Canepa – Bred for Speed in Scott’s Valley
Bruce Canepa is a California born and bred hot rodder. Through a lifetime of winning and thriving to be the best at what he does, he has amassed go-fast greatness. He is best known for restoring, building and racing exotic race cars and Porsches. But he bought his first car, a 1929 Model A Ford in 1963. It was the beginning of a life at speed which has seen the Santa Cruz, California entrepreneur excel in everything he touches. Like most of us in the hi-performance business, his unquenchable passion determined his success. He has been “all in” when it comes to a fast paced life since the age of four.
His name is synonymous with performance. His business needs no introduction. There is no or “racing” or “design” tag after his company name. Just that iconic three syllable word CAN-E-PA. Mention it to anyone in racing or hi-performance and they instantly know it and what it represents.
We spent two days at his Scott’s Valley, California facility – day one to tour his incredible 70,000 square foot campus then came back the next day for his thriving Cars & Coffee event held the second Saturday of every month.
As we wandered around we had free reign. Nothing was off limits. Not only are the Canepa staff and mechanics friendly, they’re walking encyclopedias. They will stop what they’re doing, put down their tools and explain to you the historical significance of any particular vehicle nearby. And there are plenty.
What struck us most was the depth of the machines on hand. In the race shop, Bruce was overseeing his team of craftsman preparing his 962 GTP Porsche for the Monterey Historics. It’s just one of five “carbon fiber tub” GTP cars ever made. And that mantra repeats itself with each step you take here. You will see stuff like a genuine real-deal “Narrow Hip” Shelby Cobra (the narrow-hip nomenclature refers to reduced fender flares). You guessed it, it’s one of 27 ever produced. It sits just in front of an incredibly rare BMW M1 – one of 45. In the assembly shop, you’ll find the last Shelby Cobra ever produced – serial number 3360, which left the Shelby complex in October of 1967. All of these cars are documented to the fullest extent – each car with its own clipboard affixed with reams of paper charting the vehicle’s history dating back to production.
Canepa’s current Piece de Resistance, is Mark Donahue’s 1973 Can-Am Championship-winning Porsche 917/30. It is restored to the exact race specs as it sat in the winner’s circle of every event it conquered, even to the correct yellow stripes of the Sunoco livery. The most powerful race car to ever grace a road course, it’s the crown jewel of any performance purist. Shortly before his death in 1975, Donahue drove the 917/30 to a FIA record of 221.120mph at Talladega– still the fastest lap ever recorded at the 2.66-mile-long Super Speedway.
As was strolled out to the service bays, one section was the designated Porsche 959 space. The iconic all-wheel drive models, produced in 1987 and 1988-only are a Canepa specialty. In fact, Canepa is the only place in the universe officially certified by the Porsche factory to service 959s. They do more than service them here. They mod the shit out of them! Canepa offers a complete 959 tuning package including full engine and interior rebuilds, bigger turbos, retuned suspension, body and paint and whatever else you can imagine. Many come in as basket cases and leave in showroom condition. Bruce Canepa’s personal 959 – pearl white with smoked wheels and trim is an 800hp beast yet refined and subtle. The ultimate sleeper you might say.
Right when you walk through the front doors of Canepa you’re enticed into the consignment showroom. It’s California’s leading collection of priceless exotics, odd balls and exquisite machines all for sale. Porsche’s, original Shelby Cobras and Mustangs, Mercedes Gullwings, Ferraris, Ford GTs, Austin-Healey’s, Triumph cars and motorcycles and even a deuce hi-boy roadster sit awaiting their next home all turned out with the Canepa touch.
The reality is, you can spend a week here and not see everything. In our 30 years covering hot rodding and car stuff, we have never anything quite like the Canepa compound. Upstairs above the admin offices and service garage is a motorsports museum which is unrivaled in historical racing machines. Of course there are 917 Porsche’s including a 1954 Mercedes W 196 R (rumored to be valued at over one hundred million dollars), a Rothman’s Porsche 962C – the 1985 World Championship car, Don Prudhomme’s Shelby Supersnake dragster, Mark Donahue’s 1970 Penske Trans Am AMC Javelin, Richard Petty’s Riverside-winning 1969 Ford Torino and Leon Duray’s 1926 Miller 91 just to name a few. For motorsport fans, its akin to Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum.
As you might imagine, the who’s who of celebrity car guys and gals flock here, turning over their priceless steeds to Canepa. When we were on site, Chad McQueen, the “King of Cool’s” only son was in for a quick bench racing session. Other celebrity clients include Jerry Seinfeld, Adam Corolla and other A-listers in sports and entertainment.
As for Canepa himself, he is one of the most driven people in motorsport. He arrives early at the facility and leaves late – usually seven days a week. He is everywhere at once when at work. He oversees every aspect of every build and restoration. We watched him closely while onsite. He bounced back and forth from the race car shop to the restoration shop to the showroom. He jumped in the seat of a ’40 Ford, cranking it over and listening to its heartbeat. He then escorted a group for a shop tour before checking on the 959 restoration team. Then he was out to the detail shop. “Bruce has taught me more than anyone in my life, said his detail foreman. I have been here ten years and I learn something new every day from Bruce.”
Canepa’s Marketing Director/Historian John Ficarra weighed in on Bruce Canepa’s unrivaled energy. “Bruce is 67 and never stops moving and teaching. His competitive streak is unparalleled. Bruce wants to win at everything. Win at the track, win at the shop, win at the concours – win at life. He never stops competing.”
When looking at his racing career and accomplishments – it is simply staggering. Wins on road courses, wins on the mountain at Pike’s Peak, wins at the dragstrip, wins on Northern California sprint car tracks in the 1970s and countless wins at concours shows worldwide.
And this is why Canepa stands at the forefront of the performance car world. If you have an ounce of 40-weight in your veins, get here as soon as possible. It’s a car guy bucket list item no matter where you are in the world. It’s a 30-minute drive from Mineta San Jose International Airport.
As our visit was winding down, we caught Bruce and asked him how he remembers the firing order of a twelve cylinder engine, the race trim boost on a 917 Porsche or the subtle nuances of Yenko Camaro 427 cylinder heads. “I guess I have a screwed up brain like that,” he chuckled. “Or maybe it’s because I have been around it since I was four years old.”
Canepa. The king of cars.