Name Jordan Cohen
From Glendale, CA, USA
First classic 1965 VW Beetle
Dream classic That varies from month to month
Favourite driving song An open Sebring exhaust
Best drive AnySoCal canyon
GERMAN LEGEND THRILLS IN USA
In complete darkness, Dirk leaned across from the passenger seat, shined his torch onto the otherwise dim odometer, and read the fast accumulating distance. He spoke calmly, as if he had done this before: “The checkpoint should be two miles ahead.” In fact, this was Dirk’s first rally and, had I looked, I would have seen that he wasn’t entirely comfortable making up time at night on such a narrow, twisting mountain road.
Luckily, a modern Subaru – supposedly running a minute behind us – followed closely, as if not to get lost, and boasted huge lights that nicely supplemented our 6V bulbs. I could see corners that much sooner, downshifting as I dug into the brakes, and listening to the engine spit angrily, its Webers running rich at altitude. Our Porsche was in its element.
Dirk had found her in a barn in Minnesota – a coupé with good panel gaps and an acceptable level of rust. He’d never restored a Porsche before, but had long admired old photos of bygone rallies and lusted after a 356.
Over five years, he built the car into a focused rally machine. He did his own welding, his own mechanicals and his own paint. He searched tirelessly for the correct period parts: the late-1950s Bosch driving lights, the Carrera speedometer, the Junghans chronometer – which came from a downed Messerschmitt – the Speedster seats with period race belts, all of it.
He fitted a 1967 912 engine, attached it to an open Sebring exhaust (just like Denis Jenkinson!), and drove it sedately to shows. Whenhe finally put the Porsche on a dynometer, he found 88 horses stamping at the rear wheels.
Thundering down the Pearblossom Highway, we needed every one of them: “Jordan, we need more speed.” The needle was already pointing far to the right of centre, but still the Porsche gave more: “There’s the left!” Stab the brakes and shift down to second. With the exhaust screaming into the empty desert, we accelerated towards the anticipated in-marker.
“40 seconds.” Straining our eyes into the darkness. “30.” Where is it? Dirk started counting down to our scheduled in-time: “20, 19, 18…” Towards a crest, beams peering weakly into a black sky then, “We’re on it!” Crafty officials had placed the in-marker on the far side of a low rise; we arrived 13 secs early and ate the resulting penalty.
Driving a 356 is not new to me. I bought my first in 1996 – a champagne yellow SC in original, solid condition – and started driving it to work. Some 70,000 miles later, my mechanic announced his retirement. In response, I began to haunt classic gatherings, looking for someone with a 356 who could teach me car repair. I ran into Dirk, took a single glance at his ’59, lost my wits, and blathered something about buying his car. I must also have said something about maintaining it because I started working with him under both 356s.
A year later, he said he was thinking of selling his. He didn’t have to ask. I wanted to run rallies and Dirk, without ever having participated in one, had built my perfect car. A week later, it was mine.
The Porsche settled into a hollow, menacing burble as it idled on the shoulder of the road, stars reflected in whatever paint wasn’t covered by splattered bugs and road grime. We should have been sitting beside the official car at checkpoint 11, but we weren’t. Rechecking our maps and calculations, we realised that we had blown our compass bearings and had no idea where the final checkpoint had been hidden.
Resigned to receiving the maximum penalty, I drove slowly to the restaurant that marked the end of the rally. We were tired and arrived late. Burgers in hand, watching others get their trophies, I asked the Subaru driver who had been following us for so long whether the Porsche had belched any smoke. “Dude,” he said, “in the mountains, you were spitting fire!” My perfect car indeed.
‘I began to haunt classic gatherings, looking for someone with a 356 who could teach me car repair’
Clockwise: the modified 356 is now running a 912 motor; Cohen at the wheel; heading out into the Californian desert.
Proud Cohen poses with his “perfect car” Working on it was a steep learning curve.