300027 – the Porsche 901 of Sorjo Ranta
A Finn & the Porsche 901: in 1964 the Finnish aeronautical engineer Sorjo Ranta fell in love with the first Elfer ( which directly translates to Eleven ) displayed at the London Motorshow, where it was still called the 901. He still owns it today. We were allowed to take a lap.
The first test drive of the Porsche 901, which is what the pre production Series was called, took place on a day which only since the fall of the Berlin Wall in ’89 has not been a date of German Destiny. It was on Nov. 9 that the lead-driver of the Porsche test driver’s team wrote in his notebook: ” the doors rattle, the windows rattle, the heating stinks, the transmission howls. The steering is sticky and lazy most of all in the middle, yet “poisonous” when you correct, and has play in the center position”.
The Secret of Success.
Further back in time, 48 years ago Helmut Bott established some positive facts about the 901 test: ” Visibility and seating position are good. The vehicle handles well and has fully kept the character of the sports car. The instruments are visible and the seats are comfortable”. The first test drive founded a success story which has no parallel in the world of sports cars. In three years the 911 will be 50 years old, and its combination of performance, driving characteristics, power, lack of maintenance expenses, low operating costs, reliability and numerous race victories have not yet been exceeded by another manufacturer anywhere.
In ’63 this entire unbelievable development was ahead for the new Porsche 901 model, which was the successor to the 4-cylinder 356. In autumn of ’64 mass production began. The first 82 examples as well as the accompanying brochures still carried the 901 designation. Only after the Peugot protest, where the middle zero had been in use for a long time, was the new six-cylinder renamed to Porsche 911.
More than 40 years of accident-free original ownership
At the end of 1964 the later Elfer was still being shown in London as the 901 at the Earls Court Motor Show. Porsche showed the new Copue for the first time in England. In white, with the characteristic houndstooth seats. It carried chassis number 300027, therefore it was the 27th Elfer overall – and is to this moment owned accident-free by the original owner. Sorjo Ranta, born in Finnland, currently living in Canada, worked at the beginning of the swinging sixties in the UK airplane industry, more accurately in the fighter-plane department of BAC, the British Aircraft Corp.
Since ’55, the Finn who immigrated to Ottawa has driven Porsches, including 3 356s. Ranta: “The first I bought from the VW dealer in Ottawa. At that time I was building airplane models, the largest with a wingspan of 2 meters. I said, if the wings will fit in the car I will buy it. They fit”. Later Ranta worked in England. There, he attended the Earls Court Motor Show, and remembers thinking he absolutely had to have the new 6-cylinder. “I sat in the car at Aldington ( a Porsche dealer), found the space relationship and visibilty good and made them an offer. Iwould pay $6,000, buy the car in England, and would export the car duty-free to Canada. That was my plan”.
However, plans don’t always run according to plan. Aldinton acknowledged his offer of $6,000, but did not yet agree to accept it. Ranta drove on vacation to Finland, having left his telephone number……and a week later received the hoped-for return call:” You may have the Porsche 901 for $6000″. The sum represented the equivalent of 30,000 Euros today.
The Driving Trick allowed Ranta to own the only six-cylinder in England
Back to England. There, Aldington was wrestling with British taxes. The left-hand drive 911 was permitted to be imported only for purposes of exhibiting it at the show. It had to be taken out of the country when the show was over. ” No problem” said Ranta. His BAC contacts included a couple of friendly Bristol transport pilots. A brief phone call launched Operation 901. Ranta;” We loaded the 901 in the Bristol. let them stamp the export papers, flew over the Channel to Le Touquet airport in France and went to lunch. Then we obtained some importation papers started the return flight to England and thus imported the car officially into England. The boys at the tax Dept. wanted to make trouble at first since the whole deal was Aldington’s, but since everything else seemed in order they had to agree. ” I had the Porsche, but was not allowed to drive it, since it still belonged to Aldington. I had to take formal delivery of the car at Aldington’s facilities”.
Film Appearance – You can see Ranta in his Porsche in the Film “Grand Prix.
“The first drive in the 901 from London to Preston was fantastic” enthuses Ranta today still ” there was no speed limit and I let the car run at about 100 miles an hour. Unbelievable. For a long time I had the only six-cylinder Porsche in England. The uses to which the 901 was put remained very modest. Weekend trips and excursions with other Porsche enthusiasts.
In ’66, during a trip to the Monaco GP, John Frankenheimer was filming his epic “Grand Prix” and he needed a prop for the set. Ranta: ” for about half a second Aira and I are featured in the film. Back in Canada the 901 was actually utilized as a family coupe. Our sons Jouni and Petri were born in ’67 & ’72, Ranta’s wife Aira tells us, ” and they grew up with the Porsche 901″. She tells “I was allowed to drive it once, but ever since I spun it at an Autobahn on-ramp I’m no longer so keen on driving it”.
Five in a Porsche 901 ” as fast as we could”.
The Rantas took the frequently publicized family-friendly nature of the Porsche 901 quite literally. The head of the family: “once we had to take my mother to the airport in Toronto but wasted some time. There were three adults and both children in the 901 plus luggage and we made 550 kilometers in 3-1/2 hours. No problem. I always drove as fast as I could. In the old days it wasn’t quite so expensive.
Mechanically, the Porsche 901 has never let them down in the 50,000 miles which it has completed until today. At some time something from the road surface hit the car, the heat exchangers had to be replaced early on, and the knob for the gas cap had to be modified. Nothing else.
No one wanted to have the Porsche
In the ’80s both Ranta boys started in Karting. The 901 slipped from the familiy’s attention somewhat, because the modern Racing hobby consumed all free time. “At the end of the ’90s I advertised the Porsche 901 for sale in the Porsche Club of America magazine Panorama tells Ranta “but did not receive a single offer. No one wanted it”.
So the Flying Finn decided simply to keep the white Coupe…….to the end of his life. None other than Alois Ruf has assumed all worries about the necessary restoration work and its value determination. The man from Pfaffhausen in the Bavarian region of Allgäu has been a genial Porsche “whisperer” for almost 50 years. His knowledge, his skills and those of his staff in the developments of the current model lines are legendary. Next to those, the Allgäuer loves the Porsches of his youth, especially the 901. His personal example is only ten chassis numbers younger than Ranta’s car: 300037.
At the end of the story Ranta invited us to take the wheel in the area around Pfaffhausen: he could easily relax. First gear, to the left and back slides smoothly into its notch, the clutch supports the tendency to kill the engine when moving off with its non-linear response like all early Porsche clutches, and second gear is somewhat notchy….yes, the bushings are now of modern steel and no longer made of the old sintered metal, they are more precise now, but they will break in with use.
From 2000 rpm the six-cylinder accepts throttle cleanly. The rack and pinion steering of the Porsche 901 reacts very lively to irregularities, but never to where you are afraid, there is sufficient (long) suspension travel, damping is not too stiff: the Porsche 901 goes through smooth curves with controlled lean. That’s how cars were in those days. From approx. 2000 rpm the six-cylinder hangs on the gas very cleanly, and the heckling Porsche symphony consisting of intake noise, combustion, and the song of the windrush of the air oozes into your ears like a dizziness that makes you lust for more. From about 5000 rpm the two-liter motor in the 901 pounds its hand on the table and says in effect: “lets go”.
The basic melody of this characteristic song, which Porsche has fortunately preserved until today, reaches its full voice in the 901. You don’t just drive this car, you can also play it. Ranta sits in the passenger seat almost with sadness. The wild days of his 901, in which every trip was a race against the traffic limitations of his world are history, “but” says the owner, “if I were younger, I would repeat the matter of the Porsche 901. Exactly as the first time”.