In the heart of South Africa, a 911 collector decided not to simply restore his SC to be used as a daily, but to upgrade it to be taken off the beaten track as well.
Written by Wilhelm Lutjeharms
It feels weird. I’m driving a 911 on a gravel road… and at some speed! In 15 years of driving these cars this has never happened! 911s are about grip and handling, but when the tarmac ended and I hit the gravel, I was surprised to find that I could just nonchalantly continue driving. I quickly realise how much fun it is, as well as how practical a car such as this one can be. No wonder Porsche has now released a 911 Dakar. Until now owners had to build their own interpretations...
The owner of this car is Douw Raimondo. He hails from Bloemfontein, right in the heart of South Africa. His journey with Porsche 911s has taken many turns over the years and many cars have come and gone (click here for our article on his collection). In recent years he has actually moved away from only owning original 911s to having cars that are very neat, yet not original.
This example ticks that box, but what makes this one more special is that it is an idea that had been germinating in his mind for some time.
The story behind this car
“I searched long for an affordable donor car to do this project with. I eventually found one outside Cape Town. As the engine needed a rebuild, I got the car for a good price and sent it to Porsche Centre Cape Town for a full assessment. The result was better than I expected. There was no rust, it had never been in an accident and it was a matching numbers car.”
“I wanted to build a type of 911 rally car that you can venture off the beaten track with. The idea was that my wife and I pack the car, put the bicycles on the roof and go away for a weekend. Within a year the car was done, perfectly built by Tim Abbot at Porsche Master Craftsman outside Johannesburg.”
“To kick off the project, when I went to Tim and asked him to build me this car I also gave him an entire build sheet, a thick folder that contained all my ideas. These included photos and ideas I’d collected over a period of time. I put a lot of research into this car.”
Douw had some wild ideas for the suspension, but Tim told him that for how he wants to use the car, setting the suspension on its highest setting with the standard Bilstein dampers would do the trick. The only mechanical upgrade has been an Elephant Racing tower strut brace at the front.
Inside Douw wanted the car to be relatively luxurious. To this end he has fitted a decent sound system and upgraded the air conditioning by fitting a booster system. Douw confirms that this setup manages admirably with the hot summer days here in South Africa.
Understanding and appreciating fully original cars, Douw points out that the car can easily be converted back to the way it was when it left the factory, should the need arise.
“The car was repainted and I did a few minor modifications. An electronic ignition module was installed, I replaced the chain tensioner and the wiring was completely redone. I replaced many of the bulbs with LED lights, including even the back lighting for the dashboard and dials. The headlights I imported from the USA and are the same units used on Singer Vehicle Design 911s. They are truly impressive. If you drive at night with these and the spot lights switched on you can see very far ahead of you. The gold-coloured Braid Acropolis wheels were also imported from the USA, some of the best in the industry and in terms of colour complements the crayon colour of the body.
“When I bought the car it had around 221 000 km on the odo, but the engine required a full rebuild. Furthermore, the spotlights were added and Tim handmade the bumpers as we could not find someone able to manufacture them. A bash plate was installed at the front of the car. There is also another plate at the rear, protecting the engine and gearbox. The result is that the car can really venture off-road. The roof carrier I simply bought from Thule.”
“I often drive to Bethlehem and back for business, a 500 km return trip. Other than that, I’ve taken it to Johannesburg a number of times, which is an 800 km return journey. The car runs perfectly on the open road. I recently achieved an impressive speed on the GPS, especially considering the negative aerodynamic effect the roof rack has as well as those heavy wheels. That is not the purpose of the car though, but after having had the car built, obviously one wants to see how it handles and how fast it is. I would classify it as an urban-type rally car. I got a quote for a full KW suspension so one can go faster off-road, but then you also need to fit a roll cage thus making the car much more focused and less versatile, so I decided against going down that route.
“The car didn’t break the bank, which I’m quite happy with. The headlights were very expensive though, but overall, the total project plus the donor car cost me about the same amount as a good 911 SC would trade for at this stage.”
Behind the wheel
Enough about the project, by now I was itching to drive this unique 911. I get in and turn the key. The engine settles in what is that fairly typical metallic sound from the flat-six. I pull off and within a few shifts I am reminded where the gears are and how to handle the 915 gearbox. It has a good mechanical shift action, but it shouldn’t be rushed. The gear knob is a beautifully machined piece, being made from a combination of wood and aluminium – it feels perfect to the touch with every gearshift.
Other interior highlights include the pull straps, with the overall combination of brown leather and the black-and-white Houndstooth cloth used for the centre parts of the seats complementing each other extremely well. In case you were wondering, the luggage compartment is just as neatly trimmed with a matching carpet set and brown beading, more luxurious and better trimmed than most modern cars.
The increase in the ride height is not immediately noticeable, but as you exit the car, you realise that the action is easier than from a standard 911 SC.
As I leave the tarmac and head onto the gravel stretch, first impressions are very positive, the tyre and suspension combination really absorbing the minor bumps well. There are no fancy suspension parts fitted, but even so I’m impressed with the bump absorption. The view over the bonnet is the same as that of any other air-cooled 911 from the era, except for the pair of spot lights mounted on the front bumper, a quirky visual reminder that this is not your average 911 SC.
In the cabin there is still that solid feeling we associate with air-cooled 911s, albeit with a slightly stronger focus on luxury. The beautiful seats are soft and comfortable, but at the same time the side bolsters around your upper legs provide enough support. The three-spoke, Alcantara-clad MOMO steering wheel feels perfectly in your hands and feeds much-needed front axle information to the driver.
As one would expect from a rebuilt engine, it feels new and is happy to rev, while also offering enough torque. Before having some fun, I decide to first find out whether the engine will be happy pottering around as low as possible in the rev range. After all, if you really need to drive slowly over challenging surfaces, tractability is an important feature of an engine. The 3.0-litre SC effortlessly obliges. With around 1 000 rpm on the rev counter, the drivetrain is happy to tick over and I can easily see myself navigating much trickier terrain with this car.
A fun car!
Increasing speed again, the engine clears its throat properly as the rev needle passes 4 000 rpm. Although the knobbly tyres offer some much-needed grip on gravel, it is also very easy to overcome the grip levels with a prod of the throttle. Use the brake pedal with enthusiasm and the wheels will lock up (although the car still pulls straight) while you can easily have the rear tyres break traction through a corner.
What a fun car this is! Although in terms of engineering and design it might be far removed from the factory off-road 911 racers from the 70s and 80s, it still gives you a glimpse of the 911’s off-road capabilities and what it must have felt like racing the 911 on the world’s rally stages. It is a car that can be used every day, while also easily heading off-road onto any one of the plethora of gravel roads that crisscross South Africa.
“My dream trip is to head to the Western Cape and do a route along the coast, through the well-known flower landscapes and then down the Southern part of the coast. The car is not meant to be a garage queen, which is why I use it often for a variety of trips.”
The journey of any 911 enthusiast is an interesting one, and this one is no exception. I, for one, find a car such as this very inviting and can’t think of a better combination of performance, practicality and passion all mixed into one to fully enjoy.
1982 Porsche 911 SC “Safari RS”
Engine: 3.0-litre, flat-six cylinder, petrol
Power: 152 kW at 5 900 rpm
Torque: 267 Nm at 4 300 rpm
Transmission: 5-speed manual
Suspension front: Independent; wishbones; MacPherson strut; torsion bars; hydraulic shock absorbers; anti-roll bar
Rear: Independent; semi-trailing arms; torsion bars; hydraulic shock absorbers; antiroll bar.
Wheels & tyres front and rear: Goodyear Wrangler All terrain Adventure, 7J x 15, 205/70 R15
Weight: > 1 160 kg
0-100 km/h: > 6,5 seconds
Top Speed: < 220 km/h