It was a shared appreciation for a rather out-of-place Toyota Crown Coupe which made me realise that Luke Ray and I might have more in common than just being two sweat-drenched foreigners at Indonesia’s Kustomfest back in 2016. He’s since become a good friend and, despite a hard Covid border between us for most of 2021, was keeping me updated with the progress on a little Porsche that he’d brought over from the UK.
Luke may be known to some of you through the pages of Fuel Magazine, through which he has chronicled hundreds of custom builds from Australia, Indonesia, Japan and further abroad. To me, Luke has long been an inspiration when it came to bringing car culture to life through images, so it was a bit of a surprise when I found out the 914 he’d been working on was his first project car. Months later, as I was looking at the finished product through my viewfinder, it’s safe to say he didn’t miss.
Luke happens to be a handy writer as well as photographer, so it’s time for me to get out of the way and let them man speak for himself.The Beginning
I’ve been through a lot with this car over the last twenty years, particularly the last four. I decided that, as this is a once in a lifetime project for me, I should lay everything bare and write out every detail of the project. After documenting other people’s builds for the last 12 years through my magazine, Fuel, it’s been a rewarding experience to indulge in my own project recently.
Back in the late ‘90s, my friends and I hit the UK Volkswagen shows and events pretty hard. Bug Jam, Run to the Sun, Stanford Hall, the list is long and the fun levels were high. I was going through my art college and university years, so there were no ‘fun-car’ savings or a secret stash of sterling to blow on a vintage VW project. Student life was about living on the edge of the piggy bank, making a vat of cheap pasta bolognese to last a week and spending any available pennies on beers and cider (sometimes together, erk).
Some of us had cars. Beetles, Type-3s, Karmann Ghias… I guess the guys had better financial skills than me, as no matter how many times I turned my pockets inside out, there was no cash around for a project. My job cooking pizzas for £17 a shift on weekends was slave labour and definitely didn’t allow any room for car-savings.
Jump forwards to 2001 at one of the many events that the group were still going to. I believe it was the Stanford Hall VW Show. Everyone had a car by then. Except me, despite landing my first proper job in the Jaguar Design department in Coventry as a Senior Designer. At that point, it wasn’t so much about not being able to get my hands on a car, it was more that I couldn’t decide what my first project was going to be. I knew I wanted something different, something quirky, and so did my friends. I distinctly remember my dear pal Scott Marsden approaching me enthusiastically, saying something along the lines of “Luke, I think I’ve found the car for you.” He beckoned me over to the trade area where he introduced me to a 1975 Porsche 914 in black on California plates. It was being sold by Jim Calvert of Stateside Tuning for £4,250. Jim had imported it from the States a while prior to me seeing it, but no-one had taken to it.
The next part is a bit of a blur. I don’t remember how long it took me to decide, how I picked it up, or anything much in the following days, but suffice to say… I was soon the proud owner of a 1975 2.0L Porsche 914 in black on Mahle wheels.2001-2006. The First Five Years
I loved it. I drove it. A lot. And, of course, I modified it to my taste. Not big stuff, just some cosmetics to make it my own. I had it lowered to sit better on the road. I had a fella in the Jaguar trim shop retrim the seats in black vinyl with red inserts. I had Jim Calvert at Stateside fit an Autometer tach and shift light. Jim also sourced a harness bar for me that bolted into the upper factory seatbelt points and a set of Luke (what else?) racing harnesses to match. A few stickers on the sills and some white lettering on the tyres for the boy-racer look and that was the cosmetics done.
It was great to have a car in the group, as we all kept attending the events year on year. Even though we were all working folks with the university days behind us as memories and stories, we still kept to the same traditions the best that we could. I have particularly fond memories of us all going to the Run to the Sun event in the south-west of England each year. We would get off work on a Friday afternoon and all do the five-hour cruise straight down to Cornwall that night, arriving late at the same beachfront spot, parking up and sleeping in our cars, only to wake up on Saturday morning to the beach breeze and sunshine. Sure, being 6-feet tall and sleeping in (across) a Porsche 914 with an awkwardly long shifter wasn’t the most comfortable night’s sleep, but it sure was worth it. The car even followed me to Sweden for one summer while working at Volvo’s design centre in Gothenburg.The Hibernation
Here comes the huge chunk of time where nothing happened. Literally, nothing.
Late in 2005, I was home in the UK taking a break from the Swedes when I received a phone call from Ford Australia offering me a job. The move was so quick and efficient, I didn’t have time to think about what to do with the 914. By that time, a few engine niggles and issues were starting to arrive, so I did make the decision not to ‘properly’ lay the car up. I decided that whenever I came back from Australia, I would show the 914 some love and give it a bit of an overhaul, so I wasn’t too fussed about putting it up on blocks and doing all the right things for long-term storage. The car was rolled into a single lockup garage, on which I signed a year-on year lease and off I went daan-unda and hardly thought about the 914. For the next 11 years.
Yes, 11 years. I really didn’t think about it all that much. The years rolled by. I was working on my design career. I got married to my wife Min. We had kids. Life just… happened until, in 2017 it was time to make a decision: Keep paying the storage bills in the UK or bite the bullet and get the 914 over to Australia. Being properly settled now in Melbourne with no thoughts of going back to Europe – or anywhere else for that matter – things had changed considerably since I rolled the car into that garage back in 2006.
Obviously, as you can see, we chose to ‘get it done’ and bring the car over. During an impromptu trip back ‘home’, old friend Scott Marsden (remember him?) met me at the lock-up and kindly spent most of the day with me cleaning the 914 up and preparing it for shipping. The next day, a flatbed showed up and off she went. Next stop, ‘Stray-a.
The plan was to ship the car directly to Perth, some 3,500km from my home in Melbourne, which we did. The reason was that a workshop in Perth, the owners of which I had got to know quite well, were keen to work with me on the build. This has been an amazing project, which I’m so proud of, but alas there were some negatives along the way. I’m not going into detail here, but it seems as though my naivety in trusting people with whom I had built up friendships was starting to show through and getting the project had a few false starts on Australian soil. On the flip side, every single other human being who has been involved in this project in some way has been fantastic. The support, wisdom and friendship shown to me over the four-year build has been overwhelming.The Inspiration
I wouldn’t say that I had a single vision for this project when I started. It was more a case of being inspired by others and carrying over the feeling of those inspirations as I went along. I’m a big fan of Japanese car culture. Not necessarily a single, particular genre or look, but in more of a general sense. I love the diversity, the creativity and the all-out passion that comes from Japanese enthusiasts. I have travelled to Japan on a few occasions, all of them with a sole purpose to soak up the automotive culture there.
I’ve been to Japan to visit the renowned Yokohama Hot Rod Custom Show put on by Mooneyes, but I have also been there to shoot for Fuel work. We’ve featured many Japanese projects in the magazine over the years, and I have been privileged to travel over there specifically for shoots and to meet vehicle owners. I guess I picked up some ideas during my travels, some of which can be seen in my 914 more than others.
On one hand, the general look that I wanted was of a road-legal street racer… Low, but not so low as to bottom out on the streets of Tokyo.
On the other hand, there is a direct line of inspiration to a specific car that I photographed in Japan, that being the Mizuno Works Datsun S30Z. The green paint, the dark wheels and the neat stance are all factors that have rolled over into the 914. They are both, coincidentally, 1975 cars.
Earlier on I was deadset on Aston Martin China Grey. I loved the solid grey look and for me the Aston connection was a neat touch, considering my history as a designer at the company from 2001 to 2003. However, as time went on, it seemed as though many other people also liked the solid grey colours. Apparently, I wasn’t being as creative as I thought. Not only were many (very nice) custom projects popping up in solid greys, the OEMs were, one-by-one, also starting to add their own take on solid grey to their colour line ups. So, grey was out. What to do?
In hindsight, one of Terror Garage’s RWB builds, Kizuna, was floating in my subconsciousness. I’d shot the car year’s earlier in Bandung, Indonesia, but it wasn’t until opening the Fuel Instagram account and posting a pic from the old feature, as one does daily when running social media accounts, that it happened. A few people immediately started to comment “great colour”, “wow, that green”, “what is that colour, I love it”. Boom, that was it. It had been staring me in the face the whole time… That’s going to be the colour of my 914. She’s going green.
I got onto Michael Lesmana at TG pretty quick. Michael is one of the brains behind Terror Garage, alongside owner Yanto Widodo. I talked through with Michael what I wanted to do with the 914 and he graciously sent me a physical part that was left over from the Kizuna build. I took the sample around to a nearby paint supplier and, after a bit of creative tweaking, settled on a variation of the RWB green to use for the 914. Originally, Yanto had spotted a small amount of green showing in a door jam of a Porsche 356 that they were restoring at that time. After some digging, that green was identified as Porsche Moor Green, a rarely optioned 356 colour.
So, in short, the green on my 914 is Moor Green, sampled from an original 356 built in the ‘50s, mixed and applied to an RWB 911 in Indonesia, then passed on to me in Melbourne, tweaked and painted on to my car.The Bodywork
After the ‘unfortunate’ part of this timeline, it was time to find a new candidate for restoring the bodywork. And, as karma often dictates, the guys who a good friend put me on to for the job were a perfect fit for my project – Andrew Hutchinson and the team at Rotunda Revival in Melbourne’s northern suburbs.
In general, the body was pretty good, just having two fairly major parts to get stuck into. First up, all four fenders needed to be stripped back and reshaped a little bit. The metalwork had been pushed in during the course of the car’s life and at some point in the US, a body shop had just bogged up the difference in shape and repainted the car instead of doing it the right way and pulling the metal back out. So, Andrew and co. did the right thing and reshaped the fenders back to the factory position.
It’s a very popular modification within 914 circles to add either fibreglass or reproduction steel GT-style flares to the stock body cars. I knew from the start that this was not the route that I wanted to go down. It’s a very different look between a ‘wide body’ 914 and a ‘narrow body’ (stock) bodied car. I’m a big fan of 914s that stay with the ‘narrow’ look but sit a little lower with the wheels nicely tucked inside the arches.
I should probably mention at this point the contributing factors that went into the overall look of this car. 914’s were never factory delivered with as many painted body parts as my car has. The removable targa roofs were supplied in a mottled black fibreglass finish. The b/c pillar sail panels were more often than not covered in black vinyl. There was a spec that left them body coloured, but it was considerably more rare than the ‘regular’ black vinyl. The side rockers were almost always black. The earlier bumpers were chrome with black rubber tops and the later bumpers, which my 1975 car had, were huge, hideous black rubber items with steel bars inside which each weighed an absurd amount.
My decision was to firstly ditch the awful late bumpers and to secondly go full colour for the entire car. It was a bold, unusual move, but I was up for it and I figured if it just got too much, I could always reintroduce some black later on. As it happens, I’m delighted with the final look, so that’s not going to happen.
To get the full-colour look, I ordered some aftermarket front and rear fibreglass bumpers that carry through the appearance of the earlier cars (made of chrome and rubber as mentioned above), but are formed in a single piece each for simpler manufacturing. I ordered a front lower lip from the same supplier to complete the bodywork look. I opted to delete the lower rear valance completely for a racier, show-your-exhaust-off kind of vibe.
To continue the all-colour approach, I opted not to fit new sail panel vinyl. In fact, when Andrew was working on the bodywork, I ordered him to fill in the small holes that accept a trim at the base of the factory sail panels to keep everything smooth. Talking of keeping things smooth, I also asked for the rear trunk release button hole to be filled and smoothed. This, along with also filling and smoothing the factory radio aerial hole and holes for the factory side markers on the front fenders, made for some subtle custom changes that all contributed to the look that I wanted. They are things that most people wouldn’t notice, but look up some photos of stock 914s and you’ll see what has been done.
Lastly, the targa roof panel was filled, primed and painted. This is also an unusual modification to a 914, but I’m really happy with the overall look. From the start, I wanted paint that was very simple with that solid, ‘50s and ‘60s look. No metallic, no deep piano gloss, just a nice, neat, good looking paint job at an economical price, and Andrew delivered exactly what I was looking for.The Turning Point
This is a big one, for me anyway. I mentioned ‘working’ on the car and ‘various jobs’. Well, let’s be 100% honest here, I hadn’t worked on a project car before in my life. I was 43 years old at that point with a life-long history of automotive passion and enthusiasm. But, did I know anything about wrenching on a car myself? No sir, I did not. But thanks to a move to the countryside, I did have a shed…
What a massively daunting task. Many an hour was spent sitting on a chair next to this green body shell that was sitting up on stands in my shed, wondering what to do next. It was one of those situations where I knew there was so much to do, but I didn’t know where or how to start.
Enter stage left, my pal Jamie Smith. Jamie is a master auto electrician and I knew I wanted him involved when we were at the electrical stage, but he’s also an all-round clever bloke when it comes to fixing up cars.
Jamie came round one weekend to take a look at a small rust patch in the floor. He cut out the rust around the hole, made a little steel patch and then welded it in on the spot. I told you he was clever. It was during this visit that Jamie and I had a big old chat about the aforementioned procrastination that was troubling me. Jamie helped me to see the light and guided me through the process of ‘just making a start’. It was a chat that pulled me into shape and made me realise that I might just be able to do a few things that I thought I really couldn’t do. The home project had begun, and that conversation with Jamie was the catalyst. Thank you for the boost, Mr. Smith.The Running Gear
I decided to prime and paint as many parts as I could whilst they were out of the car and apart. Porsche 914s were designed with a ‘front end’ assembly that makes up much of the business at that end of the car… The brakes, suspension, master cylinder, amongst others. A local 914 enthusiast helped me decide what could stay and what needed to be replaced. The front end became a mass-stripping and painting endeavour for me and the latter involved a big order to the US suppliers who carry 914 parts and waiting for them to arrive. I spent much of the next few weeks cleaning up original steel parts and hanging them from trees in the garden to repaint them.
The engine was, naturally, a huge part of this build. After some chats with various Volkswagen and Porsche professionals around Melbourne, I finally decided to go with Daniel Reinhardt and the team at Australian VW Performance Centre. AVWPC has a formidable reputation in the classic VW world and I could see that Dan knew his stuff, so I offered them the task of building my new motor.
The case was cleaned up and a small chip was repaired and the tinware was all stripped and powder-coated. Everything else was new. This is not an exhaustive list, but this is what comes to mind:
– Webcam 86A camshaft and lifters
– 2.0L Porsche 914 Hoffman heads with 44x38mm valves and single Crower springs, chromoly retainers, and ceramic-coated ports and chambers
– Fat Performance Rimco 96mm Keith Black Design hypereutectic piston and cylinder set
– New 914 clutch
– Twin 40mm IDF carburettors
– Scat oil pump
The gearbox is the original side-shift box and has not been touched or opened up. So far, so good.
The exhaust is quite special. From factory, all Porsche 914s came with heat exchangers. Mine were in pretty bad shape so I had to weigh up my options. On one hand, I could look for a pair of 2-litre heat exchangers, which are getting pretty pricey these days. On the other, I could at an aftermarket option. I settled on the latter with the headers coming in as a hand-built pair from Marty Schneider at MSDS in the States. These were mated to a tri-flow muffler bought and fitted here in Australia during install. All up, the costs were probably on par with sourcing heat exchangers and a muffler to fit. Of course, I now have no heat source from the engine, but it’s nothing an extra layer and a pair of gloves on a chilly morning won’t fix.
For the front suspension, I upgraded the inserts to new Bilsteins and new turbo tie rods were fitted to upgrade the steering. At the back, the aftermarket Bilstein shocks that I fitted back in the UK in the ‘early days’ were still going strong, so nothing to change there. But, I did order an adjustable coilover kit from Ground Control in the US. That, combined with the adjustment at the front that all 914s have from the factory, means that I can very quickly and very easily set the car up at my desired height and stance with minimal tools and fuss.
The wheels are Mooneyes Speed Masters that I had powder-coated grey. My good friend Shige Suganuma from Moon in Japan sold me the last set of these in the 4×130 VW stud pattern before they went out of stock for good. Mine are 15-inch diameter and 6 inches wide all round. The fronts had to have minor machining done to get around the brake hubs, but other than that the offset sits just right. I’ve not seen these fitted to a 914 before and I was going for a unique solution, so mission accomplished there.
The tyres are Michelin Pilot Sport 3s at 195/55R15. I would like to thank Michelin Australia for the support, as they supplied the tyres. The yellow graphics are rubber strips that I ordered from Tire Stickers in the US and bonded onto the walls of the Sport 3s. I saw at least three or four cars in Japan applying this technique, so I copied it. I haven’t been able to get to the bottom of why it’s done, but I like the look, so add that to the list of Japanese influences that I touched on earlier.The Electrics
During the bodywork and panel process, I decided to leave the original wiring harness in the car. Before I laid the car up in the UK, the electrics were working fine and after importing it to Australia, there were no signs of mice chewing through wires or other deterioration. That, combined with the huge leap in costs associated with a full bare metal rotisserie restoration and brand new wiring made the decision to leave the electrics in an easy one.
Cue Jamie Smith again back into the story. Jamie is a master auto electrician and he donated a handful of his valuable Saturdays to come and spend time on the electrics. Jamie checked through everything stage by stage and installed new wiring where necessary, tidying everything up to be working as good as new. There were many new electrical jobs to be done, too. Some of the new parts that I designed in to the car that needed electrical expertise are: Digital GPS speedo, under-dash LED lighting (on a dash switch), Autometer tach, new fuel gauge, new aftermarket LED headlight assemblies, new LED turn signal boards, new LED rear light cluster boards, in-dash USB charging port, front and rear dash cams and a high level LED brake light. Jamie was a huge help with this project and his commitment to getting everything working was very much appreciated.
One of the custom parts that I’m most proud of is the engine grille. I wanted something new and different. Something that fitted with the theme of the car, but those who don’t know 914s might not pick out as unique. To run inline with the perforated mesh of the dash and demister vents, I drew up a design involving a simple array of holes and a ‘914’ cutout in the middle, using a font that I felt sat nicely with the look of the car.
CAD and 3D printing wizard Chad Forward scanned the old engine grille (and the two side pieces that mount to the body) and used the digital data to map out a CAD drawing of my design. Chad had the design laser cut out of a sheet of steel and handed the three new pieces over to Nate Browne at Browne’s Metalcraft, along with the original grille for shape reference. Using the old grille to check the double curvature, Nate and Ki at Browne’s hand-formed the steel sheets to fit perfectly. To finish, I had the grille parts powder-coated black and Phil Berry added the final touch, an orange pinstripe around the inside edge of the ‘914’. Amazing work by all involved.The Interior
Coming from an automotive design background, where I worked primarily on interiors, I was really looking forward to this part of the build.
I made the decision early on that I would take a clean-sheet approach to the dash face. Due to the face being completely flat vertically, I was comfortable taking on the job of rebuilding it to my own design. Not having any complex curvature to deal with meant that I could design everything with flat sheets of materials of my choosing. Take a look at a photo of a 914 interior and you’ll see that there are a few elements lined up together on the dash face: an ashtray, a heater control panel, a slot for the radio and a glovebox. I ripped them all out, in favour of starting again. The heat issue isn’t a huge one for me. Due to the exhaust heat exchangers being replaced with new headers, I had lost my heat source anyway. Jamie did fit a little heater box under the dash for me that operates on demand via a new dash switch. I had no desire for the radio slot to stay for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I’m not a fan of listening to music whilst driving a classic; I like to stay focused on what’s going on with the car’s noises. And second, if I really desired some beats on a drive, I’d just chuck the family portable Bluetooth speaker on the passenger seat and crank it. As for the ashtray? That’s about as useful to me as a chocolate teapot.
The process of making the dash was fun and rewarding. I started by making a paper template to get the shape and size right. Once I was happy with that, I used a sandwich of two grades of aluminium. The base layer is a 0.5mm raw aluminium sheet and the second is 3mm perforated aluminium, powder-coated satin black. The final look is a full-width perforated black dash but with raw aluminium showing through the holes. I also made new windscreen demister vents from the same material. I mounted up a handful of custom toggle switches designed for operating radio controlled planes and Jamie wired them in.
The inner door cards were a special order from 914 Rubber. Usually, a 914 has a storage bin and a grab handle on the door, but I removed them and went for these custom 911 RS-style plain cards. I asked 914 Rubber to add the orange stitching whilst they made the cards. The pull loops were items that I made up myself. They consist of genuine 911 escutcheons with some cheap eBay orange webbing cut to size and mounted as door pulls by bolting them to the metal structure of the doors then poking through cut slots in the cards.
For the seats, I ordered new vinyl kits from 914 Rubber. They come as DIY ‘jackets’ that are pre-stitched. One must pull them over the original foam and seat structures and glue/staple them in place. This was another job that I enjoyed and did myself. Car Builders sound deadening and carpeting was installed over the whole interior floor and firewall as the first job for the interior. Considering how close my head is to the engine, I can tell you that cruising in this car is a very comfortable experience.
The seat harnesses are Velo street-legal 4-point belts that are made to ADR (Australian Design Rules) standards, mated to the harness bar across the back window that I mentioned close to the start of this article.
The wheel is a Momo Prototipo Heritage edition.
By far the hottest talking point from onlookers inside is the shifter. It’s a prototype unit made by Thorotec in Germany. They only had this shifter on sale for a short while after not making many units as I think the take-up was low. It was an expensive assembly, but I wanted to have one striking stand-out part of the interior, and this fit the bill perfectly. It puts the shift knob in a very comfortable position, right next to my thigh and the throw is shorter and more precise than a stock shifter. It also looks super-cool, so I’m pretty happy with that.
The dash cluster plate is an aftermarket piece from Rennline filled with an Autometer tachometer, a GPS digital speedo, new LED telltale lights, a fuel gauge and a blanking plate that I made from the same perforated aluminium as the dash.
I made up a mounting plate under the dash to which I fitted three Autometer gauges inside pods. The pod brackets were mounted to the plate and the gauges now sit neatly under the lower dash pad. Jamie wired in the gauges as part of the electrical work.The Finale
The ‘last push’ involved getting lots of little jobs completed, way too many to list here. I painted black and fitted any remaining chrome trim. I fitted some more sound deadening and new lining and seals to the targa roof panel. I addressed some last-minute gremlins with the reverse switch electrics. I had Phil Berry in Ballarat cut and fit the ‘Porsche’ sun visor banner. Phil also cut the black Union Jacks for me that I installed on the rocker panels. There were plenty more 11th hour jobs, but when all was finally tidied up and fitted, the car had to go through the VASS (Vehicle Assessment Signatory Scheme) engineering test. Then, last but not least… registration, after which I could fit the Japanese-style number plates.
As I write this, it’s been five months since the car was finished and registered. I’ve done about 2,500kms in it, enough to get a feel for how it’s settling in. So far, so good, everything seems to be bedding in nicely.
It’s an amazing feeling, to finally see it done and out in the wild. I have taken it to a few weekend events, in between lockdowns. We’ve done a couple of the Bosch Highball Cars & Coffees together in Melbourne, which have been fantastic. Not only to catch up with people whom I have not seen for eons, but also to put the 914 out there ‘amongst it’.
I think the best part of a project like this is the history of everything that I’ve been through with it. I bought this car 20 years ago. Things are so different now compared to when I got it. The car and I are both two decades older and we’re settled on the other side of the globe. As I sit here finishing off this epic story, memories about this car spanning those 20 years dart around my head… The first sighting, the UK events, taking it to work at Jaguar Design in my early 20s, the photoshoot at a UK racetrack with Ben Collins’ (the original Top Gear Stig) ASCAR, the driving in Sweden, the weekends away with friends, the disassembly, everything I’ve been through over the last four years with the build, right through to the recent conversations at Highball.
If you see me at an event around Melbourne, please feel free to ask me about any of these moments. I very much enjoy talking to people about the whole experience and reliving any one of the wonderful memories that this car has provided to me over the last 20 years.
This car is a keeper. I’ve had many cars come and go over the years, but this one’s not going anywhere. I’m pretty excited to think that, hopefully, there are more than another twenty years worth of memories with this car still waiting to happen.
Photos by Blake Jones