Civilized Misfit

A Stunner of an R Gruppe 911

Photo: Civilized Misfit 1
October 27, 2016

Forget all those R Gruppe 911 stories

you’ve heard about flamboyant paint jobs,

outlandish modifications, loud engines,

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stinky exhausts, and really harsh rides. This one’s different. Of course, calling one of these hot rod Porsches different borders on being cliché. Especially when you consider it belongs to a club that proudly calls itself “a merry band of misfits.” There’s one thing about clichés though. Sometimes they’re true.

While the exclusive 300-member R Gruppe club is filled with a wide assortment of impressive air-cooled Porsches, some of its long-term members have long been waiting for the next truly impressive car to show up at a gathering. But when all that rolled in were variations on the same well-used themes, the search began all over again. Then, for the first time in a long time, a car appeared that made practically everyone turn and look. That car is the one you see on these pages.

At the 2016 Porsche L.A. Lit and Toy Show, Jerry Wynne of Santa Clara, California showed up in this beautiful Metallic Blue 1972 911T. The car, which was built by a long-time enthusiast, had a more understated color, subtle-yet-attractive body modifications, and a high level of attention to detail that immediately made it different from the other, more radical machines also in attendance. Pop open the deck lid, however, and you can feast your eyes on an engine that leaves no doubt that this car is as much about “go” as it is about “show.”

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In Search of the “Perfect” Porsche

Wynne’s eye for really nice Porsches evolved over the course of the last three decades. “My history with Porsches is a long one,” he explains. “My very first car was an orange 914 that I purchased at age 16. Since then, I’ve owned thirteen 911s and I still have six of them.” His life, however, wasn’t always so fortunate. Wynne essentially grew up on the streets of Los Angeles. As a youth, one of the forces that drove him to work hard and strive to succeed was the dream of owning his own Porsche 911 one day.

At age 18, Wynne’s stepdad helped him get a job at Northrup working on a production line as a structural mechanic. With the dream of a rear-engined sports car still vividly filling his imagination, Wynne went out and bought his first 911, a one-year-old 1986 911 Carrera 3.2 Cabriolet. “That was it. I was hooked!” he remembers.

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But Wynne always felt like something was missing with each new model he owned after that first 911. Or perhaps he was just wanting more. In either case, it took him some time to figure out just which kind of 911 would satisfy him most. The truth is, it took Wynne a lot of soul searching to get to this point. He’s your prototypical R Gruppe member: a rebel without a cause who grew up with a chip on his shoulder that he conquered through sheer determination.

So it should come as no surprise that when Wynne and R Gruppe co-founder Cris Huergas met in 2014, they became fast friends. The meeting of the two motivated Wynne to seek out a classic long-hood 1965-1973 Porsche 911 that could be a worthy part of the R Gruppe family. That’s when a man named Phil Troiani and his early 911 entered the picture.

Troiani is an experienced auto mechanic and retired robotics engineer who lives in Santa Cruz, California. His lightning quick mind belies his 70+ years of age, and his ability to solve practically anything he sees as a challenge is revealed in the modifications he made to the 911 that he eventually sold to Wynne.

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“I met Jerry by chance at one of (Bruce) Canepa’s Cars & Coffee meets,” says Troiani. “We were discussing paintless dent removal when Jerry asked to see my 911. He immediately offered to buy it. I had never even considered selling, but somehow it felt right to do so.”

When Troiani had originally found 911T #9112102774 back in 2006, it was worn out. It was a 1972 non-sunroof coupe that had been sitting for 15 years. The engine wouldn’t start and the transmission wouldn’t shift. But Troiani, who had bought and fixed up a 356 Speedster a few decades earlier, was up for a new challenge. It took seven years for him to complete the Metallic Blue 911, but the result is nothing short of remarkable.

Blue Steel Beauty

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“I wanted to approach this car in the true spirit of hot rodding. And there’s actually a lot of that in R Gruppe,” Troiani remarks. “Back when hot rodding was hot rodding, most people did the work themselves. You basically bought a lightweight car, put a big engine in it, and used whatever you could find from the junkyard to make it better. So that’s what I did.”

From a sea of virtually endless possibilities, Troiani took the best ideas he had seen in early 911 builds through the years. He didn’t want the result to look too “out of period.” Instead, he wanted to keep it cohesive and not too embellished. In other words, the finished car had to be both purposeful and unapologetic without shouting it out to the world.

To ensure a clean look, he wasted no time filling in the oil and gas doors. He also replaced the front and rear bumpers with one-piece fiberglass units. No sunroof was added, because, as Troiani puts it, “Why would you cut a hole in a perfectly good roof?” He also drilled lightening holes in the strut webs and rear deck lid and added H-4 headlights that were modified to accept high-intensity discharge (HID) bulbs. Next came a litany of engineering solutions that would likely impress even some engineers in Stuttgart.

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There were several characteristics of the early 911 that bothered Troiani. In particular, he wanted to improve any potential cooling issues—both for the oil and the driver. “I wanted to be able to drive to Death Valley in this car at any time of the year. And that wasn’t going to happen comfortably in a factory ’72 T,” he notes. To that end, he launched an all-out attack on the 911’s air conditioning and oil circulation systems.

“I have no love for the stock A/C setup, which looks like what it is: a hastily conceived afterthought cobbled together to make the cars more salable in non-Nordic climates,” Troiani states. “I rationalized moving the compressor forward as ‘improving the weight distribution,’ but I was really just trying to justify all the work needed to clean up what I saw as an eyesore.”

A Sanden-brand A/C compressor was tastefully implemented and is driven off an extension of the alternator shaft. A condenser from a 1989-1994 964-generation 911 sits in the left front fender with a fan and a dryer. Inside the car, on the center tunnel between the seats, is a control knob from a Volkswagen bus that controls the heat. The A/C switches sit right next to it. The evaporator was placed under the rear seats and split into two halves.

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Next came the oil system. “The thing that looks like a nuclear power plant in the front trunk is the new extra large oil tank,” says Troiani. “The way it is set up, oil drains from the tank through the floor to a steel pipe that runs to a flexible hose that delivers oil to the engine and then back along a return line. The big front fender oil cooler is from a helicopter!”

Repositioning the shifter location was a bigger project. “I never liked the original location. It was just too far forward to feel natural,” says Troiani. “So while I was in there, I eliminated slop at the front end of the shift rod by dispensing with the little nylon bushing and metal support bracket and replacing them with a bronze oilite bushing inside the tube supported by a heim joint. I also added a Wevo gate to the transmission for extra precision.”

For the shifter itself, Troiani started with a stock item, tore it apart, and threw most of it away. His objection to readily available shift gates with a spring-loaded center is that tension is still in play when you have the lever positioned outside the center plane. “It’s just a lot of pressure from that linkage pushing on the inside of the gearbox,” he explains. “So instead of setting it up like it’s conventionally done, I put a cam in with a little bearing that rides in a notch. If the shifter is pushed out into one of the other planes, it no longer has any side force.”

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For the suspension, Troiani raised the front spindles by one inch. “Now lots of times what’s done is the steering arms are bent to restore them to the correct location, but that makes them the wrong length, and you get all kinds of weird bump-steer effects,” he states. “Basically, what I did was to cut those arms off and have new ones made by a race car fabricator. Heavy wall tubes are welded together in the form of a triangle, and then they’re boxed on the top and the bottom with heavy sheet metal.”

Troiani also wanted to use 225/50-16 tires on 16-inch Superlite rims, but he just couldn’t bring himself to cut the body and add flares. So he ended up narrowing each side of the rear end by 10 millimeters, which was a big job. “If you’re familiar with the way the bearing sits in a rear aluminum trailing arm, it’s up against the shoulder at the inner edge. So I removed that shoulder and made a tool to bore the trailing arm out and push the whole bearing assembly in 10 millimeters. Then I removed that much from the front carrier and added stops on the back. New brake mounts were welded on with modified back blades to get everything to gel.”

Rounding out the handling package: the torsion bars are 21 mm in front and 26 mm out back, damping is handled by Bilstein shocks, the front bushings were custom made out of urethane, and there are 15-mm anti-roll bars front and rear. To bring this speedy 911 to a stop, an Outlaw Racing brake package was fitted to all four hubs.

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For propulsion, a strong and reliable 1978-1983 911 3.0 SC-based 3.2-liter short stroke flat-six engine was chosen. This engine has GT2 cams from John Dougherty, shot peened stock connecting rods, larger cylinders, and 98-mm JE pistons that give it a compression ratio of 9.5:1. Instead of settling on traditional aftermarket carburetors, Troiani went with throttle bodies from a Triumph motorcycle, which gives the engine a hot rod flair.

Modern electronic fuel injection managed by a Megasquirt Pro with EDIS ignition control was chosen in the interest of both reliability and performance. The exhaust system consists of SSI heat exchangers and a modified stainless Dansk 2-in 2-out muffler with custom pipes and a magnetic anti-drone valve in the left outlet. This flat six puts its 270 hp to the ground through a magnesium-case 915 five-speed transmission from a 1975 911.

Inside, the interior consists of a 911 ST driver’s seat, a 911 RS passenger seat, a wood-rimmed Nardi steering wheel, an iPod compatible retro radio with four speakers, chrome-trimmed gauges, a St. Christophorus medal on dash, door nets from a marine supply store, retractable Schroth harnesses attached to a reinforced firewall, and a shift knob—randomly enough—from a tractor parts box.

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Even with all these modifications, this custom-built 911 was fully sorted when it was finished. Wynne is thrilled with the work that Troiani did: “This guy was fastidious. Who goes through an extensive seven-year build like this, and then when it comes out everything works perfectly? It’s amazing. All I’ve had to do was a clutch cable adjustment because it stretched. That’s it!”

But what makes this ride the one that Wynne had been looking for? “What makes this the ‘perfect’ Porsche is that it is a true daily driver,” he says. “It has power windows, air conditioning that works, a heater, and fuel injection.”

Need final proof? Even Wynne’s mother-in-law loves this 911. She gleefully enlisted her minivan and piloted it around as our camera chase car near Mission Inn in Riverside, California. “It’s a lovely Porsche with a nice color and disposition,” she coos. Even the most jaded of R Gruppe members would agree.

On the Road

An early 911 finished in Metallic Blue looks relatively subdued—like something that wouldn’t hurt a fly. Then you open the door, climb inside, twist the key, bring the 3.2-liter six to life with a roar, and realize that this car is a comfy-yet-race-track-ready machine in a nicely tailored suit. Grabbing second gear and pinning the throttle to the floor has you blazing across the asphalt and enjoying the scream of a perfectly tuned flat-six engine.

One of the most enjoyable things about this 911 is its shifter. It feels more like a slick G50 five-speed from a 1987 911 Carrera 3.2 than it does a classic 915 gearbox. It slots home in short defined throws. And it’s in exactly the right location. The new position seems like it should have been this way from when the car left the assembly line! And the expertly appointed interior and seats provide a civilized cocoon in which to nestle into.

The driving experience in this machine is a lot like many high-end, custom-built early 911s I’ve driven because the spirited engine’s torque curve is so linear and the suspension is so capable. Of course, there are 3.2-liter short-stroke engines that have more to give at redline. This one doesn’t rev to 8,000 rpm, either. But it has a flat power curve with pulling power virtually wherever and whenever you want it. You can pull away from a level stop in second gear if you wish. And when you push it through the bends, it corners flat with plenty of compliance. This is a car that’s meant to be driven easily anywhere. It’s just the right blend of grand tourer and track terror.

Some observers have commented that this R Gruppe car resembles something created by some expensive early 911 builders in both its focus and build quality. Indeed, it is like those cars in many ways, but it’s still very much an early 911. It’s not trying to be something it’s not. It’s not a car with huge fender flares. It doesn’t have wheels that look too big. Sure, it lacks the sculpted panels and bespoke amenities of some higher-end restorations. But what it does have is the same attention to detail and a genuine flair for the innovative.

Also from Issue 242

  • 2017 911 Targa 4S
  • 2017 Panamera Turbo
  • Market Update: 911 Turbos
  • Revived 914-6 Racer
  • Kussmaul recalls Le Mans 1983
  • The Story Behind the First Open 911
  • Porsche Parade 2016
  • 1957 Denzel
  • Porsche Ignitions
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