Richard Holdsworth spends time with one of Australiaʼs best known Porsche competitors and tells the tale of his hard-used 1972 911, which he calls an RSRT…
We meet Australia’s Mr Porsche and his racy red 911
ʻYes, Iʼve got air con… I wind the window down.ʼ So says Mark Sandford with a wry grin. This throwaway line sums up this racer and his wonderful ʼ72 911. OK, the car is nearly 50 years old, but with Mark at the wheel this iconic 911 punches way above its weight, gives more youthful Stuttgart machinery a run for their money whether it is on a sprint, rally, hillclimb or out-and-out race track.
And what fun in the process. ʻI drive the car as I feel it should, no holding back, that is what it was built for.ʼ And I can testify to that having been his lucky passenger earlier this year at The Bend in South Australia, the first journalist to get to see the twists and turns on this fabulous new international race track. ʻWe were only doing seven-tenths,ʼ says Mark as we pull into the pits. I am glad it wasnʼt ten-tenths – I am not sure my life insurance policy could have stood a ten-tenths white knuckle ride.
Markʼs 911 – he calls it a 911 RSRT for no other reason than it represents a 1972 RSR but it started life as a T – has morphed over the years as previous owners have tried to make it look like current models in the Porsche colour brochures. ʻI want to bring it back as it was when it left the Stuttgart factory in 1972,ʼ he says.
It is not only air-conditioning that the car lacks. ʻI donʼt have power-assisted steering or traction control, no ABS, no stability management…and no sat nav and no water…ʼ Mark smiles, ʻJust spartan lightweight, plenty of power, tyres with heaps of grip and tuned suspension… My 911 stands out in the crowd, it is entirely visceral when driven hard, communicating with the road with wonderful feed-back to validate its control.ʼ
Markʼs 911 is used on the road most days and there are no fancy trailers to take it to race meetings: Mark simply climbs in, starts up and heads for the track. I canʼt imagine how the car doesnʼt attract the attention of the Boys in Blue – the raucous sound of the exhausts can be heard streets away and the bright red colour is hardly designed to slip beneath the radar.
Early history: Mark admits he doesnʼt know much about his 911T after it rolled off the Stuttgart production line on 29 December 1971, other than it was right-hand drive, Signal Yellow and destined for the UK. ʻIt seems that at some stage it was converted to Rsr-spec with a 2.7-litre engine,
alloy trailing arms, S brakes and a ʼ73 interior, and at some time was raced in England.ʼ It was also clear that the owner tried to keep pace with developments in the design of the 911, and as part of that had 930 impact bumpers and whale tail installed.
The 911 was imported to Australia in the mid 1980s, but once again research turned up little of the car ʼs history after unloading at Adelaide docks. ʻI did discover the car was raced at the Mallala circuit with some decent times in the mid 1.20s (the current Porsche lap record is held by a 997 GT3 Cup car at 1.09). But then it seems to have been retired from any form of competition and parked up.ʼ
Then it came into Mark Sandfordʼs life. ʻMy first car had been a VW Beetle and it was logical to move up to an air-cooled Porsche. I wanted a project car and ran an advert in Gumtree and to my surprise this guy phoned. He said his car wasnʼt really a project but it did need some work and might suit me. He said it had been stored for 20 years. This seemed too good to be true but then the guy changed his mind – it took two years of gentle persuasion to change it back again!ʼ
Mark continues, ʻWhen I first saw the car it looked in good shape and the oil was clean – another plus point. But in reality, that was either because the oil had settled or, perhaps, had been changed before being put up for sale. Buyer beware! The owner wanted one last bash around Mallala – fortunately I persuaded him otherwise as the carbs had succumbed to corrosion and could have done untold damage to the engine.
ʻOnce the car was in my garage, I changed all the fluids, rebuilt the brakes, stripped and cleaned every part of the 40IDA3S carburettors and fired up the engine. Out on the road I found very few mechanical issues and that made me feel happier with my purchase.ʼ
Mark stood back and looked at the 911 in detail. ʻI wanted to bring it back to its original spec and the first thing I cottoned onto was the opening for the external oil filler had been filled in and welded over. It was an iconic feature of the 1972 car; positioned as it was just to the rear of the passenger door on the right rear quarter.
ʻI plucked up courage and cut open the hole to expose the original filler and then located an original oil tank (from
the United States) – this was the first step in returning the car to the uniqueness of its factory specification. I replaced the front slam panel with the long nose version and installed a carbon bonnet and glassfibre bumper. My 911 started to look good.ʼ
The rear reflector panel was removed and the heavy impact bumpers replaced with glassfibre units and the duck tail was sourced locally in Adelaide. Mark thought the car looked odd with 16-inch three-piece Porsche Cup wheels and matching tyres, and they also tended to lose traction under heavy braking from the alloy S calipers. ʻI tried to get Fuchs from ebay but in the end sourced Tuv-compliant replica Fuchs from Classic Wheels in Melbourne which had been imported from Germany.ʼ
Mark was keen to enter the Adelaide Motorsport Festival rally that was coming up in late November of that year (2016), but was concerned with a rattle that appeared to be coming from the timing chains. Mark set to work. The chain guides were replaced and a new timing chain inserted by joining the new chain to the old and rotating the crank. ʻItʼs a bit fiddly,ʼ Mark tells me, ʻbut can be done with perseverance. However, in the end the noise turned out to be from the 915 gearbox. But at least the operation had given me confidence that the old chain wouldnʼt jump a cog and punch a valve through the piston crowns at 7000rpm!ʼ
The car performed well in Markʼs first rally until the engine blew the rear seal on the downward run at George Road coming out of the Adelaide Hills, spilling oil over the road and producing a spectacular plume of smoke as the oil sprayed over the exhaust. ʻThe rally was over for me and my codriver, John Hunter, but we had enjoyed ourselves with much to smile about. We decided at that very moment we would be back next year…ʼ
With the engine out of the car, Mark took the opportunity to seal other leaks and, as with many magnesium Porsche engines of that era, found problems with the through-bolts. ʻYou canʼt actually get the bolts out without first removing the cylinders but you can fit new O-rings by stretching the rings over the head of the bolt and under the washer where the bolt neck reduces in diameter. Again, it needs perseverance, but can be done…ʼ
The next decision was to take off the cylinder heads and Mark was pleased to see honing marks, no step in the cylinders and, as the Time-serts/case savers had already been added to the magnesium case, there was cause to feel satisfied.
Twin-plugged cylinder heads were also installed and the inlet manifold ported to match the heads. ʻPorted, not polished, as I reasoned that leaving some texture would improve boundary layer turbulence and better mixing of fuel entering the cylinders,ʼ says Mark.
To provide power for the twelve spark plugs, Mark used some ingenuity – yes, this is a man of considerable ingenuity as well as a great engineer by trade (he runs a consultancy business, Hone Prime Global). He machined a cover to fit over the standard Bosch distributor and adapted a Jaguar V12 cap and then made another adaptor from a modified Jag rotor arm. Now each of the two plugs on each cylinder fire in unison.
Mark reasoned that a single MSD was more than ample to provide power for the NGK BP7ES plugs and give the engine smooth running right up to 7200rpm. The rev limiter from the MSD unit gave the necessary confidence to put the
“IT NEEDS PERSEVERANCE, BUT IT CAN BE DONE…”
foot hard to the floor.
The 2017 Adelaide Rally was on the horizon and Mark next turned his attention to the handling of the car. He sourced and fitted 11Jx15 Fuchs for the rear and 9Jx15s for the front, tyres being Pirelli P7 305/35R1x15s at the rear and 235/40Rx15s up front to match the RSR of 1973. ʻI pump them to 28psi early in the day and work up to 30psi when the tyres warm up. I find the rear tyres take a little time to come up to temperature.ʼ
Handling was further improved by making and fitting camber plates for the back – experience had shown that the standard camber bolt was limited in achieving the required geometry. Mark explains that adjusters are available on the market and these allow a negative camber of around two degrees at the rear and one-and-a-half at the front. ʻI have tightened up the Koni ʻOrangeʼ shock absorbers. The rear shocks have to be taken off the car to be adjusted as they have to be fully compressed to engage the adjustment mechanism, but the fronts are dead easy and simply done with a key.ʼ
The next problem to raise its head was at a race day at the Mallala circuit north of Adelaide. ʻWith the new level of grip I got from those liquorish tyres and with a hard gear change going into the turn at the northern hairpin, the differential skipped a tooth and cracked the magnesium side cover of the 915 box…ʼ Tracking down a 4.43:1 ring and pinion was not easy but a friend found one 2000 miles away in Perth (the Perth in Western Australia) from an advert in a Porsche magazine. It was fitted with an aftermarket aluminium billet side cover.
Inside Markʼs extraordinary 911 it is all 1973, he has no intention of bringing it back just one year to match its 1972 vintage. ʻAt one stage a stereo was fitted but I have no plans to fit another – the music I hear is that of the flat-six working hard just a few feet behind my ears.ʼ
I couldnʼt agree more. Having sat in the passenger seat around the race track – and with that music also a few feet behind my ear drums – I wouldnʼt want a single thing to interrupt the sheer joy of hearing Markʼs air-cooled Porsche at full blast! CP
Above and below left: Having fun in the 911! Mark Sandford at the wheel in the Adelaide Motorsport Festival Adelaide Hills Rally
Below right: Our man Richard Holdsworth about to get the ride of his life in Mark Sandford’s 911 at The Bend, the new international race track located at Tailem Bend, South Australia
Above: A feature of the Adelaide Motorsport Festival is the Gouger Street party where the general public can get close to the cars and meet the drivers
Below left: The end of the 2016 Adelaide Motorsport Festival Rally for Mark and the 911
Below right: The corroded Weber carburettors from when Mark first bought the 911. They hadn’t faired well after such a long time in storage and needed a complete overhaul
Above right: Mark’s 911 as rescued ‘from oblivion’ – at some point it had been ‘updated’ to impact bumper spec. That was the first thing to go…
Above left: Looking pleased with their day’s work – Mark Sandford and his rally navigator, John Hunter, Adelaide 2016, car #86
Below: Mark at work on the Adelaide Motorsport Festival Adelaide Hills Rally (photo: Bob Taylor)
Above left: Fuchs-style wheels were supplied by Cameron at Classic WheelsAbove right: New exhaust system helped both power and sound outputs!