Every Porsche owner has a story to tell about how they acquired their first or their latest and greatest Porsche. The fortunate inherit the Porsche and sometimes the passion, while others find both along the way. Richard Freeman grew up in southeastern Washington state and inherited neither the Porsche nor the appreciation of the German marque. But as an adult he’s fallen in love with and owned many vintage machines that would make any card-carrying Porschephile salivate. And his latest is arguably the greatest.
Reflecting on his rural roots Freeman recalls, “People were into cars but it was more the muscle car crowd. We all had late ’60s muscle cars in high school and rebuilt the engines ourselves,” he says. “I even painted my car and several of my friends’ cars.” Freeman didn’t stray far from his childhood home of Richland, Washington to attend WSU in Pullman. “Then,” he says, “right after I graduated I went straight off to Asia to explore.” He stayed overseas and he has worked in the Asia Pacific nearly his entire adult life. However, he never completely left the Pacific Northwest.
“While I was living in Japan, I often came home in the summer and during one of these trips, in July 1999, I noticed a neighbor’s pristine ’63 356B coupe that was kept in storage and only driven on occasion,” he says. “A couple of years later, it came up for sale when I was in back in Japan. I knew it was a completely original, low-mileage car, and that the owner was meticulous about upkeep,” he recalls, “so I negotiated the deal from Japan without ever taking a close look. I purchased it in March 2001 but I didn’t get to see it for months—until I returned that summer. It nearly drove me crazy!”
Apparently it was worth the wait. “When I finally saw it in July there were no surprises. It was a fantastic car and driving it was natural.” He immediately joined the local Porsche Club of America. “Then I found the 356 Registry which really sparked my interest in these old cars,” he says. Soon, Freeman acquired a ’58 Speedster and a warmed-over 148-hp 1965 356C Sunroof Coupe built by John Willhoit of Willhoit Restoration. Still, Freeman wanted something even more powerful, which led him to the Porsche 911.
“I got my first one, a ’67 911S, in December 2007,” says Freeman. “It was completely stock and we were just going to clean it up a bit,” he recalls. “When I got it to Willhoit’s shop he found that one of the rocker panels had been badly damaged and improperly repaired and he told me, ‘We could fix it, then we’ll have to paint it.’ I said, ‘All right John, just do the whole car.’”
Two years later Freeman got his Sand Beige 1967 911S back in pristine condition. “It was really, really nice!” he says. In fact, the car was so nice that Freeman found himself reluctant to drive it as hard or as often has he had envisioned. He set out to find another 911, which leads us to the Signal Yellow 1972 911T you see here.
Building A Hot Rod 911
“I got the car from a guy who deals in Porsches in Mosier, Oregon,” says Freeman. “I first saw it during a Porsche drive from Richland, Washington to Hood River, Oregon in September 2009. I really, really liked the looks of that car and told the owner, Stephen Demosthenes, to let me know if he ever wanted to sell it. Sure enough, in May 2010 he called,” says Freeman, “and I purchased it the following year.”
The ’72 911T is way ahead of the ’67 911S in development and yet it retains the classic elegance that would soon disappear forever as 1970s safety regulations forced styling compromises. After the experience he had with owning the restored ’67 911S, Freeman wasn’t looking for a museum piece that he would have to pamper. “The idea on this ’72T was to have an R-Gruppe style car,” he says, “something to have fun in and not worry about.”
Shortly after he got the car, Freeman sent it to Willhoit Restoration in Long Beach, California for a thorough inspection. “When we got the car we thought we’d dyno the motor and clean it up a little and everything would be fine,” says John Willhoit. “Richard wanted us to just check it out mechanically and paint it or polish it out if we could.” But things didn’t go quite as they had hoped.
“The body was in excellent condition requiring only very minor work,” says Willhoit, “but the paint was really not good.” Willhoit completely disassembled the car and painted most of the chassis, along with the engine bay and parts of the front compartment, satin black. “This was typical on the ’72s,” he says.
The car had previously been repainted in a shade of yellow that didn’t match correctly so Willhoit stripped the paint and re-did it in the correct color. Most of the trim was in excellent shape and was reused. Only the rocker trim was replaced with new OEM parts from Porsche Classic.
The engine, on the other hand, was a disaster. “We started it on the dyno and as soon as we put a load on it, it started to detonate and rattle really bad. We did a leak down and it had bad leak down so we just pulled it off the dyno,” Willhoit recalls. Scott Hendry, who does Willhoit’s 911 engine work [Scott’s Independent, Anaheim, California], took it apart and found that some of the ring lands were cracked as well as some of the cylinders. “They were like the cheapo Chinese 911 parts,” says Willhoit. “A set of factory pistons and cylinders is like $3,800 and these are like $700,” he chuckles.
There were other problems. “One of the flywheel bolts was stripped. So it was only running with five flywheel bolts,” says Willhoit. “The other one was just Loctited in there,” he says. They had to replace the crankshaft and they fitted a lightened, RSR-spec flywheel.
“The engine was a 2.4 and we would have just left it, but someone had replaced the original case with the stronger 7R case with no numbers on it,” says Willhoit, adding, “there was a time when you could buy those.” So Hendry built a 2.7 using RS pistons and cylinders, but he used 911E cams. “The 911E cams are way better for a street car,” contends Willhoit. “You gain a lot more low-end and mid-range torque and you only lose power above six grand which, you know, no one ever spends a lot of time there anyway.” Meanwhile, by offset boring the wrist pin bushings to push the pistons higher in the combustion chamber, the 8.5:1 compression ratio found in a stock RS engine was raised to 9.3:1.
The ’72T’s original mechanical fuel injection had been replaced with 40 mm Webers with 34 mm venturis that proved to be perfect for the new engine. Willhoit updated the ignition as well. “I have a wiring kit to run an MSD CDI box under the passenger floor board. We leave the stock CDI box in place for looks but the new MSD is a digital box and they never go bad,” he explains.
On the dyno, the fresh 2.7 made 216 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 206 lb-ft of torque at 5,000 rpm—figures that compare favorably with the factory 2.7 RS’s 210 hp at 6,300 and 188 lb-ft at 5,100. “It’s a real good engine for a street car,” concludes Willhoit.
Freeman wanted a more robust sounding exhaust so Willhoit made a three-pipe rally exhaust. “It was a standard exhaust that Porsche sold—a special order part,” says Willhoit. “We just copied it after that. It’s completely stock with the side pipe. For racing, you just take the caps off of the lower two pipes to bypass all the baffling,” he explains. “It gets you a little bit extra. It’s worth maybe five horsepower.”
There were other mechanical problems: The transaxle had a leak in the main-shaft seal. “It was one of the ’72 trannies where the seal is on the inside,” says Willhoit. “It needed to be replaced anyway. So we had Scott Hendry take it apart, do the modifications and reinforcements on the bearing carriers, and put the mainshaft seal on the outside.” In the final assembly the improved ’73 shifter assembly, along with a later factory 915 short-shift, were installed.
The suspension remains essentially stock except for torsion bars where 21 mm fronts and 27 mm rears replace the stock 19 mm and 24 mm bars. “It’s a little flatter driving. You wouldn’t want to have them any stiffer than that,” says Willhoit, adding, “It’s nice because with the stock sway bars the car will still go over little bumps pretty easy.” The car had Konis in front so new Konis were installed in the rear along with Elephant Racing Adjustable Spring Plates. When it was aligned and corner balanced ride height was set 1.5 inches lower than stock.
While the suspension uses stock rubber bushings to keep everything compliant, one area where Richard Freeman wouldn’t compromise performance for comfort was with the tires where he chose Hoosier Speedsters. Speedsters are essentially street-legal racing tires with a DOT wear rating of 50. Freeman was warned that they wouldn’t last long but he wasn’t deterred. “I’m really only going to be driving it when I go back in the summer,” he says. “It’s not going to be driven a lot, so I might as well have some fun with it while I’m doing it!”
The 205/60R15 Hoosiers were mounted on 7-inch Fuchs, finished like ’73 RSR wheels. “The spokes were not polished before anodizing,” explains Willhoit. “The finish was just left dull on the RSR wheels,” adding, “This was only on the 9-inch and 11-inch wheels. We did the same look on the 7-inch wheels for Richard’s car.”
The interior was built to lightweight RS spec by Autos International with plain door panels, leather strap latch releases, no rear seats, and deeply-bolstered ST front buckets with modern Recaro sliders. “The sliders are a big improvement over the clunky originals!” insists Willhoit. It has an RS-correct 380-mm steering wheel, double-wrapped in leather, and a plain ‘hockey puck’ horn button.
Glowing in the late afternoon sun the Signal Yellow, long-hood 911 is alluring. Like Jennifer Lawrence, it doesn’t have a bad angle and even sitting still it is full of dynamic energy. As you consider the details it just gets better. The Cibie ‘through-the-grill’ fog lights offer just a touch of flair, the RSR-look Fuchs with Hoosiers hint at the car’s performance potential, and the stock rearview mirror makes no pretensions. But what really makes this beauty sing is the quality of the bodywork and paint. Porsche perfected the 911 shape; through their meticulous attention to detail, Willhoit and company convey that perfection.
Richard Freeman got to view the finished car during a visit to Los Angeles. There it sat in Willhoit’s garage surrounded by admirers during the shop’s spring Open House. And there it would sit all day long as unseasonable rain pelted the Los Angeles basin. The day before, during an afternoon break in the weather, we were able to take the pretty 911T out for photos and driving impressions.
The first turn of the key activates the electric fuel pump momentarily. With another nudge the starter fires the engine to life. The shift linkage is direct. A firm hand is required to engage the cogs, and a relatively stiff clutch grabs cleanly as the pressure plate mates with the lightweight flywheel. It runs up easily to 2,500 rpm and then, with a heavy tip of the right foot the car scoots down the road like a scarab. The response is immediate, on and off-throttle, and the sounds are engaging: edgy and full-throated on acceleration with just the right amount of snap crackle on deceleration.
Over the next few miles we take in the nature of this iron-fist-in-a-velvet-glove hot rod. You sit low in the leather-lined ST seats, firmly planted to the car’s chassis. The ride is stiff but not at all punishing; the combination of larger torsion bars, stock anti-roll bars, and rubber bushings—plus those stiff, sticky tires—conjures up a slick performance blend. You sense every ripple in the road while lateral loads telegraph directly to your hands. It’s the magic of the light, well-balanced Porsche with manual steering—the essence of a well-sorted early 911.
Talking to the owner the next day I didn’t know how much to say about his sweet ride. You see, Freeman had yet to drive her. That would have to wait for a few days until their rendezvous in Richland, Washington. I just smiled and said that she was a fine car.
The 911T arrived home safely but when Freeman flew to Washington to drive it the weather was not cooperating. “There was freezing rain,” says Freeman. “The plane couldn’t even pull up. It was tough getting back that night but it all melted the next day.”
After two years of patiently waiting he got some time behind the wheel. “It’s unbelievable,” he enthused. “The power band is very wide. Second gear is amazing! I’m very impressed with it.” And what about those tires? “When I first looked at them I looked at the tread, and said, ‘There’s no tread on these! Has John been out doing burn-outs or something?’ Those Hoosiers are really something else on there!” he laughs. “That thing drives like it’s a go-kart.” A very refined go-kart we would say. And a beautiful one.