Words Ben Field Photography Richard Pardon
On the way to buy a Carrera RS replica, Neil Plumpton heard about a 911S 2.2 in need of love – he couldn’t resist
‘I was in the process of buying a Seventies 911 RS replica from Canford Classics when I heard about this 1971 2.2S,’ says Neil Plumpton of the eleventh-hour intervention that sparked this particular Epic Restoration.
‘I’ve always loved classic Porsches and I’d asked Alan [Drayson, owner of Canford Classics] to let me know when a good project turned up.
‘In the meantime I decided to buy a completed RS replica from Alan. I was just organising the delivery of that car when Alan mentioned that he was going to look at a 2.2S project in North Wales.’
Tantalisingly, it was a right-hand-drive example, one of just 32 produced. Sensing Neil’s excitement in the pause that followed that right-hook of a revelation, Alan filled the awkward silence with a question. ‘Would you be interested, then?’
The answer was an emphatic ‘yes’. The deal on the RS rep was amicably off, but the buying and restoration of the 2.2S was most definitely on.
Fifteen years of solitary confinement in a Wrexham lock-up had done the Porsche few favours. ‘It had plenty of holes in it,’ remembers Neil.
On the plus side, the car was complete, had matching numbers and was finished in Tangerine. ‘I would have settled for a less obvious colour if it had meant getting a right-hand-drive 911S,’ says Neil, ‘but I love the proper Seventies Porsche shades of green, blue and orange.’
With the 911S back at Canford Classics’ Dorset base, the stage was set for a restoration piece that would run for 1145 hours, featuring a star cast of artisan engineers.
Normally I don’t see the car until it has been blasted,’ says Canford’s metal manipulation expert, Paul Coleman. ‘In this case the outer rear wings were so rusty I cut them off first to make it easier for the blaster to get to the inner wings.’
With the rear wings off, there was clear evidence of historic bodging to the inner wings. Large plates held on with knobbly welds covered the sections below the rear windows. These repairs were a result of an earlier attempt at rot reduction, as Paul explains. ‘Small repairs made to the top rear corner of the rear inner wings on sunroof cars actually block the drain tubes. The water has nowhere to go, so the tubes and then the upper inner wings rust out.’
‘It was clear from the start that someone had already got at the car and not done a very good job,’ says Alan Drayson, company owner and project leader on this restoration. But he is philosophical about the fix-it-up approach that prevailed when these cars were less valuable. ‘Without these repairs the car would probably have been scrapped long ago.’
Media blasting revealed the true extent of the rot and a lot more bodging. ‘It came back from the blasters like a teabag,’ says Paul. ‘There was virtually nothing left of the upper rear inner wing on the nearside and there were holes and plates all over the body.’
You can buy complete rear inner wings for the 911, a large panel that includes the rear torsion bar mounting point, also rotten on this vehicle. A less fastidious metal man might have replaced the whole thing – not Paul. ‘Once all the rust had been removed, I only fitted what was needed from the repair section to keep as much original steel in the car as possible.’ This method required hours of laborious measuring, cutting, offering up, trimming, tacking and checking before the two now separate repairs could be fully welded in.
Up front, the tops and bottoms of the A-pillars were very frilly and this presented a particular challenge, as Paul remembers. ‘The upper and lower A-pillar sections contain multiple compound curves and had to be custom-made in the workshop. I ended up using a wide variety of tools from simple snips through to the wheeling machine just to repair a relatively small area.’
The inner and outer sills had been replaced at some point, and while the welding here was actually quite professional, the fit wasn’t. ‘I always hang the doors and check for an even door gap before fitting the sills,’ says Paul. ‘This way you get the alignment spot-on. I fitted the new inner and outer sills using this method.’
Inside, the floor returns that connect the floor to the inner sills had crumbled away long ago. In their place were occasionally tacked sections of roughly folded steel. With the rest of the original floorpans sound, Paul chose to fabricate new returns to join the old floor to the new inner sill. Further fabrications included a new pair of rear seat pans and a parcel shelf – the original had rotted out thanks to those blocked sunroof tubes.
Finally, the 911 was panelled up, gapped up and whisked away on its specially made dolly to the paintshop to gain that orange glow.
“It came back from the blasters like a teabag”
— Paul Coleman, Canford Classics
Body and paintwork
‘When these 911s were new, they didn’t come with doors and bonnets that fitted like Alan wants them to fit,’ says Clive Churchill, Canford Classics’ body finish and paint expert. The Porsche had left Paul’s workshop with panel gaps to die for. And making improvements on near perfection is a challenge. ‘I try to get the door gaps the same as the bonnet gaps and this can take hours – it is the most difficult part of the job,’ says Clive.
All these adjustments were made before Clive had even stroked the surface with sandpaper. And all the removable panels would be taken off before painting. Perfecting gaps on a car that will be stripped bare again may seem odd, but Clive sees it differently. ‘Dry fitting ensures everything is right before the paint goes on,’ says Clive, ‘and it saves time when it comes to the final build.’
To preserve the panel gaps Clive removed the doors by knocking out the hinge pins, leaving the carefully adjusted hinge bolts untouched. The front wing to bonnet alignment was kept by drilling and fitting a series of location pins in the wing flanges to ensure they would go back in exactly the same position.
An onlooker might have assumed that Clive had been breathing too many paint fumes when the first colour coat was applied to the body. ‘I painted the whole car in white two-pack to start with,’ he says, ‘Tangerine is so transparent it won’t cover; it really needs to go over a solid, uniform base and the white does the job well.’
For the Tangerine top coats, Clive painted the underside of the 911 first. ‘The normal method is to paint from the top down,’ says Clive, ‘but by painting underneath first I avoided putting dry overspray on the rest of the body. It is much easier to mask off this section once it’s completed, rather than masking off the whole upper body to paint underneath.’
On the rest of the body, Clive blew in the edges, channels and shuts first. Panels back on and three coats of Tangerine two-pack top coat later, the body was left to dry before three coats of clear lacquer were applied. Ordinarily, paint and lacquer would be baked on in an oven, but Clive left the 911 to dry in his booth at a modest 20 degrees C. ‘Air drying is so much better than heat,’ he explains, ‘the solvent comes naturally out of the paint and this avoids any chance of micro-blistering.’
After painting, the body was back in Canford Classics’ workshop, where the rebuild began. Three months later, the paint was ready for its final polish.
“I try to get the door and bonnet gaps the same”
— Clive Churchill, Canford Classics
Removing a 911 engine is as simple as undoing the four bolts that attach it to the gearbox, and the 14 bolts that hold both in the car. But that’s where simplicity ends and the need for a flat-six specialist begins. Bob Watson, who has rebuilt more than a thousand 911 engines in his 40-year career, is Canford Classics’ engine man.
‘The engine was running, but it was seriously tired, very smoky and needed a rebuild,’ Bob recalls. ‘A lot of people just rip the engine apart and miss a lot of clues to its condition. I like to assess it first. I check for wear on the cam chains and tensioners, and the cam timing – this tells me if the engine’s been fiddled with. If the timing’s out you get erratic running.’
Although they weren’t seized together, 15 years of inaction in a damp garage meant a mixture of piston wear and physical damage. The classic failing on these engines is wear on the exhaust valve guides, as was the case here. It’s caused by high exhaust temperatures and the limitations of air cooling. ‘The 935 [the Seventies racing version of the 911] had oil-cooled exhaust valves and they didn’t suffer from the same problem,’ says Bob. ‘That modification is feasible on a regular 911 engine like the 2.2,’ he adds. A rebuild with new barrels and pistons followed the strip, clean and measure-up. There was only one change from standard. ‘Pre-1977 cars will show low or no oil pressure on the gauge at idle after a run, so I made a small modification to the oil bypass system,’ says Bob.
By drilling a hole between the oil pressure relief passage and the inlet side of the oil pump and plugging the original pressure relief passage, bypassed oil is fed back to the pump inlet, rather than the sump, upping the oil pressure in the process. ‘You get a good reading on the gauge at idle, and engines last longer,’ says Bob.
“The engine was running, but it was seriously tired”
— Bob Wilson, Canford Classics
‘Most people wouldn’t dream of stripping down a car seat to the very last component, but that’s the difference here – the detail,’ says Scott Lloyd.
After dismantling the seats, and with the hinges and other brightwork off being re-plated, Scott retrimmed the bases and backrests. ‘I replaced the webbing and the padding, and leather was specified in place of vinyl for the outer portions of the seat covers. Depending on where you cut the leather from on the hide this job can be easier or harder,’ says Scott. ‘The part of the hide that covers the neck and the limbs is easy to manipulate, the central part of the hide moves less when the animal is alive so it is harder to stretch into place.’
Scott was also an integral part of the build itself. ‘The wiring loom runs in the roof of the 911; as soon as it was fitted I got the call to fit the headlining.
‘The loom can be run after the headlining is in, but it’s so much simpler to fit it first.’
One of the unsung heroes of this restoration is build engineer, Chris Lowe. His job was to oversee the stripdown, order new parts, make sure parts that were going back on got refurbished and then take a hands-on approach with the rebuild itself. ‘The difference between a car that looks good and a genuinely good car comes down to preparation,’ he says. ‘We try to improve our technique on every car we build.’
“We try to improve our technique on every car”
— Chris Lowe, Canford Classics
Every aspect of the rebuild had that attention to detail. Alan may have been happy with the door gaps by now, but to him the doors just didn’t sound ‘Porsche’ enough when they were closed. ‘It took two days to get the correct thunk-thunk sound that a good 911 door should make when you shut it,’ he says.
Bodywork is always the most time-consuming element of any car restoration, particularly if it is being done to the highest possible standard. Paul Coleman spent 445 hours taking the holes out, while paint man Clive Churchill added another 240 hours perfecting gaps and turning the 911 into a Tangerine dream.
The remaining 40 per cent of the 1145 hours spent included 300 hours to strip and rebuild the bodyshell, 60 hours to rebuild the engine and 100 hours of interior trim work. Parts and labour came to more than £60,000 and an estimate on the value of the finished car is £100,000. That’s the price of perfection, that’s what Canford Classics does, and that’s what owner Neil Plumpton wanted, albeit with a twist. ‘I wanted the car to look perfectly preserved, not restored,’ he says.
The team at Canford Classics have managed to strike this difficult balance. Yes, the car is stunning in every aspect. But nothing has been overdone, there’s no showiness, no pretence, just the same irresistible come-and-drive-me allure this Porsche had way back in 1971.