As seen in Classic Porsche. Edition Number 0058.
Words by Keith Seume
When Nigel Allen decided to single-handedly restore an Irish Green Porsche 912 after years of working on Volkswagens, he had no idea just how much fun it was going to be. The end result is pretty impressive, as we’re sure you’ll agree…
“I went to have a look at the car and was struck by the colour. I looked at it and thought, well, it isn’t going to be too bad…” Those were the famous last words spoken by Nigel Allen as he looked over the Irish Green 912 being offered by his friend Matt Smith in Cornwall. “But,” continues Nigel, “I guess the fact it came with two floor pans was a bit of a clue as to what to expect…”
Nigel is well known in south-western circles as something of the go-to man for engine conversions on VW campers, as well as being an experienced production car trial competitor in his well-sorted beetle.
He’s very much a jack of all trades when it comes to both VWs and Porsches, perfectly happy to turn his hand to anything , from bodywork and paint to engine and gearbox rebuilds, running a successful business with his son, Craig, from his home workshop just outside of Newquay.
There’s no doubting his experience, but this was to be his first full-on Porsche restoration. The car in question is a 1967 912 (built late 1966) that was imported from the USA and which, at first sight, appeared to be in reasonably good condition.
“It was obvious it was going to need some work but as I poked around the carpets, it was a case of “through the floor, through the floor, through the floor…”
I could see a little bit of rot around the torsion bar area which I thought looked quite bad, but I didn’t really know what to expect.
Once I got the car back here, I stripped it out and went “Oh dear”, as you do, and so rolled the body on its side and started unpicking the welds round the floor.
Once I’d done that Nigel continues, “I looked and
realised I didn’t have anything to weld the new floors to, as the whole perimeter was missing!”
“Although a kit to repair this area was available, I made my own but realised I was running out of space where I had the car stored, so moved it into another part of my workshop and built a rotisserie so I could work on it more easily.”
Although it was to be Nigel’s first Porsche Resto, he wasn’t daunted by the work that clearly lay ahead.: “I really
like the shape of the early 911s and 912s, so that prompted
me to have a go at one.” But it wasn’t an easy transition from VWs to Porsches, not because of the added complexity –
“They’re all just nuts and bolts,” he jokes – but because, as he says, when he embarked on the rebuild of a Volkswagen, he knew instinctively what would need to be done and who to turn to for parts. “With the Porsche” he continues, “I’d make a list of the parts I needed and then have to spend time trying to locate them.
“It would be a case of “Oh, they do that bit, but
they don’t do that bit. So where do I get it from?” I can’t
believe how long it took…”
He spent the next two years restoring the bodyshell, starting out by sandblasting it back to bare metal, learning the hard way just how costly rebuilding an early 911 (or 912) can be. Inevitably the 912 needed all the usual problem spots addressing, from the fuel tank and suspension support at the front (which had been repaired but untidily), to the sills, parcel shelf and torsion bar area. “Basically, the whole bottom six inches of the car,” says Nigel. “I found evidence of some lovely repairs carried out by a former owner in the USA – the rear corners above the rear lights were monstrous, but a friend had some panels he’d cut out of a car, which I grafted in.”
The engine lid was in a bad way, too, leading our man to make up his own panels to repair the double-skinned sections of the lid. But the upper reaches of the “shell were actually pretty good. There was no evidence of rot around the windscreen or scuttle, and just a small amount at the bottom corners of the rear screen: “I bought repair sections but found they didn’t fit. I cut them into four bits and still couldn’t make them fit, so threw them away and made my own,” he laughs.
Rather than resorting to modern filler (bonda), Nigel put his old school skills to use by using lead, just like at the factory. He spent numerous hours setting the panels gaps (“They’re way better than factory”, he says proudly) but there was one thing that bugged him: the front wings that came with the car may have been perfect but they were the wrong year, having a small flare that was absent on the early short wheelbase models. This posed something of a dilemma.
“I couldn’t decide what to do. Should I sell them and try to find the correct wings? In the end, because they fitted so well, and were in such good condition, I got hold of some early wings, which were knackered but had perfect edges to the wheel arch, cut them up and grafted the non-flared section into the later wings, leadloading all the seams” The bonnet was mint, the doors almost as good, requiring only a small amount of lead work, and the front slam panel was fine, too. As far as Nigel could tell, with the exception of the later front
wings, all the removable panels were original to the car.
It was around October 2017 that he set himself a target: Le Mans Classic 2018. “From that point on, I was doing ballistic hours, working until midnight two or three nights a week, then all weekend, every weekend. I didn’t want a blemish in the bodywork. It had to be perfect.
My biggest fault he grins, “is that I won’t shop anything out to somebody else – in fact, the only work that I farmed out was the seat trim…ʼ Even then, he admits, he came close to buying a sewing machine so he could tackle the job himself.
Once the bodywork had been completed to Nigel’s satisfaction, he took the shell over to Colourworx at Newquay where owner Nick Quince let him loose in the paint booth, etch-priming the bare metal before trailering it back home.
Then followed a couple of weeks of block sanding in readiness for paint. There was no doubt in Nigel’s mind what colour it would be: it had to be Irish Green, just as the 912 had left the factory. Again, Colourworx let Nigel use the paint booth to apply the top coats, doing the main shell one weekend, the doors and bonnet, etc, the next. Building the shell back up again was one of Nigel’s favourite parts of the restoration. He prides himself in taking time to do things right: the windows, for example, wind up and down with practically zero effort required, while the doors shut with a factory-like clunkʼ that seems unique to older Porsches. I fitted the doors bare and was warned that they might not fit once the rubbers were installed. Why, I asked? “Because the rubbers will push the door out of line”
came the reply. No, I replied, if the doors don’t close properly after fitting the rubbers, then
the problem lies with the seals, not the installation. The doors shut beautifully…ʼ
The brightwork is original to the car and, while it could have been used ʻas is’ with some polishing, it didn’t come up to Nigel’s standards. Instead, it was sent off to Doug Taylor Metal Finishing in Weston-Super-Mare for rechroming, who turned it around quickly as that target of Le Mans Classic was looming large. When it came to the interior, Nigel knew he wanted to
install some seats that would offer more support than the originals, yet wouldn’t look out of place in an early car. His choice was a pair of Recaro recliners from a Vauxhall Cavalier SRI, less the headrests, but they would need to be retrimmed. “I had a pretty good idea of how I wanted the seats to look he says, “so started to scour the internet for inspiration.
I found a photo of some material that looked perfect but then thought, “OK, so where do I get that from?”ʼ Reading a bit further he saw a reference to ʻTRʼ and then discovered it was material used in Triumph TR7s. Youʼd think that would have made life easy, but think again. He rang all the TR specialists he could find, only to be told the material wasnʼt available anywhere. Not to be put off, he continued searching the ʼnet and found a company who sold tartan cloth of various types. Digging deep into the website, Nigel eventually found exactly what he was after: a green tartan identical to that used in the Triumph TR7. Great – or so you might think. The trouble was that there was none in stock. A conversation elicited the fact that another customer had talked about commissioning some more of this material, but the turnaround was going to be something like 12 weeks – a little too tight for Nigelʼs schedule. In the end, they managed to do it in 10 weeks, at which point he dropped the seats straight over to Matt Leach, a local trimmer based near St Agnes in Cornwall, who recovered the seats and door cards to Nigelʼs specification. The rest of the trim Nigel handled himself, including the dash top (ʻIt was poorly, sun-crackedʼ).
The suspension and braking systems were stripped down, cleaned, replated where necessary and reassembled using Goodridge hoses on the brakes and new bushes from Elephant Racing on the suspension, along with new track-rod ends and ball-joints, plus upgraded ʻTurboʼ track rods. After being let down by the supplier when ordering a heavier front anti-roll bar, Nigel made his own, using a pair of Peugeot torsion bars, no less. Does it work? Well, a photo of the car at Castle Combe circuit shows it ʻthree-wheelingʼ out of a corner, so we can assume it does! A rear bar is now on the list of things to do.
The car just feels so nicely balanced. We set it up here in the workshop and could only really play with tyre pressures at the track, but it felt so good. It didnʼt show any signs of wanting to step out of line at all,ʼ says Nigel. Running on 205/55×15 Yokohamas, the 912 has more than lived up to expectations on the track.
The car runs on a set of genuine Minilite wheels, 6Jx15, which had once been fitted to a car belonging to Magnus Walker that was imported into the UK some while ago. Through a friend of a friend, Nigel heard that the wheels were for sale and got a family member to pick them up for him while on holiday. Beadblasted back to natural aluminium, the period rims suit the car perfectly, although a set of steels might be in the carʼs future.
The gearbox is the original five-speed (many 912s came
with four-speed transmissions, so this was a bonus) that
didnʼt require anything other than cleaning up and being
treated to an oil change. The engine that came with the car was another matter. ʻIt came to me full of water,ʼ Nigel recalls.
ʻIt was seized solid, but we did manage to free it off. However, when I tried to start it, it ran badly, popping and spitting. I decided to hang on for a bit as my intention had always been to install a big VW Type 4 engine. However, that would take quite a bit of development work and, as time was running out, I made the decision to rebuild the 912 engine. ʻAfter stripping it down, I had the cases and heads vapour-blasted, the bottom end balanced and then it was rebuilt all stock other than a 1720cc big-bore conversion. To begin with I ran the original Solexes but then changed them to 45DRLA DellʼOrtos. The exhaust was already on the car when I got it – not sure what it is, to be honest.ʼ Despite the attention to detail, this isnʼt the final engine. In its place Nigel plans to install a 2.2-litre long-stroke Type 4 with dry-sump oiling, featuring an external belt-driven pump,
and a 911-style cooling system
The freshly-rebuilt motor was bench run first of all, and then installed in the car ready for ʻbedding inʼ out on the road. ʻI did a couple of little trips around here, then headed off to Reading and back. It was then a case of oil and filter changes, doing the tappets and sorting a modest brake fluid leak. Then we were ready for Le Mans Classic.ʼ Now with a few thousand miles under its belt, the 912 never ceases to thrill. ʻIt took me a while to get used to lefthand drive,ʼ admits Nigel, ʻbut now I just want to keep driving it and Iʼm now expanding my services to offer restoration and engine work on Porsches (see contact panel, left – KS). Some people come into the workshop and take a look, saying “How much is that worth?”, but I have no interest in knowing. I just want to drive the car and enjoy it.ʼ And, after all, isnʼt that what classic Porsche ownership is all about. Or at least, it should be…