The dictionary defines the term Déjà vu as ‘already seen,’ or the phenomenon of having the strong sensation that an event or experience currently being experienced, has been experienced in the past. This was certainly true for Porsche enthusiast Dave Whelan, as he returned to the scene of the West Cork Rally where, in March 2000, he almost wrote off his 1972 Porsche 911 2.4 S.
The 911 was fitted with Porsche’s new 2341cc boxer six-cylinder engine for the 1972 model year, making the S model the company’s top performing road car with a maximum speed of 143mph, which at this time was a healthy statistic. The 2.4 S served as the guinea pig for the Carrera 2.7 RS, the only real difference between them being slightly wider wheel arches and an extra 300cc.
Dave Whelan is not a man accustomed to doing things in half measures, and having spent most of his life in the Irish Army serving in hotspots around the world, he is used to the hard life. Rallying became a regular part of his life as far back as 1978 in a Ford Fiesta, and so when he bought his 911 2.4 S in 1988, ‘ZT 911,’ it was just a matter of time before the Porsche would be used competitively. However, before he could hope to compete with anyone, he had to first sort out the engine, which was performing well below expectations. After several failed attempts to fix it properly, he responded to a newspaper advert offering a 2.2 S engine, the misbehaving 2.4 engine serving as a part exchange in the deal.
Over the following decade (1990-2000), Whelan competed with his (now) 2.2 S 911 in around 150 races, rallies, hill climbs, test trials, night navigation rallies and even a petrol economy run. In 1999, he lost out on overall victory in the West Cork Rally by just one second while the following year he was 30 seconds down going into the start of day two of the same event. Whelan felt that he held the upper hand as he knew the roads in the area well, but disaster struck at 80mph. He picks up the story, “I clipped a rock on the side of the road, but what I didn’t know was that the tyre had deflated, so a couple of hundred yards down the road when I had to turn left, the car just went straight on. It went up a bank which knocked the wheel off and crumpled the front right hand side, but when we came to rest, the car was balancing on the top of the bank, and then it fell back, landing upside down on its roof which caused considerable damage.”
The car was almost a write-off, and so Dave had the 911 transported back to his brother’s garage, where it was left outside, and exposed to the elements for the next ten years. In 2011, Whelan felt that the time had come to do something about the car, and so he had it delivered to Colin Belton at Ninemeister in Warrington, UK, for a full restoration. This was not going to be a quick repair, as the car was very badly damaged, and so Dave had a job on his hands looking for the parts he needed to turn the car back into a roadgoing 2.4 S. The problem was, back in 1990 in an effort to lighten the car, he had discarded many of its original parts when he had built it into a race car.
Obviously, an important part of returning the car to its original spec would be to find a 2.4 S engine again. In previous years, it didn’t matter quite as much which engine you put into the car, but in recent years the issue of ‘matching numbers’ has risen to prominence. This left Whelan in a quandary as he didn’t think he could find the contact details of the chap he had sold his 2.4 S engine to nearly 25 years earlier, and the chances of him still having it were, at best, slim to nil. Eventually he did find the owner, as Dave recalls, “I rang Ivor to see where my engine had gone because I thought he might have built it into another car, or possibly sold it. But to my total surprise he said it was still in his garden shed where we had left it! So, I went up two days later with my wife’s Ford Focus, and the two of us carried the engine back out, 25 years after we had first carried it into the shed. This is the engine that the car was born with on day one in the factory, and now it is back in the car!”
But that wasn’t the last of the surprises regarding the engine. Obviously, for an engine to run properly, all the pistons and barrels need to be the same, but when Ninemeister opened up the engine they found five identical pistons and barrels, and one unmatched piston and barrel. It appeared that the original owner back in Italy in the 1970s had damaged the engine, and just installed a later piston and barrel in its place. The unmatched piston was the same dimension as the others but the height of the piston and the cut-outs were different, so the engine would never run properly. Nor could it be balanced for optimum performance.
When a Porsche engine overheats, the studs holding the barrel to the crankcase can snap and when this happens the only remedy is to drill them out and replace them. Our Italian mechanic, though, had other ideas as he drilled out the four studs holding the barrel in place and as Whelan explains, “He replaced these with gutter bolts that were too big for the hole they were going into, but he tightened them up anyway! The thing is, they went in, but they were never, ever going to come out again. As I was replacing the pistons and barrels it didn’t matter to me, but it just showed man’s inhumanity to engines.”
From the factory, the 2.4 S would have had 190bhp on tap making it the quickest Porsche available in those days. “The S always had a high revving engine,” said Whelan, “all of the torque and all of the power is way up high at about 6500 revs with zero power under 4000 revs which makes it very noisy, and it means you’re changing gear a lot more often than you normally would.” The injection system is a Bosch mechanical system, which is very reliable, but fuel wise it is not very efficient as it prefers to be either on full power, or not at all. Whelan gets around 13 to 14mpg, which ties in nicely with the Autocar road test in 1972, where they recorded a consumption of 13.3mpg.
During the rebuild, the 911 received a new bonnet, a new roof, one new door, two new wings, the front slam panel and engine cover panel. When Dave Whelan acquired the car back in 1988, it was Guards Red but the day it left the factory, on 9 February 1972, it had been Sepia Brown. Whelan again, “Sepia Brown was a flat colour, but to my mind, a Porsche is a sports car and I wouldn’t feel comfortable with a brown sports car. We finally settled on this colour, which is Porsche Black Grey, a colour that is found today on the modern 2011 RS.”
From previous cars he’d owned, Whelan had a fibreglass rear bumper and a stainless steel dual outlet exhaust, and to replace both of those would have cost thousands of Euros, so he opted for the non-original parts. In the interior, he fitted a lightweight RS carpet set, and he also saved a good few kilograms by not fitting rear seats. The car at this time was only fitted with a driver’s seat as the fixtures and fittings for the second seat had not arrived in time for fitment when Whelan collected his car.
If you ask those who know, the early left-hand drive 911 is considered the better car to drive because the relationship between the seat and the pedals is correctly aligned. In the right-hand drive car, this relationship is compromised with the pedals being offset to the left, forcing you to sit with your bum to the right and your feet angled slightly to the left, which is an unnatural position.
Sitting in the driver’s seat, you can see the tips of the headlights, and according to Whelan, this helps you to plant the car within millimetres of where you want it to go. With many years of 911 racing behind him, Dave Whelan is eminently qualified to comment, “The car is very well-balanced even with the engine at the back, which means you can drive the car rather like a hammer and steer it without actually turning the steering wheel. By just letting off the brakes progressively or even suddenly, you can trail brake the car which will cause the back to steer and turn into the corner. This means that your front wheels will be pointing straight and therefore create less drag allowing the car to go faster around the corner, as well as faster out of the corner.”
So, this long account brings the story of ‘ZT 911’ towards its finale, where the author was invited by Dave Whelan to chart the return of his 2.4 S to the location of its accident a decade and a half back. The trip from West Wales to Cork is not that arduous, and the Irish roads, besides being superb, are in many places, almost devoid of traffic. Our trip from Cork up into the hinterland was wonderfully scenic, and trailing behind a 911 was a pleasure, and it wasn’t difficult to see why this was the route chosen for the West Cork Rally. We arrived at the point where Dave had to negotiate a traffic island back in the 2000 rally, and we set about recreating the scene. A few noisy laps around the traffic island to recreate the scene brought a rather stern-faced resident out of her house, but before she could deliver her tirade of advice or abuse, we were on our way…job done! It wasn’t far from this very point that Dave had his accident, and so the feeling of Déjà vu must have been very poignant for him.
Although a proper ride in the car was not possible as the passenger seat was not fitted, but an impromptu run down the road sitting in the back amongst fire extinguisher and other paraphernalia was all that was needed to get an idea of the car’s performance. The engine noise was very evident, but so too was feeling of being in a well sorted, compact, race-bred sports car. The time and money spent on bringing this piece of history back to life will, in time, be fully justified. The owner plans to use ‘ZT 911’ as it was meant to be used, travelling the highways and byways to attend Le Mans 24-Hour race, the Nürburgring Oldtimer Grand Prix, and other similar events.
This 1972 911 S is a well-finished sports car, with just a few sympathetic, and almost imperceptible upgrades, that enhance the driving experience. The car and its owner, will be present at the RS Track Day at Oulton Park in March 2018, as an enthusiastic and loyal band of Porsche Club of Ireland members always cross the river to attend this early season favourite. Gute Fahrt!
Written by: Glen Smale
Images by: Virtual Motorpix/Glen Smale, Dave Whelan