Point One

This forgotten 911 SC variant packs a punch.

Photo: Point One 1
December 10, 2009

Set Bill Blincoe’s 1980 911 SC next to one of its contemporaries and you won’t see anything to distinguish its stance. Start its flat six and you won’t hear anything to distinguish its rumble. Tool around at mundane speeds on partial throttle and you won’t feel anything to distinguish its performance.

If you roll hard on the throttle in third gear, though, you know something’s up. As the revs build from 2000 rpm and go past the big 3 on the tachometer, it’s clear that this isn’t your average SC. It feels more like a Carrera 3.2 than an SC 3.0 —and yet the car is entirely stock, just as it was delivered from the factory.

In 1984, Blincoe’s penchant for Por­sches had him frequently looking to add something different to his garage. A friend traveling to Hamburg happened into Raffay Porsche, where a unique, low-mile Targa caught his eye. A call was made, and Blincoe quickly jumped at the chance to acquire a very unusual piece of Porsche history: a factory 3.1-liter SC. In acquiring the car, Blincoe took advantage of a loophole in the law.

“In the 1980s, you could import all the cars you wanted, provided you converted them to EPA specs,” he begins. “But each person could do a one-time exemption on the EPA standards.” DOT standards still had to be met, but that was easy; the key was that the mechanicals could be left alone. Still not sure precisely what he’d purchased, Blincoe arranged to have the 1980 SC shipped across the Atlantic.

Photo: Point One 2

Porsche’s 3.0-liter 911 SC, successor to the 2.7-liter 911, came at an interesting time in Por­sche’s history. Tightening emissions requirements (both noise and exhaust) made it more difficult to develop soul-stirring power from its air-cooled six. Concurrently, Porsche made moves to pin its future on something other than the rear-engined 911 platform. More specifically, Ernst Fuhrmann ushered in two performance-oriented, front-engined players: the 928 and 924. And he positioned them to chase the 911 into its sunset.

It’s not surprising, therefore, that the 911 received short shrift from a development standpoint in the late 1970s. Aes­thetically, the SC was little different from the 2.7, gaining only a pair of modest rear flares. Mechanically, the transition to 1978’s SC resulted in a simplification of offerings. Notably, Rest of World buyers were no longer offered a high-performance variant when the popular Carrera 3.0 was terminated after 1977. 1978 model-year buyers received 180 hp from the SC’s detuned 3.0. Though this was a bump of 15 hp from the previous generation, the performance improvement was tepid because the 911 continued to add weight, moving up by about 100 pounds between 1977 and 1978. The situation was particularly disconcerting to RoW performance enthusiasts who no longer had that 200+ hp option — unless they bought a turbocharged 930.

Meanwhile, magazine coverage of the likely 911 phase-out caused a backlash from aficionados who voiced strong preference for the 911 as the “true” Porsche. Fuhrmann’s stance on the future of the 911 tempered slightly: “We will build this car as long as people want to buy it… Only when production volume falls below 25 per day will we have to end it.”

Softness in demand for the first-year SC rebounded moderately in 1979. And since the production-level threshold to continue manufacture was comfortably exceeded, the 911’s future grew more secure. No doubt, this confounded not only Fuhrmann but those automotive journalists who felt Porsche had finally created a 911 at the zenith of its technology-demand nexus.

Photo: Point One 3

“The 911 SC is as good as it can be made,” opined one Car and Driver scribe. “Porsche has massaged, refined, re­worked, and improved on it until the car is as near perfection as it can be. And that’s why it will go away. Innovation and challenge are very important at Porsche. The 911 no longer provides either. It has outlived its usefulness, and as attrition takes the die-hard traditionalist, the 911 will finally outlive its demand.”

Despite being “as near perfection as it can be,” a fair chasm existed between the performance of the SC and its 930 big brother. Seeing an opportunity to bridge the gap, Porsche quietly set to work on the company’s very first “factory tuning kit” intended for road use. Enter Rolf Sprenger and his Department of Special Requests at the Kundenzentrum (Customer Center). Sprenger — the father of Bosch mechanical injection in Porsche’s road cars — would soon make another indelible mark on the 911 lineage with the Flachbau (Flat-nose) 930. However, on this SC-based project, the work of his team flew almost entirely under the radar. Their goal? 210 hp — the same as the revered ’73 Carrera RS.

Politics necessitated secrecy. With the 928 envisaged as the standard-bearer of Porsche’s future, it was important to position the 911 appropriately from a performance standpoint. Factory performance figures quoted 0–62 mph for the 240-hp V8 sled at 6.8 seconds for the five-speed and 8.2 seconds for the automatic, with top speeds of 143 and 140 mph respectively. Low and behold, the five-speed SC 3.0’s numbers came in at 7.0 seconds and 136 mph. The political tap-dance meant that any works-produced performance kit for the SC could not receive the press attention that would otherwise be afforded it. Inside Kunden­zentrum, lips were zipped.

Sprenger’s team took the stock 930/03 engine seen in RoW SCs (930/09 for MY1980) and bored it from 95.0 to 97.0 mm, the same as the 3.3 Turbo motor. This yielded 3122 cc with the stock 70.4-mm stroke. The compression ratio was increased from 8.6:1 to 9.5:1, which necessitated the use of premium grade fuel (98 RON). An upgraded fuel distributor was employed, while pistons and cylinders were sourced from Mahle. To handle any additional cooling needs, a larger oil cooler — likely left over from the racing program and similar to the eventual 3.2’s unit — was mounted in the right front fender. Finally, a taller fifth gear of 0.759:1 (rather than 0.785:1) pushed top speed higher. In the Kundenzentrum, technician Elmar Willrett assembled the engines under the supervision of master engine mechanic Helmut Pietsch.

Photo: Point One 4

Output from the 3.1 rose to 210 hp at 5800 rpm and 206 lb-ft of torque at 4700. This met the goal and represented a healthy power increase of 17 percent over the ’78–’79 powerplant and 12 percent over 1980’s uprated 188 hp RoW 3.0. 0–62 mph fell to a claimed 6.5 seconds while top speed rose to a claimed 143 mph. Given the political climate, these figures were conservative. The special engine required a trip by Porsche to the TÜV for certification; of course, additional taxes and insurance requirements would be borne by the eventual buyer. While Porsche honored the standard warranty for the SC’s powertrain, buyer documentation warned that repairs to the powerplant might be difficult for dealerships to complete due to a scarcity of parts. Instead, owners were encouraged to contact the factory directly in the event such repairs were necessary.

This seemed a prescient recommendation since Sprenger’s team had no way to gauge how many examples of the 3.1 SC-L (Leistungsgesteigert or “increased power”) might be built. After all, the desire to keep the project from publication meant the motor upgrade was never an official option. As such, no option code ever existed for the 3.1. Porsche knew that certain potential SC buyers would be put off by the lack of power in the 3.0, so dealers were instructed by Ernst Bret in Sales and Customer Service to quietly mention the availability of a factory-installed power kit whenever such shoppers voiced displeasure. Thus, news of the DM 7,500 option (approximately $3,750 in 1978) was spread entirely by whispered word of mouth. That news never extended across the pond, since the 3.1 was made available first to the German market and then remaining RoW markets. It was never offered in the U.S.

Porsche’s refusal to proactively market the SC-L left a gaping hole for two early 911 tuners to fill. Sensing an opportunity improve upon Porsche’s hobbled SC and to successfully market the result, Alois Ruf and Max Moritz stepped forward. The two asked Porsche’s permission to use 97-mm bore cylinders and pistons for their own 911 hot rods. Por­sche declined, so they went to Mahle to have the pistons and cylinders produced. Mahle feared intellectual property issues, so Ruf and Moritz ordered 98-mm bore parts instead, yielding 3185 cc with the stock 70.4-mm stroke.

Moritz’s 911-based offering didn’t fare particularly well; likely less than 100 examples were sold. Ruf’s 215-hp SC-R, on the other hand, became its first official “serial number” Porsche model and was quite successful, as some 400 units went to customers. Sprenger estimates that between 200 and 300 SC-Ls were delivered during its three-year run. The SC-L was discontinued for 1981, when the RoW 3.0 went to 204 hp.

Photo: Point One 5

Today, even in Germany, time has erased nearly all tracks left by those special cars. Internal documentation has been disposed of and Sprenger’s personal project folder has been lost in the shuffle. Thus, knowledge of the details mostly resides in the minds of those few who played a role in the project. To a lesser extent, it resides with those who purchased the machines. A letter from Bret and Sprenger accompanied each sale, and a folded insert was placed in each owner’s manual containing some information and the power and torque curves. Blincoe surmises, “If I didn’t have the letter or the insert, I would presume this car to be a three-liter. Maybe there’s another one in the country and the owner doesn’t even know what it is.”

The possibility of that doesn’t surprise Jim Williams. An inveterate 911 tinkerer, Williams has his own 3.1 story to tell. “I was looking for a three-liter engine to put in my ’73 RS lookalike,” he begins. He saw a rebuilt one advertised on Pelican Parts’ website. “It was obvious from the advertisement that the guy who owned it was not a Porsche person.” Williams called to check out the story. Comfortable with what he learned, he made the purchase. The crate arrived at his Huntsville, Alabama residence soon after.

The first thing Williams noted upon opening the crate was that the motor had been poorly taken care of. Closer inspection commenced. “Part of the sheet metal was left off the engine, and it allowed me to look in the cylinders,” he continues. “I expected to see cooling fins all the way around on the cylinder top, side, and bottom. What I saw were Turbo cylinders.” He knew them to be 97 mm, not 95.

“I started looking closer and closer and I thought, Gosh, it looks like this was put together out of somebody’s parts bin.” Williams’ wide-ranging experience with 911 powerplants has led him to be well-regarded in the Porsche internet community as a CIS-knowledgeable resource. So what he found next was a big eye-opener: “This engine had, on the fuel distributor, a Bosch (part number) stamp which is totally unlike what was on any Porsche I’d ever seen.”

Photo: Point One 6

He expected to see something like 0 438 100 031 or 0 438 100 097. Instead, he saw 6149/8617E, supporting Sprenger’s assertion that the fuel distributor was unique to the SC-L. “The only explanation I can come up with is that Porsche designed what they needed for this particular engine and had Bosch build it and calibrate it,” Williams supposes.

Then he found the first clear clue that the flat six might somehow be a factory special. There, stamped on the engine case was 930/03 3.1. Williams’ own odyssey to learn about the SC-L began, necessitated by the fact that the motor had not been rebuilt as advertised. To date, he’s likely one of the only people in the U.S. to have pulled a 3.1 apart and realized it was something special. Cer­tainly, similar experiences have led understandably confused 911 mechanics and enthusiasts to scratch their heads and wonder. It’s impossible to tell how many.

Today, head-scratching wonderment has led me to the outskirts of Savannah, Georgia, where Live Oak branches draped with Spanish Moss hang low over country roads. A quick twist of the key and the 3.1 burbles to life. With only 27,300 miles on the odometer, the 915 gearbox feels tight. At lower revs, power delivery feels like that of the 3.0. Just beyond 3000 rpm, though, the torque comes on far stronger than in its contemporary sibling.

The thrust in the midrange reminds me of my 1989 Carrera 3.2’s, though its surge comes closer to 4000 rpm. The SC-L starts to flatten out only when the tach nudges 5000 rpm. In the final 1000 rpm before redline, the 3.1 is perhaps not as eager as the 3.2, but it’s still plenty willing. It’s the deeply satisfying rush between 3000 and 5000 rpm that stays with you, though.

The SC-L Targa has been in Blincoe’s hands now for 25 years. In fact, it’s the longest he’s ever owned a Porsche —and he’s owned quite a few. While only 4,000 miles have amassed in that period, the 3.1 has been exercised at regular intervals throughout its time in the States. And, no, Blincoe isn’t looking to part with it to make room in his garage for something he’d be inclined to drive more often. “What could I replace a car like this with?” he asks, smiling. If owning such a unique piece of Porsche history is the goal, the answer is simple: Not much.

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  • Preview: 2011 Boxster Spyder
  • 2009 Corvette ZR1 vs. 997 GT2
  • Troutman-Barnes four-door 911S
  • Patrick Long 2010 GT3 Cup Tire Test
  • Modified 997 GT2
  • Market Update: 1989–98 911
  • Interview: Dirk Werner
  • Project Cayman: Lightweight Seats
  • How Not to Own a 944, Epilogue
  • Tech Forum: TPMS Part 1
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