Friday, May 31, 2013

Not enough of a Bad Thing

I'm fussy about my 911. When working on it I try to do things well, make sure the work is functionally correct, and above all it must be neat. Sloppy doesn't cut it. This is a big order, so sometimes it is best to hire a professional to do something for me when it is a job involving precision, specialized tools, or clearly defined expertise. It makes sense to do so, because otherwise, in my ignorance, I'll get it backwards, upside down, or inside out. And then there are jobs where neatness is front and foremost, in my face, and central to the whole issue. I'm not talking about an exact adjustment of a crucial internal engine part (where neatness counts a lot), but something I have to look at every time I drive the car. The speedometer.

There was an issue with my trip meter. Often with older Porsches the plastic gears that drive the odometer will break, so a repair to this general area is commonplace. Not wanting to attempt this repair myself and, more importantly, because I have always been annoyed by the fact that the steering wheel in my older 911 blocks off two-thirds of the view of the speedo dial, I wanted to get a new dial installed  - one that would be rotated so that zero would be at the bottom (instead of at 8:00), thereby offering me a view of a larger portion of the most often used part of the dial; 0 to +/- 90 mph. And, I wanted to have a kilometres-per-hour scale, too, because I drive in Canada as much as the USA. This is not a new idea and there are shops that do this work routinely.

In order to illustrate what I wanted, I searched the Web to find helpful pictures. One image showed a rotated dial, with correctly reprinted numbers, a good starting point. This image was of a 160 mph scale, whereas I wanted a 150. Next I found a picture showing the process of removing the speedo needle, but it had a dual scale with nice blue kph numbers. OK, those two together would work, but with the 150 scale.

After quite a few emails and phone calls to a well-respected speedo shop, to whom I sent these pictures, an agreement on the work was reached and I pulled out the speedo and shipped it to the shop. The speedo returned a second time (there was a functional glitch the first time around that needed resolving) and I installed it into the instrument panel. It looked like this before refinishing the panel into which it is mounted.

Wait a minute. What about the blue km/h scale with the round line? The thing just looked funny to me otherwise, too. Therefore, I did this. I superimposed a transparent disk over an image of the 'new' speedo. Start from zero and notice where the little squares are relative to the edge of the transparent

Click to make it larger.
disk. They are 'off' right from the start, and their placement gets especially wonky above 120 km/h, but more importantly the spacing between the squares is inconsistent and some are not correctly aligned to their mile equivalent. For this I paid top dollar? Did I mention that I was fussy? We're talking about hundreds of dollars for this work, after all, and does the finished product resemble the 'blue-line' example I provided above? 

One thing that needs to be remembered is that correspondence about this job began in the middle of March. Tomorrow is the first day of June. Part of that time was consumed for other reasons, but this was no rush job. 

I'll use the thing as it is, just because I don't want to have my car off the road dealing with this issue when we have such a short summer for driving. 

The km/h numbers are somewhat smaller than in the blue example shown above, so I find that I can't easily read the km/h numbers while driving, anyway. At least they are there for some demanding traffic policeman to look at.

So, after a lot of consultation, illustration, et al, it is disappointing that the result is really short of what I hoped for, and paid for. The shop said in an email, "Please keep in mind that these custom dial layouts are done by hand in our shop and we are trying to be as precise as possible." Well, I hope they are still trying, but today's computer design programs, when attentively used, can produce a better product than this example.

I try to be neat and do a proper job. I don't like sloppy work, and I tried as hard as possible to be sure I got the result I wanted. I didn't get that. But who else will notice? I can read a larger part of the usable portion of my speedometer's dial and that's important. Maybe this is not enough of a bad thing to be upset about, but it will remain an unresolved disappointment, nevertheless.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Peculiar Spelling in France

The literal translation from French into English of 'porche', is porch. However, that's not the meaning in this case, which is why it's a 'Rue' with that illustration of an archway. In the meaning intended on these ceramic panels, 'porche' refers to an entryway for horses pulling a cart, or carriage, but with a special added function. Through that passage, there is a space for the horse (or donkey) and carriage to turn around so that it can come straight out again. Obviously, it would be too difficult to have the horse back out with a cart onto a narrow antique village street, making a sharp turn to one side at the same time. Therefore, it turns around inside, within the 'porche'. There is no confusion in a French town that 'porche' might refer to a rear-engined German sports car. Clearly a 'porche' such as this is a very old structure.

Never mind. When I typed 'porche' into my search engine it assumed that I was a 'Merican who couldn't spell and, therefore, gave me many listings relating to 'Porsche', a much newer conveyance than a donkey and cart. There were also references to personal blogs, and Facebook pages whereon people thought that they owned and drove 'Porche' automobiles, and they were proud of this and happy. 'Mericans. . . The French know how spell perfectly well.

In fact, this post is an account of my just-finished travels in Spain and France. While there I looked for actual Porsches and I found a few, but none of them were the vintage of my car - they were almost all newer, same as here. I did find a '70's 924, but it was so sad it doesn't count. Mostly, the tiny roads that I took on this trip across and within the Pyrenees were great fun to drive and that might be the central theme of what I will write now. We'll see. I'll just do it, and we'll find out what the subject is later. 

There are a lot of French cars that I like very much, but they are not available in North America. Mostly I'm talking about old cars, though, and they were available in NA, but that time has passed. For example, the Citroën 2CV (deux chevaux), or the DS19 Safari station wagon. Old Peugeots were less radical (model 403, as an example; looks like a bar of soap), but were sturdy and, often, peppy in their realm. On this recent trip, we rented a Peugeot 308, and it was quiet, comfortable, nice handling, and peppy, too, considering its 1.6 litre engine. I don't know if we need modern French cars in NA; they wouldn't live up to the éclat of the old ones. Anyway, many of them are diesels and 'Mericans don't like them very much. Too smelly.

The Pyrenees nicely separate Spain from France, with the little-bitty country of Andorra sandwiched in between. Going from one side to the other of this range can involve a large motorway and high speeds and matching tolls, or a smaller road that is slower, but usually with more character. We rented a GPS unit along with the Peugeot. While trying to haul ourselves from Foix, France, down to Barcelona, Spain, we were advised to take a certain special route that would 'not take any longer' but allow us to see some more splendid ruined castles perched on their peaks. From this route we could rejoin the motorway and zip to Barcelona in time to relax in our hotel before a typically Spanish late-night dinner.

The GPS got lost. It's true. It was a Garmin unit, just like at home, even with the same voice. That voice started saying, "Turn left, turn left. Go straight 9.8 km. Recalculating. Turn right, turn right," all of this on a straight 5km long road with no intersections whatever. The thing went berserk, and we never found the slick motorway with its 130 kph speed limit. Instead, 'the voice' (Gertrude, we called her) put us on a road about one-and-one-half cars wide that wound a serpentine route through and across the Pyrenees, just about nicking the corner of Andorra, through tunnels, and no guard rails to be seen. Around here, where I live, if you can find a nicely paved twisty road to enjoy, scooting along in your vintage Porsche, the whole experience takes about fifteen minutes before it's over and you have arrived on a big boring road again.

OK, the road below isn't the road we drove. This road is in Andorra but was just a few kilometres away from where we actually were, so it's similar countryside. However, this Andorran road would have been much easier to drive than the one we experienced. For hour after hour, I'm being accurate here, nothing but totally blind corners, impossible drop-offs, hair-pins constantly, rock walls that made the road too narrow, snow and hail (in May, in the south of France/Spain), and every now and then a truck that needed two lanes and there were only one-and-one-half. I never got beyond third gear. I loved it, and I drove as hard and fast as I could.


On the other hand, my significant other got seasick and took to dangling her head out over the drop-offs, staring into the constant abyss as it droned by. It appeared that she didn't love this ride for some reason; there is no accounting for taste.

In certain ways this trip was peculiar.  We began in Spain, went to France, back to Spain again, back to France once more, then finally back to Spain to finish it off. As a result this gives me license to skip around a bit, because that's what we did. 

So, earlier, in the tiny hillside town of Eus, France, we trekked slowly on foot up a winding road to see yet another antique church on top of a commanding hillside. Given our pace, we could look at things in detail. I looked into somebody's garage - a little thing connected to a house. This is what I saw.

A genuine Model A, flat-head Ford hot-rod. Who would have thought? But there it was in all its glory. I poked my head in there and a man was inside, puttering around. Bon auto !, or something like that I said and the guy grinned. I held up my camera and he shook his head OK.  We had a pigeon-french conversation (doing my best), and here is what I found. Way cool ! I would love to own this car, but it still sits there in France. Why is there that cardboard under the motor? Most often hot rods like this have small-block Chevys in them, or, if they still have the flat-head it will have finned and polished Offenhauser heads on it at least. As you see, this one has the original heads, nicely painted black. Clean and simple. I like clean and simple.

And, unusual for hot rods, too, this beauty had its original wire wheels and skinny tires, front and back. I liked the look and made the owner aware of this in no uncertain terms. He grinned a whole lot more. I don't believe this type of automobile - actually it was a pick-up truck - was ever that common in France, but what do I know. Maybe it just arrived the week before. I don't think so, though, because of the old number plate on the front that looked as if it had been there for a very long time.

Maybe this V-8 hot-rod valiantly still makes its original 65 horsepower and it's all just for show, but then again it might rumble out 100. Some of the most extreme flat-heads were tortured into making 300 horsepower, but they didn't last long doing it. Edsel Ford, who designed these vehicles, didn't have that sort of thing in mind, at least initially. I wonder how this little V-8 would have done on the winding road I mentioned above. 

Can't read it? Click on it.
Another thing I liked about cars I saw in Europe on this trip were the names of them. I saw car models named Scenic, Twingo, Clio, Wind, Bipper, Partner, Jumpy, Picasso, and Nemo. From North American manufacturers we are offered the Tornado, Avenger, Challenger, Magnum, Charger, Nitro, Rampage, and the Cougar. I guess we all stew in our own juices.

To be fair, there are many other car names out there, but still there is a cultural gulf involved here that cannot be ignored. I suppose that when you need to use very little gas (in France gas was around $8.25 per U.S. gallon) you don't call your car a Magnum, or Rampage. They just wouldn't sell. Bipper sounds like sipper, which makes more sense, but not in French. Hmmm.

Actually, I probably saw as many Porsche automobiles running around in Europe as I do around here. One day I saw a transport truck full of them, carefully plastic wrapped. Too bad I didn't get to the German Autobahn where these cars truly come alive.

But, I didn't get there. Instead, we had lunch. You have to wait for lunch to be prepared, and so, being generally curious, I inspected the bottom side of my fork. "Made in Italy" it said. The plate was "Made in Austria." I kept looking and found everything that I scrutinized was made somewhere in Europe. Nothing whatsoever was made in China. Now this was interesting. Back home in North America - actually Canada - almost everything is made in China. And I'm not just talking about things I saw in that little café, either.

In our hotel I looked at the bottom side of the furniture, appliances (when we had a kitchenette), bedding, towels, light fixtures, and those little shampoos they give out. Nothing made in China. I was disoriented and confused. It seems as if the Europeans, at least in the portion of the place where we were, keep it all in the family. It might cost more to produce things locally, so to speak, but perhaps they have an interest in preserving their industries, instead of making the greatest possible profit. Then again, it might be a cultural imperative and economics are secondary. I don't know.

It's not the Chinese who are selling atrocious junk in North America, it is the merchandisers here who demand the lowest possible price on everything so that they can make the most money by selling a 4 cent object for $14.95 to keep their shareholders happy as they do it. 

What this has to do with Porsche cars, older ones anyway, is bad parts, cheap. Even not so cheap. It's not the fault of the Chinese. They can no doubt make high quality products, too, but they are asked to produce cheap and they are good at it, so we get a lot of crap. Here it's money, money, money. In Europe there is a far greater concern with the quality of life that people lead. You can see this in the pace of many things, in the intrinsic value of many things. What matters is a rich life, not so much rich shareholders.

OK, this diatribe is simplistic and incomplete, but that does not mean that it isn't true. It is so that I found nothing Chinese (except in an actual Chinese store, but that doesn't really figure in) and that everything I examined came from a 'local' source. That means something, and says a lot about another cultural gulf, between Europe, and N.A.

Time out. I have to walk the dog.