A domestic fire led Stuart Macleod to restore this stunning 911 targa. Porsche on a budget. One man’s quest to build a perfect 911 without breaking the bank.
Classic car owners of a nervous disposition look away now; the start of this restoration story is not for the squeamish. Having moved to a new house, serial Porsche owner and fashion industry film director, Stuart Macleod’s 1973 Porsche 911 was interred in its garage alongside numerous boxes of possessions. While the property was being fettled a fire broke out, and in Macleod’s words “we lost the lot – belongings, but most importantly the car”.
Worse was to follow, though, because the frenzy for early Porsches had begun in earnest. “I thought I’d insured it properly,” he recalls, “but in the time between settling the claim and finding a new car they went beyond my reach; it was a period of absolute insanity. In three months I was £20,000 adrift, and by the time I’d found a couple of possible cars I was £40,000 behind. Then you panic, thinking this is never going to happen – I’ll never have my car again.”
After the incident, Macleod found himself in a very brown hotel in Moscow, where it was -23°C outside, filling in the insurance claim on a laptop having spent “the worst afternoon of my life” discussing hair colourings with a group of Russians. It had an effect: “I remember thinking, ‘life’s too short’, I’m going to retire and do what I always wanted to do, take an old 911 apart.”
Alan Drayson of Dorset-based Canford Classics had looked after Macleod’s various Porsches over the years, and offered a sympathetic ear. “He’s a remarkable man in all the good oldfashioned ways you like remarkable men to be,” Macleod observes. “I said ‘my car’s been burnt to a cinder’ and he replied ‘don’t worry’. I explained that I didn’t have the money to do what most customers do, which is deposit a car, only to return two years later to write a cheque, and also that I wanted to be involved. His answer was ‘you do as much as you can, we’ll help you out’.’’ And so the hunt for a suitable vehicle began.
Having narrowly missed out on a Tangerine right-hand-drive coupé that sold within 24 hours for £85,000, Macleod decided to settle on a targa; this would offset some of the effect of the rising market, while also fulfilling his growing wish for fresh-air motoring. He picked up the phone to Chelsea Cars in Wandsworth. “I knew of a purple 911E that I’d seen there about five years earlier, and at the time thought, no, no, no,” he explains. “It was still there, and because of its rusty state I was able to negotiate hard on the price.”
With the car secured – on 23 March 2014, 41 years to the day after its first registration – the first port of call was Canford Classics where, after it was inspected, he was given two choices: drive the 911 as is, or embark on a restoration. Following his gut instinct, Macleod decided on the latter: “I just wasn’t convinced it was safe.” In a curious twist of fate, during the conversation, the subject of the missed Tangerine coupé came up: “Alan actually had it in the week before and, despite having been sold as ‘perfect’, his advice to the owner had been to take it apart and start again.”
Having dodged that particular financial hand grenade, work began in earnest on his new purchase, Macleod accepting Drayson’s offer to “work on it at our place”. Five months of forensic bagging and labelling began, as he carefully stripped down the 911 under the company’s supervision – making the 100-mile commute to Dorset two nights a week and staying in a B&B.
“They really are fanatics,” he says. “I remember Alan’s colleague Chris Lowe coming up tome while I was working on wiring in the boot and saying ‘don’t lose those grommets – you can’t get them, and they’re original Porsche ones that fit perfectly’.” That level of detail would remain at the forefront of Macleod’s approach because, after schlepping the boxes home, his life descended into a blur of scrubbing, Gunk and Swarfega.
Stripped of mechanicals, the shell went to Envirostrip in Tamworth and, despite Drayson’s warnings, Macleod went along to take some snaps: “They’re nice people, the type that made me love this process… but to see your car go into an oven, you think that’s it, the last time I’ll see it and it’ll come out in a box.” The rust that had been visible on the floorpans proved to be the tip of the iceberg; when the 911 returned with all the filler removed, it resembled a colander.
From there, though, things really got motoring as Dayson’s subcontractor started taking off the rotten bits. Despite the cost, original Porsche panels were ordered. “They fit better than aftermarket items, but you can quickly find yourself with an £8000 bill,” muses Macleod. “My 911 cabriolet went to fund the project.” With the shell on a jig and new parts going on – half a floor, inner wings and the door pillars started – Macleod received the type of call you dread. “It was Alan,” he says, recalling the conversation. ‘‘He’d decided it was not good enough, saying ‘I’m not happy with the panel gaps, I’m not happy with this, with that…’”
Having consulted ex-Porsche GB men Tony and Sean Littlejohn, as well as Nick Purton at Andover-based GTR Motorsport, the decision was made to start again: “Apparently, you never replace half of the floorpan on a targa – you do the whole thing, or it’ll never be right. You remember I said Alan was an extraordinary man? Well, he swallowed the cost of the work to then.”
Another necessity to getting the structure correct became apparent the next time Macleod saw the car, at GTR Motorsport’s premises in November 2015, where he found his beloved 911 in two distinct parts: “When I asked why they’d done that, Sean said it’s much easier to work on and necessary for getting it right. I can remember sitting in the garage thinking that’s it, I’m not going to get any money out of this and all I’ll have is a bag of bits. On the way home, I was thinking I can sell the seats for this…”
After all the emotional lows, the motoring gods finally cut him some slack with the troublefree completion of the bodywork. The floor, front end, inner wings, one outer wing and the all-important ‘kidney bowls’ – once the scariest words a 911 owner could hear – were all done.
And most importantly, it was back in one piece. Then came the question of the paint: “The original Roman Purple is a lovely ’70s shade, and if it had been an investment it would have stayed that way, but my wife Susie said ‘you can’t have one that colour’. On top of that, I couldn’t see myself driving a purple car. It was going to be the last 911 for me, so I decided that it had to be Albert Blue. The trouble is, I’d seen three Albert Blue cars and they differed wildly in hue, so I had GTR Motorsports spray a panel, brought it home and took it out in different lights to see what it was like during the day and at night. For two weeks Tony asked ‘are we going to spray this car?’ until suddenly one morning I knew it had to be Slate Grey – I’d had an SC and 928 in that colour and loved them. Tony’s response was ‘Since when has grey come into the conversation, we’ve talked purple, black and blue?’”
The previous owner had taken the hit on an engine rebuild and the 911 had covered only 1500 miles since, but the gearbox was recalcitrant from fourth to third – so much so that shifting straight to second was necessary. It was the most significant mechanical component requiring work, several cogs being replaced. And then it was time to see the finished bodyshell.
“It was June 2016 and for the first time after an awful lot of downs, I had an up,” remembers Macleod. “Once sprayed I thought, oh it’s actually a car – I can’t believe it was once in two parts on a spit. And with the3Mprotective coating on the underside it looked like a new one, with even the tiniest bit perfectly coated. It’s an expression I hate, but I did think this will see me out.”
And so began the reassembly and fettling. The interior was kept as original as possible, with just a new carpet set and the addition of a smaller diameter 914 steering wheel. Cracks were found on two of the Fuchs alloys and welded up before being polished by the chaps at Canford Classics. Meanwhile, Macleod deposited the numerous boxes of now sparkling clean parts at the specialist’s premises: “Without them in my garage, I did think where have all my babies gone?”
A final sweep of artisan craftsmen was tasked with carrying out unique jobs in garages and sheds. Julian Reap did the instruments, Ron Vincent the laminated pedal floorboard and Bishop Brightwork the wheelarch trims.
By August 2016, the car was ready for a shakedown, a test that was carried out with glee by Macleod. “I’ve done 1500 miles since,” he says. “That’s more than many owners do in a year, but then I have the time.” It’s also kept the cost of the restoration within reasonable limits, as has Macleod’s labour: “Cleaning is the lowest pay grade, but you take it for granted. I took the exhaust apart, cleaned it up and sprayed it; it took a weekend and two cans of paint – imagine if I’d been paying £50 per hour or more, that would be an expensive exhaust. If I hadn’t been involved in cleaning, taking apart and snagging then I couldn’t have afforded the restoration. It’s labour intensive.”
So is the end result worth it? Well, this little Einspritzer could well be the best targa in the UK. The shutlines are far superior to when it left the factory, and on winding back roads it feels both delicate and communicative, in the way that only one of these early 911s can. Roof panel removed, flat-six singing in your ear, there aren’t many better places to be. It’s a sentiment with which Macleod wholeheartedly agrees: “At 60mph, this is the nicest place in the world.”
It also recently received the ultimate accolade in, of all places, a Majestic Wine car park: “The girl who served me came out and said ‘that’s the coolest car I’ve ever seen,’ and I thought yes, that’s been worth three years of my life.”
Thankfully, now that it’s complete, there’s no danger of it retiring to the garage and simply coming out for the odd polish. Macleod has already fitted a tacho in the glovebox and signed up for this year’s Hero Summer Trial, as well as next year’s Classic Malts: “That’s my idea of heaven, driving around Scotland, drinking Scotch in the evening, and hanging out with people who just want to talk about cars.”
His intimate involvement with the 29th Porsche in his life has ensured that he no longer feels like a fraud – paying someone else to do the work, and then just driving the car – because it’s given him a deeper understanding of the underpinning engineering. It’s also taught him that whatever happens, the car can be as good again: “It’s quite liberating. I used to drive my other classic Porsches with a ‘what if something happened to it’ attitude.” And despite being a steep learning curve it’s something he would do again “if all my money wasn’t tied up in this one”.
Macleod cites his biggest challenge as balancing the budget, and deciding whether or not to re-use parts. “Alan doesn’t consider it to be a fully restored car, because we didn’t replace everything, although you’ve got to leave some room to tinker,” he explains. “A friend said ‘you could sell that, buy a new one and have money in the bank’, but then I wouldn’t go to wonderful meetings with stimulating people, and I’d have nothing to play with – it’s a whole world you want to be involved in. I’ll enjoy it this summer and then I’ll have a whole pile of winter nonsense to do.”
From adversity, via heartbreak and downright shock, Macleod’s 911 adventures continue but what’s his final take on the whole classic ownership and rebuild process? “There are some incredibly talented people in the industry and it’s unbelievably rewarding, but there should definitely be a health warning attached to it.”
Having documented the resurrection of his targa, Macleod is offering to produce a similar photo album for other classic owners: see www.macleodfilms.com
‘AFTER SCHLEPPING BOXES OF BITS HOME, HIS LIFE DESCENDED INTO A BLUR OF SCRUBBING, GUNK AND SWARFEGA
Macleod is justifiably proud of the car that he helped to restore and no longer feels like a fraud who just paid for someone else to do the hard work. Clockwise, from above: targa script on roll hoop; injected 2.4-litre flat-six; beautifully finished cabin features smaller-diameter steering wheel from a 914. Clockwise: slim-hipped targa looks particularly good from rear three-quarter; signature Fuchs alloys; cramped seats in the rear; period Blaupunkt is the perfect finishing touch to the interior.
Work in progress
Corrosion had taken hold in the Porsche’s floorpans. Scrap pile grows as metal is cut out and discarded. Extensive rust revealed beneath rear window seals. With new panels installed, 911 looks like a car again. Stripped shell in primer awaiting repairs to panels. Trial-fitting of targa roof panel and roll-hoop trim.