Road Warrior

A 1982 911 3.0 SC is turned into a fire-breathing turbocharged hot rod.

Photo: Road Warrior 1
July 1, 2021

Porsches, and the 911 in particular, can perform a wide variety of tasks exceedingly well. Want a fun daily driver? No problem. Looking for a fast autocross racer that you can drive to and from events? It might take some modifications to get the most out of it, but again, no problem. Want a solid starting point for a fast track-day machine or even a race car? Check. A perfect car for multi-day classic road rallies? Again, no problem.

For a perfect illustration of the 911’s versatility, look no further than Derek Whitacre’s Grand Prix White 1982 911 3.0 SC. This well-weathered coupe has done virtually everything its owner has asked of it, up to and including harnessing a literal fire-breathing, turbocharged engine.

“I’ve used this car for almost everything,” says Whitacre. “At one point it was my daily driver and a Mulholland trouble maker.” Mulholland, as in Mulholland Drive, the famous ribbon of twisting SoCal asphalt that winds its way from the suburban Hollywood Hills to the coastal canyons of Malibu. “Then it was my daily driver and autocross/track car,” he adds. “I’ve taken it on long road trips and vacations as well as some pretty wild road rallies in California and Mexico.”

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Like many enthusiasts, Whitacre was turned on to the Porsche brand by a friend. He moved to Los Angeles in the late 1990s to pursue a career as a music composer in the television and movie industry and was driving a sensible Toyota Corolla. Up to that point, his automotive experiences had included a few Fox-body Mustangs, a Jeep, and an E34-generation BMW 5-Series. In 2006, a friend tossed him the keys to their modified 911.

“About nine months before I bought my SC, a car designer friend let me drive his newly acquired 1982 SC on Mulholland,” recalls Whitacre. “It was a very cool example with seven and nine-inch-wide Fuchs wheels and a nice lowered suspension.” Needless to say, he was immediately hooked on the driving experience that the 911 delivered. “As someone coming from crap-can muscle cars, I thought it was incredible,” he continues. “Everything about it was foreign and amazing—though it shifted like an old truck. I had instantly gone from a very ‘American muscle’ kind of mindset to the air-cooled cult.”

It didn’t take long for Whitacre to start looking around for a 911 to call his own. He drove a few that were up for sale, but none of them impressed him enough to make a deal. He resorted to posting a “Want to Buy” ad on a Porsche forum out of desperation. Nine months after the search began, the perfect example finally appeared on his computer screen.

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“It was Grand Prix White with a two-tone brown and tan interior,” he says. “It was stock except for a lowered suspension, some H4 headlights, and a Carrera oil cooler and chain tensioners.” It was also in exceedingly nice condition, which was great since Whitacre wasn’t planning on a big project. “I really had no plans to modify it when I bought it,” he says. “Maybe some wheels and a nice stance.” Despite his initial plan to keep the car stock, you can tell by the photos that things didn’t exactly go that way.

A fellow Porsche enthusiast invited Whitacre to autocross the SC at a Porsche Club of America event on the vast asphalt expanse of El Toro Marine Base in Orange County. Over repeated runs through the sea of cones, Whitacre’s lap times began to tumble. Before long, he was hooked on the idea of improving his driving skills. That first autocross turned into four successive years of events. In the process, Whitacre set out to improve the SC’s performance without spoiling its ability to perform daily driver duty.

At first, he went for the low-hanging fruit: 930 Turbo tie rods sharpened up the front end, and a smaller MOMO Mod07 steering wheel improved the driver-to-car interface. More go-faster modifications followed. But with more aggressive driving came more mechanical wear and tear. At this point in the SC’s evolution, Whitacre decided that autocrossing the 911 had become too much of a burden on his bank account. “I kept breaking the car, and it just got too expensive for me at that time in my life,” he admits.

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Whitacre realized the SC’s 3.0-liter engine was getting a little tired from the repeated autocross runs and regular street use. Fred Garcia of Valley European Auto Service in Van Nuys, California had become his go-to shop for maintenance, so he paid him a visit to talk about rebuilding the 911’s flat-six. As fate would have it, the meeting ended up prompting a major change in direction for the 911.

During this particular visit to Valley European, Whitacre spotted a turbocharged flat-six Porsche engine collecting dust in a dark corner of the garage. When he asked about it, Garcia related that he had built it years ago for a client who, after driving around for a while with it installed in his car, insisted on selling it back to the shop. “Something about it being too much motor and too much exhaust fire for him,” says Whitacre.

As someone who enjoys the simple pleasures in life, like a fire-breathing 911 engine, he immediately forgot about the idea of simply rebuilding the SC’s 3.0-liter six. The new plan would revolve around rebuilding and installing the flame-spitting 3.4-liter and then modifying the rest of the car to suit the newfound power.

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“That was the beginning of the current state of the car,” continues Whitacre. “Almost everything mechanical changed. A big motor means big brakes, a big transmission, big-time cooling, and cutting lots of bodywork to make things fit.”

The new engine had started life as a plain old 3.2 Carrera engine that Garcia rebuilt with 3.4-liter Mahle pistons and cylinders. The flat-six’s compression ratio had been kept to a conservative 7.5:1 with an eye towards forced induction. He had also ported and polished the cylinder heads for improved airflow. A pair of Elgin GT2-spec camshafts shifted the power band higher on the rev range. Most importantly, the engine was turbocharged courtesy of a Garrett 67-mm unit with custom-matched turbine and compressor wheels. Before it was installed in Whitacre’s SC, Garcia rebuilt the engine to ensure long-term reliability.

A huge custom intercooler was fabricated to provide a steady supply of cool air to the forced induction six. The engine’s oil supply remains cool thanks to a pair of 993 Turbo oil coolers mounted in each front fender. The exhaust uses GHL tubular headers with heat exchangers. Aft of the heat exchangers is a custom straight-through exhaust that exits out the center of the car and incorporates a third pipe where excess turbo gasses exit. When the Porsche was strapped to a chassis dyno, the engine pumped out an impressive 420 horsepower at 5,335 rpm and 410 lb-ft at 4,800 rpm to the rear wheels.

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One of the downsides of using a large, single turbo like the one in this SC is excessive turbo lag. To reduce this, Garcia installed a Haltech Elite 2000 engine management system that incorporates an anti-lag system that, simply put, cleverly delivers extra fuel and air to the turbo to keep it spinning even when the throttle isn’t applied. That way, when the gas pedal is applied, the turbo is already spinning, thereby reducing lag. An anti-lag system also results in an entertaining popping and banging from the exhaust.

“It sounds like a 935 race car and, when you hammer it, there is just this wonderful cacophony of turbo spool, wastegate whooshes, blow off valve chirps, and then pops and bangs from the overrun,” says Whitacre. He’s not wrong. As I follow the SC in traffic on the way to our photoshoot, the engine, exhaust, and turbo system produce a veritable symphony of sounds that you’d expect to hear at a Porsche club race, not on the 101 North freeway in Los Angeles.

Because of the additional power, the 915 five-speed gearbox that the SC was originally equipped with has been replaced with a four-speed from a 930 Turbo. In order to allow it to fit in place of the original transmission, the four-speed’s bell housing was shortened. The original axles were replaced with stronger 930 axles. To maximize acceleration, the transmission uses a short-ratio ring and pinion. The original differential was also upgraded to a Quaife limited-slip unit.

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The modified SC’s original Fuchs alloys have been replaced with a set of Kinesis K57 wheels that measure 17 × 8-inches up front and 17 × 9-inches at the back that were installed with 15-mm Elephant Racing wheel spacers. The tires are grippy Toyo R888R units that measure 225/45 and 255/40, front and rear.

Over the years, the turbo SC’s exterior has evolved as Whitacre continued to expanded the car’s performance envelope. In pursuit of weight loss, a handful of fiberglass components from TRE Motorsports were installed, including a fiberglass hood and RSR-style front and rear bumpers. Below the front bumper is a custom splitter and APR splitter rods. The stock headlights have been upgraded to brighter custom LED Raven S units from 9Eleven Headlights. In order to accommodate the massive engine intercooler, Whitacre modified an early Turbo Carrera-style rear wing by cutting a large opening in the grille.

Naturally, the suspension on this SC has been thoroughly upgraded to cope with the added performance. Bilstein HD (Heavy Duty) shocks were installed at the front paired with stiffer Sport variants at the rear. The stock torsion bars were replaced with 23-mm front and 31-mm rear Elephant Racing bars to reduce body roll. A triangulated strut tower brace from the same company was also installed to sharpen chassis feel. Elephant Racing drop links were also added to the stock anti-roll bars along with 911 Turbo tie-rods. On the stopping end of the equation are 993 Turbo front brakes paired with naturally aspirated 996 rear brakes along with a larger master cylinder.

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Though its owner jokes that driving the SC is similar to standing in the front row of a Slayer rock concert, the reality is that the car has managed to remain pretty easy to drive…as long as you respect the performance.

“It does have a bit of lag, but when its boost comes on, it just pushes you back in your seat and doesn’t let up,” says Whitacre. “It’s not a car you can be careless with for a second. But if you know what you’re doing and respect it, it’s a very fast but very stable car.”

Over his years of ownership, Whitacre has modified and trimmed the interior to his tastes. The stock seats were swapped out for a pair of suitably bolstered Recaro Profi race buckets paired with Schroth Profi six-point harnesses. Morro Auto Interiors was enlisted to re-cover the dash and a few interior trim pieces in Alcantara. While they were at it, the company also installed a new headliner. There are a handful of Rennline components that brighten up the interior. A WEVO 930 shifter tightens up shift action from the four-speed. On the safety end of the equation is a custom rear roll bar from now-defunct Hollywood Motorworks and a floor-mounted fire extinguisher.

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“Ultimately, I just love the theater of the thing,” says Whitacre of the SC in its current state. And theater it is. There’s something very cool about the rock-chip riddled front air dam that clearly announces the frequent and aggressive use the car enjoys. This is a 911 that has evolved on the streets of Los Angeles, tearing up autocross courses and causing trouble on Mulholland, and it shows.

As a road car, it straddles the line between terrifying and entertaining. Acceleration in a straight line is, uh, generous, to say the least. The turbocharged 3.4 virtually flattens the car’s passengers back in the tight-fitting, low-slung Recaros. And the experience is accompanied by a cacophony of richly layered sounds, from the guttural bark of the flat-six to the whistles, whoops, and chirps from the custom turbo setup. Handling is predictable and flat with a huge amount of grip thanks to the sticky Toyo rubber.

After spending the last 15 years enthralled by all things Porsche, Whitacre says he has developed a healthy appreciation for the company’s straightforward approach when it comes to design and engineering. “And that’s especially true of the 911 and even more so the early generations. It’s Teutonic brutality wrapped in a misleadingly beautiful and curvaceous aesthetic. I guess you could say I took the ‘Teutonic brutality’ aspect to the extreme.” We couldn’t have said it better.

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