The Silent Type
It makes all the expected, Germanic noises as you get in—the click of the door handle, the creak of the hinge, the insistent buzzer telling you that the key is in the ignition, your pants squeaking over the vinyl bolsters and into the corduroy hug of God’s own bucket seat with a muffled settling of springs—then you turn the key and…nothing. Where there should be the familiar, loping sound of six horizontally opposed cylinders warming up into their sewing machine hum there is instead absolute, perfect silence.
This is the 1973 Porsche 911S Targa as reimagined by Zelectric Motors.
Maybe reimagined is too strong a word. Certainly there are no outward indications that this is anything but a perfectly ordinary—if ordinary is ever the right word for a vintage Porsche—and very well cared-for 911. The interior still retains the sweet horsehair aroma that is the hallmark of midcentury European cars.
The ride and handling, too, are pure ’70s Porsche. Zelectric CEO David Benardo is behind the wheel, since the car will soon be handed off to the client for whom it was built and we didn’t want to risk anything going wrong with someone driving it who shouldn’t be, but from the passenger seat, everything feels exactly as it should—a smooth surge of acceleration, a slight but playful tail-heaviness in curves that rewards skillful application of the throttle, and effortless, if not excessive, speed.
The only thing missing is the sound.
It’s kind of like when you’re watching a movie and there’s a character driving, say, a Gremlin, but the soundtrack has obviously been overdubbed with engine noises from some Corvette or something, but in reverse.
This is not to say, of course, that the Porsche makes no noise at all. There’s wind noise, and tire noise, although not much. David tells me that finding quiet tires for his electric conversions of vintage Volkswagens and Porsches has been one of the most difficult challenges, but this is just one of many details that have been obsessed over in the design of this car. It’s not unusual, David says, for he and his team to put as many as a thousand shakedown miles on each car they build, just to ferret out any problems, before turning them over to their new owners.
And I’m not complaining about how quiet the Zelectric 911 is, either. The remarkable thing about this car is how unremarkable—again, as unremarkable as a ’73 911S can be—it is, that even with a complete heart transplant, the noise is the only thing that tips off the casual observer, or even the passenger, that this is anything but a very well-sorted Porsche.
At a stoplight, we pull up next to a woman in a Tesla Model X. “She probably has no idea,” David muses.
She is almost certainly unaware of how closely related this car is to hers: the Zelectric 911’s 180 miles of range come courtesy of a 54 kilowatt-hour (kWh) battery pack comprised of compact, energy-dense lithium-ion (Li-ion) battery cells from a Tesla Model S. The majority of these cells reside in the front luggage compartment—trading away some of the Porsche’s already meager trunk space for a slight improvement in weight distribution—while the engine compartment is host to a pair of three-phase AC motors generating 140 kilowatts (kW), or about 180 horsepower. More impressive is the 214 lb.-ft. of torque, a 60 lb.-ft. improvement over the 911’s original 2.3-litre flat six, and while that mill had to get up to 5200 RPM to generate maximum twist, all of the Zelectric motor’s torque is instantly available.
The Porsche’s original five-speed transmission has been retained in the conversion, with the twist that it’s completely optional whether you want to use it or not. For much of our drive David leaves the gearbox in third, and the car is perfectly happy. Rowing through the gate does add an element of fun, though, with more instantaneous response for off-the-line acceleration in the lower gears. The mechanical throttle linkage has been replaced by a drive-by-wire connection that allows for regenerative braking at the flip of a dashboard-mounted switch, making this a true dual-character car: the driver has the option of the full, three-pedal sports car experience or the full, one-pedal electric car experience.
If reimagined isn’t exactly the right description for the Zelectric 911—electrification is certainly a new direction for this chassis, but the Porsche essence feels surprisingly undiluted—maybe more livable is. This is the Zelectric concept: marry the style, character, and fun of the vintage donor car with the flexibility and ease of maintenance of an electric car. David notes that most of his customers owned Volkswagens decades ago, or maybe aspired to Porsche ownership like the client who commissioned this car, and want to recapture that experience without the hassle of constant maintenance typically required with a 40- or 50-plus year old car.
Having been in the throes of trying (and so far failing) to get the carburetors adjusted just right on my Corvair for the last several weeks, I can definitely see the appeal. And as someone who daily drives vintage cars, I heartily endorse any concept that makes doing so more enjoyable and stress-free—and with electric power, more guilt-free, too.
Plus, the 911 is sex on wheels. And who doesn’t love the silent type?
Huge thanks again to David Benardo and the Zelectric Motors team!