The dictionary defines the term Déjà vu as ‘already seen’, or the phenomenon of having the strong sensation that an event or experience currently being experienced, has been experienced in the past. This was certainly true for Porsche enthusiast Dave Whelan, as he returned to the scene of the West Cork Rally where, in March 2000, he almost wrote off his 1972 Porsche 911 2.4 S.
So, when Irish Army Commandant Dave Whelan bought his 911 2.4 S back in ’88, he had no idea that his adventures would include a near total write-off and rebuild. The 911 was fitted with Porsche’s new 2341cc boxer six-cylinder engine for the first time in 1972, making the S model the company’s top performing road car with a top speed of 143mph, which at this time was a healthy statistic. The 2.4 S served as the guinea pig for the Carrera 2.7 RS, the only real difference between them being slightly wider wheel arches and an extra 300cc.
Dave Whelan is not a man accustomed to doing things in half measures, and having spent most of his life in the Irish Army serving in hotspots around the world, he is used to the hard life. Rallying became a regular part of his life as far back as 1978 in a Ford Fiesta, and so when he bought his 911 2.4 S in 1988, ‘ZT 911’, it was just a matter of time before the Porsche would be used competitively. However, before he could hope to compete with anyone, he had to first sort out the engine, which was performing well below expectations. After several failed attempts to fix it properly, he responded to a newspaper advert offering a 2.2 S engine, the misbehaving 2.4 engine serving as a part exchange in the deal.
Over the following decade (1990-2000), Whelan competed with his (now) 2.2 S 911 in around 150 races, rallies, hill climbs, test trials, night navigation rallies and even a petrol economy run. In 1999 he lost out on overall victory in the West Cork Rally by just one second while the following year he was 30 seconds down going into the start of day two of the same event. Whelan felt that he held the upper hand as he knew the roads in the area well, but disaster struck at 80mph. He picks up the story, “I clipped a rock on the side of the road, but what I didn’t know was that the tyre had deflated, so a couple of hundred yards down the road when I had to turn left, the car just went straight on. It went up a bank which knocked the wheel off and crumpled the front right hand side, but when we came to rest, the car was balancing on the top of the bank, and then it fell back, landing upside down on its roof which caused considerable damage.”
The car was almost a write-off, and so Dave had the 911 transported back to his brother’s garage, where it was left outside exposed to the elements for the next ten years. In 2011 Whelan felt that the time had come to do something about the car, and had it delivered to Colin Belton at Ninemeister in Warrington, for a full restoration. This was not going to be a quick repair, as the car was very badly damaged, and so Dave had a job on his hands looking for the parts he needed to turn the car back into a roadgoing 2.4 S. The problem was, back in 1990 in an effort to lighten the car, he had discarded many of its original parts when he had built it into a race car.
Obviously an important part of returning the car to its original spec would be to find a 2.4 S engine again. In previous years it didn’t matter quite as much which engine you put into the car, but in recent years the issue of ‘matching numbers’ has risen to prominence. This left Whelan in a quandary as he didn’t think he could find the contact details of the chap he had sold his 2.4 S engine to nearly 25 years earlier, and the chances of him still having it were slim to nil. Eventually he did find the owner, as Dave recalls, “I rang Ivor to see where my engine had gone because I thought he might have built it into another car, or possibly sold it. But to my total surprise he said it was still in his garden shed where we had left it. So I went up two days later with my wife’s Ford Focus, and the two of us carried the engine back out, 25 years after we had first carried it into the shed. This is the engine that the car was born with on day one in the factory, so now it is back in the car!”
But that wasn’t the last of the surprises regarding the engine. Obviously for an engine to run properly, all the pistons and barrels need to be the same, but when Ninemeister opened the engine they found five identical pistons and barrels, and one unmatched piston and barrel. It appeared that the original owner back in Italy in the 1970s had damaged the engine, and just installed a later piston and barrel in its place. The unmatched piston was the same dimension as the others but the height of the piston and the cut-outs were different, so the engine would never run properly. Nor could it be balanced for optimum performance.
When a Porsche engine overheats, the studs holding the barrel to the crankcase can snap and when this happens the only remedy is to drill them out and replace them. Our Italian mechanics had other ideas as they had drilled out the four studs holding the barrel in place and as Whelan explains, “They replaced these with gutter bolts that were too big for the hole they were going into, but he tightened them up anyway. The thing is, they went in, but they were never, ever going to come out again. As I was replacing the pistons and barrels it didn’t matter to me, but it just showed man’s inhumanity to engines.”
From the factory, the 2.4 S would have had 190bhp on tap making it the quickest Porsche available in those days. “The S always had a high revving engine,” said Whelan, “all of the torque and all of the power is way up high at about 6500 revs with zero power under 4000 revs which makes it very noisy, and it means you’re changing gear a lot more often than you normally would.” The injection system is a Bosch mechanical system, which is very reliable, but fuel wise it is not very efficient as it prefers to be either on full power or not at all. Whelan gets around 13 to 14 mpg, which ties in nicely with the Autocar road test in 1972, where they recorded a consumption of 13.3 mpg.
I hope you will join me for part 2 of the story of the Déjà Vu of Porsche 911 2.4 S with its return to the spot where it all went so terribly wrong…
Written by: Glen Smale