The Swap Meet Porsche (1964 901 ) Hey, you go with knowledge, you find treasure….
by Wallace Wyss
The Pomona Swap meet is a famous meet. First of all, it’s about 40 miles outside of Los Angeles, held on a vast parking lot and there’s every sort of car there from beat-up VW beetles to Rolls Royces, but mostly there are vendors with parts rusting away in the noonday sun. You wouldn’t think that you could find a valuable Porsche there. But you have to figure that not everybody that goes there is in fact educated in Porsches. Oh they know there’s the upside-down bathtub-shaped cars, the 356s, and then there’s the wedgier-shaped 911s but that’s about it.
So it was that Kurt Schneider and his wife, Lori, back in November 1968, were spending the morning at the Pomona Swap Meet when what he called “a life changing event took place.” They found a 1964 Porsche –number 300020 –that turned out to be a 1964 Porsche 901 coupe. Now this is somewhat earthshaking in Porsche terms because most people think the 911 didn’t exist until 1965 and most people in the general public had never heard of the Typ 901. Now the Schneiders were not uneducated. Kurt wrote in a story on the Beverly Hills Porsche website (where the car’s display at the dealer was shown) that he and his wife had joined PCA two years before, after purchasing their first Porsche, and considered themselves to be “active Porschephiles.”
And they thought of the Pomona Swap Meet as a “happy hunting ground” so much so that they had in advance blocked out all the swap meets to come for the whole year on their calendar. They read Panorama (a Porsche magazine) cover to cover. But the real stroke of luck, and as good an example of any of the truth of the old saw “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity” they had a few weeks prior to the Swap Meet read an article about the oldest known existing 901 in the U.S., at that time being serial number 300032, a car which was actively involved in vintage racing.
Now this couple was what you call “numbers minded” so even though they didn’t carry that article with them they had that number–300032 — engraved on their brains. So it was that, while strolling through the Porsche section of the swap meet, where cars were both on display (you could say it’s a “concours for the disadvantaged,” there being no judges and no rules…)and For Sale they saw a bright red 911 with a “For Sale” sign. Now the sign read 1966 911S, $4600.”
That was their first clue that this was a barn finder’s dream because you want a seller who knows from nuthin’. If he starts quoting you factory serial numbers he knows too much for you to ever t get a good deal. But this guy didn’t even know what year his car was, that was heaven beckoning.
I have a theory on that. I say that at that point in time when they started production,in 1964, Porsche didn’t have its act together on getting cars over to the U.S. They might have labeled it a 1966 Porsche by the time it was sold at the dealer’s. Also it might have been self imported (that was before the emissions and DOT and NHTSA regulations kicked in) and the model year changed then. Plus there is the problem of the 901 number, when Porsche updated it to a 911 number they might have at that time affixed the 1966 date.
Wikipedia saysthe 901 was presented at the Internationale Automobil-Ausstellung (Frankfurt Motor Show) in Frankfurt in September 1963, …. They say: “It took several more months until the cars were manufactured for sale to customers. Between 14 September and 16 November 1964, 82 cars were built and the 901 was presented in October at the 1964 Paris Auto Salon.” Wikipedia sfurther ays: “Officially the 901s already constructed were used for testing and for exhibitions, and Porsche sold none to private customers. Nevertheless, several of the cars retained by Porsche at that time appear to have made it to private ownership subsequently: in 2010 it was reported that car number 37 was owned by a Porsche specialist named Alois Ruf.”
Schneider noticed it was an early car, and didn’t have, for example, any indentations for decals in the engine compartment –something he had seen on all the other early 911 cars he had seen. Then he noticed the lack of rocker panel trim, the four screw horn grilles (at least on one side), and the “different looking” wood trim across the dash. Playing Sherlock Holmes, he asked to see the front compartment to check for rust, but admitted in an article on the Porsche dealer’s website that the request was a bit of subtrague, because he “was really in search of the Porsche’s serial number.” He knew from the article on the other early 901 that “while VIN number plates are riveted to the early cars in three places, the serial number is also stamped in the vehicle in the front compartment, pretty close to the heater compartment door.”
The seller shrugged and said “Take a book” and Kurt Schneider did. He opened the front lid and saw stamped there the number 300020 which was 12 numbers before the car he had read about as the “oldest existing 911.”
NOTE: it behooves you at times, when presented the Holy Grail on a red velvet pillow, to restrain yourself from showing any emotion. Look up the phrase “poker faced” and practice in the mirror until you get it down.
Schneider was a pro. He pretended he wasn’t excited. He said he’d ask his wife. (The seller should have been suspicious then, because what guy’s wife is going to know more about cars than the guy?)
Then Schneider threw out a “downer” opinion. You have to be careful in running down a car in hope of getting a lower price–do it wrong and that could kill your chance of making any offer, but it’s worth a try at times. He left mumbling about a lot of rust and went to the nearest refreshment stand to get a beer and plan his next move.
He had picked the right partner. She wanted the car as much as him. Now the strategy, as he revealed in his article on the Porsche Beverly Hills website, was to go back, not looking either too anxious or too stupid. They threw an intermediary in there—saying they wanted it but what they would pay depended on what their “mechanic” would say after he checked out the car. Even before the mechanic looked at it they had a “either/or” price range, their starting offer being $4000 with a top tier offer of $4300 tops if the mechanic approved.
An appointment was made with the owner at his home a few hours later. Now part of the problem here is, it’s Sunday, and if you’re doing swap meet buying, can you get your hands on cash on a Sunday (see final chapter for that discussion).They could have said “We’re leaving town, we need it now,” but that might have tipped off the seller he had a Holy Grail car.
So they went home and called up a good friend, identified as Bob Cutshaw, a Porsche expert , owner of a 1965 911 and explained the situation. They told Cutshaw they, in fact, didn’t give a damn about the rust or the mechanical condition, they were just intent on correctly identifying the car’s age. Everything else, relatively speaking, was unimportant. Cutshaw agreed to check it out if they could drive the 50 miles to his house.
Now to show you this was the good old days the seller agreed to let them drive the car (sellers; don’t do that in modern times!). They drove the car which was very loose, almost dangerously so, and got there under their own steam. Their expert looked over, under, around and through the car and told them it was the real deal. The inspector even made a joke to Schneider that he could simply cut out the number after he bought the car, weld that onto a another car and sell that one as No. 20. (Just a joke, purists!). They got the car back to the seller with check in hand , got the car, the keys , pink slip (nickname for ownership title in California) and transfer documents and headed home in what they thought at the time was the oldest known 901, maybe even older than anything Porsche had in their museum. One way they were able to get the car restored at a bargain price was to go to a shop they chose, in Reno, where the shop would work at the restoration at a discounted rate given if the car was low priority, as “fill-in” work. And they saved more money by doing the disassembly themselves. They also took pictures as it was dis-assembled as a guide to what goes where in the re-assembly.
The car was rusty. Make no mistake about that. Once the floor pan was removed it was found it was found to be pop riveted sheet metal with resin floated over it, and the rocker panels. One of the door panels had been repaired with a flattened Coors beer can after some other misadventure. They figured the pooor car had been parked on a ice bed in winter, and the rocker panels were full of silt. No less than everything below about 6 inches up the side of the body needed to be refabricated (no panels were available, so ,refabricated).
One goof was when the shop tried to repair a dent in the gas tank and ended up “exploding” it – a $2000 goof up which they absorbed), I can’t give you a total price on the resto but they overshot the estimate by $6000. Schneider was still happy with the result and it helped that, during the restoration, word was spread that an old, old 901 was found and the car’s potential value was mushrooming. The car was restored and eventually sold.
The author does not know it’s next owner, or what he paid. This would make a better story for his next Incredible Barn Finds book if anybody knows that.
Any more information on this particular car or other 901s such as how many were made and if others had their model year updated by Porsche can be forwarded to the author Wallace Wyss at this e-mail address Photojournalistpro@gmail.com