A thirty-seven year-old respiratory therapist and Porsche fan Mike Savina didn’t know what to expect when he arrived at a fallen barn not far from his home in West Virginia. He’d been told that there was, somewhere under the rubble, a classic Porsche 911, a vehicle he’d always dreamed of owning. That’s why Savina emptied his bank account down to the last $3.86 and, despite much of the car being obscured by debris, bought it without knowing if it could even be saved.
Mike Savina lives in Bridgeport, West Virginia, and grew up in nearby Clarksburg in a family that eschewed American-car enthusiasm popular in that part of the country in favor of a German car obsession. That’s why it seemed like fate when, while working on an engine he’d just dropped into his Porsche 914, Mike Savina received a visit from a dump-truck driver who would change his world. The man and a small crew including an excavator operator were there last month to load up dirt from a hill behind Savina’s garage, since Savina wanted the hill gone and his neighbor needed dirt for a construction project.
The dump truck driver admired Savina’s Porsche 914 and 944, and made a bit of small talk before continuing on his way. A few days later, presumably after having spoken with the dump truck driver, the excavator operator approached Savina and made mention of a mysterious old Porsche not too far away.
“Hey I see you’re into Porsches, I may know where there’s one at,” the professional earth-transporter told Savina, as Savina later recounted to me over the phone. “Supposedly it’s a ’75 S,” he continued, before going on to mention that the car was buried under a fallen barn, and that its owner lived in a camper nearby since his house had burned down.
“From his understanding, it wasn’t the most friendly environment to just walk up on,” Savina told me, implying that the intimidating appearance of a fallen barn, burned home, and trailer in West Virginia farm country might have deterred some from pursuing the legendary Stuttgart sports car.
“Might be cautious, if you decide to go there he might shoot you,” the lifelong Porsche fan recalls the excavator operator warning. Savina’s thought upon hearing this?: “Well hell, I’ll take a bullet for a 911.”
So the owner of a Porsche 914, Porsche 944, and VW Beetle drove 20-ish minutes with his wife out to the countryside littered with classic barns and turn-of-the-century farm homes, but upon arriving at the daunting property, Savina’s wife became concerned. “The most she would let me do was put a note in the mailbox,” Mike told me.
So that’s what he did, but the Porsche diehard couldn’t just leave it at that. “As I’m driving away, it’s eating at me. There’s no way I can leave this car sitting in that barn and not chase it,” he admitted, mentioning that he could see the end of a white Cadillac poking out from under the wreckage. Conflicted, he called his dad, with whom he’d spent many years fixing old German cars they’d discovered in fields in the mountains around West Virginia.
His dad was down to check the car out, proposing that, after he got off of work that evening (he’s a manager for a parts and service company for commercial trucks), the two go back to the property.
So around 6:30, Mike’s dad came over, and the two drove out to the plot allegedly containing Mike Savina’s dream car. “We were both kinda apprehensive, you don’t know what you’re walking up on,” he told me. One of them knocked on the door.
“This guy came out... he was a pretty good-sized guy, I think he said 6'3', 6'4',” Mike told me, going on to say the kind older gentleman in the trailer claimed to have been in the Marines prior to running a machine shop. “He was shocked that we knew about the car...[and] said ‘yeah I do have one, it’s a ‘67 911 S.’” Those words, Savina said, got him “completely, ridiculously excited.”
Savina had good reason to be ecstatic, as air-cooled 911 values have absolutely erupted in value over the last decade. Classic car insurance company Hagerty lists the value of a 1967 Porsche 911 Coupe at over $100,000 when in “excellent” condition and still $45,000 in “fair” shape. But the “S” variant of the ’67 Porsche 911—an example of which the owner told Savina was sitting under the collapsed barn—is valued at $145,000 in fair condition and over $240,000 in excellent nick, according to Hagerty.
“I couldn’t contain myself all that much,” he admitted, telling me that the owner—who claimed to be suffering through some health problems—said he’d entertain offers, though he wasn’t willing to throw out any numbers quite yet.
With permission, Mike and his dad attempted to take a peek at the mystical machine. “Unfortunately, you couldn’t move enough of the building to get to the car,” he told me. “All I could see was the end of the hood and the left front wheel and a little bit of the roof, which I could tell...had a bit of a dent from where...the barn landed.”
With only a little information in hand, and a VIN that the owner had given off the top of his head, Mike withdrew to his house to think. He knew the Porsche was an early model, and that it allegedly had a title. Based on the little he saw of the car through all the fallen barn, Mike figured he could at least sell the machine for parts and make his money back if he had to.
Despite that little bit of logic, what he did next was clearly an emotion-driven move. “Heck, let’s just take everything I got and throw it at him—I don’t have a lot of money—and see if I can buy the car. I just cleaned out the bank,” Savina told me, clearly realizing how silly that thought had been.
Somehow, his incredibly supportive wife, Fallon, went along with Savina’s pitch, which was, essentially: “Hey babe, I’m gonna clean out the bank account and buy a car that I can’t really see.”
“I cleaned out the bank to the last $3.86. That was all I had left,” Savina told me.
The day after first getting a glimpse of the buried sports car, Savina returned to the property to negotiate. Here’s how the transaction went down according to his post shared by Pelican Parts forum administrator “Luccia at Pelican Parts”:
We arrived at his home and he was surprised we had returned. My father began to talk with the gentleman and he makes the offer of just a bit less than I have to spend. Smiling, the gentleman says well that’s a good offer and pauses for a moment before he begins to talk about current politics and his time with the marines. We converse for a while longer and in an instant changes the subject back to the car. He makes a counter offer....to my shock it is exactly the amount of money that I have.
The numbers, Savina disclosed to me, were $4,000 for the initial offer and $5,000 for the purchase price. With a deal struck, the recovery effort commenced.
Mike’s dad called a friend, who used his mini-excavator to reveal that, miraculously, the blue wonder that had sat under the fallen barn for years was actually in damn fine shape. “I was completely shocked at what I got,” Savina exclaimed over the phone. At the time, he wasn’t sure if the vehicle would come out in two pieces, or if it was completely rusted out, so he was thrilled to see a mostly-intact 911 under all of the boards.
Here are some photos of the extraction:
The car, obviously, isn’t perfect, but it’s not the top—which had taken the brunt of the fallen timber—that’s the main issue. “Turns out it’s pretty rusty underneath, but it’s restorable and that’s all that matters,” Savina said. He emailed me a few photos of the iron oxide, and it’s not pretty. Notice how someone riveted on a patch panel:
Initially, upon getting the car home and looking at the oxidation, as well at the prices for parts, Mike got cold feet, and actually considered selling this vehicle. “If I don’t think I can do it justice,” he told me over the phone of his thought process, “then I want to pass it on to somebody that can.”
Check out the Pelican Parts forum, and you’ll see a grown man struggling to balance his emotional attachment to a car with financial responsibility. At one point, Savina actually surrendered to logic and declared that he’d sell the air-cooled Porsche:
I’ve been doing a ton of research and soul searching and I’m afraid that I simply can’t afford to give the car the proper restoration it deserves even if I were to stretch it out for many years. It is absolutely ripping me apart to know that my dream car is sitting in the garage but I’m not going to be able to be the one to bring it back to glory but how can I complain..it’s one hell of a thing to find and I’m honored to have been the lucky person to dig it out. I’ve come to a decision that I’m going to fix a couple of little things I already have parts for (and because I want to enjoy the time I have with it) and probably put it up On one of the auctions. I’m really hoping that it gets me at least close money wise to purchasing another 911 that would be more manageable for me such as a driver quality SC but I honestly don’t know. If it doesn’t get me closer to that range then I may just stick it in the garage and drink a beer with it a couple of times per week and dream.
But the day after writing the above post, he did a complete 180 and decided to hold onto his dream, writing:
...I can’t do it. I just can’t bring myself to let it go. Even with the financial ramifications and all of the excellent points that have been made. It’s an opportunity I won’t get back and the car is calling me. So stay tuned because I’m starting work tomorrow. It’s been a rollercoaster of emotions and thoughts but I’m settling in. Also there will be a very nice driver of a 944 for sale soon
Savina told me that some folks have offered to buy the car for enough money that would allow him to buy a 1980s 911 SE, but as nice as that car is, it’s not the dream car. The dream car is right there in Savina’s possession.
I asked the former VW and Audi salesman why he wanted to keep this vehicle so badly, and he broke it down for me. “My daughter was there with me when we were digging it out, and I’ve always wanted a long-hood,” he said, with the latter term referring to all early Porsche 911s. (To be exact, long-hoods are pre-1974 cars, called out by their elongated snouts. Look for where the trunk meets the bumper line.) He elaborated a bit more on the Pelican Parts forum, writing:
“I get very emotionally invested in these cars and this one called to me more than any other I’ve owned. I’d rather enjoy the journey with my daughter and make this a car to be cherished by her as much as it is for me.”
But the adventure to dig out a Porsche with his daughter—one that reminded Mike of his own car-hunts with his dad when he was younger—was only one factor pulling at Mike’s heartstrings. The other was a long-standing love for early 911s.
“When I was a kid I got to drive my dad’s car, and it just kinda sticks with you,” he told me of his father’s 1971 911T. “Driving that car was something I never really got over,” he continued. “The sound of that air cooled flat six, and the carbs...you get a little whine from the gearbox, it just kinda all feels very nostalgic for me I guess, and I couldn’t replace that.”
Savina’s got German car love in his blood. His mom, a former Porsche 944 owner, is also into cars, and is especially well-versed in Beetles. “We’ve always been into German cars,” he told me. “there was always...some German car. My dad was always working on something.”
Savina also sees this at his only chance ever to own his dream car. “I’ll never be able to go buy these kinda cars... I don’t have that kinda money,” he admitted. “I’ll never have that kinda money...[I’m] still paying for student loans.”
As you can see, with a bit of soap and water, the 911 cleaned up quite nicely. But of course, it will require a herculean effort to get it into tip-top shape, and to help on that front, Savina will have to offload his 944. “I’m definitely keeping [the 911],” he told me. “I’m gonna fix it at whatever pace I can. I’m gonna actually have to sell one of my other cars.”
The good news is that the 911, which Savina tells me isn’t actually an original “S” car, runs! Listen to the numbers-matching flat-six sing:
Also good news is that Savina is part of a group of friends in West Virginia who just love German cars, something that he realizes is pretty odd for the state like West Virginia that tends to love vehicles from the Motor City. “We’re a little weird in the scope of West Virginia,” he told me over the phone. Some of those friends are quite handy with a wrench and welder, so he’s at least got a solid wrenching support system behind him, even if the money isn’t quite there.
As for the immediate plans for this car, Savina isn’t entirely sure, so we’re going to have to wait and see what happens. “I don’t know if I’m gonna fully restore it right now or if I’m just going to fix the rust that needs to be fixed and start driving it. That’s kinda where I’m at.”
Even if he’s not able to get it into perfect shape anytime soon, Savina should know that he’s already done more than enough for the car by just pulling it out from under that barn. If it were me, I’d get that car into safe driving shape, and enjoy cruising the beautiful mountains of West Virginia, while gradually making repairs over time. Because what’s the point of a dream car if you’re not driving it?