Intentionally, I prodded the throttle pedal as the rear of the 911 began to slide outwards and away from the centre line. A slight counter steer brought the car back under control, and I watched the dust trail in the rear-view mirror, my view partially blocked by the huge, all-engulfing yellow roll cage. This was the first time I’d driven a 911 on gravel, and later when we reviewed the photographs on the camera’s viewfinder, I recalled similarities to numerous iconic images of 911s at international rallies sliding about the terrain over the previous decades.
This particular 911 has a very rich rallying history. Its owner bought it in 1998 with the intention of taking part in a trans-continental rally. I could sense that he still pondered whether he should have converted the 1972 911 2,4 T to a rally car, but the experiences he’d enjoyed in this Porsche could fill a book. The evening prior to the sunrise shoot, we spent a few hours in his study while he recounted several anecdotes. Some interesting personalities who took part in the first rally included former French rally driver Michèle Mouton and 911 rally guru Francis Tuthill.
After acquiring the car, it was converted to rally specification by Franz Stangel at Carrera Motors in Johannesburg to participate in the 2000 London-to-Sydney rally. Stangel did not only have an abundant knowledge of air-cooled 911s; he had participated in several trans-continental rallies himself. In total, he and his team converted four 911s for this rally, this yellow model being one.
As these rallies were official FIA events, the car had to fulfil all the requirements. The main improvements included stripping the car and adding an FIA-approved roll cage, as well as reinforcing the chassis where necessary. Two Cobra bucket seats were fitted along with all the necessary timing equipment, cut-off switch and engine start button. More importantly, the engine and suspension received upgrades. The mounting points for the front and rear axle, as well as the suspension arms, were reinforced, and the engine and gearbox were taken apart and completely overhauled. Porsche 911S camshafts were installed and a new exhaust system and carburettors fitted, while the porting of the cylinder head was also done. No wonder its maker claimed that power delivery had increased to a healthy 134 kW.
This first event is clearly etched in the owner’s mind as he explained the highlights and daily challenges. Spending a month in a car brings its own set of problems, as the owner explains: “You have your clothes for the hot European summer and the winter in Australia. We each took 30 t-shirts and 30 pieces of underwear. We had a spare wheel up front next to the fuel cell and a spare wheel in the rear behind the seats. A few additional parts were also attached to the roll cage.”
Even with this additional weight and the fact that there were daily timed special stages, the Porsche did an excellent job: “The Porsches were simply remarkable – all the damage we had on the car was self-inflicted. A perfect characteristic of these 911s is that within two hours you can change the suspension to improve ground clearance for the worst sections of the route.”
The owner enjoyed the rally so much that he entered the same race in 2004. The bug really took hold, as he also took part in the 2006 Carrera Sudamericana rally in South America – with the same 911. This included a race from Buenos Aires, Argentina, to Quito in Ecuador. Over the Andes mountain range the cars struggled with their power due to the elevation. The air/fuel ratio mix also needed to be constantly monitored.
Our 2,4 T owner explains what it is about the first rally that made him such an enthusiast: “Your priorities change the moment you pass the starting line. You want to arrive at the final destination, but without getting lost, running out of fuel or breaking down. However, at the same time you also don’t want to be the slowest. You simply don’t think about anything else but the event.”
The level of organisation and administration required for such an event is truly mesmerising, but once you take part, the challenges never stop. Having participated in three of these events, our owner is quite clear about the 911’s capability: “The 911 is one of the best long-distance rally cars. These races are usually dominated by cars such as Porsche 911s and Ford Escorts.”
When things go wrong
If something does happen to your car and you are not at the start line the next morning, you are disqualified. This almost happened: “In the Outback we hit a rock going through a corner. We had to wait for everyone to pass until the truck came past to pick us up. The truck only takes you and your car to the next town. Eventually, we found a backyard mechanic to fix our bent rear swing arm. The car was finally repaired at 11pm. However, we were nearly 640 km from our destination, and the next day we would travel more than 1 000 km! The only option was to drive through the night, take a shower, and tackle the next day.”
As fate would have it, a similar scenario played out in 2004, this time in Italy. In a mountain pass the tail came out and they hit the barrier. After a long story – which involved an old Italian lady, a tow truck, several hand gestures and a 911 mechanic – they arrived at their destination at two the next morning.
Eight years after its last rally, I approached the 2,4 T with a level of respect; after all, it has done close to 40 000 km of cross-continental rallies. The car appeared to be in a better condition than I expected. Obviously it is no concourse contender, but everything is in place, while the yellow hue and blue Fuchs wheels immediately signalled the car’s unique history. The rally stickers in the side window contribute to a marked history of the car’s globetrotting activities.
Behind the doors, this 2,4’s intentions are immediately visible. The doors have pseudo RS- inspired blue pull cables. The race buckets fill the front of the cabin, while the rear is blocked out by the full roll cage and a net to keep the luggage in place. Dampers are attached to two of the roll cage’s cross members.
These days, the car is more conservatively set up for road use, which means it has been lowered again and fitted with semi-slick tyres. It’s not ideal for dusty roads, but as I press the starter button (part of the modern equipment installed with all the rest of the rally and time-keeping buttons and switches), the 2,4-litre engine catches after a few turns. Despite the plethora of upgrades lavished on this pre-impact bumper classic, the exhaust and engine sound is very similar to that of an original 2,4-litre engine. That is where any similarities to one of the more basic 911s from the Seventies end.
Behind the wheel
The bucket seat, along with the four-point harness, holds you perfectly in place. I select first gear and apply just a bit too much throttle as I pull off, causing the rear wheels to spin. I then pick second gear, only to realise the tyres are still searching for grip. Being so close to the ground, a few of the larger stones on the gravel road roll underneath the car and hit the chassis. Feeling like bullets, I opt to steer clear of them where I can.
As we pick up speed, I marvel at the feedback given through the steering wheel. As we approach a corner, I briefly touch the (heavier than usual) brake pedal and turn in confidently, feathering the throttle pedal and sensing how the rear is ready to swing around the moment I press the pedal too far. The corner is too slow to truly feel that fine balance of the 911, but through a faster and longer bend it will be a joy to drive. I wonder just how satisfying – and extremely challenging – it must have been to pilot such a tail-happy 911 for 30 consecutive days across three continents.
With the photographs complete, we head back to the residence of our 2,4 T owner, which requires a few more miles of black top. Here, the additional performance over a standard 2,4 becomes evidently noticeable. The car is swift up to 4 000 r/min, but the moment it passes this mark the engine gets its second breath and the needle swings to that thick red line at 6 200 r/min, a feature still recognisable from this era.
Clutch engaged, I swiftly select the next gear, upon which I can immediately discern that the gearbox feels slightly stiffer and stronger than an original ‘T’. Even though the car is not a great deal lighter than the standard car, the fact that the engine revs with more ease and you can feel the impact of every little piece of road litter in the cabin makes this a racer in every sense of the word.
With just under 40 000 km of rallying, this ‘T’ has been on roads it could not have imagined when it originally rolled off the production line in 1972. Surely though, such an adventure is possibly one of the most exciting drives you could ever have in a Porsche 911, which is as capable away from the asphalt as it is on it.
Article originally published in Total 911.