Of all the Cars & Coffee’s on the map these days, there’s one that seems to be the best kept secret. A few months back I had the opportunity to attend it, and I found myself surrounded by a relaxed and comfortable crowd. It was Malibu C&C, and it was there that I had my first encounter with a John Benton-built Porsche 912.
Standing nearby was Craig, the owner. Craig graciously showed me around the car, and I the closer I looked the more impressed I was with Benton’s work. The overall aesthetic had been preserved so tastefully, and the performance so greatly improved, I was left wanting to know more about the project. Craig and his cocoa 912 deserve a feature entirely to themselves, but today the Malibu C&C had another secret waiting for me.
A few minutes later I caught a glimpse of the car that had been deemed "Mein12" at Luft 4. It was another beautiful example of a Benton-built 912. After posting the photo above, John Benton messaged me thanking me for the post and explained a little of his history with the car and the decision to run this livery specifically for Luftgekühlt. In the 1968 24 Hours of LeMans, a wild card 911T with this very same livery participated in the race and turned a lot of heads in the process. John has a model 911 with this livery, and after 30 years of Mein12 looking pretty much the same, he decided it was time for a little change.
JOHN BENTON SAW THE PORSCHE BOOM COMING.
John then invited me to stop by Benton Performance, an opportunity I jumped at. Upon arrival, the first thing that hit me was how big the shop is. The shop can hold quite a few cars, but John explained to me that it wasn't always this way. While the rest of us sat back and watched the market for long-hood air-cooled Porsches skyrocket, seemingly in a blink, John Benton saw the Porsche boom coming. "While in my last shop, I noticed that many collectors I knew were selling off Ferraris and Lamborghinis to make way for air-cooled cars in their collection. I knew that if I wasn't prepared for the boom, I'd miss the opportunity to grow," John said. He explained that he wagered everything he owned on this hunch and took on the larger shop.
Looking back, of course, John couldn't have been more right. Now he is about as close to capacity as he can get with customer cars. Luckily the shop doggo doesn’t seem to mind the visitors.
On a personal note, before I left for the shop, I tried to arrange a babysitter to watch my 2 year old daughter while I was out shooting. Coming up empty handed, John assured me that she was welcome at the shop and wouldn't be a hassle at all. Terrified that she'd scratch a car or break something, I headed to the shop with a fair level of doubt that I would succeed on getting any content. Why am I telling you this? To demonstrate how friendly everyone is at Benton Performance. I encourage anyone to visit and see how quickly anyone there will make you feel like family. I walked in and instantly felt at home. The stress of having my toddler on a shoot faded quickly while John gave me the tour.
MY FIRST QUESTION TO JOHN WAS ONE I'M SURE HE'S BEEN ASKED A MILLION TIMES. "WHY THE 912?"
My first question to John was one I'm sure he's been asked a million times: "Why the 912?" His answer? A cousin he looked up to when he was young had a 912. John's cousin loaned him the car for a high school formal dance, and from that day on, he was hooked.
John knew that his love for the 912 wouldn't solely sustain a business. So, among many 912’s are a few examples of 911, 356, and 914. Including a rare 914-6 that is undergoing a full restoration.
But despite the range of customer cars at the shop at any given time, the Benton philosophy is clear: the 912 is the best kept secret of the air-cooled generation. And the longer I spent at the shop, I couldn’t help but agree. It's not to say that one model is better than another, or that there's any foolish desire, either. However, it's created a new type of culture. Underdog as it may be, the 912 brings out the skateboarding, anti-establishment kid inside me and makes me want to join the 4 cylinder club... but only if John builds it.
Part of the formula that makes the 912 special is weight. In the classic car world, weight is everything. It affects the entire balance and driving characteristic of the car, and this is where John's affection for the 4-cylinder Porsche motor has paid off. John's outlaw 912’s are becoming widely known as the 912 that will embarrass most 911’s.
As they loaded up the shop for the night, I realized that my talking with John had taken most of the time I'd been there. So, before I let them close up for good, I got a few final photos of current inventory.
At the end of the night, I was glad that I had made the journey. John and his team were extremely hospitable and their work is second to none. I left feeling inspired. Their passion for what they do elevates them above many others in this business, and that trait is what enthusiasts and collectors look for in a shop. I can confidently say the future of Benton Performance is bright. Many more will look to Benton to fulfill their Porsche dreams - I know I would. But I hope, somehow, they remain the best kept secret in air-cooled culture. If there’s anything that spending a day with 912’s taught me, it’s that being an underdog ain’t so bad after all.