European road trip fuels long Porsche 911 Carrera rebuild

What started as a fun road trip idea transformed into a complete resto-mod

Editor’s note: This piece is part of the ClassicCars.com Journal’s Road Trip Month. We’ll be celebrating anything that helps pass the miles and the cars that get us there during the month of June.


My story began in 2001, when I bought a 1984 Porsche 911 Targa sight unseen in Germany.

My then-girlfriend (now wife) and I traveled Europe for a month with that car — camping most of the time — then shipped it home at the end. That was a fun trip, which is why we had the idea to do the same with a 1987 Porsche 911 Carrera. The car was located across the country in New Hampshire. We planned to fly out and drive it back to Southern California.

Unfortunately, it did not quite work out as planned. I also bought this one site unseen and trusted the seller, who, as it turned out, was rather dishonest.

The car was not roadworthy. It had a couple of broken head studs and a myriad of other issues. I had it shipped home and we pulled the engine to replace the broken head studs and — guess what? — it snowballed from there.

Since I knew we were tearing down the engine, I was considering making some performance enhancements but I wanted make sure I could register the car in California, so I decided to keep it mostly stock. The top end was rebuilt — heads machined, some valves replaced, cylinders honed and new rings installed on the Nikasil pistons. I also put in new oil lines, filters, plugs, seals, distributor, sensors and oil tensioner guides, just to name a few things. 

I always thought the most prominent part of the air-cooled engine bay was the fan and I wanted to make it stand out. The car is silver with a red interior, so the idea was to have red accent colors on silver. I had the fan and valve covers powder coated red while all other sheet metal was done in black.

At that time, I didn’t realize that I was going to rebuild the rest of the car. The engine bay was cleaned up and new insulation added. As I was looking at the nice, clean engine and the sad-looking suspension parts, I decided to take it all out, and rebuild/replace everything.

The oil tank was removed, hot tank-dipped and refinished, the oil lines replaced, the spring plates were powder coated and new Billstein sport shocks were installed. We put in new bearings, bushings, a new set of Zimmermann coated rotors and had the calipers rebuilt and zinc coated like new. We put on new braided brake lines and a set of new pads. The entire front end was also done to match the back (powder coat, bushings, bearings, brakes shocks — the whole nine yards). 

Before the engine went in, we installed a new clutch. The axles were rebuilt and new dust covers installed. The original OEM muffler was in good shape, but we thought it was too quiet, so we decided to do something different and installed a small muffler that made just the right amount of noise. The new muffler still has the stock 1 in and 1 out setup, but instead of having the tail pipe coming out in the corner, we opted for the shortest way: through the bumper. I found a stainless steel exhaust tip with a carbon fiber cover, which gave it the finishing look I wanted.

Luckily, the body was in good shape but there were paint chips and it was flaking at spots with some small dings, and after all this work I could not leave it as-is. I wanted to make some modifications in a way that it could have been done by the factory.

During the bodywork, we removed the targa bar. I stripped the paint from the stainless steel and gave it a brushed look. The bumpers were replaced with new fiberglass parts. I removed the original decklid and replaced it with a ducktail. I removed the original side skirts to expose the oil lines and fabricated aluminum covers over the torsion bars.

 I made perforated aluminum grills for the vents on the lid and the new front bumper to match. I removed the rear center reflector and designed a hot rod-style louvered panel in its place. Since we removed the heat shield above the OEM muffler, the panel is also functional. After all the bodywork was done, the car was painted, polished and custom decals installed.

The windshield went in with a new and improved gasket. The targa roof was re-covered with a German vinyl and a new headliner installed.

The headlights of these late model 911s were H5 lights that look like the H4 (European version), but they had terrible output, so I built custom LED units with clear Hella lenses. The new LED inserts have a beautiful cut off and are really bright. 

After the body was finished I moved on to the interior. As with the rest of the car, I wanted it a little different, but use a pattern that carries through the whole car.

The doors are RS style with a leather strap opener and the door pull is made of aluminum whose center section is wrapped to match the new Momo Prototipo steering wheel. I modified the center console and cut off the top section. The remaining gear shift surround was covered in red leather as well. The entire A/C system was removed as well as the stereo.

For the floor I sourced square weave synthetic carpet in charcoal color and custom fit it to replace the original carpeting. I paid attention to details, such as aluminum floor boards (although they are not visible under the carpet) and accents on the shift knob, steering wheel, and door pulls to keep with the red and silver theme.

When the car was all finished, I put on a set of Cup-style 17-inch wheels with new tires, had the car corner balanced and the wheels aligned. I ended up needing a new catalytic converter, and the car passed the smog test with flying colors.

There are still a few small things to play with but those can be done while I enjoy my classic 911.

things to play with but those can be done while I enjoy my classic 911.

-Zsolt Kovacs in San Diego, California

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