Rust Never Sleeps

A 1967 "barn find" wakes up to a new life.

Photo: Rust Never Sleeps 1
September 16, 2011

Rust, the number one killer of classic cars, is insidious stuff. It inhabits the nightmares of Porsche owners, especially those with pre-galvanized 356s, 912s, 911s, or 914s. So when John Straub of San Diego first laid eyes on a 1967 911 that a friend had decided to sell, rusty body panels were the last things he wanted to see.

Is this really for me? Straub kept asking himself as he walked around the rust-spotted Porsche. “I’m known for having really nice cars, so I needed to stop and wrap my head around it,” he recalls.

On the plus side, the Light Ivory coupe was un­touched, completely original, and had only 78,000 miles. On the downside, it wasn’t pretty, didn’t start, and hadn’t been driven since it was parked in the early 1970s. The forlorn coupe was sitting in a storage garage next to a severely wrecked 1972 911S Targa and a large pile of Por­sche parts that were also for sale.

When Straub asked for a package price, his friend came up with a number that was too good to pass up. So, in late 2008, the neglected Porsches and parts were trailered to Straub’s home. There he dismantled the Targa and sold off all the parts for what he had invested in everything so far. The Light Ivory coupe was made to run so he and his wife could drive it.

Photo: Rust Never Sleeps 2

The “Drive Safely” Mobil Pegasus, while not OEM, almost could be considered original equipment. Owner John Straub chose to keep relics from the car’s past.

“The first thing we noticed when we took it out and parked it was one or two business cards would be left on the windshield asking if we wanted to sell,” he says. “My first inclination was to repaint the body, but the unusual interest in the car made me reevaluate my plans.”

Straub could have easily begun his restoration by wiping his hand across the coupe’s oxidized hood, which would have removed a bunch of flaking paint right away. But the longer he looked at this 911, the less he felt like beginning any cosmetic restoration.

The whole “patina” effect of corrosion was uniform in appearance, and upon closer inspection the surface rust was limited to the outer panels. Amazingly, the pans and sills were unaffected.

Still, the weathered exterior was new territory for John Straub. He’s a well-known concours judge and racer in the San Diego region of the Porsche Club of America. He bought his first Porsche, a ’59 356, in 1965 when he was still in high school. More pristine cars came and went. Since the early 1980s, he’s campaigned a Porsche Parade class-winning full-concours 1965 911 and a clean 1970 914-6 GT vintage race car. He still owns both. Own­ership of a rusty looking Porsche was a big departure for him, but Straub decided the car was worth further investigation.

Photo: Rust Never Sleeps 3

Stored in a barn for decades, the 911’s interior is still in good condition. The driver’s seat was replaced with an unrestored, vintage bucket seat that is similar to what the factory used in 356 race cars and Speedsters.

The car’s history was fairly easy to re­search since it had only two prior owners. In 1967, San Diego Motor Imports, the original Porsche dealer in the area, sold the car to a professor at the University of Cali­fornia San Diego. That made sense, as the car was still wearing some of the university’s parking stickers when Straub found it 40 years later.

“It was apparently a minimally optioned ‘plain Jane’ normal ’67 that had some racing aspirations at one time,” says Straub. “Although it was only a four-speed and not an S model, Mobil Pegasus emblems had been hand-painted on the front fenders and a Talbot mirror was attached to the driver’s door. Riverside Raceway decals adorned the rear quarter windows and a racing plaque was affixed to the glove box. The stock muffler had also been gutted.”

The “hot rod” coupe probably sat outside the teacher’s home near the beach in La Jolla, and that’s where it started rusting. After seven years of daily driving, the 911 coupe was sold to Straub’s friend, who parked it in his non-climate controlled garage in nearby El Cajon. It would sit there, untouched, for the next 34 years.

With his enthusiasm for the car kick-started, Straub decided to go completely through the mechanicals and return them to stock, “as new” condition. With helpful advice from the Early 911S Reg­istry’s online forum, he began rebuilding the motor, transmission, brakes, and suspension. Straub remembers that period well.

Photo: Rust Never Sleeps 4

A set of original 15 × 7-inch magnesium Minilite wheels were fitted to the rusty 911. Tires are sized 195/60-15.

“I was going to do the motor overhaul myself but didn’t have time,” he says. “So I took it to my friend Brant Parson at Shamrock Racing in El Cajon. Brant pulled the cylinders off, honed them, added new rings, replaced the guides, and rebuilt the original 2.0-liter engine to original specs. The original Weber carburetors were restored and an MSD tach converter was added along with a new Bendix pump with the correct decal.” To prevent fuel issues, the gas tank was cleaned and all the supply lines were replaced.

The original 901 four-speed transmission came next. When it was pulled apart, everything was in great shape — even the synchros were undamaged. So the gearbox was simply reassembled with new seals. The brakes and suspension were another story. When Straub first sat in the car, the brake pedal went all the way to the floor. Further investigation revealed a laundry list of items that needed to be replaced: master cylinder, brake lines, brake rotors, shocks, and all of the rubber suspension bushings. In addition, the brake calipers needed to be rebuilt, and the pedal cluster and shift-coupler bushings were toast.

When the outside of the car was reevaluated, it was determined that all of the original seals and rubber were rock hard, so most of these items were also replaced. Although the rest of the body was literally covered with flaking paint, rust, and small dents, Straub continued in his belief that it should be left alone. He did have one more idea for completing the car’s look, though.

Earlier that year, a set of original 15×7-inch magnesium Minilites became available from Straub’s friend Don Anderson. They had been on Anderson’s Speedster, which had been updated with disc brakes. When Don decided to go back to stock brakes, Straub bought the rare wheels. Now that he had the perfect car to put the wheels on, Straub mounted 195/60R15 Fal­ken all-season performance tires and installed longer studs on the non-flared 911 to make everything fit.

Photo: Rust Never Sleeps 5

With its original California black plate, original dealer license frame, “Drive Safely” Mobil Pegasus, and Cibie Biode headlights, the coupe was ready to roll.

Straub wasn’t quite done yet, however: He had a special addition for the interior. Luckily, this part of the car had escaped the ravages of salty air, heat, and time. The black dash and door panels were nearly perfect, the carpet was unworn, and the OEM rubber mats appeared to be in great shape. All of the dashboard lights and gauges worked, including the clock. And the old “1st Pacific International Grand Prix” dash plaque on the glovebox lid was retro-cool, too. The car also came with a gorgeous original tool kit complete with Messko tire gauge.

The only thing the cabin was missing? A cool seat.

Straub had just the item in mind. He had the good fortune of locating a real vintage “GT” or “Ferrari” seat that predates the more commonly found early 911 race buckets. This is very similar to the version originally used in factory 356 race cars and Speedsters, but was built wider to fit 911 seat rails — 17.5 inches between the center of the seat hinges. The “GT” seat Straub purchased was unrestored, with patina-perfect brown corduroy inserts.

Photo: Rust Never Sleeps 6

“It’s like sitting on cardboard,” Straub gleefully admits, referring to the seat’s original padding, or lack of it. Straub smiles bigger when he shares the observation of his friend, Skip Shirley: “The seat and wheels are worth more than the car!”

Straub didn’t care. He just had a feeling about the car. Confirmation that he was onto something came when he showed the rust-bitten coupe at 2010’s Coronado Speed Festival, “A couple of early 911 enthusiasts, Dave Eck and Mark Motshagen, started drooling all over the car’s ‘old school’ bits and told me that I should never paint it. I realized then what I had was a ‘time capsule survivor’.”

So what’s this honest but cosmetically challenged car like to drive? Climbing into the driver’s seat is like stepping back in time. In fact, it feels like somebody left popcorn in it from last night’s drive-in.

Whatever padding that was there has changed into something else. You sit on top of the seat more than in it, but the side bolsters do offer some support. The old race bucket sure looks authentic, though — and the leather-clad lap belts and over-sized wood steering wheel only add to the effect. Easy going and laid back are in the owner’s nature, and so it is with his car.

Photo: Rust Never Sleeps 7

All wear parts and rubber were inspected and then replaced or rebuilt, hence the engine bay’s cleanliness.

The carbureted flat six fires up eagerly with a twist of the key and a prod on the gas pedal. Unlike a five-speed 901, first gear is found by moving the stick forward. The clutch pedal is light, and away we go. As we make our way along a winding country road near Alpine, California, second gear is grabbed in a lazy arc.

Time slows down to meet us.

The shocks are perfectly in tune with the soft suspension. With its stock front anti-roll bar and small torsion bars, this ’67 911 sways on modern rubber through tight corners. However, it swallows every dip of the bumpy rural lane with ease and makes all the right noises along the way. The exhaust burbles contentedly behind our ears and is louder than stock, but not too loud. The Webers’ intake noise fills in the rest of the soundtrack, and forward progress is achieved with little effort.

“Simple” is the best way to describe the controls and gauges. Everything you need to know is there, nothing more. Select third gear and you’re transported back to 1967. The steering is a bit vague and full-throttle acceleration is somewhat lazy, but we’re in no rush. It’s actually something of a relief knowing that this innocuous looking, slab-sided 911 is not about to be accused of speeding too fast with its tarnished white paint and spoilerless shape.

It doesn’t matter anyway, because being in a hurry behind the wheel of this stock four-speed “normal” is never going to make sense. Best just to relax and enjoy the ride. But dark clouds are threatening to open a rainstorm overhead, so we head back to “the barn” to find cover. Wouldn’t want to add any more rust to a body that’s achieved such a perfectly balanced distribution of corrosion, I suppose…

It’s easy to poke fun at a car that goes against everything we take for granted, like concours paint jobs and high-dollar restorations. Yet original cars like this have a unique story to tell, a story that only evolves over time. Every spot, chip, and dent recalls an earlier trip, a miscalculated parking maneuver, a run-in with a stray stone, too many days put away wet.

You simply can’t make up a car like this. Its exterior shows the scars of an earlier life well lived, not something that’s been manufactured to create interest. Fortunately, Straub had the foresight to recognize this in his short-wheelbase 911.

Traditionally, nothing short of perfection will do for the Porsche faithful. Maybe some of them, like Straub, are becoming more comfortable with adopting cars that fit outside of this norm. Perhaps they enjoy pushing the boundaries of what’s acceptable. Or perhaps they’re simply gaining a better appreciation for the few remaining qualities that defy age — things like individualism, character, and authenticity — things not easily acquired.

“Owning one full-concours car is plen­ty,” contends Straub. “I find it amazing that, wherever I take this car, it receives so much attention. People either love it the way it is or ask, ‘When are you gonna paint it?’ My answer has become ‘I’m not. Why screw up all that juicy patina?’”

Also from Issue 196

  • 2012 Panamera S Hybrid
  • Tuned Cayman: Manthey M315
  • Interview: Michael Keyser
  • New 2012 911 Carrera!
  • Cayman R vs. Boxster Spyder
  • Carrera GTS vs. Cayman R
  • "The Fastest Speedster in the World."
  • 1970 911T: Gray Wolf
  • 997 GT3 RS at Sebring
  • Smart Buy: 1992-1995 928 GTS
  • Buyers Guide: 914, 986, 987
  • Tech Forum: M96 Savior?
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