Olive Tart

A chance encounter with an early 911 leads to an S-T conversion—38 years later.

Photo: Olive Tart 0
May 18, 2012

ON A SPRING AFTERNOON IN 1974, A YOUNG MAN WAS STROLLING TO dinner in Manhattan when he caught sight of something familiar yet mysterious.While Porsche 911s had never really interested him, the one at the curb was different. The young man’s dinner party would have to wait. This deserved a closer look.

The German machine had a set of fender flares that swelled like the curves of a voluptuous screen idol. Beneath them were familiar alloy wheels, but much wider than normal and wrapped with sticky racing rubber. A peek inside revealed a roll hoop and a pair of fixed-back racing seats.

I’m there when the same man, now 38 years older, twists the ignition key to a car that’s occupied a corner of his mind through college, marriage, children, and career.No, it’s not the flared beast he gazed upon that spring Manhattan day. This Porsche is his own creation, but it has clearly been inspired by that car.

An uncharacteristically juvenile grin crosses the face of this pleasant but serious personality. This will be his first drive in a car he has planned out to the finest detail. This will be a good day.

There’s no way of knowing what Tom saw parked on that Manhattan street 38 years ago.Whatever it was, the modified Porsche burrowed its way deep into the psyche of a quiet guy who, in his own words, “didn’t really care for 911s.”

Photo: Olive Tart 1

Tom’s recollections suggest the car was most likely a variation on a 911 known as the “S-T.” Homologated for Group 3 and 4 GT competition, the model was offered as a sports version of the top-of-the-line 911S between 1969 and 1972. “911S-T” was the factory’s internal designation for a 911S ordered without option code 470, 90 excellence AUGUST 2012 which included the comfort equipment separating the upmarket 911S and 911E from the basic (and lighter) 911T.

While 911S-Ts were constructed on the main production line, they were sent to Porsche’s competition department to receive a host of modifications and optional equipment before delivery.As a result, the cars differ in many details. Production numbers aren’t easy to pin down, either, with some saying 114 examples were built while others believe the number of factory-built S-Ts to be much lower. Certainly, a number of ex-factory 911s were modified into “S-Ts” with components that Porsche made available to customers through an instruction manual/parts catalog titled Information Regarding Porsche Vehicles Used for Sports Purposes.

What Tom probably saw was a 911 that had been modified by a privateer racer or enthusiast, but its appearance fit the basic S-T mold: an early 911 with wider wheels, large fender flares, and no ducktail. Getting the general look is not rocket science. Tom, however,wanted more than the general look when he dropped a tired 1971 911S off at Auto Associates in Canton, Connecticut in 2008. He wanted a thorough and exacting S-T conversion.

Scott McPherson, a principle at Auto Associates,was entrusted with the mechanical aspect of the project.He demonstrates the stoic understatement New Englanders are known for when he says the project—which came to be known as Olive Tart—is “based on a recipe we had done before.” That recipe

included hard-to-find factory parts so rare that one wonders whether it might have been easier to open a zoo that features only unicorns and mermaids. Tom was undeterred; he would assemble the necessary parts.

Photo: Olive Tart 2

Of course, a good recipe and great ingredients will only get you so far. Even with the best ingredients and a proven recipe for dark chocolate cake, how many of us could really give Betty Crocker a run for her money? Similarly, a project like this one takes more than a concept and a pile of parts. It takes skill, commitment, and something more: flair. You’ve got to make the right call, time and again.

Consider this car’s unusual color.When the 911S rolled into the shop in Canton, it was wearing the same bright red applied to so many cheap restorations of the 1980s and 1990s. Tom could have chosen traditional German white or silver, but the paint tag on his 911’s door jamb was stamped 3939S. The S indicated a special-order color, and the four digits identified it as Olive. Tom mulled his options and then made a decision:He would restore the car in its original and unusual color.

“Although this 911S is a hot rod, it just didn’t seem right to go for a color change. So it’s going to be Olive!” said Tom at the time. It was a risky call, but it would prove to be the right one.

The project moved forward, as many do, with a bit of luck. Shortly after work began, an old 911 race car came into the shop for wider fender flares. Per the customer’s instructions, paint and body specialist Ken Bronsord cut the existing flares off the old race car. These turned out to be factory steel S-T flares, so they were set aside for the Olive Tart.

Meanwhile, other important body parts were added. A pair of new old stock (NOS) aluminum door skins from the Vasek Polak collection were fitted to the original doors’ inner structures. Responding to an ad for old racing parts in Massachusetts, Tom found an aluminum factory roll bar in a dusty basement where it had sat for 30 years. Later, he learned about a small stash of original parts from a wrecked factory S-T in Germany. Included was an optional fiberglass hood with balsa reinforcements. It still wore its original livery, identifying the car to which it was originally fitted.

Photo: Olive Tart 3

An aluminum engine lid, complete with holes for rubber hold-downs and aluminum rain shields above the intake stacks, completed the lightweight lid set, while an aluminum rear valance was trimmed to accommodate a factory 911R/S-T rally exhaust. Other factory-style modifications include gussets in the engine bay and around the rear shock mounts, gussets on the factory jack points, and a front shock-tower brace made from spherical rod ends and a 917 rear suspension strut.

One especially dear piece destined for the car was a NOS fiberglass S-T bumper. However, the thought of subjecting such a delicate and rare component to street use caused a re-think. Instead, a steel front bumper was modified to duplicate the fiberglass piece’s contours.

The crashed 911S-T that offered up its hood also supplied an original Plexiglas rear window, complete with a sun-cracked factory “2,2” engine decal. The remaining window apertures were filled with Plexiglas. To clarify, new Plexiglas was not cut and used. No, these were NOS windows wrapped in Porsche packaging. This includes the door, front quarter, and rear side windows…all of it NOS!

The next phase was finding a suitable engine. Opportunity came knocking again, this time in the form of an old IMSA race car listed for sale on the web. 30 years earlier, Porsche had supplied a 2.5-liter engine to Andial that somehow made its way into this tired race car. Buy a car to get an engine? Yes, because said engine had components Tom would need to accurately replicate a 2.5-liter S-T engine.

One of those was the engine’s small diameter cooling fan, which minimizes parasitic losses at high rpm. To each side of the fan are small oil lines feeding center-lube camshafts. The distributor is a period 12-terminal Marelli unit. As cool as these bits were, the induction made the used engine a must-have.

Photo: Olive Tart 4

Early 911 racing engines used 46-mm Weber carburetors. Later RSRs used slide valve fuel injection. In between came a short-lived system called“high-butterfly.” High-butterfly throttle bodies are similar to the throttle bodies used on regular-production Porsches of the era, but their butterflies

(throttle plates) were positioned at the top of the stacks instead of the bottom. By locating the plates at the big end of the stack, the plate’s profile made up a smaller percentage of the opening for slightly less restriction.Most of these systems had 43-mm bores.Only a tiny number were made with the 41-mm bores that make them correct for an early 911S-T, but the donor engine had them—as well as the correct racing fuel-injection pump.

Some surprises were discovered when the engine was disassembled.The first was half a set of titanium 917 connecting rods. The second was a set of 93-mm pistons, which swelled the displacement to 2.9 liters — a change made when the car’s previous owner began competing at Porsche Owners Club events.

One wouldn’t expect a high-revving endurance racer to use the same oiling system as a production street car, and the S-T doesn’t disappoint. Replication of its

system wouldn’t be easy. The first item needed was the small Preschona uberdruckventil (over-pressure valve) fitted to the oil-tank filler. This magnesium valve prevents the front-mounted oil coolers from rupturing by diverting cold oil from its normal path back into the tank.

Photo: Olive Tart 5

The oil coolers themselves are special. While the right-front fender holds a standard 2.2-liter 911S cooler, the left cooler is a mirror image and specifically designed for the 911S-T. These extra components require additional oil lines and fittings that have not been available for decades. Tom’s solution was to commission a German machinist to fabricate exacting copies of the original fittings and collars.

The engine parts were refurbished and reassembled by Jim Newton and Scott McPherson at Auto Associates, who say the flat six made 263 rear-wheel horsepower at 7300 rpm.At that point, still well below redline, the 2.9 was still adding power, but respect kept them from twisting the fresh engine to 8000 rpm.

The 911S’s original 911/01 gearbox transfers the engine’s torque to the rear wheels. A custom gearbox was planned, but when the original was opened for examination, the team at Auto Associates was stunned to find that it had already been modified with a 904 mainshaft and a custom gear stack. The only thing they added was a NOS ZF limited-slip differential.

Chasing Tom on the way to our photo shoot, I lower the windows and bask in the glory of the 2.9-liter flat six warbling through the rally exhaust. The car’s color, off-putting in theory,works extremely well in person. It’s rich and absolutely period correct, unusual without being flamboyant.

When we leave the first photo location, I hop into the Olive Tart’s passenger seat. It’s another opportunity to look around the interior.While a lot of equipment has been removed in the name of lightness, there’s still a lot to look at, like those Repa racing harnesses. Most privateer teams would have sourced a racing harness from Britex or Autoflug. Porsche used Repa harnesses with factory-style latches, and the ones in Tom’s car were removed from a factory 911S-T rally car.

Photo: Olive Tart 7

The fiberglass Recaro buckets beneath those belts wear bold green-and-blue tartan plaid. Sourced from Edmond Harris in England, they are one of the details Tom knew would fit his car’s personality perfectly. Meanwhile, a Halda Twin Master computer and Heuer Rally Master stopwatch perch on an original aluminum bracket in front of the door-less glovebox.

Driving through town, I ask Tom for some of his first impressions. “It’s like driving my old ’73 T,” he says unhesitatingly. Then, with a shake of his head, he says, “I wouldn’t hesitate to drive this car to California right now.”That’s high praise for a stripped-out early 911. It can’t be that good, can it?

I’m still thinking “race-car” when I twist the ignition key for myself.Within a couple of revolutions, the 2.9 fires up and—gasp!—settles into a smooth idle. Easing the shifter over and back to select first,

I make a mental note on how the clutch isn’t significantly heavier than a stock unit.

The flat six may idle nicely, but throttle response is lightning fast.With a lightweight flywheel, an aluminum clutch, and those titanium connecting rods, there’s no masking the 2.9’s ultra-light reciprocating assembly. This is a good thing, unless you are trying to pull away without stalling the engine or slipping the clutch mercilessly. With a couple of blips of the throttle, I get a sense for where the engine’s sweet spot and clutch take-up meet and then pull away, smooth as ’80s jazz.

Photo: Olive Tart 6

The car’s lack of mass leaves an impression, as well. Every input is fed through the factory-original, thick-grip 380-mmsteering wheel with sparkling clarity.Acceleration, braking, and turn-in are quick, precise, intuitive. The more I drive, the thing that sticks out is that nothing is really sticking out. There are none of the overt characteristics you expect from what is essentially an old race car.

One example is the tires. I was looking forward to forming an opinion of the Dunlop race tires mounted on 15×7 911R Fuchs up front and wider 15-inch Minilite magnesium wheels out back. However, I’m so caught up in the glorious noise from the rally exhaust and mighty tug of the engine that I never end up giving the tires any conscious thought because they’re a non-issue. Tom will later tell me that their square edges occasionally get caught on grooves in the road.Aside from that, he says they simply do what they’re supposed to, which is provide plenty of grip.

The same holds true with the engine. The high-butterfly induction, with ports big enough to swallow small woodland creatures, shouldn’t be a tractable setup, but it is.Despite the sharp throttle response, I was expecting the usual soggy midrange And gurgling combustion under load. Wrong.With an apology to Tom, I lugged the engine below 2000 rpm, rolled into the gas, and got instantaneous response.

So, nearly four decades later, Tom has a conduit to his youth. The Olive Tart may not be a pseudo period race car, but it accurately reflects what the mechanical artists at Porsche were doing 40 years ago—and does so appropriately. There’s just something to the feel of this car.Beyond all its details, the fit and finish are spot-on without being overdone.There are no rough edges or shortcuts, yet one would never look at the car and think “garage queen.”

No, this is a car meant to be driven, and while I have driven faster early 911s, few ended up satisfying as “the complete package” like this one.But, to be absolutely sure, I think I need another hour or two behind the wheel. Tom, are you listening?

Also from Issue 202

  • F.A. Porsche, 1935-2012
  • 1958 550A Spyder: Badly burned car restored
  • 1984 911 Turbo: 700+ hp ethanol conversion
  • 2012 TechArt 991S: First drive
  • 1962 356 Carrera 2000 GS
  • 1970 914
  • 1982 924 Turbo
  • Smart Buy: 1984-86 Carrera
  • ACC InnoDrive: Driving an autonomous Porsche
  • Meet the man who founded IMSA
  • Hydro-Pneumatic
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