Turning up a top-flight early 911 these days is becoming more challenging than in years past. Vic Cohen—one of England’s best-known Porsche collectors—has owned and enjoyed many 356s and 911s through the years. When the retired import/export executive and his son started looking for a solid early short-wheelbase 911 coupe, he didn’t know that the car he’d eventually purchase had begun its life in the ownership of a professional American football star and almost ended its existence in a scrap pile.
A Ram’s Ride
A gifted athlete named Don Paul found himself in the NFL after a brilliant career at UCLA. A good job playing pro football meant having enough money to launch his own business, and having enough discretionary income to buy a Porsche. But the Fresno, California, native came from humble stock. His immigrant parents became successful farmers in California’s Central Valley. Paul’s nephew, Steve Palmieri, tells us that during the Great Depression young Don helped haul fresh produce down to Los Angeles in a horse-drawn wagon. His family later moved to the Southland, where Don went to high school and became a star athlete.
Offered a football scholarship by UCLA, Don enrolled in classes at age 17. But just a few months later, the U.S. entered World War II, and Don enlisted, lying about his age. Eventually, the Navy figured out that he was too young to be fighting and sent him home. In 1943, at age 19, he was back at UCLA. He was big enough, strong enough, and quick enough to earn a starting assignment with the Bruins, and thanks to his maturity became the first freshman ever named a team captain. During the 1946 season, Paul and his Bruins rolled up ten straight victories and went to the Rose Bowl where they lost to Illinois.
In 1947, following graduation, Don was drafted by the Cleveland, later Los Angeles, Rams, where he played for eight seasons, building an image as a ferocious middle linebacker. “At least I didn’t bite anyone’s ear off,” he once joked; one of his own ears had been chewed upon by a rival player during a particularly rough game. In 1951, Don led the Rams to the NFL championship. After his active playing days ended, he served as a defensive coach for the Rams, after which he became a television sportscaster on CBS. His obituary also notes that Paul was named to the UCLA Athletic Hall of Fame in 1986.
By today’s standards, professional football players of that era didn’t earn a great deal of money. In a 1986 interview with Los Angeles Times sportswriter Jim Murray, Paul recalled what today we would consider a very modest paycheck: “I got $6,000 a year most of the time. I think I worked all the way up to $10,000.” Still, for that era, it was enough to allow Paul to enjoy a comfortable lifestyle; he and roommate Bob Waterfield—who would later marry Hollywood screen star Jane Russell—hung out at Hollywood night spots, where Don picked up a taste for good food.
Don also had developed an entrepreneurial spirit that would keep him in good stead after his retirement from football, opening what today we refer to as a “food court” in the San Fernando Valley, and then a very popular and successful restaurant called The Ram’s Horn. By then he was married and starting to raise a family. He was also doing well financially, so it was time, he decided, to buy a new toy. Competition Motors was close by, and Don soon was enjoying his new 1965 Porsche 911.