Oszkar Bacsi told me that every time he goes out in his heavily modified 1969 Porsche 912 Slantnose, he wonders if he’ll come back in one piece. Not exactly the most comforting thing to hear while riding shotgun up a worn out canyon road at dusk, but I understood why he said it.
After all, one does not simply jump into a classic car and get right to driving it aggressively, especially a vintage Porsche that weighs a scant 2,600 pounds. Of course this flat-faced example wasn’t always this formidable, starting out as just another 1969 912 with a 1.6-liter flat four making 102 horsepower. Its evolution into the handful it is today began in 1984. That’s when it got its Slantnose conversion and a venerable Euro-spec 3.0-liter flat six, currently making 240 horsepower. Bacsi has added some party pieces in the two years he has owned it but the most notable is surely the gorgeous John Player Special livery. It took a little over 40 hours to design and install, but even the quickest glance at the car will let you know it was worth it.
(Full Disclosure: I was supposed to drive another vehicle from Bacsi’s fleet, but due to a disagreement between a piston and the rest of the block, that was put on the back burner. Bacsi suggested the 912 JPS as a substitute, I did not have a problem with that.)
For those unfamiliar with the iconic black and gold scheme, here’s what you need to understand: There was an era when everything was sexy, life was a party and the good times were never going to end. This era is commonly known as the “The ’70s” and it was grand (other than the riots and Watergate and the two gas crises and and and), particularly in the world of motorsport. It was during this era that the British outfit Imperial Tobacco Group (which acquired John Player & Sons in 1901) sponsored the highly successful Team Lotus in Formula One, as well as a brief, yet successful, three-year run with Norton Motorcycles.
Though Lotus started doing full-car F1 sponsorship in 1968 with the Gold Leaf Lotus 49, it was in 1972 that the company went JPS black and gold with Emerson Fittipaldi behind the wheel of the envelope-pushing Lotus 72. At 25, the long-haired Brazilian Fittipaldi became the youngest driver to win a world championship that year and Lotus won their fourth Constructors’ title. In a field of brightly colored and busy liveries, the two-tone Lotus stood apart from the crowd, quite fitting as at the time the 72 was mechanically superior to the rest of the field.
It was one of those rare instances when the haughty appearance of a car was evenly matched with its technical prowess. The 72 remained competitive for the better part of five seasons, an incredible feat during an era of rapid innovation in F1. By the time it was retired after the 1975 season, the car had racked up 20 wins, two Drivers’ and three Constructors’ championships. Colin Chapman’s design had pushed the whole field forward and the John Player Special scheme was forever linked to success. So not only is this livery beautiful, but it is intimately linked to a golden age of car racing in which big personalities, big risks and big egos reigned.
As a quick search of the internet will show you, a full livery on a street car can go wrong very easily. Even when a livery is done as properly as it is on the Slantnose JPS, haters are gonna hate. But the car repels negativity of any kind with a combination of its own aura and that of its owner. Bacsi brings a light, jovial attitude to fend off any super serious automotive enthusiast.
This car has magical powers. It filled me with energy when I was running on fumes, spoke to me like a friend I’d known for years though we’d only just met and best of all it retained some mystery throughout.
New sports cars tend to let you in on all their secrets quickly. Older ones make you work for them. The Slantnose JPS is no exception.
A healthy amount of fear is part of the excitement and romance of driving a classic car and the high degree of danger found in driving one fast is just part of the experience.
Of course the beauty of a car like the Slantnose JPS it is that it’s so raw you don’t have to push it to the limit to enjoy the hell out of it.
Bacsi wanted to build a car that was an homage to great Porsche race cars but was still useable on the street. Yeah, it’s riding on Bilstein coilovers in the rear, yes it has beefy 930 Turbo sway bars and a prototype D-Zug alloy x-brace under the bonnet, but it also blows ice cold A/C and has a legit stereo system.
If you have the patience for the five-point harness setup, I kid you not, you could daily drive this car. The rest of the interior is a hodgepodge of good stuff, 930 Turbo jump seat, Carrera door cards, Carrera gauges, mid-year 1976-’77 911 dash. The original sunroof is functional and pop out rear windows were retained too, because there’s no better way to let more of that exhaust note into the cabin than rolling with them open.
A large front mounted oil cooler helps to make sure the engine runs cool, essential for Los Angeles where sitting in traffic at some point is a guarantee. And even as stiff as the suspension is, the ride isn’t back breaking. That’s a testament to how much of a difference the right amount of sidewall makes.
Vintage Dunlops not only look great on the custom 15x9 and 15x11 (!) wheels that are Fuchs center combined with BBS halves, but they do provide just that extra bit of comfort needed for rolling over rough surfaces.
Though I quickly became accustomed to the amount of inputs and situational awareness required to run the 912 JPS at a brisk clip on the way up into the mountains, I enjoyed coming back down in the dark at a somewhat more relaxed pace just as much. With pop-up headlights bathing the asphalt in warm halogen light, I started seeing the world in 16mm, like I was living in footage of classic road rallies.
I imagined what this scene must look like from a bird’s eye view, all the gold accents catching moonlight winding through the San Gabriel Mountains.
Then suddenly it vanishes into a tunnel, a burst of sound sends wildlife into a frenzy. The car runs a Euro-spec 3.0 liter flat-six with Weber 45 carbs so, there’s no shortage of power at play, but it’s the noise that stands out. (Before you jump to the comments, yes, it’s BAR legal with a California compliance stamp and everything.)
This is a sound that cannot be cooked up by technicians writing digital audio tracks, not in a thousand years. It is the result of air, fuel and fire and it is out of this fucking world. It’s sounds like pure motorsport. It’s a twinkle Paul Newman’s eye, a nod from Dan Gurney, Jackie Stewart’s wry smile.
The car runs only stock exhaust manifolds with a test pipe and Fabspeed muffler bypass, but it all plays real nice with those Webers.
The drooping slant nose makes it seem like nothing is in front of you. In the tunnel, you’re staring into the void. You feel like you’re alone with that mechanical symphony.
Since the car doesn’t need to speed out of control to be exciting, there’s no need to limit it to the confines of a racetrack. You can enjoy it out in the world on public roads. Doing 60 to 80 miles per hour in this car feels like doing 120 plus in a new car. True mechanical connection and a visceral sensation of speed are hard to find in a car these days. When you do, you better believe it’s going to cost you dearly, either off the lot or when you get pulled over going 180 because “150 didn’t feel that fast.”
A nicely-cushioned Lecarra steering wheel (a most welcome upgrade in this instance) with a thick rim delivers heaps of feedback, letting you know what the front end is doing. It’s most welcome as you can’t, you know, see the front end itself over that long, slanted snout.
The car runs on upgraded 911SC brakes, but they aren’t the best despite 993 Turbo brake cooling ducts keeping them close to optimal operating temp. The pedal is spongy initially, and eventually the brakes bite. At least the pedal box is perfectly set up so you can engine brake easily, I suppose.
The hefty clutch and Porsche’s durable “915” gearbox pulls you back to reality, but honestly I think the longer throws and slight vagueness are suited to the purpose of the car. As I had to do with myself multiple times while driving it, I’ll remind you that this is in fact not a race car. It may look like one, sound like one and for the most part feel like one, but it is not stripped down to the bare essentials or compromised for total track dominance.
Bursting out of the tunnel, the sound builds up again, more steady this time and covering a broader swath of the environment. In the tunnel it was amplified. Now it’s free to go in any direction.
Peak volume is reached as the yellow headlights beam across a bridge. A deafening GRRRGUHHH! A momentary silence. A spike of noise and then a bassy thrum blanketing the area.
Watching from beside the road, the wailing sound fades long after the car disappears from view. Life in the mountains returns to normal, at least for the rest of the night.
Andrew Maness is a creative type specializing in words and photography. Not much of a painter though. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow his automotive exploits @theroadlessdriven on Instagram.