Gold Standard

One 1973 911T saved from the replica route

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December 10, 2010

I have always loved the early 911s, especially the early ’70s models,” says Colorado native Justin Erion. “I love their simplicity — basically a motor and four wheels. They’re light and nimble, with classic ‘form follows function’ styling.”

Erion knows something about function, having built a Sports Car Club of America GT2 racer out of a 911 SC. It has held a lap record in its class at Miller Motorsports Park in Utah for a couple of years now (Excellence September 2006). Four years ago, he was presented with the opportunity to buy a fairly rough 911T with low miles.

“I acquired the car, believe it or not, from a friend who owned an auto pawn business,” he reveals. The price was right and the 911 appeared to be complete. “It was in running condition but cosmetically worn and faded, yet nice enough to believe the (claimed) 89,000 miles.” It was a deal Erion couldn’t pass up, especially since he has fond memories of Porsche’s 911T.

“My first introduction to Porsches was when I was four years old and my father brought home a brand-new 1972 911T in Aubergine,” says Erion as we admire his Gold Metallic 911T in the sparkling morning sunlight. Fittingly, it’s parked in front of his parent’s garage; Erion has enduring memories of his dad’s Aubergine T.

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“I remember being able to push it by myself a few feet while it was in the driveway — and the sound the engine made,” he says. Erion also remembers an errant jaunt around the neighborhood on his tricycle. At just five years old, he was already developing a healthy appreciation for the freedom a set of wheels can bring. “I think I was out chasing some neighborhood girls around.” He laughs. “My dad had to come find me.” A few minutes after Justin had pedaled around the corner in pursuit of the fairer sex, his father pulled up in the 911T — ending Justin’s first solo road trip.

While his father’s 911T clearly left a big impression, Erion had other ideas for his own T: “My first thoughts were to build a really nice RS or RSR replica for street and track events for my wife, Marcie.” The 911 was delivered to Arvid Unterseher of Classic Restorations in nearby Longmont so it could be stripped and any rust could be repaired before flares were welded on.

As Erion researched the car, however, he started to question his plan. “I discovered that, in ’73, Gold Metallic was available only by customer special order — and that this car was ordered with many desirable options such as green-tinted glass, a leather steering wheel, Fuchs alloys, full S trim, and a front anti-roll bar.” There was also a radio and antenna and what seemed to be the comfort package with more luxurious carpeting, heavy duty sound deadening, and rear defroster.

Erion noticed something else about the car, too: “No sunroof and no A/C led me to believe it was ordered by a true Porsche enthusiast wanting just a few options but nothing that would really affect performance. At least I like to think that’s why the original owner opted not to add them, as it is how I’d have ordered it. I hate sunroofs.”

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The front and rear bumpers had small, black metal bumperettes instead of the larger rubber bumperettes seen on so many 1973 911s. That’s because this was one of the earlier 1973 911s, which made its way down the assembly line in late 1972. There are other interesting differences, says Erion: “Being built in the later half of ’72, it still has metal tabs in the right rear wheel well for mounting the ’72 oil-cooler apparatus.”

When he consulted the Porsche Technical Specification booklet as well as Patrick C. Paternie’s Porsche 911 Red Book, he found there were only 1,252 1973 911Ts made with MFI before the switch to Bosch CIS fuel injection. “Surprisingly, there were almost 200 more 911S models produced for the 1973 model year, making this 1973 911T with MFI rarer than the coveted 911S,” says Erion.

The more research he did, the more he was convinced the right thing to do was to restore the 911 rather than turn it into a hot rod. Plus, he had never done a proper restoration and relished the challenge. “I decided it would be just as fun to have a car done to concours level,” explains Erion, who initialy equates his decision to a descent down a slippery slope, then says it was “more of a cliff from which I leapt.”

Those familiar with restoring vintage cars know that restoring one correctly is usually more difficult than simply turning the car into a hot rod. It’s a lot easier (and often cheaper) to work with what you have or add incorrect parts than it is to track down obscure, new-old-stock (NOS) or pristine used, date-correct components. As most who choose this “high” road tend to, Erion got quite an education: “I had no idea what this was going to take in terms of time and money. But I was committed to doing the project right, regardless.”

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The first step was tackling the paint and bodywork. Recalls Erion: “We found that it was very straight, with no accidents and (it) only required some of the usual rust repairs. It had some rust in the front suspension-pan area, which we replaced with parts from a rust-free 1973 911, and a little behind the driver’s side door striker in the left-rear wheel area.”

After the 911’s shell was stripped to bare metal and its problem areas were rectified, it was resprayed in its original Gold Metallic, paint code #140. While he normally isn’t a fan of gold cars, Erion has come to appreciate the shade. During the reassembly process, new glass was installed all around with the exception of the rear quarter glass, which he says can no longer be sourced as new with green tint.

When it came time to tackle mechanical aspects, Erion found himself at something of a crossroads. In original spec, a mechanically fuel-injected 2.4T pumped out a modest 140 bhp at 5700 rpm. That’s an adequate amount of power, but it’s certainly not scintillating. And while the restoration he was performing was diligently faithful to how it rolled out of the factory, the idea of a stock 911T engine left him a little, well, cold.

“The end goal was to have a car that in all visible areas was an exact replica of how the car was delivered,” he says. “That said, I just could not bring myself to spend what I knew was going to be a lot of time and money on a concours-quality restoration and then rebuild the motor and gearbox to the same old 2.4T specs.”

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The 7R crankcase that the T’s engine is based on was also used as the basis for the 2.7-liter flat six in 1973’s iconic 911 Carrera RS. And, notes Erion, if you are already spending the money for a fully rebuilt 2.4-liter T, it only costs a few thousand dollars more to build an RS-spec 2.7. “The RS motor uses the same camshafts, cylinder heads, and intake size as the 2.4 S. The only real difference between a 2.4 S and a 2.7 RS are larger pistons and a different space cam in the MFI pump — that and the incredible sound of a 2.7 RS with MFI running through the rev range making its 210 horsepower.”

The case was sent off to Competition Engineering in Lake Isabella, California, where it was machined for oil-system updates and a larger Carrera oil pump. By the time it came back, Erion had sourced new Mahle 2.7 RS pistons and cylinders as well as a set of used 911S cylinder heads. The heads were rebuilt with some mild porting and valve work, and would house a new set of 911S camshafts.

The Bosch mechanical fuel injection was converted to RS specs with a reconfigured injection pump as well as reworked throttle bodies, velocity stacks, and injectors. The engine breathes through SSI stainless-steel heat exchangers that lead to a stainless-steel Dansk muffler painted gray to look similar to the 911T’s original muffler. The engine was reassembled with its original hardware, freshly cad-plated.

The 915 five-speed gearbox was sent to GBox in nearby Boulder, Colorado. It was restored inside and out, gaining new internals, gearing to RS Touring specifications, and a new limited-slip differential.

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In keeping with the theme of originality in all visible areas, the suspension was completely rebuilt to original specs with new bushings, bearings, seals, and newly cad-plated hardware where applicable. New Bilstein dampers re-valved to RS specs were installed in the Boge front strut housings. In the rear, black-painted Bilsteins replaced the original Boges. The same methodology was applied to the brakes, where every component, down to the bleed screws on the calipers, was replaced, restored, or re-plated.

When Erion sent five Fuchs alloy wheels to Harvey Weidman at Weidman’s Wheels in Oroville, California he got a positive response. “According to Harvey, it was the first time he’d ever seen five wheels with the same date stamps that were all straight and did not need truing,” recalls Erion. Once the wheels and their center caps were refinished, they were wrapped in a set of Coker replicas of Michelin’s XWX 185/70VR15s.

Originally, this 911T came with a rich-looking Brown interior. However, the intervening years had not been kind: The dash was cracked, the carpet and upholstery faded. Looking around the interior today, there are more NOS parts than you can shake a torsion bar at — including the shift knob, heater controls, door pockets, and turn-signal arm, to name just a few. There’s also a NOS dash with the correct speaker grill, while all five gauges were faithfully rebuilt by North Hollywood Speedometer. There is one tweak, however: The tachometer is redlined to RS 2.7 specs.

“Using all or as many NOS parts as possible was a much bigger job than I ever expected in terms of the amount of time spent researching the 1972 and 1973 model years and then tracking down those parts,” reflects Erion. In other words, he quickly discovered that restoring a 911 with new parts involves more than just throwing your checkbook at the project.

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For instance, sourcing the correct carpet and upholstery for the seats and other interior panels proved to be a challenge. Erion found some unfaded carpet in the interior, samples of which were sent to Einmalig in California, which in turn sent the samples to its network of distributors in the hope of finding a match.

“After several months of looking and waiting, one supplier in Germany finally came up with a bolt of the correct carpet,” explains Erion. The carpeting was handed over to John’s Auto Upholstery in Longmont, Colorado, where a kit was made up based on the original carpeting.

The seats and side panels had originally been upholstered in vinyl, but the only matching material Erion could locate was real leather, so the Porsche received something of an upgraded interior. The interior refurbishment also included a new horn button and a re-covered steering wheel.

“There are only two things that were left alone and are in their original condition — the wiring harness and the seat hinges,” says Erion, who says the fact that the seat hardware is unrestored is his only regret. And, when I train my camera on them, I can see why: Their patina stands out against so many nearby components that look brand new. It’s something Erion says he may rectify down the road.

It’s the smallest of nit-picks, though. The results of the time and effort that went into Erion’s T are apparent in person. And though Gold is not a favorite color of mine on any car, there’s no denying that the shade is stunning. Overall, the car looks like 1973 all over again. Peering into the engine compartment, I can’t help but blurt out, “It looks brand new!”

“Well, it should,” responds Erion. Now that his T is restored, he can start driving it — if he can just find the courage. “Right now, I just look at it in the garage for its artistic quality. I’m afraid to damage it or even get it dirty…which really goes against my philosophy, as I am really not a garage trophy kind of guy. I think that, as time goes on, I will forget just how much time, energy, and money I have invested in the car and start driving it in anger.”

The culmination of the restoration also means Erion can turn his attention to the 1970 911E project sitting in the garage. “I haven’t decided what to build yet, but it won’t be a concours project!” he says. Let’s just hope it doesn’t have a rare and desirable list of options.

Also from Issue 189

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  • 1966 906 Driven
  • Inside Ruf's 911 V8
  • 911 GT3: Porsche's Greatest Racer
  • 1958 356 Outlaw
  • Porsches for $16,000
  • Racing 987s: Continental Cayman
  • Market Update: 1989-1998 911
  • Project 914 3.6
  • Tech Forum: "GT1" Engine coolant lines
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