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08 Feb 2024

A remarkable restoration

The ultimate barn find: The first ever long wheelbase 911  

For more than a quarter of a century, one of the most historically significant 911s in existence lay hidden in a barn in rural Scotland.
 
The missing original interior and bonnet were both in a nearby pigsty, the matching engine on a bench in a shed. But, despite being in a state of disassembly and wearing aftermarket additions such as a replica ducktail spoiler and vinyl roof, chassis 119200001 was largely complete. Surrounded by the rusting hulks of old farm machinery, other abandoned cars and mountains of straw, it was bought in 2011 by Porsche enthusiasts Brendan Mullen and Mike Birtwistle, who would gradually uncover its unique and extraordinary history.
 
Sporting a curious mix of parts from different model years and hiding much of its provenance beneath decades of dirt and corrosion, several hours of probing and head-scratching would lead to one remarkable conclusion: this was an ultra-rare factory prototype and the very first of Porsche’s long wheelbase cars.
 
By the end of the ’60s, the 911 had been in production for a little under five years and had already garnered a reputation for unpredictable high-speed handling. Porsche’s solution had been to stretch the wheelbase by 57mm, offering a marked improvement in road manners that arrived in tandem with some useful engine upgrades. The 1969 model year saw not only the launch of the reconfigured chassis design but also the arrival of the ‘E’ for Einspritzung, which meant mechanical fuel injection for the first time.
 
With its mishmash of original parts and anachronistic add-ons, the car in question still took several months to fully identify. Its Kardex would eventually prove beyond doubt to Mullen and Birtwistle that this was indeed an official factory prototype, a ‘Versuch’ car, built in June 1968 and finished in paint code 6804 ‘Light Ivory’ with a unique crimson cloth interior. It featured the new long wheelbase and the first of the fuel-injected engines. But why on earth was it right-hand drive?
 
Following further investigation, it was discovered that the car was used by the factory as a development mule for six months before being sold. This was a very rare event in itself because most prototypes were simply crushed. It was bought by British single-seat racer Robert Lamplough, who had it converted by the factory to right-hand drive before taking delivery via Porsche Cars GB in Isleworth. Lamplough soon sold it to his friend Paddy McNally, a privateer Porsche racer and later James Hunt’s F1 manager. McNally was based in Switzerland and, less than a year later, he would sell the car to local legend and Porsche works driver Jo Siffert. Prior to his tragic death at Brands Hatch in 1971, Siffert ran a dealership in Fribourg and it was presumably from here that this anomalous right-hand-drive car was sourced by a UK buyer for a second time. It then passed through several more owners around the British Isles, undergoing a repaint in black among its other dubious modifications, before winding up in that remote lowland barn to begin a 25-year hibernation.
 
In 2012, Mullen and Birtwistle decided to sell the car they had nicknamed ‘Eve’ via online auction ‘Bring a Trailer’ and it was bought blind by New Zealander, retired airline pilot and PCGB member Martin Butler. Martin has since presided over an extraordinary programme of works that has seen the car returned with painstaking attention to detail to the exact specification with which it left the factory for the last time in 1969. 
 
The bodywork was restored by Lee Peacock of Auto Classica and finished by Gary Cook at GDC Automotive. Original metalwork was retained as far as possible and so too was all external hardware, from year-specific suspension components down to the last refinished nut or bolt. The car was even repainted with the products and processes that would most closely replicate a period factory finish.
 
The interior was completely restored by Gibson’s in Harrogate, with precisely matching vinyl trim, correct corduroy fabric in the seat inserts and carpets sourced from Southbound Trimmers. Anything that could be saved was carefully brought back to life. “We were even able to clean up and re-stitch the leather on the steering wheel,” Martin says. “And to think that Jo Siffert had his hands on it at one stage is pretty special.”
 
Meanwhile, engine work was undertaken by Nick Fulljames of air-cooled specialists Redtek, whose strip down soon confirmed that the matching number 6290001 unit was indeed using the first known production magnesium crankcase and a prototype Bosch MFI pump. Nick’s investigations also revealed various other firsts, including prototype con-rods, experimental throttle bodies and the original green engine shroud that would go on to become a signature of the 911 E.
 
“I knew what we were in for,” Martin admits, “and that it was going to be a long and expensive nut-and-bolt restoration. But our determination was always that we were going to save every possible piece of this car. Having restored two other examples from this period with Lee, we understood the pain that was coming to get everything right. But the results are a tribute to everyone who has been involved.”
 
Eve is disarmingly beautiful, inside and out, while the accompanying backstory offers a priceless insight into some of the most significant years of 911 development. As a factory mule, the car completed just short of 45,000 miles in six months as its engineers stress-tested that magnesium case and MFI system to the nth degree. Now restored to its 1969 specification and with factory conversion to right-hand drive preserved for posterity, chassis 119200001 is an extraordinary and important part of Porsche’s air-cooled canon, a car with a story as rich and intriguing as any other in this period of rapid progress. Several substantial leaps of faith lie behind its renaissance, undertaken by multiple dogged and passionate personalities. 
 
The car will be on display at Autoworld in Brussels for the next six months, adjacent to a special exhibition of Porsches from the Museum. After that, beyond one surely unforgettable European road trip next summer, Martin’s plans remain uncertain. “I’d like to see it remain accessible to the public,” he says, “and while it would be a great car to have at home in New Zealand, we’re all just short-term custodians at the end of the day. And I’ve promised the wife I’m done with restorations. It’s been a special journey for me already and one that’s definitely ended on a high note.”

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