It’s di-a-bolical, man! You’d better make sure it is pointed straight when you nail the throttle — or it will jump up and bite you!” warns Jeff Smith as he hands over the keys to his potent, 3.8-liter 1973 911E. He’s got every right to be cautious. Not long ago, he saw a similarly equipped former Excellence cover car (May, 2004) belonging to fellow Oregonian Barrett Smith backed into a telephone pole and written off by an over-enthusiastic driver.
Diabolical is a good word to describe a 2,150-pound early 911 with a 325-hp 993 RS-spec engine hanging behind 245-mm rear tires. The fact that those tires are tucked into genuine RS 2.7 flares means the rear track is pretty narrow, too…
Some seat time riding shotgun sounds like a good idea before taking hold of this 911’s wheel. The first thing you’ll notice is the lack of a headrest on the original lightweight Recaro passenger seat. Of course, that isn’t the first thing you notice when you sit down — but it becomes an issue as soon as Smith accelerates away from the first stop light. He’s not even getting on it, mind you. No, a smooth and linear run up through first and second gear is all it takes to give me an unavoidable case of “noodle neck.” In response to my comment on the need for a headrest, Smith just chuckles and says the lack of head support is the one thing his wife dislikes about the car, too.
This 911 will accelerate from just about any speed in just about any gear rapidly and without complaint. And that’s exactly how it responds when Smith lugs it down to 1500 rpm in fourth gear and then rolls on the throttle. The bright red 911 responds instantly, seamlessly twisting its tachometer to the redline. No muss, no fuss. With little sound deadening, it gets pretty loud in the cabin as the car accelerates — but it’s a good loud, the kind that car guys, and 911 guys in particular, will enjoy. Only at certain mid-range rpm do you notice a low resonance or drumming, easily dealt with by making a quick downshift.
As slow-moving traffic looms in the windshield, Smith rolls off the throttle and onto the brake pedal, activating a set of massive Brembo brake calipers hovering over 12.5-inch rotors up front and 12-inch discs in back. Once again, the car does exactly what it should: it stops now.
The fact this 911 does what it’s supposed to means that it’s hardly intimidating when I take the wheel. In fact, due to how well planned out and put together this car is, it almost feels docile. The idle is smooth and low, just like a brand-new car. The clutch is comfortably firm and predictable, but the flywheel is a bit light and it’s easy to stall the engine if you don’t give it enough revs when taking off. Once you’re rolling, though, it’s like driving a new Toyota. There’s none of the peakiness found in the high-strung, small-displacement Porsche flat sixes of the early 1970s.
“She’s got great torque doesn’t she?” asks Smith after we’ve driven through town for a while, stopping at several intersections along the way.
“Yeah, the torque is amazing!” I say.
He chuckles and says, “Why don’t you try starting out in first gear next time?”
Oh yeah, this isn’t a 901 box with the dogleg first gear I’m used to…it’s a 915 box, and I’ve been leaving every intersection in second gear. Really professional.
Surprisingly, the extra mass of the 3.8-liter engine out back isn’t noticeable during mildly spirited driving. The car handles well, considering that it still has rubber bushings and relatively soft torsion bars. It could have been set up stiffer with the goal of improved track times, but that wasn’t Smith’s goal. He was looking to build a boulevard bruiser that was fast, but that wouldn’t beat him and his wife up when they took it out for a drive.
The steering, thanks to relatively narrow 205-mm front tires, is light and communicative. Of course, this 911E gets tail-happy when it is pushed, but the only person who will be getting its rear end out today will be Smith. My experience with this R Gruppe 911 will be limited to straight-line bursts in open areas. And what fun it is. Driving a car with this power-to-weight ratio, you feel like an old wild west gunslinger with a loaded weapon, looking for trouble at every four-way intersection.
Are you inclined to think that a new 997 Turbo is fast? Well, with approximately 7.28 pounds weighing down each horse, the 480-hp 997 Turbo is fast — very fast. But it can’t compare to the 6.62 pounds per horse engineered into Smith’s weapon of mass destruction. Then consider this 911’s smaller frontal area. Its early 1970s aero package can’t match the 997 Turbo for high-speed efficiency and stability, but we suspect a sprint from, say, 20 to 100 mph might leave a 997 Turbo owner feeling more than a little surprised.
As amazing as the car’s power-to-weight ratio may be, it’s the overall attention to detail that knocked ’em dead at 2006’s R Gruppe Treffen. At what may have been one of the best Porsche events of 2006, this was the Porsche that grabbed the most attention, hands down. But, according to Jeff Smith, this isn’t just another “big-dollar, checkbook” 911. No, he says he’s responsible for all of the body and paintwork as well as all of the fabrication and assembly of the body and interior. The car may throw off a “big dollar” vibe due to its trick parts and modern engine, but Smith says that doing most of the work himself allowed him to build this car for what many pay for original early 911Ss — and quite a bit less than a 997 Turbo.
Smith bought this 911E in 1999. It was a mostly original car with a solid body that, according to Smith, “had every corner rounded off by the previous owner.” Once the body was stripped of all paint and undercoating, Smith began with the modifications that would mimic the factory RS/RSR 911s. He began by reinforcing the rear torsion tube, gusseting it to the body. An original steel S front bumper and steel RS flares — with their distinctive lips that narrow towards their ends — were added to give the car a more muscular appearance and provide extra room for the 245/45R16 rear tires.
Jeff Smith chose to skip the seemingly “required” RS ducktail. Instead, he opted to use a stock engine lid to leave the 911’s lovely profile unspoiled. The lack of a tail only accentuates the RS 2.7 flares as they transition off of the roofline and wrap gracefully around the wheels.
With all of the bodywork completed, Smith faced the tough decision of what color. For the last few years, bright 1970s-era Porsche hues have been all the rage — colors like Viper Green, Signal Yellow, and Tangerine. Smith originally considered going with Signal Orange, but when it came time to purchase the paint, he discovered Glasurit didn’t have the hue formulated in the high solid paint he wanted. Smith had arranged for three weeks of vacation from work and would now need to find another color if he was going to get the job done in those three weeks.
For help, Smith called his mother — who is an interior decorator. She flipped through his books of original Porsche color samples, stopped at the 1955-65 Signal Red sample, and said, “That’s the only color that will work on this car! I know that you don’t want to hear this, but red will look great with all of the brightwork on this car.” Most bright red 911s have black trim accents, so the combination of the deep red paint and stainless trim turned out just like Mom said it would — perfect!
Once the paint and bodywork was finished, Smith installed the glass and other trim. For the most part, the glass is run-of-the-mill early 911 stuff. However, the rear quarter windows are a little different. Instead of the standard pop-out glass, Smith fitted lightweight fixed glass and hand-fabricated his own versions of the no longer available (NLA) lightweight Carrera RS/RSR window trim.
The interior compartments are where the detail freak in Smith came out to play. Let’s start with the steering wheel. As per an original RS, Smith found an unmolested leather-wrapped “appearance package” 380-mm steering wheel from a 914-6. He carefully massaged the leather back to its original supple texture with leather treatment and then applied a thin coating of black dye to restore the original color. The 914-6 horn center was discarded and replaced by an early 912 horn center as used in original S-Ts and RSRs. This horn center was also restored; its chrome bezel was replated while the leather center was refinished.
Moving further into the interior, you will find the aforementioned pair of RSR lightweight Recaro racing buckets. The original door panels and pockets have been swapped for RS panels while the door tops have been discarded completely, a la RSR. Keeping with the lightweight theme, the radio and glovebox door have been deleted, as well. A combination of rubber mats and lightweight felt covers the floors. The rear seats are gone and the back half of the interior has been carefully wallpapered with thin felt. The attention to detail in this car is especially apparent when you look at the perfectly restored seat brackets and hardware, as well as the pristine 1973 Euro seatbelts with subtle orange striping woven through their centers.
The trunk area offers more lessons in detail and nuance. Before coating everything in Signal Red, Smith removed the factory hood struts and fabricated a manual hood strut that hinges on the passenger-side strut tower. Smith drilled a small hole in the inner structure of the hood and then rosette-welded two small washers to the inner structure for the new strut to fit into when the hood is raised.
In place of the car’s original fuel tank is the tank from a late-model 911, chosen for its compatibility with the Motronic fuel-injection system. Throughout the trunk, Smith fabricated small hooks so the spare tire and tools could be fastened by leather straps. When asked where he found the straps, Smith says his father showed him how to make them using supplies purchased at the local tack store!
This 911 would merit coverage if it still had its stock 2.4-liter 911E motor in it, but, of course, it doesn’t. As previously discussed, a 3.8-liter 993 RSR-spec VarioRam engine has been shoe-horned into the E’s engine cavity. The VarioRam induction system was Porsche’s ingenious variable-length intake manifold introduced for the 1995 model year on the Euro 993 Carrera RS and then applied to all normally-aspirated 1996-98 993 Carreras.
The 3.8-liter Carrera RS was worth 300 hp according to the factory, but, on paper, VarioRam only boosted horsepower from 270 to 282 in the 3.6-liter 993s. Its contribution to overall performance, however, is greater than the numbers imply. Histor-ically, intake systems have been a compromise, sacrificing power and torque at one end of the rpm range to improve power and torque at the other.
In contrast, VarioRam can vary the length of the intake tracts at the ECU’s bidding, enabling the engine to make more torque throughout the powerband. Below 5000 rpm, the system utilizes six long intake runners to increase torque. Between 5000 and 5800 rpm, a second configuration with shorter runners and a resonance plenum with a single crossover tube works in conjunction with the long runners. Past 5800 rpm, a second crossover opens to maximize peak horsepower. While the plenum is somewhat bulky and perhaps not as sexy as a pair of Webers or period-correct mechanical fuel injection, Vario-Ram delivers seamless torque and power from just off idle all the way to redline.
Hooked on the VarioRam concept, Jeff Smith wanted more than a stock 3.6-liter 993 Carrera engine could give. He called on Gordon Ledbetter to help him assemble a big-bore 3.8-liter flat six based on a 1997 3.6-liter core motor. Ledbetter and Smith backdated the crankcase to allow the installation of an on-engine oil cooler as per all 911 engines prior to 3.6 liters. This modification required removing the engine-mounted oil filter and moving it to the traditional 1973 location on the dry-sump system tank. That required modifications to the engine sheetmetal and oil cooler ducting, as well.
Instead of simply changing the intake to accept a conical filter like those found in most 3.6-liter transplants, Smith carefully modified the 993’s original airbox so it would fit in the confines of the early engine compartment. While all this external work was carried out, Ledbetter converted the engine to 3.8 liters of displacement by replacing the stock pistons and cylinders with Mahle slip-in cylinders and pistons. The latter feature deeper valve pockets and short skirts for light weight and reduced friction.
The stock 3.6-liter crankshaft and connecting rods were retained, but the original cams were traded for hydraulic 3.8 RS Sport cams. A set of 3.8 RS/RSR cylinder heads, with 51.5-mm intake and 43.5-mm exhaust valves, were fitted next. Minor tweaks to the Motronic engine management, the addition of a pair of headers from European Racing, and a unique Flowmaster muffler system fabricated by Smith completed the modifications.
An afternoon spent testing the engine and setting it up on the dyno at Rothsport Road & Race in Tualatin, Oregon proved all of the effort worthwhile. Smith claims the 3.8-liter flat six made 324.6 peak hp at 6200 rpm and 289 lb-ft of torque at 5500 rpm — and that the motor demonstrated an impressively flat torque curve. He says it made more than 250 lb-ft from 3300 rpm all the way to 6500 rpm.
That kind of twist dictated upgrades to the rest of the drivetrain. A lightweight flywheel from Patrick Motorsports and a Sachs Sport Clutch were added to the flat six before it was mated to an aluminum 915 transaxle. Ledbetter and Smith used an 8:31 ring-and-pinion along with “mildly close-ratio” gears. A factory limited-slip differential — set at 80-percent lock-up on the over-run — was installed along with a rare factory RSR oil pump, cooler, and spray bar. The latter directs oil onto third, fourth, and fifth gears as well as the ring-and-pinion gears — helping to cool and protect the valuable cogs during sustained high-speed runs.
Smith and his fellow horsepower junkies in the Portland area like to refer to their 3.6- and 3.8-liter hot rod 911s as “big-block” cars. And they’re all about driving them. If this 911 appears to be a pristine garage queen in these photos, that’s only because it was essentially a new car when the photos were taken. Seen in person, there were already a few rock chips earned by Smith on his trip from Oregon to R Gruppe’s 2006 Treffen in Santa Rosa, California — seeing much of the Pacific Coast along the way.
Smith plans to add some more chips. In addition to continued use on the street, he plans to use the car for Porsche Club of America driving schools and other track events. So if you’re ever on road or track in the Pacific Northwest, make sure to keep a regular eye your mirrors — because Jeff Smith’s 911 will be out there, ready to pick you off with 3.8 liters of 993 power stuffed under its unassuming red rump.