The second in our series of stories about our trip to Los Angeles.
Few people would doubt that Los Angeles and the state of California in general form one of the largest bases for car culture worldwide. An abundance of good weather, creativity, passion and motoring heritage make this city one of the world’s greatest automotive hubs.
What this translates to, is a very high density of reputable outfits that keep redrawing the boundaries when it comes to working on and building cars. With Instagram and Facebook allowing car enthusiasts to see what these shops get up to, it is little wonder that they build themselves a following very quickly. However, I wasn’t looking for a slickly marketed garage that worked on clean cars that barely got driven. What I was looking for was a story with substance. I found it at a shop about 40 minutes southeast of Los Angeles, in Anaheim. The name of the shop was Benton Performance.
After making an early-ish start and gaining a new appreciation for Los Angeles traffic, I reached the shop close to noon. Entering the front office, I immediately knew I was in the right place. A large Porsche crest adorned the wall behind the front desk, while assorted Porsche parts and magazines were strewn on the glass-topped table, which was supported by a Fuchs wheel.
A gentleman with slicked-back silver hair walked up and introduced himself as John Benton. After the initial pleasantries, he took me into the workspace and after introducing me to the mechanics, let me loose.
Let me give you an idea of what I was looking at. Two 914s, at least five 912s (one of them being John’s own ‘Mein12’ car), eight 911s and a gorgeous black 356A, flanked by numerous tools, shelves full of parts and a few engines awaiting attention. Some cars were without engines, some were waiting for interiors, and the others were simply waiting for a service. Bahama Yellow, Silver, Bahia Red, Cashmere Beige and a few other hues made up the color palette. I was enthralled and immediately got to work, while trying not to get in the way.
There is something inherently fascinating about seeing the innards of these forty or fifty year old machines. Among the early 911s, each year had a distinguishing feature, which only a Porsche specialist will be able to point out to you. Every car had a distinct flavour that matched its owner’s personality. A Heuer stopwatch, Cibie headlamps, leather hood releases and MOMO Prototipos all served to set a particular car apart from the crowd, also indicating their purpose-built nature.
The atmosphere in the shop was light-hearted too, with good music and casual banter that had me laughing. The gents went about their work with a purpose, but they weren’t above poking fun at the subjects of their work.
Stopping to watch the men at work, I started asking technical questions about the cars that were being worked on, because my P-car knowledge is woefully inadequate, especially when it comes to being under the hood.
Instead of shooing me away, they did the opposite, going into detail about how specific parts worked. At one point, I asked about the intricacies of a twin-plug motor. The words were barely out of my mouth before I had been led into a corner of the shop, where Ian showed me a twin-plug flat four destined for one of the cars in the shop. He proceeded to explain exactly how it worked. I looked up to see Eric holding a set of brand new pistons that were specifically designed for these engines.
It’s this type of attitude that makes these experiences memorable for me. The fact that these gents were more than willing to share their mechanical knowledge with me, exhibited a certain set of values, which were also espoused by John. While they may do fantastic work on the cars that come through the shop, it’s this type of warmth that I appreciate, strengthening my faith in the petrolhead community.
As I headed back to the front office to pack up, I glanced back. There was a set of coat hooks with a couple of jackets on them. One of them belonged to the late John Coffey, a master mechanic at Benton Performance. His last build would turn out to be a Paris to Peking Rally Datsun racecar, a rare build for a Porsche shop, but a lasting legacy nonetheless.
It was a worthy reminder that life is short, so live it as best you can. With gasoline in their blood and a smile on their faces, the men behind Benton Performance are evidence that there are people who live by this motto and I’m glad I got to meet them and see their work in person.
A sincere ‘Thank You’ to John, Ian, Val, Eric, Cornelius and the rest of the lovely people at Benton Performance. It was a pleasure meeting you all.