Monday, May 26, 2014

The Ultimate Porsche Enthusiast

You already know that there are many ways to define such a creature, and I will add my view to the mix, because, well, the more the merrier. If you think I get it wrong, let me know.

To begin, here is a quote from an article about the 1984 Porsche Carrera that appeared in the February, 1984, issue of Car and Driver magazine. It is a bit over the top, but it's a start:

"It is the evil weevil, the rock-solid, steely-eyed grim reaper of sporting cars, the para­gon of knife-edged incisiveness and buttoned-down insanity. More than any other factory-fresh passenger car available here today, the Porsche 911 Carrera is the abso­lute embodiment of clench-jawed, tight­fisted, slit-eyed enthusiasm run amok, a car for making the landscape pass with explosive fluidity. Strange that a car so serious can bring such unadulterated joy, but there you are, sporting an enormous, cheek-splitting leer when you unstrap and step out. You devil, you."

The above euphoric POV is action-packed, sure enough, but that's good, because whatever I say following it will seem sober and believable.

No matter what, the whole point of owning and feeding a classic, air-cooled Porsche is to have fun with it. How and why you have fun is the matter in question here, and when I provide my stance on the question you may have another view, which you are free to offer and I hope that you do. 

The first mid-engined race car, of which Ferdinand Porsche was a co-designer. 1923  © Porsche (?)

When I mention feeding, of course I am speaking of Do-It-Yourself repair, maintenance, modification, massage, and activities of a similar kind; not only gas, and oil, and insurance, and the like. Plus, for me, I being a DIYer, 'checkbook restoration' - using the term in a widely inclusive way - excludes Enthusiasts. Sorry, but unless you occasionally get your hands dirty, your checkbook Porsche is a pampered artifact of another stripe entirely. Some will say that plopping down a check is okay; after all, some people are very excited about their elderly Porsche but simply have no manual skills, or no place to perform work. I respect that, but for me they are once-removed from being hard-core enthusiasts, otherwise they would find a way to approach the beast in a hands-on fashion, because there is no other way to gain the real depth of requisite knowledge and appreciation necessary to become an Ultimate Porsche Enthusiast.

Some people race, some prefer auto-cross competition, others rally, or compete in a concours d'élégance now and then, but the majority simply enjoy driving their 30 or 40 year-old cars on sunny summer days when it isn't raining. They often visit fellow Porsche owners to share chat and something to eat, while others are more daring and drive in the snow, but they exist in very small numbers because their cars are all rusting to dust from the road salt. I guess there are some who really enjoy just working on their cars. I hope they have a lot of fun doing this, because the main reason Porsches exist is for driving, not anything else. I've said this before, in an earlier post.

I used to know some builders of Experimental (home-built) aircraft who could actually fly, but didn't because their true passion was crafting airplanes. There is room for everybody. 

Nevertheless, it is rewarding to creatively address problems and equipment issues, even design shortcomings, with novel solutions that tread new ground. Which is to say that I don't consider a Porsche to be a sacred object to worship - keeping it all as the factory intended - rather, it's a car, that's all. A car that is perfect need not evolve; Porsches evolve. Darwin knew cars.

I'm not into hot-rod Porsches. For me there are too many of them, and too often they follow a dogma that rigidly dictates the genre's parameters. Many are nicely crafted and all; I just don't want to do this to my car.

Type 64  © Porsche

The notion of a sports car predates Porsche's sports cars by many decades. Ferdinand Porsche began in the last years of the 19th century by designing electric and hybrid cars for practical use, as an employee of the Lohner coach works in Vienna. They were, in essence, rough horse wagons with novel propulsion devices, and not very sporty. That said, though, the Lohner-Porsche Mixte Hybrid set an Austrian Land Speed record for the time, of almost 60 kilometres per hour (~37 miles per hour), plus with Ferdinand driving the front-wheel-drive model, the car won a rally. It was easy to add two more electric motors to the rear wheels, thereby making a four-wheel-drive version - so much for Porsche selling out when it introduced the Cayenne.

Ja, sehr gut

F. Porsche joined Austro-Daimler in 1906, but his subsequent career was dizzyingly convoluted, although he did noteworthy work for Mercedes-Benz (the SSK, and others). Briefly unemployed during the Great Depression, he formed his own company in 1931 at the age of ~56. During all of this time he was a great race car designer, even designing and constructing race cars when he had no customer for the car - he was an Enthusiast. You Porsche types know all of this, but I'm trying to make a case. . .

Sure, today's Porsche AG is in business to make money, but they do so with cars that possess tremendous capability, plus they continue to build and field top-tier race cars. That's their thing. Porsche is not a company that attempts to sell econo-boxes that are cheap enough for the masses; others do that. Porsche builds exciting cars.

Beetle prototype, 1937, Ferdinand looking on.  © Porsche
I'm going to skip the part involving Hitler being an automobile aficionado, and Porsche stealing - essentially, and it was proven in court - the idea for a rear-engined, four cylinder air-cooled people's car from Hans Ledwinka of the Czech company Tatra (and others). That car became the Volkswagen Beetle, and later Porsche sports cars sold to ordinary citizens throughout the 1950s and into the '60s were pretty much hot rodded VWs. As of the model 911 they very much were not VW hot rods any more, at all. 

This is not a detailed Porsche automobile history lesson; it's a simplistic overview meant to establish the idea that enthusiasm and invention have always been at the core of Porsche production and ownership. I believe that the majority of Porsche's sports cars that have vanished from the face of the Earth have done so because they were wrecked while being driven beyond their limits (or the driver's) in competition. Not all, obviously, but a substantial percentage. Anyway, that's my theory. The rest are still on the road. Competition = hard use = inventive involvement to keep them going. There are many ways to be an enthusiast. 

So, how and why do you have fun with your classic 911? My 911 is a hot car. I mean it is hot in there when summer arrives; it doesn't have air conditioning. The car is like a terrarium, all windows and a small top with no sunroof, and inside I'm sweating and there is flora growing. With the windows all the way down it is cooler, but of course it is also much louder that way, and the aerodynamics are such that not a lot of air blows on me. My car lacks central dashboard air vents and the rest of its complicated 'ventilation' system doesn't take up the slack.

As I said, it's just a car, not a sacred object, so I scare off purists when I experiment with solutions to problems, sometimes. This is not a big thing, but I'm playing around,  building a silly gadget to duct more cooling air onto my perspiring carcass as I drive. It does nothing to cool me when I stop, but neither does the car. My first prototype, proof-of-concept version blasts me with welcome air, which is better than no air, but I want to make it smaller and less obtrusive, and maybe more efficient, too. 

My first prototype air snorkel  © Me
This simple gadget is often the subject of dumb jokes and the like when Porsche types see it, but, really it's a useful concept. The idea is to enjoy the car through the act of creatively seeking solutions to its assorted problems, thereby making the car more agreeable to use. In other words, it's not necessary to bow down to a tightly focused Porsche dogma in order to have fun with the car.

The above project is only an illustration of an attitude; it's not meant to be some sort of central focus of this post, since I invent things continuously. However, any other car as uncomfortable as mine (noise, heat, complex and obsolete maintenance, bumpy, harsh, et al) I would get rid of. I put up with the raw nature and hard edges of my car because it isn't like other cars. It doesn't sound like them, doesn't drive like them. It's a Porsche. It's got a heritage, and it has a unique history of real enthusiasm on the part of its builders.

Notice that a central snorkel air intake, for cooling the driver, was fine on this '70s Grand Prix racer.

So, I enthuse over all of it, warts and all. Air cooled. DIY. Dirty hands. Don't be shy about being creative, because it's a lot of fun and it sometimes works.  


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Sophie Tilley said...

Nice cars of British period.
Workshop Equipment

PR said...

I too have the same problem with hot weather, mine being a 74'.
What I did, was to get rid of the clock and route all right side ventilation ducting to the clock hole. Even with the fan off, it provides a very reasonable draft when moving.
As an air vent, I used an old one from a Ford F-150, which fits perfectly...
Just my 2c

J911 said...

Thanks, PR. Others have made the suggestion you make, but I like my clock. . . Anyway, revision 5 of my 'air conditioner' blows air more accurately, more quietly, but just as strongly just where I want it. I can't complain.