The 1977 Porsche that sparked a restoration dream
For the past four years, Thomas Walk – professional photographer and creative mastermind behind cult daily Instagram magazine, Type 7 – has been living the Porsche owner dream with his 1977 911. Having restored the vehicle with his mechanic father, he takes whatever opportunity he can grab to drive it along the shimmering coastal roads or into the rolling hills near his Sydney home.
Dreaming since childhood of having a 911 of his very own, his lucky break finally came just a few years ago, when he was driving to work one day. Finding himself stuck in traffic, he glanced over to the garage of the house next to him and saw something that piqued his interest. “I could only just glimpse the top of a roofline, but I knew it was a Porsche right away,” Thomas says. “Being obsessed with the cars for years, I can pick them out easily from a distance.”
Finding the perfect Porsche 911 project car
A couple of days later, his curiosity led him to knock on the door of the house and get the full story from the lady, named Lesley, who lived there. She and her husband Randy turned out to be only the second-ever owners of the car since it had been registered in 1977. The first being the wife of John Newelle (John was THE exclusive Porsche dealer in Sydney throughout the ’70s to ’90s).
“I thought there was no way I could ever afford it,” Thomas explains upon seeing the car up-close, “So I actually came to her out of curiosity. I just asked if I could hear about the story of this car. I think she could tell that I was coming from a sincere place. I told her that I’d been searching for a Porsche to restore for years. We had a great conversation, and I left it at that.”
Unable to stop thinking about the car after that meeting, Thomas revisited the house at a later date. “I brought her a coffee from a place she’d told me that she liked, and I made her an offer for the car,” he says. “I didn’t hear from her for two months. She then calls me out of the blue and asks if I’m still interested. “I just thought that there was no way they would ever let this car go,” he says about his reaction upon receiving that call. “But I think she took a liking to me, and it just happened to be the right time. I gave her almost everything I had for it. I didn’t even know if the car ran at this point – it could have been missing an engine for all I knew! I just said ‘Yes’.”
Two days later, Thomas had a tow truck at the front of their house and was gobsmacked to be taking his dream car home. Before departing, he was handed a mysterious pile of letters that made leaving with the classic Porsche even more humbling. “All of a sudden, I was being given this huge stack of letters. They turned out to be from all the passers-by from over the years who had seen the car and asked to buy it. And she had never said yes to any of them.”
Destination restoration: fixing up a classic Porsche
Once back home with a vehicle that he couldn’t take his eyes off, it was the road to restoration that lay ahead. Fortunately, Thomas has a mechanically minded father, who used to work on Porsche sportscars, amongst others, in the in the ’70s and ’80s. And Gilles Walk was raring to get his hands on Thomas’ new purchase. Soon, the father and son team were starting their very own Porsche 911 restoration. Six months later, and the car was up and running. “My dad and I always talked about building a Porsche together, so it was special to finally get that opportunity,” says Thomas. “It may be a 45-year-old car, but I can safely say that when it comes to reliability, during the four years I’ve had it, it has rivalled some of the modern cars that I drive.”
During the restoration process, the pair went through the car front-to-back. As an oldtimer that had been sitting on a driveway out in the elements for years, there was expectedly work to be done. Still in almost its exact original condition, everything made of rubber was worn. Thomas and Gilles replaced the vehicle’s entire suspension and injection systems, but elsewhere found – to their pleasant surprise – that less needed done than they first thought. So, they spent time over those six months refreshing many different elements of the car. When it came to the original interiors, they found everything to already be in pretty good shape. After taking the seats out in order to clean the carpets, they were done with the inside of the car.
Once the car was up-and-running, there was one particular trip that Thomas was raring to make – a return journey to the house of Lesley, who had sold the car to him. “I made her a promise that once I had it restored, I would come and pick her and her husband up,” he explains. “And I kept to my word. I turned up at their house and took Lesley and Randy out in the car. I still keep in touch with them to this day.”
And how do you choose a name for such a special car? For Thomas, it was a no-brainer. Only one moniker would suffice: Lesley. A fitting tribute to the very lady that had entrusted him above all others to do the vehicle’s legacy justice.
One of the great things about classic cars is that you’re not just buying a car to restore it, you’re buying all of its history and the soul that comes with it
During the few years since, Thomas has given the car the odd cosmetic change. However, it’s important to him to keep its original parts wherever possible. “Keeping it as close to original just feels right. The only thing I really changed were the wheels, as the stock ones weren’t my cup of tea. But otherwise, you’ll find it still has its stock exhaust, stock seats, and so on. It’s more or less a factory car and typical of the kind of Porsche you would have seen during that era.” Now, it’s just a case of standard maintenance. And in return for taking care of it, Lesley has never broken down and left him stranded in return. “I feel like if I treat her well, she’s going to treat me well back!”
A Porsche passion project that led to true romance
Buying the air-cooled Porsche wasn’t just a labour of love for Thomas and Gilles – it even played a pivotal role in proposing to his girlfriend. “Ever since my fiancé and me have been together, we’ve really wanted to buy a classic Porsche,” he explains. “The whole air-cooled car thing rubbed off on her because of me! The true end goal was to get it running so that I could take her away on a trip and propose to her.”
After those taxing six months spent restoring the car, the end was firmly in sight, so Thomas decided the time was nigh to get an engagement ring made and book a special trip two hours’ drive up the Australian coast. Upon popping the question to his partner Jamie after making a successful maiden voyage together in their dream car, the answer that followed what a resounding “yes”.
Now father to a two-year-old daughter, the car continues to make a special mark on his family as their most treasured possession. “It’s going to stick around for as long as it’s possible to drive it,” Thomas says. “Although my daughter can’t drive it yet, she loves playing around in it while it’s in the garage, like it’s her own personal cubby-house.” Although it’s quite some time before his little one will be taking the wheel, he hopes to pass the mantle in the future and see his daughter drive the very car he loves so much.
Every weekend is a Porsche road trip
There have, of course, been many more drives since this monumental engagement trip. During a busy week at work, Thomas’ thoughts inevitably turn to the weekend and the chance to hit the road. “For me, this car is made for Sunday mornings, when you’ve got nothing to do and you have the luxury to just jump in and enjoy the day,” he says, adding that the rush of anticipation he gets as his weekend drives draw near show no sign of waning. “You know something’s truly special when you look forward to taking the cover off and seeing it again, every single time. It’s one of the great things about classic cars – you’re not just buying a car to restore it, you’re buying all of its history and the soul that comes with it. I love driving it so much that it makes me feel giddy. If I drive it first thing in the morning somewhere, the rest of my day is made.”
A Porsche driving tip
“I couldn’t think of a better car to have picked,” says Thomas of his 911. “It’s the car that makes the most sense to me. Driving an old 911 is a very visceral thing. You get to feel every bump in the road through the steering wheel, on what seems to be an infinite feedback loop. It’s forever engaging you to drive and be in the moment.”
This 911 was born out of a dream, a little bit of serendipity and lots of hard work. Today, every time Thomas takes his seat in the cockpit he looks ahead and sees a phrase stamped between the gauges. “Don’t do anything stupid,” it counsels – sage advice from his very own dad. Thankfully, when it came to buying his first Porsche, Thomas has done quite the opposite.