NEARING 171 MPH IN A CROSSWIND AT THE TEXAS MILE set Bill MacEachern to reflecting. Not at that very moment, busy as he was behind the wheel, but later, on the way back to the hotel. He’d driven his 1976 911 Turbo some 600,000 miles up to this point — closing in on one million kilometers in international measure. Fair to say his feel for what was happening in this most recent mile exceeded the norm for seat-of-the-pants feedback.
“It just didn’t feel 100-percent stable, a little dancey-prancey shall we say,” he describes it. Bill is 74 and a storyteller. Nearly half his life is tied to this car, and life was never better than with its most recent engine developments, generating 480 hp during one run down the Texas Mile as determined by Traqmate.
“The wind was coming up — a heavy-duty side wind — and it was blowing me toward the cones,” continues Bill. “And I was going, ‘Whoa, I don’t want to turn this wheel too much because I don’t want to spin out or anything!’ So I thought on the way home to the hotel, you know, just driving over the years told me, ‘I’ll put some more air in these tires for tomorrow’s runs and see what happens.’ I had 40 psi in the rear. The rear was sticking like glue and was perfect. And I had 33 psi in the front. So I said, ‘Well, I’ll go up to 36 psi.’”
Dancey-pranceyness aside, entry number 930, the sole Porsche 930 running in the foot-to-the-floor festival in 2010, felt strong — and certainly capable of more speed the next day. How it had felt in the drive to Texas, though, from Toronto, Canada, via Atlanta, matters more in this story. And it felt better than ever before.
Bill drives everywhere, has been across the continent five times, and uses his 930 daily in his work. He loves being behind the wheel of the car he calls “The Wild Pony.”
His affinity for tire pressures began with his very first drive, May 3, 1976, on the way home from taking delivery at the Toronto airport freight depot. He was shocked to find the car wandering, the steering kicking back with every bump. Hans Pfaff, who founded the Porsche dealership that remains Canada’s largest, responded calmly when Bill climbed out of the car complaining.
“Hans just says, ‘I’m so sorry, Bill, I forgot to let some air out of the tires, they had pumped up the pressure for the shipping,’” recalls Bill. “And once he made that adjustment, it was perfect.”
His was the first 930 ordered into Canada, in the fall of 1975. Pfaff initially tried to talk him out of the $35,000 purchase. “He basically said, ‘Bill, are you crazy? I have a 911S in the showroom right now, this is what you should be buying. Turbocharging is new, it’s unproven…’” But Bill’s sights were firmly set on the 3.0-liter, 234-hp Turbo Carrera, the most muscular road-going Porsche ever. His second Porsche, a 1973 911T with a fuel-injected 2.4-liter six had disappointed him by not being faster than his first, a 1969 911T purchased in 1970.
“I’m one of those guys who likes what’s new and different, and I had been reading about turbocharging ever since Porsche introduced it in racing,” he says. “Another reason it had to be a 930 Turbo: It was the time of the first fuel crisis. Word was that sports cars were an endangered species. Miles per gallon was all that was going to matter in the future. So I figured it was my last chance at buying a truly exciting car. In fact, I ordered a custom license plate that thumbed my nose at the bureaucracy: MPG 021. It made Christophorus.”
BILL’S NEW CAR TURNED OUT TO BE 350TH in a required production run of 400 cars to qualify the 934 to race in the Group 4 category. Within a year, he’d come to understand ownership made him something of a junior partner in Porsche’s experiment of putting turbocharging in the hands of the public: Pfaff called to say Porsche wanted to exchange cylinder heads at no charge, after just 20,000 miles, to examine the effects of a turbo running on unleaded gasoline. Bill gladly accepted.
The “junior partnership” became more demanding post-warranty. The turbocharger needed to be replaced after only 25,000 miles. As time went on, turbos got better, lasting 35,000 to 40,000 miles. As for the boosted engines, Bill discovered as the years went on that rebuilds were necessary at 75,000 to 100,000 miles.
Yet not for a moment did he regret his purchase. The pleasure kept building. Sons Brian and Craig, 8 and 9 respectively when the car joined the family, grew up riding with dad to watch races at Elkhart Lake, Mont-Tremblant, and Watkins Glen.
That first summer, returning elated from Quebec, where Gilles Villeneuve had beaten Formula One world champion James Hunt in a Formula Atlantic race (and George Follmer edged Al Holbert in 934s in the Trans-Am event), the highway along the St. Lawrence appeared before him clear and perfect for a high-speed run.
“So I’m driving along at 125 and I decide to take it up to 150, which it did easily,” says Bill with a sparkle in his eyes. “I said to the boys, ‘Okay you guys, don’t let me ever see you do this except in a Porsche Turbo.’ I’ve been quoted in print on this story before, but the qualification ‘except in a Porsche Turbo’ got left out and it’s crucial.”
A Porsche Club of America driving school at Watkins Glen with 907-racer Steve Cohen instructing took Bill to new levels in relishing his 930. Track days at Mosport further developed his involvement. Sponsoring a 934 in the SCCA Trans-Am racing series, however, was a step he could scarcely believe himself.
“Al Holbert was my great hero,” Bill says of the American road-racing legend who later headed Porsche’s foray into Indy racing. “I couldn’t believe it when Ludwig Heimrath, a Canadian, beat him at Mosport in the Trans-Am race in August of 1976. The next year I went to Ludwig’s shop and asked him if my sons and I could help out in the pits. Mid-season, I asked him, ‘How much would it cost to get my company’s name on your car?’ And that’s how for $2,000 I became a Trans-Am team’s sponsor. That’s all it cost in 1977.”
Bill started his carpet-cleaning company in 1970, and his 911T was central to the business. He set out soliciting business with his steam-cleaning equipment packed into the 911’s passenger seat and rear luggage cavity. “I thought the high-tech image of the Porsche gave me credibility,” he says with a chuckle. “At the time, steam cleaning was heresy.” Now Deep Steam Cleaning was on the fenders of the 934 that Heimrath drove to the Trans-Am championship, defeating Peter Gregg (albeit after a prolonged legal dispute with the SCCA and international racing authorities).
How to make his 930 a little more like Ludwig’s 934? At the time, few modifications were available, so Bill turned to vintage racing for his fun. For a decade, he and son Brian alternated behind the wheel of a gorgeous, polished-aluminum Lotus 11, competing across North America, including at the Bonneville Salt Flats.
THE PROCESS OF MAKING THE 930 HIS OWN would wait 15 years before it began in earnest. After Brian moved to Flat Rock, North Carolina to open MacEachern Motorsport, which specializes in vintage racing engines, Bill’s attention returned to the 930 and a series of developments that continue, really, to this day.
Incompetents and scoundrels lie in wait. Also, Jerry Woods in Campbell, California, whose wheel alignment in their first meeting corrected bothersome handling that had existed since some flawed magician in Toronto changed the suspension bushings. Another gem: Auguste Lecourt, Heimrath’s race mechanic in ’77, whose Auguste Automobile Service in St. Catharines, Ontario provided refuge whenever somebody else’s promises delivered grief.
Bill talks about the peaks and valleys inevitable in longterm ownership. The car was repainted in 1995 — two decades into his ownership — in the same Midnight Blue he had insisted on in 1975 (Porsche initially declared it unavailable). That was a peak, absolutely. Budget troubles just as his first rebuilt engine expired, a valley.
A call from Canadian racer Rick Bye, whom Bill knew from Heimrath’s shop, was a lifesaver: Bye asked if Bill knew anyone interested in a 3.3-liter engine built by Tom Milner’s operation (Milner went on to run BMW’s North American race team) with a Garretson intercooler? For $5,000? How quickly do you suppose Bill replied?
Driving to Laguna Seca, California in 1998 when Porsche was honored at the Monterey Historics, another peak. Seeing the oil temperature climb in the mountains during the return trip, smelling exhaust when on boost, a low. Milner’s outstanding engine required renewal with 275,000 miles showing on the odometer.
“Meanwhile, I’m reading in Excellence about Porsche engines producing 800 to 900 horsepower,” says Bill. “And, like I said, I’m always interested in technological breakthroughs. So I decided to ship my car to this shop in California. Not that I’m blaming Excellence in any way for this, but it turned out to be the worst thing I ever did — as well as the start of everything that has followed.” Bill won’t stoop to naming the shop in question, noting only that it no longer advertises in Excellence.
The job took a year rather than a month as promised. The engine didn’t feel “right” in the long-anticipated drive home, which is to say nowhere close to 500 hp. Festering the sore, his wife complained of a troubling gasoline smell, which Bill dealt with by opening the sunroof. After limping home successfully, Auguste found low compression in cylinder number one. Bill got on the phone to California. The wizards there seemed shocked that anything was wrong and invited Bill to ship the Porsche back, which in a great leap of faith he did.
“After taking a look, they claimed nothing was really wrong except a loose wire on one of the coils,” says Bill. “But they phoned later to say they wanted me to be happy so they’d build it over again, which sounded great. I should have asked how much they would charge, because the night before I was to fly out to pick up the car, a courier delivered a stack of invoices and the total was exactly what I paid the first time. I got on the phone and yelled and screamed, but they had me hostage. I got stung, big time.”
California engine No. 2 expired with a spun bearing two years later. If tombstones were carved for engines, Victim of Improperly Reground Crankshaft would mark this one. “I could’ve bought a new Porsche for what I spent. I think of those guys in California as great architects, but lousy builders.”
His search for The Unfair Advantage — in this case, more power than generally thought reliable — inevitably involves missteps along the way. Didn’t Mark Donohue, the racer associated with the phrase, leave the field far behind in the 917/10’s first race at Mosport, only to slow with a turbo pressure relief valve sticking? Bill was there as a fan. And didn’t the 917/10 go on to dominate Can-Am racing?
In similar fashion, Bill accelerated into the new century after enduring his personal Y2k crisis. A new 3.4-liter engine Lecourt assembled in 2007, beginning with a fresh case and crank to distance it from the California caper, proved strong and reliable. A chance meeting with Marco Preiano of SEM Motorsports (see sidebar) led to further development and the Texas Mile.
A FEW DAYS AFTER BILL’S RETURN from the Texas Mile, we spent much of a day driving. Have you ever noticed how drivers in pictures of Porsches at speed invariably appear tight-lipped, jaw-clenched? At the wheel, Bill projects unbridled pleasure. He always seems on the edge of a grin.
We head east from Toronto with no particular place to go. In his 935 seat, he seems like a jazz drummer (he drummed as a hobby and is a huge fan of Art Blakey), at ease behind his kit whether laying down the beat for a ballad or wailing, as he puts it. That is, whether we’re soaring along the fast lane or dissecting cluttered lanes.
At 100 mph, the tach indicates 3000 rpm. “I have a 935 top gear Jerry Woods recommended,” he explains. “I told Jerry I wanted to cruise at 3000 rpm at 100 mph, and the taller gear he suggested is just perfect.”
Later, on winding roads to Mosport, he makes judicious use of the transmission he describes as “wonderful” for the full rush of 17.5 psi of turbo boost and a sequence of sounds awfully close to the outer limits of jazz most folks can’t tolerate for any length of time. “Hear that popoff?” he asks and, yes, of course you do. Frequently, too, whenever he lifts off the gas for a downshift. “I have a friend who says it sounds like subway doors closing; I get such a kick out of that.”
The ride is firm-plus. “How do you like those bang-bangs?” asks Bill after a scattering of potholes. “I’m going to be doing something to the front end. I’ve got 400-pound springs. I’m going to replace them with 300-pounders.”
An array of gauges relays essential information. Monitoring the fuel-pressure rates highly with Bill since running lean once resulted in expensive repairs. Temperatures of the turbocharged air entering and exiting the intercooler are another fascination: A downshift to third gear and hard acceleration used to raise the pre-intercooler temperature from 173° to 186°, but only from 100° to 101° after cooling.
After three-and-a-half decades of development, the 930 is to his taste in every detail. Few notice until he points it out, but he had the top section of a “tea tray” spoiler from A.I.R. grafted into his original Turbo tail to accommodate his first intercooler, back in 1995. Why? Because he loves the silhouette of the original 930 and felt the full tea tray would ruin the lines. The rear aero lip above the rear window came from Performance Products. The five-lug wheels, which recall the look of the centerlock 917 wheels Porsche used on 934s, are from John James Racing/Penta Motorsports.
Bill is exacting. He sources his brake discs from Coleman Racing Products in Menominee, Minnesota, citing their durability and price. A Bully Performance clutch, made in Ottawa, was Marco Preiano’s recommendation in combination with a Patrick Racing pressure plate, and Bill applauds the result. “Some competition clutches can wear out your leg, but this one is better than fine — it’s perfect. Never since day one have I had a clutch like this.”
When did the 930 become his forever car? Somewhere between the thrill of being first on the block with a Turbo and realizing he’d not swap for a new Porsche, he’s unsure exactly when: “I learned from vintage racing that old race cars never stop racing, they’re just rebuilt and raced some more. Same with the 930; I came to think that if anything went wrong I could have it fixed. And here I am, still fixing.”
Still fixing? The fanbelt pulley cracking in rural Oregon, he’s not about to forget that one. The fuse box fire. The crack in the chassis ahead of the engine that developed after installing coil-over springs without the necessary bracing in 2003. A crunched rear quarter panel thanks to the little old guy in the SUV in Iron Wood, Michigan as he was beginning another trek to Monterey, California in 2009. All fixable.
The plan was to reach 621,371 miles — 1,000,000 kilometers — at the 2010 Texas Mile. But Bill endured a summer on the sidelines as slow reassembly after the car’s second paint job kept it garage-bound with 597,583 miles on the odometer.
BILL CAME PERILOUSLY CLOSE TO MISSING THE TEXAS MILE ALTOGETHER. Coming upon a hidden intersection of country roads near Watkins Glen six weeks prior to the Lonestar State’s showdown, the 930 bottomed out with such force that the shock absorbers slammed through their towers and the exhaust system was flattened.
Departure for Goliad, Texas via Atlanta — where he was hooking up with son Brian — was delayed by extensive underbody repairs and complicated by a last-day wheel alignment at a shop that refused to consider Jerry Woods’ settings, or, for that matter, Porsche’s, instead coming up with something approximating a grocery cart with a sticking front wheel.
Bill says it was all he could do to keep the car on the road as he drove south, but after finding his way to Renngruppe Motorsports at Lexington, North Carolina, the 930 smoothed out with the proper settings. The dancey-pranceyness at the Texas Mile was another matter. You’ll remember his resolution to add three pounds of air pressure to the front tires. He did indeed.
“On the way from the hotel to the track on Saturday morning, I said, ‘Hey, this is working,’” he recalls. “And at the track, it was straight as a die the whole run.” He hit 175.6 mph at age 73, with 601,249 miles showing on his 34-year-old 930’s odometer.
Pushing Bill for dramatic recollection is unproductive. He’s not that kind. “The thing is, you have no idea how fast you’re going,” he says. “But it certainly felt good, having never been at 175 before.” What about the bumps, Bill? “It looks bumpy when you watch the video, but it isn’t when you’re driving. You don’t feel it.”
The wipers, mirrors, and antenna were removed for son Brian’s turn at the wheel, as in the days when they alternated in the vintage racing Lotus 11. “I said, just hold the throttle at 3300 rpm, let the clutch out, and put your foot to the floor,” recalls Bill. “He said he never in his life got such a shove in the back. He said he barely had time to shift; he was in fourth by the quarter mile.” Brian’s speed: 176.5 mph.
Bill thinks of 185 mph as a reasonable goal next time. For now, he appears content to sit back and reflect. “If you were a member of the racing fraternity back in 1975, like Ludwig Heimrath was and I wasn’t,” he muses, “you could have ordered a 934 for only $10,000 more than I paid for the 930. The other day I saw a 934 on eBay, Buy It Now, $455,000.”
After one of Bill’s runs in the Texas Mile, Brian said it sounded like a 935 on the front straight at Mosport, back in the day. The senior MacEachern smiles as he tells that story. “At some point, my goal became making the 930 into a 934,” he says. “And I feel now that I’ve finally got there.”
Chance Meeting: Prepping the 930 for the Texas Mile
A Turbo slant nose Cabriolet closed on an early, apparently non-intercooled Turbo on a toll road north of Toronto. The older 930 accelerated, and the lettering on the red U.S. Marine booster sticker in the 930’s rear window blurred in the expanding distance, easing forward with an F/A-18 Hornet’s thrust. There was an intercooler hidden under what appeared to be a stock early Turbo tail. Also, a host of modifications contributing to 365 hp and 387 lb-ft of torque.
The drivers in question, Marco Preiano (overly confident in the stock Slant) and Bill MacEachern (smiling his trademark grin in the sleeper), had both been bound for the PCA Upper Canada Region’s “Shift into Spring.” There they met for the first time, conversing after each recognized the other’s Porsche. Preiano explained that he ran a performance shop and was a drag racer with a best run of 10.32 seconds at 154 mph in his own Turbo. Fascinated, Bill subsequently visited the shop, SEM Motorsports, to exchange ideas. But when Bill’s flat six was due for a rebuild a few months later, he returned to trusted Auguste Automobile Service in St. Catharines, Ontario.
The fresh 3.4 unit attained 415 hp in the fall of 2009 after dyno tuning by Paul Neethling at his Oakville, Ontario shop, Neetronics. Neethling, well known in pro rallying for his work on winning Subarus, advocated a critical switch to an Autronic engine control unit and the installation of Acura coils on each cylinder.
Only later, after earning Bill’s trust, did Preiano become involved. “Bill had been dropping by to talk, but…then he had a problem with his car shutting down and he thought it was one of his fuel pumps,” explains Preiano. “I put some thought into it and found the main wire for his standalone was loose.” Preiano then argued that three fuel pumps, as installed in an earlier engine build in California, were two too many. Two were removed, and Bill gained further respect for the hot-rodder’s thinking.
“I said, ‘You know what, you need to get a real turbocharger (a Precision 6262),’ and we did the injectors at the same time because I felt he was running out of fuel — so we got him some 830-cc, flow-matched injectors,” recalls Preiano of progress made in 2009. While Bill’s 930 was undergoing its second paint job and its first interior restoration in the winter of 2009/2010, Preiano modified the 3.2-liter intake manifold to accept an 80-mm throttle body for improved flow. At some point, he brought up the idea of entering the car in the Texas Mile.
Great, Bill said, he’d consider that.
To cool the cocktail that was charged more forcefully than ever before, Preiano designed a new intercooler housing with end tanks that improved air flow around the core. A beautiful piece of compound-curved polished aluminum it is, and Bill subsequently noted a 25-percent reduction of intake temperatures.
On August 9, 2010, as Neethling’s tuning maximized the cumulative effect of Preiano’s modifications, Bill’s engine registered 525 hp at 6000 rpm and 485 lb-ft at 5400 rpm. With this, Bill drove his 34-year-old 930 Turbo to 175.6 mph at the Texas Mile. —DP
POSTSCRIPT: Almost a month after driving home to Toronto without incident, a water-methanol injection system (not used in Texas) locked up, pumping fluid non-stop and causing Bill’s engine to hydrolock, fracturing pistons, bending two valves, and spitting bits through the turbocharger. A hugely more powerful engine was in assembly as this was written — to propel MacEachern in Texas or wherever the urge for foot-to-the-floor runs might take him.