Story by Zach Mayne
Photos by Crystal Trenkle • https://www.instagram.com/portraitart/
German architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe is credited with the phrase “God is in the details.” Of course van der Rohe wasn’t referring to the craft of building custom cars, but rather referring to just how crucial the small details are to something as large scale as a building. It’s the details that truly set a truly special project apart from just an average one, and it's a philosophy that can be applied to a lot of different undertakings.
Take Dave Kealoha’s Signal Orange Porsche 911, which is a tribute to the seminal 1973 911 RSR. At a glance, it looks like just another backdated Porsche 911, certainly nothing all that unusual. The practice of taking an impact bumper 911 of ’74 or newer vintage and converting it look like an iconic longhood from an earlier era is something that 911 enthusiasts have been doing for decades.
Look closer at Kealoha’s 911 though and it’s apparent that this isn’t just another ‘80s 911 with a widebody and fat wheels slapped on. The smallest details were thoroughly thought out before being put into place, for a result that is stunning to say the least. It’s not surprising that Kealoha has been saturated in car culture since he was a kid. “My dad was a wholesale dealer and I started driving cars for him as soon as he could get me my license,” he says. Despite the fact that he was often driving cars that he describes as “piles of shit” his friends were envious that he was always behind the wheel of something different. “Man those days are gone when you could buy Chargers or Mustangs or you name it for $375, $700 if it was a little modified and had some ET mags on it,” he reminisces. Kealoha’s first car was a $150 Corvair. The rest, as they say, is history. It was a short hop to Volkswagens, but Porsche was the marque he really had his mind set on. “It had all the racing heritage and back in the ‘70s when I got my license everybody wanted one.”
Kealoha claims he’s not a mechanic or even a specialist at anything. Though we beg to differ, as he obviously has a keen eye for details and what makes a proper modified Porsche. “I had a vision for what I wanted the end result to be and knew the people to get it done the way I wanted,” he says. Building an RSR replica was something he had been envisioning for years.
The starting point for the project was a straight, rust-free 1984 911 Carrera with the relatively rare M491 option, which is Porsche speak for wider 911 Turbo fenders and a massive rear Turbo spoiler, as well as the Turbo's bigger brakes and better suspension. Kealoha acquired the car from a friend in 2015. The interior had been stripped and the brakes were gone, traded for a Mini Cooper. Oh, and it also had no wheels. On the upside, the odometer showed a scant 47,000 miles and the motor and trans were in solid shape. All in all, it was the perfect blank canvas for a kick-ass backdated 911.
Once he had stripped the Carrera to a bare shell, Kealoha sent it over to Abe Mena at San Diego Rod and Custom for the metal work. The sunroof was filled in and an oil cooler panel fabricated for the front trunk. Mena also filled in the holes for the original door mirrors, the antenna, washer nozzles, rocker trim and fuel filler door in the left front fender. “Abe made the stock short-hood into a long-hood by fabricating a piece of steel, wrapping the edges and welding it in,” says Kealoha. Another person that he attributes to the success of the build is his father-in-law, Benny Flores, who modified the stock fenders to the earlier, long-hood style. Flores also handled the stunning paintwork on the 911. Recently, the long time car builder was on Discovery Channel’s “Lords of the Car Hoards.”
“He’s been in the car business for over 40 years doing any and everything, including fabrication,” says Kealoha. “But where he really shines is body and paint.” Flores sprayed the Porsche in eye-catching Signal Orange. “If you know where to look you will see the little details that set the car apart from 99-percent of backdated cars.” The front end of the 911 wears a simple but modified 911S-style bumper, with extra cooling vents. Kealoha relocated the fuel filler from the fender to the left of center location on the hood, where he fabricated a beveled opening. “The ducktail decklid and front and rear bumpers were extensively reworked for final fit and finish,” he adds.
While the car was undergoing it’s visual transformation, Jae Lee at Mirage International built up a killer motor for the project. The starting point was the stock 3.2-liter Carrera powerplant. “We didn’t split the case and nothing was done to the bottom end as it looked like new when we opened it,” notes Kealoha, though the stock rod bolts were replaced with stronger ARP hardware. “We sent the stock Mahle cylinders out to have them bored to 98-mm and replated, which gives a 3.4-liter displacement.” DC40 camshafts shift the powerband higher, while the engine was also modified with Aasco valve springs, titanium retainers and steel head studs.
Spark is handled by a twin-plug setup that works with a JB Racing twin-plug distributor. There are also Moroso 8-mm plug wires, dual MSD coils and dual MSD 6AL ignition boxes located in the interior. Reliable oil cooling is ensured by a Setrab fender-mounted cooler paired with a Mazda RX7 front mounted cooler. Brian Bodart at RarlyL8 fabricated the stainless steel headers and stainless steel RSR-style muffler.
The original CIS injection has been ditched in favor of a pair of triple-throat PMO carburetors, which was set up by Mark Kinninger of Black Forest Automotive. The stock fuel tank was modified for the relocated filler neck and fuel delivery is handled by a Holley Red fuel pump monitored by an Aeromotive fuel pressure regulator. Power is shifted through the rebuilt 915 5-speed, which benefits from a limited slip differential and a WEVO shift lever.
“It accelerates very quickly, but is also absolutely drivable,” says Kealoha of the Carrera’s driving experience. “Going in I wanted a car that put the power down on the street, lower in the rev range where you can really use it.” He admits its not a top end screamer like a true 911 race engine, with a power curve that tapers off above 6600-rpm, but it’s a fast, easy to drive road car. Weighing in at 2451-lbs, it’s relatively light for a steel-bodied car. And with a 262-hp to the wheels, the straight-line performance is extremely strong.
In addition to the motor, Jae Lee handled the chassis setup. Bilstein heavy duty shocks were installed and paired with 19-mm front torsion bars and 26-mm rear torsion bars. There are also Elephant Racing bushings throughout, Rennline monoballs in the trailing arms and Tarrett adjustable ant-roll bars fore and aft. Factory 911 Turbo calipers were installed as well. By far one of the most striking visual features of the original ’73 RSR were it’s massive 15x9-inch front and 15x11-inch rear Fuchs alloys. Kealoha recreated that aesthetic with a set of Braid BZ replica wheels in the same dimensions. These are shod with beefy looking Michelin TB tires. “The wheel and tire package gives the car a very authentic look and is what I had in mind going back years thinking about it.”
Kealoha rounded out the changes to his dream 911 build with an interior that stays true to the early-‘70s era that inspired the build, but is also comfortable for long drives. The headliner was changed from black to white by Sal Baeza, brightening things up. A custom carpet kit was also sewn up and installed by Baeza. “I installed a lot of products made by Second Skin Audio that includes Damplifier Pro on the floors and rear package tray, backseat and firewall area,” says Kealoha.
In addition to several layers of heat and sound insulation, the HVAC system was deleted from the dash. The gauges were restored by SD Speedo and received polished surrounds, which are set off beautifully by the Signal Orange gauge surround that echoes the exterior color. A set of early 911 S seats were recovered in houndstooth and black vinyl, while an early 911 wheel was triple-wrapped for a thicker grip. There is also a USB charging port and brighter LED instrument lights.
Shortly after the RSR was done in mid-2016, Kealoha drove it up from San Diego to the Monterey Peninsula for the annual car week. Not only did it make the trip without issue, but the orange beast was a hit everywhere it went. “The car is totally bitchin’ and everybody loves it,” he says happily. You can now add us to the list of people who love this car.
Dave Kealoha • 702-806-3663 • www.davekeahola.com
Mirage International • (858) 581-1101 • www.mirageintl.com
Braid USA • (248) 419-2891 • www.braidusa.com
San Diego Rod and Custom • (619) 441-2440 • www.sandiegorodandcustom.com
Black Forest Automotive • 858-292-1192 • www.blackforestautomotive.com