As Told By Pierre A. Grellet-Aumont

Photos by Steve Temple and courtesy of Carey Hines of Special Edition

By way of background, I am an ex-rocket scientist, transplanted from the south of France to the East coast of the United States about 20 years ago. In addition to computers, mathematics, physics and science in general, I have multiple interests and hobbies such as B&W film photography, flying gliders, and driving classic cars.

I have owned a few classic cars before, but lately I have been amazed by the price increases of some of my favorite bucket-list cars (E-type Jaguar, some Ferraris, Porsche 356, 912 and some older 911s, for example). So I began to realize, probably also thanks for the internet and online forums, that there are lots of replicas out there of pretty good quality.

In fact, I own a 20-year old Cobra replica from Unique Motorcars, and up until now I was always under the impression that replicas were pretty much a Cobra-specific phenomenon. But by doing a bit of homework, I discovered the main players in the Porsche Spyder 550 replica market, so I bought one and liked it.

Also around that time I considered buying a new Porsche Cayman GTS as well, but quickly realized it might be a lot cooler to own an older GTS, such as a 904GTS. I own several books about Porsches, and I have always loved the chapters about the 1964 904 Carrera GTS Coupe.

Compared with my Cobra, they certainly are different approaches, but I don’t look at it as Cobra versus Porsche. For me it’s complementary, as I like to try everything (I also drive a Tesla P85D as my family car).

Getting back to the 904, I found a fair amount of information about the two main replica manufacturers, one in Europe, one in the U.S. Clearly I was going to pick the U.S. guys if possible. Having imported classic cars from Europe before, I knew from experience that it could become a nightmare (not to mention dealing with the New York DMV).

Once I decided the Beck GTS would be the best route for me, I contacted the company, which is basically when I met Carey Hines, entirely by email until we finally spoke and met in person mid-2015 when I went to Indiana to pick up the car myself.  After my research online, some discussions with other Porsche collectors, I had narrowed down the design I wanted to a repro of the 1964 Porsche 904 GTS by Scuderia Filipinetti as shown here: http://silodrome.com/porsche-904-gts/

I picked #42 because it the street number for my house in Long Island, and also because my wife says, “I only buy cars for two people lately.” But really it’s a joke in reference to the movie http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0371724/ The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy where 42 is the “Answer to The Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything” as seen here https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/42_(number)  My car is now nicknamed “42” in my family.

So I started the process last summer, and decided to commit some serious money on people who I had never met and who I only saw traces of on internet forums, websites and YouTube videos. Considering that a real 904 was far out of my budget and too special to drive on the street, this project was a worthy alternative, once properly researched and sorted. 

To that end, the specs for the build included a 300hp, 3.6-liter engine from a 1995 Porsche 911 (993), controlled by a 993 Motronic ECU. Mods to the engine included new top-end gaskets, cleaned-up hardware, deleted power steering pump, adding a CNC aluminum cam cap, deleting the secondary air injection pump (SAI), modifying both the engine cradle bracket and intake (in order to rotate the plenum for clearance), plus adding a short runner intake and milling a custom 60-2 flywheel.

The engine is backed by a 915 transaxle from a 1985 Porsche 911. The latter item was completely rebuilt and resealed, and fitted with new dog teeth. It was also machined for a flipped ring-and-pinion for mid-engine use. The bellhousing was notched for the Motronic reference sensor as well. A Wevo G50 internal gate shifter was added to improve upon the 915 shifting.

As for locating extra components to complete the vehicle, Carey Hines sourced all the parts, when available, otherwise most were fabricated in-house by Special Edition. The CNC aluminum uprights, front and rear, were outsourced to a local machine shop near Special Edition in Indiana, and they are made to accept all 911 bearings and rotors.

Carey and I never spoke on the phone; all our discussions until delivery were done by email exclusively. He sent me weekly updates every Friday afternoon. Soon enough it became a ritual at the end of the week when I anxiously waited for his email update, often with photos showing the actual progress on my car.

Carey and I also exchanged lots of emails to discuss every the detail of the project: engine displacement, the cable shifter, the Wevo gated shifted for the 915 transmission, the exact color code for the paint (not all reds are the same), the exact location of the white stripe, the wheel style, the decals, the color and material of the straps, seats and belts colors, the location of the mirrors and the gas tank opening, the rear reflectors, the shape and origin of the Hella foglights, the dashboard fabric, the location of the killer switch, etc, etc, etc... Carey was always very careful in offering me different options, constantly verifying my own taste and opinion before making any major decisions, and always offering kind and good advice if I did not understand his questions (too technical for me) or if I hesitated on certain choices.

As for the body hue, I did not want the car to be gray like most of the originals were, mostly because I was concerned that a car so low on modern road would be invisible (since it’s nearly the same color as the road). Also, today other cars are too big and too careless to risk being invisible around them (people texting and driving). Also I wanted the car to be mine and unique, not seen much before, and the other color choices (blue, or green) were not so exciting. I had found that several original 904s had been painted in Signal Red, in addition to my Scuderia Filipinetti reference, so it sounded true to the original to pick DuPont’s Porsche Signal Red (as seen in Great Cars of Great Collections Vol. 3 by Yoshiho Matsuda).

I sometimes second-guess myself about the red color, because I hear often, “Hey kids, look at the amazing ‘Ferrari’ parked over there!” or similar statements which I think are partially due to the color. In addition, that color attracts the attention of local highway troopers a lot more than gray would have. But in the end I have no regret because this car came out sooo awesome looking. I will not pay attention to people who think it’s a Ferrari and if it costs me a few tickets, that’s still worth it. Did I tell you how awesome looking this car is?!

Speaking of people who don’t recognize that the car is, I must talk about those who do recognize it. When I drove the car back from Carey Hines’ shop in Indiana, back to New York, I crossed a few other states. That first day of my two-day drive, after leaving South Bend, I quickly reached Ohio on I-80, and I had to do my first pit stop (to feed the driver mostly). I parked on one of those standard Ohio highway rest areas, but I tried to park far from the other cars, for fear of getting my new Beck GTS too close to a truck or something big that might hit it. I also worried that I was not too comfortable driving it around a parking lot yet, so I put it far from the pack.

Then I realized another car was following me, and that car had been following me for quite a while on I-80. When I got out, the other car parked near me, and an older gentleman came out, very agitated and excited. An older lady, his wife probably, who was traveling with him, waited inside their car, and did not say a word (while fuming a bit, as I found out later).

He came to me with the smile of a little boy and immediately said, without any introduction, “It’s a 904GTS isn’t it? I remember these Porsches when they came out back in the day.” I did not immediately correct him and rather asked him what he remembered. We spoke for maybe 15 minutes, I ended explaining where I was coming from and where the car itself was coming from, he was not disappointed and told me he understood. It made sense to rebuild such a great car and that mine looked exactly what he had seen back then in 1964 when he saw that same 904, same design that is, on a racetrack somewhere on the East coast and was dreaming of being able to get one for himself.

He was clearly on a little cloud, being able to see his beloved dream car again, and he confessed he had been following me for over 30 miles on I-80, out of his original way. After a while admitted that he was going to have to leave because his travel companion was running out of patience. Clearly she was not sharing his enthusiasm about the old GTS design, but she had tolerated this detour so he could talk to me. That was a very touching moment of my trip!

Why did I take on driving a vintage-style road-course racer all the way from Indiana to New York? When Carey told me the car was going to be ready, we begin discussing ways to bring it back East, to my house on Long Island, NY. One possibility was always to put it onto a truck an ship it to me. I did not like that idea, one because I knew the wait would be killing me. (I had cars shipped to me from Europe or from California and each time I began counting the days hours and minutes from the time the sender put it on the truck.)

Carey suggest that we meet halfway during a trip he did to a car show in Pennsylvania, but when that event occurred he told me the car was not 100 percent ready and he still wanted to spend some time working on it. So I waited some more and ended up flying to South Bend Indiana one night, slept at the local Hilton hotel, and got picked up by one of Carey’s colleagues to go visit their shop and pick up my car a few weeks later.   

I did not think Indiana was too far away from me, but even after 20 years of living in the US, I still often forget that 800 miles is almost 1300 kilometers, which is about the length of a round trip from Marseille to Paris, France. When I was younger, living in France, I had driven one way from Paris to Marseille several times, at some seriously fast speeds, with fast modern comfortable cars, but I had not done the roundtrip in one shot. So thinking about the 800-mile drive I hypnotized myself into delusion, thinking that a 800-mile drive from South Bend to Long Island was about the same thing as the 777 kilometers on clean, fast French highways that I had done before in one drive, in less than a day.

Anyhow, I thought it would a nice shakedown trip, and it turned out it was. I only broke the speedometer cable, about one hour into the trip (I drove the rest of the way by estimating my speed based on the Waze app on my phone). Carey and his team had marked all the screws in the engine bay so that I could monitor if anything was getting unscrewed, and it all went pretty well.

After two days driving this ferocious beast, only my feet hurt a little bit. I had found a great way to sit so that my back and my butt did not hurt. But I was tired of pushing that heavy racing clutch while maintaining my other foot on the gas, so I cramped on my right foot toward the end, while the rest of my body was carried by my high adrenaline level the whole two days it took me for the drive. I basically was missing the “automatic cruising mode” from my Tesla. (But no such option was available back in the day, of course, so how could I rightly expect to have that on my Beck? And I soon encountered some other old-school aspects in the cockpit.)

The drive went well until I reached the middle of Pennsylvania at night. I realized then how low the car was on the road, and that driving at night, looking for a hotel in the middle of nowhere, was very uncomfortable. Each car I crossed seemed to have their lights stuck in high position. And the temperature dropped quickly in the cabin, misting and fogging the windshield, which turned out to be challenging in car so minimalist, since there is no way to blow air toward the windshield. 

I made it safely to a town I know a bit from my past experience as a glider pilot, because of its great aerological environment (I had flown there in the late 1990s with a famous american glider pilot) and so I reached State College, PA and spent the night there at a local Marriott hotel. I was a bit nervous letting my new Beck GTS sleep outside on that hotel parking lot, but when I laid on my bed that night I felt immediately asleep while feeling the vibration of my all-day drive shaking all my bones.

Only after I reached New Jersey did I finally see a police patrol car following and looking at my Beck GTS. Since I was not driving faster than the rest of the traffic, no tickets followed, and I actually got a nice thumbs-up from one of the officers.

On the other hand, I was also reminded that in this part of the country lots of drivers are a bit reckless and absorbed by other things than driving (texting and talking on their cell phone). I began to become severely aware that I could get run over while sitting in this magnificent car at about 40 inches above the asphalt.

The worse part was when I reached New York city. Trying to avoid it, I drove north toward Long Island, but crossing the George Washington bridge was the biggest challenge. First the fact was that I had forgotten to carry my EZ-Pass with me, and each time I had to pay toll during the trip I had to literally stop the car, untie my five-point seatbelt and reach up through the window and with the door half open, in order to throw some cash at the laughing attendant. It was a pain and I will never forget my EZ-Pass at home again! 

So entering the GWB bridge was a challenge because I had no EZ-Pass, traffic was extremely dense, and I was very nervous of getting run over by a crazy NJ driver, all the while keeping the car in First gear and trying not to rev it too much nor stalling it. That was all around noon, when I also started feeling seriously hungry, with absolutely no options to stop for a nice meal anywhere close from my path.

It got better once I reach the Long Island Expressway and carefully drove on the middle lane, with the traffic, as not to attract too much attention. But it turned out that pretty soon a NY State Patrol car was following me, tailgated me I should say, and I recall that he did it for a good 15 minutes. I did not immediately realize that it was a police car, as the mirror on the GTS is very small and the rear visibility is marginal at best. (You basically can’t tell what’s happening behind you, so your only option to be safe when passing is to accelerate).

Once I realized I was being tailgated by a police car, I pulled over, thinking he was about to pull me over anyway, might was well do it sooner than later. At that point of the trip I was still carried by adrenaline, and I was ready to get my first ticket. So I signaled changing lane from middle to right lane, and began slowing down to get ready for my ticket. (Incroyable!)

The police car stopped following and actually slowly began to pass me, the officer driving the car gave some sort of military salute and a big smile followed by a thumbs up, and then he took off. He was probably running my plates the whole time, trying to figure out what kind of car it was, and because it’s a very unusual car, it took him a while to do it, I figured, now feeling a bit relieved (I have not received a speeding ticket, knock on wood, in a long time, even though I tend to drive fast, in fast cars.)

Once I made it to my house, I dropped my bag, got myself a nice, hot coffee, and proceeded to drive another 20 minutes to bring the car to my mechanic in the next town. I needed to get the car inspected for completing my NY States registration.

Before leaving to Indiana, I had managed to get the car registered, and I had temporary plates, but after you are done with that you have 10 days to get the car inspected in order to keep it legal on NY roads. The day I drove it back and reached NY was day number nine on this 10-day window. Needless to say that when I drove my new Beck GTS on the parking lot of my favorite classic car shop in Southampton NY (it’s called GrandPrixCafe, their website is here http://www.grandprixcafe.com/ ), I made quite an entrance and everybody came to see me—I mean the car. I felt like some warrior coming back from the crusades or something, and I was bringing back some treasure they all wanted to touch. It was a priceless experience!