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01 Mar 2023

Photos by Rich Pearce

The highs and lows of restoring a classic 911

Long-standing Club member Mike Cooper revisits his 30-year love affair with a rare 911  

My Porsche story started in 1987, when I was 26, with a visit to David Alston's garage in Lots Road, Chelsea. Crouching in a corner was a sensational silver 1971 911. I was completely captivated and promised myself that, one day, I'd own something similar. This idea was compounded a couple of years later by an article by Steve Cropley in Supercar Classics featuring a test between a Tangerine 2.4 S and a humble Renault Alpine. You can guess which came out on top, and by a considerable margin. I was hooked.


By 1991, I was living in Hong Kong and finally had the means to buy an early 911. They were not expensive cars back then, but that was a mixed blessing in many ways because so many were not looked after. I tracked down Mr Alston again and bought a very original 1972 911 2.4 S in Tangerine. I bought the car unseen and had it shipped to Hong Kong, along with a large amount of baby paraphernalia. We were expecting our first child and my wife had been to John Lewis on her way to test-drive the car around the Wandsworth one-way system. It was my first Porsche. I've had at least 15 since.

To my eyes, the '72 cars are the prettiest. Long wheelbase, chrome trim and with the quirky oil flap behind the driver's door for that year only. And, of course, the 'S' has the front spoiler - the first use of aerodynamics on a production Porsche. To me, it's exquisite. Tangerine, or Blood Orange, is said to be Butzi Porsche's favourite colour for the car he designed. I've no idea if this is true, but I'm happy to go along with it. Only eight Tangerine 'S' models were sold in the UK in 1972 so, unbeknown to me at the time, it was quite a rare car. It was also high mileage and quite rusty; something that did not make itself clear for a year or two. The doors and front wings soon needed attention.


I drove it around Hong Kong for six years, going for early morning drives with friends, and it never let me down. I even wrote an article for Porsche Post in 1995 about taking the car to Hong Kong and attempting to restore it. But, when I got transferred to Singapore with work the following year, I shipped the car home. Back in the UK, I had the bodywork done yet again and installed a 2.7 RS engine I'd bought in Hong Kong for roughly £1,000. Those were the days!

I remained in Asia for another 12 years and, with little opportunity to drive the car, I reluctantly sold it to a friend of a friend in 2000 and replaced it with a very nice Polar Silver 993 RS. That should be the end of the story, but the 2.4 S had got under my skin. I kept track of it for a while but, when they started getting expensive, any idea of buying it back was shelved. Instead, I kept the 993 RS for almost 20 years before getting into modern Porsche GT cars.


Seismic events are often triggered by the smallest things and so it was in this case. In 2020, bored at home during lockdown, I watched a documentary about Eric Clapton. There was a lovely scene where he pulls up outside his mansion in, yes, an early orange 911. It may not have been the same shade of orange, or a 2.4 S, but it ignited a powerful desire to get my car back. With some help from the DDK forum, I traced the last owner, following a trail across the UK and eventually locating the car in East Anglia. After fairly protracted negotiations, I bought it back. It was so strange seeing it after so many years. It cost a bit more than I sold it for, but the 993 RS had been kind to me financially and nothing was going to stop me getting my car back.

Having got the restoration wrong twice, I was determined to get it right the last time. The best advice I can now offer anyone thinking of getting a car restored is do it once and do it properly. Cry once when you get the bill, but at least you won't cry every time you look at the car! For the mechanical work, I approached Maxted-Page, who I consider to be among the best in the business. The steering, brakes, suspension, gearbox and engine were all rebuilt and it's now back to being a 2.4. The car is as close as I can get to 'as new', which was my objective.


I've tried to get as many of the details as possible right and learned a lot along the way. For instance, there is now an aluminium plate in the carpet next to the accelerator pedal. This was only fitted to the right-hand-drive cars to prevent wear on the carpet. Typical Porsche attention to detail.

These cars were not valuable in the '80s and '90s, so a lot of the smaller bits and pieces went missing during restorations or repair work. Finding them again is all part of the fun, although it can be expensive. I became obsessed with having the correct green spot jack and toolkit with spare fuses, the right stickers inside the oil flap to avoid petrol being put in there, the 'floating' Blaupunkt radio, the correct matt black screws in the rear parcel shelf. I could go on and I frequently do.


I've greatly enjoyed the journey of trying to get the car absolutely right. It's still not quite there, but it's come a long way and it's wonderful to have the same car back in my life that I bought 32 years ago. I go into the garage often just to look at it and laugh to myself about all the places we've been and the memories we share. It's been with me to Stuttgart, France, Hong Kong and all over the UK. At some point, I'd like to take it back to Ayr in Scotland where it was sold new in March 1972.

I'm very lucky in having a modern GT3 alongside it but, in many ways, the 2.4 S is a more satisfying car to drive. It's quite physical by modern standards, with no servo on the brakes and a 915 gearbox that is nowhere near as precise as a modern one. The steering, of course, lacks the instant turn-in of a modern Porsche GT car, but overall it's both visceral and engaging to drive - a truly 3D experience. And now it's what Jerry Seinfeld calls a 'dead guy car'. The next time it gets sold, I won't be here. Having lost it once, it won't happen again.


Sincere thanks to Lee Maxted-Page and his workshop director, the amazing Adam Lichtig, Gary Hall at Classic FX, Karmann Konnection, Vic Cohen and my friend Neil Dickens at the Hairpin Company for helping me keep the faith. 
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