Ron Cherry: Throughout the years in a ’63 Porsche 356B
December 22, 2017
As with many car lovers, Marty Nikula had wanted a certain car long before he bought his favorite in 1973.
"I always wanted a Porsche," he said, "and I finally scraped up enough money to buy one."
He bought the car in San Francisco, where he was living, through a private party.
"Someone I know who was supposed to be reputable and knew Porsches told me about it. He said it was in good shape mechanically," he remembered, then added wryly, "He didn't stay a friend long after that."
It had a stock 1600cc "pancake" four-cylinder engine with dual Solex P32 carbs and a four-speed transaxle. The Porsche looked to be in good condition, with 89,000 miles on the odometer. Its blue paint and red naugahyde upholstery were in great shape, the Blaupunkt AM/FM radio worked and the price was reasonable. As a 23 year-old, Marty relied on his "expert" and bought the Porsche.
Not too long afterwards, the Porsche's engine had some issues and Marty took it into a Porsche mechanic. The crank was broken.
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"The mechanic said it wasn't put in right," he said. "My first repair bill was more than I'd ever spent previously on a car."
After a few years, the crank broke again and it needed new pistons. Besides the major repairs, there were other costs.
"Over the years, I kept it refreshed as much as I could afford," he said. "It kept me broke for ten years. These cars are known to be reliable. I bought one of the only unreliable ones."
Grand theft auto
Whatever the mechanical issues, Marty's Porsche was still a good looking and desirable car. Proof of that came in 1978. He had a "cottage" on Irving St. In San Francisco at the time and his brother, sister-in-law and their dog came for a visit.
"About 2 a.m., the dog started whimpering to go outside," Marty said. "My brother was going to take him out when he heard my car starting up. He woke me and said, 'Someone's stealing your car.'"
What followed could make a great scene in a TV movie and is best told in Marty's own words.
"I ran out the door, buck naked, and my brother followed in his boxers," he said. "The thief's hot wiring kept coming apart and he kept stalling. We caught him and had him out on the ground when a San Francisco Police paddy wagon happened to come driving down the street. Luckily, they arrested him and not us. But I had to get dressed to file the report."
In the Lifetime TV movie version, the brothers would have been arrested for indecent exposure and only when a stunning woman, who had seen the whole thing, came forward to testify would they have been released.
Then she and Marty would drive off in his Porsche, a towel decorously draped across his lap. However, in real life, the story was a little different and no love interest ever appeared.
In 2000, Marty replaced his Porsche's engine with a newer one from a 912 Porsche that fit perfectly.
Then, in 2005, he did a complete make-over. He had the paint stripped and repainted the car in Nissan Phoenix Red, as well as the interior redone in tan leather. The painter and the upholsterer were friends and worked together, sending the car to whichever one needed to work on it at any time.
Such cooperation is a rarity, since too often different restorers have different agendas. All weatherstripping was also replaced. With only about 160,000 miles on the car, there were no serious issues.
"I garaged it a lot," Marty said. "I couldn't afford to drive it that much because of raising a family."
Since moving up to the Foothills, Marty has greatly enjoyed having his Porsche on the winding Foothill roads.
"The car was built for roads up here," he said, "ones like Highway 174 and Placer Hills Rd."
He's also driven it up as far as Victoria Island in Vancouver, Canada, and as far south as the Mexican border, but never across it.
"I might have been stupid enough to drive it across when I was young," he said. "But not now."
It's a little more risky driving in Mexico than here, especially in a classic Porsche.
Sometimes the Porsche's temperamental personality had a positive outcome.
Not long ago, he was on his way to SPD when the brakes on his Porsche failed. As he waited for the slide-back tow truck, a guy struck up a conversation, telling him about his '64 Porsche that he also bought in 1973.
He also told him about Cars and Coffee, which happens every Saturday from 8 to 10 a.m. at the K-mart parking lot off McKnight. It was one of those lemon-to-lemonade moments because the breakdown connected Marty to a lot of other car lovers, many who also have a tale of having the car they love throughout the years and the problems they've had.
Ron Cherry's books, including the Morg Mahoney detective series, are available on Kindle and in print copy at Amazon. His new book, "The St. Nicholas Murders," is a Christmas mystery that takes place in a small town in the Sierra Foothills that is remarkably similar to Nevada City and is now out in paperback and Kindle on Amazon. Check out his website at http://www.rlcherry.com.