There were a number of Porsche 356 cars stored up at Harpers for more years than I can remember. They were there before I was working for AFN and during my time with Bill. I asked Lawrence Hardwicke about them one day and he told me the customer had either run off and had not paid AFN or they had left their cars as they did not want to bother to repair them.
There was one particular car that I was interested in, a white 1964 model Porsche 356C type. The engine had blown up and it was in pieces in cardboard boxes inside the car.
When I asked Lawrence about this car he asked me what my interest was and I told him I would be interested in buying it, if it was for sale. He told me he would check his records and let me know what the position was. A few days later, Lawrence popped in to our office and told me that the owner had not paid his bill to AFN and that the storage charges on the car had accumulated for six years! They had tried to contact the customer repeatedly without success and therefore they could legally sell the car to recover monies owed. I made a verbal offer for the Porsche 356C to Lawrence, and after a bit of negotiation he told me my offer would probably suffice.
Some weeks later, Lawrence called me and said I could buy the car at the price we had agreed if I came up to the office and concluded the formalities with him. Once this was done, I asked him if I could store and work on the Porsche 356C inside Harper’s in my spare time. He informed me he had no objection provided Harry was in agreement and he would mention it to Harry when he was next down at Harper’s Yard.
I talked it over with Harry when I got back who was glad I had managed to buy it as it was taking up valuable space and he was more than happy to provide me with facilities when I needed them.
I called Bob Grafham and told him about it and he came over the following Saturday and we set to work. I had an idea to build the car into a club racer as I had my own Porsche 356B type as my road car. The entire interior was mouldy or damaged and needed stripping out in any case. Well the more we stripped out the more we realised this was going to be a much bigger job than first anticipated. Eventually we cleaned up the exterior and the interior as best as we could and there was a completely different car sitting in front of us later that day.
I went up and saw Ernie Gregory the following Monday as the rear of the car looked like it had been welded extensively in places. Ernie said he would look into his files but from memory, he recalled this particular car had been hit up the rear on the Hammersmith Flyover a week after it was delivered new! This turned out to be the case and AFN had repaired it, so I was assured that it was done properly.
The chrome wheel rimes were rusted through and Harry sorted me out with a new set of five silver painted steel rims and tyres. I never asked Harry where things came from unless he volunteered the information. These silver steel rims were all over the place in Harry’s workshop and all of them brand new. Harry told me Porsche Cars Great Britain has purchased a large amount of them when the space saver spare wheel was first introduced and delivered by Porsche AG, but for some reason there was a legal problem getting them accepted in the United Kingdom. As Porsche Cars Great Britain could hardly sell a new car without a spare wheel or at least an illegal one, they had decided to offer all their new customers a traditional spare wheel and tyre to compensate whilst the legal situation was sorted out. Harry being Harry had stored away all these spare wheels and tyres once the situation had been sorted out by Porsche Cars Great Britain and they were no longer needed.
Harry Olrog, like George Sneath and Nelson Ledger had grown up throughout AFN’s history and they had a real sense of dedication to their employer and in particular to John Aldington and his senior management team. It was beyond Harry’s comprehension to throw things away, especially new parts likes these wheels and tyres.
I later arranged to move my Porsche 356C to a friend’s body shop in Twickenham by trailer to get its bodywork sorted out. After sorting some rust and dents, I had it resprayed silver metal flake metallic. I was worried about outstaying my welcome at Harper’s and AFN’s hospitality, so we then moved the Porsche 356C to a lock up garage I had rented from the council, near my parent’s house.
From them on I went about rebuilding the engine back on my own in the back of my little garage. I used to pop in and see George Sneath and Frank Piner at AFN to borrow the odd tool and to ask their advice. George measured the crankshaft and key components so I knew I had something sound to work with. I had the counterbalanced crankshaft reground and nitride treated to harden it up again. Then the machine shop skimmed and balanced and flywheel with the crankshaft. They also balanced and polished the connecting rods after I had fitted new little end bearings.
I knew AFN had a number of 356 sets of pistons and cylinders in stock from ages back, so I purchased a set of these and all the other parts required for the rebuild.
I also decided to convert the cylinder heads to twin spark plugs per cylinder. This was a bit adventurous and to be honest as I was not sure if the engine would benefit from this modification, but all the race engines had twin plugs so I thought my special engine would have the same. I decided to use platinum tipped NGK spark plugs for maximum advantage, but we had to special order these as they were short reach threads.
Shortly after this and during the rebuild process, Roy my younger brother and Bob Grafham had joined my elder brother Ginger motor racing running the Works Alfa Romeo 3 litre sport car team, working for Willi Kauhsen. Alfa Romeo being taken over by Fiat and Fiat did not want the general public to see this as a full works team, so Willi had done a deal to run it as a private team, but unofficially it was a full works team and was based at factory’s Alfa Sport facility in Milan, and only on occasions would they use Willi’s place in Aachen, West Germany.
They went on to win the World Championship for Alfa Romero that year, something the factory had been trying to do unsuccessfully themselves for the previous two years! Campari sponsored the team and cars and I see something must have rubbed off in later years, as Bob would still drink a Campari and orange as an aperitif.
Anyhow I asked Roy if he could obtain a twin plug 4-cylinder distributor from his contacts in the Alfa Romeo factory for me and some weeks later he dropped a complete distributor system into my hands when visiting home. I modified this distributor cap, rotor arm and housing to sit on top of the standard Bosch 356 one so I could keep the distributor matched to the engine. I used a set of Porsche 917 high tension racing spark plug leads and caps as well, which Roy also gave me, as Willi Kauhsen still had a lot of Porsche 917 parts lying around in their workshops, left over from their Porsche Interserie days.
I stripped the carburettors down and rebuilt them myself and I had all the metal engine panel work shot blasted and powder coated in black. I purchased a new exhaust muffler and slowly the engine took shape and it was not long before it was finished and it was ready to be installed.
I also converted the electrics to 12volts, using a generator and other parts from a Porsche 912, which I got from Harry Olrog. This allowed me to fit updated systems such as dual capacitor discharge ignition systems (as used on the1970 Porsche 911’s), and halogen headlamps, amongst other things.
Bob Grafham had helped me until he went off to join my brother’s full time and I was soon ready to try and start the engine. Prior to starting, I had removed the top spark plugs and turned the engine over on the starter motor for a few minutes to make sure the oil pressure was up. After reinstalling the spark plugs the engine soon fired up! After running it for a few minutes I topped it and let it settle for a while so we could check the oil level. Everything was fine and all the systems were working fine.
Earlier on in the rebuild, Bob added a couple of push pull switches to the dashboard so you could switch each ignition circuit on or off and to check that both sets of spark plugs were working, which they were.
I took the Porsche 356C to Cranford and it passed its MOT and so I taxed it for the road and began to use it.
My first run was down to see Bill Bates who could not believe what we had done to the car since seeing it as a wreck the last time it was at Harper’s Yard!