This soft-windowed 911 S Targa has been sympathetically rebuilt and boasts history as colourful as its zesty paint job… Words Dan Furr. Photography Dan Sherwood.
TANGERINE DREAM - 911 S TARGA RESTORED
hat side of the fence are you? Preservation or restoration? When it comes to injecting new life into a classic Porsche, Chris Knowles is of the opinion provenance is king. It’s his determination to retain as many original components as possible when resurrecting a poorly Porsche that’s resulted in his amazingly complete 1972 911 S 2.4, an air-cooled classic afforded a new lease of life in partnership with independent marque specialist, Autofarm. “Every fan of the brand wants old Porsches to be the very best they can be,” he says, “but whenever possible, the rebuild of a car shouldn’t come at the expense of its history. Often, it’s the life an old Porsche has led that makes it so interesting, which is why, as you can probably guess, I’m firmly on the side of preservation over restoration.”
Of course, he’s not advocating leaving fatally compromised parts in place, but if it’s possible to refurbish an item original to the car being worked on, he’d rather spend the time required to do so than the comparatively quick (and potentially cheaper) option of buying a new replacement part. “For a company working on the restoration of old Porsches, Chris is a dream client,” smiles Mikey Wastie, co-owner of Autofarm and the 2.4’s project lead. “Metal can be thrown away and replaced, but the cabin of a car is where you can get a real sense of its history. This is certainly true of Chris’s 911 S, where the majority of its factory furniture has been retained. Carpets, seats, sun visors, headlining, the steering wheel and door cards are all original. The car smells of 1972, not 2017, which is when the build took place.”
Chris has a long and fruitful history of piloting classic Porsches, but the route to his status as the owner of a fast fleet — his revitalised 911 S is kept alongside a low-mileage 993 Turbo, a 924 Carrera GT (formerly owned by a member of the famous McAlpine construction dynasty) and, until recently, a rare Carrera 3.2 Clubsport — was one which led him to a decisive fork in the proverbial road. “My first Porsche was a 911E,” he recalls. “The model promised fast-road fun, but its self-adjusting hydro-pneumatic suspension didn’t suit my driving style. I was also horrified by the hammering my bank balance took shortly after my name appeared on the car’s logbook.” He’s referring to windscreen insurance costing three times the replacement of a ‘regular’ car’s glass and the unfortunate instance of two kamikaze pheasants flying into his 911’s front window at speed. The damage cost a fair wedge more than his cover provided for, spend compounded by the obscene amount he’d been forced to pay for new heat exchangers. Scared of what he saw as the spiralling cost of Porsche ownership, he sold up and bought a BMW.
THE MANUFACTURER CHRIS IDENTIFIED AS BEING MOST LIKELY ABLE TO ASSIST HIM WAS BASED IN SAN DIEGO, OFFERING THE PART THROUGH A RETAILER IN ALBERTA
RAY OF SUNSHINE
Time, as they say, is a great healer. Having licked the wounds inflicted upon his wallet, Chris dipped his toe back into the wonderful world of Porsche ownership during years he spent living in Dubai. A 993 Carrera 4 Cabriolet was his drop-top of choice, perfect for enjoying spirited driving in gloriously warm weather along the flat ribbons of open asphalt strewn across the region’s deserts. Unlike the 911 E, the all-pawed 993 left a pleasingly positive impression on the former commercial airline pilot. “It was a great car, hugely helped by its four-wheel drive transmission. A few years later, I parted with my pretty Porsche and relocated to France. A Carrera 3.2 then found its way onto my driveway, before I moved back to the UK and bought the 993 Turbo I’m in possession of today.”
With a collection of coupes in his garage, the return of an open-air Porsche to the Knowles line-up makes perfect sense, though the 911 S Targa we’ve come to drool over at Autofarm’s Boxengasse base wasn’t originally intended to stick with Chris for the long term. “It was one of a selection of classic Porsches I imported to the UK from the USA as part of a business deal that went sour,” he reveals. “The idea was to buy cars in need of work from across The Pond and bring them to England, where they would be thoroughly rebuilt and offered for sale in the best possible condition. Unfortunately, the party I’d entered into partnership with didn’t keep up their end of the deal, which was to carry out the required remedial work. Not only did this leave me severely out of pocket, I found myself in the strange position of being the owner of a portfolio of poorly presented Porsches.”
If there’s a positive to be drawn from the situation, it’s the recovery and subsequent transferring of the early Targa to Mikey’s custody at Autofarm, where the car was transformed into the tangerine dream it is today.
Considering it was crudely painted black, wearing “oil coolers that look they came off a tractor”, badly fitted wide wheel arches, butchered bumpers, flimsy bucket seats, a replica MOMO steering wheel, quad-exit tailpipes, incorrect wheels, lights and other exterior furniture seemingly picked at random from air-cooled 911 history, it would have been easy to dismiss the car as nothing to get excited about. Completion of its original assembly on 14th August 1967, however, places it on the Porsche production line when retractable plastic rear windows were being fitted to the manufacturer’s Targa-badged products, prior to the introduction of the solid domed glass most of us think of when bringing to mind an image of an early Targa in the present.
Optional in 1968, the fixed rear glass window of Targa-topped Porsches became a standard fit the following year. “Our suspicion is the car was returned to a main dealer for retrofit rear glass soon after assembly,” says Mikey. “The car certainly left the factory with a retractable rear hood, as evidenced by holes for tonneau fasteners discovered when the shell was stripped bare, its brazed wheel arches were removed and the remaining body was subject to a two-stage media blast.” Immediately, Chris faced a compelling conundrum: should he keep the glass window the car had been wearing for the majority of its life, or should he return his tired Targa to being a 911 carrying a softwindow?
“On balance, I thought it best to return to factory specification,” he reasons. “It was a tough call, especially considering other aspects of the car wouldn’t returning to their original state.”
He’s referring to the car’s engine, which started life as a triple-carb two-litre lump before being enlarged to a 2.4 during time spent racing in Canada. Chris has traced his Targa’s history from the time it left the production line (and was shipped overseas, before being sold by Erhard Motor Sales in Detroit, Michigan), to its later life in Toronto, where it remained until he brought the car to Britain in 2013. “I managed to get hold of a list of previous owners and was struck by the name William Hirst, chiefly because I discovered a receipt bearing the same name when car was stripped in readiness for the rebuild,” he tells us. This lucky find, combined with information from Porsche Club of America and the Vintage Automobile Racing Association of Canada, helped join a series of dots, confirming the Targa was raced by Hirst, hence the presence of buckets, bigger wheels and engine modifications, including aftermarket ignition and airflow equipment. All of it was replaced with standard Porsche products as the project got underway, and though the flat-six has been treated to a complete rebuild, Chris decided to keep it as a 2.4 (a conversion involving new barrels, pistons, connecting rods and crankshaft adjustments), a nod to the car’s colourful history.
TO THE LAST DETAIL
The project began in earnest as 2017 got underway. Both Mikey and Chris were pleased to discover that, beneath those brazed arch bulges, the car was surprisingly solid. The blasting process (a water jet to remove heavy sealer, followed by a non-destructive media treatment), revealed surface rust hidden beneath factory underseal, but overall, the car was in excellent order. Fitting the shell to a jig “to ensure everything was solid and straight” followed, with careful attention paid to building the car back up to as close to a factory finish as possible. This effort extended to the new underseal, where Autofarm’s technicians had to strike the delicate balance of using modern chassis protection products with the desire to achieve a period-perfect look. “The stoneguard used on 911s in the 1960s isn’t as good as the sealer Porsche used at the start of the following decade,” confirms Mikey. “The earlier stuff is a bit like bitumen. If there’s a pin prick or a tear in it, moisture ingress can cause all manner of problems, which can remain hidden from view.
Moreover, the finish offered by the different products Porsche was playing with can vary from year to year,” he adds. Thankfully, by using a considered selection of today’s automotive restoration processes and products, his team was able to achieve the same look produced by the sealer Porsche made use of in late 1967. Form and function were in perfect harmony.
The same approach was taken when it came to the car’s new soft rear window. Getting hold of a replacement screen wasn’t going to be easy, primarily because the aftermarket manufacturer Chris identified as being most likely able to assist him was based in San Diego, offering the part through a retailer in Alberta. Keen to avoid taking delivery of an expensive rear screen that, for all he knew, might not be fit for purpose, he was determined to ensure the part was true to the original Porsche design before parting with his hard-earned cash. To this end, he searched far and wide in the UK to find owners of soft-windowed Targas already equipped with the company’s product.
Eventually, he struck gold by reaching out to a Daventry-based owner of a 912 Targa fitted with the very part he was interested in buying. Delighted by what he saw during an inspection, he immediately placed an order.
New old-stock Targa roof handles and brackets were sourced, as were the required chrome and rubber trims for the new rear screen. Dave Nunn, owner of classic Porsche upholstery specialist, Southbound Trimmers, expertly sorted the car’s retractable roof trim, while Garry Hall at Classic FX came to the rescue when Chris began to evaluate his 911’s cabin space. “Former Autofarm owner, Josh Sadler, pointed me in the direction of someone who had a suitable set of replacement seats for sale,” Chris explains. “They were essentially 356 seats with modified uprights and centres covered in yellow cloth. For the 1968 model year, the 911 S was manufactured with an elephant hide-effect vinyl wrapped around the dashboard, door cards and seat centres. Porsche doesn’t sell this material today, but, amazingly, Garry had some in stock, enabling him to trim the car’s new seats to match its original specification.”
SOUND AND VISION
At some point in the 1980s, holes for large aftermarket speakers were cut into the door cards. The grilles covering them looked peculiar to say the least, but again, referencing his desire to retain original parts wherever possible, Chris decided to invest in subtler grilles, thereby preserving more of the car’s DNA. The same has been achieved with the black flooring. “There was a point when I questioned whether spending an age trying to clean and restore worn carpets was going to achieve the desired effect, but I’m glad we persevered,” Mikey smiles. “With the replacement seats, the correct steering wheel and the retention of the majority of the car’s stock cabin furniture, this Targa’s character has been retained,” he says, though he’d be the first to admit the car looks nothing like the bruised black semi-open-top he first encountered when Chris introduced him to the project four years ago.
With a chassis and mechanical overhaul complete, Chris’s tip-top Targa was ready to return to the road at the back end of 2019. “It’s been a complete joy to work on this 911,” Mikey beams. “It’s a classic Porsche with an interesting story, but also one lucky enough to be owned by someone who was prepared to exercise serious attention to detail in a bid to bring the car back to its best.” Chris did whatever necessary to preserve his Targa’s heritage through the often challenging, continued use of original parts, commissioning Autofarm to refurbish where possible and replacing what was beyond saving only with componentry sympathetic to original specification. Preservation over restoration? You’d better believe it!
Below The finished article is a credit to the work carried out at Autofarm and Chris’s determination to bring the car back to its very best. Facing page Two-litre flat-six was enlarged to 2.4, which Chris tells us delivers near 190bhp. Below Elephant hide-effect vinyl covers each donor seat’s centres, matching the original door cards and dash trim. Above Later body parts and glass rear window did little to suggest the car started life as a soft-window Targa, while many engine and interior updates were fitted during its time racing in Canada. Facing page Every available salvageable original component has been returned to ‘as new’ condition.
The 911 S was introduced in 1967 as part of a model line-up overhaul, which saw the base 911 become the 130bhp 911 L, while a new entry level model arrived in the form of the 110bhp 911 T, the least powerful production 911 to date. The range-topping S, in contrast, produced 160bhp and wore Fuchs ‘five-leaf’ alloy wheels, the first time the design was used. A development of the S’s flat-six was tuned and used in the 904 and 906 race cars.