There is something about a barn find that beats walking into Porsche Centre and buying a shiny car from a well dressed sales person. This however does not mean that we don’t appreciate newer Porsches and that there is anything wrong with window shopping from time to time, but I simply get more excited when the words “old rusted project” pops up. I guess one of the reasons is that it turns into a journey that has its ups and downs, rather than a turn of the key and off you go. In my opinion a lot of character and meaning gets lost when doing the latter.
Now those of you that have read the Silverado project have met my dad and have discovered his will to track down any old Porsche. The story of Oerknal is no different. All it took to kick-start this chase was a visit to Porsche Centre and the simple question of “where can I find an old Porsche?” As always the answer came back “We have a great 993 pre owned beauty going for a bargain” and then the big smile. But the real answer will only come when a bit of persistence is practiced. On this particular Saturday the sales person recalled hearing his manager talking about an early 911 in boxes. Bingo, that’s the one we’re talking about.
We soon got hold of the Good Samaritan, Brandon, acting as the middle man for an older gentleman who happened to own a 1972 911 Porsche. Soon we found ourselves with a couple of pictures and a decision to make. From what we could see it was going to be a gamble at best, not to mention the fact that the car was 750 km away on a coastal town called Empangeni. Yes you guessed it, coastal town equals rust and rust equals excitement or at least it does for me, as it poses a challenge.
So one sunny Friday morning father and son made the journey down to KwaZulu Natal with a trailer in tack. We were filled with the same excitement of children going on a school trip. I decided to use the opportunity to ask my old man as many questions possible relating to the history of these early Porsches. In addition, I learnt a lot more of the early racing days in South Africa that he so passionately followed as a boy. I have always dreamed of one day reliving this era that I hear so much about and that I can only follow through black and white photos out of shoe boxes. Would Oerknal be the ideal race car project? (Oerknal or “Big Bang” is the name my dad gave this ’72 when we first saw the photos that were emailed to us.) I know, Petrolheads are weird, and yes, we give our cars names.
We finally arrived after 8 hours on the road and decided to go check out a Swiss Restaurant that was recommended to us by the owner of the B&B. What better way to start a weekend than indulging in some German/Swiss food and beverages? A well deserved meal after a long day on the road.
Now this is where the story and coincidences gets really interesting.
All we knew about the car to date was that an older gentleman owned it and that his girlfriend (84 years old) was keener than he was to get rid of it. Sound familiar? We also knew that this car looked more like a donor car rather than a concourse project. Looking at the photos that Brandon sent us we could see that this was a butchered ’72 Porsche.( 1972 was the only year that Porsche designed the 911 with the oil cap on the side of the right rear fender, instead of in the engine compartment).
Here we were enjoying a cold beer and some tasty German food in the Pub with only a handful of locals sitting at the bar. We were about to leave to get some much needed rest before the big day when one of our hosts asked us why we were leaving so early on a Friday night. I somehow had a feeling that we were going to be the laughing stock of the evening, but did not expect what happened next. We explained that we were here to look at an old classic car. This got their attention and what followed made this barn find as personal as it could get. It turned out that the outspoken locals were not only all family members of one another, but also the daughters, sons and grandsons of the old man that owned Oerknal! From this moment on, every time we tried to explain ourselves we were greeted with howls of laughter, and after gathering their breaths they would tell us that even if we could convince the old man to sell the car we would never be able to get it out of the jungle and the assorted junk that was living with it. The daughter warned us that her dad would most definitely try to shoot us. That would be if we could even make it through the snake infested jungle. After sharing a few more stories, we left with a less than comfortable feeling. We did however decide to take their advice and quickly drove past the well fenced in property where Oerknal was waiting.
The next morning we were up at dawn, fuelled with excitement and a traditional breakfast, ready to enter the battlefield we were warned about the night before. Brandon introduced us to Mr Dave Mitchell and his girlfriend Miss Bonnie Stewart and explained to them that we were here to see the car. I took a quick glimpse at the living room and realized that Mr. Mitchell does not easily part with his possessions. The sad part was that I could also see that Mr. Mitchell (88 years old) believed that he had all the time in the world to restore and organize his life long possessions. I briefly spoke to Miss Stewart, who told me that the car was brought to South Africa from Switzerland in 1974 and that it used to have the Swiss Cross painted on it. The rest of its history seemed to be forgotten.
We were led around the back of the house by Brandon and soon started the ultimate treasure hunt. There were parts everywhere, mixed with decades of neglect and a lifetime of dreams. On closer investigation we realized that Oerknal had no future as a road car. The reason that it had kept its iconic 911 shape was due to the fact that Mr. Mitchell had covered it with fibreglass. I’m sure it was all done with good intentions, but it definitely did not contribute to Oerknal’s appearance. The first thing I did was jack the car up to fit the wheels we had brought with us from home. The good news was that by doing this I doubled the value of the car. The bad news was that the jack simply went right through the rusted chassis.
It took us the better half of the day to load the car and all the parts we could gather. By now the word had spread like wild fire and most of Empangeni did a slow drive-by to get a glimpse of what was going on. We had entered the forbidden land and were taking its prized possession with us.
Oerknal’s future is to hopefully become a historic race car. There is not much else we can do, seeing that it is a left hand drive car without papers and it would take a small miracle to return it to its original 911 shape.
Stay tuned and see how this restoration project develops.
Changing of the guards.
Just one of the rooms where dreams have been forgotten.
My old man in heaven.
Packed and ready for the long road home.
A little bit of fibreglass to hide the rust.
Oerknall might not be able to talk, but here is proof of it’s sad and neglected history.
Ok, so the floor needs a little bit of work.
This was a kit car that use to be based on a beetle chassis.
And it wasn’t going anywhere soon.