It's fair to say, Autofarm has unearthed some amazing barn finds over its 40 plus years, but none more so than the effectionately named "Beirut RS". This 1973 Porsche 911 Carrera RS Lightweight has a truely astonishing story to tell and it all began with a simple phone call.
Former owner and founder of Autofarm, Josh Sadler, recounts how he received a phone call from James Shead, the son of Don Shead whom he knew from his racing days. James elaborated on the reason for his call, explaining that a classmate from his university days was one of three daughters of a car dealer and rally enthusiast from Beirut, Lebanon. Back in May 1973, her father had taken delivery of a Carrera RS Lightweight and had in fact driven it in local and regional rallies, with the highlight being the Beirut-Damascus Rally.
The Lebanese civil war that began in 1975 and continued for many many years, brought an abrupt end to this cars competitive racing. The car's owner parked the car in a building next to their family home, and started driving an ambulance for the Lebanese Red Cross. Sadly, in the summer of 1985, on the very day he was supposed to finish his driving duties he failed to return home. Soon afterward, a mortar shell hit the buiding where the Carerra RS Lightweight was being stored, partly collasped the building severely damaged its roof.
When hostilities finally ceased, families that had long ago departed the war-torn country started to return to commence the rebuilding work. It was at this time, the car was rediscovered and the owner's family contacted. In early 2007, many years after graduating from university and returning home, the RS owner's daughter contacted James out of the blue. She told him that their family had moved out of Beirut years before, and wanted to sell their father’s old rally car which had remained parked in the building next to their old home ever since.
This conversation prompted James to board a plane to Beirut, to verify the car's authenticity using the clues and advice Josh had shared on how to identify a real RS. Josh remembered James ringing him from Beirut, extremely excited by what he had seen, he emailed photos to Josh which confirmed the 1973 Carrera RS Lightweight was indeed an original with just 47,000 km on the clock.
An offer of £15,000, significantly below the cars true value had already been made but James and Josh being gentleman, informed the family of the car's potential value. They continued to negotiate with the family and struck a deal whereby the proceeds from the sale would be used to buy two ambulances for the Lebanese Red Cross.
Mikey Wastie, then Projects Manager at Autofarm and now co-owner said "The dry climate, and the fact that the car had been under cover, helped to preserve it all those years. Normally you would do a complete restoration on a car in this condition, but the totally unique history of this car would be wiped out if restored to new."
Josh explained "At the time, we sat down with Don and James to discuss how best to proceed with this restoration project. They both agreed that it would be sacrilege to lose the history of this car that by then become referred to as the Beirut RS.” So began one of the most interesting projects ever to pass through Autofarm’s workshop, a sympathetic restoration only rebuilding what was necessary for safety or funtional reasons.
Although the roof had been severely damaged when part of the building had collapsed on it, by a miracle the majority of the cars glass remained intact. The battered shell was stripped down, the roof was pushed back to more or less its original shape, and various other dents teased out as well. Since the damaged panels were clearly a part of the car’s patina, Mickey explains "the decision was taken to treat the surface corrosion with rust converter, and then use clear lacquer to protect the exposed metal from further oxidization."
He continued “It's not the normal way we would approach a battered car, and I thought at first that the owner was mad to do this. However, halfway through the project, the penny dropped for me and I fully understood the worth of the way we were handling the restoration. By preserving the evidence of its past this way, the car tells the story all by itself.”
The Autofarm history shows that this Porsche 911 Carrera RS Lightweight had survived pretty well considering everything it had been through. The sympathetic restoration included:
- the fuel in the 85-litre long-range plastic tank had turned to jelly and was damaged beyond repair.
- Everything rubber had also perished, so the car was given a set of new suspension bushings and anything else that was needed.
- The headlamps were broken, therefore new glass and lenses were added.
- Underneath, the car had been strengthened for rallying with steel plates welded to the front A-arms.
- We replaced the bushings with a combination of original Porsche and polyurethane ones, renewed the torsion bars, dampers, bearings and brake discs, along with the fuel and brake lines.
- The RS came with 6- and 7x15 Fuchs wheels and a spare. One of these wheels was not right, so it was replaced with one from stock with the correct date stamp, and they were fitted with new 185/70VR15 and 215/60VR15 Pirelli P6000 rubber.
- The engine bay had a thick layer of sand and grit over it, so the motor was removed and everything methodically cleaned out. The oil tank was refinished and the 2.7-litre, mechanically injected flat-six was stripped down and its fuel pump sent away to a specialist for a complete rebuild.
The Interior came with lightweight seats, but as James couldn't get comfortable in them, we fitted the later Recaros. As a finishing touch, we even managed to find a retro-look Becker Mexico radio.
As James intended to drive the car on road rallies, the engine was fitted with high-compression barrels and pistons, and the gearbox stripped down and rebuilt. Although they are not original, the customary 3.2 Carrera pressure fed chain tensioners were fitted as a precaution to protect the valuable engine.
Some detail work had to be done to bring the engine bay up to scratch, and this involved new tin work, and a rear light and bumper center panel. Interestingly, this car came with the standard engine cover, and the ducktail rear spoiler you see on every other RS. Because of this, the metal rear Carrera RS badge is a very rare item indeed.
Keen to use the car as often as possible, its first outing came in 2008, soon after it emerged rejuvenated from Autofarm’s workshop it was entered into the Coupe des Alpes. It was no surprise that it won the trophy for “Most Historic Car” at the event.
The Beirut RS is a unique car with a unique history and Autofarm is proud to be a vaulable part of that history.