Reprint from www.porscheclubnews.com
Porsche Club of America member at a young age, President of the PCA White River Region in Arkansas and founder of the second-largest annual PCA Porsche event, the “PCA Palooza”. And not least a dedicated enthusiast of early air-cooled 911s. Leonard Zechiedrich’s life is all about Porsche and Porsche passion. “There is no single day without Porsche,” says the American. “My life is Porsche.”
Leonard Zechiedrich, born in 1967, grew up in Van Buren, a small and tranquil community in the Ozark Mountains in the state of Arkansas. His ancestors originally came from Austria, where the name was actually spelled “Zschechiedrich”. An immigration official decided that was too complicated by American standards, and changed it.
Leonard never bothered much with the wider world. The wide open spaces, green hills and picturesque river valleys of the Ozarks, the place where he grew up, have a hold on him. Leonard teaches advanced placement biology at the high school in Rogers. Education seems to be a family tradition: his wife Melody is a teacher too, of maths and science. Leonard’s dad Earl also taught, physics and auto mechanics, and is a wizard with a screwdriver who collects and restores early automobiles. “Today my dad has around 20 cars. And his cars go back to 1915: a 1915 Saxon, 1915 Model T, 1920 Model T, Dodge Brothers, Racing Model T from the 20s,” reports Leonard. “Plus, he was a British car enthusiast and liked MGs, Triumphs and Jaguars.”
Dad’s garage was Leonard’s childhood adventure playground. Before he could even run properly yet, he was already holding a wrench. By the age of seven, he was already tinkering and working on the rare cars. When he reached sixteen, dad Earl took Leonard to pick up his first car: a half-baked Triumph Spitfire standing in the barn of a burned house.
It took quite some time, but teacher Earl and his mechanic student Leonard rebuilt it. The Spitfire was followed by a Triumph TR7 and a TR7 Cabriolet. But Leonard had different dreams and interests to his dad: his passion was Porsche. “The only two Porsches I knew as a kid stood in the courtyard of a German who imported Porsche cars on the side,” explains the Porsche enthusiast. His first exposure to the German legend built in Zuffenhausen: two 930 Turbos with wide wings and additional spotlights mounted on the bonnet.
That was 1978, and Leonard was just 10 years old. The fifth grader passed the two cars every day on his way to school. Luckily, Leonard’s dad was the bus driver so he could ask him to stop. “It was just so far out for a kid like me in the middle of Arkansas to see these cars and I was just blown away. I remember staring at those cars. I don’t think its an image I’ll ever forget.”
Looking back, Leonard says that the Spitfire and Triumphs were “nice, but I definitely needed a German-engineered upgrade.” So 17-year-old Leonard convinced his dad to keep an eye out for a project 911. Earl finally found it, the symbol of his son’s much longed-for wish: a 1967 911 2.0 L, mostly dismantled and stored in boxes.
Dad Earl had major reservations. “Son,” he said, “there are no Porsche dealers anywhere around here, there are no parts to be found, there is nobody who knows about these cars.” There was no internet back then. “We had to train ourselves how to work on these cars.”
So Leonard started to study manuals and learned how to work on the Porsche 911 by heart, spending hours reading parts catalogues from salvage yards. “That was what I was doing at the weekend,” he says. It was the only way he had of finding out what was available, where the parts he wanted to buy were. “Today I still have around 15 different engines with all the parts that I collected for 35 years in storage.”
Over time, father and son became a well-practised Porsche team. Dad Earl mastered the craftsmanship, mechanics and materials; Leonard became the guy who knew about 911s. “We got better and better, learned more and more about Porsche. In the end, people were bringing their 911s and 914s from all over.”
For dad Earl, it almost became a full-time job — and he’d had enough. Not Leonard though: wherever there was a broken-down 911 with engine failure to be found, wherever there was a wreck or a barn find, the teenager was there, buying and collecting everything he could afford if it had anything to do with Porsche. “The 911 has captured my soul since then, it has changed my entire life,” explains the now 50-something Leonard. “It all started with the 1967 911 that my dad bought me. It changed everything.”
Leonard’s cars and the 911 Den
Leonard studies Porsche cars, buys Porsche cars, repairs Porsche cars. But that’s not all. Leonard lives with his Porsche cars. Everything that is finished and in running order is kept in a specially constructed habitat, his “911 Den”, which also has its own website: www.the911den.com. For the countless projects, he has a garage and workshop. His collection includes 13 early air-cooled 911s. “I can’t part with them. If I sell something, I may never get another one.” People would ask him again and again whether he couldn’t take up some other hobby, live a normal life? “But what’s normal?”, asks Leonard rhetorically. “Normal would probably be too boring for me.”
However, there was one painful parting: while at college, he had to sell the 1967 911 he and his dad had worked on for so long. “I am still disappointed that I had to sell it. But I ran out of money and someone offered me a lot of money.” 15 years ago, he had the chance to replace it with another 911 from the same year – with most of its original paint, all the original interior, original engine, transmission. “And I still get this same feeling when I drive it. Just like being back at high school.”
After having to sell his first love in unfortunate circumstances, Leonard didn’t last long without a Porsche. Right after college he bought a 1983 944 that had front end damage, all he could afford at the time. But soon a new 911 project beckoned: he snapped up a 1971 911 Targa whose previous owner had blown the engine out, and turned it into a wide-body Cabriolet. “Minerva Blue, golden BBS rims and a flatnose.” He had found the flatnose on a visit to a salvage yard while still in high school, and kept it in his garage for years. “But, boy that was a mistake,” says Leonard today. “I was so embarrassed about what I had built. When I looked at it I thought I was on Miami Vice!” It handled great, like a masterpiece. Leonard, in the meantime deep into Porsche engines with a knack for enhancing performance, had installed a reconditioned 2.7 RS engine in it. “But it was just not me. It was so flashy and bright.” So it had to go.
He did well on the sale, and found a replacement – a 1979 911 Turbo. Which brings us back to the two Turbos on his way to school as a child. Since at that time Leonard worked for RUF in Dallas on the side, the 1979 911 Turbo had RUF parts from nose to tail, including a RUF 5-speed transmission and a 3.4-litre engine he built and modified himself. Over time, he added a few more restoration projects: a 1968 911 L, a 1971 911 E, a 1973 911 T, a 1974 911 Carrera, a 1975 911 Targa, a 1983 911 Targa and 1984 930. A 356 Speedster also found its way into the 911 fan’s collection. “That was a wrecked car and it was really nothing more than a basket case. And since I knew the 911 engine better that any that I had worked on, I wanted to use one of those. But it is a indeed a Speedster!”
At the moment Leonard has two cars he is working on. One of them is a 1971 911 E he wants to restore to its original condition. The other is a 1973 911 T Coupe in Sepia Brown. “It’s going to be another hot rod but this time with a narrow body. The 911 engine for it is ready to go.”
Leonard’s two signature cars
Leonard’s collection is a colourful and eclectic blend of projects, original vehicles and his own visions. “I like original cars, and I can spend hours on researching them. But I’ve also always been fascinated by the potential offered by the 911 technology – with all of its facets and creative possibilities,” reports the American. “For me, the early 911s are as good as it gets when it comes to technology. In their time, nothing else even came close. They were so far ahead of their time that they would be able to keep up with modern cars if modified appropriately. When Porsche friends come to visit me or our Club, they come with cars that have much more power and are certainly much more modern. But I want to keep up with my early 911s. So I modified them for a somewhat better performance than they would have had originally.”
That leads us directly to two very unique cars in Leonard’s collection. The first is a 1974 Mexico Blue 911. “It was used on a race track its whole life and has a very rare and desirable racing version of the 3.0 litre engine from a 1976 Carrera.” The second is a 1984 911 Turbo, which he transformed into the “Green Machine”. “The Green Machine is the most comprehensive 911 modification I ever undertook. I wanted to create my own vision of a 911,” says Leonard. And what would that be? A 911 with everything that Leonard wanted and liked in the 911s. “The Green Machine is built from parts dating from 1968 all the way to 1998. Basically, when picking the parts, I chose that which I especially liked from the respective year of construction.” For instance the rear windows of the 1984 Turbo are glued in, so Leonard installed the pop-out windows from a 1968 911. The steering wheel is from a 1972 911. “The small-diameter, lightweight hockey puck steering wheel.”
The Green Machine got a lightweight rear window from a 912, and the wing from a 1976 911 Turbo. He replaced the turbo engine with a rare 993 RSR engine and the transmission with a 915, for Leonard “the best transmission Porsche ever built”. This car is the culmination of all his knowledge and skills: “The things that are important to me. How I think of, feel, see a 911.”
The Club guy: Leonard and the PCA
Leonard likes sharing his stories with other people, meeting like-minded people and helping other classic Porsche enthusiasts. He is in contact with people all over the world on Instagram. His three children love “their” Porsche, his wife Melody plays a major part in organising the Club and the Palooza event. Even as a teacher he has passed on his passion for anything that moves and has an engine to his students. “We have a car club for kids who are interested in cars, with around 30 members aged 15 to 18,” explains Leonard.
Leonard joined the Porsche Club of America because he “always wanted to be in a Porsche Club”. His parents paid for his membership until he reached college. That’s how he came by the Club magazine Panorama. “I really couldn’t wait to get the magazine. It was my contact to the world of Porsche.” In 1993, at the age of 26, he became a member in the Cimarron Region in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Although a drive of two and a half hours, it was the only PCA Club close to the Ozarks.
Back in the 1980s, the young Leonard discovered his passion for long drives through the colourful autumnal landscape of the Ozark Mountains in his then first 1967 911. “I was always alone on those drives, but I thought, hey, what a dream to share that with other people.” Following his example, some of his school friends had also acquired old 911s to work on, and so over the years a small group evolved for these outings. “We did that basically twice a year. Then friends with modern Porsche cars joined in. In 2005, Melody and I decided to invite the PCA Region in Tulsa to make that outing an official Porsche Club event, called the Porsche Palooza.”
53 cars showed up in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, for the inaugural event – at that time the largest gathering of Porsche cars in the state. The event grew with each year, and in 2011 Leonard finally submitted an application to the PCA to become the annual PCA Escape. In 2012, Leonard and Melody’s Palooza was named the PCA Escape event. “To date that event was the largest Escape in PCA history,” reports Leonard proudly. Today, the Palooza is the second largest annual PCA event in the country. The last Palooza in 2019 welcomed around 350 Porsche cars and over 700 attendees from 22 states and 32 PCA regions.
“My goal was always: why can’t we have an event in Arkansas like they have on the West Coast, the epicentre of Porsche in the United States,” explains Leonard. “And I have pride in the fact that we created a high-level event here in the middle of nowhere, Porsche-wise.” The region doesn’t even have a Porsche dealership, but what is does have is “great driving roads with no traffic, the beautiful scenery of the Ozarks and the expansive countryside around Eureka Springs, known as Little Switzerland,” says Leonard. “And that’s why people want to come to Palooza.”
The participating cars range from the oldest 356 in the US to the Porsche 918. “We had Vic Elford here twice – there had never been anything like that before, not for me, not in Arkansas. All that came about through contact with the people from the Club.” People like past PCA President Caren Copper who was at the second Palooza in 2006, and past Presidents Bob Miller and Kurt Gibson, as well as Paul Gregor from Porsche AG.
As a result of the success of Palooza, he and his wife started a local chapter of the PCA, the White River Region, in 2011. In 2012, he and his family won the PCA Family Award, his Club magazine has won several awards and he regularly wins technical awards for early 911s and 930s. The region now has 110 registered members, and represents a family of 162 Porsche friends.
Porsche and friends — Porsche friends
“Today the Club members are all my friends. From my first high school friends with our early 911s, the Porsche friends who got together in 2005, to the Porsche friends who now come to join our Club.” From the small group of old 911 friends to the big family with Porsche cars representing all model series. From somewhere with nothing happening to Palooza. “Sometimes, when I think back to the times I grew up and then look at what we’ve managed to achieve here in the middle of Arkansas, I say to myself: Hey, what a journey! But you have to have passion. Porsche passion.”
Porsche Passion Leonard Zechiedrich