Stephan Szantai drops in on Benton Performance in sunny California
In an ever evolving classic scene, 912s have gained acceptance in the last decade or so. Few will deny that economics was a driving factor in the modelʼs stronger following, as early 911s became increasingly expensive – though the days of the low-cost alternative are now gone. The efforts of John Benton and the first wave of true believers, who recognised the importance of the 912, helped fuel the interest in the model.
According to folks who have driven one, thereʼs truly nothing wrong with a 912. Oh sure, some might argue it deserves a few more horsepower… Then again, many early 911s will meet their match against lighter, nicely balanced 912s equipped with a hot-rodded flat-four.
Ask Mr Benton, he will confirm. His own long-time project, a white street/track 912, is testament of his expertise – the ʼ68 coupé is fitted with a twin-sparked, fuel-injected 1720cc motor that delivers 140 horsepower. John is the owner of Benton Performance, a shop focusing on the repair and preservation of vintage air-cooled Porsches. He traces his interest in 912s back to the 1980s, becoming an expert in the matter as his knowledge increased and decades passed.
Not unlike many of our readers, John first started tinkering with VW Beetles – he bought his first one at age 15. ʻMy main focus was to make that car move, while trying to figure things out. I didnʼt know what I was doing. I had the drive but not all the information.ʼ He kept learning, often from simply watching veterans of the trade, in and around Los Angeles. This led him to know how to take a motor apart and put it back together by the age of 17. ʻI had ugly Volkswagens of every shape and size back then, but they always moved well,ʼ he adds.
Starting in high school, he went to learn welding, metallurgy, mechanical drawing, hydraulics, pneumatics and electronics, leading to a well-paid industrial electrician position after graduating from college at the age of 20. He continued studying afterwards and became an engineer eight years later.
In parallel, John worked on cars, building Porsche motors during the mid-ʼ80s. Racing was part of his life, too, using the aforementioned white 912, purchased in ʼ84 on a used car lot for $6000. ʻSome guys were fast with their own 912s back then,ʼ he continues. ʻI always thought of the 912 as a fun car, for touring or to drive daily. MEIN12 (as seen on the licence plate) morphed into a weekend racer, before
turning into a serious race car around 1992.ʼ
Other 912 enthusiasts took notice of Johnʼs ride, and his Porsche wrenching abilities soon led to a business on the side, while he continued his career as a successful engineer. Around the turn of the century, his second activity transitioned into a fulltime job, bouncing between the garage next to his house and separate shops. Benton Performance became a Limited Liability Company (LLC) in 2006 and he eventually settled in the city of Anaheim in Orange County, south of Los Angeles, in a neighbourhood filled with carorientated businesses.
While 912s have been the bulk of our discussion so far, donʼt be misled into thinking that they remain his only centre of interest. ʻThere was a time when I owned a Porsche, a VW and a Chevrolet… Come to think of it, thatʼs true to this day,ʼ he ponders. ʻBut when I want to do some serious spirited driving, I take the Porsche.” With a growing reputation, he naturally went on to accept other air-cooled Porsches into his shop.
Benton Performance covers 7000sqft and offers a wide range of services, from basic maintenance (tune-up, oil change, brake job), to complete restoration and race car build – and everything in between. Not counting Ross (the shop dog!), the gang in charge of the daily operations includes Johnʼs eldest son Ian, Farshied, Eric, Tim, Steven, Valerie and intern Micah. They use a well-equipped facility, fitted with four car lifts, a machine shop and fabrication area, and a parts storage in a separate building. The latter is filled with hard-to-find
“FOR SERIOUS SPIRITED DRIVING, I TAKE THE PORSCHE…”
components, mostly purchased at swap meets or from other shopsʼ inventory when they went out of business.
Within the main building, the engine room enjoys plenty of activity, under the helm of John, Farshied and Eric who assemble 25-–30 motors every year on average. ʻIʼve sent fresh engines to all continents except Africa,ʼ comments John. About 75 per cent of the powerplants belong to the 616-series, ie, these flatfours equip 356s and 912s for the most part, although more exotic motors occasionally make their way to Benton.
During our visit, we noticed a Polo 930/4, one of the revered four-cylinders based on flat-six components for the most part. It will eventually make its way into an outlaw, based on a ʼ56 356 coupé, a soon-to-be bare metal project currently waiting its turn.
Several race cars have helped put Benton Performance on the map as well, starting with a yellow 1962 T6 prepped for La Carrera Panamericana, a grueling 2000-mile road rally held in Mexico. The team built the coupé in 2009 to FIA specs out of an existing race car chassis that was imported from New Zealand by the current owner, Robert Curry. It has since won its class three times out of seven in Mexican endurance rallies!
The lead picture on page 85 also shows a silver ʻBentonbuiltʼ FIA rally-spec ʼ67 912, which belongs to two gentlemen from Guatemala. Again, it will participate in ʻLa Carreraʼ this year, running a 1.6-litre motor currently being assembled, with a moderate compression ratio due to the low octane pump gas found in Mexico.
Slightly off subject, John and crew have built a 1972 Datsun 240Z for the 2016 Peking to Paris rally (it should be mentioned, having won ʻGoldʼ), as well as a ʼ68 912 for the 2019 edition of the same arduous competition.
Itʼs been a pleasure to hang out with the Benton team for a day. Johnʼs passion for the Porsche brand is quite infectious; in fact, he remains heavily involved with the scene as one of the founders/former President of the 912 Registry. Porsche Owners Club members might remember him as a past POC Slalom Chairman, too.
Like many businessmen absorbed in his automotive field, John hopes the strong interest for vintage Porsche endures around the world, “So we can do what we love and build what customers love.” CP Contact: Benton Performance 1275 North Lance Lane Anaheim CA 92806 Tel: (001) 714-630-5025; bentonperformance.com
“JOHN’S PASSION FOR THE PORSCHE BRAND IS INFECTIOUS…”
Below: John Benton alongside his personal 912 race car, which bears the licence plate ‘MEIN12’
Above: Silver car is a 912 being prepared for La Carrera Panamericana road race. Workshop is kept busy at all times with a wide variety of customer projects
Below right: It’s all smiles among the Benton team!
Below left: The engine room; six-cylinder case (left) for a real 914/6 project, 912 case (middle) for the 912 La Carrera project in the shop; 1963 356 long-block (right) rebuilt to Super 90 specs
Above: A look round the back hints at the variety of work undertaken by Benton. Early 356A sits alongside 912s and a later 911
Below left: No shortage of spares for 356s and 912s here. You need a carburettor or manifold?
Below right: 1960 Super 90 Karmann coupé features a 1.7-litre 128bhp engine, magnesium wheels and CSP disc brakes
Below right: How about a TV stand made from old parts? Velocity stacks were originally on John’s 912
Below centre:1966 912 with 1.7-litre twin-spark engine; upgrading to Bosch CD coils/ignition system
Below left: three heads are better than one, right?