Thursday, October 12, 2017

The (slight, but real-ish) Connection Between Ferdinand Porsche and Quebec

I live in Quebec, therefore, this little story gave me a momentary warm tingle, and it proves that 'six degrees of separation' is absolutely real. Below I speculate about various connections, but I think that what I have written is not that far off.

First, you should read this post - link: The Ultimate Porsche Enthusiast, because in it I discuss a subject that is central to the story that follows. In one way, I confess, this story is an extension of part of that story.

Since you have an interest in Porsches, and you read the post I asked you to read above, you already know that Ferdinand Porsche, at the age of 24 in the year 1900, developed and built a functional hybrid-electric automobile, called the Lohner-Porsche Semper Vivus Mixte Hybrid. Quite a name. Prior to this Ferdinand was responsible for non-hybrid electric cars at Lohner, with those cars appearing in 1898.

Here is a small summary of details of this period: Ferdinand was not responsible for the world's first electric car (in various forms they had been around for many decades before our hero was even born); but he built the first hybrid-electric car; the first car with an electric starter; the world's first four wheel drive car; the world's first car with four wheel brakes - and the world's first car with the Porsche name associated with it (partly), plus, maybe, the world's first front wheel drive car, but I'm not certain of this last point. This is not shabby when you remember that Ferdinand had virtually no engineering education; he started working at Lohner as a very young man, and already his cars were way too expensive. Clever boy, though.

An early, front-drive Lohner-Porsche electric. © Porsche (?)

But, the hybrid cars won various races and set speed records (with Ferdinand driving, but also at the hands of E.W.Hart, in England - Hart was the first customer for Porsche's efforts), and Ferd had a rollicking good time.

However, here is an important aside: The aforementioned customer, the English coachbuilder Mr. Hart, in England, after expressing his interest in purchasing a Lohner-Porsche electric car, required significant modifications to it. His vehicle was to be capable of running on gasoline plus electricity, it needed to carry four passengers (the cars pictured above and down below appear to have a solitary driver in the center, in front), and Hart demanded four-wheel drive. Oh? Modern Porsche AG, and everybody else seem to make the claim that Ferdinand invented the hybrid-electric car, and all else mentioned above. But whose ideas were these anyway? Doesn't it appear that Hart played a big hand in defining the hybrid car, while Porsche dutifully carried out the execution of Hart's concepts?

Additional refinements worked their way into the Lohner-Porsche Mixte-Hybrid as it was constructed, but from evidence generally available the basic and original hybrid idea does not appear to have popped out of Ferdinand's head 100% by itself.

Anyway, that first hybrid vehicle weighed 4 tonnes, it had primitive balloon tires that blew out as a result of that weight, and it broke down a lot. Plus, it cost 15,000 Austrian Crowns, which translates into US$193,467 as of 2017. Value for the dollar involves an abstract discussion here, but it was a start.

Moving to an unrelated but somehow comparable subject, many years later Porsche was sued by the Czech company, Tatra, for ripping-off the design of Tatra's V570  automobile (and other models). The 570 had an air-cooled, four cylinder boxer motor, rear-engine, and was a two-door, aerodynamic economy car that looked remarkably like a Volkswagen. The case was settled after WWII when VW paid Tatra 1,000,000 DM in an out of court settlement. Is there a pattern here?

Tatra V570
Back to our story: Being ambitious, in 1906, after 300 electric+ powered vehicles were produced at Lohner, Ferdinand went on to join the Österreichische Daimler Motoren Commanditgesellschaft Bierenz, Fisher & Co., and, ultimately, Daimler-Benz, where as chief designer he produced newer versions of hybrids, and other creative cars - think Mercedes-Benz SS/SSK. Also, he designed aircraft engines during WWI.

This is Porsche's reproduction of the Semper Vivus, two wheel drive. (© Porsche)

Never mind all of that. This post is supposed to be about the tenuous connection between Ferdinand and Quebec. Part of that connection, probably all of it really, has to do with Porsche's influence on his early employer, Lohner-Werke of Vienna, Austria. After Ferdinand's departure, Lohner didn't just sit on its laurels, building luxury horse-drawn coaches and the like.

On we find:

"Lohner, the Company Which Grew Porsche

"Lohner was a successful company, and built front-engined fire engines for Vienna, Frankfurt and London. The company also boasted the production of every single bus in Berlin at the time. On top of this, Porsche's electrical technology was utilised by Lohner to create electrical goods vans and trucks, and the company spread out to the aircraft industry, and even produced coaches for the Austrian royal family. 

"The Lohner-Porsche was a much-referenced design when NASA [plus Boeing, see below] came to create the Lunar Rover for driving upon the surface of the moon, and many of the design innovations can be seen mirrored in the only car driven outwith [outside of] the Earth's atmosphere. Toyota and many other major manufacturers are producing hybrid concepts and production vehicles which use Porsche's pioneering technology, and design houses are experimenting with the 'in-hub' engine layout to this day. Although produced over 100 years ago [117 years, as I write this], the car has more significance than ever."

Lohner gave Porsche his first chance to develop some of his own fantastic ideas, among others. 

So, what else did Lohner do after Herr F. Porsche left? In addition to what is mentioned above, during the early 1900s the firm manufactured aircraft for WWI, after the war Lohner manufactured trams, and after World War II the company began manufacturing scooters and mopeds using engines from Rotax, and it merged with this company in 1959, to become Lohner Rotax. It still builds trams, too, in its association with Bombardier (see below).

Meanwhile, in Quebec, Joseph-Armand Bombardier invented the snowmobile in the 1930's - a large version not seen today. Ultimately called the 'Ski-Doo', they were powered using Rotax engines, made in Austria by Lohner-Rotax. 'Ski-Doos', in the small size we see today, began in production in 1959.  

In 1970 the Quebec firm Bombardier, Inc., the Ski-Doo builder, purchased a controlling share in the company and renamed it Bombardier-Rotax GmbH. Bombardier would not have noticed Lohner were it not for its developmental history, including airplane building - and tram building (powered by electricity), since Bombardier was then producing electric subway trains. Ferdinand Porsche's influence on the Lohner company was significant, with some arguing that his ideas lifted (an admittedly successful luxury horse coach builder) into far broader evolutionary realms, causing it to build sundry other types of vehicles - to this day.

A modern Bombardier 'Flexity' tram. (© Bombardier)

And now, Bombardier isn't just in the snowmobile business, either. It builds airplanes, and many other types of vehicles, too. You may have recently noticed in the business news that a Bombardier medium-size airplane, the 'C' series, was subjected to a 300% import duty by the US government, effectively eliminating it from the US market. Boeing claimed that the C series competed with it unfairly - never mind that Boeing doesn't make a plane of this size. Unfair, Boeing said, because Bombardier received subsidies from the government in Canada. At the same time Boeing has received huge subsidies from the government in the USA, but this has been ignored in the US and the duty remains.

A Bombardier 100+/- passenger C series, made in Quebec, with parts from elsewhere in Canada, too. (© Bombardier)

Turning full circle, we connect back to Europe again. Airbus purchased a 50.01% interest in the Bombardier C series planes, thereby effectively making it a new company. It will build the C series in Mobile, Alabama, forget any 300% import duty; they won't be imported any more. People in Quebec don't like losing control of the C series, but Bombardier designed it and will still make plenty of money on the planes that it builds in Canada for the world market.

EDIT This item was reported in the news at 14:50 EST, 26 January, 2018:

"MONTREAL — Bombardier Inc. won a resounding victory Friday when the U.S. International Trade Commission eliminated nearly 300 per cent in duties on its C Series commercial jet by unanimously voting against a petition filed by Boeing Co.

Commissioners voted 4-0 that Boeing didn't suffer harm from prospective imports of C Series planes. . ."

So, there you go. Bombardier and Airbus will continue to refine their relationship.

Okay, that's all wheeling and dealing, but the faint connection of Ferdinand Porsche stimulating Lohner to some form of accomplishment remains. I said it was a tenuous association.

In reality, Porsche was good for Lohner, and Lohner was good for Porsche. And, therefore, Porsche was good for Quebec, if you follow the chain of events described above. Porsche thrives as a company, Bombardier thrives, everybody is happy. Boeing, maybe not so much.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

"Back In The Saddle Again" ©

People who have 'spare' Porsches (meaning that they bought another one and can't drive two at once) tend to be generous with them, in my experience. Also, Porsche owners who are especially pleased with their particular model want to share their pleasure, and since I am Porscheless at this moment, I've been driving a variety of Porsche cars that have been offered to me by their owners to try, on occasion. They feel, with decent conviction, that I would be happy driving a marvelous car, and that I don't want to be left out in the cold, so to speak. The idea is that they are also offering a seductive temptation to me to get back into one of these cars, but they are just plain big-hearted at the same time. I love this. Therefore, I continue to honestly fail to make any solid decision about a different Porsche, or any Porsche, or any other car, or no car. As a toy, I mean.

I've said, elsewhere on this blog, that the future of automobiles is electric, and that hydrocarbon fuels will momentarily vanish - unless certain lunatics start WWIII, making all bets void. However, this isn't the future, this is now, and mainly Porsche cars still run on gas. I think things through too much, and always have done so. It's a character flaw, because life is too short to ponder things endlessly while I descend into the infirmities of age. At least I occasionally make some good decisions, but excess time gets lost in the bargain, which makes them bad decisions due to that vanished, irretrievably lost time. So, do I want another hobby car, or not?

A few people wouldn't call a Porsche a hobby car, thinking that this concept diminishes the sanctity of 'one of the world's greatest cars'. Greatest at what?, I'm tempted to ask. A Porsche sports car is a very narrow focus device, after all. Yes, some people drive them to work at their office every day - even though the office is at an easily walkable distance from home (true in one case that I learned of the other day), but I don't think that this purpose is what Porsche AG has in mind. 'Sport' is the operative idea in this car's identity. Okay, that's fine, but how many Porsche owners engage in actual sport with their cars? What percentage compete with them on the track (a vanishingly small number), or in time/distance rallies, autocross, or other 'tests of speed'? Hardly any. Instead, too many speed illegally, and dangerously, on public roads. Others crawl up and down Main Street, making as much noise as possible, etc., yelling 'look at me!'  In other words, in one sense the majority are poseurs, sorry to say. I didn't compete on track with my 911, either.

Porsche cars have a certain look to them, and many models are truly seductively designed, without the clichés seen on almost all other cars. Maybe that's enough. Buy what you think is the most beautifully designed car, drive it as you will and let others bash them on the track in order to keep up the performance image. It's your money, so who am I to judge? At last, though, do I 'need' another one?

Two days after I sold my 911 I called PCA to ask if I could remain in the club (as an affiliate member, or something), since I have met a good number of really nice people that I now count as friends, and I want to continue to participate in the club. "When does your membership expire?" I was asked by the PCA office. "In March I think," I said. "Just renew it," I was told. Apparently once in, always in, so I'm legit as an ex-Porsche owner. That's economical. [Note: An officer of the club must own a Porsche.] [Another note: I have become an official Associate member of PCA.]

So, I've been attending various PCA events, often in borrowed Porsches. I might do that this coming weekend - but I'm still thinking it over; see what I mean? Anyway, the following is a recount of the most recent activity that I attended in a Porsche that was on loan to me. I drove the blue Boxster seen above; it worked perfectly and was fun, and I drove it while its owners drove their new Cayman. Good deal - I tried to respectfully exercise it as I drove, in order to keep everything ship-shape and humming. I never thought that I was a roadster type of guy, but I could live with this, perhaps. 

Part Two:  Running on Borrowed Time

The event recounted here took place in a location where we have been before. Link: An Out Of the Ordinary "Barn Find", so I won't go into great detail about it now, even though it is always fun to visit the place. It was at the home/workshop of an internationally prominent restorer of ancient classic automobiles (not the modern Porsches known to us, as they are too new), and he restores wooden speedboats, also. The collection inside his shop is a jaw-dropper, and each visit there is something 'new' to be seen. By prominent, I mean Amelia Island, Pebble Beach, that sort of thing.

Packhard. One of the best, ever.

Type 19 'Bugatti'. ©2015 New England Auto Auctions
At the moment he is working on restoring one of the earliest cars designed by Ettore Bugatti. In 1912 Bugatti designed a small car that was then built by Peugeot, the Type 19 Bébé, of which a handful remain in the world, even though it was Peugeot's most popular car at the time. Bébé is a good name for the car, as it is minuscule, but fascinating. The two speed transmission is the size of a can of soup, and, being a 1913 car, it has rear brakes only, which appear to be external contracting bands on 'rotors' that are about 1" (2.5cm) wide. Why stop when you are having fun? The two people who would occupy that car had to be absolutely tiny, even by 1913 standards. Since 3,095 Type 19s were produced between 1913 and 1916, its popularity caused it to become known as Europe's Model T. 

Bébé's bare bones. The red arrow, upper left, points to the body of the car.

The canister, left of center, is the two speed transmission.
With 10 horsepower available, the Bébé was able to reach 40kph (+/- 25mph) if the road was good, which mostly they weren't then. Actually, the car's engineering and construction were advanced at the time and offered very good value for the franc. The Bébé was killed off in WWI.


This PCA event involved a tour of nine antique covered bridges sprinkled along some delightfully entertaining New England roads, plus the normal Pot-Luck lunch, and at one location there were three bridges in a row, one after another. I took pictures with one hand above the windshield, as I steered, shifted gears, and ate a sandwich with the other.

Speed limit 25 mph. Perfect for a Type 19.

Riding as a guest in a Porsche is not unknown in this PCA region. I've had passengers in my Porsche when their cars were not on the road for greasy reasons, and others are often generous in offering rides to cover similar circumstances. Then, there are the cars that I have driven, too; kindly made available by openhanded region members. If you belong to this club, you've got a Porsche at hand, always. Simple as that.

A good turnout. This was about one-third of the show.

However, attending Porsche events sans-Porsche just feels odd to me. People have been generous in lending me their cars, but I feel like a moocher to drive a lent car, multiple times. Something needs to be done.

Then there was this in my garage the other day . . .

Saturday, August 5, 2017

A Melancholy Farewell to My Elderly 911

It's gone. That car was so drop-dead gorgeous, truly, and I miss it in more ways than I will be able to adequately describe here. The older among us, both animate and inanimate alike, need attention; it's sadly normal. At the same time, when an old animate mortal (like me) becomes stiff with arthritis and other symptoms of general decline, it's difficult to give proper attention to the needs of ancient machines in our care. It hurt me a lot every time I crawled out from beneath the belly of my 911, and I did it many hundreds of times. At last it was enough. I sold it, and I'm not happy. I tell people that I parted with my car, and they say, "Congratulations for selling your car!" I don't say anything in response to this, because it makes no sense to me at all; I don't need to be congratulated for abandonment. They are responding to another objective that they imagine I had, but misunderstand.

My workshop is empty. What next?
We all have issues and struggle to get through them to survive - including my 'late' car - but that car could do nothing to help itself; that was up to me. I agree that it was 'just a car' as some immediately point out, but really I don't fully believe that. This hasn't to do with the vaunted history and panache that is so often associated with the Porsche marque. I don't care that it was a Porsche at all, but rather that it was a little machine with a personality: it was spunky, it was an individual - it had to be interesting. I did my best for it, and I had to be creative to do so; it paid me back for my efforts.

Some people buy and sell cars all of the time. They talk about some car that was so great, but they got rid of it in a few months, or maybe a year. Great, really? Why is it gone, then? I guess that they would not grasp my mindset, and I struggle with theirs, so be it. I am what I am, and I enjoyed my Porsche for slightly less than eight years.  I would still have it if things were different.

Last trip out.
At this point I absolutely have not decided what type of car I might acquire next, or if I will get one at all. There are cars beyond Porsche that are very attractive for many reasons, too, and I am thinking about all of them. Or none of them. Do I need a hobby car? Nobody 'needs' a hobby car. Maybe I should take up knitting socks, or collecting antique bicycle tires; at least those hurt the planet less.

After all, the whole world is moving toward electric cars, anyway, and all of this fossil fuel combustion business will one day be vaguely remembered in the same way as ox carts are recalled by us today - they did a job, but in a coarse and limited way. We may be discussed in future seminars for having thought up such absurd conveyances, invented disregarding the planet and our health, and everything, just so we could go from here to there, tant pis. But a Porsche could do it in an entertaining way, wow. What little it takes to entertain the limited, like me. Never mind, one day people and goods will be teleported from here to there, and they will laugh at the idea of 'driving' - what a farcical and piteous waste of time, because where you are will be important to them, not how you got there in your 'sport' car. I do continue to enjoy people that I have met via my Porsche, though, so there's that.

The new owner is the bald guy. He's nice, and I hope that he enjoys the car.

I believe every one of the ideas that I spelled out above. Then again, maybe I live in the wrong century, although I'm unsure what the correct one would be.

Goodbye, and farewell. I will miss you, little analogue friend.

I'll have more thoughts about all of this, and before long additional ideas will appear in new posts on this blog. Friends have been lending me various models of Porsche's to drive. We'll see. Example: check the 'P.P.P.S.' at the bottom of the post found here

In the meantime I'll keep busy . . .  This is a '78 and it runs great with 7550+ hours on it, but details need some TLC.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Exxon Valdez Redux

There are basically two things to do with an old Porsche 911 like mine; maybe three, if you are of a certain mindset. They are: drive it, or fix it. The third would be to hoist it up onto a pedestal and show it exclusively, if it is rare for some reason, but this option is of no interest to me - mostly I want to drive it. A Porsche that is only a pedestal show car is one that equates to a collection of funky shoes, or an assortment of antique bowling balls, or other chachkas on people's shelves that they occasionally drag out into the light. Once a 911 reaches 'display-only' status, it then has become a flexible euphemism for a car, and woe is it.

There are other ways to experience woe, though. In my previous post below I pointed out that my car was running badly, because the fuel injection was confused for some baffling reason. That has been resolved and the car runs quite well, if not 100% perfectly. It will get there eventually.

Never mind that, now something on top of the engine is spraying oil, and I do not mean that a minor seepage is present. Splattering all over is what I mean. Grrr. Naturally this escaping oil is way at the back of the engine compartment, where no normal human can reach. The engine must come out. I just put the damn engine back into the car. Grrr.  I'm going through about one litre of oil per 160 kms (or about 1 qt per 100 miles). The problem looks like bad oil cooler seals.

Also see my post: "The Triangle of Death"

Seepage in this area is common, but it was dry here when the car last ran . . .
Keeping the car neat and tidy, and doing things to it to improve it in any way can be fun, and I do this. My car was built in 1973, although it is a '74 model. So, it's over half-way through its 44th year now. Parts wear out, parts break; you fix it and this is to be expected and is normal at such an age. However, this oil episode is not actually fun since it interrupts the driving of the car too much.

And, too much complaining, sorry. I should add that the car's valves have never been quieter, due to a good, engine-out-of-the-car adjustment. Along with the replacement of a rocker arm and other bits that needed retirement. Now all you really hear is the modest hissing of the cam chains, but if you wrinkle your brow you can notice a faint ticking telling you (me) that the valves are not too tight, either. 

Usually leakage in the "Triangle of Death" doesn't spray up onto the cooling shroud.
I'll write more as more happens. At this moment, the engine will come out of the car in a few days. While the oil leakage is being addressed, the oil thermostat will also be  tested to see if it is functioning properly. That job is easy once the thermostat is removed - you plop it into hot water along with an accurate thermometer to see when it opens and closes. The engine has been running hotter than I want it to do, and the thermostat might be at fault.

Update:  The engine did not actually overheat, but heated in an erratic way. Upon testing, the internal oil thermostat does appear to be at fault, and it is being replaced with a known good unit, or it will be rebuilt. See also my remarks in the comments below.

New oil seals got put on the oil cooler, and everything else back there. 

However, it's an old car, so there is no part at all on it that is totally above suspicion. Each drive is an adventure . . .  Nevertheless, all air-cooled cars are advancing in value. Maybe I should consider passing this car on and getting a new toy.

Like certain others below, this post does not reach a conclusion that satisfies me, or you probably, but rather some puzzles are left unsolved. It's the name of the game when keeping a classic car going, but it still solidly remains fun to drive.