The Little Hot Rod

You know when you go to a Porsche event, be it a cruise or a cars and coffee, there’s always one or two cars that stand out in the crowd. To me, this is one of those cars. From the first time I saw it on a Porsche Forum Australia cruise I was infatuated with it. A backdated 3.2 Carrera that has all the beauty and styling of a ‘73RS but some very nice hidden secrets underneath. Needless to say, I was thrilled when the owner, Phil Karanicolas agreed to have the car featured in 911 Kuhlture.

So Phil, what got you into Porsches and what drew you towards an air cooled 911?

I think it started when a university friend of mine I was sharing a house with bought an old Alfa Sprint and maintained it like a showpiece. It really triggered a few of my passions for engineering, the beauty in European cars, and my clean-freak attitude. Then a second mate bought an Alfa 75 so of course I then had to buy one, a red 1985 2.0 litre GTV which really started me down the car enthusiast road.

Soon after, Alfa 75 guy went and upgraded and got himself a 993. Oh… the sound and look of that car did it for me. I couldn’t afford a 993 but eventually got a 1989 3.2 Carrera coupe. It was bloody great. It was dead stock except for a custom muffler. The sound of that car was like no other, that mechanical raspy sound is tremendous. It was diamond blue with a whale tail, that classic 80s 911. I’ve always liked less complicated cars with a simple interior. The basic function & form of the car is also very appealing.

The other thing that drew me to Porsches was their interchangeability, the big cottage industry of available parts and upgrades so I felt comfortable that I could maintain the car, repair and replace parts as needed.

Well, you’ve ended up with an absolute pearler of a car. Were you looking for a backdated car when you bought this one?

Oh yeah, I had a craving for 993s for many years but then a friend sent me a few pics of a thing called a Singer. Average sounding name I thought but wow, I’d never seen a long-hood car so beautiful before. After that, the 993 dropped to 2nd place. I’ve had a Resto-mod way of thinking for years. I looked at buying an MG years ago, way before I bought my 3.2. These were not stock but renovated with modern technology. I thought they were a winner. It was a place in Bentleigh not far from where I live. When I saw top gear doing a piece on a resto e-type jag, the Eagle I think it was called, I was ready to order one until Jeremy mentioned the price tag… ludicrous pricing!  Then when I saw the Singer I thought it was sensational. It ticks every box I can think of and then some. In the last 5 or so years the backdated philosophy has grown huge and its right up my alley. The downside though is it feels a little sad a few too many stock, beautiful classic cars are being lost. I do appreciate the purity of an old car, don’t get me wrong, and would not upset a perfect example if I had one. My first Porsche was a great example of a 1989 911, so I never modded it, even though I had the urge to strip the interior and upgrade bits.

Unless you build your own car, backdated cars aren’t easy to come by. How did you come across this car?

I got to a point in my life, financially and personally where, 10 years or so after selling my 3.2, I could realise this passion for a backdated 911. I started casually perusing Carsales, once or twice a week for about a year. I knew exactly what I wanted but didn’t hold much hope as I was quite specific. Full RS or RSR backdate, long hood, must be g50 (late 80s chassis) and must have a 3.6 in it. Then one Friday night after work I was doing my usual Carsales search when pop, there it was, exactly the right specs. I couldn’t believe it. It was even my preferred colour which I was not as fussed about. They must have posted it up just before they left work on Friday. I called them first thing Saturday morning, dropped all my plans and went straight out there, a dealer called Healey Factory in Mitcham. I’d never heard of them. By mid-morning, one test drive and a magnifying glass around the car later, my deposit was paid.

You mentioned earlier about the car having a 3.6 engine in it. You were kind enough to hand me the keys during the photoshoot and I was pretty blown away by how quick the car is, particularly the low down torque. Tell me a bit about the build including who did it?

It’s from Zag Automotive in NSW, built around 2008 I think. They do custom builds so the first owner specced it this way. I was told he apparently had moved to Darwin recently and needed to sell off a few of his cars… as you do. Zag typically gets cars from Japan, converts them to RHD, and then backdates them to the customer’s specification.  It’s a 1987 g50 coupe with a sunroof, an RS interior and a 3.6 engine from a 993. It had an all black interior and exterior with orange decals and wheels. It only missed on 2 counts. I wanted a wide body RSR look and polished chrome exterior trim but the g50, 3.6, backdated with RS interior was enough. I may be lucky as I’ve read a lot of bad stories on backdated builds, problems they have, etc… but my car has not had any problems whatsoever. Since buying it I’ve had mechanics tell me it’s got a new clutch, new seats, and it’s well put together with nothing popping out as dodgey…. Very reassuring.

Looking at the car today, I can see you’ve made some changes since you bought it. What are the things you’ve done to add your personal touches?

Oh yeah, heaps…. I love little projects but unfortunately I have no tools or skills to do anything myself other than clean and drive it. The research and decisions on which parts to get, chats with friends to learn more, etc is my fun bit. I get the credit card to do the rest… yes, an expensive way.

The first thing that went was the orange Fuchs. They were a bit too loud for me and I wanted the exterior a little more subtle so I had the wheels refurbished with gloss black centres. Loud colours and exteriors look great on the internet but I can’t see myself living day to day with it. I prefer highlight colours more I think but over time I’m slowly getting more daring in this area.

The second thing that had to go was the exhaust. It had a pissy Volkswagen sound to it so I wanted something real sporty. I went to Fitzgerald’s in Box Hill who referred me to a specialist who they highly recommended. I had to get a custom muffler made as the stock off the shelf ones like Dansk, Monty, etc. couldn’t fit because of the big 3.6 in the back. As an added bonus, I got my 800cell stock cat replaced with a 100cell sports cat. It was all a bit expensive but sounded great, it rumbled and roared and popped when down shifting but unfortunately it didn’t last. It rattled and rubbed on the chassis and overheated the rear bumper. It was all too tight in there so I ripped it out and had a modded 3.2 stock muffler put in and still have that now. It’s much more moderate but still ok. Unfortunately I lost some mid range oomph & sound as a result.

Next was to lose some weight as I love the spartan interior look. Radio and speakers were deleted,  RS door cards redone, aircon deleted, single fan hub put in, RS crank pulley added and heater blower removed. 

For some colour, as it was a bit dull looking inside (all black), I had red belts and red tartan added to the seats. The steering wheel was an old worn out alcantara Momo, so I got a new Prototipo with Porsche crested horn knob. 

For Xmas 2 years ago, my girlfriend wanted to buy me something for the car. I pointed her to the 917 gear knob I saw at a Cars and Coffee one morning. I didn’t know that a 915 stick and g50 stick are different, so after 6 months on a slow boat from Mexico, it arrived with the 915 fitting. So, off it went back to be replaced. 3 months later it arrived. A 9 month late Xmas present ha ha.

The centre console needed to go to complete the 70s look, I had the hazard button and rear window demister relocated just under the dash and the centre carpet and floor mats redone. I can’t cope with worn seats, tears or scuffs. My OCD can’t cope!

A visit to my mechanic for an oil leak came back with a few other bits needed and the fan and shroud had to come off…. hmm, so I lashed out and had the fan coloured red, some engine bits, clips, clamps & fuel rails all zinced… A little more bling. I open that rear lid now and it’s a smile every time.

Some new Bridgestone shoes were needed as the tyres on it were past their used by date. New decals were added to replace the orange Carrera script, a black sun visor with Porsche script was added to the windscreen and I replaced the bonnet crest with a silver one.

You’ve definitely nailed it. Those seats are sensational and the red highlights on the outside are spot on. Is that it for modifications or do you still have plans in the future?

Ah yes, the immediate one now is I’m turning back to the exhaust with the added upgrade to the headers too, now that I have the space. Also, the single inlet arrangement to the back of the muffler didn’t look good as I had the cross pipe taken out a while back when I deleted the heater & aircon. I looked at the SSI and Dansk solution a lot of hot rods go with but I couldn’t get confirmation in two areas. First, the sound was only moderately better. I wanted to get a lot more loud. Secondly, a few forums talked about the diameter and airflow of the SSIs not being up to spec for a 3.6 engine. Some said it was ok but without a straight answer, I bailed out on them. After hearing a car with an M & K muffler, I had a keen interest in them. I’ve now been liaising with the man himself In Alabama USA and his headers are bigger and lighter than SSIs and the muffler is a screamer so it’s looking promising. The other big name brands don’t seem to cater for the hybrid made hotrod, it’s all 993 or 911, you can’t select both on their websites, so I dropped off these quickly.

What else… I’m considering getting it looking more track ready, even though tracking the car doesn’t appeal as much as a good drive through the hills but sports seats could be on the cards as well as a harness bar to get some four point belts. I’d like to also get all exterior trim chromed and am considering new Martini decals which really look amazing on black. Less weight is always good like a sunroof delete or glass replaced with plastic but a lot of these things are not cheap, so there’s no rush and it may never happen.

What is it about this particular car that brings you such pleasure?

I love what I’ve done to it that makes it mine. It’s kind of unique but there’s lots of little things too. Like the smell when you get in, the sound, the way it drives. Even the process of getting out for a drive. Peeling the cover off, switching off the trickle charger, getting the log book out. It’s a ritual, it’s not just turn the key and go. It has no other purpose but to be driven. No radio, no chimes or alerts. It’s all up to me. I need to be aware and be mindful. It requires it. And with the work I’ve done, it’s such a pleasant spot to be, sitting inside. I really love the interior. The lines and shape and colours of the exterior are a thing of beauty, so I smile every time I peel the cover off and get a peek.

Now that you have a Porsche, what have you enjoyed in general about Porsche ownership?

I’d heard of availability of parts and forums around the world so I was kind of expecting I’d be able to search and find things or get onto a forum and talk online, but something I was not expecting, and am so grateful for, is the community here in Melbourne, in particular the Porsche Forum Australia (PFA). I have met many people through this, made quite a few friends, all of which have been so helpful to me, especially as I’m devoid of any technical knowledge. Now I have a small spin off group from the forum who I regularly catch up with and go on group drives with. I find as I get older my circle of friends has diminished over the years and being able to expand this circle in the last few years has been a real highlight for me personally. Being with like-minded car loving people all passionate about the same thing, it’s a group that is never short of conversation & some good laughs along the way. And the forum is always good for info, long conversations and just learning about other’s projects.

Many in our Porsche community find it hard to have just one Porsche. Do you have your eye on any other cars for the future?

Yes, for sure. I have always had a convertible in my garage for many years (mostly BMWs) but now I’m dead keen to expand the Porsche brand with an old 911 Targa or a 993 convertible, more for just Sunday cruising with my partner. Not having driven either of these, I don’t know how difficult the old 915 car would be or what a 993 cab feels like… hmmm, need to do more research.