Only in Montana: The long, strange tale of 1-of-a-kind car

Green

Larry Olson

The Little Green Porsche Machine, in all her rebuilt glory.

The heart is a fickle pump. It drives you to physical extremes when engaged in difficult tasks. Then, with time, it calms you with soothing fond dreamy memories of bleeding fingers, aching bones and questions of self-doubt earned accomplishing those tasks. The nagging passion the heart demands keeps you on your toes.

The Little Green Porsche Machine (TLGPM) was the vehicle of passion that transported my wife, Lin, and me to Montana in the spring of 1979.

We’d outgrown Minneapolis. The wide-open spaces and strong arms of Montana reached out for us. Golf clubs, skis, tennis rackets, hiking boots, fishing gear, camping necessities, a few clothes and unlimited hopes and dreams were packed up into TLGPM. For such a small car, it carried the weight of fire.

I had reconstructed TLGPM from two wrecked Porsche 914 halves over the winter of 1976-1977. It was before Lin and I were married. We were cohabitating with great intent. She had a great, respectable job, and I hadn’t quite reached full employment. Running with a pack of friends where music, bars and beer took center stage, my credit report lacked respectability.

Lin co-signed for the loan on TLGPM and, with the many ways I was already in to my future wife, financially was added to the list. She made me put her name on the title—just in case.

The back half, a 1973 Porsche 914, had ended in disaster for the original Pennsylvania owner. A bridge abutment abruptly stopped his need for speed—and his life—with only 8,000 miles on the odometer.

It sat in a junkyard, in suspended probate animation, for about a year until my parents’ neighbor purchased it through a circulating body shop car parts list and had it shipped to Minneapolis. His luck ran thin when a divorce decree mandated liquidation of all assets. That’s when I came into the picture.

Yellow

Larry Olson

The look of love. First glimpse of wrecked 1973 914. The photo was taken across the street from Larry Olson’s parents’ house in Fridley, Minn.

While visiting my folks one day, their neighbor’s open garage door revealed the wreck. I had never seen anything so beautiful. I was drawn to it like a moth to flame. It was a mangled mess of green steel with a yellow replacement fender piled on top.

Electrical harnesses, extra front headlight boxes, spare tires and other parts hung on that crumpled hulk like Salvador Dali’s paintings of melting clocks. We struck a deal, which my father said was flat-out crazy, and I wrangled a couple of friends to help me move the pieces to Northeast Auto Body. The owner, “Carp” Carpenter, was now in charge.

That’s when the bad news was delivered. Carp showed me that replacing a fender to fix this mess was just my parents’ neighbor’s pipe dream. He laid out the truth: The restoration process would require an entire new front end—a clip.

“A clip?” I asked. This is when I explained to Carp that I had absolutely no idea what I was doing or what he was talking about. He laughed heartily, looked down the brim of his hat and said: “I know that,” and began coughing through heavy laughter. Thus, I began Auto Body 101.

My assignment was to take apart the cockpit of the 1973 back half where the engine and transmission had survived the crash. Dashboard, steering wheel, seats, doors and everything that could be installed into a replacement front end was removed carefully according to Carp’s directions.

My workspace was the basement of the body shop. I shared it with the shop’s guard dogs. My work time, usually in late afternoon, evenings after work and weekends, began with scraping dog crap and wiping up pee from around my work area. The dogs knew that I didn’t belong and made their point known with gusto. Locked in the basement, surrounded by ornery dogs, very few tools, no experience and occasional outbursts of laughter from my kind-hearted and understanding “boss,” I worked away and waited for a replacement front end. Eternities passed slowly.

The front half of the 1972 arrived from North Carolina C.O.D. in a Consolidated Freightways trailer. The engine compartment had burned up due to a woven fuel line manufacturer’s defect that destroyed and charred the motor and transmission. But the steel in front didn’t melt in the inferno and was suitable for the clip.

Lin was summoned, because she held the purse strings. She paid the driver and shook her head: “What did I get myself into?” she muttered, turned and trudged off. Neither one of us really knew that answer.

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The Northeast Auto Body wizard, Bill Gefre, was called in to do the clip. He was a legend in Minneapolis. My gutted back half was hauled upstairs to be joined with the readied front half. Bill measured, cut, spliced and welded both halves together. The clip was done. Everything fit. A little bodywork, mechanical and electrical work and the spliced car went back downstairs where I reassembled the cockpit. The dogs accepted me now and crowded in for pets on the head whenever possible. I was one of them: still not a body man, but a guard dog.

When bodywork reassembly met Carp’s approval, an aftermarket exhaust system, battery, tires, fresh gasoline, brake fluid and a new fuel pump were installed. With a little tinkering and adjusting, I turned the key and the split-year schizoid 914 roared to life. I yelled in ecstasy for 20 minutes down in the basement until the exhaust fumes nearly overwhelmed me.

I recognized the need to get the 914 out into fresher northeast Minneapolis air. Within the next few days, the original 1973 Porsche 914 paint color, Zambezi Green, was professionally sprayed.

TLGPM was born. She was beautiful. Ran and handled like a dream. Carp’s words ran true: “You’ve got a great ride.”

So many Minnesota memorable events took place in TLGPM. Driving Donnybrook Speedway. An emergency ride from Baldwin, Wisc., to have my ankle surgically repaired following an errant skydiving plunge. Eloping with Lin to South Dakota. Viewing the fall foliage with the top down in Taylors Falls and, just cruising the Minneapolis parkway. Such fun. These were indelibly etched memories.

Then, the Montana memories began.

Alley

Jerry Olson

This is the 1973 crunched front end that had been cut off. Olson kept the engine/transmission half. Photo taken in the alley outside of Northeast Auto Body in Minneapolis.

All the outdoor gear we brought with us in the Montana move was put to good use. Fishing the Madison, Jefferson and Gallatin rivers. Camping at every occasion. Watching rodeos. Stillwater River Valley. The Bitterroot Valley. Missoula. Yellowstone National Park drives. Trailheads leading to paths that led to mountain lakes and the Bridger Ridge. Hyalite. Spanish Peaks. Livingston. All places and events delivered to us on the wheels of TLGPM—our ticket to ride. We played, schooled and worked in Montana loving it more every single day. It was home.

In 1983, Lin gave birth to our first daughter. And, two years later, our second daughter was born. They were absolute bundles of loving joy and new frenzies for the heart.

But my growing sense of family responsibility made me realize: TLGPM was doomed. A two-seater sports car with four people in the family didn’t add up. After much discussion, we traded TLGPM in for a brand-new 1985 Subaru station wagon. There we were. Dad. Mom. Two kids. Two car seats. Working respectable jobs and the owners of a station wagon. A station wagon! It hurt to say it out loud.

I’d become a grownup. My youth was gone and so was my cohort in adventure: TLGPM.

Unfairly, I practiced hate on that Subaru with the devil’s passion. I abused it. Didn’t wash it. I hauled dead deer on the top luggage rack and elk in the wagon end and made it filthy. I let the rain wash off the blood from my hunting kills. TLGPM was not a part of me. No more hardtop convertible. No more third-gear acceleration. No more flash. No more panache. Mellow blue Subaru instead of Zambezi Green Porsche. The TLGPM was gone and, I mused, so was I.

Over the years, I mellowed: kind of. Because of work opportunities, we left Montana and moved to northern Nevada. A 1968 Porsche 912 came to live at our house for a few years, but it wasn’t TLGPM. The 912 eventually sold to buy cars for the girls. No lost sleep. No remorse. Just steel, a fancy manufacturer’s name and good rubber turned to cash for safe first cars. I wasn’t just a grown-up; I was getting old.

Montana memories kept calling and, upon retirement, Lin and I moved back. Life is better in Montana. Looking at the mountains and rivers, getting blown around by stiff winds, shopping in Bozeman and Billings and making new friends and adding to the chain of memories from the past happens every day. It was what we needed. We were home.

In no time, I developed some bad habits being back in Montana. Reading Craigslist is one of those pesky bad habits. Trolling for farm and ranch equipment, RVs, musical instruments, furniture to refinish and other used stuff became fresh cream in my coffee. So much to buy. So little money to buy things. So much I don’t need.

Weld

Larry Olson

Sheetmetal work at its finest. Splicing (clipping) the two halves together required expertise. Body shop magic. The unibody of both halves had to be cut and overlapped in the cockpit area. The weld was not a straight line. Many overlaps of the two halves had to be cut to provide structural integrity. After 40 years it is still holding solid.

I clicked on Craigslist’s Cars and Trucks for sale one day. I went up to the search line and typed in Porsche. Simple request. I had no more idea of what I would find than the man in the moon.

What I did find is nothing short of a great Montana story. “Only in Montana,” one friend told me. “Only in Montana!”

For sale was a 1973 Porsche 914. The detailed description explained that the car had ben repainted from the original Zambezi Green to Lincoln Ruby Red Metallic. The engine had been rebuilt in 1989 and, due to a bad fuel pump, had been in storage in Great Falls from 1991 until 2012. That’s 21 years. The current owner, Jeremy Devries, had purchased the car, had it restored and was now selling it to help pay for a new fishing boat. Good trade. He needed the money.

“Hello, I’m interested in getting some more information regarding the 914 you have for sale.”

“Yes. I will tell you everything I can about the car.”

I talked. He explained. I questioned. He answered. It was a tremendously cordial conversation and it was evident that Jeremy loved the car. He had receipts and background information regarding previous owners. He had his own stories and memories of restoration and driving the 914.

“I see the car was originally painted Zambezi green,“ I stated.

“Yes,” he replied. “It was oxidized terribly after being in storage for so long. I made a few body modifications and had it repainted the current red color. It turned out really sharp.” The pictures accompanying the post confirmed that the 914 had been beautifully restored.

“I built a 914 from two cars back in 1977,” I explained. “Given the time frame you have provided regarding the history of the car, and that unusual color, I was dreaming that your car could be my old one. Have you ever looked under the carpet to see if there are weld marks under your knees?”

“No,” he answered. “But I will now.”

Craiglist

Larry Olson

Years later, Billings. Same car, different color. The wonders of Craigslist.

He went out into the garage carrying his cell phone. Opened the driver’s door, pulled back the carpet and let out a yell.

“I can’t believe this,” he said. “Do you have any other identifying information?”

Lin, a wannbe hoarder, went to our files and pulled out an old title with TLGPM’s vehicle identification number. I slowly read the numbers as he verified each digit.

“It’s your car,” he said, laughing. “This is unbelievable!”

It was. I had found The Little Green Porsche Machine.

Lin and I arranged a time to go look at TLGPM with Jeremy. It was like entering a time warp when he opened the garage door of DeVries’ home on the West End of Billings. There hovered the 914. Except, it was red. Same door creak when the driver’s door opened; same small hole in the driver’s seat where I had sat down during reconstruction with a screwdriver in my back pocket and punctured the upholstery; same worthless horn that didn’t honk because of wiring differences between the 1972 and 1973 models; same splice welds under my knees.

So many things the same, yet so much difference. And the biggest difference, I’m afraid, was me.

Before we left to look at TLGPM, Lin told me: “You have to sit in the car and really see if you can drive it. You have to promise. I know how much you want the car again, but you will never be happy if I have to drive. You have to promise to work the clutch before you buy it. Promise?”

Time and tides wait for no one. Me included. I rode hard over the years and put myself up wet too many times. A bout with polio at 6 months of age was supposed to be a thing of the past. It was not. I had done almost everything non-polio people did, except harder. And it caught up with me late in life, requiring me to use a crutch and wear a leg brace for mobility.

Crawling into the cockpit of TLGPM, memories and smells and visions flowed over me. Speeding down the Columbus hill; Pony, Mont.,; Fishing at Toston dam; so many heart-pounding memories. Pulling myself behind the wheel it was obvious: with my brace and my leg’s atrophy, I could not work the clutch in that tiny space. It was that simple. TLGPM was not going home with me now or ever.

When back on the road, Lin asked if I was OK. I was and am. The heart had worked its magic once again. I didn’t buy and don’t drive The Little Green Porsche Machine to grow new memories. The old and fertile memories drive me every day. The work. The effort. The joy. The movement. The places. All those passions remain foremost in my heart.

Whoever gets TLGPM will create their unique memories. The car has been loved, restored twice and is 44 years young. It is ready to go. Good luck. Have fun. Your heart will appreciate the experience—for a long time.

And lucky you. You’ll have a great ride!

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