Island Home-Porsche 924 Carrera GT
The tiny Island of Jersey in the English Channel is 80 miles from the south coast of England but only fourteen from France and yet is considered part of the United Kingdom. At a mere 12 miles at its longest point and only 6 miles in width you can travel the entire coastline in a couple of hours. Geographically Jersey is not the place you would expect to find a wealth of classic and high performance sports cars. After all with a maximum 40mph speed limit that is strictly enforced why on earth would you need a supercar and even if you had one where would you go?Historically the island has enjoyed more sympathetic tax laws compared with the rest of the UK. This favourable financial climate along with year round milder weather has attracted many wealthy individuals to relocate. In fact this tiny and beautiful Island has a bountiful supply of classic and historic machines; it is as if they have been breeding. Jersey man Sean Morvan is a friend of mine and whenever we get together I like to discuss his fine collection of Jaguars or his latest desirable acquisition and it was during one of these such chats he casually threw the words 924 Carrera GT into the conversation. My ears pricked up like a Bulldog facing a chocolate bar at the mention of this rare machine, I asked Sean to tell me more, unable to hide my excitement. ‘Oh my dad bought it in 1981’ was his casual reply. It turned out this little gem has been tucked away in a local garage for quite a while, hardly used but well cared for but before I got to admire the car the story of its life was retold to me.Back in the early eighties the Jones family controlled the Islands only Porsche Dealership and they secured one of the 75 RHD models designated type 938 by the factory. At £19210 these machines were not a cheap option at all, straying into the 911 market place and over twice the price of a standard 924, the type of customer for Carrera GT tended to know exactly what they were paying so much for. History tells us that the 406 produced sold out quickly and the Morvan family had done their homework and knew what they were buying, chassis ending 386. The car was first registered as a demonstrator (Jones Porsche) then on to Sean’s father Bill Morvan. The car stayed in his ownership into the next decade and Sean told of one trip across France when Bill was able to enjoy the 210 bhp to its full and collect some special paperwork from the French Police along with some hefty fines.The car was maintained by the selling dealers (renamed Five Oaks Porsche) and technician Steve McCann who looked after the car back then and has always done so up to the present day. It was Dealer Principle Ian McBoyle who bought the car back from the Morvan family in 1992, we have all done it, sold our loved and cherished chariot and then regretted it, it does not take long to realise a mistake but putting it right takes longer. It took until 2005 before Sean and his brother Seamus were able to return the car to the fold, still only having covered 24k miles. The car had sat quietly for years as part of Tony Forbes private collection and luckily it has never been owned outside of Jersey. It needed some attention after standing idle for so long and thus the Carrera GT was reunited with Steve McCann who returned the car to its original performance levels. When the garage door was lifted I could immediately appreciate why this 924 was the only front engine, water cooled Porsche to wear the prestigious Carrera title. Sitting between an early Boxster and a current 911 GT3 I only had eyes for the eighties car. She fired up on the button and because it was the first drive for months we gave the engine time to settle before pulling the ‘dog leg’ gearbox into first and easing through the narrow back streets of the Islands capitol St Helier. Once outside the town we headed north to the coast road and a chance to let the car stretch her legs. Inside is an unmarked, unchanged time warp returning me to a time that as an 18 year old a ride in this car would have been a life changing experience. Bold red piping on the comfortable bucket style seating complemented with matching the door panels, thick grey carpeting still covered with original factory carpet mats. Switches and dials from a distant decade worked perfectly as you would expect and the interior looks and smells new. The original radio unit would have played selections from the likes of Kenny Rogers and Sheena Easton back in the day, totally unsuitable for the GT experience but that was the popular choice then along with big hair and shoulder pads, luckily the Porsche is the only thing to remain unchanged. With Jersey’s 40mph speed limit observed at all times and a clear road ahead I can confirm the Carrera GT has lost none of its factory performance figures. Suspension is firm but not unbearable and the acceleration is at times almost brutal, the lag is evident if the revs are not kept on the boil, no mean achievement on the twisting coastal road with steep cliffs on one side. By this time we were both grinning like a couple of lottery winners as the 32 year old car consumed the on rushing tarmac in a blur (again at all times observing the Islands 40mph speed limits). A small layby overlooking the rugged cliffs and the heavy seas below was the perfect place to try and capture how nice this car really is, so as the exhaust ticked itself cool my trusty Nikon tried to do the Porsche justice. We returned the 924 to its garage and I left for the airport and on the short flight home the experience replayed in my mind and I totally understood why Sean had made it a priority to get the car back into the families ownership; it will not be leaving the nest again.Until recently five times Le Mans winner Derek Bell resided only a few miles from my home. In 1980 he was given one of the GTS versions as a road car by the factory, he had asked for a 928S but was given the 924; thirty and more years on he still enjoys the car. It seems that owning one of these cars should be a long term relationship, no speed dating or casual flings and with the limited build and faithful custodians finding a nice, low mileage one will be a challenge. For me it was a privilege just to get to flirt with the Carrera GT.
In many ways Tony Bates is a very fortunate guy, he makes a point of enjoying life, every day possible he tries to spend time in one of the nicest classics I have seen. His ‘Big Healey’ also became part of a recovery process that took him from serious illness to tearing up the tarmac around Goodwood; his attachment to the Abingdon built machine goes way back, nearly 50 years. It all started as a ten year old when family friend and local club racer, Alf Perry, perched a Stirling Moss style crash hat on his head and let young Tony spend time with his Healey; a few years on but Tony remembers the moment well. It was over a decade before that moment when Donald Healey produced a single Healey Hundred for the Earls Court Motor Show in 1952 from his tiny workshops in Warwick. The base for the Healey was the Austin A90 Atlantic, utilising its large 4 cylinder 2660cc engine it impressed the top men at Austin so much that they offered a deal to produce the car at their Longbridge plant; it was renamed the Austin Healey 100. Over the next few years variants of the Healey were produced and the car proved itself on the race tracks of the world, including Le Mans where one was involved in the horrendous accident of 1955. Redesigned in 1956 to accommodate a straight six 2639cc from the Austin Westminster it retuned an impressive 117bhp with a 0-60mph of eleven seconds. One year later production was moved to the MG plant at Abingdon and with the larger engine success grew both in sales and in motorsport. During 1959 the best known Austin Healey was presented to the public; with its lovely bodywork courtesy of Jenson Motors the 3000 was produced in three versions until production ended in 1967. Tony is the proud owner of a 1966 3000 Mark III; with its beautiful walnut dash, 150bhp and up rated brakes this version was the pinnacle of a true British sports car. In 2007 Tony was searching the country for the perfect Healey for his budget which concluded in a fruitless 320 mile journey from Shoreham to Scarborough. Returning south he took a chance and visited a dealer in Leicester to check over a Healey 3000 Mk3 in mid restoration. The car was stripped of paint and many panels; it was down to basics which is often a good way to see any classic car and a rare chance to assess how much 40 years of use had taken its toll. The Healey was in excellent order and facing another 8 months of restoration work. It would be way over Tony’s budget but like rules budgets tend to get ignored. To say the cars history is comprehensive is a massive understatement. After registration in 1966 the first two years of the cars life are a mystery but once a John Jenkins took the reins every repair, service and MOT is recorded. A huge file of information was then added to by Phillip Westerway who became custodian in the 90s. Records showed the engine was rebuilt in 2002 to a very high standard and fitted with many high performance parts; letters from previous owners confirmed mileages and dates. It doesn’t get much better than this and so Tony paid a deposit and 8 months later the totally restored Healey sat proudly on his drive. Recalling the first planned drive out with his partner; the perfect day, a picnic hamper, all smiles and a trip along the coast to Bosham ended with a road side sandwich and a transporter ride home; the rotor-arm had failed. It is very rare for a freshly restored car to behave faultlessly no matter how big your budget and apart from another slight issue with the gear-change the Healey has behaved impeccably. Taking longer trips deep into France, not a problem for the ‘Big Healey’, in fact they are a pleasure as the ‘straight 6’ consumes the miles with ease. Tony’s life is not all sports cars and foreign trips, he teaches furniture making at a local College and showed me examples of some fine pieces with very intricate joinery but when a health problem reared its head in 2009 his life took a dramatic turn. A pain in his back lead to a loss of feeling on his right side, his right hand became permanently cold, co-ordination and the ability to grip something began to get progressively worse. After finally persuading the decision makers in April 2010 that it wasn’t just a trapped nerve an MRI scan revealed his worst nightmare, he had cancer of the spine. Once diagnosed major surgery and then 5 months of chemotherapy was undertaken and this produced positive results. Obviously Tony was very ill and rehabilitation would be a long process. The cancer had also stopped him enjoying the Healey, he was unable to turn the ignition key let alone drive off to the continent. Therefore over the weeks and months that followed many hours were spent alone in the garage with his car, it became part of his recovery, motivating a self-imposed physiotherapy and may have put some wear on the switches, dials and handbrake mechanism. It was worth it; once his secret was out there may have been some concern from family but it meant he was back on the open road. The history books show that the Austin Healey enjoyed success on both track and rally stages and this car was restored with adjustable up rated suspension. The engine was rebuilt with Cosworth pistons and a ‘hot’ cam thanks to Dave Welch Racing therefore it looked perfectly at home when I first saw it at the Goodwood Circuit last year. As the day went by Tony was lapping faster and with growing confidence, it was only the short December daylight hours that brought his enjoyment to a close. Many thanks to Tony for his time, honesty and letting me spend some time with his ‘Big Healey’.