Terry Sullivan’s 1971 Porsche 911S
The early 70’s was a heady time for Porsche. In 1970 Porsche took its first overall victory at Le Mans with the all-conquering 917. It was the beginning of three decades of Porsche dominance at the Sarthe. This was an era where racing victories were the primary focus, not corporate profits.
Before the Carrera RS and Turbo came along a few years down the road, the 911S was the top of the line model for Porsche production cars. 911T’s and 911E’s were the more basic offerings.
The upgrades to the S model were many, and significant. Among the enhancements was a 180 hp version of the robust 2.2-liter flat six (the T and E had 140 and 160hp, respectively). This was achieved via more aggressive cams, larger ports, Bosch mechanical fuel injection (also fitted to the E model) and a higher compression ratio. For added lightness, aluminum was the material of choice for the engine lid, rear license plate panel and front brake calipers. A 5-speed, external oil cooler and Fuchs 6×15 forged alloy wheels were all standard equipment.
I purchased my ‘71 911S sunroof coupe from my brother three years ago. He pursued this car for years from a Dallas gentleman who had over 50 cars in his collection. Too many vehicles make for low usage; this car has a mere 61,000 miles to its credit.
As exquisite as these cars came from the factory, there is always room for improvement. My car has Carrera pressure-fed chain tensioners, Bosch H-1 headlights, a ‘72 911S front spoiler, and SSI stainless steel heat exchangers with a matching stainless steel sport muffler.
These early 911’s are not for everyone. It seems that each car has its own preferred method for starting, and then it depends if the engine is hot or cold. The shift mechanism feels a bit ponderous when compared to a current 911 or Boxster. The handling is quite good considering the relatively narrow tires, basic suspension design and rear weight bias, but you best be careful at the ragged edge as the tail has a tendency to come around if you let up on the throttle. The magnesium crankcase tends to leak more than the aluminum ones, and the bodies were made prior to galvanizing and are prone to rusting in harsh environments. The cockpit ventilation is only fair, and the interior is rather Spartan.
All this makes the car more endearing to me. The simplicity of the car allows me to do most of the maintenance myself, always a rewarding experience. Besides regular oil changes and valve adjustments, there isn’t all that much required. The spark plugs are very accessible since it has no air conditioning or smog pumps to impede access.
The real joy comes in the driving experience. The engine barks to life with authority, and the hand throttle is useful in adjusting the idle speed while the engine warms. First gear is to the left and back towards the driver. The 901 transmissions have a much smoother action than the 915’s that followed in 1972. 911S’s have a reputation for being peaky motors, but I don’t find it anymore so than the ’72T I used to own. I’m gentle on the throttle in my neighborhood, as the free-flowing muffler does little to attenuate the lively exhaust note! The engine really comes alive at 5000 rpm. Nicely spaced gear ratios and a 7300 rpm red line make for an enormously fun driving experience. At a svelte 2340 pounds, the power to weight ratio is excellent, and there is no need for power steering or brakes. Everything about the car is simple, yet elegant.
It seems that all cars need something, especially old ones. This car is no exception, as it’s due for some suspension bushings in the front and rear, a common requirement for 911’s of this vintage. Fortunately, there are a number of suppliers for these consumable parts and others. Rare pieces like the aluminum engine lid are hard to come by, so keep a good eye on e-bay.
I’ve owned many Porsches, but this one’s a keeper!