As you might suspect, this is a sequel to Luke’s Camaro, Part One. Full disclosure, there’s no Camaro content this time, which is part of the fun — JB
We had just crossed a set of long-forgotten railroad tracks when it happened. The engine died, the dash lit up like the proverbial Christmas tree, and the big gray Audi rolled slowly to the side of the narrow country road.
“Son of a bitch.” Not an exclamation…more of a declaration.
I cranked the engine, hoping against hope that a wire had come loose or that a ghost had reached in and flipped the key off. I checked under the hood, looked underneath the car, and saw nothing. No loose wires, blown fuses, or leaking fuel. The engine cranked but wouldn’t fire. No joy.
“Son of a bitch.” I was stuck.
That fall afternoon 100 miles from nowhere in rural South Dakota summed up my adventures with old German cars. My overconfidence, my “how expensive could it be to fix?” laissez-faire attitude, my hubris laid bare by a 1992 Audi 100S Quattro with what turned out to be a broken timing belt. How expensive could it be? Well, try finding a mechanic who will work on an old Audi… in South Dakota.
Like the blackjack addict who wakes up in a dumpster behind a Vegas IHOP, I was having a moment of harsh self-reflection: I had to change my life, and fast. Way too much of my personal, professional, and financial well-being rested on the shoulders of frustratingly complex and needy German cars. That gorgeous Gunmetal 100S, a 5-speed car aggressively lowered on H&R springs with 17” TSW wheels, embodied all of my Deutsche Tourenwagen fantasies and was just too much fun on snowy days.
Unfortunately it was also a 1992 Audi. But this wasn’t my first German heartbreak; no Audi can break you the way a Porsche+Audi can. A couple summers before that very long day, I had woken up on a Sunday morning to find myself with more money coming in than going out. I don’t know how it had happened, but I had moved up the ranks at work to the point where I had honest to God free cash flow. I was so happy about this development that I did what any 26 year old idiot would do: I bought a 1986 Porsche 944 and started to give all that cash away.
I found it the car in the Sunday classifieds (remember those?), a fully documented Guards Red two owner car, originally sold to a Mayo Clinic physician in Rochester, MN. It came with a stack of records and receipts going back to its drive off the boat, and I assured myself that those records guaranteed long-term happiness and trouble-free ownership for me, it’s completely unprepared and uninformed new owner.
My first two months with that car were pure pleasure. I loved the punchy engine, the sweet gearbox, and the unbelievably direct steering. It made me leave earlier and stay later to fully enjoy my long daily commute, and even a drive to the grocery store become a 2 hour event. Everything about it, from the way the door latch snapped closed to the way the headlights popped up, exuded quality and a firearm-like, “of a piece” engineering. I took it on a Saturday rally to a nearby brewery with the local PCA chapter where some new “friends” recommended a full check up at a local independent Porsche shop “just to make sure everything (was) okay.”
Stupidly, I listened to them and, not surprisingly, it wasn’t. Ignorance truly is bliss, friends. The car needed a lot of work. Something like $4500 worth of it if I remember correctly, which was as much as I had paid for the whole car. Two shocks were leaking, the front control arms needed to be replaced, the steering rack was leaking, and about a hundred other things were either out of specification or nearing the point where they’d become a “real problem.”
I finally got online and started doing research and, while all of the things they found were well-known and completely normal maintenance items for the 944, I was utterly shocked by the cost, time, and possible frequency at which they’d need to be fixed. As Jack has pointed out in the past, there should
be a picture of a Porsche dealership parts counter in the dictionary next to the word “gouge.” What madness had I gotten myself into? I loved the car, though, so I started working through the list. Not yet confident in my own mechanical abilities, and not recognizing the chance to develop them, I wrote a lot of checks. Big ones.
The next spring disaster struck: an oil ring broke on piston #2, trashing the engine block and stranding me on a busy urban highway. My blind spot for needy creatures great and small being what it is, I decided to fix it. Thus began a long education with my generous new friend Fast Eddie.
Eddie was a software engineer in his mid-40’s, and he had hit it big a few years prior as the CTO and co-founder of a small company that was bought by a very big one. When I met him, he was very much enjoying his semi-retirement as a budding classical guitar player and Porsche Whisperer, complete with a fully equipped workshop and a trio of beautiful 930s. We clicked immediately.
Fast Eddie never shied away from a challenge and we dove into the little 944 head first using the internet and a bootlegged Porsche shop manual as our guide. Eddie loved nothing more than being elbow deep in greasy Porsche parts while pontificating on business, religion, music, politics, and philosophy, usually all at the same time. A practical engineer and patient teacher, he taught me the ins and outs of “how those assholes in Zuffenhausen think” and helped me build up confidence in my wrenching abilities. We didn’t take ourselves too seriously. We set reasonable goals. And we had a hell of a lot of fun along the way. After a couple months of weekends and the occasional late night, we had rebuilt the big 4 banger using a low mileage block and boxes upon boxes of expensive new parts. When all was said and done, it was turbine smooth and had far more punch than it had possessed when stock.
Basically, the 944 was perfect. So of course I sold it.
It was Eddie’s fault. He had let me drive one of his 930s for a few days, just enough time for the 911 bug to fully infect my brain. I had to have one, and the car I chose would broaden my mechanical skills and driving skills even further. I’ll save that for part 3….