“That 911” – Amir Bentatou’s 1976 Porsche 911S
“That 911” – Amir Bentatou’s 1976 Porsche 911S
In 1963, Porsche unveiled the 911, a distinguished rear-engined sports coupe that would eventually become one of the most popular and successful cars in racing history. To this day, the Porsche 911 is heralded as one of the most iconic cars in motoring, with its distinctive sloping shape changing minimally over the past 50 years. From cup racing to Le Mans, the 911 and its successors have claimed titles at seemingly every venue, earning its place in the heart of every automotive enthusiast with even an inkling of interest in German engineering. For Amir Bentatou, this very sentiment rings true - the Porsche 911 is the end-all sports car. So he built his own.
Amir's story begins many years ago, before he was even born. Racing runs in the Benatou bloodline: with a father that has owned what could be exaggerated as the entire post-war German model range, from Benz to BMW, and a mother with history in offroad racing, it comes as no surprise that Amir has grown into the man he is today. "As a kid, my father and I would talk about cars, and he would always rave about how great German engineering was. That's something that stuck with me." If it wasn't hereditary, Amir's love for German machinery was guaranteed to be instilled in him one way or another. As such, cars have become an integral part of Amir's life: "When I'm not at work, I'm either working on my car, at the race track instructing or driving, at car meets, or talking about cars over drinks with my friends." That says a lot considering Amir works a 9-5 as a Service Manager at Avus Autosport.
While Amir is a fan of anything with wheels, his tastes refined and grew to something special, albeit slightly expensive. "As a kid I would see Porsche 911s and 964s and would dream of one day owning one. At the age of 14, my dad sat me down and made me write down everything I wanted in life, and how I would achieve everything on the list. Looking back, the only thing on that list I cared about was the Porsche." Of course any 14 year-old kid is going to relegate the dreams of Porsche ownership to his mid-life crisis, a dream he'd only achieve once he reached his 40s.
And so Amir continued on, growing his love for all things automotive. Upon turning 16, his father handed him the keys to his own Alpine White BMW E21. "I remember seeing pictures and videos of racecars when I was young and being in awe. I wanted to race cars no matter what it took. When I was old enough, I got my license, and would go on spirited drives through the canyons." It wasn't long before the joy of driving evolved into a burning desire to get on track, literally. "I remember driving to Barnes and Noble and trying to find books on racing theory." It was there that Amir found a book titled Secrets of Solo Racing, and with the 911 on the cover acting as a sign from the Racing Gods, Amir powered through the book, cover to cover, in just two days. As expected with any high school student, Amir ignored his studies and put his focus on chasing his dreams. Once college rolled around, however, his priorities changed. Unable to focus on building a car, he used his free time on reading about driving theory, suspension setups, and racecar engineering. "During my day to day driving I would practice things like heel-toeing, taking in more from my peripheral vision, guessing what speed I was at, left foot braking, and giving the car smooth inputs since I didn't have to be at the limit practice those things. I eventually moved back to California, and finally had some money to put into a car."
Following his first car, Amir picked up a second E21 to tinker with. While he couldn't afford track days, at least he had a car. He put his extra money into suspension tidbits for the BMW coupe, livening up the handling characteristics for spirited driving on mountain roads late at night where he worked on applying the driving theory he had learned in books. "Every week I would work on something new, constantly trying to improve my driving." Amir finally took his driving to Autocross events where he was able to safely push his car to the limit and continue to hone his driving abilities. "With time, I started doing track days and haven't stopped since." The bug had bit, and it had bit hard. Life became an endless search for that extra second off his lap time. Amir's next project was a turbo Mazda Miata - a small and nimble chassis with some additional power. The car taught him a lot, but it was still no Porsche.
As Amir's skills and talents grew, the idea of Porsche ownership finally popped into his head. While it was no 911, Amir began hunting down a Boxster with a short-term plan of a daily driver and a long-term plan of Spec Boxster. The 2.5-liter flat-six powered Boxster was introduced as a mid-engined roadster counterpart to the 911 range, and at a cheaper price point, it brought new buyers to the Porsche brand. However, to Amir's surprise, a used Boxster isn't too far in price from a 911 with a need for some love. While browsing Craigslist, Amir was enlightened when he stumbled upon a 1980 911SC Targa. "At the time I didn't realize that I could afford an aircooled 911, but after coming to this realization my search broadened to older 911s too. A few days later I called the owner of that Targa to set up a test drive since I was going to be in his area. We met up, talked about F1 and cars, and then I went for a drive I'd never forget." As Amir tells it, he immediately fell in love and knew that his time for 911 ownership had come.
The search for a 911 became all but consuming, leading Amir to the depths of the web in a hunt for the right car. A few months later, a vintage racer from New Mexico popped up. It was "street legal" and the seller assured that the car was track ready. "It's cheesy, but I feel almost as though the car was meant for me." In a move that would leave any sane man's wallet begging for mercy, Amir jumped the gun and told the seller he'd buy the 34-year-old racecar sight unseen. Everything was organized and Amir grabbed his buddy Mike and set off for New Mexico after a long day at work. "12 hours later we arrived at our destination and by that point I had been up for 24 hours straight. I test drove the car, paid for it, and then we were on our way home." The drive home proved to be a grueling one; running on no sleep, the duo drove the cars 12 hours straight back the other direction, this time through the 110* mid-day temps of the desert. By the time he pulled in to his driveway, Amir had been awake for 38 hours straight, had driven for 18, and had only stopped to buy the car and to fuel up. But Amir finally had his dream car: a 1976 narrow-body 911S.
Equipped with the car of his dreams, it was time to get on the tarmac. Of course, Amir found out the hard way that the "ready to run" track car was in dire need of a complete overhaul. The marvel of owning a 911 settled and Amir came to the rough realization that while he certainly got a deal on his beloved Porsche, he also got exactly what he paid for. Amir spent his first year of Porsche ownership repairing, modifying, and correcting everything the car needed to reach a level that he was content with. The car spent much of its first year in the garage while Amir continued instructed track events from the passenger seat of other peoples' cars. There's no question it was a disheartening way to start what seemed like such a big and important step in his life as a car enthusiast. "I instructed at over 30 track events that year and it crushed me to hop into the passengers seat of someone's car and watch them have a blast while my car sat in the garage waiting to be worked on."
In due time, however, Amir's vision finally began to take shape. Amir tore down the motor for a once-over to ensure everything was in top shape. The 2.7l Nikasil block housed a set of 9.5:1 JE pistons which pulled air in through a pair of 40IDA Weber downdrafts and pumped it out through a set of back-dated headers, through a custom Sebring exhaust. Solex cams give the car a bit more howl, and a Pentronix ignition system keeps the heart-rate steady. Following the engine was suspension: a set of 23/30 torsion bars with adjustable Koni dampers stiffened up the feel of the car, and Weltmeister adjustable swaybars followed through. 930 tierods, Elephant Racing control arm bushings, and a bump steer kit help neutralize the car and tighten up any old joints, and a set of 928S front brakes and 930 rears give the car its stopping power.
With the mechanical essentials out of the way, Amir turned to the inside of the Porsche, where he would spend most of his time. The interior was stripped; everything from paneling to sound deadening found a new home in the dumpster. Once he reached sheet metal in every nook and cranny, the interior of the car was resprayed in a simplistic shade of gray. The passenger seat was removed, and the driver's was replaced with a Bride Low Max seat. A Hargett Precision Pro shifter refines the driving process, and a Key!s racing wheel does its best job of obstructing Amir's view of the Stack gauge cluster. Amir also fitted a set of Sabelt harnesses to hold him in, and an Autopower bolt-in roll bar tides him over until a full cage can make its way in to the car.
With the engine, suspension, and interior assembled, all that remained was the bodywork. "When I started with my car, almost all 911s looked pretty much the same. They were all either back-dated long-hood hot-rod 911s, or narrow-bodied short-hood 911s that looked fairly stock. I had no interest in building one of those cars so I stopped paying attention. I drew inspiration from the 964 3.8 RSR, JGTC championship winning Team Kunimitsu 964 3.8 Turbo, and the 993 GT2 Evo." However, starting with a narrow-body car meant he'd have to make some irreversible decisions. In order to mount his Rennspeed RSR flares, he'd have to cut the car's body to make room for the larger wheels and tires. Modifying your dream car is one thing, but taking a cutoff wheel to it is entirely different. However, with confidence, he cut the fenders off the car - an act I would hesitate to perform on something I'd worked so hard to attain. "The last two years with this car have been a blur. My life has been crazy in general and this car has been a big part of it... but when I look back, it all blends together except for two things: the first is cutting out the factory metal. It was almost painful to cut the 1/4 panels, roof, and metal for the gauges." In addition to mounting the fender flares, Amir took it one major step further: he cut the roof off the car. Little makes as much of a difference as changing a car's center of gravity, and by removing every bit of weight from the roof panel and replacing it with a GT Racing carbon fiber panel, Amir significantly lowered the car's center of mass... and solidified his path towards building an all-out race car.
Paired with the aggressive arches is a GT Racing 3.8RS deck lid with a Banana wing - a spoiler-on-spoiler display of downforce that makes those not in the know wonder if it is truly necessary. Pulled from a 964 race car, the remnants of a Martini livery clad the deck lid, breathing a bit of history and color in to the monochromatic build. A TRE Motorsports 964 Turbo Front Bumper and RSR front lip round out the aggressive style, and a matching rear bumper is ready for installation. To finalize the exterior of the car, however, Amir would need to track down his dream wheels for his dream build. "I had wanted a set of Hartmann twists from the moment I saw them in a thread on the PelicanParts forum. There weren't too many sets made, and they were difficult to get ahold of. I searched through 4 years worth of for sale threads on Pelicanparts, PMing everyone that had ever posted a set to see if they still had them for sale." Amir finally lucked out when one seller still had his twists. Originally built for a narrow-body car, the skinny splits would need some new outers to fill the massive hips of Amir's 911. "After a few calls I ordered a set of custom outers to fit my flares. It was a painful 5 month wait for the outers, but it was definitely worth the wait. The process of stripping down and rebuilding the wheels was a memorable one since it took so much effort to piece everything together." After assembly, the wheels measured an impressive 18x9.5 +9 and 18x11.5 -12. After wrapping them in sticky Hankook RS3s, the wheels were mounted to the car, and Amir's dream car was truly taking form.
But with two years of hard work under his belt thus far with the P-car, Amir will make it loud and clear that he's just getting started, and the build is far from over. "A year after the 911's first track day I was able to shave 11 seconds off of my lap time. The car is now setting respectable lap times, but I am still 5-6 seconds off of my target lap time." Amir is now putting his acquired knowledge to work, tweaking the suspension in simple ways, as well as installing a coilover suspension system from Rebel Racing. "My last car was a boosted Miata, and that car was amazing. It handled wonderfully and had a ton of power. Despite this, I knew I wanted my next car to be a challenge. The 911 has given me more than I asked for. It is as raw of a driving experience as it gets in a road car. It has no ABS, no power steering, no power brakes, and makes you earn your lap time. The driving style of a 911 is very different from that of the Miata or BMWs I was used to. On top of that I had to also figure out why the car was so slow for it's first few events. The car has helped make me a better driver and tuner."
While books, practice, racing, and wrenching have all helped Amir grow as both an enthusiast and a driver, there are other factors to be accounted for. "I have received a tremendous amount of help from Herm who is a tech and our fabricator at Avus. Herm's knowledge and help has been invaluable to the build of my 911. He has helped me with almost everything, spent countless hours answering my questions, and given up many of his Saturdays to help me with my car. Without him my progress wouldn't have moved so quickly." There are things only time can teach - acquired through experience and years of hard work, and Amir has been fortunate enough to have Herm share his wealth of knowledge with him. And now, Amir is more prepared than ever; the next stage of his beloved 911 is just around the corner and his dreams are in his hands. We're eager for Chapter 2.