years for Engel to fulfill his dream.
This stunning topless Porsche appears a bit understated compared to some of the over-the-top creations you may have seen from various tuners, but closer examination reveals not only how imaginative Engel is, but how well all the pieces mesh.
Long before the factory unveiled a six-cylinder Speedster in 1989, Engel had begun planning his own. “The ’89 was much too bulky for my tastes,” he declares. “It was too wide and heavy. I wanted to simplify the concept, and in the mid ’80s I had begun to accumulate parts.” As a partner in an independent pre-owned Porsche and Ferrari business, he had ready access to both cars and parts. In 1988, with a growing pile of bits on hand, Engel began looking for a suitable chassis on which to base his dream.
“I’d considered buying a damaged SC, but after pricing out all the pieces of the car that I could remove and sell, it made more sense to find a good, straight car to part out.” He’d also avoid the additional expense of repairing any chassis damage. The starting point was a 1978 SC Targa, purchased from its second owner and showing about 112,000 miles on the clock. Chassis 9118210462 still wore its original paint and had never been hit, exactly what Engel was looking for. In the fall of 1994, work began in earnest. “I stripped the car and sold the entire interior, engine and transmission, brakes, bumpers, and wheels. That more than offset what I’d paid for the whole thing.”
What would his new car look like? Engel had pinned numerous photos of factory-built 911 Carrera Speedsters and the designs from various European shops to his workshop walls and developed ideas in his head. Topping his list of requirements, though, was that the work be absolutely perfect no matter how long it might take. At that point, he admits, he had no idea how long that would be. The extensive body alterations were entrusted to Donn Lowe Customs in suburban Oregon City, Oregon, where the tub arrived in 1995.
Since chassis flex is the Achilles’ heel of a convertible—especially with the powerful engine Engel had in mind, he and Jeff Gamroth of Rothsport in nearby Tualatin, Oregon, designed a fully integrated six-point roll cage, tying together all the suspension points. Engel and Paul Gilbert, an expert metal-shaper at Lowe’s, cut, welded, and installed the fully gusseted structure, after which Engel painstakingly filled and smoothed every single weld.
“I wanted a show-car level of finish, even on the parts that would eventually be covered by body panels and not visible.” Every single nut, bolt, and bracket that could be removed from the tub was taken off and bead-blasted, powder-coated, painted, plated or anodized, and clear-coated where necessary.