Porsche: just the name conjures up a sleek, fast, road-going coupe that you can picture in your head. But guys like Cameron Healy and Jeff Gamroth see the Porsche in a different light. Case in point – the “Desert Flyer,” a 1989 Porsche 911 Type 964 currently on display at the Petersen Automotive Museum’s Extreme Conditions exhibit in Los Angeles, California.
We recently checked out this exhibit to see some sweet off-road machines, and after seeing the 964, we wanted to do a deeper dive on this Porsche. We reached out to Healy and Gamroth to learn more. In the process, we learned just what it takes to turn a German sports car into a Baja champion.
Healy’s background in racing spans many years and many Porsche models. “I’ve been a vintage Porsche racer for the past 27 years in American, Canadian, and European circuits,” he explained. “I’ve raced Porsches of many different model years, from 1953 to 1989.”
In late 2016, Healy met Jeff Gamroth of Rothsport Racing, who shared his magnificent idea of turning two 911 Type 964s into off-road racing machines for the 2017 NORRA Mexican 1000. “Jeff proposed that I purchase one of the cars,” said Healy. “Then, he and his team would complete both cars in time for the start of the race in Ensenada, Mexico in late April 2017.”
After some thought, Healy liked the idea. “I knew that if anyone could build a 911 to hold up to the test of Baja, it would be Jeff Gamroth and his skilled team,” he said.
Gamroth started building the Desert Flyer and its sister car, Red Sled. “We had two 1989 Type 964s that we converted from all-wheel-drive to two-wheel-drive,” explained Gamroth. “We installed full FIA roll cages, strengthened the chassis, and added skid plates. On the engine, we left the internals stock, but we upgraded the headers, muffler, induction, wiring, and engine management. This cranked up the engine to 325 horsepower.”
“For the drivetrain, we strengthened the gearbox and changed the gear ratio along with the ring and pinion,” Gamroth continued. “For suspension, we went with rally-style shocks and struts. The brakes received a dual master cylinder for bias, and the steering was upgraded to an electric system. The oil cooling moved to the rear window. Finally, we installed a custom fuel cell and spare tire mount in the front trunk, along with a tool kit.”
With these upgrades to the 911s, Healy and Gamroth had a pair of Porsches ready to do battle in the desert. After an impressive podium finish in the 2017 race, Healy went on to win first place in his class at the 2018 race, with Gamroth taking second place.
“My nephew, Eric, was my navigator for the 2018 race,” said Healy. “Desert Flyer ran an almost perfect race – no major breakdowns, no crashes, and no downtime stuck in silt. Winning that race was incredible. Even more so when considering a production Porsche had never before taken a class win in the history of Baja racing!” Healy once again piloted the Porsche to the podium in 2019 for the Mexican 500 in October, taking 2nd place in his class.
2020 has been a wash for obvious reasons, but Healy is determined to make a big comeback in 2021. “Right now, I am working on a 36-day, 12,500-kilometer dirt road rally starting in Lima, Peru and ending at the tip of Patagonia in October-November 2021,” he said. “This will involve eight Porsche teams with support crews and we will cross mountain passes in the Andes as high as 16,000 feet. We will carry supplemental oxygen in the cars and chew coca leaves to avoid altitude sickness in the highest elevations.”
This event will be definitely be one to watch out for. It will be amazing to hear what it was like to drive the Porsches such long and intense distances. What do you make of Healy’s Desert Flyer? Let us know in the comments below.