From Scratch

A discarded 1984 Targa shell bought for $500 becomes a turbocharged 911 Speedster.

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March 2, 2012

Building any car from “scratch” requires a lot of parts. Taking a derelict Targa — just a shell of a car, really — and building it into a tribute to 1989’s 911 Speedster takes a lot of very special, very rare parts.

Porsche built just 2,103 examples of the 1989 911 Speedster, shipping 818 to the U.S. If you wanted one, you had to hustle and you had to have the cash. Dealers regularly asked buyers to pay a premium over the $65,480 sticker. As used cars, they went for even more. That certainly had an affect on used parts availability: As collector cars, 1989 Speedsters aren’t exactly the kind of 911s that end up in wrecking yards on a regular basis. So what about new parts? Well, limited-production cars mean limited-production spare parts.

Jerry Manna isn’t easily discouraged by such obstacles.

“I’ve had my hands on a couple hundred Porsches!” says Jerry, who discovered the joys of Porsches decades ago. Despite his long history with the marque — one that includes owning a multiple-concours-winning 1957 356 Speed­ster and a PCA Porsche Parade class-winning 930S — he was immediately drawn to the beauty, style, and excitement of the 1989 Speedster.

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“I had the passion, but not the money!” says Jerry. But he never let go of the idea of owning one. In the back of his mind, he figured he might even be able to build one himself and maybe, just maybe, somehow go one better than the original.

That’s where parts come in.

Jerry describes himself as a “parts jun­kie.” He and close friend Pete Bar­telli like to haunt Porsche swap meets held at places like Hershey and Mechanics­burg in Penn­sylvania. In the early days, he wasn’t buying for any purpose in particular. “I’d buy any parts I could find as long as they were good and reasonable,” he says. “I had a lot of Turbo parts.”

Jerry credits his friend Marcello Nieto for helping to educate him about all things Por­sche, and especially for his love of parts. Jerry says Marcello used to tell him, “Save that bolt, Jerry Manna. Some­day, you are going to need it!” So, long before he had a firm plan in place to build his own Speed­ster, Jerry unknowingly started to accumulate some of the parts he’d need.

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Then nature intervened: Healthy and energetic all his life, Jerry was diagnosed with severe blockage and needed open heart surgery. “I began to put my life in order.” To relieve his wife of a burden in case the worst happened, he started to sell off his collection of Porsche parts, including very valuable Speedster parts.

Fortunately, the operation was 100-percent successful and, shortly after his recovery he was back in top form — even competing in hardball squash tournaments at the local YMCA. All this happened around 1998, nearly a decade after the 1989 Speed­ster set a fire under Jerry. That fire hadn’t died, either: Jerry returned to looking for hard-to-find Speedster bits, searching local swap meets. Eventually, he hit pay dirt.

Jerry, who seems to have a photographic memory for this kind of stuff, says he had seen the very same stash of ’89 Speedster parts — a windshield, a pair of side windows, the double-hump fairing, and a canvas roof — at a swap meet a year earlier. The parts were in great shape, but he took a pass because of the asking price.

The seller had tried to do the conversion but gave up and wanted to cash out. “I’m pretty sure he paid around $6,000 for the parts — too expensive for me!” says Jerry. “He’d wanted to convert a Targa to a Cabriolet (and) told me that it was a difficult project.” Jerry had offered to lend the man a book from Porsche on how to convert a 911 Targa into a Cab­rio­let. One year later, the man was ready to sell the parts at a greatly reduced price. How reduced? All Jerry will say is this: “He wanted a lot more!”

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Jerry continued to buy parts, including a Euro-spec 3.2-liter engine and a G50 transmission. “The engine was $4,500 and is rated at 230 hp,” he says. “The transmission was another $1,500.” But it wasn’t until he found a stripped 1984 Targa shell for $500 that the project really took off. As part of the deal, he was able to buy two 1994 964 Speed­ster doors and RS door cards. He soon added a pair of 930 quarter panels to his cache, buying them from a friend who does Gem­balla conversions.

Around the same time, 1999, Jerry was at the Hershey Porsche swap when he spotted a pile of 930 parts. One vendor had 930 front fenders, front and rear bumpers, side rockers, rear lower extensions, and a new old stock speedometer. But Jerry felt the prices were too high. “So I went back at the end of the day and he said, ‘Well, whaddya gonna give me for this?’” Jerry made a lowball offer of $800. It was accepted. “That was a great price!” exclaims Jerry.

It’s important to mention that building this car wasn’t Jerry’s full-time job. He has a “real job” working for a Fortune 500 company, and worked on the car in his limited spare time. Things were moving forward, but the pace was slow. About that time, Jerry’s local mechanic — Paul Faieta at Proto­Sport in Pompton Plains, New Jersey — offered his services as a project manager. Jerry, while a very hands-on kind of guy, accepted the offer. After hanging the fenders and doors himself, he put the car on a trailer and towed it to ProtoSport.

“I brought the car to Paul and the project promptly stalled!” says Jerry with a grin before admitting that the problem was his continuing search for parts. Then came a temptation that would change the direction of the project. “Paul called and said he was building a Protomotive Stage 1 en­gine for a track junkie, but that the guy had changed his mind and wanted more power, I don’t know, maybe Stage 4,” recalls Jerry. “Paul said he wanted me to have the Stage 1 motor for my car. He said, ‘We want you to have it — but you have to pay up front!’”

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Stage 1 was Protomotive’s entry-level kit and was special because it didn’t require an intercooler. “This is for cars that don’t have a tail,” says Jerry, who felt the deal was too good to pass up. “So everything came to a standstill until I could figure out what was needed to make the whole project go in the direction of a supercar. That’s a project-changing moment: You’re going from a 230-horsepower regular car to a 360-horsepower car with 345 lb-ft of torque. You gotta change everything!”

Eventually, Jerry made up his mind: “I said to myself, ‘You know what? In for a nickel, in for a dime. I want better seats, a better radio, better this and that…” Using his network of Porsche friends built over 40 years, he started to source the goodies he would need.

The next thing Jerry found was a pair of like-new Graphite Gray 993 Turbo seats. He already had a blue canvas roof, so he decided to paint the car dunkelblau (dark blue) so that the 993 seats would be a perfect complement. He farmed the paintwork out to Walo’s Auto Body in Pompton Plains. For around $6,000, they prepped and painted the body and welded in the frame for the canvas soft top.

“So now I had the car back, but still no engine,” says Jerry. I ask if this is when he put the interior in and he shakes his head, chuckling. “Don’t forget, when you have a car with no roof, there’s no structural integrity. So what ProtoSport had to do was strengthen the chassis. [They] weld in double-sidewalls along the laterals. They take thick-gauge metal, bend it along the curves, hammer it, and heat it on the inside, front to back. They TIG-welded that son of a gun in there — strong as iron!”

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Once the reinforcements were in place, Jerry began to install the interior. His attention turned to the suspension next: “I had sold — right before my surgery — two sets of Turbo rear bananas. For nothing! So now I had to re-buy them, which cost a fortune. Then I had to have them rebuilt and shipped to Proto­Sport.”

Unfor­tunately, the 1984 chassis had the wrong torsion tube to accommodate the G50 transmission. To solve that problem, Proto­Sport cut the Targa’s center tube out and welded in a G50 torsion tube. Proto­Sport modified the spring plates so the rear end could be lowered without excessive negative camber.

“This is really where ProtoSport shows its expertise,” opines Jerry. “They were familiar with this because of the many years of experience they have in fabrication and modification of Porsche cars for competitive events. Using coil-over springs and their spring-plate modification, they were able to lower the car enough to have an aggressive-looking stance and (excellent) handling while providing an exceptionally comfortable ride.”

Jerry kept a detailed diary of the entire project on several yellow legal pads. As he searches his notes, he stops mid-page and laughs out loud. Pointing to one line, he says, “One day, Paul called me and asked, ‘Are you standing next to your checkbook?’” Appar­ently, Paul made that call after Walo’s Auto Body pulled the gas tank and discovered the front pan was bad. A new factory pan had to be purchased and welded in after the original was cut out.

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Meanwhile, Jerry says he had to find and assemble “hundreds of screws and levers and latches just to make the roof work.” But he also needed pretty fundamental parts like wheels and tires, a new wiring harness, Turbo tie rods, a 23-mm brake master cylinder, 930 brakes, a full set of gauges with a dashboard to hold them, a carpet set, a “seat delete option” storage compartment, an oil cooler, and literally everything else. As he puts it, it was “a marvelous game of finding the parts.”

Just before the car was ready to receive the engine, Jerry’s concours judge DNA came to light: “I sent all the engine hardware and upper parts to be powder-coated in matching body color with silver accents.” Proto­Sport, meanwhile, installed a hand-built, single-pipe exhaust. Says Jerry: “It provides not only the correct back pressure, but an unbelievably throaty roar!”

When Jerry finally got the call to come down to the shop to test drive his car for the first time, Paul told him, “You’re never gonna drive your ’79 930 again.” Jerry laughed and said, “That’s bogus. When I drive my 930, it’s like holding a tiger by the tail! It’s a howlin’, screamin’ mass. There’s nothing like it — it’s the supreme adrenalin rush.” So how does Jerry like his Turbo Speedster? “It just doesn’t seem like it has 360 hp because of the way it handles, the way it drives. It’s a wonderful car to drive, and it never fails to attract a crowd. And then people see the picture of the original $500 chassis and they go crazy.”

Jerry estimates he has close to $60,000 in the car, and he’ll continue to show and drive the car because it’s the culmination of a lot of work and the fulfillment of a dream. “I think the completion of this car justifies the vision I had for it. It has the appearance of the original 1989 widebody Speedster, yet at second glance it has a somewhat more dangerous feel. For me, knowing I built it from scratch — or seeing the look on someone’s face when I show them a picture of the chassis I started with — is almost as much of a kick as when I drive it down a twisty mountain road.”

Behind the wheel

After hearing Jerry’s description of his car, I’m itching to get behind the wheel. As I settle in, the 993 seat’s contours hug me perfectly. I notice the benefit of that odd, flat-bottom steering wheel immediately: more thigh room for my XL thighs. My XL feet, however, notice a certain tightness to the left of the clutch, the result of the chassis bracing.

The turbocharged flat six bursts to life easily and, with the top stowed, I’m treated to the “roar” Jerry finds so intoxicating. I blip the gas pedal a few times and find myself smiling and in complete agreement. Soon we’re on a hilly, twisty section of Gar­den State two-lane with top speeds in the 45-mph range. Throttle response is excellent as we squirt from 25 right up to (and a little past…) the posted limits. Shifting is pure G50 — smooth, with a satisfyingly mechanical feel.

Handling through tight corners is neutral, with sharp turn-in and great feedback. The roads are typical Northeast. Despite their less-than-perfect surfaces, there’s absolutely none of the cowl shake I have experienced in some factory-built open cars. I mention this to Jerry and he’s quick to credit the chassis reinforcements. What’s more, I don’t hear any squeaks or rattles — although, with the top down and the motor singing, that might be expected!

The 930 brakes are known for their impressive bite and ease of modulation, and this set of stoppers is no exception. The powerband, however, comes as something of a surprise. When I think “impact-bum­per 911” and “tur­bo,” I expect neck-snapping bursts of acceleration with a bi­nary, on/off powerband. But this setup exhibits no such behavior. Instead, the flat six has a linear powerband that’s more torquey Ameri­can V8 than peaky German F6. Altogether, it’s a wonderful car to drive. It’s a convertible 911 that offers strong acceleration, great handling, and good noises. What’s not to like?

Also from Issue 200

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  • Driven: Ruf Rt12R
  • Jerry Seinfeld's 550-03
  • 991 across America
  • Bandido: Hot-rod 356 Speedster
  • Peter Schutz looks back
  • 2011 Rennsport Spyder
  • In aluminum: 356 Abarth GTL replica
  • 362,470-mile, one-owner 912
  • Fairy tale 24: Daytona 2012
  • The Longest Day, 1982
  • Stolen! Is your Porsche safe?
  • Tech Forum: Inside the 911 R
  • Interview: Dennis Aase
  • Smart Buy: 912
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