901 Problems: Porsche Finds, Restores An O.G. 911

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In the early 1960s, Porsche was not yet two decades old, and the 911 was just another new model. Its import to the company wouldn’t truly become clear until the model was saved from outright replacement by the 928 nearly 20 years into its existence. The factory owns early 911s; what it didn’t have was an example of a 901.

Porsche 901 Number 57>

To Zuffenhausen heads, the story is old hat, but for casual fans of the marque, here’s a brief recap. When Porsche unveiled its new flat-six-powered car, called the 901, at the 1963 Frankfurt auto show, hackles immediately went up at Peugeot. The Gallic concern sent the small German company a an unfriendly reminder that Peugeot owned the three-digit-with-a-zero-in-the-middle naming convention when it came to roadgoing automobiles, and Porsche would do well to steer clear of it. So while Porsche fielded 804s, 904s, 906s, 908s, and 909s on the track, the road-legal 904 was known as the Carrera GTS, while the plated 906 wound up as the Carrera 6. The new 901, of course, became the 911.

Exactly 82 901s were built before the name change took effect. Most were used for testing, but a few wound up in the hands of the public. At the 2013 Geneva auto show, where Porsche celebrated 50 years of the 911, the company didn’t have a 901 on display. Ruf, on the other hand, did. Former Porsche Cars North America PR man Bernd Harling pointed this out at a post-show dinner to then Porsche chief (now VW supremo) Matthias Müller after Müller wished aloud that he could buy the storied modifier of Porsche automobiles and shut it down. Clearly, not having a 901 in its collection was a sticking point for a company that trades so heavily on heritage. So Porsche set about tracking one down.

Porsche 901 Number 57>

In 2015, Porsche got wind of a barn out in Brandenburg that contained a couple of early 911s: one was a gold 1968 911L model, and the other was a red pile of rot bearing the serial number 300 057, marking the car as having been originally built as a 901. Zuffenhausen shelled out the equivalent of $126,000 for the dilapidated pile and $17,000 for the gold car, with an eye toward leaving the ’68 as it was while sending the 1964 901 to the restoration experts at Porsche Classic to work their magic on the dilapidated heap.

In typical vague German hairsplitting language, Porsche said: “Before diving into the vehicle, the experts had assumed that over 50 percent of the body had been destroyed. It now turned out that over half of the sheetmetal was worth preserving.” A hapless ’65 model was cannibalized for its sheetmetal, thus assuring that the car would be composed of as much five-decade-old German ferrous material as possible.

Porsche 901 Number 57>

It took a year for the body men to get the steel sorted out. Then came the fitting of parts to the car by now known to Porsche affectionately as Number 57. The company’s crew did it the way high-end hot-rod builders do: The car was assembled, all parts were checked for fit, then the machine was blown back apart for paint. The body was dipped in Porsche’s modern cathodic rustproofing coating and sprayed with modern water-based Signal Red paint, a decision that’s bound to cause some consternation among purists.

Detail nerds will be pleased to know that the 901-specific leather shift boot survived the car’s long dormancy. The Porsche crew found itself puzzled over the seats in a couple of ways. They’d not known that Porsche had offered a seat-lift mechanism in the early cars, which 057 happened to be equipped with, and the car was wearing later seat covers. It turns out that the 901 seats were mounted in the gold ’68 they’d purchased alongside Number 57, featuring six vertical pipes in the backrests, as the 901s had, rather than five. A new ashtray—early units tended to corrode quickly and fall apart within a year—had to be fabricated from scratch. A new headliner was crafted using the early square-pattern punch roller, which Porsche had handily held on to.

Meanwhile, Porsche Classic also dealt with the engine, which was nonoriginal but period appropriate. The top end of the 2.0-liter flat-six came apart without any issues, but the pistons were seized in the cylinders. The rotating assembly was replaced with new parts, while the heads turned out to be salvageable.

After 120 hours of work, including the re-creation of some fiddly little carb-linkage clips, the old lump was fired up on a stand in March of this year and then installed in the car during the summer. By autumn, the car was ready to take its place in the company’s collection, just in time for photos of the 2020 model to leak.

We shudder to think how much Porsche spent purchasing and restoring Number 57. Note to small sports-car companies of the future: If you think your new car may wind up being one of the most famous ever to come down the pike, go ahead and stash one in the corner. You might want it for your Geneva-show booth 50 years from now.

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Source : https://blog.caranddriver.com/901-problems-porsche-finds-restores-an-o-g-911/

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