DEATH IN PARADISE
Its owner murdered, this 2.7 RS languished in a Trinidad shed – till Autofarm’s Josh Sadler rescued it. Now the dilemma is whether to restore it, or merely recommission it.
Barricaded in its late owner’s Caribbean shed by his daughters to hide it from modern-day pirates, this ’73 2.7 Carrera RS was a prize waiting to be discovered by a connoisseur who recognised its true value. The car spent 38 of its 43 years in Trinidad, most southerly of the West Indies’ archipelago. But, after 14 years not turning a wheel in the wake of its owner’s untimely demise, 911 expert Josh Sadler got wind of the car in its tropical idyll, and its resuscitation began.
We’re talking about the last right-hand drive 2.7 Carrera RS Touring ever made.Chassis number 1576 of the 1,590 built is one of just 93 right-hookers, a sun-roof car, and it’s also one of a mere 16 that were painted Royal Purple – though that’s not quite the hue that we see here. Purple haze…! Blame the customising fad popular back in the ’70s, and with so many RS ending up in racing and rallying, cars with a documented history that retain their core originality are pretty rare. This one has also retained the rare technical features of the very last of the 2.7RS series, installed for homologation purposes. These include the ‘short’ trailing arms for what soon became the 930 Turbo’s suspension geometry, and the stronger Silumin crankcase, the material used on the 1974 3.0 RS and RSRs; so there are a few interesting mechanical aspects too, though not obvious to the casual observer. ‘All that glitters is not gold,’ quipped piratical Sir Walter Raleigh sailing off Trinidad in 1594, though conversely, ‘you can’t judge a book…’ might be more apt, because what looks like a shambolic old sea dog is actually a treasure chest, in the shape of an extremely rare and valuable Porsche.
Key player in the calypso saga is Norwegian car salesman and 964 owner Rikard Asbjornsen, married to a Trinidadian woman and living in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Having just acquired the car, it was he who tipped off Josh about its existence. There was much synchronicity about the deal.When Josh went over the States to race his 911 ST prototype at RennSport Reunion at Laguna Seca last September he employed Florida’s Riviera Beach-based Porsche transport specialist, Phil Bagley of Klub Sport Racing, to truck the ST to California and then back to Florida for the subsequent Daytona 24-Hours. By coincidence, Riviera Beach is just 35 miles from Fort Lauderdale, which couldn’t have been handier for a meeting with Rikard, who arranged for the car to be brought over from Trinidad so Josh could see it. The fact that Josh could contemplate the purchase was down to Phil Bagley having found a buyer for the ST. ‘In early October, Phil told me he'd sold it, and I was a bit gob-smacked because I hadn't put a small price on it, but he'd sold it to a collector in Columbia. We could still do the Daytona classic, provided the buyer didn't mind, because he wasn’t going to be paying for the car until January 1st for tax reasons or whatever. And then, literally the next day, an email came through from Rikard, offering me the 2.7RS. I thought, it's almost as if this is a spoof, because Florida is a big place and it was a coincidence that Rikard was based close to Phil’s place. But what was even more spooky was that he put a value on it that was identical to what Phil had sold the 911 ST for.’
Then, delays in Trinidadian bureaucracy held up the shipping, so instead of seeing the car in Miami, there was a last minute switch to Fort Lauderdale. Even then it wasn't that straightforward: there were other sharks in the water. ‘Rikard was applying psychological pressure over the biggest Porsche dealership in Florida, called Champion Porsche, and the owner is Dave Maurage who hails from Trinidad and, guess what car Dave Maurage owned for a year or two in his youth in Trinidad? This very car! And I thought, “I can’t cope with financial competition like that.” His two sons went to look at the car a couple of days ahead of me, and I thought, ”Well, whatever happens, happens,” but I think they didn't even begin to understand it. Which made me a bit sad. I guess that Dave Maurage is a modern man, a businessman and not too much into nostalgia. So I arrived on the Sunday and was able to give it a very thorough going over, and discovered a car that was remarkably solid.’
Externally, perhaps, but there were issues, unsurprisingly, under the skin of a car that hadn’t turned a wheel for 14 years. ‘The island’s rodent population had been nibbling around the edges, but fortunately they hadn't got inside as far as I could see. I realised that the centre section of the rear bumper (which is an aftermarket bit that we used to make and sell, back in the day) was too narrow and in the bodyshop they'd obviously used some filler and corrugated cardboard (!) to make it fit nicely, and the rodents had eaten the filler – you can actually see their teeth marks in the overriders!It had literally baked in the sun, too. The fuel tank was completely dry, and I’ve never seen that before.’
Having established that the car was, for the most part, sound, Josh had a haggle with Rikard and agreed a deal. ‘I thought it was a cheap RS, even with Rikard making a nice margin, and it was cheap, especially for the UK and in right-hand drive.’ Coincidence alert! Rikard was now in a position to buy himself another car, and he revealed to Josh that what he was after was a 997 GT3 RS. Josh was able to help: ‘the chap that I travelled in the truck to Daytona with is Phil Bagley’s mate, and on the way he told me he’d got a 997 GT3 RS! And I said, “I know somebody who wants one!”And that was another spooky thing;he literally sold it in five seconds flat on the phone.’
After Daytona, Josh went home; ‘I asked Phil to disconnect the brake pedal in case somebody pushed the pedal in, in which case it would never move again, and disconnect the gear stick so nobody stuck it in gear.’ Meanwhile Phil stored the car until Josh got the paperwork sorted. ‘It hadn't really been imported properly into America, so exporting it again was fairly complicated, and exporting it at the right value was also difficult because I hadn't got a purchase invoice; in effect we'd just done a swap. But we finally managed to extract it, and Cars UK, based in Suffolk, told me to get it trucked up to New York and they would container it to England. And so it whistled through the various customs posts, though some silly bugger pointed a steam cleaner at it, which was a bit frustrating, but after all, it was carrying a few Trinidad rodents on board.’
Soon more of the background emerged.
The car was delivered to its first owner in Newcastle-upon-Tyne in 1973, but for one reason or another he neglected to take the British paperwork with him when it was dispatched to Trinidad in 1978. We tend to think of 2.7 RSs as having ducktail engine lids as standard, but this particular one was originally fitted with a standard F-programme sloping lid, including a rear window wiper. As Josh confirms, ‘it had a plain engine lid; if you wanted a rear wiper on an RS, Porsche wouldn't fit one to a glassfibre ducktail, you have to have one of these regular aluminium engine lids with a rear wiper on it.’ However, this standard engine lid remained in Britain, implyingthat the ‘tea-tray’ wing was already fitted when the car was exported. Or maybe it wasn’t. Josh is sceptical: ‘the original engine lid stayed in the UK, but it doesn't fit that the 3.3 Turbo pattern rear spoiler that's on it at the moment got hung on the car at that time, so it must have had something else happening to it back then.’ Josh is in touch with the first owner and hopes to elicit some useful information concerning the absent documentation and engine lid. ‘Its second owner in Trinidad was Dave Maurage, the Champion Porsche guy, and thence it went to someone called Albert Johnson who seems to have been responsible for the re-spray and transformation work, which fits with the period seats and radio. It looks like Albert threw his wallet at the car, personalising it, and I need to reach him to find out when these things happened.’
Specifically, the modifications – or upgrades, perhaps, in the eyes of the perpetrator – range from the lattice-pattern BBS wheels,the aftermarket 3.3 Turbo pattern spoiler and high-level brake light, elephant-ear mirrors (which are for a left-hand drive car and therefore canted awkwardly on this right-hooker), and the rear sill panel fitted to carry the later Porsche reflectors. Josh is upbeat: ‘it's also endowed with a pair of very nice reclining Recaro seats, which are the ’80s ones, still with separate headrests. It’s got a later Personal steering wheel, and it's got an ’80s Blaupunkt stereo-radio stereo with the remote control lever between the seats, which was a top of the range piece of kit at that point. Plus monster sound-system speakers mounted on plywood on the rear shelf. Headlights are US spec, with US lights on the front as well. It had a front oil cooler fitted, but as a piece of engineering that leaves a lot to be desired - the plumbing is diabolical - although the grille they put in the front spoiler is very neat – probably a cannibalised engine lid grille. This is Trinidad workmanship, so the aesthetic is better than the technical.’ He is far from delighted with the paint job, though. ‘When the car was re-sprayed, unfortunately it was re-sprayed very thoroughly, in the boot and engine bay as well, but very badly. The fan blades and airbox were painted jazzy red and the fan housing blue, and the windows were all blacked-out in a fairly obvious way. The window frames were all finished in black; whether they'll clean up or not is another matter, but I'm hoping they will. The Goodyear Eagle tyres are virtually brand new, but probably 20- or 30-years old. Although the back ones inflated, I had to put some tyre seal in the front ones, so now they’re all staying up OK.’As for the Middlesbrough number plate, that’s almost a ’50s antique.
The enigmas stack up. ‘It's interesting, because in many ways it's been very nicely looked after, and in other ways it's atrocious! My feeling is, just pottering around the car, is that in the ’80s and early ’90s, this Albert Johnson chap was moneyed and could afford to look after it, and he'd found somebody in Trinidad who was an engineer. Then in ’93 it went to Leon Paria, the chap who was abducted and murdered in 2002, and I think that if he'd stayed alive, it would have been the death of the car.’ Not so well looked-after, then. The press report states that Paria went out in his jeep to do the shopping at the local supermarket and never came back. The vehicle was found in a wood, his body was discovered a few weeks later, and the murder remains unsolved. There’s no suggestion that he was up to no good. ‘He wasn’t a criminal,’ said his wife in the local paper; ‘he was an outstanding citizen.’ The imagery is touching, prompting the thought that, were it not a serious matter of life and death, it would make a suitable plot for Sunday evening’s fave'Death in Paradise' soap, set on a Caribbean island, starring Kris Marshall and Joséphine Jobert, where the mayhem unravels in a shanty seaside village and the local policemen sip cocktails under the palm trees at beach-bar shacks, surrounded by orchids, parrots and a reggae soundtrack. Cue Desmond Dekker: ‘dem a-lootin, dem a-shootin, dem a-wailin… Shanty Town.”The harder they come… Far from fiction, in this case there was no good outcome for the owner.The car was not a terminal case, though, and Mr Paria’s surviving family members were pragmatic. Josh explains: ‘His wife and two daughters knew the car was special, and they kept it in a lean-to next to the house, and there it sat. Over the years a few people tried to steal it, and they piled old furniture against it to disguise it, while dogs patrolled the garden. Rikard said that the family agreed it was the eldest daughter's by inheritance, and Rikard, who I guess is the same age as the daughters, got to know them and said, “look, it's not doing a lot of good just sitting there, can we try and reach a sensible price?”’ And so they did.
For the moment, it’s still a non-runner, which is why Antony shot it in Autofarm’s barn. So here’s the dilemma Josh faces: the car spent most of its life in Trinidad, and that’s where its history lies, warts and all. Tempting as it is to undertake a comprehensive restoration that would return the car to original spec as a ‘standard’ 2.7RS, the mods made to it in-period distinguish it as a car that's seen life – and death.Fashions change, and with them our view of what’s right and what’s wrong. Today, we value the purity of the original design, especially an icon like the 2.7RS, and to defile it with aftermarket kit is heinous desecration. Back then, the opposite was true: owners couldn't wait to fit a set of aftermarket wheels or apply the latest in groundbreaking aero tweaks. As Josh says, ‘the modifications done in the late ’70s and ’80s, that we now regard as tasteless, tell the tale of the car. I’m sure it would be worth a lot more if it was restored, but cars are all about their owners, and I’ve fallen for the story of this one.’ He’s open to suggestions: ‘I would be amused to start a discussion as to what to do with it. Trinidad is a fairly contained area, something like 40 or 50 miles across with mountains in the middle, so it's not a small island, but if you've got a Porsche, you're in a very small community, I'm sure. I've got enough leads to put together its story in Trinidad.’ As for restoring it, the rare mechanical facets are irrelevant; they’d end up being reconditioned in any case. The key question, posits Josh, is, ‘how do you restore it? Do you restore it back to a new car? In which case you'll lose all the Trinidad passion and history. If you restore it as an original RS, there'll be nothing left to link it to Trinidad. Or, do you, in some way, restore it as it is? What is the honest thing to do? The car is “the Trinidad RS”. I can't believe there were any others there. It'll certainly be a conversation piece. I would like to get it running, and it would be amusing to run it around as it is, just to see people’s reactions. The paintwork is abominable! The painting technique and colour scheme was doubtless considered magnificent at the time in Trinidad, but certainly not state of the art today.’ This one will run and run.
Life in the Tropic of Cancer has been relatively kind to the 911’s metalwork over four decades, despite the all-pervading Caribbean humidity; there’s plenty of bubbling and blistering on the front wings and doors, and the bottom of the left-hand rear wing is shot, but Josh is unperturbed: ‘it's a little bit weak around the doorjambs, and that's about it in terms of the tub. The floorpan is fine and the turret tops are sound. And no sign of it ever having been damaged, as far as I can see.’ Josh thinks he’s got to re-build the engine,whatever. The mileometer states 17,473, but that’s not necessarily credible, though the gauges are clean. In the engine bay it’s a different matter. ‘The ancillaries have got into such a state because of the local rodents, and that's all got to come off. They’ve even gnawed at the distributor cap! At which point, we'll have what you call a long-block engine, just the core engine. The only thing that concerns me is that I've drained about four litres of sludge from the engine and oil tank. I think Paria was just completely out of his depth with it. I suspect it needs such a massive service that you might as well just pull the thing apart. You’ve got the Silumin crankcase so you haven’t got all the problems of the earlier magnesium crankcase. I worry about the state of the Mahle pistons and the big-end bearing shells and stuff like that. And if you're going to get it running, you want to be able to drive it as well. You want to be able to floor it and take it round to the red line in comfort, and from what I've seen to date, that’s a non starter, dropping the sump plate and seeing all the sludge that came out. But there was no metal deposit in the engine or gearbox - nothing on the magnetic plugs other than sludge. I suspect he just trundled it around, posing. Apparently there aren’t many places where you could really thrash an RS in Trinidad.’
Bereft of its Trinidadian heritage, the RS seems destined for a career in Britain and the Continent, depending on which way Josh chooses to go with it. ‘What I will probably do is simply get it running, becauseI won’t be able to see the state of the paintwork when I'm driving it down the road. The seats are actually very comfortable; they're very supportive. The BBS wheels are in-period, one-piece after-market items that used to be quite sought-after and have a market value today (the spare is a Fuchs), but I would change the steering wheel, and I'd fit European lights on it.’
One thing’s certain: if Leon Paria were alive today, the 62 year-old would be the owner of a car worth $1m. Or would he? Josh’s appraisal of the car’s deterioration during his tenure suggests a complete restoration would now be necessary to achieve such a figure, though a mechanical rebuild would at least make it a runner. And for Josh, that is the most attractive prospect right now. That way its paradise island makeover remains intact. Purple reigns!