Chat with Henry Reisner of Intermeccanica: Reproducer of Classic Porsches

Vancouver-based Intermeccanica is a well-known, boutique builder of high quality reproductions of classic Porsche Speedster and Roadster sports cars. I recently sat down with Intermeccanica principal Henry Reisner to discuss a couple of major developments that will have a profound effect on the company’s future success.

TractionLife: I understand that you are working on a number of interesting new projects?

HR:  This is true. We are developing an exciting new project utilizing a Subaru engine. Unfortunately,  there aren’t many bits and pieces to help with the conversion so we are working on a few modifications at the moment. There are some components out there for stuffing Subaru engines into the back of Volkswagen Vanagons, but the exhaust headers are atrocious and don’t fit our application.

TractionLife: Subaru’s four-cylinder engines have proven very reliable. Which ones are you planning to use in your cars?

HR: Well we are doing two cars back-to-back, but they are using different engines. The first one is a 2.2-litre and the second is a 2.5-litre, but both are single cam motors.

TractionLife:  What was the big appeal of trying to use the Subaru engines?

HR: We have been pushing the VW Golf and Audi water-cooled power plants as of late, but the electronics in those are pretty complicated, and they don’t seem to get anyone very excited. I thought that using these engines  was going to be a winner simply because I could buy crate motors directly from Audi and Volkswagen. The Subaru thing popped up when a client I had been corresponding with for a number of years finally decided he wanted to build a car. However, he requested that we use a Subaru engine. Interestingly enough, as soon as word trickled out that his project was in the works I received a second request for a Subaru-powered car.

TractionLife: That is an interesting coincidence.

HR: Well it showed me that this could be a very interesting product for my clients. The only real limitation from my end is that by choosing a Subaru you can only deal with rebuilt engines. On the other hand, the engines are really solid. I haven’t driven one yet, but on paper, they deliver great horsepower and plenty of torque, and there are lots of performance upgrades out there for them.

TractionLife: How well do they fit your cars?

HR: The general layout of the Subaru engine is perfect for our application. I am so used to sticking in-line four-cylinder or opposed four-cylinder engines into our cars, but these Subaru units slip right in.  I think it will be a winner.

TractionLife: What will you be using for a transmission?

HR: The first one will use a Porsche 915 five-speed. The second one will use a VW IRS four-speed. There is a company in Australia building a reverse running ring and pinion so you can take a front-engine, front-wheel-drive Subaru package and stick it in the back and use that transaxle. If this whole program has legs that is absolutely, without a doubt, the way to go.

It will take a bit of engineering  to make it all work. I don’t yet know  the length of the transmission, plus we will need to modify the gearbox from four-wheel drive to two-wheel drive operation, but apparently that is not much of a challenge.

TractionLife: It sounds like you have already embraced this new project and are raring to go.

 HR: Well there are some things yet to be determined, but ideally, if one could run a Subaru engine and transmission that would be the cat’s meow. Parts are readily available and for those customers who prefer an automatic transmission, we would now have a five-speed automatic available. The final program is still a little ways down the road, but we are excited about it.

TractionLife: I understand that there may be some other big changes in coming months.

HR: Yes, we have been faced with the possibility of having to move our operations elsewhere as our lease for this space is up and there is a new development scheduled for this lot.

TractionLife: When we last spoke this past summer you were looking at some new locations to set-up shop, and I know your goal was to try to stay in Vancouver in an effort to preserve the continuity of your many relationships with suppliers, employers and customers.

HR: This is true. A little over a year ago, Scott Cressey, who has been my landlord for about the last five years, asked me out for coffee to discuss an idea he had to theme a building his firm (Cressey Developments) had proposed for the site after Intermeccanica. The building would be named the Meccanica Building and he wanted to know what I thought about the idea. Of course I thought it was an awesome idea, as it would be a nice tribute to both the family and the company.

The building will retain a somewhat industrial flair, so I have been working with the people at Cressey Developments for about a year providing their design and marketing people with information about Intermeccanica’s history, design sketches and artwork.

TractionLife: This sounds like a great idea to preserve the memory of the company, but what does it mean for the continuation of the business?

HR: Well if all goes well the Meccanica would be designed to incorporate our shop as part of the building. We would essentially be housed at street-level and become a prominent display for passing pedestrians and traffic on Quebec Street.

TractionLife: That is really innovative. It would give your company great exposure.

HR: It really would, but there are still some hurdles we need to overcome.  The people at Cressey Developments  have been great landlords and keep me up-to-date on what is going on.

TractionLife: What are the hurdles?

HR: About two months ago we became a little more involved as the developer wanted to find out if it would be possible to use a couple of our cars as car share cars. For every large development happening in the city of Vancouver the developer is obliged to provide a car share vehicle (or vehicles – based on the number of units) that they provide for the use of the tenants. This seemed like a good idea until there was a change in the rules. You now have to purchase the cars from one of the existing car share programs that operate in the city of Vancouver. This poses a potential problem as the cars end up being used by a larger pool of people. As we build low-volume, custom-built cars,  I am a little bit leery of what problems may arise if we had to do that.

The other hurdle is with the city planning department. The problem is our business model doesn’t currently fit the official development plan for the neighbourhood. The developer is working hard to try to get the zoning changed to light-industrial to permit the shop to be incorporated in a residential tower.

TractionLife: Hopefully this project gets approval, as it would be a shame to see Intermeccanica leave Vancouver.

HR: Well we should know within the next six months or so, but you are right, it would be a shame to have to leave Vancouver as this has been Intermeccanica’s home for  the last 30 years.

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Russell Purcell is an award-winning automotive journalist and photographer based in Vancouver, B.C. His passion for automobiles was sparked at the tender age of six, when a family friend gave the wide-eyed first grader a ride to school in a track prepared Porsche 911 RSR. He continues to fan the flames by building an impressive library of automotive related books as well as a vast collection of interesting automobilia and motoring artefacts. Russell is a member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada, and is active on Twitter as RoadTestRuss.