Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Perpetual Confusion Machine

As the title of this post points out, when I'm working on my '74 911, and I think I've gotten the details right - after all, I've researched the issue to death before starting to work - it turns out that I messed up. Not all the time, of course, but often enough that I growl at the car just as much as I glance at it admiringly. And, naturally enough, I worry that something I did will catch fire, fall off, explode, be a waste of time and money, or not result in the solution I was after in the first place. 

You must be cautious about what you use for parts; it matters. Generally, Chinese reproduction parts don't cut the mustard, but you don't always know where stuff comes from, even if you try to buy quality. I recently got badly made spark plugs - Bosch, made in Russia. You can't install spark plugs that have coarsely made threads without causing wear to the threads in the aluminum cylinder head, so what brand should I have gotten? One of them would not screw in at all, period.

I didn't start life as a mechanic, but I'm trying to turn into an ersatz one for the purpose of keeping my Porsche alive, as well as trying to civilize it a bit. So, there's a learning curve. I don't pretend to know all there is to usefully know about these cars, but I'm trying to get a handle on what I need to know. How some people know as much as they seem to know tells me that that they are at least 150 years old, and that they spend 22 hours a day working on, researching, or attempting to drive their 911. Fanatics, but they are a useful resource. You have to check out the online forums, but be cautious - maybe they don't know as much as they claim.

No engine, no transmission, no interior, nothing in the trunk, no worries.
After spending work and time carefully refinishing some piece of the puzzle, I don't want to have to yank it out of the car again because I forgot a detail, or tightened something incorrectly, whatever. I'm recreating a work of art, after all. It's sort of like brazenly retouching a Rembrandt - an outrageous affront to genius - but even an Old Master needs cleaning and a new coat of varnish now and then.

It takes perpetual enthusiasm to be an antidote to the perpetual confusion. If I can even get this car started after it is all screwed back together (again) it will be an important victory and something to be proud of. To an amateur. There are enough imperfections in this car to cause Ferdinand Porsche to roll over in his grave.  Sorry, Dr. F., I'm working on it.

But, who knows. Perhaps the thing that I unwittingly bumped while fooling with a part next to it will peevishly refuse to function, and it will pretend that it didn't do it and that it's fine, but it very much is not fine. Denial. If it starts and runs I will install my ear plugs, to forestall deafness, and drive off to find a 150 year old genius to help make it run properly. This job will never be finished, but that is, in part, the point of the exercise and one reason for ownership. Dr. F. will be proud.  

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

First Day of Spring, 2013

In much of the northern hemisphere the first day of spring, March 20, implies that warm weather has arrived or, at least, is a short way off. People are shining their Porsches in anticipation of driving once again after a long winter - that is if they are not driving already.

Here I went snowshoeing three times yesterday and today, and driving required four-wheel-drive and a lot of ground clearance.

By the way, if you are not familiar, four wheel drive looks like this:

This is the type of vehicle we use on a regular basis to get around when the snow is deep, or later, when the mud is deeper. Mud is stickier stuff and I've seen cars stuck in it in this area while square in the middle of the road - going down a steep hill. Other people may be driving all over the place in their Porsches already, somewhere, and even here there are lucky souls who get to drive earlier than I do.

Since I live on a dirt road, about one mile from pavement, I have to wait until mud season is over entirely before venturing out, lest I thoroughly coat the bottom of the car, including inside of the fenders, with still-salty mud. This is not good for a nearly 40-year-old car that has no galvanization on any of its bodywork. Plus, why would I want to  mess up all the shining I worked so hard at?

And, just to prove the reality of the situation in these parts, here is the snow that was piled up from yesterday's storm (this is from clearing the driveway). There are several piles and some are bigger than this, but this one is next to the garage, so I used it for scale to show that it goes up above my head.  This is springtime?

March 20, 2013
Anyway, I have been miserably slow this time around in getting anything done on my Porsche; I guess I should be grateful for the extra time this snow gives me to do a few more tasks. I did learn, though, that some things I intended to do are beyond me. I don't understand enough to properly accomplish everything, never mind all my books and the Pelican Parts technical forums, plus friends I can call, I simply don't have the specialized tools, or specialized knowledge, either.

I fiddled a little today with my 911 in anticipation of some replacement parts that have not yet arrived, but then I have not really gotten to the repairs/modifications that I had in mind in the first place for this winter season. I decided to add a small detail to my list of 'to do' jobs on the car, well, one thing led to another, then another, and it now looks as if the important stuff will have to wait again. I have once more wasted too much time on superfluous incidentals. At least I recently learned about the existence of a really good technician in these parts ($$ probably) who can help sort out a few issues that I can't solve.

I'll add some more to this post after I finish shovelling the walkway and the deck.

OK, I finished shoveling. So, here is PART TWO of this post:

Newport Center, Vermont

This is what I imagined I'd be doing in early spring, running around on a country road, but with all the pollution Porsches spew out, you get Global Warming. This screws up the climate and you wind up with goofy weather that is all out of proportion, more furious hurricanes, deep snow on Easter, that kind of thing. Anyway, in my dreams, I'm here.

I take that back. Cars like this do not run as cleanly as new cars; that's a given. Do they pollute more? Actually, not. Because they are driven so little, and only on sunny summer days. And they are driven carefully, lest you mess them up. So, the net addition to junk in the air is much smaller than what a new car that is driven all the time, no matter how cleanly it runs, pumps into the air. So there.

If you want to go seriously fast in one of these cars, and ignore the resulting pollution momentarily, take it onto a proper race track.

Non-ethanol gasoline is important to cars of this vintage. Ethanol eats various components of the fuel system in most any car that's older than the year 2000, so when this gas is found on offer, I buy it.  Naturally, because they left the ethanol out they charge an awful price premium. Of course, ethanol in general is a disaster, but I won't get into that just now.

Instead, I'm going out to try an idea to reduce the noise level inside this car. It's a small idea, but every little bit helps.   

Thursday, March 7, 2013

The Exotic Supercar Psychosis

This is a car blog that should only be about old Porsche cars, but I couldn't help myself; this instalment addresses fantasy cars that shouldn't exist. They do exist, in fact, but that is the crazy part.  A lot of 13 year old boys drool over these cars and think they are cool, but it's almost the same as kids liking dinosaurs.  They were real, were scary, but aren't around anymore, so they aren't really scary after all.  These cars are real, are scary, and they are around, sort of, so now I'm scared.

Anyway, Porsche just announced the new 2014 911 GT3. This is pretty close to an Exotic Supercar, in that it has terrifying performance, and a terrifying price to go with it. The car is, however, built to a precise purpose, which is driving very fast, mainly on a track - not posing, which is the raison d'ĂȘtre for many other cars. I read about the GT3 on a performance car website and you could almost listen to the writer drooling onto his keyboard as he carried on about the extravagant heights to which the car can soar, and all of that. Naturally, on that website there were links to articles about even more drool-worthy exotic automotive excess, and so, being weak, I took a look at some of them.

£2.6 million, plus tax
This picture shows one of the most perfect examples of the poseur genre. That is to say, only billionaires could buy one, they exist in very small numbers, they have performance that cannot ever be used - anywhere. Do you imagine looking over your shoulder to check traffic in the next lane in one of these, on your way to your masseuse? Nobody will ever take it onto a racetrack, either, for fear of getting a nick in the paint job, or getting it upside down. Being seen in the car is most important. Spectacular performance is touted, but, naturally, most cars of this type only get driven very small distances - they never wear out! More likely they break down a lot, but if you need to worry about the cost of repairs you shouldn't be in this game in the first place.

So, what is the point? Well, the main points of such cars are these: Look at how big my dick is! Look at how much more money I have than you! Look at what low levels of taste even a billionaire can have! Hey, I'm 45, but really I'm 13, so I drive a Batmobile!

OK, these remarks step on somebody's toes somewhere, because they practice supercar religion and are true believers. That may be, but I just don't get the worship of trinkets, and that's what these cars are. Large jewelry for certain special people who also wear a lot of gold chains. This is a boutique car; not my taste. Anyway, for me diamonds are just so much shiny gravel, so I have a certain attitude, too.

Looking at fantasy cars like this momentarily removes our cares, as we imagine ourselves screaming along a mythical road at fighter-jet speeds. It ain't real. I'll take my elderly 911, thank you. It makes enough noise to make me think I am going fast, wow, but then I'm not a billionaire. If I were, possibly I'd think otherwise, but I doubt it. 

One more idea. This kind of thing has been going on forever, probably ever since automobiles started into production. Which is to say, people have regarded cars as a sort of vernacular art form since day one.  Art is fine, the thing is that today's examples of supercars (some of them, anyway) are not only everyman's art, but at the same time their performance levels have become insane, therefore, they have developed themselves out of a reasonable existence. Remember, they consume a lot of petroleum, pollute too much, and the highway infrastructure of today is deteriorating and crowded. Where do you drive it, really?

You can't go to a tennis match with one of the current supercars unless you really frustrate yourself with your restraint as you try to drive in a responsible manner - and not get arrested. Once upon a time, "Supercars", known then by other names, were elegant expressions of grandeur. You could drive while putting the peons in awe, making them think you were a maharaja or something. Possibly you needed to be a maharaja to pay for your exotic car, just like today. The car above is a Hispano-Suiza Dubonnet Xenia, 1938. I believe I prefer it. We have not developed very far art-wise, just techno-freak wise.

Click on this picture
The design above shows a popular theme. This car at the bottom is a 1930 Mercedes SSK engineered by Ferdinand Porsche, so we have come back around to Porsche, where I'm supposed to be (this body was completed in 1934, however). This is, after all, an 'old Porsche' of sorts. I'd even trade my old 911 for this SSK, even up. The SSK was the last project Porsche worked on for M-B before he left to start his own company.              

Finally, the new Porsche 918 Spyder will be a supercar, when it finally does arrive in actual production, and the price will give any normal mortal a nosebleed. It will be a rational supercar, that uses only 3 litres of gas per 100 kms (78 miles per U.S. gallon). It's a rolling laboratory of sorts.  Still, you'll be challenged to drive rationally in a car that has irrational performance, considering today's roads and all.  Again, I vote for my slow 911.

Friday, March 1, 2013

400 Porsches in Newport, Vermont

This blog continues to be about vintage, air-cooled Porsche cars, but sometimes the water-cooled variety can be of note, too. For example, in the modest near-border town of Newport there is a small and somewhat rundown looking transmission repair shop - with a twist. The shop is the flat-roofed, two garage doors and an office off to the side type of place, with random junk lying around, made of painted cement blocks, and all of it with a patina from years in the auto repair trade. Quite commonplace and anonymous, as this type of shop can be seen everywhere. Except for one thing - there are always very shiny late model Porsche cars sitting out in front of it. These cars are not being serviced for Vermonters. 

Today there were only a red Boxster S and a white Panamara sedan. And an SLK Mercedes, but more on that later. Now I have seen the changing display of Porsches in front of that shop before, but the Panamara was a first for me in Vermont, and since I was on an excursion to fetch some parts for my 911 that I had ordered from California, I was in a Porsche sort of mood, so I stopped in to see what this was all about.

OK, they are much newer than this, mostly
I wholesale 'em, the guy said. He looked just about the way you would expect a man in such a garage to look - unshaven, a heavily soiled Subaru tee shirt, worn out shoes. He did have a smart phone, though, and when it rang he answered in French. Quebec is right next door, and he does plenty business in Quebec.

Mostly I deal with Porsches, he said, but I've started recently working with Audis and Mercedes, too. There's a Mercedes out there now, he pointed out, but you and I already knew that.  Now here is the interesting part. He moves around 400 of these cars per year! Can someone buy one of these? I asked. No, my cars are all pre-sold, was the answer. To whom? I do business with 28 dealerships in Canada. They call and tell me they need a dark blue 997 Turbo, no older than 2010, for example. So, I find one and have it shipped up here, then it gets exported to Canada. I charge $500 over my cost, but do you know how much they sell those cars for in Canada? Plenty. I don't charge enough. This was said with a certain sideways grin that was difficult to decipher.

There aren't 400 Porsches in Vermont in total. Where does this businessman get the cars? Dealers call and tell what they need and he finds it? I would think he'd be on his computer all day, or on the phone trying to locate a perfect 997 Turbo somewhere in Texas, but no, he was in his garage changing the oil in an old Jeep Cherokee.

I don't need, nor want to pay for a recent model Porsche, but I believe I'll stop in again next time I pass his way. I'll ask a few more questions. . .

Instead of Porsches, there were some '70's American cars there. The place has new siding and almost looks respectable, and there is a sign that says "_______ Used Cars."

I went inside to see what this was all about. The same guy was there, but he was wearing a clean polo shirt, and was clean shaven, except for his new goatee. What happened to all the Porsches? I asked. I move 400 cars a year to Canada, he responded, clearly not remembering me or our earlier conversation.  I'll be getting several in a day or two, he added. Right now I'm looking for an Audi.

You told me earlier that all of your cars are pre-sold, I pointed out. OK, if I wanted a 2007 Cayman in a certain color, could you get me one? You have lot's of connections, it seems.

I do, he said, and I'm very picky about what I buy. Yes he is, the guy in there with the necktie said, he has gotten me three previous Audis and now he is looking for a fourth. They don't last? I said. No, no, I resell them, was the portly gentleman's reply, but it's not worth my time to search all over the continent, so I come here.

Sure, I can get you a Cayman, or whatever you like. Thanks, I said. When I'm ready I'll be back. The door is always open, he said.