Friday, November 28, 2014

Porsche People

Many of you will realize that this car, the Mercedes-Benz SSK, 'Count Trossi' model (Carlo Trossi was a Grand-Prix racer and bon vivant in the 1930s, and this car is named for him) was the last car engineered by Ferdinand Porsche for Mercedes, before he quit M-B in order to form his own company in 1931, called 'Dr. Ing. h. c. F. Porsche GmbH, Konstruktionen und Beratungen für Motoren und Fahrzeugbau' (designs and consulting services for engines and vehicles).  Of course the engine and chassis of this car originated in the 1920's, but the engine produces 300 bph at 3400 rpm, and 507 ft pounds of torque at 2000 rpm. It has drum brakes made of copper.

Herr Willie White, a relatively unknown coachbuilder, fabricated this body on the chassis Trossi provided to him (which Trossi purchased after its racing career was finished), and he built it to Trossi's design. The exotic teardrop rear fenders and additional features were already used on various other cars of the era but they are well executed here, although it is not known if certain accompanying details were Trossi's ideas, or White's. 

This car has little to do with modern-day 'Porsche People', except that many would not be enthusiasts today if it were not for earlier, high-performance efforts on Ferdinand's part, such as this car. Anyway, it's a nice Web-sourced picture with which to begin this post, and it fits in with some of the Porsche People ideas that are discussed below. 

If you own a Porsche, you meet people; it goes with the territory. This doesn't happen so much with newer Porsches, I don't think, but if you own a 'classic' Porsche, you are somehow more approachable at gas stations or just about any roadside stop you might make. And so people have no hesitation to step over and ask about the car, make a silly remark - "Such a little car - and you're so big!" - or say something like, "I used to have one of those, a 1963, and I sold it for $250! Man, was that a mistake." No matter that that would have been a different beast entirely, but all older air-cooled Porsche cars are hot-rodded VWs according to many people who can remember air-cooled Porsches to begin with. This is why those cheerful questioners make references to their long-gone '67 Beetle, as if it were all but identical to a Porsche of the era. Among those that do remember air-cooled Porsches, some are not aware that no Porsche has been air-cooled for decades now but, never mind, an old Porsche is an approachable car to the average person who takes notice of it in the first place. It's less intimidating, it seems.

Once I entered a small post office in northern Vermont - I keep a box there because it's faster and cheaper than the mail service at home in Canada - and when I emerged from the building there were a man and a woman standing next to my 911 and their shabby pick-up truck was parked in the next space beyond. Oh god, I thought, what have they done? Is the other side of my car in shreds? They didn't look very friendly.

"We love your car!", they said in unison, "Is it for sale?" Whoops, I read this situation improperly. The usual questions flowed forth, but then they added the unexpected detail that they had taken their recent honeymoon trip in a Porsche, but not just any Porsche. This one had been loaned to them - they were married in Germany - by her uncle, Alois Ruf! Yikes, would they have been surprised if they were to drive my car expecting it to go like a Ruf . . . I said, politely, that my car was not for sale and I thanked them for their enthusiastic interest.

Most people ask, "What year is that car?" or "What is that stuff you are adding to your gas?" (an anti-ethanol additive). These are always openings so that they can chat further about the car, and ask additional questions. I never mind this. The newlywed gave me her card and said to call if I changed my mind. Oh, and he is the Canadian distributor for Ruf's parts, he said. And they wanted my car? Maybe they would have paid a Ruf price for it . . .

You really meet actual Porsche people when you join a Porsche club of some kind. I joined PCA. I say elsewhere on this blog that, basically, the local chapter of such a club is only as good as the people who run it; this is obvious. They are all volunteers, of course, so what demands can you make? Problems arise when people offer their services but then are inclined to ignore what the club needs to run well, but this is another topic for another day. This post will focus on people you find in car clubs, not club functions.

A normal PCA day, on the islands.

I've met plenty of friendly, decent, interesting, generous people at PCA events; like any other affinity group, there is a cross-section of the population on offer, with every personality type, and aberration thereof, present and accounted for. I 'talk Porsche' with some of them, while with others this subject seldom comes up, just real-life adventures.

Some brag, some are modest, some have bundles of cash, while plenty of others do not; they are all just ordinary folks. The DIY types trade notes and advice, some others may trade stock tips for all I know, but the main idea is to gain friends and have fun, most often centered around a car that you know, love, and enjoy. A fair number even claim that the Porsche car is superior to every other in some enigmatic way, while others complain about the difficulty they have getting quality service in the region, if they can't do it themselves. In the end they are just a bunch of standard-issue people.

Doggies are always welcome, too.
I was tempted to say that these 'Porsche People' are gear-heads on various levels, but that is not true across the board. Some have near zero technical knowledge of their Porsches, and have a similar level of capability when driving them. They enjoy something about owning a Porsche(s), and that's all you know about them up front.

One guy, who frequently points out the expanse of his wealth, said that he enjoys the Porsche club, but that he likes the Ferrari club, too. Therefore, he says that he keeps both a Porsche, and a Ferrari, at each of his homes, one in (a New England state), and the other in Florida. I have never seen any of these four cars, but that is what he says he owns - along with a collection of additional vehicles, and a lot of guns. I haven't any idea if he has more homes, too, but he is a matter-of-fact guy who just tells it as it is. He's not alone.

There are some abundantly friendly people that I like a lot who appear at events with elderly and inexpensive Porsches that they have attempted to fix up by themselves and these cars vary substantially in the success of this effort. The poor car runs, the people showed up, so there is no problem with this. It's nice to see their smiling faces. No one needs to be a billionaire to own some sort of Porsche, but if the car is decades old and marginal, it is automatic that the owner will have dirt under his fingernails. They are welcome in my book.

One man, a doctor, tells a story on himself about a time when his wife became absolutely unhinged when he carried a Lotus engine into the house and laid it on the kitchen table to do some surgery on it. She had objections to this idea for some reason and now he does not do engine surgery any more, but I don't know if these two facts are connected. He's a nice man, her I don't know personally.

Tilt. I had an awkward time getting out of my car at the far left. PCA rally.

My car is somewhat doddery and it needs its hand held often. Many times the issues are due to aging plastic pieces, but as often aging rubber, electrical gizmos, and tiny metal parts - the big parts are mostly okay. That, and don't forget constant adjustments to every conceivable thing. Another club guy has offered to exchange parts from his car to mine as a diagnostic methodology. If using his part fixes what has gone 'off' on my car, then he will help me to find and install a good used, new, or better part to replace the offending one that has been slowing me down.  And, he knows what he is talking about; his car runs like a top.
He's not the only guy I know who will go to great lengths to help solve problems. It's an amazing community. You start with Porsches, but you extend to much else. I imagine that this is true in other car clubs, but I don't know, so I'll blame it on owning a Porsche.

              W. under his car.                                                                  W. under my car, in the barn.

Obviously, I am of a certain sort, willing to get my hands dirty now and then, and this winter I'm going to do some body work, along with myriad adjustments. I'll talk to various of my friends when I get puzzled over something. One good, Porsche 'buddy' has even offered me various free parts if I want, and what he offered is worth $$$. Cool.

C.P. under my car in my new shop. R and P needed repair.
It's normal that there are jerks to be found in a Porsche club, too. Some of them could be helped by counselling, while others are probably not curable. No need to waste time on them here.

Nuts and bolts are one thing, but it is the more personal, human connections that I have developed that are most important. I don't think of my Porsche friends in terms of their cars, I think of them as personalities that are valuable and important to me. The Porsche Club of America has the clunky slogan on its website, "It's not the cars, it's the people." Previously the slogan was stated differently as, "It's not just the cars, it's the people." Either way, clunky or not, I finally have to admit that the sentiment is correct. PCA seems to be abandoning this slogan since it is now hard to find in any current PCA publication, but maybe they are working on a better one that expresses the same idea.

Some joke that the slogan should be, "It's just the cars, not the people." They have it wrong. It's not about PCA, either, it's about people connecting because of shared interests, and that's good. Everybody needs as many friends as they can get, and these aren't virtual, they are real. Life is good.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Momentary Mothballs

The oil has finished draining; now to clean and make everything tidy down here.

Possibly mothballs are always meant to be momentary, relatively speaking and if you have actual moths, but in this case storage of my Porsche for the winter is implied. Nevertheless, this present, temporary storage is even more of a stopgap, because it is to last only until some remodeling of the premises is completed, and so the Porsche is tucked into that corner so that it not be in the way, and to protect it from getting bumped or damaged while that work is going on.

Consequently, I drained the engine oil when hot, removed the battery and put it on an automatic maintainer that keeps the voltage topped up, the gas is dosed with Stabil™, and I checked over everything else in a cursory way, and put it under a cover and up on dollies. It will remain this way until Christmas, at the latest I hope, before I get myself into trouble again trying to 'fix' things on the car.

A red dolly goes under each wheel.
Much of what I want to do is light bodywork, mainly painting in the engine room, and touching up of stone chips on the lower portion of the car, and on the front. But, if I get literally serious, it could turn into a major production if I decide to change the possibly cracked CIS airbox, and look into the problem I have with the number two cylinder fouling its spark plug. In this case I hope that taking off the cylinder head from that side of the engine isn't involved, as I will certainly get into all kinds of grief with a project of that scope.

A leakdown test is called for to learn what is going on in the engine, and hopefully it will simply indicate that the fuel distributor needs cleaning, rather than the presence of a mechanical problem in the engine, or something like a leaking valve oil seal. I may have to buy a leakdown tester and learn how to use it, though. Possibly I should borrow one from a person who knows how to interpret the test results before I begin to panic too much, because I do suspect an oil leak, although not past the rings. Or, I could put in a hotter plug to help burn away the crud in that cylinder and forget about it for the time being.

I tipped the front up and down to drain out every last drop of oil. 
It dripped for 4.5 days.
I said above that I drained the oil, but I didn't mention filling with new oil. There is some discussion on this topic with credentialed 'experts' on both sides of the issue. Old Porsche engines typically leak some oil since there are many, many places where oil can seep out of them. Some say that if your air-cooled Porsche isn't leaking oil, you are out of oil. One sure-fire way to prevent oil from leaking over the winter storage period is to not have any oil in the engine. It can't leak then, and your garage floor will remain nice and neat. However, there is some residual dirty oil in the engine if you take this route. The quantity of that oil is very small, and there are contaminants in it, but if the oil has been changed every 5,000 kms the amount of these contaminants is too small to worry about. At least that's my view. Also, my workshop is heated and dry, so no condensation will develop in the engine.

Those dollies are quite useful things. However, the ones you see in my pictures are not the most premium examples to be found. When I first put my car onto these dollies I could not move it at all. The main point of the dollies is that you should be able to move the car around - sideways, on a diagonal, etc. - in order to place it in a location that it could not be driven into for any reason. I had to take the car off of the dollies, then completely disassemble the rollers and bearings, where I found that the things were manufactured with no lubricant of any kind in them. The axles are simple rod-through-a-tube affairs and they were totally dry. The ball bearings in the swivel part of the casters were assembled with no lubricant whatever. Ridiculous. When you buy these devices you have to assemble them, but I didn't take every component apart when I did this (why would I ?), so I had to undo my work to discover the reason that I couldn't roll the car. Simple, no grease, or even oil inside. None. How were they supposed to work?

Lot's of space with the car tucked into the corner, in disguise.

I buttered everything liberally with a good grease, reassembled the whole business, and put the car back onto the newly greasy dollies and, amazingly, I could roll the car around the way I should have been able to do in the first place. The brand name =  ATD, model # ATD-7466, made in China. I don't blame the Chinese, unless there was some deceit involved; rather I blame the money grubbing sellers of the product who asked to cut costs to the bone (perhaps eliminating lubricant), thereby foisting a nonfunctional gadget onto the buyer, me, who was then stuck with rectifying the defect. Ridiculous.

Actually, dropping the engine to tend to that problem I mentioned in one cylinder, and also the air box, might be a useful idea, because my clutch release fork is suspect, too, so it all would have to come out, regardless. Then again, the car will run if none of these are addressed, but I'd simply be postponing the inevitable. Maybe I'll begin with adjusting the cold start hand throttle lever between the seats. It should cause 3,800 rpm when pulled all the way up, but mine goes way over that, so my starting mixture isn't accurate and I might not have air leaks in the air box after all when the engine occasionally backfires on start-up. Luckily I have a pop-off valve installed. Anyway, the simplest scenario is my wish. Not too unique there.

Maybe this post will be continued as work on the car resumes at a later date; stay tuned.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Quantum Mechanics All Over the Place

There are plenty of large hardware stores in my general vicinity if I drive far enough to reach them, but naturally I frequent those few where informed people are available to help me find what I want, and to offer general advice, needed, or not.  I'll get back to this central topic later.

The other day I decided to adjust the shift tube coupler in my 911 - for the 350th time - in my eternal quest for the smoother shifting that I imagine must be obtainable if only I would adjust the coupler (and clutch cable, etc.) for the 351st time, thereby finding gear-change nirvana. It's elusive, but can I stop questing? The transmission has been rebuilt and the bushings renewed, so I don't think they are the issue, I hope. The published advice offered on this adjustment process flippantly dismisses the procedure as being a five minute job. I may be a little slow; it took me two days. . .

A shift coupler like mine. Web.
You see, the coupler tuning business itself can be done in five minutes if you have done it before, and remember how to do it; in fact, that's the easy part. If your car is assembled, with seats in it and all, you have to get into a contortion that would cause a yogi to go pale, so that you can adequately reach what you need to reach, and get apart everything that is in the way of the intended piece of work. 

A day or two later I figured out that I could skip the following process and adjust the coupler without what I describe in this paragraph. Never mind, you may want to know what you face if you want to actually change the coupler entirely, or rebuild it, so here goes: You will face tasks such as removing the two rubber boots that cover the coupler, one coming from the front and the other from the back. There is a stainless steel band that holds the two boots in place, thereby helping to keep dirt out of the coupler.  The boot from the rear fits over a flared collar that is found protruding from the lower part of the fire wall. The rubber of this boot turns back over itself, and one half of the resulting double layer is the part that goes over the collar. The front boot then stretches over the rear's rubber layer, and at the same time over the collar. The steel band next goes over the two layers of rubber in order to hold them in place. All of this is easier said than done because tight rubber doesn't slide over other rubber, but rather sticks to it, and it takes more time and effort than the actual 'five minute' adjustment; all of it is awkward to do as any yogi will tell you. Typical. This car isn't designed with ease of maintenance as a primary consideration.

In my car, at an earlier moment in its rebuild. The steel band is off of the boots and collar. Easy access here.

Although I didn't have this in mind when I bought my car, the elaborate servicing that it requires has become a therapeutic, calming, and cooling influence on me, never mind all of the cussing I do from under the car, and complaining that I spout once I'm back out from in or under it. A good and levelheaded mechanic works methodically, confident in his experience and training (I haven't bumped into a female mechanic yet, but a small number of them are out there somewhere), so that the tasks at hand are approached rationally and without apprehension, or confusion. I work in constant fear that my ignorance will result in disaster.

Rubber boots removed. Web.
So, after doing the 5 minute coupler movement 'improvement' exercise I got the rubber boots reinstalled, but the stainless steel band wouldn't fit because the end of it was broken off and it was too short. How I got it into place the last time is a complete mystery, but this time I certainly needed a new one. Basically, it's just a big, 100 mm hose clamp +/-. Naturally, I headed to the nearest large hardware store, where they unwittingly sell Porsche parts; I went to the plumbing department for a hose clamp. "Hi there! Can I help you?" said the informed-person lurking among the pipes and flush mechanisms, but this greeting was a big shock. I was in Quebec, and for a store clerk to greet me in the English language is an offense punishable by law. I'm not kidding; there are 'Language Police' here and they can levy serious fines, and worse. Quebec is a very special place in this regard, and there's more to it also, such as a recent proposal to require a certain dress code for large numbers of people that would prohibit any form of religious symbol. And recently a high official in the Quebec government said that he wished to entrench the status of the French language in Quebec, as if that had not already been achieved for 400 years now, duh . . .

"Quebec, all in French and in French only!"
Never mind that idiocy for the time being, I just wanted a hose clamp and the friendly greeter steered me in their direction.  "What size pipe are you using?" asked the clerk. I had the broken clamp in hand for comparison and finding a replacement didn't take long. "Well, actually it's for use in an old car I'm working on," I said. "Oh, are you adjusting the shift coupler in your Porsche?" said the clerk. Did I have this printed on my forehead!?  

I thought he looked vaguely familiar, but I didn't know why. "You can also adjust shifting by moving the shifter's top plate in the front," he added, "but it's fussier to do. Here's the clamp you want. Use an 8 mm nut driver on that, and don't forget to adjust the clutch cable so that you have about an inch (2.5 cm) of free play at the pedal." "Okay, thanks," I said. "I worked for a few years on those cars while I was a mechanic in Germany," he also added. I expressed appreciation for this information and we chatted briefly about valve adjustment and other routine servicing required for my car. He knew what model of Porsche I had, and I had no idea who he was.  There aren't many vintage Porsches in my extended neighbourhood; my car can't be that famous.

"Pasta" is not a French word. A small Italian restaurant got busted; for real. Web.
But, this kind of thing has happened in Vermont, USA, too. Another informed-greeter type of hardware store there carries a large selection of metric nuts and bolts, and other random fasteners useful in non-concours Porsche restoration. I needed some funny fasteners, so I went there, in the Porsche. This time I didn't even get into the store before I was accosted by one of the friendly, helpful staff.

"Lookin' good! What year is that Porsche? I used to be a mechanic working on those cars, but down in Connecticut some years back. Sounds as if you have one valve a little bit loose." "Thanks, and you're probably right," I said, "but I think I'm less worried about a slightly loose valve than one that is too tight. I'll get to it eventually." I didn't know this guy either. 

I'm going to drive a little farther to an additional informed-greeter hardware store to see if I can find another Porsche mechanic. I'll start some kind of club. Evidently there is an attractive quality about hardware stores if you are a former mechanic who worked on vintage Porsches, but I can't speculate about these guy's lives. However, my theory is that being there offers them an opportunity to practice creative, qualitative problem solving; just what is required when servicing an old Porsche. Porsche questions may address parts bigger than quarks, but then the whole realm can be just as confusing, almost like string theory.

By the way, after that 351st coupler adjustment my car shifts much more nicely than before. Success.