Mr. T & Me

A longtime enthusiast brings a dream 1972 911 ST to life.

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October 26, 2017

“I pity the fool who thinks Tangerine isn’t the best color ever on an early 911!” boldly declares our Mr. T.

No, this is not an episode of the A-Team or a Saturday morning cartoon from the ’80s. That Mr. T was a brash, flashy, and loud iconic TV figure. Our subject is a 1972 Porsche 911T that seems intent on announcing to the world it has turned into a really cool ST clone.

All kidding aside, our Mr. T started life as Porsche 911 serial number 9112100189. Just another 1972 911T in coupe form. Porsche made 4,894 of this model, and 2,931 of them came to the U.S. It was originally ordered in Tangerine with a black interior. How it developed a persona akin to the angry Mr. T is our story.

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In 2014, I was looking for a car that would serve as a platform for a hot rod R Gruppe sports purpose inspired build,” explains Nick Psyllos of San Diego, California. “The goal was for my son and I to develop it to our taste.”

Psyllos had become a Porsche fan long before that day. His fascination began in 1966 when he was just ten years old. His family lived in suburban Minneapolis, Minnesota and their next-door neighbor worked in management at a local car dealership. For years the neighbor brought home a parade of American cars that would stick around for anywhere from a day to a few months. Psyllos would help him wash the cars in his driveway in exchange for rides around the block.

Then one day the neighbor brought home a car that looked different from the rest. It was a Porsche 356 coupe in green with a black interior. To Psyllos, everything about that car seemed unusual in a good way: the sounds, the smell, the seats, and the size. It even had its engine mounted in the rear.

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“When he took me for a drive in that 356, I remember being struck by how different the handling was and how solid the car felt compared to the others,” remembers Psyllos. “That green Porsche was it for me. It left an impression that remains to this day.”

In 1970, Psyllos’s family moved to La Jolla, a California mecca for Porsches. He would ride his bike to Alan Johnson’s Porsche dealership in Point Loma on the weekends, leaving with whatever literature he could weasel out of the salesman.

“911s were now the Porsche to own, and I thought they were the coolest cars on the planet,” Psyllos recalls. “To my eye, the styling was even better than the 356. The sloping rear roofline made it look like it was going fast even when sitting still. I knew then that when I could afford a 911, I would buy one.”

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Psyllos was able to do just that in 1984 when he bought a Sienna Metallic 1977 911S Targa with a Cork interior. “That Targa was my daily driver for five years, and I enjoyed every minute of it,” he says. “It was the car I took on my very first date with my future wife.”

Over the years Psyllos would acquire an assortment of Porsches, including: a 1997 911 (993) Carrera Cabriolet, a 1964 356 Cabriolet, a 2002 911 (996) Carrera Cabriolet, a 2006 911 (997.1) Carrera S, a 1997 911 (993) Carrera S, a 1973 914 2.0, and a silver 1973 911S. The 914 and long hood 911 stood out to Psyllos.

“There is something about the lighter air-cooled models that resonates with me,” he states. “My son Matthew also digs them, which has created a shared experience that checks a lot of boxes for us.”

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Father and son started autocrossing the 914 when the younger Psyllos turned 18. Matthew was soon giving his dad pointers on how to better late apex a corner. Together, they drove the 914 until it was determined that the car was too nice and too original to subject to the rigors of frequent track time.

That’s when Psyllos decided to sell the 914 and find a suitable replacement that he and his son could modify and work on together. Being entrenched in the early 911 and R Gruppe club world, Psyllos found his search relatively easy.

“The 1972 T I located was an ideal candidate for the build we envisioned,” Nick remarks. “It was a non-sunroof coupe that still retained its original engine and transmission. After sitting for ten years, it was stripped down with fifteen boxes full of parts. I bought it from my friend Michael Eberhardt (in Atlanta, Georgia), who had planned to convert it into an ST-inspired R Gruppe car.” Eberhardt had acquired the car as a stalled project and added some parts that made the path even easier for Psyllos.

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The car was originally painted Tangerine, which is a great period color and is also fitting for an ST since it was used by many racing teams back in the day. The T chassis also came with 906 cylinder heads and a 013 MFI fuel pump from Franz Blam, steel ST flares from Canfield Classics, a roll hoop from TRE, 15 × 8 and 15 × 9-inch Fuchs alloys refinished by Harvey Weidman, and a pair of Michael’s Vintage ST seats.

Psyllos next acquired a unique gas tank from his long-time friend and mechanic, Wayne Baker of Personalized Autohaus in San Diego. Baker had taken it out of a twin-plug competition 911 decades ago. It’s a steel tank with a 62 liter (16.4 gallon) capacity that is fitted with a 120 mm (4.7 inch) Blau cap.

In February 2015, Psyllos arranged to move the chassis and parts from Atlanta to San Diego. He was still contemplating which way to go with the project—narrow body sleeper or loud ST-look hot rod—when his phone rang.

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It was about 11:00 p.m. on a weekday night and I saw (enthusiast) Scott Longballa’s name on the screen,” recalls Psyllos. “Scott’s voice had that distinctive sound of a speaker call, and then I hear Randy Wells’ voice chiming in. They had called to encourage me to go down a familiar path they had each taken with an ST-look ’72 911T of their own. The two had just finished photographing Scott’s Signal Yellow 911 T/ST in Oregon for a magazine feature and were still caught up in the euphoria of it all.

“They were both resolute in their opinion that an ST was the only way to go,” continues Psyllos. “They reasoned that I already owned a narrow-bodied long hood. So, I had really no choice but to agree, even though I could have easily dismissed them as fools. It didn’t matter. I was talked off the ledge. I agreed with their outrageous logic, and from that moment forward I committed to having an ST in my garage!”

That was also the moment when Psyllos decided to enlist Longballa to be in charge of making sure the metal work, paint, and installation of the restored suspension, brakes and steering were done correctly. While the bodywork was being done over the next twelve months, Psyllos was busy acquiring the rest of the parts that would be needed to make an accurate and impressive ST tribute.

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“There are a few things that I deemed essential to staying within the ethos of what the 1972 factory ST race cars were all about,” Psyllos reports. “This included a mechanically fuel injected, twin-plug, high-compression engine between 2.3 and 2.5 liters, a lightweight interior, proper front and rear flares covering 8.0 and 9.0-inch wide wheels, an aluminum deck lid, and twin fender mounted oil coolers with hard cross-over oil lines.

Other items that Psyllos specified will also be familiar to early 911 hot rod fans: a Palo Alto Speedometer-modified 10,000-rpm early tach and a 380 mm (15-inch) ST steering wheel with an early padded horn button.

Next came the assembly process. In May 2016, Psyllos delivered the painted 911 to Personalized Autohaus, along with a stack of plastic storage bins now full of restored Porsche parts.

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“(Technician) Glenn Roberts was extremely helpful in sourcing all the remaining parts that I didn’t have, which saved us considerable time and effort,” says Psyllos. “He also understood my preference to use original parts whenever possible and to have all the finishes and plating be correct.”

Other treatments applied included early Cibie Biodes headlights with yellow lens covers on the high beam bulbs and a rear deck lid grille that’s part standard aluminum and part wire mesh. For the interior, Autos International in nearby Escondido used Italian leather and Scottish wool plaid and then added period-correct four-point REPA harnesses to bring it all back to a vintage look.

This is all very cool. But it wasn’t until the engine and exhaust were completed that the real Mr. T appeared. That’s when Psyllos’s ST developed an angrier persona.

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Here’s where it would be very easy to lose perspective when modifying a Porsche. The danger is to go overboard by constantly asking for more power and a more radical engine. Instead, Psyllos wanted a powerplant that would provide a balance between canyon road carving and the occasional track day. Yes, the devil truly is in the details.

Fortunately, Psyllos was more concerned about longevity. So he asked Baker and Roberts to take the previously assembled long block apart. Using the car’s original magnesium case, the Personalized Autohaus team checked that all the machining was done correctly with all the right parts. It was an expensive decision, but it provided the peace of mind you only get from a complete and thorough rebuild process where everything is thought out and considered.

The head work that had already been done was designed for 85 mm (3.35 inch) 10.3:1 compression pistons and cylinders to give approximately 240 hp. By comparison, a stock 2,341-cc T engine uses 84 mm (3.30 inch) pistons at 7.5:1 to provide 140 hp. So it was decided to stay with the 906 components and upgrade the valve springs, rocker arms, and case bolts.

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Aaron Burnham of Burnham Performance in Camarillo, California modified a set of 1969 throttle bodies and mag stacks to align with the larger port openings. He also refurbished the entire ignition system, including the twin-plug distributor and all the electronics. Dougherty built the cams, and Mark Jung at MFI Werks in Seal Rock, Oregon was trusted with restoring the injection pump.

At this point, Psyllos attempted to feature the pretty red-capped RSR pump as a piece of art on his home’s fireplace mantle, but Mrs. Psyllos quickly rejected that idea. So it stayed in the garage until Roberts was ready for it.

“Once the car was complete, I had about 30 days to shake things down before driving the car from my home in Solana Beach to Napa and back for the 17th annual R Gruppe Treffen weekend,” says Psyllos. That 1,600-mile trip would be the first real test for Mr. T. It would include plenty of freeway miles and some very scenic and twisty roads through the central part of the state.

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Right before Treffen, at Thunderhill Raceway Park, there was a chance to really test the 911’s capabilities at the R Gruppe “Sports Purpose Day.” There Psyllos and his wife Adele were joined by Matthew, who had come from his home in San Francisco, just for a chance to drive the finished Porsche project.

“We couldn’t have been happier,” says Matthew. “The suspension and brakes were perfect. The wide Michelin TB 15 tires provided incredible grip and the overall sure-footed feeling of precision and control that was beyond our expectations. I thought the 8.0-inch wide front tires might cause the steering to plow or feel heavy, but that was not the case at all. The steering was razor sharp and communicative.”

The engine also felt fantastic and was everything that both Nick and Matthew had originally wanted.

“The power and torque are great, and the twin-pipe exhaust sounds gnarly,” reports the elder Psyllos. “And that sensation only gets better between 3,500 and 7,000 rpm with instantaneous throttle response. The twin coolers kept Mr. T’s oil temperature below 180 degrees (Fahrenheit) all day long.”

Psyllos discovered that the ST was much more tactile and visceral than his 1973 911S, which felt like a luxury cruiser in comparison.

“This T/ST is an event to drive,” says Nick. “You need to pay attention at all times, as every movement of the steering wheel, throttle, and brakes has an immediate effect. It’s a lot like riding a thoroughbred horse. It’s always ready to go and just waiting for a command.”

The best part for Nick and Adele was watching Matthew rip around the track. Then Adele threw a helmet on, buckled in, and did a 20-minute session as a passenger. “Never once did she tell me to slow down!” exclaims Nick.

Over the past 30+ years of Porsche ownership, Psyllos has been fortunate to experience a number of great cars and develop some of his best friendships through the Porsche community. But this project provided Psyllos with even more. He learned to appreciate the marque’s sports purpose cars and shared that passion with his son.

“I love the way those flares stretch over the wide Fuchs and fat tires,” Nick notes. “The ethos of the ST with its lightweight sports purpose character really suits these cars. It just looks and feels right. I couldn’t be happier, and I definitely feel as though I made the right decision.”

As he turns to go, and the engine starts with a chorus of unbridled enthusiasm, Psyllos pokes his head out the window and says, “This A-Team adventure is not over for Mr. T and me!”

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