There is much discussion on this site about Porsche ownership and the joys and perils therein. David Walton has opined about his very positive 993 purchase and experience. The EIC, owner ofa few Porsches himself, has lamented the recent decline of Porsche, both from a product and merchandising perspective. However, there is one TTAC contributor whose Porsche ownership experience predates even theirs. That’s right, it’s your dear friend, Bark M.
The year was 1999. The scene? The lush campus of The Ohio State University in the serene Midwestern metropolis of Columbus, Ohio. I had just turned in my 1996 Infiniti G20 at the end of a thirty-six month lease, and, much to the chagrin of my father (who had been paying for it), it had been a very painful experience. Three years in the streets, parking lots, and loading zones of the world’s largest college campus had not been kind to my rebadged Primera. There were several dings in each panel, and my band’s touring schedule throughout the Midwest meant that I was about fifteen thousand miles over my 36,000 mile limit. Yikes.
So after he wrote a five thousand dollar check to cover my mistakes, Dad made it explicit, in both senses of the word, that I would be paying for my next car. Uh-oh. My part-time job at Sam Ash Music, plus my weekend music gigs, didn’t add up to a whole lot of income. I figured that I could probably afford about $200 a month for a car payment, which was sounding dangerously like used Civic territory. So what was a college kid who was used to cruising campus in a relatively swanky ride to do?
Dad picked me up from my campus apartment early on a Saturday morning and took me used car shopping. My incredibly spoiled self could barely contain my disgust and disdain as we looked at one early Nineties sedan after another in various states of disrepair. The blue velour interiors in Accords. The female-repelling exterior designs of Stanzas. Escorts and Cavaliers sneering at me. I just couldn’t take it.
But wait. As we were driving from one dealership to the next, there it was, a golden savior sitting on the lawn in front of an apartment complex. A beautiful, masculine, exotic, tantalizing Porsche 944. And the “For Sale” sign indicated a cost of only $10,000! My eyes brightened immediately as I turned to look at my father from the passenger seat of his Infiniti QX4.
“Don’t get any stupid ideas. This is Ohio. What the f—k are you going to drive in the winter?” I shrank back down in my seat, defeated and deflated. I was going to end up with a Ford Taurus. I was never going to get a date again. I sulked through the rest of the day. Finally, Dad pulled into a small independent lot near his subdivision. This dealer was of the upscale import variety, stocking a host of BMW, Audis, Mercedes, and even some Italian cars. I honestly had no idea why he had decided to stop by this lot — there was clearly nothing here for me at $200 or less a month.
Apparently, the old man had another idea. Sitting in the corner of the lot, almost as an embarrassment among the other high-line imports, was…no, wait…really…another Porsche 944, resplendent in red! Okay, so this one looked a little bit rougher than the gold example from earlier in the day, but it was still a PORSCHE! And the sticker on this one was only eight grand.
“How are these things in the snow?” Dad asked the gruff salesman, who clearly had bigger and more important cars to sell than the poor little four-banger.
“Terrible.” He flicked aside the remains of his cigar. “If you want a car that’s good in the snow, go buy a Honda or a Nissan.” Dad glared at me.
“Yeah, we tried that.”
I couldn’t wait to get my hands on the keys. The salesman reluctantly went out on a test drive with me. We took a jaunt through the country roads of Delaware County, and I tried to remain cool as I drove a rear-wheel drive car for only the second time in my life (see a future volume of Bark’s Bites for “How I blew up somebody else’s FD”). It was a 1988 model with a 2.7 liter engine. It had leather seats, a CD changer that the previous owner had installed, and even a car phone in the passenger seat footwell! Oh, man. So what if it had 144,000 miles on the clock? It had a manila folder full of service records in the back seat, AND it had been traded in by the hottest female news anchor in the city-she only sold the car because her super-wealthy husband had bought her an identical convertible version.
I knew it was just going to be perfect.
My dad was waiting for us upon my return. “Dad,” I said breathlessly, “I’ll take it.” He looked at me, knowing full well what type of decision I was making, and said, “Fine. You can buy it.” We negotiated the price down to $7000 and just like that, I was a proud future PCA member.
First stop after delivery? My friend-of-a-friend who was a master Porsche mechanic (yes, I said AFTER delivery). He pulled out the service records from the backseat. Everything had been done at Blagoi’s, an extremely reputable import repair shop at the time in Columbus. Further reading of the service records indicated that the timing belt had been recently replaced, which was apparently a real bugbear with the 944. He gave the car his seal of approval. After I told him who had owned the car previously, he looked me in the eye in the creepiest way possible and said, “Mmmmm. Sniff those seats.”
I named the Porsche Hermann and I loved it like a brother. I drove that car EVERYWHERE. I experienced firsthand how women who didn’t know anything about cars sure as hell knew that I had a Porsche; and they didn’t even know it was an eleven-year old example of the “entry-level” Porsche, either! I landed a girlfriend who was six years older. She had a real job and a real apartment in the city, and people thought that I was her wealthy boyfriend. I bought a set of Blizzaks for it to run in the winter, and it plowed through the snow problem-free all season long. Somebody smashed a beer bottle against the windshield at a bar one night, and the windshield won! In short, it was perfect, just like I had known it would be. Sure, it head a head gasket issue that cost me $99 one time, and yes, it leaked oil on my dad’s previously pristine driveway once, (I was there for that, it nearly resulted in Bark’s premature death —- JB) but other than that, it was perfect.
All was right with the world on the February day I drove it up State Route 315 from campus toward my brother’s house for dinner. I zipped through traffic, ignoring the speed rating on the Blizzaks and pushing the car up near triple digits. The Porsche had worked its remarkable magic yet again that day, this time on the Korean waitress at Damon’s who was really only a waitress one day a week so that she could hide her income from stripping at night. I looked down at her number written on a napkin on my passenger seat, and said, “Thanks, Hermann. We’re not a bad team, you and I.”
In that instant, everything changed. As I swerved over to exit on Bethel Road, a construction vehicle that had been working on the overpass backed in front of me on the off ramp. I was faced with an instant decision: plow into the side of it or go off the road. I chose to go off. The Blizzaks didn’t much care for hitting the dirt at ninety-plus miles per hour and instantly threw me into a spin. I countersteered as hard as possible to no avail, only slowing the car enough to make the inevitable much less painful.
The inevitable was a breakaway light post, situated right next to the ramp. Hermann smacked it with his front left fender, creating a remarkable thud, slicing it at the base and sending it tumbling down the ramp where it came to a rest across two lanes of the freeway. Unfortunately, it landed on the trunk of a passerby first.
I sat frozen in the black leather Recaro, horrified at what had just happened. I looked out of my window to see other drivers stopping and getting out of their cars. Thank God, I thought. They’re coming to help me. Turned out they were just stopping to move the light post out of the way of traffic, and then they got back into their cars and drove away. The worker who had been driving the construction vehicle quickly decided that he wanted no part of this story and hightailed it out of there, and so did the rest of the crew.
Luckily, this was 1999, and I had just purchased My First Cell Phone from Sprint a few weeks before. I stopped shaking just enough to dial my insurance company. I told them what happened and then dialed my brother and told him what happened. I couldn’t dial the number stored under “Dad.” Not just yet. I couldn’t face that wrath just yet.
Fifteen minutes later, my brother showed up, driving his Land Rover Discovery the wrong way down the off ramp. He photographed everything, including the tire tracks showing where the construction vehicle had backed out in front of me. A cop showed up, took one look at a college punk driving a Porsche, and immediately cited me for failure to control (A month later, The City of Columbus would send me a $756 invoice for “Breakaway Light Post, one”).
Heartbroken and terrified, I watched as the tow truck came to take Hermann away to Achbach Auto Industries, where I already knew they would declare him to be a total loss. My brother was kind enough to lend me his Plymouth Colt until my insurance company was able to cut me a check for my car, but strangely my new Korean friend wasn’t as impressed by me sitting behind the wheel of it.
In a week or so, I had a check for $1500 in my pocket and a decision to make: Find another 944 or make a more sensible choice? Well, it turns out I didn’t have much of a choice at all. When I finally did make that call to Dad, he wasn’t too keen on co-signing for another Porsche for me. I took my check to the closest Hyundai dealer and bought a 2000 Hyundai Tiburon in black. The ladies sure didn’t love it as much. It wasn’t rear-wheel drive. It sure as hell wasn’t a Porsche. And after my brush with a light post, that was just fine with me.