Porsche 911 R Gruppe Targa Feature: US Road Trip

The new issue of Total 911 magazine has just landed on the doormat. It’s pretty good.

Far and away the best thing in it (if I do say so myself :D) is on page 64: a Glynn/Lipman road trip piece on fellow Irishman Karl O’Donoghue and his Beige Grey Targa.

New designer, Neil Freestone, has hit the ground running at Total 911 and sorted a sweet layout for this perfect story. The ‘Rolling Stone’ title might have helped Herr Freestone – talk about synchronicity with that name – but, whatever did it, it is exactly how I imagined the piece. Jamie’s pictures are sublime.

It’s a joy when magazines put the effort into making your work jump off the page like this. I’ve done some non-Porsche stuff that really did not inspire, but this one is a different story. Literally. Awesome how this 2-minute blog post is full of serendipity.

If you’ve missed the magazine, the feature text is below.

Like a Rolling Stone

Exploring North America takes intrepid spirit, and a decent horse. One man mad for road has chosen a rare-groove Targa as his steed. Ferdinand Magazine’s John Glynn tells us more.

Born in Killarney, Ireland, Karl O’ Donoghue (Dunno-hew, not Don-oh-hew) is every inch a rolling stone. While in France, completing his Masters in History of Political Ideology, Karl’s aunt thought it would nice for him to work in America afterwards. The first Karl knew of his visa lottery entry was when a green card came in the post.

Karl bought a one-way ticket to New York, and set off for the American Embassy in Dublin, to sort the final red tape. “It was noon on Friday and the office closed at 12.30. I was flying the next day. Handing in my travel documents, a female official advised that my clean French police record would need translating, and my picture redoing, to see my full ear.

“I ran from the Embassy and grabbed a cab. The driver refused to take me, pointing out a translating agency a few blocks down. I rushed in, set them to work and flew back a few streets to a photo shop. I ran back into the Embassy at 12.30, just as the girl was about to leave. “O’ Donoghue, are you on roller blades or what?” she laughed. I laughed too – I was on my way.”

Karl arrived in America in March 1994, during number 15 of 18 blizzards that year. “I was staying with family, and couldn’t get out the door to find a job. I settled in by watching basketball for three weeks, before moving to Pittsfield, Massachusetts, to work with an aunt and uncle in their restaurant while one of the staff was back in Ireland. Afterwards, I moved to the city, finding work with Air France as a business analyst.”

Karl spent ten years in New York, living in the West Village. “It’s a small neighbourhood, where everybody knows your name. When you live downtown, you never need to leave it; local wisdom says we get a nosebleed if we go above 14th Street.”

Today he is well above 14th Street. We’re in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire: 400 miles north of New York. This is the R Gruppe East Coast Treffen, also known as the RED Rally. Karl’s been with the group since 2005, when he bought this 1973 2.4 E Targa from San Francisco Grupper, Harold Williams.

“A few years after I met my wife Nikki in 1998, we decided to buy a classic car, for fun weekend drives and exploring upstate. Any self-respecting Irishman knows Ford is the brand of choice, so we bought a ’66 Mustang Hardtop, which we owned for a few years. It was a nice car in great condition but heavy to drive, like a boat.

“I liked 911s, but always thought they were priced beyond my pocket. After joining the forums and doing some research, I was amazed to find I could afford one. Nikki and I started looking for a Coupe, then spotted this Targa pretty early on. I didn’t want a Targa, but we kept coming back to the pictures. It was such a great colour – we were smitten.

“Eventually, Nikki pointed out that my hunt for a Coupe was ridiculous, as I was probably never going to drive this in the rain. She was right: the Targa was on. We contacted Harold, and the car went for a PPI at Rich Bontempi’s High Performance House in Redwood City. When it passed with flying colours, I wired the money one direction and the car was shipped the other.”

Harold had bought the car in 1986, from the second owner. The colour is Beige Grey: number 622. “It was the only colour offered on the ’73 RS that no one ever ordered,” smiles Karl, who’s uncovered just three other cars in this shade.

Harold was a track fan, and the Targa had done some laps. The 2.4 been replaced with a 3.2. Engine cooling was uprated with twin oil coolers under the wings, hence the turn signal opened up for ventilation. Shaved battery boxes let the coolers in: a Carrera one on the passenger side and a Mocal on the driver’s.

The suspension is Bilstein Sports all around, with 22mm/30mm torsion bars, and 22mm adjustable anti roll bars front and rear. The rear anti-roll bar consoles are from Jerry Woods. Aluminium trailing arms are fitted.

The body has steel RS flares. The S front spoiler and gauges were on there from new. The transmission is stock, with a WEVO precision shift joint coupler replacing the Porsche item. People often claim that the stock Porsche part is as good as it gets, but I think the difference is obvious.

Early Targas are an engaging drive and this is the same, plus some. Driving quickly over gravel, the chassis is taut, with no scuttle shake. The rear is perhaps a little stiffer than I would have it, but that stiffness is neither intrusive nor uncomfortable. The well-controlled chassis is echoed in the engine: this 2.4’s a blast. Karl gives me the lowdown.

“After advertising it for a while with no interest, Harold suspected the 3.2 might be putting buyers off, so he reinstalled the 2.4, and then we came along. Harold believed the 2.4 engine he’d bought it with was not the original, as the previous owner said it was changed when it went from MFI to carburettors.

“That didn’t matter to him, as he was building a car for track fun. It didn’t bother me either, but when I sent the chassis and engine number information to Porsche, the Certificate of Authenticity confirmed that it was the right engine for the car – it was matching numbers. ”

Matching numbers is a nice touch, but this engine can’t be standard. The SSIs and homemade exhaust give a zingy engine note, reflecting the Targa’s eager character. It must have cams or something.

“I don’t know about cams,” says Mr O’D. “I’ve got bills for a top end rebuild some time ago, so I suppose it’s possible.” Cams or not, the replacement Weber 40 IDAs suit the engine well, providing solid bottom end with plenty of pace as the revs pick up. There’s no fluttering and no flat spots: it just finds the traction and gets a shift on.

“It’s a great car to drive,” agrees the owner. “Harold’s basic recipe was perfect. Since I’ve had it, I’ve fitted Scheel 300 seats, bought and shipped from Germany, and a Mark Donohue Racemark steering wheel (Don-oh-hew: the American way). I thought I’d keep things in the family.”

Karl has also added ‘enough candlepower to melt paint’, according to Bob Tilton’s caption under a shot of the car on werkcrew.com. “It came with sealed-beam sugar scoops,” remembers Karl, “so I junked those and fitted H1s instead. Then I fitted through-the-grille lamps, and a pair of Cibie hood lamps. I think it’s bright enough now.

“The only other big change is the rear wheels: Minilites. I always loved the ST look, with 7 inch Fuchs up front and Minilite rears. As this is a rally car, they seemed to make sense. I bought them straight from the factory, in pre-paint primer. I figure I can use them for a while and decide whether they need colour in a few years’ time.”

The first two years with this spritely early Targa were spent enjoying the East Coast, on trips to Boston, Vermont and New Hampshire. When Rennsport Reunion III was held at Daytona in 2007, an R Gruppe drive to the East Coast event was inevitable.

“I drove to Daytona with a bunch of Porsche guys,” Karl recalls. “It was 2,200 miles there and back, and every inch was epic. I caught the road trip bug, and have been hankering for big drives ever since. Daytona proved the classic 911’s distance ability. I started planning something longer: something cross-country. 2008 brought the perfect excuse.

“Early 911S Registry and R Gruppe guys in Texas were planning the ‘Tour de la Ditch’ Grand Canyon rally, before a run to the 2008 Treffen in California. The plan was to drive to Texas, do ‘La Ditch’, get to California and leave the Targa there over winter. There was no point driving home, as the car would just be sitting around for months while the snow was on the ground. After winter, we’d fly back out, do the ‘09 Treffen at Cambria and bring it home, crossing eastwards further up the country.

“In October 2008, little brother Aidan flew in from Ireland, we threw the bags in the car and headed for Texas. The drive was incredible. Starting at home, now in upstate NY, we went 600 miles to Ohio, where we hooked up with a few more 911s. From there we drove to St Louis, down into Oklahoma and on towards Texas. Roswell and Area 51 were followed by the Grand Canyon, Arizona and Willow Springs Raceway. We ended up in San Luis Obispo on the Pacific Coast. The total distance was over 2,500 miles.

“I stored the car with Porsche amigo Curtis Autenrieth in LA over the winter, then flew back for Treffen 2009, in Cambria. A second bite of the California Porsche cherry in less than twelve months tasted good. The next stage was for Nikki to fly in and join me in San Francisco, where we’d head up the coast, before charging inland on our marathon drive back east.

“I arrived in San Francisco with two hours to spare, so I rang Harold Williams and asked if I could come and say hello. Meeting Harold for the first time was fun: he enjoyed seeing the car being used. All too soon, I had to hit for the airport. With Nikki on board, we crossed the Golden Gate Bridge and headed up to Sea Ranch, on the Sonoma coast.

“Two days later, it was time to go home. We said goodbye to California and drove the hairpin-laden Skaggs Spring Road before reaching Highway 50: officially the loneliest highway in America. Highway 50 took us into the desert, and we floored the throttle. Three-figure speeds dropped to thirty miles per hour for our first overnight stop, at a former brothel in Ely, Nevada. The radar-equipped State Trooper at the city limit was left empty-handed.

“We had a good night in Ely, then headed into Utah, and Salt Lake City. Wyoming was next: the Badlands, site of that legendary serial killer movie, starring Sissy Spacek and Martin Sheen. The landscape there is almost Martian: very other-worldly.

“After the Badlands, we broke for Mount Rushmore, which was spectacular. A best-kept secret down the road is the incredible Crazy Horse Memorial: bigger than Rushmore and even more inspiring. The original sculptor was a Polish boy, Korczak Ziolkowski.

“Korczak was orphaned at the age of 1, and raised by foster parents in Boston. When, in 1948, the Native Americans invited him to design and sculpt the monument, he moved out west, eventually marrying a local girl with whom he had ten kids. Since his death, seven of his children have continued his work, blasting and chiselling the granite rock into a new wonder of the world.”

In the spirit of great Irish folk stories of adventure and exploration, O’ Donoghue has spent his Porsche ownership forging trails across America, making friends and seeing sights that are infinitely more powerful in person. His travels have reinforced the desire that this fellow immigrant also feels strongly: to keep clocking up the miles, gathering great experiences.

Jamie told me that his pictures of Karl’s Targa evoke a line from Gerry Rafferty’s classic song, Baker Street. “But you know he’ll always keep movin’, you know he’s never gonna stop movin’, ‘cos he’s rollin’, he’s the rolling stone.”

I reckon James is on to something here. It’s true that Glynn, O’ Donoghue and our R Gruppe compadres seem to be coded the same. Maybe R could stand for rolling: the rolling stones of Porsche. Long may it continue!

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