LEARNING TO FLY / #Porsche-911S
It took just a few minutesʼ drive for ʻMalibuʼ Larry Koch to fall in love with this Porsche-911S , but another 43 years to form whatʼs become an unbreakable partnership… Words: Alex Grant / Photos: Andy Tipping
‘Malibu’ Larry Koch and his four-decade love affair with a 911S.
Just west of Malibu along the coast from Los Angeles, Deer Creek Road rises steeply away from the Pacific shoreline into the beautiful Santa Monica mountains. Painted orange under the warm glow of a Californian evening, its sun-cracked concrete weaving a path through the mountains.
Larry Koch, better known as Malibu Larry, knows this route well. And it shows. Now retired after 38 years as a TWA pilot, he reckons heʼs flown most of the best-known passenger aircraft in service during what heʼs been told were the ʻgolden yearsʼ of aviation. But itʼs this distinctive brown 911S, and an incredible road only a few miles from his home, where heʼs at his happiest.
His enthusiasm is infectious: ʻAnytime I get in the car and start it up I feel great,ʼ he says, reaching for another gear. ʻHangovers, colds, whenever the wifeʼs yelling at you – just get in the car and go for a ride.ʼ
Larry might be a local, but his obsession for air-cooled cars came from a childhood in France, eventually making his way through a multitude of tuned Volkswagens, with a Forest Green ʼ67 Beetle as his mode of transport when he was working as a flight engineer.
ʻIn 1972 I was made co-pilot, my salary doubled and a Porsche seemed like a natural upgrade,ʼ he explains. ʻSo I drove up from Orange Country to Encino, to the Gabriel- Olsen Porsche-Audi lot run by Roman Gabriel and Merlin Olsen from the Los Angeles Rams – the American Football team. But there wasnʼt a car on the lot, the sales guy said heʼd sold all of the ʼ72s, so he suggested I talked to Roman.ʼ
Larry arrived well-researched, convinced by magazine reviews that the mid-spec 911E was the one to have. But Gabriel had a single 911S at the dealership, his own car. It had 600 miles on the clock and, at $9500, it was offered to Larry at $10,500 less than list. But whatʼs since become its most recognisable feature wasnʼt a selling point at first.
ʻI asked what colour it was – he said brown, and I said I didnʼt want it,ʼ he recalls. ʻHe says take the keys and go for a ride, take as long as you want. I was out for ten minutes, if that, before I came back and said Iʼd take it. That was it – I donʼt know how he got home.ʼ
Larry brings the 911 to a rest as the road takes a sweeping right-hander inland, the crests of Pacific waves twinkling in the distance. Under the reddish tint of a fading afternoon, itʼs hard to imagine that the distinctive Mocca Brown, now such a rare colour, was ever an unattractive option. Helped by its flared arches and colour-coded Fuchs wheels, the coupé has made an ugly duckling-like transformation during the 43 years since Larry brought it home.
But that four-decade partnership has brought plenty of unwelcome attention, too. Not least of all from the local law enforcement, whose radar it appeared on almost as soon as it left the dealership. Several fines down, Larry decided to scrub off some of his need for speed by joining the Porsche Club of America and getting some time on track at one of their time trial events.
ʻAnyone who owns a Porsche should have it on the track at least two or three times to know how it performs. Theyʼre completely different to everything else youʼve ever driven and thatʼs what makes these cars so beautiful – theyʼre a unique car to learn how to drive. I went on every track in California: Willow Springs, Sears Point, Riverside – before they tore it down – and of course, my favourite, Laguna Seca.ʼ
You wouldnʼt know to look at it. Aside from the harnesses, wrapped around a harness-bar spanning the top of the folded rear seats, thereʼs little evidence of its track career. A small plaque on the dashboard marks it out as a contender in the 1975 Riverside Race Hunt, its first race, and the turning point for whatʼs happened since, as Larry explains: ʻI spun the car every time I took it out, it was the only way I could figure out how hard to push it,ʼ he says. ʻI didnʼt have a lot of experience, and I was learning on the run so I busted the transmission on that event.
ʻThis guy comes up to me, he had a VW Bus that he had converted to Porsche running gear...it was beautiful. He said heʼd tow it home and swap out the transmission for 250 bucks – heʼd give me a rebuilt one and Iʼd give him mine, which sounded like a fair deal. He towed it to his garage – he had a lot of parts in it, so I said to put some new shocks on for me, too.ʼ
It wasnʼt the good deal he was expecting. Putting the new parts through their paces on the way home he realised he was being followed and, as he pulled up on the drive, a Volkswagen screeched up to a halt in the road, and a pair of armed police officers started barking orders at him.
Larry was dumbfounded: ʻApparently they had been watching this guy, as he was dealing in stolen Porsche parts. They arrested me right there – the engine was stolen, the trans was stolen. ʻWeʼre impounding your car, and youʼre under arrest.ʼ I had no idea!
ʻThe transmission had its numbers filed off, so it was confiscated, but I got my car back, and they asked if Iʼd testify against this guy. He cost me a bundle because I had to buy a new transmission outright, but he was guilty, and they deported him.ʼ
But, having had a glimpse of how the car could be even quicker with aftermarket parts, the Porsche took a change of direction. The 930 Turbo Carrera launched that same year and, while it was outside the reach of a TWA co-pilotʼs salary, the wider wings that set it apart from lesser models were an easy upgrade. At least, they should have been.
Instead, Larry wound up with a six-month separation from his car, as the bodyshop closed down mid-way through fitting the glassfibre wheelarch flares and it disappeared, eventually turning up in the painterʼs back yard in Costa Mesa before being hastily finished.
Baulk if you will at the thought of hacking apart an early 911S, but those glassfibre add-ons were a short-lived addition. Two weeks after his six-month separation was over, a spare wheel escaped from underneath the van in front on the freeway while he was out driving with his wife. There was nothing he could do.
ʻI tried to turn really hard, but it wiped out the whole side of the car,ʼ he says. ʻThe flares ripped off, it blew both tyres, it just trashed it. Then this guy comes walking down the centre divider of the freeway and asks if anyone saw a spare tyre. It couldʼve been the most expensive walk he ever took – luckily for him he was working for a company, and it was their van.ʼ
The trade-off for some waiting was a massive upgrade in parts quality from the insurance-funded repair job: ʻThese are ʼ76 Turbo flares – these are steel,ʼ says Larry, tapping the rear wing. ʻWe also found another “S” front spoiler and welded on about a foot on either side to the original spoiler to make it line up. That time, I went to the paint shop every day to look for it!ʼ
By the end of the ʼ70s, the Porsche had changed completely. Larry says heʼd been inspired by the International Race of Champions (IROC) cars and, as was the trend at the time, had styled his to match, including adding the eight- and nine-inch Fuchs wheels that still fill out the arches today.
But, of all the parts that swelled the S beyond its factory body lines, itʼs the whaletail still propped up in the corner of his garage that made the biggest difference. A genuine part from Vasek Polak, the dealer who prepared the ʻJellybeanʼ 911 racing cars, it was a glassfibre replica of the wing fitted to the 911 Turbo, but with an extra cooling grille, and it was functional, too.
ʻIt had the most beautiful lines and curves I had ever seen,ʼ says Larry. ʻVasek made only a few, many tried to copy it but they were never the same graceful lines as his work. The mould was broken after the ʼ74 IROC season, but I was able to get one for my newly flared and painted car.ʼ
It wasnʼt until 1986 that the original North American-spec 2.4-litre engine was treated to matching upgrades, though typically it came out of misfortune. Part of one of the valves broke off on the freeway and, despite shutting the engine off almost immediately, it was too late. Instead of rebuilding it back to factory spec, Larry had the capacity increased to 2.7-litres to match European cars and, in doing so, gave it muscle to match the bodywork.
ʻIt probably doubled the torque, thatʼs whatʼs made this thing really interesting,ʼ he explains. ʻFrom a 2.4 where you had to keep the revs up all the time and the cam doesnʼt come on until around 5000rpm, it was possible – not that you would – to accelerate in fourth or fifth from 2000rpm, without the engine bucking out the back. It made the car a really fun drive.ʼ
But, for once, itʼs not damage or theft thatʼs toned down the styling to the subtle levels itʼs reached more recently. Larry kept the 911 almost unchanged for over 20 years, even resisting a slant-nose conversion during the 1980s, before members of the Early S Registry suggested its wide arches would be a good foundation for turning it into a replica of the homologation-special 911 S/T.
So, at the end of the ʻNoughtiesʼ, the original decklid came out of storage and the rubber bolt-ons dictated by the US Department of Transport made way for colour-coded bumpers matched to the centres of the wheels. Itʼs also running a cut-down version of a stock 911S exhaust system, albeit with the baffles removed to make the engine a little more sonorous as it approaches its 7300rpm redline.
This did mean re-learning some of the carʼs limits after two decades of familiarity, though: ʻThe problem is as you get older your mastery level diminishes a little bit,ʼ says Larry, laughing. ʻThe last rally that I was on, I was clipping along fairly good, and weʼre out in farmland where there are no cars anywhere. This is the first time Iʼd driven my car without the whaletail, and I come tearing into this 90 degree turn where a farmer wouldnʼt let the road go straight.
ʻI took it just the way I thought I would take it and I realised as I was coming out that it wasnʼt going to happen. So I kept my foot in it and drifted off onto the opposite side of the road and into the dirt. Fortunately the fences were set way back so there was plenty of room.
ʻThe whaletail made that much difference, you have to drive it totally differently – at least 25mph difference in entry speed. Anything over about 80 is where it really works, and it was amazing. A real eye-opener.ʼ
Toning it down might have taken a little of the grip out of the back end, but that brush with near-destruction on a Californian road was a reminder that the colour which he once walked away from has just become fashionable: ʻIronically, just recently, with the meteoric rise in the early 911s this colour has become more popular as it was only available for a couple of years, thus making it period correct for 1972. Now I know how much my carʼs worth, I donʼt wanna wreck it.ʼ
Which would make this a pretty solid investment, considering the price he paid. But Larry isnʼt entertaining that idea: ʻEven when Iʼm feeling really good about life, getting into my Porsche and firing it up makes me feel even better. Thereʼs no way Iʼll ever part with it.ʼ
He pauses: ʻBut who amongst my family will get it after Iʼm gone? Maybe in my will I will stipulate that first it be insured to its full market value, then each kid gets it for a month, then itʼs sold to the highest bidder, with the remaining kids splitting the profits. Iʼm not sure.ʼ
Buckled back in and with the low growl of idling flat-six behind us, youʼd have to wonder what sort of profits would ever make this worth parting with. Despite the setbacks, with roads like this on his doorstep and time now finally at his disposal to enjoy it, this one-off 911 is worth far more than even the most generous offer for the sum of its parts.
Above: Gone these days is the Vasek Polak-sourced IROC rear wing, the original ʻsmoothʼ look finding favour. Being a 1972 model, Larryʼs 911S, of course, features the one-year only oil filler flap…
Far left: Well, letʼs face it, wouldnʼt you be happy with an early ʻSʼ, empty SoCal mountain roads and wall-towall sunshine?
Left centre: Eight- and nineinch Fuchs wheels shod with Kumho tyres fill out the Turbo flares nicely.
Left: Contoured Personal Fittipaldi is Larryʼs steering wheel of choice.
Above left: Recaro sports seats in tan match the Mocca Brown exterior well. Full harnesses are evidence of time spent on track.
Above: Original engine suffered a dropped valve, leading to a rebuild to 2.7 litres and ʻEuropean specʼ.
Below: Living so close to the Santa Monica mountains, Larry Kochʼs favourite way to relax is to head for Deer Creek Road and explore the 911Sʼs performance.
“THE MOST BEAUTIFUL LINES I HAD EVER SEEN…”
Above: Larryʼs 911S has been through a few guises, but the current S/T-inspired look is his favourite. Fender flares are steel 930 panels.
Far left: Throughout four decades of ownership, Larry has accumulated plenty of paperwork, including this invoice for the 2.7-litre engine build and complete transmission overhaul, which totalled just $6323.60 back in 1988. Oh how we wish we had a time machine…
Above: What better way to see off the summertime blues than going for a quick blast through the twist and turns of the roads above Santa Monica?
Left and far left: In its original form, the #1972 #Mocca-Brown
911S was a pretty desirable car in its own right, but with the progression of time itʼs now become one manʼs personal quest to create his perfect Porsche.
“I SPUN THE CAR EVERY TIME I TOOK IT OUT…”
“A PORSCHE SEEMED LIKE A NATURAL UPGRADE…”