The Strenger Six

A rare M471-optioned 914-6.

Photo: The Strenger Six 1
May 20, 2010

Strong passions sometimes lead us in strange directions. Some­times, the result is an action we later wish we could undo — like the pimply-faced sophomore who, in crackling falsetto, professes his love for the head cheerleader in front of the whole school. Sometimes, the result is an action that society deems eccentric, like the woman with the “My Poodle is Smarter than Your Honor Student” bumper sticker, whose pup rides on her lap, its perfectly-coiffed pompadour blowing in the wind. And sometimes, the result is a little of both: Steve Gaglione wrote a poem to a car.

Nine stanzas, four lines each, nice cadence, meticulously rhymed in a-b-a-b format. He attached it to a box of Godiva chocolates and sent them both to the car’s owner. To be fair, it wasn’t just any car he was writing poetry to. It wasn’t just any Porsche, either.

“I finally lost touch with reality,” admits Gaglione of his then-eight-year attempt to purchase a neglected 914-6 M471. “My delusional theory was to do something outrageous to get (the owner) to think about the car and how much I wanted to save it.”

It didn’t work. The car remained partially disassembled, pushed to the back corner of a warehouse. Gaglione was at wit’s end; three years earlier, he thought he had an agreement to buy it. “I even advertised my 7,000-mile 1985 Carrera and sold it to the first person that called.” A few days later, he was on a plane, cashier’s check in hand to purchase the 914-6 at the agreed price. “I presented the owner with the check only to hear, ‘Steve, I’ve changed my mind. I have decided not to sell the car.’”

After the subsequent failed attempt at purchase-through-poetry, it would be another decade before Gaglione made one final attempt to acquire that Porsche. “I sat in my living room thinking, Should I call him? Of course, to my regret, I made the call, and he didn’t even remember who I was! I knew right then the car would never be mine, and I hung up wondering if he was laughing at me.”

That was March 2006, and after 18 years, his quest to own one of 23 factory-optioned M471 914-6s seemed to have reached a dead end. However, patience and perseverance are often rewarded in surprising ways. Almost a year to the day later, a more desirable M471 was delivered to Gaglione’s Tampa home — an M471 with a unique and significant history.

Photo: The Strenger Six 2

Soon after the late-1969 introduction of the 914, Por­sche put the mid-engined sports car on the track. In North America, Por­sche+Audi Com­petition Manager Jo Hoppen successfully lobbied for the approval of the 914-6 in SCCA’s C Pro­duction class for 1970. Factory backing of some significant talent — including Brumos’ Peter Gregg — led to victories and other podium finishes.

Overall, though, the results were mixed. So for 1971, Hoppen pushed to allow the 914-6 GT to race. A factory-developed race car, the box-flared GT had proved its mettle a year prior in Euro­pean rally and endurance competition, and Hop­pen wanted to take it into battle against the powerful Datsun 240Z contingent that dominated the 1970 SCCA Nationals.

The SCCA’s production requirement of 500 units was a wet blanket on his plan, as only a couple dozen GTs had been built. A plan was hatched to utilize the Com­petition Option Group M471 to help approve the 914-6 GT for C Produc­tion. The M471 added some visual cues of the GT (though none of its mechanical upgrades) including steel fender flares along with matching flared rocker panels and front valance. Also included were 21-mm wheel spacers front and rear and six-inch Fuchs wheels with 185/70VR15 tires. Further, dealer-available kits to convert any 914-6 to near-GT spec were to be used to buttress the C Production claim.

In June 1971, documentation detailing 914-6 GT production was prepared by Porsche’s Jürgen Barth and telexed to Hoppen. The two-pager detailed 48 factory-built “GTs,” 13 of which were M471 cars (though one chassis was listed twice and one “M471” didn’t actually have the option, leaving a true 46).

Mention was also made of the 400 GT kits being sold to dealers, though Por­sche admitted there was no way to know which chassis got those kits — if they had been installed. Under­standably, the Datsun crowd balked at Porsche’s attempt to slide the GT into C Production, not only because 48 plus 400 fell south of 500, but also because of significant uncertainty involved with the GT kits. The fact that M471s had GT aesthetics but lacked the GT’s sports-purpose mechanicals probably didn’t help. The SCCA responded by elevating the 914-6 GT to the highly competitive B Production class.

Hoppen had the prescience not to put all his eggs in one basket, though, and shifted primary focus to the nascent IMSA series where Gregg and Hurley Haywood were already busy dominating the GTU championship in their orange Brumos 914-6. On the road-going front, a handful of additional M471s were produced later in 1971 and through 1972, bringing the total to 23. Thus, the 914-6 M471 remains quite rare among Por­sche’s special-optioned production cars.

Photo: The Strenger Six 3

On October 3, 1971 — seven weeks before Gregg and Haywood collected their IMSA championship trophies — 17-year-old Steve Gaglione drove north to the U.S. Grand Prix. Recalls Gaglione: “I lived in a small town in Pennsylvania, so I never got to see exotic cars. And there I was at Watkins Glen, seeing Ferraris and Maseratis and Lamborghinis and Porsches everywhere.”

Among all the exotics, a 914 caught his eye. It was the first he’d seen. Sub­sequently, the 914 dueled with the Lotus Europa for his attention. In March 1973, the 19-year-old and his father trekked to the nearest Lotus dealership, “…but the salesman wouldn’t sell me one. He told me, ‘This is not a car for a 19-year-old kid.’” To the Porsche dealership they went, where Gaglione ordered a 1973 914 2.0. “Funny, I’ve had eleven of them since, and that’s the only one I bought new,” he adds.

Since then, at least one 914 has al­ways occupied Gaglione’s garage. His first was sold in 1979 to make way for his first 914-6. Eight years later, he became acutely aware of the factory’s 914-6 Competition Option Group. “I was living in Atlanta at the time and I got to know George Hussey,” explains Gaglione of the Automobile Atlanta founder and 914 enthusiast. “I used to take his cars out and exercise them periodically. One time I got to drive his M471 — and I’ll never forget how much I loved the way it looked and the way it felt because of the wider stance.” In fact, he liked it so much that he didn’t take his normal route. “I drove it home to show my wife and I said, ‘We’ve gotta get one.’”

Unfortunately, only five M471s were sent to the U.S. in the early 1970s. Says Gaglione: “I wasn’t interested in a clone. It was going to be a factory car or nothing.” From the get-go, Gaglione’s passionate pursuit wasn’t going to be easy.

After a two-year search, he was able to locate all five U.S.-delivered cars. The only problem? None were for sale. “I started my own version of an M471 registry, keeping in contact with each owner and maintaining the status of each car.” He focused on one neglected example and, in 1988, began his ultimately fruitless 18-year pursuit of it. “I would call the owner a couple times a year and send letters…I even sent him annual Christmas cards.” The poem would come later.

When the pursuit reached its nadir in March 2006, Gaglione pushed the M471 to the back of his mind. But the passion was quickly reignited when, one day in early 2007, he returned home from a tennis match to find the telephone ringing. “It was George Hussey. He was talking even faster than normal, telling me something about a car that was advertised on, a factory M471 formerly owned by Erich Strenger. That part didn’t register as much as the words ‘factory M471.’”

Photo: The Strenger Six 4

914.143.0233 was originally delivered to Hahn Porsche in Stuttgart, Germany in March of 1971. In addition to the M471 option, it arrived from the factory with GT-spec front and rear anti-roll bars (14 mm and 16 mm, respectively), a center seat cushion, and Michelin tires. Carl Hahn had struck a deal to assist with Porsche’s racing endeavors, and indications are that the M471 was used as both a test car and a presentation car initially. From Hahn, it wound its way into the hands of Paul Ernst Strähle. Erich Strenger then purchased it from Strähle Porsche in Schorndorf, Germany in May 1972.

A photographer and graphic artist, Strenger had enjoyed a two-decade relationship with Porsche by 1972, making an indelible mark on Porsche’s visual history. His accomplishments included serving as the first art director for Christo­phorus, Porsche’s in-house magazine. He also designed the first Por­sche catalog in 1951, most of the company’s early brochures, and ground-breaking promotional imagery for posters. But perhaps Strenger is best known for creating countless Porsche racing posters from the 1950s through the 1980s.

Despite several performance-oriented additions to the 914-6, Strenger and his wife Ursula found pleasure in utilizing the car on a number of long trips, including a vacation on the French Riviera documented on the pages of Christophorus. The Strengers retired to the island of Mallorca off the coast of Spain in the 1980s. Instead of taking the 914-6, they stored it with Strähle until 1988, when Strenger’s friend Gerhard Blend­strup indicated an interest in the car.

Blendstrup also had a history with Porsche, working first in Stuttgart in R&D and later in Reno, heading marketing activities for Porsche Cars North America. After Strähle shipped the car to Nevada, Blendstrup kept it for nearly 20 years. He left Porsche during that period and headed to California. Wanting to enjoy the temperate climes of the West Coast, he had the roof brace removed to allow top-off driving, but several other performance modifications remained.

It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly when those modifications were originally made, but prior to Blendstrup’s purchase, the Strenger car was upgraded with several of the performance parts featured on 914-6 GT race cars. Among these were the aforementioned roof brace bolted between the windshield frame and the targa bar, Koni front struts, 911S brakes, and 15×7- and 15×8-inch Fuchs alloy wheels. Recaro sport seats were also added, and the original 2.0-liter flat six (6410162) was removed for undocumented reasons and replaced with a 1972 914-6-based engine (6420185, 901/38 indicated on the case).

In the spring of 1972, 0233 was used as a camera car at the Nürburgring Nord­schleife to film a commercial introducing the 1973 914 2.0. The M471 shared the track with three 914-6 GTs, filming them as they circulated. It’s likely the car was in Strähle’s hands at the time. Photos indicate the black stripes and larger wheels had been added by then.

Photo: The Strenger Six 5

When Gaglione learned of Blend­strup’s desire to sell the “Strenger GT” in February 2007, he was quick to act. He treated the first call to the car’s owner like a job interview: “I told him I had owned 914s for almost 35 years and I’d owned the same 914-6 for 28 years — and that I had endured an 18-year pursuit of (another) M471. I was trying to convince him I was the right person for his car.”

This time, it worked, and Gaglione flew to California to see the car and give Blendstrup a deposit. The small matter of a lost title was little obstacle to the acquisition. Compared to his previous purchase attempt, an M471 buried in a dormant volcano encased in 50 cubic yards of lead would have been no big deal. It would take 12 weeks to get a new title, but after waiting seven weeks, Gag­lione over­nighted the remainder of the agreed price. Six days later, on March 18, he received a phone call from the driver of the auto transporter, asking him where he wanted his Porsche dropped off.

The 914-6 was in very good condition, but having researched its history, Gag­lione was determined to return it visually (as near as possible, anyway) to a significant previous state. This would include replacing the Recaros and returning the bumpers to their chrome finish (Strenger had them painted). Gaglione spent a productive day in the Auto Atlanta warehouse finding a complete New Old Stock interior in the correct 1971 vinyl, a complete NOS 1971 carpet kit, all new OEM rubber seals, new chrome trim, and even a new Sigla windshield.

“I decided to stick with the Koni front suspension and 911 brakes,” he says of the mechanicals. “Also, the car had the 7 and 8 by 15 wheels, which is exactly what the GTs used. That’s one modification I really like, not only the look but the way the car handles with wider tires.”

Gaglione had the car repainted at Mirek’s European Auto in Oldsmar, Florida. Adding the distinguishing front, rear, and side stripes to the new tangerine/blood orange paint was a difficult decision. “After contacting Ursula Strenger and Paul Ernst Strähle, however, there could be only one choice,” says Gaglione. Both confirmed that the car with the stripes in archive photographs was the one Gag­lione purchased — the “Strenger GT.” Adding the stripes back to the car would approximate, at least visually, the state it was in during the filming of the Nürburg­ring commercial, the way the car looked when Strenger first purchased it.

A month after taking delivery of 0233, Gaglione received an email from 914 expert Wolfgang Scheicher in Austria, notifying him that the car’s original engine — 6410162 — was for sale on German eBay. Gaglione hurriedly sent an email to the German engine builder who listed the freshly rebuilt flat six, only to learn that he had agreed to sell it to a valued customer who also owned a 914-6 M471. The customer needed the engine for an upcoming car club event, and there was insufficient time to build another.

Photo: The Strenger Six 6

Still, Gaglione offered the customer a deal: “I told him to go ahead and install it and enjoy it until a new engine was ready — and I would pay all related ex­penses to have the new engine installed in his car, pay him substantially more than he paid for ‘my’ engine and pay to have (6410162) shipped to the U.S.”

Then, tragedy struck: A few months later, the two men were killed in Finland while rally training on ice, a two-car incident that also claimed the 914-6 M471 and its powerplant. “It was a devastating thing to read that they were both killed. So sad,” laments Gaglione.

Today, he’s philosophical about the engine in the 914: “It’s the engine that Erich evidently wanted in the car, so I’m going to take it forward that way. It’s part of the history. Someday I’ll take it apart, find out what it really is, rebuild it, and put it back in the car.”

Driving the streets outside Tampa, what’s immediately clear is that it’s not a stock 125-hp 901/38. It clearly puts more power down than that, delivering it in a strikingly linear manner that evokes the 2.2- and 2.4-liter 911E-spec sixes. The car is beautifully balanced on its Koni suspension, precise up front and surprisingly taut; there’s little sense of tipping during aggressive cornering. Con­sidering the car’s age, its chassis remains remarkably flat on its widened stance through braking, transition to throttle, and corner exit.

“I always dreamed about having a very rare Porsche,” says Gaglione after our drive. “I saw the M471 — which hadn’t really been discovered by the masses back in the late 1980s — as my opportunity. Back then, we were talking maybe $30,000. And for a car that only 23 were made, that was a very reasonable price — it was something that I could afford. (Now) the car is not for sale at any price. It has nothing to do with money. It has to do with the passion for the car.”

When it’s pointed out that his 19-year pursuit yielded a “better” car than the one he eyed for 18 of those years, Gag­lione smiles. “If I had the two sitting side-by-side, both finished, which one would I choose? By far, I’d take the Strenger car. I’m just so proud and happy with the history of it. For me to own a piece of that, it’s icing on the cake.” And certainly worthy of a few well-thought-out rhymes.

Also from Issue 184

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  • Chatting with Tony Lapine, father of 928
  • Three great used Porsches for $12,000
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  • 911 Carrera 3.2 Club Racer
  • 944 Header Installation
  • Modified track/street 964 Carrera 2
  • 911 SC Tales of Woe
  • M96 IMS failures and fixes, Part 2
  • Market Update: 1974–89 911s
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