Photographed by Sean Cridland
There are no garage queens or trailer princesses in Dixon, New Mexico, but you’ll more than likely see a few air-cool Porsches cruising around the mountain roads. And most likely, it will be Gary Smith, his wife Deborah, or their daughter Audrey who are driving them. What’s more, they’ll all have one thing in common: Gary has built them all in his home shop out of bodies, engines, and parts he’s managed to find all throughout the Southwest. And none of them will be touted as show-cars. Smith builds drivers.
Drivers, you might ask?
About twenty years ago, Smith built up a 1975 Typ 914 for Deborah’s daily commute to Los Alamos, about one hundred miles, round-trip. She amassed more than five hundred thousand miles of driving. All these with no troubles Gary couldn’t amend. When their daughter Audrey was old enough and needed a car, they transferred the 914 to her and she drove it till she had a fender-bender and the car was retired. Not long after, Smith bought another 914, mostly for parts, especially the engine, which eventually found its way into another car. Then he removed that 500,000-mile engine and stored for some future project.
Eight years on, Audrey has grown up and is nearing graduation from New Mexico State University in Las Cruces. Gary looked through the garage to see what might be an appropriate gift. An early split-window Dennenhauer und Stauss? No. Way too much time involved. His forest-find 911 with a motor whose case was found near Gallup, being used as a doorstep? No, that’s his car. Hmmm…?
Typical of Smith’s energetic imagination and resourceful inventiveness, he decided to build Audrey another 914; that was the one with a legacy.
Would a 914 be a good present for a millennial with a master’s degree in civil engineering specializing in environmental issues and chemistry? Okay, maybe not everyone’s cup of tea. But, to lean on that old cliché, the leaf doesn’t fall far from the tree at the Smith residence.
They’ve always been Porsche people. Audrey started going to track-days with her dad when she was just five years old. She started driving a go-kart around the yard at about the same age. She was driving Gary’s 914 track-car at about age ten…and had a few pre-teen road adventures we won’t describe here to protect the innocent. (Ask Gary about the time he had to get two 914s from Pueblo, Colorado, back to their home in Dixon.)
Over the years, she’s seen several iterations of Gary Smith 914s and 911s come and go from the family garage, including her dad’s matching paint 914 track-car and trailer combination. Awaiting future assembly, there’s a 356B cabriolet and another 911 (coincidentally, also painted aubergine). Plain and simple, homemade 914s are in her blood.
As graduation loomed, Smith resurrected the parts car he bought for the engine, painted it Audrey’s favorite color (in his own home-made paint booth) and readied it for the road.
But what to do for an engine? The one in Deborah’s original 500,000-mile car had always run perfectly and was sitting on the shelf, practically screaming, “Use me, use me!” As another old saying goes: waste not, want not. Off the shelf it came, into the 914 it went. It started on the first turn and has run flawlessly on the several test runs Gary has undertaken on back roads to the nearby rustic towns and villages of Embudo, Velarde, Peñasco, Trampas, and Taos. On the cold, February New Mexico morning we shot these photos, Smith circled back and forth for the camera on steep mountain passes, through twisty river canyons, and he bounced along bumpy dirt paths in search of just the right shot. The little car ran flawlessly, never skipping a beat, sounding all the world just like every other 914 we’ve ever seen.
For wheels, he took some four-bolt Fuchs 914 wheels off the shelf and mounted some Summito 195/60 x 15 tires, a beautiful and purposive combination that provide just the right blend of quick handling with a smooth ride. After years in storage, the interior required just a bit of dusting, cleaning, and Armor All. Again, this 914 is meant for driving, not for concours.
Upon graduation, Audrey will be making the same 100-mile commute from Dixon to Los Alamos and back that her mom has and she’s potentially adding another 500,000 miles to her graduation present. Maybe she’ll take in a few track days, to boot.
Who knows, maybe her own future children will have a few 914 road stories…carefully edited to protect the innocent.
We can only hope!