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Rattle and hum!

U

should drive a 60’s race-car

2

Wasting a rare 60 degree cloudless December day in St. Louis certainly rises to the level of a misdemeanor. To do so, as a Backdraft owner, is pure felony. Anticipation fills my heart as I wash away the clouds of weekly drudgery and commuting. The approach of noon and the assurance of knowing that all my neighbours are out in their yard, power-tools ablaze, fills me with the courage to awaken the stuporous elapid in her heated pen.

Despite a slight struggle with “winter”-gas (a pox on the house of the inventor of this bane), she thunders into life, with throbbing anger as her electric choke settles her carb in. Many people, myself included, think that “sports-cars” with their special exhausts sound loud. I am pleased to report that there is simply NO point of reference when it comes to the sound of a fully roused 427 ci classic race engine. It is not just loud, but also rich and deep. It permeates the environ, filling the listener with warmth of a bath in warm chocolate sauce on a frozen morning. The sound equivalent of a Chocolate Fudge Sundae. On a Saturday.

Like all good things, driving a Cobra replica, is filled with an elaborate ceremony. 4-point seatbelts. A tiny metal key. Turning the battery contact. And then, the starter button. Followed by the eruption of sounds and smells that embellish the whole experience. Being older and weaker, the wimp in me opted for the power steering and the modern T5 gearbox. While this takes something away from the rawness of the original, it does make backing out of a curved driveway a lot easier.

Starting cold, the car seems a little lumpy at low speeds. Even the initial takeoff on the ramp to the expressway seems to betray greater deliberation. Overall, when fully warmed up the ideal cruise is at around 2200 rpm, when the engine feels most relaxed. 1900 rpm seems to be the harmonic frequency of the engine and results in a fair amount of vibration, particularly in top-gear. For most driving in urban areas, 4th gear is a comfortable top. Going to 5th at below 65 mph is clearly uncomfortable, both for car and driver. Interestingly, the space between 2200 and 3100 rpm is the sweet spot for a drive. Above 3000 rpm the engine gets a bit shouty, but heading towards higher rpm results in a more coherent sound as she seems to settle into her preferred race-car state.

Heading out on a country road, this car is in its element. Sharing Ken Miles’ intials (but alas, none of his skill), I pilot this brooding serpent through a beautifully surfaced and banked country road as the fallow winter landscapes flash by. Yes, the race suspension from a 2010’s BMW M3 is firm but surprisingly unpunishing. For a change, I care little for the racket I make as there is no-one around save the hibernating wildlife.

Heading back to the expressway, the car does not skip a beat in switching back to highway cruiser. Sailing with silent (relatively) menace, every Mustang, Corvette and muscle car d’jour slows to match in awe of her beauty and character. A bevy of waves, “thumbs up”, and honks accompany her as she imperiously strides on her homeward trek.

And what of the driver?

Unlike Bond’s martini, stirred AND shaken.

And who needs a dessert, a drink or a drug, when the high that ensues from driving this is so magical that the whole point of each week is looking forward to this weekend dalliance.

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Move over Eagle Speedster, THIS is the prettiest car in the world.

The rarefied club of readers of this blog will recognize my many prior ululations in salute of my erstwhile Carrera 3.2. These astute few may also remember that a few months ago, that car had left our families fold, as we searched anew for a replacement. One, distinct from the stark and dull 80s look to a more chrome laden, but new car. Discerning readers might think that a Porsche reimagined by Singer might meet these criteria, but to an untrained eye (and we have many in our family), they still seem like an acquired taste. As cars go, built with Germanic precision, with crisp handling and accurate dynamics, nothing comes close to a Porsche in maximizing the drivability and performance to price ratio. However, the real price you pay, is the push-me, pull-you bug-eyed appearance. Despite my many efforts to portray it otherwise, the beholder that finds a Porsche pretty is rare.

Which is why, the aesthete of the family and love of my life, never really warmed up to it. Also, growing up in a middle-class household, we could never really think of a “used” car as special. On a jaunt to Fastlane Cars in St. Charles, MO, we came upon a gorgeous Porsche Blue Shelby Cobra Replica made by Backdraft Racing in Boynton Beach FL. Coming on the heels of watching Matt Damon and Christian Bale in Ford vs. Ferrari, she was familiar with the shape but enamored of the brightwork and the colors of this beautiful car.

Looking more into BDR, I found that like a modern-day iteration of Carroll Shelby, this was a company with a strong racing heritage, who were not trying to replicate a Cobra, but build a beautiful modern classic racecar inspired by both the spirit as well as the shape of the Classic Cobra. While Shelby American continues to sell “authorized” continuation copies (both in aluminum and fiberglass), there are several manufacturers that build “replica” cars. I would like to briefly review my thoughts on them from my research on the internet and why one could choose to buy on of them and how it influenced my decision to go with a Backdraft.

  1. Shelby American: These are continuation cars with both aluminum and fiberglass bodies sold as rollers (i.e. rolling chassis with everything minus the engine and transmission). Shelby does make a variety of Ford derived engines that fit these. They do have independent front and rear supsensions with updates to make them more modern, but the original top-loader four and the 427FE engine (while classic – tend to be a bit of a 60s handful). These are also at a significant premium with a take-home cost of $150k (fiberglass) and $250K (aluminum) with a typical engine set up. Cost aside, these do represent a good value when it comes to resale.
  2. Superformance. Licensed by Carrol Shelby (after a lawsuit), these are honest copies of the Shelby with a variety of modern accoutrements to make the Serpent less of a threat. No, you don’t get ABS or traction control, but still. With jewel like precision and superb fit and finish, they seem to have become the industry standard. From the 289 “slab side”, the 289 FIA, the 427 roadster and the 427 s/c, they make Cobras in all flavors and shapes. While respected both as a car as well as with resale, I was some what put off by the unashamed similarities to the original and did not want to come of as a poser. Plus, the original Hi-Tech company and Superformance were originally a collision company restoring old damaged cars, not really a Carroll Shelby esque racing heritage. FWIW, all the cars used in Ford v. Ferrari were SPF replicas.
  3. ERA. With Everrett Morrison, probably one of the oldest acts, these are well respected replicas sold as owner assembled kits. I lack the sophistication to assemble one, nor the confidence to drive something I put together in the garage, a car with an enormous engine trying every second to swallow me whole. That said, a well put together ERA is a beautiful sight, but the key is finding one that is well put together. Also, the whole point was to move away from a used car.
  4. Everret Morrison. Also good cars but IMHO in the second or third rung.
  5. Factory Five Racing. Initially building these cars by putting a fiberglass body on an old Mustang ‘donor’, these have moved to modern chassis with wonderful attributes. The fact that several builders will deliver a turnkey product, does not change the fact that something in their appearance or prior stigma – does not really look right to me.

Backdraft Racing is a South Africa based company with strong racing roots. As winners of Daytona in 1984, Reg Dodd and Tony Martin, imbue these cars with the raw spirit and character of the original car that inspired these. With a subtly different shape, these pay an homage to the artistry of the AC Ace body (originally circa 1953) modified by Carroll Shelby in 1965 with flared front and rear fenders, a giant maw and huge side-pipe exhausts. And yet, looking at the car, it does not look like someone cloning a car but creating a different inspired original. Unlike many of the replicas above, these were built to race first, drive or show last. With a typical ladder suspension bonded to a beautifully painted fiberglass shell, these cars represent the best ideals of the performance of the original Cobra without the weakness of the aluminum body. Fiberglass, the shell used in Carroll Shelby’s first choice, the Corvette.

And what is it like?

Glorious. Simply glorious.

As I gingerly, sat down and was briefed by Dan Hillebrandt, the sales manager at FastLane Cars, the horror stories of crazy cobras and drivers out of their depth, filled my mind. Turning the key and pressing the starter button seemed to unleash Surtur as the entire world began to shake and tremble. Passers-by took a step back. Abashed by the drama, I bid farewell to my guide, engaging first and letting out the clutch as the newest member of our household rolled forwards towards the exit of the lot. It is at this point that I realized that the drivers and passenger side, RayDot mirrors were a wonderful cosmetic addition, with no purpose. The only thing scarier than driving a 2400lb pound car with 7.0L V8 engine with 488 bhp and 533 lb ft of torque, is doing so without knowing who else might be on the road.

Gingerly, easing myself on to the highway, I was immediately pleased to see that the more “novice” T5 gearbox, allowed me to shift quickly through the gears to settle into a legal cruise, while traffic seemed to zip around me. Still, noone seemed to come as close as they are wont (in my other vehicles). I would like to believe that the fearsome thunder emanating from this Reptile had something to do with it. The price of all that thunder? Refueling halfway from home. With an uneventful ride back home, this Indigo Blue RT4 with it’s white racing stripes, noisily slipped up our driveway and joined our family, welcomed by her new namesake, her dog and the two kids as they posed for pics.

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The lost gear!

There was a young lady of Niger
Who smiled as she rode on a tiger;
They returned from the ride
With the lady inside,
And the smile on the face of the tiger.

-William Cosmo Monkhouse

As I read this poem, I can’t help but think that the author must have been thinking of an air cooled porsche (maybe, even a pre-964 Turbo). For like the lady’s tiger, they have been known to have quite the appetite for the unwitting driver.

There are many things I love doing. Nothing, however, beats driving my air cooled wonder of the 80s, as St. Louis slumbers, in the Sunday morning chill. Of course, as anyone who is wont to ride on moody tigers will tell you, taking it slow in the begining, has its just rewards. While normally afflicted by pedestrians, bicycle people, dog people and their dogs, as well as people who, evidently, learned driving online, the streets of Clayton at daybreak are bereft of hurdles, as the engine warms up, and thus lubricates the gearbox. Unlike the rapid shifting of more modern cars, barely sneaking above the idle at 1600 rpm, this sleepy tigress needs to be kept in the revs to avoid lugging the engine.


When I first started driving air cooled rear engine cars, I drove them like modern cars. Moving quickly through the gears till I was in the highest achievable gear at the lowest rpm. Turns out, not such a good thing for oil cooled cars. Why, you ask? Well, it has to do with the fact that the engines revs circulate the oil. So, low revs mean low oil circulation, which in turn is bad for your engine.


Which is all very well, but what does that have to do with the “lost gear”?
I’m coming to that. I often wondered why Porsche stuck with 4 gears on the 930 for a long time. When you drive a five speed, you figure out exactly why. While first gear is punishing, and should NEVER be downshifted into, second and third gears are great to wind up the engine. But my favorite gear of all is: fourth. It is amazingly tractable and on the expressway, is all you will ever need.


To anyone who has not driven a rear engined air cooled car without modern accoutrements, this may not make sense. But, having power to the rear wheels, is paradoxically more reassuring than slowing down. Staying in the band between 4250 and 5250 rpm in 4th, feels like the car is being stuck to the road under the burden of Mjolnir’s fearsome force. In the few instances, where I have had to take it beyond the 5300 mark (to avoid idiots), I did not feel a lack of grip, but I fear my 35 year old brakes and 45 year old reflexes on skinny tires may be overmatched.


Which brings me to 5th. Why does it even exist?


When I took delivery of this beast, I drove it as I did my previous cars and frequently drove in 5th. Did not really enjoy it, and did not realize what I was missing by quickshifting through 4th. Speaking to the engine’s tuner, I realized the error of my ways, and haven’t looked back.


Today morning’s saunter in the wild, I strayed into fifth again. This time I could objectively feel the car feel light and jitttery, like a debutante at her first dance, despite running between 3500 and 4500 rpm. Downshifting back to 4, brought back the character, the firmness and reassurance. The tires seemed to cling harder as the cars claws seemed to reemerge.


To those of you, in 4 speed air cooled cars, lusting for the magic of overdrive, I would like to reassure you that it is completely overrated and unnecessary. It’s fine for a sedan or a daily driver. Not, these tigers.

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Cars

The 1985 Carrera RS that Porsche never made.

Every era of 911 cars was notable for the presence of race derived or the so-called RennSport cars. Often naturally aspirated, these represented the pinnacle of Porsche’s commitment to developing true sports cars rather than supercars and hypercars. Great to drive, compact, practical and reliable, all 911s (and 356s before) have been as adept on a race track as they are as daily drivers – with individual cars often racking up the kind of mileage that an entire fleet of Ferraris would never see (or survive).

1964-5 (the birth year of the 911) as well as 1984-85 were interesting years in the history of Porsche. While in the former, the 911 had just launched to much fanfare, the 80s were a time of rededication to the 911 doctrine. In the two decades since its launch, the 1985 Carrera (911) was still an air-cooled flat six with a largely unchanged body shape. The engine had gone from a 2.0 L 130 bhp to a 3.2 L 231 bhp (204 bhp for the US), while the body had a wheelbase of 87 inches at launch (weighing 2381 lbs) increasing in 1985 to 89.45 inches in 1985 (now weighing 2756 lbs). In both guises, these were striking purpose built cars, as seen below.

A 1968 912 (similar in appearance to the original 1964 901(911)
1985 Carrera 3.2 Targa – The Secret RS

Starting in the late 60s with the R and the ST versions of the standard factory cars, Porsche launched several race oriented road cars. In the 70s, these became the Carrera, Carrera RS, Carrera 2.7 and Carrera 3.0 as well as the ultra-rarefied SC RS, RSR and RSR touring cars. In fact, in 1985, Porsche made 20 SC RS cars with the 3L engine but not with the 3.2. To this day, Porsche continues this with the R, GT3, GT3R, GT3RS, and GT2RS cars. To a classic owner, though, some characteristics of the great cars include, an air-cooled fire breathing raucous engine, a non-assisted steering with incredible feel, delightful suspension with characteristic handling (and none of the silliness of a Turbo trying to kill you), a mechanical clutch and robust gearbox (the old 901 and later the 915). All this, in a practical 2+2 body.

The Carrera 3.2 from the 80s represents the pinnacle refinement of the movement that began in 1965. Come 1989, and the onset of the modern paradigm shifting 964-bodied Carrera/911, these classic lines and characteristics would morph into what is the contemporary Porsche 911. A more modern hydraulic clutch and gearbox, twin spark ignition (an erstwhile feature of racing P-cars from the 50s and 60s), improved brakes, at the cost of a larger and heavier (and maybe, a little more ungainly looking) body. But for purists like I, nothing says the zenith of the 911 aura like a 1985 Carrera Targa – especially, this beauty that is named after my beautiful, and equally hot-headed, spouse.

This particular car started out as a grey market imported (german/ROW spec) car with the Sport package, cruise control and LSD as well as a leather interior. After a brief course in Texas, she moved to California until 2013 when she moved to the midwest. In Nebraska, another loving owner lavished his attentions on her. With the assistance of Terry Worick and Sal Carceller, significant improvements were underway. Retaining her perfectly preserved original paintwork and leather interior, her entire engine was transformed from a competent Euro Spec 231 bhp engine to fire breathing 296 bhp monster capable of humbling any naturally aspirated 964 from the next generation. Taking out the engine, a complete engine rebuild was performed.

Recondtioned heads with ARP head studs and ARP rod bolts
98 mm Mahle cylinders with JE pistons. 10.5:1 compression. Cylinders drilled for twin spark. New piston rings. Engine capacity increased to 3.4 L.
DC21 (Dougherty Racing) camshaft – subsequently replaced by a 964RS camshaft
Competition spec valves with upgraded valve seats and high performance springs with titanium retainers
Patrick Motorsports lightweight flywheel with upgraded pressure plate. Jwest Rennshift performance shifter to make the transmission much sharper.
Custom S-CAR DME MAF with enlarged injectors.
Andial splitter for twin spark
Wideband AFR
Completed engine
Installed engine with Billy Boat 1 3/4″ headers and dual inlet/outlet mufflers with stainless steel tips

In addition, with the assistance of Scott Fowler and Reid Vann Luxury Imports in St. Louis, since purchase, we have corrected all the wiring gremlins of a 35 year-old car, installed turbo tie rods to sharpen the handling. While a suspension upgrade to the car was considered, it has been currently held off on the advice of the experts at Reid Vann. The current feeling is that the handling – even with the stock adjustable suspension as well as the ride height is currently perfect and further enhancements may only result in diminishing returns.

When the rubber meets the road…

As seen on the dyno, this vehicle makes 227 lb ft of torque and 254 rwhp. This is pretty close to the output of later generations of the 964 RS, all with the weight advantage of the older body and close to the maximum that can be handled by the 915 gearbox.

A stock Carrera could do 0-60 in 5.5 sec in 1985. I, on the other hand, don’t care about what this car takes to go from 0-60. Because, when I step on it – she goes. She is not defined by numbers but by the feelings she evokes. It would seem that bats making a hasty exit from hell could not catch up, and if they could, the evil hellhound sound of this car would terrify them anyway. People have talked about using different engine management (e.g TEC3R) but I believe that Sal has built an amazing and unique unit – that is ideal for this car. Like a fine vintage, all good things have really come together in this. Similarly, people have mentioned using Fabspeed and MK exhausts over the Billy Boats – but why would I, when the evil growl from this car’s rear is a perfect match for its character.

During a recent Porsche club drive, this car had no trouble keeping up with newer 997 and even 991 cars. Unlike many tribute cars out there – 911R reproductions, 911ST, RSR Carreras etc. , this car makes no bones about what it is. It is proud to look and feel like a REAL G-modell 911 from the 1980s. It has no fake flares, no outsize tires, no tea-tray, wide fenders or slantnose. It is not backdated, like a Singer. Outwardly, it looks and feels like the perfect factory Carrera 3.2 – with the heart of a Rennwagen.

So, it sounds like an RS. It drives like an RS. It has the creature comforts that a touring car would have.

What can I say?

If it talks like an RS and walks like an RS, I would posit that it probably is the RS version of the Carrera, that Porsche never made in 1985. I represented it, as such, at the recent HCCMO Easter Concours d’Elegance, and, I think they must agree.