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A 1968 911L Trans-Am racer hits the street

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September 8, 2015

Porsche’s 911L, factory-built nearly half a century ago in limited quantities, has always been a rare breed. After all, only 16 of these factory-lightened, rally-kitted Porsches made it to America. Rarer still is the destiny that an original buyer of one might own that same car now. Rarest of all is the likelihood that today’s owner could be that very person who first raced this Porsche brand new and, 47 years on, currently road rallies it.

Further, if not altogether too hard to swallow, the car is a former SCCA entry presently liveried exactly the same as when it was the runner-up in 1968’s Trans-Am Series Under 2-liter category championship. Really? Absolutely! Which is why we’ve dug deep into this Porsche’s far-reaching, energetic narrative—rife with provenance and theater—gratifyingly mustered from its first owner, interim custodians and restorers, and now bookended with the original title-holder of serial number 11810482, Bob Bailey.

I call Bailey’s cell, the new iPhone6 he’s been taking pictures with while he and son, Cannon, drive the 1968 911L in 2015’s 25th Anniversary Copperstate 1000. Bob answers on speakerphone somewhere in Arizona.

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“It’s a great group of people and cars going through parts of the country where we’ve never been before,” Bailey says. “There are about 80 of us and not a cloud in the sky.”

“It’s been a nice transition for the Porsche,” adds Cannon, his voice fresh and quick. “It likes high rpms. With the big fuel cell, 26 gallons, it can run almost all day. It’s not nearly as loud inside as it is on a track when there’s no firewall back where the engine is and with race pipes.” The Baileys are at rest stop; it’s oddly quiet right now.

“We’ve been talking about how many miles we have under our belts,” Bob’s son says, “after driving on all the different race tracks for the past few years. Now we’re getting to put a lot of miles on the road.”

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Jason Hiler, who’s been chasing the Baileys on the Copperstate in Heritage Motorcar Restoration/Research’s (HMR) big Dodge pickup, has only had to lean out the Porsche’s carbs in higher altitudes, and raise its McPherson strut/torsion bar front suspension a bit for sections with rougher roads. Rear suspension—torsion bar/semi trailing arms—remains pre-rally set. I am assured this ex-Trans-Am racing Porsche, sporting beefy-beyond-standard anti-roll bars fore and aft, along with double-effect shocks on all four corners, really digs the Copperstate’s roads.

“We’re mostly going 75 mph,” Cannon replies when asked about speed. “In remote stretches, where it’s straight as far as you can see, we open it up more. We can drive this car five hours straight with no problems.”

Jason Hiler and Jason Lee of HMR in St, Petersburg, Florida readied Bailey’s 911L for the 1,000-mile road rally and, before that, “re-restored” the Porsche from its vintage race car go-faster state to strictly how it came to Bailey when first delivered. The old L hadn’t looked so good, nor run so well, for some time, and the sight and sound of it on the Copperstate’s Arizona and Utah highways begged questions about the car’s history at every stop.

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ORIGINAL RACER
Bob Bailey, with occasional co-drivers Jim Locke and Bruce Jennings, had raced serial number 11810482 with considerable success in the ’68 and ’69 Trans-Am seasons. Bailey came to the game a hot SCCA driver back then. One Porsche Club of America (PCA) regional piece dubbed Bailey “a cool, calculating tiger, with a real head for racing.”

Before Trans-Am, Bailey, eager but under-age, raced a Super 90 roadster in Canada for three years and then bought a used 356 Carrera GT for SCCA’s C Production division, winning his class with co-driver John Kelly at Sebring in 1967. Utterly inspired, Bailey took delivery of this new factory 911L from Bob Holbert Porsche in Warrington, Pennsylvania in April of 1968. Trans-Am hot-shoe Bert Everett originally ordered the car, but, at the last minute, he decided to keep his current 911 instead.

The Lightweight took Bailey to Trans-Am Under-2-liter combat with the tested pluck of guys like Everett, Tony Adamowicz, Fred Baker and Peter Gregg, while scrapping with 5-liter traffic headed by Detroit iron masters such as Mark Donohue, Parnelli Jones, George Follmer and Peter Revson. Bailey capped his ’68 Trans-Am season second overall in the Under 2-liter championship as runner-up to Adamowicz’s 911.

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Bailey raced his 911L in 1969 under the Porsche of America Racing Team (P.A.R.T.) banner. Although Bailey did not finish in the 24 Hours of Daytona, he and co-driver Bruce Jennings finished second in class at the 12 Hours of Sebring a few weeks later. In 1969’s T/A series, Bailey netted a pair of class fifths and, teamed with Jim Netterstrom, second place in the Under 2-liter class at Watkins Glen.

“To me,” says Bailey, “those years produced the most exciting slam-bang racing ever. We would line up by qualifying position, over and under together, pony cars and all.” To this day, Trans-Am Historic races remain a high point in vintage competition.

After Bailey left professional driving, he formed Racemark International with Mark Donohue, which manufactures OEM automobile interior accessories. He also worked as a founder of the Saratoga Automobile Museum in New York’s Mohawk Valley Region.

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AN INCREDIBLE HULK
Meanwhile, in flashback, like a nomad for 20-odd years, serial number 11810482 roamed Canadian race tracks and shops during leapfrog ownerships by racers Harry Bytzek, Ken Adolf and Ronald Fainstein. The 911L ended up in a barn and, in 1999, was bought by Greg Doff and Kye Wankum in Toronto. Raced hard, abused and patched together, the 911L next went to filmmaker Michael Scott in May 2004.

“Hardly anything about it resembled a race car,” Scott tells me today from his production office in Vancouver. “It was gutted and the floor was gone, but it came with a VIN that was authentic and real. I verified that.” Scott had devotedly done his homework on this homologated short-wheelbase Group 2 Touring’s steel monocoque chassis and, he confesses, “It took a lot of research.”

What was to follow also took a lot of time. Scott thought the 911L’s restoration would be finished in three years, but it went on for five. “There was a bit of naiveté and lack of perspective on my part,” he admits, “but I’m happy I did it.” For the hands-on resto, he turned to Alberto Ferroni, a past Fiat engineer—principally with rally cars—and erstwhile owner of Ital Meccanica, a mixed-marque shop in Huntington Beach, California.

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That Ferroni had never restored a Porsche was a known, but Scott reasoned his friend had the crucial Euro-bred skills and experience to make it happen. The Porsche, arriving on a dolly from Canada aboard an 18-wheeler, left Ferroni all but speechless. “When I got it in September 2004,” he tells me, “it wasn’t a car—it was a hulk!”

To set straight his work on this “blue blob,” Ferroni’s first step was to order a new floor from a Porsche dealer in Germany. “We spot-welded it in,” says Ferroni, “and hammered them down hot so they really got tight.” A couple of donor 912s (’66 and ’68) afforded a mix of steel body parts. Next came the 1.75-inch diameter steel roll cage and a burgundy paint job.

When it came time to install the 100-liter (26.4-gallon) racing fuel tank, Porsche’s original steel and aftermarket fiberglass unit lost out to Ferroni’s own creation. His center-fill tank—like the original, exact in dimensions and encasing a bladder—is instead Kevlar, FIA-approved and now sold internationally.

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Scott’s project had sorely needed a powerplant to replace the trashed 911T engine it came with, so he sourced one from the “Purely Porsche” Autofarm in Oxfordshire, England. The dry sump 2.0-liter 1968 911S engine was compatible with specs for motors originally assigned to factory 911Ls. For its necessary rebuild, Scott chose Porsche specialist Jon Bunin of Werkstatt in Vista, California, close to where Ferroni was doing the rest of the car. “It was like going back in time at Jon’s shop,” Scott recalls. “With him, it’s all original factory tools—and he works alone.”

Ferroni restored the transmission, wired the car, fitted the brakes and ensured proper offset of the 15-inch Minilite wheels. “I hand-made the exhaust and trombones,” he says, “and the graphics were done by a guy in L.A.” Eventually, if not unerringly factory correct, the 911L dazzled like the bright Trans-Am race car it had once been, and Scott and Ferroni planned to take the finished Porsche to Monterey. “Bob got wind of it,” Ferroni says, “and he and Michael struck a deal, and Bob bought it back.”

“Before Bob Bailey decided to get his ol’ 911 back,’” says Adamowicz, long after he and Bailey raced one another on track in period, “I spoke with Bob and encouraged him to do so. Fortunately he had the resources. We’ve spoken many times since he took possession of it, and he’s said it was the best thing he ever did!”

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Re-Restoration
A decade after Ferroni’s restoration, Bailey brought his 911L to the two Jasons, Hiler and Lee, at Heritage Motorcar Restoration/Research for a re-restoration back to its original factory specs and Trans-Am livery. Bailey chose HMR after seeing a 1958 Speedster they built at a Porsche Owners Group event.

“Bob’s car,” Hiler says, “needed most of the interior that came with it from the factory, as it had been lost during its years and years of racing—and there were holes galore everywhere!” Accuracy being paramount, he stripped the historic Porsche to a bare tub. Says Hiler, “We wanted to be able to put the rear interior in, so the roll bars had to be modified back to factory location, and all the holes filled. Same with the front panels.” This was only the beginning.

“The whole chassis had been painted burgundy red,” continues Hiler, “and it’s supposed to be black, so everything was redone the right way. Also, there wasn’t a seal anywhere on the car, so we put it all back together with seals.”

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On the other side of shop, Jason Lee was busy satisfying Bailey’s desire for the Porsche to be Copperstate-ready, as well as suitable for street driving and car shows afterward. The engine, acceptable at the time the 911L came to HMR, did require attention, chiefly for sound.

“When the car had megaphones and open headers,” explains Lee, methodically, “it was making 109 decibels—very loud. Bob wanted an exhaust system that is fairly quiet but also not giving up any horsepower. That’s difficult.” Lee built an exhaust using the aid of his Superflow Model SF-1020 flowbench, a tool commonly used by top NASCAR and Indy Car teams.

“The exhaust is all stainless steel,” Lee points out, “with internal baffle and sound absorption material all designed by us, all hand-built. We were able to make a muffler to not have any more restriction than the open header and megaphone design. This muffler actually speeds up the exiting of exhaust out of the cylinder head. With my muffler,” Lee summarizes, “there’s no power loss, and we get a sound decibel reading of 88.”

Lee’s stainless muffler fits in the same location as a factory street unit, across the back of the engine. But since Bailey wanted that original megaphones “look” out the rear of the car, Lee finished his exhaust system with two tips having the same race pipe appearance and placement—one on each side, under the bumperette.

For the engine itself, Lee began by upgrading and cleaning the L’s bay. He describes the wiring as “looking like a bird’s nest,” with strands spliced and taped together. For Lee, though, it was easy to remedy. He also replaced the existing capacitor discharge system’s electronics with a professional-grade MSD-brand Capacitive Discharge Ignition (CDI). “All of the components in it,” says Lee, “are hand-selected, and the energy created to ignite the fuel is a lot higher than a standard system.”

The engine’s IDA 40-mm Weber carburetors had already been replaced with American-made PMO 50-mm triple throat pieces, which Lee values as “an improvement over the original Webers and the manifold design in the 911.” His dyno fuel study confirmed the PMO’s existing jets as “good to go.” On deadline, and labor-intensive re-resto complete, serial number 11810482 was handed back to the Baileys to run the 2015 Copperstate 1000, a vision from four years ago when they were accepted to take the car to Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca for Porsche Rennsport Reunion IV.

Back to the Beginning
Bailey tells me his Porsche flame was lit decades ago by one Shepperson Prescott Adkins, the grandly named venturesome motorcycle racer from South Africa who was instrumental in starting as many as eight early regions of the Porsche Club of America. PCA Member number 15 and owner of 36 Porsches over the years, Adkins met Bob’s father, Claude Bailey, at a mid-1950s Jaguar event in Canada.

“My father,” says Bob, “was an avid Jaguar owner then, and I was twelve.” When Adkins later visited Bailey’s Fo’Castle Farms near Saratoga, New York, he was driving a 356 Super Coupe, patently unlike Claude’s swoopy Jag. “Once my father drove Shep’s Porsche that day back in 1957,” Bob says, “our lives changed forever.”

And what now of Shep Adkins, who raced Manx Nortons in his motorcycle heyday and rode the Isle of Man on a long-stroke Sunbeam? Bob Bailey has stayed in touch with Adkins for decades, and I’m fortunate to have found myself speaking with the 90-year-old legend at his apartment in Morro Bay, California, where he treasures his life’s collection of Porsche model cars and memories. And Adkins tells the marque’s truth.

“Porsches are appealing because they attract wonderful people who have become longtime friends.” I’m quite sure, joining countless others, that the Baileys, Scott, Ferroni, Bunin, Hiler and Lee couldn’t agree more.

Also from Issue 232

  • The Cayman R and Cayman GTS square off
  • Interview: Jeff Zwart
  • Market Update: Boxster & Cayman
  • The Otto Mathé Story
  • A heated-up 1987 930 Slantnose
  • Porsche’s fenderless race cars
  • Porsche wins at Le Mans for the 17th time!
  • What was he wearing at Le Mans in 1994?
  • Project 993: Part 6
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