Stephan Szan­tai drops in on Ben­ton Per­for­mance in sunny Cal­i­for­nia

Classic Porsche - - Contents - Words & pho­tos Stephan Szan­tai

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


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; ben­ton­per­for­


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?

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