I’ve been having a back-and-forth discussion with SCM Contributor Jim Schrager (my long-time mentor) about upgrading engines in vintage cars.
This started when I mentioned to him that I was confused about 911 restorations. I see so many ads for early 911s that blather on and on about $250k restorations and then add, “by the way we upgraded the engine from 2.0 to 2.4 liters.”
I’ve never thought of myself as a purist, but I like things to be correct. Many years ago, I owned a 1968 911L (with the dreaded side-markers). It had the S-gauge package and a five-speed. I found the performance delightful with its stock 2.0-L engine. I drove it on the 1,000-mile Northwest Classic Rally. It had more power than my four-cylinder Alfa Giulia Spider Veloce, certainly enough to go as fast as I wanted to on a public road.
I also recall how free-revving it was. It reminded me of the 750-series Alfa Veloce motors, which seemed to have no discernable redline. They just kept spinning faster and faster the more you fed them fuel.
I have noted before that while I would not change out the engine in an Alfa to a larger one, I have enjoyed buying Alfas that someone else has already modified — all of the pleasure and none of the guilt.
The “modificatos” I have owned include a Giulia Super with a 2.0-L replacing the original 1.6, and a 1967 GTV similarly upgraded to a 1750.
Did the larger engines make the cars “better?” No, they made them different.
Good friend and AROO club president Chris Bright has a later-model Super with its original twin-Weber 1.3-L engine.
I recently rode with him on a 300-mile one-day tour to the coast and back.
Yes, he had row through the gears from 5th down to 3rd on some hills, but isn’t that why we like manual gearboxes?
Schrager explained that he values cars that are prepared to their original specs. It’s also important that the drivetrains and suspensions be up to snuff. It’s no fun to drive an old car with a crappy suspension or badly tuned carbs.
If we are going to all the trouble to own old cars, then we owe it to ourselves to have all the systems working as well as they would have in the first years of the car’s life.
I’ve decided that I’m with Jim. Given a choice, I would always prefer a smaller-displacement original motor over a later “upgrade.” Original motor cars may be harder to drive and you have to work to get them to perform, but they have their own unmistakable essence.
None of us are racing these cars; we are taking them out for tours on public highways at reasonable speeds. How they were born will let you go fast enough.
Before you drop six figures on your next 911 restoration, I present a challenge to you, to accept your car for what it was, as-built. Are you a mature and self-confident enough collector to let it teach you what Porsche was up to in-period? Or does your ego need to be stroked by being able to brag that you have “upgraded your motor.”
You may go faster, but your car is no longer a time machine.
These machines were awfully good when new. I advocate teaching yourself how to appreciate them before “improving them” and ruining their essence.
What’s your opinion? If you were restoring a 2.0-L 911, would upgrade the engine? And if you were building a 1967 Duetto, would you replace the original 1.6-L engine with a 2.0?
I look forward to your thoughts.