Sunday, January 25, 2015

A Case for the Neo-Luddite Porsche

This post had to be called something, so it's called what you see, but 'A Simpler Porsche', or a 'Case for the Older Porsche' would have been just as suitable. You can put me into the club containing people who want to actually drive the car, rather than to be lulled asleep by it as it transports one, effortlessly, to the place specified on a smartphone's app. All without looking up from that same phone as you go. I'm part of a dwindling breed, soon to be replaced by those for whom the romance of a sporting automobile is a quaint and vanished historical detail, but there are enough others like me to keep old sports cars going; noise, smoke, smells, fussy maintenance, and all, for a time beyond my momentary residence on Earth, so no worries.

"According to a manifesto drawn up by the Second Luddite Congress (April 1996; Barnesville, Ohio) Neo-Luddism is 'a leaderless movement of passive resistance to consumerism and the increasingly bizarre and frightening technologies of the Computer Age.' " As described by Wikipedia.
Web, and everywhere.
I am happy with and very proud of the fact that my car has no power brakes. Also, it has no power steering of course, no electronic fuel injection, no sun roof, no power seats, no power windows, no power nor heated mirrors, no stereo speakers (and maybe soon no radio, either), no air conditioning, no airbags, a vestigial 'heater', no console (thank god), no auto-dimming interior mirror, no cup holders, no anti-lock brakes, no PASM, no PTM, no PDCC, no PTV, no PDK (these peculiar initials are Porsche's ciphers representing various proprietary, space-age vehicle dynamics control gadgets), no dynamic engine mounts either, no Sports Chrono, no ventilated seats, etc. In other words, it's perfect. Also, it's nearly a half-ton lighter than a shiny new 911. They still knew how to build them over 40 years ago. And, I will never have to fix any of the things mentioned above, bank-breakers that they are. More than likely I have mentioned these wonderful details previously; good thing I did so. 

For a few moments I'll depart from Porsche content, but at least I'll mention another German vehicle that is somewhat Neo-Ludditeish. My daily driver is getting long in the tooth and by the time it will need a new clutch (relatively soon), the clutch will cost more to replace than the car is worth. I'm starting to look around, but I don't see what I like. There is no new car sold in North America that is not festooned with electronic gizmos, and the leading cause of service problems on new cars is electronic gizmos, hands down. No gizmos for me.  
Therefore, for a daily driver I'm giving extended thought to getting an old, and simpler, car. That said, initially I have a complex car in mind, in part; it's a robust and proven diesel. At least it doesn't have electronic gizmos of the ilk mentioned above, so I'm not totally off of the mark, but unless it has been exquisitely re-manufactured, an M-B G-Wagon could be a monster headache, so I would have to find a perfect one - not easy to do. Cool though, and the apotheosis of robust, long-haul motoring. No computer to get hacked, no crime-ware, no ransom-ware, no automatically cooled seats - you sweat as you are supposed to do. 

A nice 30+/- year-old Mercedes G-Wagon. Web photo.
This vehicle's diesel, when it achieves 500,000 kms, will be in mid-life and running strong, if all things are done properly. M-B used to build vehicles for certain consumers that were built like tanks and this is one of them. Word is that new M-Bs in general are not such solid cars as they were, but rather gizmo filled ones. Porsche, as some say, is the same. I can't estimate a new Porsche's capacity for hardwearing, and I'm not talking about its performance abilities, but they are larded up in the gizmo department, actually beyond lard, and lard is rather bland. A G-Wagon of this vintage was a do-it-yourself type of vehicle, at least for some.

This is an anvil-tough G-Wagon diesel. 
Could be cleaner though.
A Porsche of the vintage of my car is also a DIY machine, again, for some, not all. With the help that can be found online, I (potentially) can fix anything on my Porsche, and that's what I'm trying to do. If I had to face electronic issues with recondite electro-hydraulic shock absorbers, I'd be out of luck. With my old car my luck is still holding out and I can turn a wrench. My  Porsche is a keeper, not a disposable, semi-robotic transportation appliance.

The problem is that my Porsche needs work; the solution is that it is doable. At the moment I am pursuing an issue with the #2 cylinder fouling its spark plug, a transmission that is recalcitrant, and easy cosmetic stuff. With a proper Luddite perspective so many bones of contention evaporate. You can't have a problem with something that does not exist. Below is a picture of my engine with #1 and #2 intake runners removed. Notice that there is crud in #2, while #1 is clean. Click image to enlarge.

An early stage of my Porsche autopsy du jour. 
The valve covers come off next.

A few days later: I've pulled some more bits off of the car and there is some good news, and some less wonderful news, too. When an older air-cooled 911 starts to oil-foul a spark plug, there is a list of possible causes for this condition. It could be a failed oil seal on the valve guide, it could be a broken piston ring, it could be a broken or pulled head stud, and maybe other things like valve guides, etc. Maybe I'll have to rename this post 'A Case for a Very Slow Porsche'. Here is what I found so far:

All of this is much cleaner than I expected.
This is a photo of the exhaust valve area of my motor, with the valve cover removed. The 2.7 liter motors - 1974 to 1977 - were sometimes guilty of pulling their head studs out of the magnesium crankcase, and this required a major and costly repair. What we see in this photo is my 2.7 with its head studs intact and snug, all of them, both intake and exhaust. That's the good news, so you can stop holding your breath about this point. I can't do a compression test yet for various reasons, but that will come along later. It's looking as if the valve stem oil seal could be the culprit, but more things have to be examined before that conclusion is solid. Anyway, I hope it's the valve stem oil seal, because most everything else is more expensive and difficult.

So, while I'm in there, I'm adjusting the valves. I bought a new gadget to make this more consistent and easy, but so far, it isn't. Stay tuned.

Okay, I'm going to change the focus here. I didn't buy this car in order to fix it all of the time. I simply wanted to drive the thing and do my own maintenance, but it turned out that maintenance for a car like this, at least mine, is not simple, plus plenty of components break and go wrong all of the time. Some of the disagreeable problems are to be expected, as I now learn, but I was naive. I tried to do my homework on the subject of old Porsches, but not many sources tell you about the copious downsides that there are to enjoy, if you like that sort of thing.

There are many online forums that try to offer help to the clueless, like me, in an attempt to aid them in finding their way through problems that are routine when any car gets to be 40+ years old. This can be seen as normal, because nothing lasts forever, especially cars. That's why simpler cars are absolutely better for someone like me who is simple, too. Truly, I ought to have a vehicle that is 70+ years old, because hardly anybody is left who knows how to fix them, so you would just have to wade through the whole thing, coming up with solutions that seem to make sense and nobody could confidently tell you that you did it wrong, because what do they know? A car that is that old is simpler, still, but then you can't expect to find parts for the forlorn thing at your nearby F.L.A.P.S. (Friendly Local Auto Parts Store). Can't find Porsche parts there, either. Do I feel special because of this? No, of course not.

The justification that has to be accepted and fervently professed is that a vintage Porsche, even though not a 'special' model, offers so charismatic an experience that it is worth all of the emotional exertion, bloody knuckles, 'old-Porsche-specific' tools, money, ad infinitum, and then you get a smile on your face. Sure, at times it is fun to drive when everything is working well, but 'everything' involves a lot. Do not buy such a car as mine as an investment.

Still, there is something right about it. 

Ultimately, whether or not I am an ace mechanic has nothing to do with it. I clearly vote in favor of simple, light, nimble, engaging cars. Someone who 'must' have all of the latest connectivity, and all of the latest model's silly gadgets will not agree with this perspective. Am I part of a dwindling breed, as I said in the first paragraph? No, it's the opposite; I firmly believe that extravagant consumerism and 'prestige', as far as cars go, is on the way out. 

The planet simply cannot support the lavish lifestyle (and cars) toward which too many aspire, and the nanny-state mentality of a majority of Western countries will have to recognize this and back off of the Byzantine rules that they demand be followed, most of which make Porsches, and everything else, fat and heavy, and way too complex. Naturally, it is the consumers, too, who demand more, and more, and more. It all has to stop and reverse, which means that a 40 year old Porsche will soon be the future's cutting edge car. Check back on this blog in 40 years and you will see that I'm right.   


And one more thing, the Porsche Club of America's Panorama Magazine includes a photo of my car in the January, 2015 issue, page 108. The grey car in the middle, at the bottom of the page. It's a little picture and my car is not the topic of the item, but still cool to be there.