Not Just the Cars

THINKING BACK, there have been three times in my life that I wanted to take the plunge with my childhood favourite car — the car I always came back to after hundreds of conversations with myself. If I can only have one car, what would it be?! Simple answer: a 3.2 Carrera. This felt like a faraway dream, but I was determined to learn everything I could up front so I could be prepared.

Like all things older, I knew these cars could cost a lot of money at repair shops. Time and diagnostics could become an issue, more than just a part alone. For me, owning a classic 911 would not end with the purchase and driving it, as that’s only part of the experience. As a wrencher at heart, I needed to learn how to take care of it myself and understand all of the workings inside and out.

I had bought books on 911s over the years, even price guides from 2005 and 2010 (good ol’ relevant info in 2018, see the humour there). Part of my experience that I wanted was to service it the exact same way, using the same methods and practices that Porsche did. This isn’t the plastic-model 911 I had as a kid (Ed. still “plays” with these. —Ed.), nor the RC ones I had rebuilt several times in my teens. I couldn’t just rip this thing apart and miss a few steps putting it back together. Hmmm… where to learn this stuff?

A major part of the equation that brought it all together for me was the people. You simply can’t learn something like this without people. The books alone that I had collected would not cut it. It was important to connect with people who had seat time in these cars, who worked on these cars when they were the latest models. I needed people who own the cars, and who I could show up and compare my car (when I finally found it) to theirs. I thought, there has to be others in the same situation.

I started binge-watching YouTube on all things air-cooled 911s and hitting the Internet forums, the two big ones being Rennlist and Pelican. I became very involved on Pelican as it tends to be more focused on air-cooled, and very do-it-yourself. The other great thing about it was that people in this community responded fairly quickly, and included pictures when needed.

While on Rennlist, I noticed that there was a Canadian section and some Porsche folks were meeting super close to my house. I asked if my non-Porsche-owning self could attend as I had questions and wanted to see cars.

Turns out there wasn’t a lot of air-cooled cars that day, in fact none until a little red 964 showed up. Instantly I was drawn to it and had to have a chat with the owner. They talked to me for a good while and told me about this PCA organization, better yet about a concours? This intrigued me, and after some more chatting, the owner gave me the keys, said get in. We took the car for a little spin. How is that for involvement? I was hooked, and the search for my own car was now in full force.

After looking at a few cars locally, as well as coast to coast, I found a 1986 Guards Red Targa with sport seats and a tail. This treasure was exactly what I wanted.

After looking at a few cars locally, as well as coast to coast, I found a 1986 Guards Red Targa with sport seats and a tail. This treasure was exactly what I wanted and I found it only five minutes from where I lived (that’s a whole other story).

In 2018, I said to myself, “It’s now or never. These things are going up in price and now’s my chance to fulfil a lifelong goal of picking up an ‘80s 911.” With some hesitation, but a feeling that this was the right thing to do in my gut, I went for it. My car needed a little work. The engine was great, and the body was rust-free, but the door locks, power seats, lights, and other stuff needed attention.

I joined PCA the next day and started the deep dive into what I just acquired. This was a big purchase for me, and I had nowhere near the level of experience that I do today. I was second-guessing everything, and wondering about way too many details. Forums can do that to you when you’re alone out there.

I saw that PCA had a G-body special interest group and I joined. I wrote an E-mail asking if there are others in this group who would like to meet up and compare cars, and to see if anyone had an interest in wrenching and learning these cars more in-depth. Perhaps someone did a resto or an engine rebuild.

I received some messages back from a few folks who said they’d love the idea. I asked them if they would be okay if I made a little chat group as it’s really fast to respond, and they agreed. Three of us met in a parking lot and by the time we left, we planned to help each other change oil and do other tasks.

As time went on, we’d chat and meet up over and over. We enjoyed conversations about the inner nerdery of our older cars, and would help each other out with whatever it was that needed doing. With time, interest grew as other people began asking if they can join in on the chat and if they could meet up with us. I’d get calls about knowing how to fix this, or where to find that. Each month, the group grew and grew. All of a sudden there were so many folks doing builds, buying cars, selling cars, rebuilding engines, doing body work, all while meeting up for little drives or showing up to help drop an engine, or whatever was needed.

A good bunch of us became super close with each other. This interest group started becoming more than just a car thing, and developed into some really good life friendships.  With the rise of COVID-19, 2020 was not an easy year for anyone, and having a place to connect was not only a great distraction, but much-needed normalcy during these restrictive times.

While this was all going on, I was asked if I’d like to take over the lead contact on the G-body SIG, and I was happy to oblige. What this group had become was exactly the kind of group I thought SIGs should be — a conduit through crowd-sourcing. It was a place where anyone with a question about these certain cars could ask anything and quickly have an answer, or be pointed to a place where they can get one. It was a place where you can post a picture of some part to see if others look like that, and to ask questions to people new into classic 911s.

There are a lot of opinions out there and misconceptions on these classic cars, and sadly, they tend to get lumped into one category and the information is blurry.

There are a lot of opinions out there and misconceptions on these classic cars, and sadly, they tend to get lumped into one category and the information is blurry.  A ‘64, ’73 RS, ’78 SC, ‘89 930 and a ‘97 993 are all air-cooled cars, yet, they are very, very different. This is another reason specific SIGs make a great resource. If there’s a large enough knowledge pool that’s all in one spot, and it’s accessible, it’s a win. If you can get even more specific to your car’s model, double win.

One of the best feelings I get is when I’m at a meet-up and a new person with a new-to-them car shows up, and by the end says that they had a great time and now know where to get that part, or how to do that procedure, or if uncomfortable with their own skills, who to take it to. The other great reward is someone being worried or concerned about a thing, and several chime in to say, “Don’t worry about it, that’s normal, and here’s why.” As vintage car folks, we all know how relieving hearing that can be. Maybe that should be the title of this piece. </>

Story By Rob Grootarz  |  Photography by Rob Grootarz and Ya Nim

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