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Hidden Treasure
Classic Porsche

Hidden Treasure

Posted 27 April 2015   |   1471 views   |   Aviation & Transport   |   Comments (0) After opening an independent Porsche shop in 1965, Denny Aker began to amass a number of 356s and other models from the German marque, leading to one of the most impressive private collections of the genre

The year was 1959. A young Denny Aker, fresh out of technical school, was about to start a humble job as a 'grease monkey' - American slang for 'mechanic' -within a fast-growing company in the United States: Volkswagen. Learning quickly and being meticulous certainly played in his favour, which led him to continue his career in the service department of a Porsche dealership in 1963. Two years later, he opened his own independent Porsche shop in Seattle, a life-altering decision that would further deepen his fondness for the German brand.

Yet, Denny's love for cars has never been limited to Porsches only, as the pictures from this article will attest. His eclectic tastes soon swayed him towards classic British automobiles and Rolls Royces in particular, starting with a 1930 model purchased in 1969. A number of other RRs joined his fleet during the early '70s, and 'Before I knew it, I had a collection', recollects Aker. While his 'Rolls days' are now behind him, he still owns a perfect 1930 Phantom I, mixed in with a 1932 Auburn V12 and a few more antique automobiles.

In the meantime, his armada of Porsches had grown tremendously, which created its share of headaches. Denny first stored all his cars on the third floor of his aforementioned shop, where they eventually covered 7000-plus square-feet. The place was now cramped and, being a brick building erected in 1906, the threat of an earthquake always remained in the back of his mind. Something had to done... So in 2002, he finally moved his collection to a new specially-made steel structure, located on a three-acre parcel of land. Covering 9000sqft, it now hosts about 30 cars, a small group of vintage motorcycles and a great selection of memorabilia. This is true petrolhead heaven, with miniature planes hanging from the ceiling, porcelain signs displayed on the walls, toys filling the glass cases and even bumper cars (dodgems)... When asked how he selects one item rather than another, Denny answers: 'If I go to an antique store and get asked what I'm looking for, well, I have no idea. I could end up buying a bicycle or an attractive electric fan, just because it is a neat object!'
A few cars truly stand out inside the building, starting with the 'Pooper', a Cooper Mk8R with a Porsche 356 engine. This featherlight automobile was built by Cooper for land speed records, but had limited success. Pete Lovely, a respected Pacific Northwest racer, purchased the vehicle in 1955 and installed the said 3,500cc Porsche motor, before adding headlights and a second seat in accordance with the Sports Car Club of America rulebook. He then managed to win the championship in his class, beating the works Porsche 55os in the process, driven by aces such as John von Neumann!

Weighing only 920 pounds, the Pooper was able to reach 125mph with only 80 horsepower. When Denny bought the small racer in 1987, he soon upgraded the engine with modern technology and, needless to say, the vehicle remains very competitive today with 130 ponies under the right foot. He regularly competes in the United States and Canada, along with his son Mark, who battles with a silver '56 Speedster sporting number 24. Denny purchased this car dirt cheap back in the '70s - it seemed nobody wanted it as it came equipped with a Chevrolet Corvair flat-six! It then sat for another 15 years in the Akers' secret lair, before being resurrected and raced with a tuned 162occ Porsche engine.

The Aker family might be seen towing one of their track cars with a rather unusual 1980 VW Vanagon, aka 'Transporter' or 'T3' in Europe. Under its rather inconspicuous silver exterior hides the soul of a Porsche 930 Turbo! Thirty years ago, Denny managed to adapt its 3.3-litre turbocharged powerhouse, along with a 915 gearbox. This 300bhp breadbox' certainly surprises most onlookers, particularly when going uphill on the freeway with a race car in tow!

A second hybrid of a different kind became something of a local legend in its own right, since the 1960s. Back in 1965, Denny had the opportunity to install a four-cam Porsche 1600cc in his two-year-old VW Beetle sedan! 'A customer came to my shop to exchange the temperamental four-cam engine of his 356 Carrera against a regular pushrod 356 motor', he adds. This swap allowed him to keep the desirable Carrera unit and install it - not without much hassle - in his '63 Beetle, along with other 356 components: aluminium drum brakes, Carrera gauges, etc. If you want to know more about this mind-boggling Volkswagen, note that our sister publication Ultra VW ran an article about it back in January this year (this issue can be purchased via www.ultravw.com).
Maintaining a dozen 356s, plus a few 911s and plenty of other fine automobiles, remains a top priority for Denny; then again, one third of the building houses a dream workshop, fully equipped with specialist tools and a lift. This area hosts four more 356 Speedsters, some of which still await restoration. Our man has a soft spot for the black 'barn find' model that may look derelict but runs perfectly. A young neighbour and good friend, Mike, found the car on a nearby island. However, the lady who owned it didn't want to sell but she eventually conceded after seven years, allowing Denny and Mike to put it back on the road following long sessions in the workshop. 'It's just a neat car to take out now and then - but it will never be restored', says Aker.

The huge engine displayed in the middle of the room may require some explanation, too! As you likely gathered, Denny likes anything mechanical and that 4360 cubic inch (71,417cc!) 1941 Pratt & Whitney plane engine simply impressed him. Known as the 'Corn Cob', it has four rows of seven cylinders, seven magnetos and 56 spark plugs, all adding up to 3500 horsepower! It will unlikely see any use in the near future, though, as the last rebuild dates back to 1961. While still involved one day a week with the Porsche shop he founded 45 years ago, Denny has had the good fortune to have his son Mark take over the business. This gives the retired Aker the opportunity to spend plenty of time with his toys, driving them as often as he can.

Save for a handful awaiting restoration, they all run - he found out that burning at least a tank of petrol in his vehicles every year cuts on maintenance. 'If the weather looks good for the week, I'll grab one car, use it and exchange it for another one a few days later', he told us enthusiastically. Somehow we think it must be good being Denny Aker! CP

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About Classic Porsche

Classic Porsche – the magazine for all classic Porsche enthusiasts! For the first time ever, a magazine that is dedicated solely to the classic Porsche scene. Published bi-monthly by the same team that brings you the market-leading 911 & Porsche World magazine, Classic Porsche is the only title which exclusively covers every classic model, from the earliest post-war prototypes to the turbocharged icons of the 1980s.

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