Some people have epiphanies while walking barefoot on hot coals or dancing with venomous snakes. Tamas Opra saw the light from the passenger seat of a Porsche 911 SC as it sliced through the canyons of the Santa Monica Mountains in Southern California.
He was sure that every corner, taken at speeds he didn't think were possible, would be their last before they skidded off line and over the edge. But his friend Derek, the car's owner, had set it up for autocrossing, meaning it was well suited for tight turns and quick transitions.
It was Opra's first time in a 911. He could feel the effects of the engine in the back: the stability under braking, the traction out of corners. "This is a car that does everything differently yet better than the others," he said. "After the adrenaline wore off, I knew. This is it, this is the car I want."
He immediately sold his '93 RX-7, '96 Miata, and truck and got his hands on an '82 911 SC a week later. That was seven years ago, and he says he's never considered owning anything but a Porsche since. Within that time, Opra bought and hot-rodded the SC, acquired a vintage '67 911 track car, and just recently finished this sinister fender-flared '69.
The previous owner was a friend who bought the car as a project, but never had time to finish it. For years, Opra made offers to buy it, but his friend would only respond with: "I'll think about it." Then, out of the blue, the guy called to see if he was still interested.
It started life as a '69 911T, enhanced by a previous owner with a set of more modern 930 fender flares (compared with the RSR flares that would be period-correct on these early long-hood models). The front and rear bumpers are fiberglass pieces from Getty Design, which also made the fiberglass hood and ducktail engine cover. Opra took out the rear window and replaced it with Lexan and then drilled the holes for the window straps himself.
The cabin was still incomplete, so Opra installed a pair of reproduction vintage Recaro race seats acquired from TRE Racing. The door cards are from an RS and the dash is a recently restored piece from another car. He had the MOMO Prototipo steering wheel just sitting around and it works perfectly with the classic interior. Another friend, Dave Mason, made the shift knob and it nearly replicates the layered wood knob from the 917, except for a checkered flag pattern on top.
Above the gauges for the front and rear Tilton master cylinders are three Heuer stopwatches. They sit in a custom mounting plate in place of the factory stereo.
Not that a radio would be audible if the engine's running. Nor would anyone's favorite song sound any better than this 3.8L flat-six. The chassis is stripped of all sound deadening to save weight, so the entire car resonates when the engine fires up and settles into a barely muffled drumbeat idle.
Raising a 3.6L to 3.8 is fairly common among tuners of air-cooled Porsches. But Opra's is extra special because it was built as close to 993 RSR specs as possible. Starting as a 3.6 from a 993, it now uses the same Mahle pistons and cylinders, intake valves, valvesprings, and cam specs as the rare factory racer.
The crank was balanced, knife-edged, and heat-treated by Ollie's Engineering (specialists in air-cooled Porsches and based in Lake Havasu City, Arizona). It connects to the Mahle pistons via Carrillo rods to create an 11:1 compression ratio. Fuel squirts in via Rochester 72-pound injectors, while air inhales through ITG air filters and PMO velocity stacks. An Autronic 500 R engine management computer orchestrates the fuel and spark. Exhaust gas is routed through Fabspeed's Carrera RSR Maxflo headers and muffler.
In its current mild state of tune, Opra says it measures 330 whp on pump gas and thinks there's another 10 or even 20 whp to be extracted. Even at 330 whp, it probably cracks the 100hp/L threshold at the crank. Impressive for a naturally aspirated, air-cooled, two-valve engine.
Blip the throttle and the revs spike and drop effortlessly. Step on the firm RSR clutch and find First gear in the 915 gearbox, which has a factory short shifter as well as custom ratios. It needs revs to keep from stalling, because the RSR clutch engages quickly without much progression. But once under way, there's plenty of low-end torque and driveability.
Coincidentally, our test route takes in the same canyons where Opra was converted. And unlike some owner/passengers, he doesn't flinch as I work up to speed, taking the corners progressively faster, stepping a little further into the gas pedal on the straights.
The first thing to become obvious is the high level of grip. Up front, Opra put on 255/40 Sumitomo HTR-Zs on the 17x9.5 Fikse wheels. At the rear, 315/35 tires are mounted on 17x11.5 wheels. If you're wondering, a current 911 Turbo S uses a 245 in front and 305 in the rear.
Keeping all that rubber pressed to the pavement are 0.9-inch and 1.2-inch Schroeder gun-drilled torsion bars at both ends, controlled by Bilstein shocks re-valved to RSR specs, adjustable front and rear antiroll bars from Kokeln, 930 tie rods, SC rear trailing arms, and firmer polyurethane bushings courtesy of Elephant Racing.
It will understeer, but it takes a lot of speed to push those Sumitomos to their limits. This car never exhibits the snap-oversteer characteristics for which 911s are famous. Opra's car is well behaved partly because I make sure not to provoke it through the turns by lifting. Past experience has taught me to get on the gas at the exit to shift weight and plant the rear end.
The brakes are from a 930, coupled with Tilton front and rear master cylinders. In classic Porsche style, the pedal is firm, but since there's no assistance, it takes an even heavier foot before the stoppers start to bite. For those accustomed to power brakes, it takes some "leg recalibration" to find the right amount of effort.
Those short canyon straights don't allow us to fully utilize the 3.8's powerband. There are teasing forays into the upper ranges, but nothing close to the 8,000-rpm redline. It feels best from 4,000 rpm up and doesn't need redlining to shrink the straights. The car lunges out of corners, and then it's back on the brakes again.
Opra says it's a handful, but he doesn't mean the car is not properly sorted. It's a handful in the way that 383 hp propels 2,200 pounds. At 1 hp to 5.7 pounds, it has a better power-to-weight ratio than a GT3. It's a handful because it's fast, forcing the driver to play catch-up and then try to rein it in with flailing arms and legs. No PDK here, no ABS, no PSM to make it easier or flatter with technology. Just an old-school man/machine interface.
After the twisties, there's one long, cop-infested stretch, a last chance to stretch its legs. Cruising in Fifth, I drop down to Fourth and then feel the RSR clutch slam shut as I let it out. It shoots ahead just as it did in the canyons, except this time I let it wind close to 8,000 rpm. The power arrives progressively, getting more urgent with every tiny movement of the tach needle, never letting up. Then it's hard on the binders, followed by repeating the process for the next open stretch. I didn't have to do it, but it felt like the right thing. License be damned.