When I’m not helping to sell the occasional old race car, or visiting old race car meetings, I’ve usually got my head down, researching various projects for clients, usually to do with Porsches, although Lola T70s and such like often pass my way too.
Probably the most interesting project that I’ve had in a long while recently came my way. It concerns a Porsche Carrera RSR, known as the “Ratt,” as it was built up by world renowned Porsche restorer, race mechanic, crew chief et al, Kevin Jeannette of Gunnar Racing, here in Florida.
This project all started one day a few months ago, when the phone rang. Old Porsche friend Bill Kincaid was on the line: “I’ve just bought the Ratt,” he began. “You know, the car that Kevin Jeannette of Gunnar racing built up from an old chassis in 2001?” I remembered that I had read an article by Bill Oursler in Panorama about this very fast street going RSR, some years ago.
“Oh yes, that’s the one that Kevin bought from Tico Almeida, isn’t it,” I offered. “No, actually he bought it from Jim Bell,” Bill replied. “He sold it on behalf of Tico, so it’s probably Tico’s old IMSA race car.”
“I don’t think so, Bill. We identified Tico’s RSR as being 911 360 0610, and that belongs to an owner in California today. I had already traced its history some years ago. However, we never identified the RSR that Tico’s partner, Rene Rodriguez, ran in 1981/2, so it may be that one,” I added.
Now the most interesting part of this car, to me, was the chassis that Kevin started his restoration with. It was a much used and abused, highly modified, drilled for lightness, 1974 or, we thought, older chassis that seemed to be from a street 911, that had such intriguing features as drilled plates welded in between the front roll bar to the A-pillars, plus a built-up gearshift of steel tubes, more holes along the rocker panels and the rear built to accommodate an upside-down gearbox. There were no identifying numbers as the chassis tag had long gone and the number in the front bulkhead had been cut out long ago, so that a larger, long range fuel tank could be fitted. As well, the production number on the bulkhead had been cut away when the roll cage had been fitted.
As I said, the chassis had come Kevin’s way via Jim Bell, a well-known crew chief in IMSA racing and he had sold it, on behalf of Tico Almeida, who had raced an RSR and a 935 in IMSA sanctioned races in the 1980s.
So, I started off this investigation by sending photos of the chassis to various race preparation people who had been around in the old days, when these RSRs were racing in IMSA, and that was from 1973 to 1985.
I also posted the photos on a Facebook page, IMSA Pitlane and Decal (Paul Kelly), who lives here in St Petersburg, near to me, who called me to say that he had worked in Miami for Conrado Casado in the 1970s/80s. Decal went on to tell me that this chassis looked very much like the sort of chassis that Conrado Casado, of first of all Botero, and then T&R Racing, had used to build up the two RSRs that he had race prepared and supported trackside for Tico Almeida and Rene Rodriguez during the 1981/82/83 seasons. Todd Ketchum had also worked for T&R Racing (formerly Botero Racing), and he got in touch too and said that the chassis looked like a Conrad-modified chassis but that: “We never had one with that many holes in it!”
So we, (Franco Varani, my Scottish historian/race car archaeologist friend), started off by thinking that this chassis must have been the second car of T&R Racing, that was race number 04, run by Rene Rodriguez, who is sadly no longer with us.
And then I got lucky, or so I thought. Speaking with Alberto Naon, who used to run “European Auto Racing” in Miami, he told me that he had bought a Porsche 911 race car from John Graves, “at the end of 1974.” Alberto had fitted a 2.5-litre engine, in place of the 3-litre engine fitted when he first bought it and went racing in the IMSA GTU (GT under 2.5 litres) class. We traced the car, which turned out to have been a factory built RSR, right up until 1985. During this investigation, we learned enough to know that this had not been Rene Rodriguez’ car. In fact, that line of inquiry produced a very interesting story itself but that is beyond the scope of this article.
So back to sending out the chassis photos of the Ratt. Jim Torres, a superb RSR/935 restorer and race preparer in California, looked at the photos of the modified chassis, and said: “That looks like John Mason’s work.” Now I knew of John Mason from his work with Lola T70s back in the late 1960s/early 1970s, so I called him to ask about this chassis. After looking at the photos, John declared, “Yes, that’s my work, although I didn’t drill the rocker panels like that; someone else must have done that later. But I recognize the drilled filler panels between the A-pillar and the roll cage and I also recognize the rear shock tower changes. I have a file on every car that I did, I’ll get my wife Marie, who does all the admin, to look for those files. We still have them.” I asked John how many cars he had modified. He thought for a moment. “Between twenty and thirty,” he reckoned. “I can probably get it down to between four and six cars that I modified like that, once I take a look in the files.”
And then Franco thought he’d found “our” car. He’s excellent at looking at details in photos and sent a photograph that he had discovered of what appeared to be a 935, taken at Sebring in 1978, from head on. Yes, there were those distinctive drilled flanges on the A-pillars. It was being driven by Paul Newman, and his co-driver on this occasion was old friend Bill Freeman, from California.
I called Bill. “Oh yes, that car. I had John Mason modify an old 911 for me,” Bill remembered. “What happened to it?” I asked him. “I remember that we rented it out to Bob Harmon,” said Bill. “Can you remember who you sold it to?” I asked him. “I can’t,” said Bill. “In those days, I had three or four 911 race cars in my shop that were all modified, mostly by John Mason.”
Franco went to work to see what had happened to that car. It had been sold to Tom Marx in 1979, who raced it for many years, mainly on the west coast. John Mason remembered him well, “Oh yeah. I remember straightening that car out after a practice accident, so that they could take part in the L.A. Times GP at Riverside. Heck of an overnight job, that was!”
In 1978, the car was used as an extra in The Rockford Files with James Garner and then in 1979, this time in RSR bodywork, it featured in King of the Mountain, starring Dennis Hopper and Dan Haggerty. So, it had had quite an association with Hollywood stars at that time. But then we discovered that the car was still in existence in Europe in 2008, and so that ruled that one out too…
In late April, John Mason called back, to say that he had rediscovered his file cabinet, or rather his wife Marie had, and had found some twenty-six sets of notes of what modifications he had carried out on various 911 chassis in the 1970s and early 1980s and he very kindly sent copies of them to us via snail mail, to inspect and see if we could match anything up to the Ratt’s chassis. They were fascinating, including even details of that rarest of rare factory built 911 race cars, a 911 R that John had modified in 1972.
In the meantime, Bill, owner of the Ratt, and himself very keen on discovering histories, had been investigating the Botero race team, who ran (we thought!), two RSRs in 1978/9/80. With drivers Honorato Espinosa and Jorge Cortes, they only did one race in 1978, the Daytona ‘Paul Revere’ race in July, in which they did not finish. In 1979, they did several IMSA races, mainly with just one car, driven by Honorato Espinosa, although they did take two RSRs to the Daytona 24 Hours, the July Paul Revere 250 at Daytona, Mid-Ohio and the Daytona Finale in November. I had known, for a long while, that one of the team cars was 911 560 9119, a very late production RSR. The other car, I did not know the identity of.
At the 1979 Daytona Finale, one of the RSRs, the one driven by Honorato Espinosa, was badly damaged when it hit the eventual winner of the race, Bill Whittington, who was driving a 1979 Porsche 935, recently brought up to K3 specification (#009 0004), after the race had been stopped due to a sudden rain shower.
The oddest thing is, that I had also recently been asked to find the complete history of this 935, which I had never previously known about! So here I am looking into the backgrounds of what happened to each of these two cars… The 935 is comparatively easy, having been delivered to the Whittington Brothers race team in 1979, and ending its front-line racing career after the crash at the Daytona Finale of that year.
Incidentally, according the IMSA yearbook that covered that race, Honorato Espinosa (thankfully still with us), suffered a broken heel as the result of that accident. Bill Whittington, driving 009 0004 was incredibly lucky to get away with just cuts and bruises.
T&R Racing (Tico and Rene), took over the Conrado Casado run Botero team, based in Miami, together with all the personnel including Conrado Casado, the overall crew chief/headman from 1980 onwards after the Sebring 12 Hours, when Luis Fernando Botero retired from the scene. Straight away they used the team to run their own RSRs, #04 (911 560 9119), and #05 (911 360 0610), from 1980 until 1982.
Technically, I then found a clue to the Ratt’s identity: Looking at the photos of the old chassis, before it was built into the Ratt, I saw that the underside of the binnacle of the Ratt’s instrument cluster had two side-by-side holes, and in between was a rectangular slot, on the left-hand side of the steering wheel. Scotty Pheil of Pheil Racing here in St Petersburg looked at the photos and announced: “That slot was only ever in RSRs. I remember Dave White of Tampa, who I used to work for, telling me that.” As well, those two side-by-side holes had once housed what were called Zundschalter push/pull switches, which controlled the on/off of the ignition spark boxes of an RSR; they were there so that you could use the starter to crank up oil pressure, and then pull them down to turn the spark boxes on, whence ignition would commence. They probably were never used on RSRs built up from street car beginnings.
And then I looked at where the pedal box had been on the Ratt’s chassis. The two mounting holes for each of the two master cylinders were placed in a vertical line. I then looked at photos of original RSRs. The factory placed those mounting holes diagonally. I called John Mason and he told me that he had made a copy of the factory RSR pedal box, incorporating a Tilton brake bias bar into the pedal assembly back in the 1970s/80s, and that he still had one left over and would photograph it and send it. Sure enough, when I saw the photos, I saw that John Mason’s pedal box would have fitted right into the Ratt’s chassis.
At that stage, the end of April, it seemed that we had a chassis with factory RSR dash, (confirmed by Porsche expert Neil Bainbridge in England to be of 1974 spec, by virtue of its diagonally sloped ventilators at either end of the dash), but with John Mason type pedal box and no RSR bracing on the transmission tunnel. My guess was that the floor/transmission tunnel and pedal box area were badly damaged and replaced. Remember that Honorato Espinosa suffered a broken heel in the 1979 Daytona Finale crash, so that area containing the pedal box must have taken a big hit.
Bill Kincaid now came back to say that he had been in touch with Mauricio de Narvaez, the winner, together with Hans Heyer and Stefan Johansson of the 1984 Sebring 12 Hours in a Joest run 935. Through his FIA contacts, Mauricio gave Bill the phone number of a Botero mechanic in 1978, William Rudd.
Bill called William, who told Bill that the RSR driven by Honorato Espinosa had been chassis number 911 460 9083. Furthermore, William went on to tell Bill that he had rebuilt 9083 at Conrado’s shop in Miami, after the 1979 accident. The RSR had been rebuilt around a street 1974 911 bodyshell, he told Bill, sourced in California. The old damaged chassis had been kept and slowly repaired. Jorge Cortes of the old Botero team told Bill separately, that the chassis had been in the T&R shop “forever.”
All good but then Bill told me that both William Rudd and Luis Fernando Botero had told him that the Botero team had had not two, but three RSRs from 1978-80! At almost the same time, William Rudd sent Bill a photo of what appeared to be a 935, that Tico had also raced during 1981, numbered as 04, besides his usual RSR race number 05, which had been Tony Garcia’s old RSR, 911 360 0610, at Caguas, in Puerto Rico. This “935,” William told Bill was, underneath the bodywork, an RSR.
Back to Jim Torres, who had restored several RSRs that had come his way in the late ’80s/early ’90s to restore. Jim reminded me of photos of what appeared to be a 935, with 5-stud bolt on wheels, that he had bought from Conrado Casado in 1992 and restored back to its original specification. There was old paperwork in the background of the photos, showing that this “935” had actually been 911 360 1099, a 1973 RSR. This RSR had originally been sold to Juan-Carlos Bolanos in Mexico.
Back in 1989, I had visited Jim Torres’ shop and there I saw the impressive work that he had carried out, restoring Porsche RSRs. At that time, Jim had one perfectly restored RSR, which he didn’t know the number of, but that it had “probably come from Central America/Ecuador” and asked me which car I thought it was. By a process of elimination, I told him that I thought it to be 911 460 9083, a 1974 RSR that had first of all been sold to Ecuador and had, to all intents and purposes, then vanished.
In late June, Bill emailed me to tell me that his helper with the FIA, Janeth, had spoken once again to Luis Fernando Botero. This time, he confirmed that Conrado Casado had bought not one but two factory RSRs:
“For the second, he bought a street car and also built it to IMSA regulations.” The car Pacho crashed (Daytona 1978), was the second, (the street 911 turned into an RSR). He is looking to see if he has a photo with the two cars together but so far he has not found one.” “(It is) worth noting that Conrado was a specialist with a lot of experience and highly qualified in the Porsche competition cars, with a very complete workshop which also served street vehicles.” “The third RSR was bought directly from the factory in Germany, who dispatched it by plane to Los Angeles, and was delivered by his representative Vasek Polak. It was a factory competition chassis.” (This was 911 560 9119 – Author). And: “I also asked Fernando Botero the date of purchase of the two Porsches and he tells me that it was the end of ‘77 with a difference of a couple of months.”
“For the second, he bought a street car and also built it to IMSA regulations.” The car Pacho crashed (Daytona 1978), was the second, (the street 911 turned into an RSR). He is looking to see if he has a photo with the two cars together but so far he has not found one.”
“(It is) worth noting that Conrado was a specialist with a lot of experience and highly qualified in the Porsche competition cars, with a very complete workshop which also served street vehicles.”
“The third RSR was bought directly from the factory in Germany, who dispatched it by plane to Los Angeles, and was delivered by his representative Vasek Polak. It was a factory competition chassis.” (This was 911 560 9119 – Author).
And: “I also asked Fernando Botero the date of purchase of the two Porsches and he tells me that it was the end of ‘77 with a difference of a couple of months.”
So finally, we have worked it all out. The histories and mysteries of the three Porsche RSRs that raced in the Botero team of 1978-1980 have been traced. It’s probably easiest, for clarity’s sake, to number them as Botero’s 1, 2 and 3 and their histories are:
Botero 1: Chassis number: Unknown at present. The first Botero RSR of 1978, crashed at Daytona in the July 4th Paul Revere night race there, was a built up, on a street 911 (probably a 1974 type, according to Botero mechanic William Rudd), bodyshell/chassis unit RSR, assembled at Conrad Casado’s shop in Miami, where Botero Racing was based. This “homebuilt” RSR had been completed just before Conrad bought factory built Carrera RSR chassis number 911 460 9083 from Fernando Madera in Ecuador, together with all its spares, including a spare engine (see: Botero 2). According to press reports, 9083 did not arrive until after the fateful Paul Revere night race at Daytona on July 4th 1978.
That crashed built up RSR was stripped (it never raced again), and it is possible that parts from it, if needed, were used as spares for the second Botero RSR, 911 460 9083. The crashed bodyshell/chassis unit of the built up RSR was sold off to a buyer in Oklahoma (perhaps Roger Bean?), who did nothing with it for seven years, until Jim Borsos bought it from him. Jim gave the bodyshell/chassis unit to Jim Torres’ Burbank Coachworks to restore. This was the RSR that I had thought might have been the ex-Madera 911 460 9083 back in 1989, when I had visited Burbank Coach Works.
Botero 2: Chassis number 911 460 9083. As we have seen, despite the Daytona crash in July 1978 of the built up RSR, the Botero team already had chassis number 911 460 9083 on the way to them. 9083 had been first of all delivered to Fernando Madera in Ecuador, who had undertaken many races with it in Central America. 9083 had also raced in the Le Mans 24 Hours in 1975, completing just three laps before it was disqualified, as it had joined the race at the start after failing to qualify! It had also won the Bogota 200, as well as placing well in some other races in Central America. For 1978, the Ecuadorian motor sport organisation had instituted new rules for 1978 which made the RSR obsolete as a front running race car, and so Fernando Madera sold the RSR to Conrad Casado, who sold it on to Luis Fernando Botero for his team’s use.
In Honorato Espinosa’s hands, 9083 saw some spirited racing action during 1979 in the IMSA Camel GT Championship, racing in the GTO (GT Over 3-litre), division for the Botero Racing Team. The RSR placed fifth in the Daytona 24 Hours, (Espinosa, Francisco Lopez and Jorge “Pacho” Cortes), fifth at the Sebring 12 Hours (same team of drivers) and then, with Honorato Espinosa driving, it was second at Laguna Seca, third at Hallett and fifth at the Paul Revere night race at Daytona in July. The RSR’s career culminated in Espinosa’s big crash, again at Daytona, during the Finale race on November 25th, when a sudden rainstorm resulted in no less than thirteen cars crashing on the back straight.
After this accident, the team was down to just one 1975 Porsche RSR, 911 560 9119. The damaged 9083 was taken back to the shop and, like its predecessor, was stripped so that any necessary parts could be used for 9119.
So, it turns out that the Ratt is built upon the original chassis, repaired and further modified, of 911 460 9083, an RSR which was delivered from the factory to Fernando Madera of Ecuador. One can see this from the dash, which provides the crucial piece of evidence that this had been an original RSR, despite the repairs to the floor and the modifications done later to allow the fitment of an upside-down gearbox. After the 1979 crash, 9083 had not been rebuilt, probably because RSRs themselves were becoming very long in the tooth by this time.
Botero 3: Chassis 911 560 9119, the sister Botero team car, was picked up from Vasek Polak’s delivery truck in Las Vegas by Conrad himself, sometime between August and October, 1978. It was bought after the crash of the first Botero team RSR at Daytona, to accompany 911 460 9083. There are photos extant of Conrado picking it up there. This Botero RSR also raced at Daytona in the July 1979 Paul Revere 250, and the Finale.
In 1980, it raced at the Daytona 24 Hours and Sebring 12 Hours, driven by Honorato Espinosa and Jorge Cortes, and at Sebring, driven by the same pairing, it posted both the fastest qualifying and race lap. 911 560 9119 is today with an enthusiastic owner in Nevada.
T&R Racing, Tico Almeida and Rene Rodriguez’ team, bought the assets of Botero Racing in Miami, complete with Conrado Casado’s shop and staff in 1980. As RSRs were virtually obsolete by the beginning of the ’80s, 9083’s repaired and modified chassis stayed around in Conrado’s warehouse until after his death in 1994. It’s possible that Conrado intended to rebuild 9083 but Tony Garcia’s #54 RSR, 911 360 0610, became available after Sebring in March 1981 and obviously, it was a lot simpler for Tico to buy and drive that car as it had been well raced and maintained by Alberto Naon’s shop, European Autos, also in Miami. It even had an upside-down gearbox, which allowed the rear of this RSR to run a lot lower to the ground than with the standard upright gearbox, helping handling a great deal.
The final clincher with 911 460 9083 came when I drove down to a FARA race meeting at Homestead in April. There, I met with David Leira, a long-time race preparer of Porsches who introduced me to Tico Almeida, who today heads up FARA. I asked Tico whether the old RSR chassis that he’d sold through Jim Bell’s auspices so many years ago, had been Honorato Espinosa’s RSR chassis, that had been crashed at Daytona, in November 1979. Tico confirmed that it was.
Looking back, it’s amazing what a long life these Porsche RSRs, built in 1973/4, have had. Many of them were still racing in the Daytona 24 Hours and the Sebring 12 Hours as late as 1984, some ten years later. As well, some of the team owners in later years performed near miracles in keeping these great old warhorses going. One of them was Conrado Casado, who ran first the Botero Team and later T&R Racing. Conrado was a very capable Porsche mechanic, who was well respected by his contemporaries and customers, both as a superb engine builder and as Jim Torres wrote to me, “Someone who would give you the shirt off his back.” Which is probably a more important quality in a man than fixing a Porsche. But that’s heresy, ain’t it…?
Editor: We acknowledge that the images are not all of the highest standard, but sometimes you have to work with what is available – apologies, but the story was well worth telling! Also, with a few of the images, we have been unable to confirm the copyright. If anyone can help us to get in contact with the photographer concerned, please let us know.
Written by: John Starkey
Images by: Various – credited on each image