Forget the Stetson, this Porsche 356 Outlaw wears a bubbletop

Photography by John Webber

To paraphrase country singer and sage Johnny Paycheck, who sang “Take This Job and Shove it” like he really meant it, an outlaw is someone who does things their own way, whether you like it or not. The same might be said about an Outlaw Porsche. “Outlaw” came to life decades ago as a joking nickname for builder Gary Emory’s modified 356s: Purists viewed any tweaks to Porsche’s first production car as deserving of jail time.

But that was then. Today, while some Porscheophiles stand firm on this issue, a growing number no longer recommend that miscreants be shamed and sentenced to time in the slammer. The nickname, however, is still with us, and the Outlaw gang wears it with pride.

Both sides do agree on this: The light and nimble 356 is highly desirable as built. Even so, some owners crave more power, better handling, stouter brakes and maybe an extra gear.

These folks, for reasons of their own, have personalized their 356s and now swear there’s even more to love. As a result, modified Porsches have become so mainstream that even the august 356 Registry offers an Outlaw class at its events.

Porsche collector and vintage racer Jerry Peters has owned 40 examples–street and race, old and new. In fact, this man has never met a Porsche he didn’t like.

Still, he admits to a fondness for one particular 356. “I’ve always liked the notchbacks,” he says. “To me, they were kind of the ugly duckling that didn’t get much love.”

From this attraction, and from experience he gained while building a hotrod 356 a couple of decades ago, an idea slowly took shape. A student of Porsche history, Jerry was drawn to the work of Erwin Komenda, a designer and engineer for Volkswagen and Porsche. He built a 356 notchback that, in the early ‘60s, became a prototype for what would eventually become the Mezger-powered 911.

Inspired by Erwin’s design, Jerry resolved to build his own notchback, adding a double bubbletop (like those crafted by Italian coachbuilder Zagato) as well as 911-based power and suspension. He aimed for the transition between the 356 and the 911, when Porsche built prototypes that melded old and new. He decided to dub his creation the 901P–because, as Porsche obsessives know, shortly after the model’s debut, a legal battle with Peugeot forced Porsche to rename the 901 the 911.

So, Jerry asked himself, what might a 901 “prototype” look like today? It would take him four years and a substantial investment to find out.

Starting Point: Rust and an Idea

As his vision took shape, Jerry launched a search for a notchback. After several false starts–he refused to cut up one that was restorable–he located a suitable ‘62.

“It was a rusty hulk with no engine and gearbox,” he says. “The fenders and pillars were bad, but the floor pan was decent. It was just what I was looking for.”

This Outlaw features details on top of details. The 901P badge looks legit but is a one-off. Then there’s the custom double-bubble roofline.

He delivered this sad specimen to the 901 Shop, a race support and restoration shop in Stuart, Florida, that had been building and servicing his racing Porsches for nearly 20 years. There, Brady Refenning’s team was tasked with the job of bringing Jerry’s vision to life. “I’d like to say that I had it all in my head,” Jerry says, “but I didn’t. It became a mix of ideas, an evolution.”

Brady agrees: “Our shop likes specialty projects, and we’ve built a few Outlaws, but nothing like this. Jerry’s car has got to be the most intense project we’ve ever done, and it involved a lot of collaboration. It was an amazing creative opportunity. He brought us a rusty notchback and a pair of 911 ST seats and told us to build him a car.”

About That Bubbletop

Every panel on this car, bottom to top, aluminum and steel, has been fabricated or modified. For example, the fenders were widened, the wheel openings reshaped, and the top chopped.

Jerry preferred the lower headlights of the early 356, so the shop’s crew grafted on the nose from a 356A model. Underneath, the front suspension mounts to a pan from a 914. Those metalworking tasks, while painstaking and meticulous, were nothing compared to tackling the bubbletop.

It looks like a Porsche that Porsche never built as everything has been massaged–and yet when other parts were needed, they often came from the factory parts bin.

Fabricating the bubbletop’s complex curves from metal proved particularly daunting. After a number of unsatisfactory attempts, Jerry was ready to give up. “We may have driven our panel beater to insanity,” he recalls.

Finally, Brady came up with another, out-of-the-box approach. “We had removed the pillars, and we had the profile we liked,” he says, “and Jerry really wanted the bubbletop. I hated to give up on it. I thought it was worth another try.”

He brought in a carbon fiber expert. After much head-scratching and experimenting, the team layered 200 pounds of modeling clay onto the top. Then they started meticulously shaping and carving. And eyeballing and measuring. Brady describes the process: “We learned that the clay was easy to work with and actually turned out to be fun. We shaped and reshaped until we finally got it right.”

Next, they fashioned a fiberglass mold from the shaped contours, laid up carbon fiber into the mold, and presto, they had crafted a double-bubble top. Then they bonded their creation to the bodywork, and it turned out to be the Outlaw’s most distinctive styling feature.

Yep, It’s a 356, but Different

Walking around this car, you’ll first notice the lower, wider look. Then the chopped roofline and pillarless profile. From the side, the Outlaw is longer and sleeker, especially with the clever slide-out rear-quarter windows removed.

Move closer, and you’ll see that the window gutters and trim are gone–and that the reshaped wheel openings and 16-inch wheels help define the car’s stance. A through-the-bonnet fuel filler leads to a custom-built tank.

Jerry Peters has owned a lot of Porsches. This one follows a unique vision: lower and wider than stock and built around a notchback profile. A few modern touches are integrated along with those classic lines.

Many of the subtle tweaks, vintage and modern, are hidden, and you’ll need a cheat sheet and guided tour with the owner to discover them. Somehow the old and new blend perfectly, and the panels and styling cues fit as if the car were built in Zuffenhausen. The car is still recognizable as a 356, but you won’t find another just like it.

Under the Skin, It’s a Juiced 911

Hidden beneath the widened fenders (2 inches in the front and 6 in the rear) is the suspension of a 911, which rides on Bilstein shocks and rolls on 16×7-inch alloy wheels crafted by Chris Coddington.

Massive disc brakes come from a 930 Turbo. Behind the uncluttered front reside twin 911 oil coolers and scoops, along with radar and laser sensors.

The lengthened and louvered rear deck covers a built 2.5-liter engine featuring one of Dean Polopolus’s Polo Motors cases. It offers six-cylinder power in a compact, four-cylinder package–think of it almost as a four-cylinder version of the 911’s engine, overhead cams and all. Here it’s bolted to a 911 five-speed transmission.

The four-cylinder, 911-based engine features fuel injection, but you wouldn’t notice it at first.

All of the engine compartment’s wiring and hoses are hidden, creating a clean and sanitary look. Even underneath the car, Brady tells us, their goal was to integrate components: “We wanted to make everything look like it was put there by the factory.”

With a nod to today’s technology, a Motec power distribution module controls electrics, including fuel injection and engine management–this is a “prototype,” remember? It has eliminated relays, fuses, circuit breakers and associated wiring, thus reducing weight. “The module controls everything that turns on and off,” Brady says. “Jerry has a laptop for tuning, and with a Wi-Fi connection I can control the laptop from my shop computer and read logs and tune and perform diagnostics. We wanted a no-fuss car that he could jump in and drive.”

Refenning, who has logged hundreds of miles while programming the engine management system at varying altitudes, says driving it in the mountains is especially addictive. “It has plenty of power, is extremely light, and drives like it’s on rails,” he explains. “It was built for curvy roads. I had such a blast that I told Jerry he didn’t have to pay me.”

And Jerry, who knows a bit about handling since he races a highly prepared 914-6, thinks the Outlaw’s overall performance is comparable to that of a 1973 RS 2.7. He ought to know, since he has one in his collection.

To date, Jerry has driven his creation on a few rallies and displayed it at the SEMA Show. It’s also made appearances at Road America, Chattanooga, Laguna Seca, Amelia Island and Crystal River, Florida, taking both judged and people’s choice classes. “People like it,” Jerry says, “including Porsche enthusiasts. I’ve run across remarkably few dissenters.”

There was one critic, however, who liked nothing about the car and told Jerry so. “I smiled and told him that I didn’t build it to please him,” Jerry recalls, “but to please me.”

Johnny Paycheck couldn’t have said it better.

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