They say the best days in a boat owner’s life are the day he buys it and the day he sells it. I like boats, but in that case I’m glad I’m not a boat owner! Racing cars are like boats because they require maintenance, cost and patience. Taking the boat on the water usually requires help from others, which means you have to buy at least the beer and then there is gas, charges … the list goes on. The same applies to a race car. But the rewards of pushing their own limits on Blacktop is a thrill that very few really experience. It is an addiction that is much more obsessive than heroin – but also a hell of a lot more fun. Many readers who have turned a wheel in anger, can agree – if not scream from mountain peaks.
This adventure started with a phone call. My good friend, Casey Putsch at Putsch Racing, then in Columbus, Ohio, called after a fascinating idea after several discussions about me who wanted to race. For those of you who do not know, I grew up in a racing family, but we were not drivers – my dad was at the business end of things. So many of my colleagues tell me, “Your father was one of the few people I know who made real money in racing.” For more than thirty years, my father, Dick Stahler, did most of the public relations work for Carl Haas from 1969 onwards. Oh, and he also had a day job – as a creative director for a top PR company from Chicago, then in partnership with Haas, he started a successful sports marketing company.
They say, “The mother does not fall far from the wheel.” After 25 years in corporate sales and entrepreneurship, I caught the bug again and started the adventure of photojournalism in the racing world. But I took a different approach than most. Due to the time of my formative years, the easiest way to relate to those in the world of historic racing was to relate. These were the cars and drivers of my youth. They were also the people who knew my father. Low-hanging fruits, yes. But it has led to a full-fledged career in a world that will endear me to the end.
I can drive. But had never participated in a full race weekend – however, in the 1990s I crossed a road in 1993 with the Chicago SCCA region Firebird. Now in my forties, the race was a bucket-list article dating back to my one-digit years, adoring Brian Redman, David Hobbs, John Morton, Chuck Parsons … I’ve always wanted to race. Now I regularly hung with those who did it.
Telephone rings. It’s Casey Putsch. “Hey dude, a car has just come onto the market and I think you might be interested, I originally built it, and the person I built it for is the sales person.”
The car was a fully racy Porsche 968. The 968 was the last model of the Porsche line “Transaxle Porsches”. These rear wheel drive vehicles included the 924, 928, 944, and 968. They were front-engined, water-cooled hatchbacks. Porsche wanted to replace the 911 by the water-cooled front V8, 928 in the mid-1970s and early 1980s. The 924 was a four-cylinder model that offered a lower hanging fruit for higher sales, not unlike the Volkswagen 914 built in the early 1970s.
Purists often call “sacrilege” on this particular line of cars since they were not the typical air-cooled, rear-engine 911. But these cars also had an incredible advantage: 50/50 weight balance. The engine in front, connected by a torque tube to the transmission, which connects directly to the half-waves at the rear of the vehicle. The handover is amazing, to say the least! Regardless, the worldwide outcry of Porsche believers called for the continuation of the 911, which remains the icon despite a tour in SUVs with Macan and Cayenne, mid-engine Cayman and Boxster and the sedan-like Panamera. They are all water cooled now.
The front cars drove quite successful. Porsche has released a number of minimal “Club Sport” models specifically designed for amateur racing. A few made it to the pros and in the development of the engineer Roland Kussmaul, saw success in several European series.
I went online and looked at the pictures. The white number 20 machine was beautiful. Martini livery with the big blue-red stripe, reminiscent of the great endurance World Championship and the rally efforts of Porsche in recent years. While a total tribute car, this was not a slacker. It carried a BIG, normally sucked, ported and blue-spun 3.0-liter four-cylinder, putting 300 hp on the wheels. Curb weighing in just 2,400 pounds meant it would be nimble too. Much technology has turned the donor road machine into a full-fledged racing car. Evidence suggested that about $ 70,000 went into the build.
But there was a caveat: The car was broken. Bad. But repairable. In a conversation with the then owner and in a subsequent call, they could not fully tell what had gone wrong, but essentially the entire powertrain was broken, starting with the bell housing. The car was a complete mess. First, they blamed the engine and transmission mounts, which we will revisit later, as they were correct in terms of failure. The former owner of the car had a bad racing series, to say the least. The Porsche itself destroyed at the end of a meeting at the 2015 SVRA meeting at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Two weeks later, her team in Mid-Ohio drove a Ferrari Challenge car and was involved in a nasty speed-lap wreck as the cars accelerated to the green flag. A hurling, frontal collision with the pit wall – thanks to a bizarre sudden left side of the Porsche GT3 next to the Challenge car. The Ferrari was a total loss – hardly a part car when everything was rated. They were definitely in a bind.
After some haggling back and forth, we agreed on a price and exchanged titles and money. When the deal failed, I was actually in Chicago and headed for the Hawk at Road America historic races. I would not actually ship the car from Columbus, Ohio to Riverside, California until a month later, as I was tied up in the middle of the racing season.
After completing the deal, I called a good friend and Porsche mechanic, Bill Losee at Losee’s Eurotech Performance, and told him about the car. He said I could ship the car directly to him and he would start working on it. However, due to our schedules, it would take some time. Both he and I were part of the Rolex Monterey Historics, supporting some Formula 5000 vehicles, in the marquee for 2015 – which resulted in these amazing machines coming from four continents to attend the celebration. So of course we waited until all Hoopla’s Monterey car week was over.
On September 1, the car was delivered to Bill’s shop. I came out to greet the car and see it for the first time. The car was purchased from descriptions unseen. Many collectors and racing cars are handled in this way in a world where reputation and representation come first. I had it shipped on an open car carrier. It sat in last place on the top level, flanked by a number of other California cars. The driver unloaded the pretty car – which corresponded to the description of the photos I had seen. and we pushed it down the street to Bill’s shop, where a lift was waiting for it.
It was time to take a look at the vehicle – and in fact evaluate everything I had learned before the deal. As a hatchback, the car was overloaded with parts. The transmission, literally in the trunk! There were boxes of parts and as I would discover a few new ones. We started unloading the parts and organizing them on the ground when Bill heaved the Porsche onto the elevator to really look at the damage. It was bad, but we have a plan and a budget (haha) formulated to make his car race ready again. As we sprinkle the pieces across the floor, we were pleased to see that the former owner had sent parts that were purchased to repair the car, including a new bell housing, starters and various parts.
Now in possession of the car, the tedious journey began, repairing it and getting back on track. There’s more to this story, if you’ve ever owned a race car or are looking to own one, you might find the following five parts informative.