The realities of restoring a race car

Photograph Courtesy Porsche unless otherwise credited

Race cars tend to live brief, intense lives, flaring bright at the pinnacle of a model’s performance before fading back through the ranks and eventually falling into obsolescence. Once they’re no longer competitive, or can no longer be made competitive, they’re often parked and consigned to the years. And unlike other barn finds, an old race car with a cloudy past is a tough sell to a restorer, since the story of what it was–and could be again–is where the real value can lie, and it’s buried in that past.

Dig deep enough, though, and most old competition machines will reveal a reason for their restoration. There’s almost always some kind of tale to tell–maybe not one of worldwide scope, but some amount of history worth preserving–that is possible to unearth. And if you’re of the same mind as us, researching that story is one of the most fascinating parts of the restoration.

We’ve been down this road several times, and if you flip forward a few pages, you’ll meet our latest restoration project, a historic Elva sports racer. At first, we thought that we were just getting into an old race car–at least, that’s the story the seller had told us. Presumably, it’s the one he was told.

As we peeled back the onion, we learned that our car was a factory entry for Sebring in 1962. It’s a reminder that a lot of top cars from top outfits finish out their years on the club circuit. They’re simply old race cars sold to someone who has an old-race-car budget.

All of this means that doing the research is step one of any race car restoration. Pore through those bygone race results, talk to the marque experts. We’ve spent many an evening at

As you continue to peel, traveling through those layers of history, you’ll almost certainly find that your restoration candidate has been many things at many different points in time, since most race cars evolve during their careers. That information brings a choice: What period do you restore the car to? We’ll get into this more in our Elva series, but you could be looking at a team, a year, or a single race.

A real-world example: Porsche 962-103 won at Daytona as well as at Sebring in 1985, both with A.J. Foyt behind the wheel. However, the car wore different liveries at those two events. When Gunnar Racing recently restored that car, they faced a dilemma: Which color scheme for the restoration? In the end, both won. The shop went with a paint scheme that neatly split the car down the middle to incorporate both liveries.

Photography Credit: Deremer Studios LLC

Magazines and race shops aren’t the only ones restoring old race cars. Porsche does so as well under its Porsche Classic department.

Generally speaking, ‘tradition’ is one of our brand values at Porsche and we have always been committed to cultivating this asset,” explains Ulrike Lutz, Director Porsche Classic–meaning she is the global head of the division. “We believe that in order to truly understand the needs of our customers in regards to genuine parts, we must be restoration experts ourselves.”

One of the more notable recent restorations to roll out of their shop is the 911 2.5 S/T driven to a class win at Le Mans in 1972. Its light-yellow paint punctuated by two black arrows is hard to miss.

Porsche released only two dozen copies of this model, built by the factory for the day’s Group 3 and Group 4 circuit. This one didn’t get the iconic ducktail found on the later Carrera RS, but the S/T has since found its own place in Porsche lore.

This particular 911 2.5 S/T was ordered by Michael Keyser in November 1971. Keyser, who was then in his mid-20s, had big plans for the Porsche: racing at the day’s biggest events while using it as a camera car for his film project, “The Speed Merchants,” a documentary of the 1972 World Sportscar Championship.

Keyser teamed up with Jürgen Barth, at the time an up-and-coming racer. Their 911 would be powered by a 270-horsepower, 2.5-liter version of Porsche’s famed flat-six.

Their 1972 season started in Florida, where they were sidelined at Sebring by a broken crankshaft countershaft. Europe would be next, with appearances at the Targa Florio (crashed but continued) and Nürburgring (fourth in GT).

Next was Le Mans, where the team switched to a short-stroke, 264-horsepower engine. Just a single Porsche 911 is listed among the race’s 18 finishers that year: Keyser’s yellow 2.5 S/T, which took the checker first in the GT class for cars running engines up to 3.0 liters. “We were a little slower than the 2.5-liter Porsches on the straights but were quicker out of the sharp curves,” Barth said in a letter to Porsche Board Chairman Ernst Fuhrmann. “We drove the race with a maximum engine speed of 7,800 rpm.”

Le Mans would be the last time that Keyser and Barth drove together–Barth would eventually log three more class wins at Le Mans plus an overall title. Keyser would sell the car to Don Lindley later that year and pick up a Carrera RS. (Keyser would continue to race Porsches, winning at Sebring in 1976. He’d also continue to produce content, with his later works including the book “A French Kiss with Death: Steve McQueen and the Making of Le Mans: The Man, The Race, The Cars, The Movie.”)

Lindley campaigned the Porsche S/T with IMSA through 1975, with the car eventually falling out of sight. By then, it was just another old, outdated race car. But in 2008, Marco Marinello, president of Porsche Club Basel, picked up the trail: There were reports of a genuine 911 2.5 S/T languishing in San Francisco.

Marinello and a Swiss buyer finally inspected the car in 2013. Determining the car’s provenance took a year, but once that was confirmed, money changed hands and the 911 was sent to Porsche Classic’s restoration facility in Freiberg am Neckar.

Typical of Porsche, the line between street car and race car can be quite fine, and a perfect example being the 911 S/T,” explains Dave Engelman, Porsche Cars North America’s spokesperson for Motorsports and Brand Heritage. “Porsche Classic took on the Le Mans class winner as a road-going project, as that is where their specialties lie. Porsche Motorsport is available for the full-blown race car restoration side of the line.”

Porsche’s technicians had some work to do. At some point the bodywork had been updated to post-’73 specs, the roof was smashed inward, and previous crash damage had been poorly repaired. The iconic S/T rear flares were missing. Add to all that rust, damaged side rails and a missing engine.

Porsche’s technicians had to fit a new roof, remove the rust, and rebuild the body. The tub underwent a cathodic dip-coating before receiving a fresh coat of bright yellow paint using the original 117 color code.

The restoration took two and a half years, with the resurrected car making its debut at the 2016 Techno-Classica auto show in the German city of Essen. Since then it has been shown elsewhere, including last year’s Porsche Rennsport Reunion at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca. The car’s restoration has been detailed in “Porsche 911 ST 2.5,” by Thomas Imhof and with Jürgen Barth and Michael Keyser.

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sgirard None
5/5/20 2:49 p.m.

J'ai eu la chance de conduire une 911, une seule fois dans ma vie. Un souvenir que je garde en mémoire

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