Great Escape

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“I immediately embraced the car culture here and purchased a 1971 911 E Targa to let the sunshine in,” Karolyi confirms. “That led to a succession of 911s— from a 1970 911 S with RS-spec 2.7-liter motor, to an ’89 Carrera, to an original paint ’67 911 S coupe. That inspired me to research the earliest edition of the 911.”

When he acquired his ’66 911, Karolyi was informed the engine was not stock. “Sometime in the late ’70s, the original case #903879 was replaced with a ’67 series case #911062,” Jim Arnett reports. “I believe my uncle switched it out because of an imperfection and not a failure. Unfortunately, the original went missing. He rebuilt the replacement 2.0L motor using later E pistons, E cams, and Webers.”

The original engine for the Slate Gray 911 would have been a 901/01 type—one of the last Solex carburetor-fed powerplants to leave the factory. Karolyi would, of course, love to have it reunited with the car, even though he knows that’s now a long shot. The news is not all that bad, however. What Karolyi owns, thanks to the Arnetts, is an authentic unrestored 1966 911, with everything original to the car besides the engine and paint. It even has the original horsehair mat in the front trunk.

Since purchasing his Slate Gray Porsche, Karolyi has gone through the fuel lines, fuel pump, and gas tank. In preparation for touring, he’s rebuilt the Weber carburetors and shod the original 4.5-inch chrome wheels with new 165HR-15 Vredestein Sprint Classic tires. For their fifth wedding anniversary, Karolyi treated his wife to a road trip in the 911 to Santa Barbara.

“She and I took turns driving on the winding roads in the nearby hills, then came back home via the Pacific Coast Highway,” he remembers. “Everything worked great on the car, including the automatic headlight dimmer!”

Karolyi plans to have a set of Solex carbs rebuilt and swapped back in before he drives the car to Monterey for this year’s PCA Parade. It will be a reunion of sorts, 41 years after the Arnetts attended the same event in 1973.

When I test drive this 230,000-mile 911, it’s clearly been a daily driver for decades. The registration stickers are continuous from new, the 2.0-liter motor is a bit reluctant to start, the five-speed 901 transmission is somewhat difficult to engage, the steering is a little sloppy, and the car floats around at speed on its narrow tires. Love it or not, this is what an unrestored ’66 911 feels like.

When it comes to photographing the Slate Gray coupe, if I had my way, I’d take a scene from the movie “The Great Escape” and ask Chad McQueen to jump it over a barbed wire fence. But we will use an equally cinematic, and much safer, desolate dry lake bed as a background instead. As the sun sets, it seems the perfect location for a getaway.

In direct sun, the patina on this early 911 is obvious. There are all the well-earned imperfections of life on the road in sunny California. The paint has swirl marks, the rubber is cracked in places, the seats are worn, and the engine compartment is well used. But I’m continuously struck by the authenticity of this car. The elegant color and stance beg to be left alone. Personally I wouldn’t change a thing.

This is a story that could have happened to anyone. There are probably dozens of Porsches out there originally sold by Peiper. What makes this one special are the series of connections that exist nearly 50 years later. William Arnett dodged bullets serving in the U.S. Army during WW II. Jochen Peiper was a German tank commander, convicted of war crimes against American POWs, after which he wrote for an automotive magazine. Jay Karolyi earned a masters degree with his thesis on POW treatment during WWII.

Me? During WWII my Estonian grandfather was deported to Siberia, my parentless mother was forced into labor at a German hospital, and my American father was taken captive at The Battle of the Bulge. He subsequently starved in a German POW camp within an ounce of his life. I’d say my objectivity as an automotive writer has been thoroughly tested.

Luckily, I can concentrate on a happy ending without becoming sentimental. Everyone in this narrative loved or loves Porsches. They did this to such a degree that it mattered more than almost anything else at one time. And thanks to the care of William Arnett, Jim Arnett, and Jay Karolyi, this Porsche has not only fortuitously survived, but developed a life of its own.

I’m sure #303744 will remain uniquely original with a continuously evolving story to tell. But who really knows what’s in this Porsche’s future? If there’s anything else I’ve learned, it’s that truth is stranger than fiction.

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