When discussing fun and exciting cars, it’s pretty easy to use superlatives to describe them. From time to time we can all get a bit carried away when laying on the accolades. But in the case of San Diego-resident Dave Kealoha’s tribute 911 to the Porsche 911 RSR of 1973, words sometimes do fall short—no matter how much you try to extol their virtues. His car is a stunning example of what can be done when a person pours their heart and soul into a project.
A few decades ago, Kealoha’s first car was a well-used Chevy Corvair that cost a paltry $150. From there, he took interest in Volkswagen’s air-cooled, rear-engined machines. As is the case with many eventual air-cooled Porsche owners, when Kealoha was looking to upgrade from his VW, he desired a sports car from Stuttgart. “Porsche had all the racing heritage back in the ’70s,” said Kealoha. “When I got my license everybody wanted one.” And he’d eventually get one just how he wanted it…even if it meant creating it himself.
Building a Dream
The orange machine you see on these pages began its life as a 1984 911 Carrera 3.2 with the M491 Turbo-Look option, which included bulging 911 Turbo (930) fenders, a massive rear spoiler, bigger brakes, and an uprated suspension. But by the time Kealoha acquired it from a friend in 2015, the Porsche had seen better days. It was in need of some serious TLC as well an interior and brakes, which had both been previously stripped. While other potential buyers may have been put off by the car’s condition, Kealoha saw this 911 as the perfect candidate to become the 1973 RSR of his dreams.
The Carrera was disassembled down to its bare shell and sent over to Abe Mena at San Diego Rod and Custom to handle some of the planned bodywork. First, the sunroof was removed and a piece of sheet metal was welded in its place. After that, Mena filled the holes for the door mirrors, front radio antenna, washer nozzles, rocker trim and fuel filler door, which was moved from the front left fender to near mid-center of the hood. He then fabricated an oil cooler panel.
“Abe also made the stock short-hood into a long-hood by fabricating a piece of steel, wrapping the edges and welding it in place,” explained Kealoha.
Next, Kealoha’s father-in-law, Benny Flores, modified the stock fenders to be the earlier, long-hood style for him. Flores also applied the gorgeous Signal Orange paint to the car. So, to a degree, the creation of Kealoha’s RSR clone was a family affair.
“He’s been in the car business for over 40 years doing any and everything, including fabrication,” said Kealoha of Flores. “But where he really shines is body and paint. If you know where to look, you will see the little details that set this car apart from 99 percent of backdated cars out there today.”
During the cosmetic transformation Kealoha and his friend, mechanic, and the owner of Mirage International, Jae Lee, went to work on building an equally impressive engine. Their starting point was the Carrera’s stock 3.2-liter six.
“We didn’t split the case and nothing was done to the bottom end as it looked like new when we opened it up,” said Kealoha. “We sent the stock Mahle cylinders out to have them bored to 98 mm and replated, which would give the powerplant a 3.4-liter displacement. Then, we added DC40 camshafts to shift the powerband a little higher while adding Aasco valve springs, titanium retainers, and steel head studs. Everything was done to strengthen the motor and make it more durable.”
For the ignition system, a JB Racing twin-plug distributor was bolted in place. Moroso 8.0-mm plug wires, dual MSD coils and dual MSD 6AL ignition boxes were also fitted.
To keep the engine oil cool, Lee added a Setrab fender-mounted cooler in combination with a Mazda RX-7 front mounted cooler. He finished it off by having Brian Bodart of RarlyL8 fabricate the stainless steel headers and stainless steel RSR-style mufflers, which looked absolutely fantastic. I noticed them while photographing the undercarriage of the car. They were striking and, as a ‘car nut’ myself, they left me gazing at them for quite some time.
Kealoha didn’t stop there, though, as he rejected the original Continuous Injection System (CIS) fuel injection setup in favor of a pair of triple-throat PMO-brand carburetors, set up by Mark Kinninger at Black Forest Automotive. The fuel is delivered from the gas tank via a Holley Red fuel pump using an Aeromotive fuel pressure regulator monitoring its progress along the way. The transmission is a rebuilt 915 five-speed box with a limited-slip differential and a WEVO shift lever.
“It accelerates very quickly, but it’s also absolutely driveable,” said Kealoha of the finished car’s performance. “Going in I wanted a car that put the power down on the street, lower in the rev range where you can really use it.”
By making that decision this Carrera isn’t a top-end power king, as its power curve tapers off above 6,600 rpm. That’s not necessarily a bad thing since the car the engine is bolted into weighs just 2,451 pounds—which is incredibly light for a steel-bodied car. Considering the fact that the warmed-over flat-six engine is making 309 hp at the crank, you could say straight-line performance is quite robust.
When you hear this 911 crank for the first time, it sounds more like a small-block American V8 engine than a Porsche 3.4-liter six. It sounds…okay, here are a couple superlatives for you: It sounds absolutely insane and would seriously stir the soul of any car enthusiast standing within earshot. That I guarantee!
With the car making that much power, the next most important item to attend to was the suspension. The goal was to make sure all that power gets put to good use while also allowing the car to remain compliant yet fun on twisty roads. After all, it’s still a Porsche and it is still—in all practical terms—representing the classic RSR race car, so it must handle as good as it looks.
The car was sent back to Jae Lee for its suspension installation and setup. Lee selected and bolted in Bilstein heavy-duty shocks, which were paired with 19-mm front and 26-mm rear torsion bars. He also used Elephant Racing bushings throughout, Rennline monoballs in the trailing arms, and Tarett adjustable anti-roll bars front and rear. New factory-spec 911 Turbo brake discs and calipers were installed on all four hubs.
Some of the most visually stunning parts on this car are its Fuchs look-a-like Braid BZ alloy wheels. These rollers are the same size as the ones found on the original 1973 911 RSR (15 × 9-inch in front
and 15 × 11-inch out back) and are wrapped in 18/60-15 front and 26/61-15 rear (equivalent to 215/55R15 and 295/40R15) Michelin TB15 rubber. “The wheel and tire package gives the car a very authentic look and it’s what I had in mind going back years thinking about it,” said Kealoha.
With the car’s engine and drivetrain put together, it was time to get to work on the car’s cockpit. Kealoha wanted to keep the interior’s look true to the 1970s vibe, so he went to Sal Baeza in San Diego. Baeza changed the headliner from black to white and added several layers of heat and sound insulation while actually deleting the HVAC system from the dash. For the gauges,
he reached out to HD Speedo who delivered polished surrounds that contrast remarkably well against the orange paint.
In addition, a set of early 911 seats were sourced and covered in black vinyl and houndstooth fabric. Next, the steering wheel was triple wrapped in leather to give it a thicker grip. But this car isn’t all old-school technology. Adding a touch of the modern, you’ll find a USB charging port along with brighter LED instrument lights inside. Even with these contemporary touches, the interior look is still true to the early 1970s racer it was designed to emulate.
Being around Kealoha, I quickly realized that he’s not someone who is simply out to build or restyle cars to sell. He’s one of those rare individuals who find a calling, which not only motivates but also dominates their life by creating standards above and beyond what many consider to be nice. To his kind of people, nice is never, ever good enough.
As such, the quality of the work done on this 911 is clear when carefully looking at the final result. Everything on this car is first-rate. Its build quality is honestly on par with something that just rolled out of the factory in Stuttgart.
Living the Dream
Kealoha finished the build of the car in mid-2016, just in time to drive it up to the Monterey Peninsula for the annual Car Week. What adds to the car’s collective prowess is the accolades it’s received since the car was completed. The car scored a first-in-class in the “Outlaw” division of the PCA WERKS Concours, along with a Michelin’s Choice Award right out of the gate. Yet even with those awards, Kealoha told me a story that resonates more than any prize. And it came to him as a total surprise.
That story comes from the trip he made just after Car Week. He ended up parking his 911 just outside the ‘inner circle’ where most of the registered cars were parked in and around downtown Carmel, California. He had gone there to attend a Porsche Cars North America program and was only able to get himself inside. His car remained just out of sight to the masses, he thought.
To his utter amazement and intense pride, as images of various Porsche cars began to be projected onto the giant screen for the audience to admire, suddenly, up pops photographs of his car! He told me he just about jumped out of his seat. Obviously, someone from Porsche had spotted it, felt it needed some attention, and added the photo to the evening’s program.
Dave Kealoha reached back and built a tribute to one of Porsche’s most cherished 911s, the 1973 911 RSR. The beautifully done final product was built to a standard that earned a subtle nod from Porsche. And there is, perhaps, no better compliment that one can receive than a tip of the hat from the people behind the very cars for which we share a passion.