The Truth About Cars » 911 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Tue, 29 Jul 2014 15:51:04 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » 911 Corvette Stingray Bests Viper, 911 In Sales Through First-Half Of 2014 Thu, 17 Jul 2014 10:00:28 +0000 2014-chevrolet-corvette-stingray-convertible-red-front-end-in-motion-05

The current Corvette is doing well for itself as of late, not only moving off the lot at a greater clip between January and June of this year than last, but also besting the SRT Viper and Porsche 911.

GM Authority reports 17,744 Corvette Stingrays made it to the highway during the aforementioned sales period, over three times what was sold during the first six months of 2013. Meanwhile, only 354 Vipers managed to do the same — thanks to its high price and the velvet rope surrounding the one or two models available in most showrooms — as well as 5,169 of Stuttgart’s finest during those months. Nissan’s 370Z, priced much lower than the Stingray, also fared poorly against the Kentucky-built thoroughbred, 4,114 sold this year thus far.

Within the Chevy dealership, 2,723 convertibles and coupes left the lot in June, down from 3,328 in May. National Automobile Dealers Association forecasts the Corvette Stingray is on pace to hit 35,000 sold by the end of 2014, aided by the improved 2015 model and the introduction of the Z06.

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Porsche Developing Ferrari-Hunter With 600HP Flat-Eight Wed, 09 Jul 2014 10:00:16 +0000 Porsche-988-rumors

Feeling outgunned by the Ferrari V8 family, Porsche is working on a suitable hunter that will be armed not with its long-standing flat-six, but with a new flat-eight.

Autocar reports the new vehicle — dubbed the 988 within Stuttgart — is part of a new quartet of Porsches in development, including a turbo-four version of the Boxster and Cayman, and an all-new 911. The 988 is expected to arrive in 2017, and may likely take after the 918 in looks with a long rear deck covering the mid-mounted flat-eight; all four new models will be in place by 2019.

Powering the quartet is a new family of boxers, ranging from the aforementioned 2-liter turbo-four — capable of 280 horsepower — to the 988′s 4-liter quad-turbo-eight, delivering 600 horses and ~400 lb-ft of 458 Italia-killing torque in testing.

Underpinning the quartets will be an all-new architecture that will use different backsides depending on the position of the boxer, shared front structures, and three front axles with optional hybrid/electric AWD such as the system powering the 918.

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BMW M235i Bests Corvette, 911 In Consumer Reports Road Testing Mon, 30 Jun 2014 12:00:17 +0000 BMW M235i HR 04

BMW’s M235i has earned the highest marks ever bestowed upon the German automaker’s lineup from Consumer Reports, while also besting the Porsche 911 and Chevrolet Corvette in road tests whose results were recently released online.

Bloomberg reports the coupe earned a 98 out of 100 in its road test, falling one point short of the all-time leaders, the Tesla Model S and Lexus LS460L. The 911 and Corvette, packing more firepower with less comfort than the M235i, earned 95 and 92 out of 100 in their respective road tests.

Deputy editor Jon Linkov proclaimed the M235i a “dual-purpose car” that anyone “could drive to work every day of the week” without leaving the driver in pain, followed by a weekend at the track taking on the likes of the 911 and Corvette. He added that this particular BMW “has almost a direct lineage” to BMWs of the past that lived up to the marketing of “Ultimate Driving Machine.”

Neither of the trio were recommended by the publication, however, as the BMW and the Corvette were too new for reliability reports, while the 911 has below average reliability according to those surveyed.

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Capsule Review: Lone Star Region Porsche Club’s Every-Man’s Autocross With A 911 Carrera 2 Mon, 26 May 2014 16:00:08 +0000 10150795_10152172248628579_2002862088973711476_n

Porsches and drugs are similar vices. They’re expensive, rather addictive and always fun to try — at least once. But there’s always a “gateway” drug, a low-risk and easily accessible drug to just get a sniff of what the air smells like outside of the box. To the Porsche Club of America, whose events mostly comprise of High Performance Driving Events (HPDE) and track days, they needed a gateway race to warm Porsche owners up to the idea of exploring their car’s potential. What was needed was an autocross, a low-risk and affordable taste of motorsport.

Full Disclosure: Lone Star Region Porsche Club of America provided the 1990 911 Carrera 2 and entry fee for this event.

Enter the Lone Star Region Porsche Club of America’s (LSRPCA) refreshed autocross program. After a mild hiatus, the region restarted the autocross program to draw in new members; and partly to have another reason to autocross, these events can be as fun for the instructors as it can be for the entrants. The morning started at about 7:30 am, I arrived a bit early to talk to a few friends and meet the crew running the event. The staff was compromised of PCA members of all skill levels, from local autocrosses to seasoned factory Porsche racers.  As participants rolled in, the shape of the field began to take shape. There was a gaggle of Miatas, of course. I followed a white first-generation Boxster into the event. A pair of 1LE Camaros made an interesting appearance. A yellow 946 Turbo even made it in, and a venerable array of air-cooled and late model 911′s made up the last half of the field. As a truly open event; even one of the regular rallycross AE86 Carollas nearly made it to the event, but when the alternator quit alternating while driving to Houston, they had to give up on the trip.

I met up with my friend, Seth, to meet the this 911 I’d be attempting to not ruin. A  beautiful red 1990 Carrera 2 sat in the middle of the lot, basking in the golden-hour light. The car is a clever compromise; the wife’s daily driver, and his weekend toy. With an agreed amount of mechanical sympathy, he shared the keys with me for a day. The ’90 911 Carrera 2 is a time machine. Not knocking on a modern Porsche, but the air cooled ones smell and feel like they’ve just rolled away from a craftman’s hands. Thoroughly brilliant driving dynamics wrapped up in a classic suit. Occasionally the mood is interrupted with a few gimmicks of the era, like a popup cassette tape holder, but you still can’t help wanting to don a smoking jacket and cigar after stepping away from the experience.

Just look at it. Post-80′s bumper covers really did bring the styling of the then-new 964 up to spec of the modernized chassis. And that RS wing? A little gratuitous, but so perfect. The event is structured like an average SCCA Autocross. Registration and tech inspection are quick and painless, and there’s ample time for course walking at your own pace. Seth and I were walking the course, and talking about how to approach the course with the 911′s quirks in mind. We spotted a rookie pretty quick, a tall fellow in a salmon shirt and white Dockers, and went along to go introduce ourselves. Seth did a course walk around with him, one-on-one, to give a quick run through on course memorization and how to approach each section. We eventually caught up with the main group of instructors, who were leading a group course walk for all interested drivers.  While not a habit for SCCA Autocross, LSRPCA found it beneficial to set time aside to run the groups through and give an introductory lesson.

The event is ran like a typical autocross. Entrants were given work assignments, a required job using the body count of entrants to help staff the event, mostly as corner workers. Autocrosssing regulars of the region make up the more critical elements the event; like handling lap timing, organizing drivers in grid, and timing the starting gap between drivers, as the course crosses itself in one section. Corner working is simple enough: keep an eye out for cars that have hit penalty cones, radio in the offenders, reset any dislodged cones, and generally be the eyes-and-ears of the event. My morning started running timing, experienced from helping run our local rallycross events. We started on time, and the run group was even keeping to schedule, something that can be difficult with new drivers figuring out the pace and rhythm of the time between runs. Things like drivers being unready when it’s time to queue up, slow driver changes with a shared car, little things.

The diversity is refreshing. A healthy level of competitiveness is brought out of some drivers when a purple MX5 starts knocking down faster laps than a newly-bought 911. Most of the newer drivers were quick to adapt to the autocross format, and quickly found more and more time. Instructors were available two ways: They can drive you (in your own car, or one of their’s), or they can ride along and provide instruction. I wrangled Steve Bukowski, Performance Driving School Chair for LSRPCA, to help me adjust a bit quicker to the 911′s quirks. With in two laps, I had dropped around 3 seconds off my consistent, but slower early runs. My issue is a common one is a common one of mine. I regularly compete in rallycross. While it teaches a lot about weight transfer, corner entry is a different record in the juke box. My natural habit is to enter hot, upset the chassis, and rotate the car into corner with the nose facing the exit before I even reach the apex. This isn’t how you play autocross, and the Porsche would revolt with sobering understeer.

The 911 is a an interesting car to drive. They behave like nothing else, and if under-driven, will fight you in every direction. With poor weight transfer at lower speeds, it’ll understeer at turn in; and with poor throttle commitment will step out the rear like a rudder if you pull back. I knew that going in; never-lift was the contingency plan. If you trust it, and shift weight forward for just a second, the rear tires build a little slip angle, just enough so that you dial the steering wheel back to center. This is how the edge of a master chef’s knife feels — smooth, sharp. If exploited correctly, you can make a 911 truly dance wherever you want. But it takes work, it’s a state of mind. A break in concentration, or a lack of commitment, and it fights you.


But it was easy to build confidence with the LSRPCA instructors, including Seth, my loaner 911′s owner. With an approachable, while still technical approach to instruction, his strength is in getting drivers past the mental barrier of entering performance driving. Raceday jitters can paralyze a person, and such was the case of a particular Boxster owner.

After my runs, my work assignment was to help operate the timing system. The system uses a two pairs of light sensors that start and end a unique timer for each car as they break through each pair of sensors. The times are automatically recorded by AX Aware, timing software ran on a tiny netbook. Raw times and raw penalties are separately recorded on paper, as backup.

If a run’s time exceeded 100 seconds, the timing system would begin to miscount the number of cars on course. This should never happen — but it started to happen during my work stint. We quickly identified the driver, and Seth approached him. He was making a common autocross-rookie mistake: Getting lost. Though Houston Police Academy has a nearly figure eight shaped road course, it connects to an open parking lot. Taking that parking lot full of cones, and visualizing a course in it is one of the toughest aspects to autocross. It can be infuriating when, despite the best attempts, the cones never translate into sense.

With the problem now identified, Seth worked with the driver over the next few runs. First thing was course navigation, second was keeping his eyes up, looking forward to the next turn — instead of looking down at the turn he was currently navigating. While the first run with Seth still timed out the system, his next run had dropped his time down into the mid-70′s; a remarkable 30 second improvement. Slowly, the driver began to enjoy himself. His fastest run came down to a clean 68 second run.

This is who the LSRPCA wants to capture. The Porsche owner who has yet to truly explore their car correctly. It was later mentioned by another racer that our problem Boxster driver had been blasting through traffic that morning, perhaps a bit recklessly, on the way to the autocross. No doubt the autocross was a humbling, though productive experience for him. As drivers become more comfortable with high performance driving, they can easily step up to LSRPCA’s more regular track day events to further hone their skill. The autocross program, from its catered lunch to the friendly instruction, provides an attractive start for Porsche owners. If you’re around the Houston area, and have a Stuttgart speed machine in the garage, look into the Lone Star Region PCA’s website, here, to find out about future events.

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Piston Slap: The Value of The Mid-Life Crisis Mon, 19 May 2014 11:59:50 +0000

TTAC Commentator HEATHROI writes:

A friend–definitely a friend as I would just buy a new mustang and be done with it–is looking at early 00s 911 (probably the 996) as he has entered mid-life crisis mode. He must have the porker. I know there can be some issues with the drive train. I’d like to see if anybody knows a little more about 996 problems what to look out for and how much he might be looking at. Handy, he is not.

Sajeev answers:

We’ve discussed Porsche IMS failure to no end around here. My brother had a rather choice 996 (of the RUF 550 variety) and it spent a fair bit of time in the shop for non-IMS issues, as it was a turbo. The headlight switch, for starters: apparently a common fail point and a good $150 for the part alone. It’s all kinda down hill from there, but this thread does a good job explaining many of the pitfalls to avoid. Or to know in which to price accordingly during negotiation.

Because when its time to sell, his losses will be in the thousands. Perhaps that’s part of the mid-life crisis game…

So I’m not gonna convince anyone to avoid the 996, as depreciation (most haven’t bottomed out yet) the parts replacement cost, insurance, premium fuel, etc is irrelevant.  But buying one without a PPI is pure stupidity of the highest order.  If there ever was a poster child for professional inspection before opening your wallet, the 996 has gotta be it!

Odds are he can find a good 996 with a post IMS-failure engine replacement, binders of repair history and a clean PPI report within his budget.  Of course, if you really want to mess with him, invite him to a local track day to pick on Vettes, a new Mustang GT, a Miata, etc. with that 996.  That’ll make his investment all the more worth it…well, at least for you. And that’s who we are really trying to help here, oh dear reader!

Off to you, Best and Brightest.

Send your queries to Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.

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Making the Call Fri, 25 Apr 2014 12:48:08 +0000 Californiacallbox

As we hover around the fifty mile an hour mark in the right lane, the car ahead begins to wander again. First to the right, correcting sharply as they touch the rumble strip. Then to the left, as they overcorrect and wobble back across the center line. Suddenly, there’s a white flash to outside my driver’s door window. It’s some kind of late model Benz, burning up the passing lane Autobahn style. Not good.

The day started with plenty of optimism. Three weeks after the engorged disc in my lower back was finally cut down to size, I feel well enough to attempt the longest car ride I’ve taken in five months. It won’t be easy, but I have a friend along to help with the driving. We’ll be attending a conference about an hour and a half away from our homes, in a major Southeastern city. There will be a lot of sitting involved; my least favorite activity since my spine began to malfunction more than a year ago. However, the recent experiences of our dear EIC pro tempore give me strength. Surely I can handle a short drive if the man who pretty much broke everything a short time ago is already back to his jet-setting ways.

With my friend to distract me, the first drive is less onerous than I expected. The conference goes well, and I don’t regret the trip. All too soon it’s time to pack up and leave. After dosing up on ibuprofen, I slide into the driver’s seat for the return journey. We hit the freeway as darkness falls.

A little more than an hour in, we’re cruising at a little under seventy in the right lane. I’m pretty sore by now, but we’ll be home in a half hour or so.  The freeway is fairly empty. I try to avoid sliding into the hypnotic state that so often accompanies long stretches of straight road. At least I have my friend to keep me alert. As well as the pair of flashing taillights that I’m fast converging on, dead ahead of me.

Damn. I don’t have to slam the brakes, but the deceleration is rapid. I want to pass him, but he’s literally taking up the whole road. He splits the two lanes, blocking me on both sides. I fall back. We’re doing a little bit above fifty, and he has his four ways on. What the hell is going on? Is he looking for someone on the side of the highway? Or perhaps for a mile marker, or an exit sign? Cars start to stack up behind us. He drifts back to the right, opening up the left lane. The cars behind us hustle past, and he speeds up a little. I could pass, but I don’t. Something doesn’t feel right.

I drop back and watch. It’s not long before he begins to weave again: left and right, back and forth. Both of us observe him, or possibly her- it’s too dark to see inside. We watch them in silence for a few minutes, wondering if maybe they’ll pull over. But nothing happens- the four ways keep going, the weaving stays about the same, and cars continue to blow by us on the left.

What should we do? I don’t know the number for the Highway Patrol. I’ve never dialed 911 before in my life, as strange as that sounds. Is this the kind of thing that 911 should even be used for? Does a guy who can’t drive straight really count as an “emergency?” It’s dark, we’re both tired, and the sawed-off disc in my lower back is increasingly making its unhappiness known. We’re rapidly converging on our destination, and I have no desire to get involved in what could rapidly become a long or even dangerous confrontation.

It’s at that point that the Mercedes appears. It’s a miss, but too close for comfort. It sends our subject wheeling back to the right, against the rumble strip, and then back left again on the same crazy cycle. Drunk. I don’t recall which of us said it first, but there is no disagreement. Even if we’re wrong, we’ve passed a tipping point that shouldn’t be ignored. We decide to make the call.

I hand my friend my phone. He gets the local 911 operator, who immediately begins pumping us for information. Where are you headed? What’s his license plate number? The make/model of car? And so on and so forth.  Then the operator wants to know my phone number. My friend hands it back so I can tell her. At this point, we’re running out of her jurisdiction, so she abruptly transfers me to the Highway Patrol. A few buzzes, and I get their operator. He begins asking me the same set of questions- apparently nothing was communicated by the local operator.

After a few more minutes I finish up with the Highway Patrol operator. He tells me that there are no units in our area, but he’ll try to dispatch one to check out the situation. He advises me to turn around as soon as possible and go home. There’s only one problem: we have now missed all of our exits, and neither of us knows how much farther we must go before we can turn around. To make matters worse (or possibly better), I seem to have spooked our subject when I pulled in close to read his license plate. His four ways are still flashing, but the wandering has mostly stopped. His speed increases to tolerable level as he stays in the right lane. We drop back and follow at a distance as the minutes tick by. No sign of the cops.

Finally, an exit appears. It’s a rural area, but I see that I can turn around and go back in the opposite direction. I start to head for ramp, but then I see that our subject is doing the same thing. “No!” my passenger shouts. I dive back to the freeway at the last moment. My friend is right; I don’t want to be stopped on that ramp behind a driver who has undoubtedly realized we’ve been following him. I don’t need any bullet holes in my car, myself, or my friend. I watch our subject switch off his four ways as he heads up the ramp. For a moment, I panic and wonder if he might come down the opposite side and follow us. But we never see him again.

We drive a little farther before we come upon another exit, turn around, and head back home. We’ve tacked on an extra half-hour or so to our journey with little to show for it. I feel frustrated, but also relieved. Maybe the cops pinched him, or maybe he got away. It’s out of our hands now. Even so, I can’t help but feel that there was something else going on besides a garden-variety DUI; the endlessly flashing four ways are a bizarre coda on the entire story.  What about you, B&B? Have you ever made the call?

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Capsule Review: Porsche 911 GT3 (996 Vintage) Sun, 24 Nov 2013 14:00:04 +0000 IMG_1167

Over an uncharacteristically lazy Labor Day weekend, I found myself chatting with Derek Kreindler about subjects near and dear to the apex of TTAC’s masthead:  semiotics, the musical oeuvre of John Mayer, and – briefly – automobiles. Given my mild disappointment with Porsche’s newest mid-engined cars, he suggested a Porsche 911 GT3 from the 996 generation, pronouncing it “certified badass.”  I protested that they were quite rare, and I’d never had the opportunity to drive one, but I’d check local listings to pacify him.  Lo and behold, there was a Speed Yellow example on a used car lot less than 10 miles away from me.  I called and confirmed that the car was still available; I could test drive it provided I arrived at the dealer within 30 minutes.  I was out the door before the receiver went dead.

When I arrived at the dealer at the tail end of a slow Saturday afternoon, one of the few remaining employees offered “you probably know more about these cars than I do.”  I was assured that this was the case when he pulled the car around and encouraged me to go for an open-ended test drive alone, a 24 year old given the keys to a searingly Speed Yellow, barely domesticated $60,000 race car with a weighty clutch and 380bhp unbridled by any electronic nannies to save me from tears and expensive bodywork.  I had also watched  this marketing clip just a few hours before; alas, I was unable to make it to Road Atlanta that day, but it was quite easy to imagine doing so in the future:

Click here to view the embedded video.

The 996 model years are roundly criticized by detractors for a variety of reasons:  the abandonment of air-cooling, the arrival of thoroughly modern chassis and interior designs that killed the charming anachronisms unique to the 911 genus, and those unfortunate headlights.  Fortunately, the GT3 version of the car is the most handsome of its contemporaries, with a subtle yet purposeful aerodynamic bodykit and a stance that is unmistakably motorsport-derived.


After taking in the car’s sheetmetal and brilliant paintwork, it was time to drive away lest the dealer representative change his mind.  A previous owner had chosen to retrofit the seats that many GT3s abroad enjoyed from birth; affectionately called “Dumbo seats,” they cost well over $5,000 including shipping, provided you can find a pair.  They are veritable hip-huggers and quite form-fitting for a Southerner who’s fond of fried chicken.  Nevermind, once ensconced within – you sit “in” them rather than “on” – they offered tremendous lateral support and transmitted every scintilla of feedback to my posterior.  Unfortunately the rest of the interior was a letdown, all amorphous plasticky curves, bereft of the never-obsolete quality that oozes from the earlier air-cooled cars.

Screen shot 2013-09-02 at 4.45.32 AM

GT3s of all generations eschew the vestigial 911 rear seats in favor of a natty placard reminding you what type of car you’re driving, as well as an expanse of carpeting into which the finest of used car dealers will vacuum an attractive stripe pattern if you ask nicely.


Left foot firmly on the non-floor-mounted clutch pedal, I inserted the key – still on the left – and cranked the engine.  After a whirr from the starter, the engine barked before settling into a clattering, lumpy idle, in the fashion of the air-cooled engine introduced in the 964, from which the Mezger engine inherits much of its base architecture.  Among the 996 attributes I cataloged above, an additional criticism leveled against the car relates to the fragility of the all-new engines fitted to the standard, “cooking” Carreras, which were somewhat prone to unexpected, catastrophic failure.  Fortunately, the Mezger engine is the descendant of decades of motorsport glory, so it avoids those issues, although it has some minor issues of its own (chiefly, the weeping rear main seal that plagues garage queen cars).  Gingerly testing the clutch pedal, I pulled into traffic.  The GT3, with its low ride height, heavy clutch, and recalcitrant shifter was not exactly at home in the bump-and-grind traffic found in the land of strip malls, fly-by-night buy-here-pay-here used car lots, and Compramos Oro enterprises, so I made way for a nice office park nearby.

The first chance to test the car’s abilities came on a downhill cloverleaf ramp.  Predictable 911 traits surfaced as the front end washed wide before the rear end hooked up, giving the first opportunity to test the powertrain as I merged into traffic.  The flat-six’s lungs engulfed oxygen as the revs soared, the gruff induction noise giving way to the mechanical rattle and hum of symphony in the key of P-flat as redline neared, before I slotted third gear, then fourth… at which juncture I confirmed the stopping power of the binders; sufficient to leave welts where the seatbelt met flesh.  As thrilling as the powerplant was, it was let down a bit by the gearbox; Porsche chose to fit the “base” GT3 with a dual mass flywheel, reserving the racier single mass, lightweight flywheel for the GT3 RS, a car not offered on our shores in 996 guise.  After fitting the more aggressive clutch and flywheel assembly to my car, I’d argue that the minor refinement compromises – audible gear lash at idle and low revs – would suit the nature and character of the high-revving GT3.  Furthermore, the 996 GT3′s shifter features somewhat long throws and imprecise engagement, demerits rectified in the later 997 generation of the GT3.

Once at speed on a section of I-75 that I know quite well, the compromises of the GT3′s chassis revealed themselves.  Although the longer wheelbase of the 996 reduced the tendency of the 911 to porpoise over bumps, and the superior dampers provided body and wheel control that embarrassed my 993, the ride was extraordinarily firm, inducing a wince at every surface imperfection and expansion joint.  Fortunately I only had to travel a few miles before I reached the office park I had in mind – a loop of nearly a mile that rises and falls as it winds around a leafy complex full of anonymous office buildings along the Chattahoochee river.

After a cautious exploratory lap of the deserted office park, I pushed a bit harder on subsequent circuits.  Once apace, the characteristics that were vices on the highway became virtues; the chassis provided supreme mechanical grip at reasonable public road speeds, the steering was sublimely tactile, weighting up and – crucially – unweighting with remarkable clarity and fluidity, the helm positively shouting its feedback where my 993 whispers and modern Porsches are absolutely mute.

The GT3 was a physical, intense drive, snaffling over bumps and cambers with the rear end poised to step wide at the slightest provocation, perhaps attributable to its Pirelli tires of unknown age or provenance.  Once used as intended, the entire car resonated with unmistakable, pur sang race car heritage.  After a few more loops I returned the GT3, reflecting on Porsche Motorsport’s ministrations on the 996 as I re-traced the earlier route in my familiar 993.  A lengthier sojourn would have provided more opportunity to assess the car’s range of abilities in situations both mundane and special, but I was able to form a sufficient opinion of the car in a brief period of time.  Although the car shone brightly in a spirited environment, its optimization for that narrow usage rendered it torturous as a daily driver candidate, my intended use for any car I might purchase.

Screen shot 2013-11-23 at 11.45.30 PM

David Walton grew up in the North Georgia mountains before moving to Virginia to study Economics, Classics, and Natural Light at Washington and Lee University. Post-graduation, he returned to his home state to work in the financial services industry in Atlanta.  A lifelong automotive enthusiast, particular interests include (old) Porsches and sports car racing.


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Porsche Reunion Thu, 14 Nov 2013 15:30:56 +0000 Headlights

“All I need is a name.” He said.

This road trip was a fiasco. A week ago we had left his home in North Carolina in my Porsche 911 on a starry-eyed quest worthy of “This American Life.

We were going to find my brother’s father.

For most of my life, my brother had existed only as a single distracted, almost-forgotten conversation. As a child, our now long-deceased mother had mentioned him at a most inopportune time. But to him, I existed in a different sense. I was a real figure from his past; biological proof he came from someplace; an answer to a question he had been asking for decades.

We met face to face the day after Christmas in 2007. 4 1/2 years later, I departed Oklahoma, picked up my brother and embarked on this adventure culminating in Columbia, South Carolina, the state capital. There, at the hall of records, I knew our heartwarming story of love, loss, reunion and redemption along our combined southern charm would open dusty vaults, rewarding us with answers.

Not a chance.

A woman from the records department met us in the lobby. She wanted to help; my brother sensed it and pressed.

“A first name…” He begged to no avail. She smiled sympathetically, but was handcuffed by regulations.

Indeed, a first name was all he needed. 19 years prior, he had come to the same building. The clerk at the window had held a file. She had told him ,”In here is everything you need to know.”

Then she added, “And I cannot give it to you.”

Instead, he had been given a sanitized copy, black marks lining through all the distinguishable details. Resembling an Area 51 document from the History Channel, the non-identifiable information included a generic description of an older brother.



Over the years he combed through the blacked out file and unceasingly requested further information. He received the same copies over and over. He searched, he posted on message boards, and he kept at it.

Finally, he caught a break. One copy failed to black out our mother’s first name. A volunteer search agency was able to cross reference birth records in several counties, filter the results with the non-identifying information; this lead to a cousin, then to my step dad, and finally me. That is what landed him in the passenger seat of my black 911 in the sweltering southern heat.

Now, defeated, we sat in the smoking area behind the hall of records.

Our last conversation with various faceless officials of our inscrutable government had ended with “Have you considered hiring a private investigator?”

Those words echoed as I looked at my brother, elbows on his knees, Marlboro Light in his fingers, staring at a patch of concrete waiting for the answers that had eluded him for his entire existence. The same gaze had come from behind titanium Oakleys in my passenger seat during the days leading up to this moment.

So I hired one. A specialist in adoption who sat on the state board. Realistic and professional, she warned me it could from six months to a year and that sometimes she could not make the connection.

In the end, it only took three weeks. When the report arrived, I was stunned by the detail; I had the grandparents, family locations, education and even employment. Most importantly, I had the answer my brother needed to know.

As written by Mike Rutherford; I had a name, and I had a number.

I refused to cause any family harm and I was not going to make this connection if it would bring my brother pain. I had to tread carefully.

I left a excruciatingly generic voicemail. Two days later my phone rang.

A few weeks later, my brother was waiting to meet his father. Sitting in his Charger SRT/8, he wondered what they would talk about. They had spoken on the phone, but it was still bound to be awkward. How would they break the ice?

Then his father arrived, driving his 911.

W. Christian Mental Ward has owned over 70 cars and destroyed most of them. He is a graduate of Panoz Racing School, loves cartoons and once exceeded the speed of sound. Married to the most patient woman in the world; he has three dogs, and will never be half the man his brother is.

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Piston Slap: Porsche’s Kid Friendly Option. Yes, Option. Thu, 03 Oct 2013 12:25:49 +0000

Seth writes:


I own two cars – a 2003 A4 3.0 quattro with 81k miles and a 2005 Boxster S with 50k miles. Both were bought used and both have been relatively inexpensive to maintain (so far). I went ahead and replaced the timing belt on the A4 earlier this year due to the car’s age, despite the fact the service manual doesn’t call for a new timing belt until 105k mi (which would occur at 13 years old based on my annual mileage).

That said, my wife is about to have our first baby and this has called my car choices into question. The A4 is pretty small – too small for a kiddo and all her associated stuff – and the Porsche, well, that’s a non-starter. Since I can’t turn the airbag off, my kid wouldn’t see the front seat of the Porsche until she’s a teenager.

The question is: do I trade in both cars and buy a family friendly SUV (say a VW Touareg) or keep the Boxster and trade the Audi in on something a lot less expensive, yet still family friendly? I am torn – I really enjoy the Porsche.

Sajeev answers:

Wait, WHUT? Kids aren’t allowed in a Porsche?

They’re sure as hell allowed in a C5-C6 Corvette…or a regular cab Ford Ranger for that matter.  Oh Porsche, how could you not let us share your pure driving experience with our cute little children?

Turns out that like many features/attributes of a Porsche, safely carrying your kiddo is an extra cost option.  Which sounds stupid, but it’s probably justified like other wallet-killing options: the Slim Thug approved wood grain wheel, fake aluminum trim, retro side decals, pointless body kits or leather-wrapped vent registers. This article explains the two options available to owners of older airbag’d Porkers and younger children. Part number 997-044-800-15 is probably what you need.

To what end?  Get the Boxster sorted for your future sprog and buy a normal vehicle to replace the A4.  I’d suggest avoiding Europe for that, getting a higher value Japanese or American alternative…and pocketing the cash savings from the next few years of ownership into a college fund for the kiddo. Or an impending IMS failure. Ain’t nothing wrong with owning a Boxster and a Camry! Probably.


Send your queries to Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.

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P-Cars And Perception Thu, 29 Aug 2013 19:55:02 +0000 desert

(Ryan sent this to me before the recent Adbusters piece, but perhaps it’s additionally relevant now — JB)

The Truth About Cars is that sometimes they tell us the truth about ourselves.

I rolled into Los Angeles one morning in a badly running 911. It was already hot, though the morning haze hadn’t yet burned off. The transition from the wide-open, high desert to the sudden congestion of the L.A. basin was disorienting. Still, I felt a tinge of excitement. I was on the West Coast, and I was there to pursue a girl.

Windows down, wing windows open (one of which sporting the de rigueur PCA sticker), I could clearly hear the misfire the flat six had developed somewhere in the desert. It still made sufficient power, but obviously something was wrong. The car was a ’74. Silver, euro headlights, Fuchs wheels, mismatched tires, badly split dashboard, short shift kit, high-bolstered cloth Recaros, a little rust, and to top it all off, a salvage title. It’s tough to buy a 911 with student loans.

A week earlier, I’d been thumbing through the Auto Trader magazine (that’s how we used to do it), hoping for a cheap 944 when I my glance fell to the little black and white thumbnail of this car. I was sure it was a misprint. I called on it immediately, then called my dad’s Porsche mechanic. “A 911 for $5000?” he inquired. “Yeah, will you take a look at it for me?” I asked. “Buy it” he said. “If it runs, the engine and tranny are worth that.” So I did.

Now, a week later, and eleven hundred miles away, the “it runs” part was dubious.

Los Angeles is a funny place. I don’t much care for it. Dave Duchovny’s character in the TV series Californication shares my sense of the city. I had recently moved from London, he from New York, and we both found the city much more confident in its appeal than we thought was warranted. (Interestingly, in the series, he too drives a Porsche, a beat-to-hell 964 cab, if I recall correctly.) To my mind, it is a city characterized by a culture without substance. A culture in fact so far removed from substance, people there often don’t recognize the difference between substance and non-substance.

Philosophers call the study of the relationship between signs and the things signified semiotics. Bear with me being arcane for a moment, as I think this is the way to describe my objection to Los Angeles. In L.A., the importance of the thing ‘signified’ has largely disappeared. The important value has dropped out of the equation. Now, people there traffic largely in an essentially meaningless jargon of ‘signs’ that don’t actually correlate to anything.

Are you an ‘actor’? Of course you are. Are you a ‘producer’? A model? Wealthy? 45 and not 25? Everyone has been pretending for so long, people have become desensitized. It’s perfectly natural to lie about what you do for a living, and how well you do it. (Spoiler alert: everyone actually works in a restaurant.) Fake it until you make it, right? Lease a new Range Rover, and park it in front of your dumpy shared apartment. It’s the appearance of wealth—denoting success!—which is important. Surely no one is smart enough to peek behind the curtain, to see through your little ruse.

In the midst of this din, this incessant and meaningless projection of symbols, one can scarcely communicate. After all, language, too, is a system of symbols. As Orwell wrote in his magnificent essay, “Politics and the English Language”, when you manipulate the correlation between language and states of affairs in the world, you lose the ability to communicate.

For many Angelenos, the idea that in other parts of the world, people derive goods not by passing legislation, but by actually working, is surprising. That people actually make things—objects, literature, non-online degrees, the yields of agriculture—all this is foreign. Why would you bother with that? Just pretend. It’s the sign, not the thing signified that matters.

What does this have to do with a badly-running 911? Well, as it happens, this is just the car to pry-open the dysfunction of the place. The car and I were the same age. The interior smelled not like a luxury car, but rather like an old Volkswagen (same vinyl, after all). The only leather in the car was on the steering wheel, and it was in rough shape. Yet people had been so conditioned to respond to symbols, that my 911 told people I was a producer (or something equally silly). “But you have a PORSCH! (sic)” “Uh, it’s as old as I am. The tires don’t even match.” That I was a marginally employed grad student simply did not compute.

People didn’t seem to realize how old it was. Now, I grant that Porsche has been very conservative in the styling of successive 911s, but surely even the untrained eye can spot a car from the early ‘70s. That someone would enjoy a 30 year old car—with no AC—for its own sake, was unheard of. The car, it seemed, was itself valueless. It carried great weight as a sign, however. People were so accustomed to responding to the sign, that they failed—sometimes entirely—to perceive the vehicle empirically presenting itself.

I found this perplexing.

The merits of the car—and in spite of its condition, it was a very cool little car—were completely occluded by the perceived significance of the car. Why would you have a Porsche if not to signal your wealth and success to those around you? What other possible purpose could there be?

Upon visiting a cousin in Orange County, his (physically enhanced) wife came bustling in: “Wow—whose Porsche is that?” Apparently, the social status of one of her husband’s friends (and so, by proxy, hers?) was about to go up. However, upon learning the answer, she was visibly disappointed. “Aren’t you some sort of theology student or something? Why would you have that car?”

The answer? Complex. Let’s summarize:

Dr. Porsche had a dream. (It was not nearly as profound as Dr. King’s, but it was not without merit.) In the early-mid twentieth century, sports cars were big. They had giant engines. Ferrari, Jaguar, and Mercedes vied for speed records in famous races along dangerous routes through the Alps. Dr. Porsche also wanted to win, but his philosophy was entirely different. He built a tiny, incredibly simple, lightweight sports car. Rather than a V12, or something equally monstrous taken from a post-war fighter plane, it featured an air-cooled four cylinder—configured horizontally. Its body was made of aluminum, and he avoided the extra weight of paint (which is why early P cars raced in silver—they were unpainted). The center of gravity was mere inches off the pavement. As a lad, I would often check out books from the local library. One was about Porsches. I recall studying the black and white photos of stern German men in lab coats beating aluminum panels by hand over wooden molds. The body was very simple, an inverted bathtub. Guess what? His cars could win.

Now, whether any of the above is actually accurate, it all sounds about right—doesn’t it? It’s more or less what I remember reading as an adolescent, and that’s the important point. It’s part of the Porsche mythos, and it’s why I would have a car like this.

My car—the ’74—was small, light, and silver. It made fantastic noises. Its 2.7 wasn’t especially powerful, but it was so light, it could walk a 3 Series. Or: the delicious banshee wail of the flat six at full chat convinced the other drivers it could. Same result. I got a lot of tickets in that car. This, roughly, is the response I’d have liked to have given to my busty friend. (Remember her? She’s three paragraphs above).

Where’s the disconnect? Let’s see if we can unpack it:

1. Small, iconoclast sports car = object of desire
2. Object of desire = expense
3. Expense = luxury
4. Luxury = wealth
5. Therefore, 911 = wealth
6. Desire to look wealthy? Get a 911!

If you miss the reason the car is desirable, and jump straight to the car as a signifier of something else, you really miss the point of the car. And look what else happens: generally speaking, you want wealth so that you can acquire neat things. Wealth is a sign that you as a person get to enjoy neat things. The neat things are the point. But if you miss the value of the things themselves, and see them only as signs of wealth, you’ve reversed the relationship between sign and thing signified, and you create for yourself a perpetual cycle of unfulfilling—because meaningless—acquisition. Get a major segment of the population of a large city participating in this confusion, and the term ‘Californicaiton’ begins to take on real meaning.

Now, obviously this sweeping characterization of Los Angeles is unfair. What I’ve written is by no means true of each of the city’s inhabitants; but if I were asked for an illustration of the point I’m making, this city would be definitely be exhibit A.

“Well”, I thought to myself, “so much for the socialite classes. But true automotive enthusiasts will understand”. With this consoling thought, I tracked down the local chapter of the PCA. I attended precisely one event. It consisted of a bunch of retired dentists talking about golf. They all but asked me to park my 911 in back, and out of their line of sight. It was only later that I learned of the POC, the group who actually liked to drive (even on tracks!) By then, however, I was over the girl I’d gone in pursuit of, and for that matter, L.A. in general. I sold the car for more than I paid for it, bought a high-mileage BMW E28 on Ebay, and left town in search of my own soul.

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There’s Nothing New Under The Sun – Test Drive Reviews of Porsche’s Entry-Level Sports Cars Sun, 18 Aug 2013 14:37:56 +0000 Fortune Cookie Depending on the type of mood in which I find myself after waking, as well as the type of mood in which I find my car after its waking, I vacillate between being buried in the masterpiece or selling the lemon in short order.  Recently my relationship with my Porsche 911 has been somewhat strained.  A relatively minor issue prompted my most recent trip to the dealer, yet I was set to depart with another four-figure bill.  In a moment of weakness I strolled over to the other side of the dealer and perused their new offerings, in particular the updated 981 Boxster and Cayman twins.  Perhaps relatively predictable depreciation losses would be preferable to the Russian roulette of ongoing high-dollar maintenance.

A particular brand of Porsche enthusiast, usually those who own either of the junior siblings, will claim that those are the “real” sports cars now, considering ownership of the elder 911 an indefensible signifier of a poseur as the icon ascends to the lofty grand touring segment.  I’ll concede that they might have a point, as the entry-level sports cars are smaller and lighter, more in keeping with the original ethos of the giant-killing momentum cars that made the badge famous in the first place.  Plus, they feature a mid-engined architecture that is dynamically optimal, at least on paper, whereas the 911 is a curious outlier with the bulk of its mass situated over the rear axle.The significant price differential in favor of the 981s is, of course, purely coincidental.

Despite being on the youthful side – I’m 24 and look younger – I had my own Porsche in tow, and I was wearing a suit, so booking a test drive of both a Boxster S and a Cayman S proved easy.  Plus, I had recently received a serendipitous fortune cookie, so I had to do some (window) shopping. Despite being an avid Porschephile, I have enjoyed minimal exposure to the more modern product offerings.  It is a common tenet among many serious Porsche owners to maintain without irony that whatever car they happen to own at the time is the absolute pinnacle of the company’s capabilities, with the ensuing model years representing a fundamental sea change in Porsche’s values, fueled by cynical profit pursuit and the triumph of marketing and accounting over engineering, culminating in inexorable decline.  Porsche themselves have even poked fun at this attitude.

Porsche Cynical Poster

NB: Had I been able to locate a digital copy of the above poster with sufficient resolution, you would be able to read the following in the text pane to the right – “255,000 people have an older one in their garage and could talk to you for hours about why theirs is the best year and although we are deeply proud of our heritage we maintain no loyalties to any particular vintage and recommend a brief yet thorough test drive of the newest model available. (Which, incidentally, now has a top speed of 168 miles per hour.)”

The now-deposed 997 owners express reservations over the electrically assisted steering on the latest and greatest 991, whereas the 993 owners bemoan the loss of the air-cooled engine and the ur-911’s original footprint and cabin layout, the 964 owners mourn the upright front fenders that allowed the driver to see how much the car understeered (which was worst just before the car snapped to oversteer!), the G-series owners insist that something was lost with the end of the torsion bar era … all the way back to the 356 owners who are still unconvinced by this whole “911” fad.  Meanwhile they were all sneering at those who were stuck pushing around a front-engined 924,944, 968, or 928, as well as all Boxster and Cayman variants.  When viewed objectively and dispassionately, it’s a facile contention, and it reminds me of similar remarks made at my college graduation; a relatively obscure and stubbornly conservative liberal arts school situated in rural Virginia, my alma mater invariably produces graduates who express a tinge of pity for anyone who attended the school after they did, confident that the experience is diluted evermore each year, and the essence of the place is endangered.

And what about the essence of Porsche?  Is it endangered?  Do they still build true sports cars, and is the 981 stable the rightful inheritor of the air-cooled cars’ legacy?  Most importantly, could it replace my 993?  Of course I had to see for myself, but I received plenty of unsolicited advice from family friends and coworkers. One family friend volunteered that the new Boxster was actually a surprisingly handsome car, representing an improvement over the 986 and 987 cars’ “bar of soap silhouette that [he] would be embarrassed to be seen in.”  A coworker who allegedly maintains a businesslike relationship with rapper Rick Ross, the “Hottest MC in the Game” and a confirmed 911 enthusiast, promised to leverage his professional network and urge the Teflon Don to talk me down from the precipitous proverbial ledge of trading my 911 for a “chick car.”  Concurrently, another colleague warned me that the primary determinant of vehicular desirability was the presence of “sick fuckin’ technology,” helpfully suggesting the purchase of an Acura ILX instead.  Ironically, the latter colleague also professes a meaningful personal connection with RO$$, so I’m anticipating a phone call from a blocked number any day now.  Failing that, I’ll look for Ricky Rozay at the next Porsche Club of America ice cream social.

Click here to view the embedded video.

The Boxster S I drove was resplendent in white.  While the new car undoubtedly looks more muscular, a bit like the last decade’s Carrera GT supercar if you squint a little, I don’t think the refrigerator hue will do the soft top car many favors as it ages. Ellis Boxster 1 Sure it looks good now but so did the new pair of tennis shoes I received each school year as a kid, only to look tired and worn before the first snowfall.  Or perhaps the new Boxsters will age as gracefully as a bathtub 356, who knows? I do know that I prefer the external aesthetics of the new Cayman over the Boxster.  The Cayman S tester was also white, but the more aggressive front fascia treatment and “Platinum Satin” wheels manifest a remarkable improvement in the car’s overall look.  True, the cheaper to manufacture coupe will cost you a few grand more, and painting the wheels will tack on $845, but the krauts know how to extract the most from their patrons.  Seriously, in Guards Red the Cayman S could wear a Pininfarina badge. Ellis Cayman 1 The interior of both cars is also a marked improvement over the previous generation, featuring superior materials – but certainly not standard full leather – and a rising central console that salespeople will tell you invokes the aforesaid Carrera GT.  Personally, I think it more readily elicits comparisons with the Cayenne and Panamera breadwinners. The Boxster S was equipped with the good ol’ G50 6-speed manual… Ellis Boxster Interior … while the Cayman S featured the optional 7-speed PDK transmission and Sport Chrono Package, which total just over $5,000 combined. Ellis Cayman Interior I drove the Boxster S first.  After releasing the strange emergency brake – an oversized button mounted down and to the left of the steering wheel – the controls struck me as typical Porsche, although all inputs felt a bit less substantial, requiring less heft than my tractor of a car.  The sweet manual transmission featured a relatively light clutch with very gradual takeup – the polar opposite of my car – but it was familiar enough that I could heel-and-toe with ease after a few exploratory shifts.  The 3.4 liter engine in the S-variant Boxster produces 315 hp, before running out of steam at 7800 rpm, with peak torque coming in at 266 lb-ft.  Although the test drive was conducted two-up, the Boxster is considerably lighter than my 993, which left the factory with 282 hp and has doubtless sacrificed some of those stallions to the angels’ share – just like the finest Scottish exports – during the interim.  Consequently, the Boxster felt considerably more rapid than my immediate frame of reference.

The Cayman S came next.  I self-identify as a luddite who prefers the interaction of three pedals and a lever over the new-fangled dual clutch setup, but I did find the PDK quite beguiling.  Apart from the humdrum efficiency gains afforded by the extra ratio, the PDK transmission – when coupled with Sport Chrono -  makes a case for itself through enhanced straight line performance, far in excess of the 10 hp and 7 lb-ft incremental gains given to the Cayman S over the lump in the Boxster S.  The PDK + Sport Chrono equation allows the driver to indulge in Launch Control, in which the computer optimizes all parameters and slingshots you forward from a dead stop.  It’s great fun, and impossible not to inscribe a shit-eating-grin on the driver’s face, but it strikes me as a party trick you’d use to dazzle your friends.  It’s an expensive gimmick, that’s all.  As for a holistic assessment of PDK, it’s difficult for me to say whether it would still keep my attention on, say, my 247th day commuting to work without a clutch pedal.

Neither car I drove had the optional Porsche Sports Exhaust, but both provided a sufficient, if somewhat subdued soundtrack.  Even the base setup emits little flourishes of overrun on downshifts, but they come across as synthetic, like Porsche by Pro Tools. Neither car I drove had the optional Porsche Active Suspension Management either, instead riding on the standard, passive dampers.  That was fine, because the all-new chassis underpinning both 981s is a gem.  The combination of enhanced stiffness – heightened more so by a modest yet perceptible margin in the hard top car – and wider tracks versus the precedent 987 cars gives the new cars tremendous composure when pressing on, and the mid-engined orientation endows the car with remarkable agility, particularly through sudden transitions.  The Boxster and Cayman provided sufficient confidence to push the cars into gentle four-wheel drifts when space permitted, something I would not  (intentionally) do in my car.  In my 911 the script reads like this: pronounced, seemingly terminal understeer that rapidly gives way to exuberant oversteer, requiring four attentive limbs to control the car.  It’s akin to the sensation you experience while being towed behind a speed boat that has changed course ahead of you – a spell in the predictable, placid doldrums before being fired across the wake.  Conversely, the modern mid-engined cars slow everything down like Bullet Time in The Matrix, so even a ham-fisted hack feels like a virtuoso, selecting a slip angle from a continuous menu of options.  It is deeply impressive, but perhaps a little less thrilling overall.

Braking has historically been a strong suit for Porsche, and the junior twins performed as expected in this regard, with reassuring retardation bolstered by well-judged sensitivity to modulation.  Both cars had the standard steel brakes, identified by their red calipers, which more than sufficed in all situations encountered; the additional outlay for the bling yellow PCCB calipers is probably overkill, especially as both cars stickered well north of $70,000 already. So what about the steering?

The transition away from hydraulically-assisted steering toward electrically-assisted steering has incensed owners and fanbois alike.  The new steering setup – which included the optional Power Steering Plus in both cars I drove – still allows the driver to position the car with both precision and accuracy, and it becomes weightier once at speed, just like the preceding cars. It performs all of the essential functions that a sports car’s helm should, but part of that Porsche essence is gone; there’s no more tugging, or writhing, or superfluous tactility.  It’s all very efficient, and not in a good way. So what’s there to conclude?  Keen readers already know that the 981 is a very good car, that it shades the primitive, old, air-cooled 911s in every objective measure.

Is there a banal, hackneyed platitude about “soul” to tie these observations and experiences together?  No, the denouement is this:  If you believe that Porsche is evolving through Sisyphean endeavor, gradually pushing the boulder up the mountain a bit more with every passing model year – a bit more power, a bit more economy, a bit more space – then you’ll find no surprises with the newest junior sports cars.  Conversely, if you fear that Porsche is caught  in entropic freefall, you won’t be surprised either, for there’s nothing new under the sun when it comes to Porsche, they stick to the script.

David Walton grew up in the North Georgia mountains before moving to Virginia to study Economics, Classics, and Natural Light at Washington and Lee University. Post-graduation, he returned to his home state to work in the financial services industry in Atlanta.  A lifelong automotive enthusiast, particular interests include (old) Porsches and sports car racing.

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Review: 2014 Cayman S vs. 1998 911 Carrera S Tue, 23 Jul 2013 19:10:51 +0000 IMG_2937
My friend Rob Z. is the quintessential nice guy: even-tempered, affable, a firm handshake and a decent sense of humour. We meet up on a sunny Saturday morning in East Vancouver and he rolls open his garage door.


Clearly I’m going to have to murder him.

Captain Obvious
Me too, but you can’t. Like Jerry Seinfeld recently said of his ’73 911 2.7RS, Rob’s 1998 911 Carrera S is a “dead-guy car”. The next owner is upstairs eating cheerios and watching cartoons, but as far as anyone buying this last-of-breed, insanely low-mileage air-cooled 911, it’d have to be over Rob’s cold, dead body. WHICH CAN BE ARRANG- sorry, sorry.

(Entirely justifiable) homicide aside, finding and purchasing a car like this is much more difficult than simply popping your head ’round the door of your local Porsche dealership and plonking down the order for the car I’ve parked next to it, a second-generation Cayman S. The lithe two-seater can be leased, if you so desire, and can be painted any colour you’d like – Rob would slightly prefer if his 911 were white, but there’s no used-Porsche factory. Well, apart from Singer.

Anyway, there’s been a lot of talk recently about how the Cayman (along with the Boxster) is Porsche’s new proper sportscar. I posted a pretty good early-morning shot of the car’s sleek new lines set against the Vancouver city skyline on facebook and a TTAC contributor opined, “Cayman is the new 911.” That’s as may be, but is it the old 911?

For starters, just look at it.

To my eye, this is an exceptionally good-looking car, balanced, well-proportioned, and frankly beautiful. In a world where manufacturers are continually telling us how “aggressive” the styling on their new minivan is, the Cayman manages to project purpose without looking like a Tapout t-shirt. It’s a miniature supercar.


Park it next to the 993 and the Cayman’s modernity comes apart a little. Rob’s 993 came lowered on Bilsteins, properly done, but bound to cause consternation and condemnation amongst some purists – but it wouldn’t be a 911 if someone wasn’t turning up their nose at it. As such, the friendly-faced little 911 is lower in the nose and sleeker than the low-slung Cayman, despite a high greenhouse that makes it actually taller.

Even so, I parked the Cayman S across from an Aventador convertible at the local Cars and Coffee and it garnered only slightly less attention than the Lambo. Those wagon-sized 20” wheels are ridiculous on-paper, but strike me dead with dysentery if they don’t look fantastic. Everywhere I went, people were excited to see the car: “Is this the new one?” they’d ask with big smiles. That has never happened to me with a 991.


The other thing I was asked, repeatedly, was, “How’s the steering?” Usually, this query was delivered with the concerned tone of voice of someone asking about the progress of your irritable bowel syndrome. My answer? Not bad. Not great, but not bad.

Driving the Cayman back-to back with the 993 does the newer car a great disservice, as you don’t really notice what you’re missing until you do so. The 993′s steering is extremely light, but fizzes and pops with every small road imperfection, sending frissons from your hands up your arms to the pleasure-centres of your brain. It’s phenomenal, a vinyl recording of a live concert.


The Cayman’s steering is an MP3 of the same event. Compressed and filtered for modern consumption, the brain simply fills in the gaps and you get on with the business of enjoying the exceptional chassis, excellent transmission (auto or stick) and delightful engine. But after driving something like the 993, you can’t help but ask, “why have they done this? It’s slightly worse!”

However, you only need drive a Cayman S a few feet to know that this is going to be a wonderful little car. There’s a litheness to it that’s missing from the 911, a nimble athleticism that doesn’t give a good God-damn about chromed projections of affluence. Hit the button for “Sport+”, slot the PDK transmission into full manual and walk on it – this thing goes like Hell.

The 911, on the other hand, drives like Heaven. The seats are more comfortable than the Cayman’s, the brightly-lit cabin is less a jet-fighter cockpit than an aerobatic aircraft’s plexiglass canopy, and there’s all sorts of other interesting quirks like the slightly offset pedals and metallic delicacy of the door locks. When new, this 993 had 282hp, a full forty less than the 325hp Cayman S.

Even though the PDK-equipped Cayman is heavier, by about a hundred pounds or so, the 993 is no slouch. I wind it up through the gears respectfully and Rob says, “don’t be afraid to drive it.” All righty then.


What a machine. The thrumming whirr from that big flat-six, the precision of the steering – it’s all just as good as everyone says. And, in a 993, there’s no real heavy lifting, no difficulty in driving it quickly with confidence. “I do sort of feel like I’m wrecking it by driving it,” Rob says, which given the just-over eleven thousand miles on the odometer, is not an entirely unreasonable thing to say. “Who cares?” I reply, “This is your car, then his.” Behind the passenger, there’s a booster seat – the boy that one day inherits this masterwork will doubtless have fond memories.

No one will really “inherit” the Cayman. It’s not that sort of car – it’s brilliant, and much, much faster than the 993, even moreso than paper-racing the two might show. It’s absolutely the best car Porsche currently builds, engaging, exhilarating… expendable. If you’d like to know why I think that, just read Jack’s piece on his Boxster.


However, this Aqua Blue two-seater will make a decent three-year lease for somebody who will put five thousand miles a year on it, and then a great CPO deal for the second owner who will drive it into the ground, and by “ground” I mean Porsche service centre. Or possibly some joke about electrical grounding faults.

Call it a decade or so of useful service, a machine that never fails to grab you by the lapels – as long as you have the throttle mapping set correctly. It’s far too expensive, of course, and for the money you could easily have a new ‘Vette Stingray or a CPO 997 (and isn’t that the biggest argument against the Cayman?).

Yet it’s an excellent sportscar – when I drove the 991 Carrera S last July, I concluded with something like: “It is probably the best car I will drive all year. And I don’t want one.” Well, the Cayman is probably going to be the best new car I drive this year, and I do want one.



Especially if you’re considering a weekend toy, you could instead have a genuine air-cooled 911. It’s slower, it’s noisier, it’s not as safe, and it’s much less efficient. It’s also cheaper – this one is about two-thirds the cost of the Cayman plus-or-minus a medium-length jail term – and they don’t depreciate.


A nice safe conclusion then: the usable classic is better than synthesized modernity. Not quite. If you had just one parking spot, no pair of diesel cargo-haulers to handle day-to-day duties – Rob has an ML and a Golf Wagon – you’d be far better off with the Cayman as a weekday warrior and not worrying about preserving a 993. It’s not a car for forever, but it is a car for right now, wherever and whenever right now might be.

Porsche Canada provided the Cayman reviewed and insurance
Rob Z. is just on a long vacation, I swear, don’t ask me any more questions.

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The End of the Forever Car Tue, 25 Jun 2013 15:05:33 +0000 IMG_1060
Central to the tone of Jack Baruth’s lovely father-and-son 911 vignette is the concept of the Forever Car. It’s a nice thought – the machine acting as fossilizing amber, perfectly capturing a fleeting memory such that it lasts an eternity.

This idea is, to me, an entirely rational way to explain the presence of a theoretical soul in something that is composed of nothing more than steel, glass, rubber and leather. Cars don’t have souls, they develop them through experience – the transference of an emotion felt behind the wheel. It doesn’t have to be a 911 either, even the humblest old Volvo shoebox absorbs a personality as it slots into the background in slide after slide of family vacation pictures.

And then, you find yourself browsing craigslist and seeing a well-preserved you-name-it and thinking, “I could make that mine. I could share that with my children, and they would understand, and when I am dead and gone, they would explain it to their kids, and they would know.”

It’s a nice thought, the Forever Car. It perfectly encapsulates the human need for lasting possessions, of the art scrawled on the cave wall that says, “I was here.” One’s all-too-brief lifetime becomes a link in a chain that’ll stretch out over the years; less an ownership cycle than the work of a custodian/curator.

Well hurry up then. The last Forever Cars have already been built.
Some years ago I was travelling in Australia, winding up a hairpin road to a resort smack-dab in the middle of a Queensland rain-forest. Stopping for lunch, I took in the grounds in all their parrot-infested splendour, never imagining I’d be bowled over by a herd of centenarians.

This was the Australian Rolls-Royce Owner’s Club, some of whom had travelled from as far away as Tasmania; a creaky herd of antediluvian behemoths, the youngest of which was built in 1923. One old gentleman donned a brown Rolls-Royce jumpsuit and set about rummaging in the gorgeous copper and steel innards of his classic motor-coach. I spoke to several of the owners and they were all experienced tourers, some younger, some older, all with a passion for these beautiful relics.

Of course, you’d have to be slightly deranged to think touring around in pre-war cars is either a safe or reliable way to see the country. Usually the folks that do so are more well-heeled than Disco Stu, capable of flying in experienced mechanics when needed.

However, the cars are simple and sturdy enough that a careful caretaker can keep them running without too much difficulty. They are certainly Forever Cars, in the sense that there’s almost nothing that could break which wouldn’t be worth putting right.
For those of us that can’t afford a Roller – or who don’t care to – a legion of classic American iron constantly cycles through the auction block, supported by a healthy aftermarket of folks who know how to strip down and build up both Detroit’s best work and its follies. The same is true for less-trustworthy British steel, with stampings still readily available for those fighting cancerous lesions on the flanks of their electrically persnickety steeds.

And then of course, there’s the Porsche 911: a hardy air-cooled sporting car with some wonky vehicle dynamics, or a modern, highly-technical tarmac-ripper with a big, mortal electronic brain – the split occurs in ’98. I have to confess a certain fondness for the 996 GT3 on my part, simply because the 996 is everyone’s least-favourite engine-in-the-wrong-place P-car. There’s no question though, if you stick an air-cooled 911 in your driveway, it’s never going to be worth less than what you paid for it. Even if the mileage is huge, it’s a machine worth keeping around.

More importantly, it’s a machine that can be saved. My dad’s current BMW 550i six-speed is theoretically a last-of-breed too: one of the last proper driver’s 5ers with the very hard to find stick-shift. Once the extended warranty runs out, the thing’s going to start fritzing out like a Aston-Martin Lagonda in a salt bath. There’s no way that keeping it on the road will be worth anything like the money required to do so.

Modern cars are so much better than their ancestral equivalents in many ways. Today’s family sedans – the Mazda6, the Fusion, the Honda Accord – offer exceptional ride, handling, economy and safety. The Accord and the Mazda are also both decently fun-to-drive, and certainly equipped with some level of personality.

But even the traditionally well-built Honda won’t be kicking around in twenty-five year’s time, carefully polished up by some gaffer that kept the miles low, or ruined by some kid with whatever the Buck Rogers equivalent of Hellaflushing will be. It’ll simply be gone, replaced in its product cycle by the next consumer good, a cleaner, safer, better product which costs you money and takes you places.
That’s the lie of the “modern classic” – such a vehicle simply doesn’t exist. Sure you could argue that the Shelby ‘Stang would be worth keeping around, and it’d be easier to do than anything Teutonic, but what about trying to fix one when it’s thirty years old? Where will you take the ECU for re-soldering? Who’ll still have the diagnostic equipment?

In twenty years time, the pool of heritage vehicles will have contracted somewhat, owing to the relentless erosion of time and chance. Some fossils will be damaged irreparably; still others will be cobbled together to form a more-perfect skeleton. More and more will show up in Murilee columns.

And, perhaps, the pool of people who actually care about this sort of thing will have shrunk as well. The Forever Car might be safely in the hands of a new owners, or it may sit, unloved, as part of an estate sale while a bemused lawyer tries to figure out who’d want this leaky, dusty, decrepit, out-dated old thing.
But I don’t think so. I think any car that’s special in some way and can be resuscitated will still be found out on the highways while there’s gas to burn and places to go. Not locked up tight in some climate-controlled museum, but out on the road, subject to the risks of collision, weather and mechanical failure.

I think, forty years down the road, long after the internal combustion engine has become the equivalent of the cigarette, decades after Akira Nakai’s violent murder at the hands of a mysterious, shaggy assailant, we’ll find a white, basket handle 911 parked on the side of the road. As centipede-chains of whirring electro-pods pass, filled with people doing every damn thing but driving, a stranger will stop and do a double take. “I haven’t seen one of these forever!”

And then, one hopes, there’ll be the sort of exchange that always happens around an interesting old car: Is this yours? How long have you had it? Where’d you get it? What do you think it’s worth?

The last question may give pause because, of course, it has no real answer.

Note: The pictures accompanying this article were taken in Salt Lake City, which I passed through on the way to Aspen CO (where the beer flows like wine, etc.). I then ran into the group of touring Bentleys two blocks from my house in Vancouver a week later, which rates as co-incidence almost too absurd to be true.

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Hello, Yellow, Happy Birthday: BMW Faint Praises Porsche Thu, 06 Jun 2013 16:54:07 +0000 P90124916_lowRes

Usually, automakers never mention the competition, especially when you are BMW and the competition is Porsche. Soon, the Porsche 911, according to BMW “the flag-bearer of the German sports car fraternity,” will celebrate its 50th birthday, and BMW has a special birthday greeting.


In an elaborate press drop, it compares the 911 not with equally sporty BMWs, but with the MINI. For that, a yellow Ur-MINI (historically correct in RHD version)  and an equally yellow 2.4 L 911 Targa were put side-by-side, for a photo-shoot more elaborate than for many new car catalogs. Today, masses of pictures were sent out, along with a press release  that waxes long and poetic of how similar the Mini and the 911 are, both on the road and on the track.


The press release, in the for BMW typical War&Peace-worthy  length, can be found here.  (BMW definitely does not seem to be worried about TL;NR).


This subliminal message (the MINI  equals the mighty 911) is a gigantic put-down, dressed into polite praise. It’s a lost art, and I am glad BMW masters it.

Damn with faint praise, assent with civil leer,

And without sneering, teach the rest to sneer;

Willing to wound, and yet afraid to strike,

Just hint a fault, and hesitate dislike.

Alexander Pope (1688–1744)


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WSJ: Porsches Are Too Difficult For Celebrities To Drive Wed, 13 Feb 2013 13:54:55 +0000

Remember Nikki Catsouras? Possibly not. The young lady borrowed her father’s 911 Cabriolet, made a mistake at speeds reported to be in excess of 100 miles per hour, and was killed in a remarkably bloody and graphic fashion by the blunt end of a tollbooth.

Remember Chris Brown? The singer and occasional girlfriend-beater mildly crinkled the nose of his 911 Turbo S Cabriolet while ostensibly avoiding a squad of photographers.

Ever think those two incidents might be related?

This week, the Wall Street Journal opined that Porsches might, you know, just be too dangerous and/or difficult for unskilled operators to take to the proverbial eleventh tenth.

“Porsche’s (sic) are known for this quality that driving experts call “oversteer.” It has been a contributing factor in some crashes, though Porsche said it has tamed the tendency through numerous design and engineering changes over the 50 years the model has been on the market. However, the car’s handling makes it especially nimble and extremely fast in skilled hands… In fast corners, the relatively heavy rear-mounted engine can act a bit like the head of a hammer. It seems to want to swing around toward the outside of the turn. Well-trained drivers know it’s vital to continue applying power, making subtle adjustments to keep the car balanced and under control.”

I’m not sure that any “well-trained” 911 driver in history has ever considered the car to be particularly nimble, unless one’s standard of comparison is a Ninety-Eight Regency Brougham. Nor would it necessarily be a good idea to just KEEP THE POWER ON! at all times if one’s 911 is out of control. In the modern cars, the best thing to do is to press strongly on the brake and let the PSM sort things out.

In truth, the current 911 is almost impossible to get out of shape, something I confirmed for myself during some recent track time in the 991 Carrera S PDK. The car’s default behavior is stability, and that’s exacerbated by the massive discrepancy between front and rear tire size. If anything, it’s considerably safer to drive than the high-power AMG Benzes and over-turbocharged current crop of BMW M cars, all of which are capable of swapping ends pretty quickly if the traction control is disabled. Even the current Corvette can be considerably more vicious than any water-pumper 911.

Porsche spokesperson Nick Twork responded to the WSJ’s questions regarding Porsche safety in remarkably ambiguous terms:

Porsche spokesman Nick Twork said while the cars require “slightly different driving techniques,” they are “as safe as any other cars on the road…. You have to think about what you are doing when you drive them… You have to be careful.”

In Mr. Twork’s shoes, I might have been considerably more emphatic about the remarkable safety and docility of Porsche’s current products, but I can understand why he wasn’t. Fifty years ago, the company took half-measures like bolting lead weights on the 911′s front bumper and cheerfully looked the other way as the new rich of the Western world backed their products into trees at high speed with depressing regularity. The 911′s resulting reputation as a challenging car to drive probably sold a lot more buyers than it discouraged, particularly as the cars became more and more docile in real-world use. The legend of the unstable 911 became an essential part of the car’s appeal, so much so that outstanding products like the 944 Turbo and 928 were often the subject of frank criticism for being “easy to drive”.

In 2013, the 911 Carrera is easy as pie to drive fast, but nobody at Porsche is eager to trumpet that fact from the mountaintops, any more than they are in a hurry to explain to their customers why the 911 costs more than the Cayman and the Cayman costs more than the Boxster. The WSJ article is, effectively, a sales tool. It allows the investment bankers of suburban Chicago to intone, “Well, this is the car Chris Brown crashed… it was too much for him. They aren’t for everyone. Of course, I’ve never had any problem with mine.”

The WSJ does note that

“Road accidents tend to happen to drivers who lack the skills needed to drive some Porsche models smoothly and safely at high speed.”

The same thing is true for Civics, of course. Why isn’t Chris Brown crashing Civics? Perhaps when his money runs out, he’ll get the chance.

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Capsule Review: 1976 Porsche 911S 2.7 Mon, 26 Nov 2012 15:12:10 +0000

The 2.7-liter 911S was so problematic that I named it as one of Porsche’s Deadly Sins a couple years ago. Its engine failed with monotonous regularity, often between the expiration of the 12,000-mile warranty and the 50,000-mile mark on the odometer. The 1974 models usually lived a bit longer because they didn’t have thermal reactors, and the 1977 models had improved Dilavar head studs, but none of the “S” cars were reliable in any modern, or even contemporaneous, sense of the world. In the thirty-five years since the model was replaced with the “Super Carrera” three-liter, however, the aftermarket has managed to address the core issues and build reliable replacement engines for these otherwise charming classic coupes.

As the snow started to fall in Central Ohio this past weekend, I fired up my own aircooled 911 and took it downtown to meet a restored example of its ancestors.

Picture courtesy the author.

The “Coke-bottle” shape often associated with the aircooled 911 has become so pervasive in the popular imagination that it’s both a shock and a pleasure when I pull up to meet the owner of this car in downtown Columbus, Ohio and see that it not only has smooth flanks, it doesn’t even have a passenger-side mirror! This is the shape of the body as Butzi Himself imagined it. Even if you don’t like the impact bumpers which adorned Nine Elevens from 1974 to 1989, you have to admit that they’ve become as much a part of the classic shape as the original chrome bolt-ons were. Although the car’s previous owner made the decision to “update” the car from its original chrome trim when he restored it, this is still very much the street-going, no-pretenses Porsche. Narrow fenders cover narrow tires mounted on narrow Fuchs alloys. No ducktail, no sneering front airdam, no Turbo-Look. None of that. There’s simply no aggression to the car. It looks like what it is: a faster, more sophisticated descendant of the Type 1.

A modern Porsche, jam-packed from stem to stern with self-conscious tributes to the Almighty Racing Brand DNA Of Our Brand, looks ridiculous next to this simple, elegant statement of civilized sporting intent. Even my 993 looks cartoonish and distended in its presence, playing the role of the buffed-out, tatted-up, bald-by-choice Jason Bonham while its ancestor channels the powerful but artless Bonzo who hammered out “When The Levee Breaks” at the bottom of an English mansion’s stairs. There was an era, apparently, when the men of Stuttgart didn’t have to slather Heritage and Prestige and Upscaleness all over the cars with a fifty-five-gallon drum.

It’s soon apparent why that was so. The driver’s door latch clicks open with the precision of a Sig P210′s hammer mechanism and I take my seat. Immediately I’m surrounded by the noise, the insistent Beetle-blat waterless thrum, resonating in the space between my lungs and vibrating the upright windscreen, tingling the control surfaces. The clutch is featherlight but all three pedals feel wrong somehow. My feet don’t quite fit under the dashboard. I realize that Porsche must have worked a little bit of magic between 1976 and 1995 to fix the ergonomics a bit. Most likely they just shortened the radius of the pedal arms.

The old “915″ gearbox has a reputation somewhere between legendary and infamous among PCA types but in fact it’s quite easy to use. The throws are long compared to any modern car but never did I slot the wrong gear. Once I rather lazily tried to toss it from fourth to sixth, as I do in my 993, and was rewarded with a brief bite of synchromesh. There’s no lockout for reverse, unless you count the lockout that the car’s designers expected you to maintain in your disciplined mind. I’m fairly positive that most people could easily commute in this; sure, there’s no power steering but you don’t really miss it.

Picture courtesy the author.

From the light I roll away in first to spare the clutch but then full-throttle to the top of third, watching my own 911 recede in the mirror as this car’s owner shakes his head at my behavior. Of course the sound is lovely, although it never manages to equal the big-bore snarl of the later cars. There’s about 170 horsepower to push slightly under 2,500 pounds. I imagine it would run fairly evenly with a Scion FR-S at least through the eighth-mile. Not surprisingly, the old Porsche corkscrews a bit down the road under full power, sniffing out the crown in the downtown six-lane with unerring precision and requiring a touch of correction across the steering’s dead spot at center.

It’s a time-honored tradition at car magazines to announce that THIS YEAR’S 911 IS VERY EASY TO DRIVE BUT LAST YEAR’S WAS DEATH ON THE HOOF. It’s even being done with the 991, which we are assured has none of the quirks of the 997, which had none of the quirks of the 996, and so on unto the seventh generation. Well, this car has the quirks. The torsion-bar suspension reacts to the road in all the ways that the 993′s fiendishly complicated Weissach axle doesn’t. Of course there’s no stability control. There’s no ABS. In a quick 90-degree turn I’m easily able to get the tail to step out at the blinding speed of about 30mph. The one concession to safety was done seven years prior in 1969 when the wheelbase was extended two inches to prevent the worst sorts of mayhem. It probably caused the original car’s engineers actual physical pain in their hearts to make a concession like that to the no-talent-drivin’ Iguanadon-esque proto-yuppies who paid between fourteen and seventeen thousand dollars for 1976 Porsches. Remember, that kind of money would get you literally twice the car in those days from the domestic dealers. For half the money, you could have gotten a Corvette with almost fifty more horsepower and more rubber on the road. The more things change, and so on.

Picture courtesy the author.

Let’s review the salient features of the interior. There are five gauges. Three of them convey vital information about the pressure, temperature, and level of the oil supply. Don’t forget to look at them. This isn’t a Camry. Something could go wrong. To the driver’s right, we have the shift lever, which goes right into a rubber boot on the floor. Want a console? Get a Cutlass Salon. A pair of levers where the stereo probably should have been placed controls a random array of flaps throughout the car to create a new and completely undesired change in cabin temperature with every fresh manipulation. Or they might be connected to nothing at all. It’s hard to tell. In later cars, this worthless arrangement was replaced by an automatic climate control which didn’t work any better but which offered a higher possibility of failure. I don’t know if the climate control in my 993 works as intended and I’ve never been able to find anyone who knows how it’s supposed to work anyway. A series of circular indentations on the passenger side of the dash indicates to that passenger that you couldn’t afford all the options. This was so effective at humiliating buyers into spending more money that it continued all the way to the very last 993 Turbo S Weissach Sonderwunsch Otto von Bismarck Sturmvogel Fighter-Bomber Edition, which still had one empty spot for an option yet to be conceived.

It’s best to just ignore that stuff and drive the car. Here, at last, is the cure for texting while driving. The millions of deaths which occur every year due to the iPhone’s ability to stream the Kim K/Ray-J video in 4G could all be avoided, every last one of them, if the government issued everyone a Seventies 911 and made sure they always left the house five minutes later than they’d wanted to. It would help if it could be made to rain as well. Full attention on the road. Guaranteed. Nothing could go wrong, because in the era before texting and driving the highways of the American continent were a virtual paradise where children could chase errant soccer balls right onto the Chicago freeways at rush hour knowing that alert, aware drivers were standing ready to execute precise avoidance maneuvers with no advance warning whatsoever.

We can’t have those salad days of safe motoring back. But you could take delivery of this freshly resto-modded 1976 911S tomorrow. It’s for sale. I give it my official Seal Of Approval. (WARNING: Seal of Approval in no way indicates that the car will start, run, appreciate in value, help you pull tail on the street, or even fail to explode at the least convenient moment possible. Attempting to print out the Seal of Approval and apply it to a vehicle may result in injury.) I’d buy it myself, except for one little thing: my 911. You see, my 911 does everything this 911 does. Plus it has working A/C (kinda). Plus it has an Alpine Bio-Lite sound system. Plus it has 255-width rear tires and the power to break ‘em loose. Plus the spoiler goes up and down with the press of a button. It’s cool like that. If you want something else that’s not totally something else, however, this 911 is cool, too, and it’s… um… uh… hate to say it in 2012…


Yeah. That’s it. No, it’s not an “authentic” restoration. But it’s the real deal: an air-cooled Porsche blowing a symphony of frenzied joy through the vented decklid. It’s no longer a Deadly Sin: it’s a holy terror.

IMG_1327 (Medium) Picture courtesy the author. Picture courtesy the author. IMG_1348 (Medium) IMG_1351 (Medium) IMG_1355 (Medium) Picture courtesy the author. IMG_1367 (Medium) Picture courtesy the author. IMG_1372 (Medium) Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail

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Ever Wondered Just How Necessary PSM Might Be? Tue, 21 Aug 2012 14:00:50 +0000 Click here to view the embedded video.

This is a great video, and it showcases just how quickly things happen in a racing Porsche… including bad things.

While making my completely ignominious Canadian Touring Car Challenge at Mont-Tremblant a month ago (more on that later) I noticed this gorgeous 993 GT3 Cup running in the Porsche-only IMSA racing series with which we were sharing the track. Quite the looker and although I would conservatively estimate that 20% of all club-racing Porsches use the Gulf color scheme, all the way down to 924s, this one looked really sharp.

This morning, I saw that Jeff Lacina of TrackGuys had posted this video and I immediately recognized the driver: Dr. Bob Seitz. Dr. Bob has won plenty of races and he’s no rookie; still, it’s instructive to see how quickly a rear-engined Porsche can turn around on you.

It’s also important to note that rear-engined cars without swing axles understeer by default. Early Volkswagens and Porsches earned a reputation for “snap oversteer”. This happened because as the car leaned over in the turn, the suspension would suddenly change the angle of the tires on the road, drastically reducing the grip. Since a car leans over on its suspension at a rate determined by spring rate, it was therefore possible for a driver to enter a corner at a set speed and then experience sudden oversteer as the car settled onto the springs and pulled the wheel out from under him. That’s genuine snap oversteer, as opposed to the “snap oversteer” you hear about nowadays, which equates to “I managed to be a bigger idiot than my idiot-proofed car could predict.”

Modern Porsches don’t have drastic camber change in corners. The front end is lightly loaded and as a result steering input at the front end tends to be followed by the rear end after a slight but discernible pause. At the true, genuine cornering limit of the car, that time lag can cause problems with correction. I think that’s what happened here, although only Dr. Bob knows for sure.

PSM and the other Porsche stability aids are designed to address this behavior, which is why it’s not a good idea to turn them off on-track just to be cool. Learn the car using the blinking light as a guide to problematic inputs before you throw caution to the wind. Of course, for older cars like the one shown below, there’s no PSM, so as I found out this past weekend, it’s useful to have a coach with you on-track, even if he sits in the back seat.

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Vellum Venom: 2012 Porsche 911 Carrera Mon, 05 Mar 2012 06:13:19 +0000
Vellum is a material at the heart of Automotive and Industrial Design.  Venom is something this website has in spades: so a few positive comments from a recent Piston Slap column brought the two concepts together.  Before we start; some ground rules:   I analyze what’s seen from my camera phone, no press cars and therefore no time to second guess my thoughts.

And a few shout outs:

  • Jeff Sanders: it was 5 years ago this week when you left us. I will never forget you.
  • Jack Telnack: for forming a team that made the cars of my childhood so remarkable.  Meeting you in 2007 was an honor.
  • Robert Cumberford:  for not being offended that I’m copying your idea.
  • My Parents: for paying the Industrial Design tuition to the Center (now College) for Creative Studies.

On to our first subject, the new 991 iteration of the 911: slightly longer, wider and with a ton more wheelbase in the proud Harley Earl Tradition, but you’d be forgiven if you see little difference between this and the outgoing model.  That said, the evolutionary changes are noteworthy, beautiful and maybe a little laughable.


The first thing most notice are the new taillights. Mercifully, the 991 is part of a new crop of vehicles ushering back the era of normal sized lighting pods: back when the non-functional portions of plastic lens were not a significant part of a vehicle’s real estate.


Even better, the new lighting pods and extra dimensions translate into an even more voluptuous side profile.  It’s not obscene like a Ferrari Testarossa, the more prodigious fenders give the feeling of even more tumblehome…which is sorely needed in today’s age of boxy silhouettes.

While I wanted a direct shot of the side, I intentionally steer clear of the press car lifestyle. So this 991 merely sits in a dealership’s inventory.  But even from here, the extra wheelbase  pushes the rear wheels further behind the greenhouse, giving the 911 less of a Pure-Porsche feel…even if it still is purely evolutionary in scope.


Aye, there’s the rub.  While I’ve read that moving the side mirrors to the door removes a boatload of aerodynamic nightmares, they aren’t nearly as elegant as having them on the A-pillar like the older models.  More to the point, imagine if that plastic triangle on the A-pillar was the footprint for the mirror instead?  Not to mention the flat black plastic trim on the mirror’s base is just asking to turn chalky after a few visits with an orbital buffer operated by an unprofessional.


The 991’s extra length and width translates into a sleeker, less stubby nose. If you squint just a touch or remove your corrective lenses, the new schnoz turns into something distinctly Ferrari 430-like. I am sure the Purists hate it, but this is a significant improvement for most everyone else.


Yes!  What’s not to like about a bit more nose?


The only big problem? The wannabe Lambo lower valence.  I know everyone steals everyone’s ideas in this business, but the 911 is supposed to be a little voluptuous, not wedgy and boxy.  I’d love to take a heat gun to the lower bumper and bring a little sexy back.  And what’s up with the flat black plug in the center?  That’s a little cheap and chintzy for a big dollar Porker.  If you need that for cooling in an upcoming model, just make a new bumper cover and add another grand to the asking price!  Your clientele will neither know, nor care!

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The Big Porsche Pig-Out: All The 911 You Can Eat Tue, 31 Jan 2012 14:47:24 +0000

To celebrate the arrival of the, well, in a way, new Type 991 911, the Porsche Museum Stuttgart launches a great 911 retro- and introspective.  On display from today until 20 May will be an overdose of 911. 

The Porsche Museum is exhibiting all the 911 generations, from the “original 911” Ur-Elfer of 1963 to the new Type 991 of 2012, nicely set against a historically relevant backdrop. Think “Wirtschaftswunder” meets greed & Greece.

Likewise on display will be rare motor racing variants such as the Porsche 911 Carrera RS 2.7 “Safari” or the Porsche 911 GT3 R Hybrid. The show with the title “911 Identity” lets you admire secret design documents, still in their Leitz two ring binders. Speaking of secret, you can admire an original 991 Erlkönig in the flesh, and sit behind the wheel of a Porsche 911 Carrera. Porsche will hope that the contact is contagious.

Just don’t come on Monday: The Porsche Museum is open  Tuesday to Sunday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Eight euro for adults, children pay half.

“911 Identity”. Picture courtesy Porsche “911 Identity”. Picture courtesy Porsche “911 Identity”. Picture courtesy Porsche “911 Identity”. Picture courtesy Porsche “911 Identity”. Picture courtesy Porsche Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail ]]> 4
Review: 2012 Porsche Carrera 4 PDK Mon, 14 Nov 2011 18:24:04 +0000

I know what you’re thinking.

I’m thinking it too.

Why me? How, with a host of competent hot-shoes, seriously-journalistic scribes and industry insiders here at TTAC, do the keys to a presser Porsche 911 get handed to the guy who publicly admitted to being not a very good driver and who has an unfortunate tendency to use four long words where one short one would do nicely? Would not the readership be better served by someone who could give you an in-depth, accurate 10/10ths dynamic assessment, or a brief, sober buyer’s summary?

Oh, probably. But there are two very good reasons I’ve got this thing.

First, I asked Porsche nicely. And repeatedly. Being that I’m in Canada, politeness works here like a Jedi mind-trick.

Secondly, this 911 is no adrenal-gland-prodding trackday GT3, nor supercar-blitzing Turbo S. Neither is it the new 991 nor the 997 that every other publication has already told you “is the one you want” – the GTS. Scope the specs on this particular slice of Stuttgart spizzarkle: four-wheel-drive, automatic transmission, “base” 3.6L engine – it might as well have training wheels attached.

Quite simply, what we have here is a 911 for Mr. Average, and if you ignore the fact that I’m a ginger, that’s me. I shall put on a hat and go drive it.

A stylistic critique of the 997, 2012 model or not, would be futile. Porsche has been honing the 911′s silhouette since 1963, and this particular variant has been kicking around since the ’05 model year.

Assuming that you don’t live on the moon, you’ve doubtless seen some trim level of the current 911 sitting curbside and drawn your own conclusions about the slippery reversed teardrop with the cello haunches. Corporate grilles be damned, every nuance of a 911′s shape is burned into the collective’s zeitgeist. This is the Porsche, the stallion-crest flag-bearer, and I suppose the only cosmetic things I can point to here are the slightly nicer optional Turbo wheels my tester is fitted with, and the fact that the last few years of 997s have been fitted with larger air intakes and the ubiquitous LED running lights.

But here’s the thing, the thrill I feel as I slide into the near-perfect seats and spend a few clumsy seconds trying to start the car with the key in my right hand (oh right, ignition’s on the left) is short-lived. Despite the flawless autumnal splendour of a rare sunny day in the Pacific Northwest, it takes all of ten city blocks for an invisible hand to twist the dimmer on the neon sign that’s blinking, “OH EMM GEE – I’m driving a 911!” in my head.

In quick succession I am passed by a V10 Audi R8, a white 458 Italia and a bright orange Lamborghini LP-550-2 Valentino Balboni. Hmmm.

Here in the City of Glass with its many narcissism-inducing reflective surfaces – the place that invented the butt-sculpting yoga pant (not that I had anything to do with it, but You’re Welcome) – a 911 Carrera is insufficient for posing; I might as well be driving a 2012 GTi for all the attention I’m garnering. The 911 might be the Porsche, but here it’s also just a Porsche.

The muted grey of this car’s Platinum Silver Metallic paintwork may have something do do with it, but the cheery fact is that the 911 has, over the years, gradually shed the Gordon Gekko ostentation of a crimson, whale-tailed 964 convertible. In an age where hot Bimmers are slathered in M badging and skittle-shaded entry-level coupes like the Hyundai Veloster boast big, blingy, colour-matched rims, mid-line variants of the 911 seem restrained, discreet, reserved. To my mind, that’s a good thing.

A Carrera4 is not – supposedly – meant to be coddled, so through the week a 911 becomes my commuter car. This is not as much fun as it sounds: I have a short drive to work, but at this time of year it’s a tangled mess, clotted with lumps of slow-moving SUVs, snarled by construction and confounded by sheer volume. Each day, I walk out to be greeted by the permeating dampness of a West Coast winter and learn a little more about the idea of a 911 as a daily driver.

Most of it is good. The PDK is somewhat clunky from cold, but soon warms up and begins shuffling through the gears imperceptibly and rapidly; sixth and sometimes seventh gear is achieved at not much more than side-street speeds of 30mph. Smooth yes, sporty no.

The sport seats, as previously mentioned, are fantastic: grippy yet cosseting. The steering-wheel is blissfully free of buttons and gently nudges your hands towards the correct 3-and-9 position. The rest of the interior is fairly spartan, and little different from that of a base-equipped Boxster. Satellite navigation is straightforward to use, the iPod interface is fiddly.

Visibility is excellent. Ride is firm, but acceptable. Tire roar stops just short of Nissan 370Z levels. Parallel parking at first brings beads of sweat to the brow in fear of curbing those low-offset rims, but becomes a doddle with a few days practice.

Whatever visceral tug that iconic shape gave me on Monday morning has been eroded by Saturday evening. The Carrera4 has been competent, welcoming, even reasonable on fuel, but in the day-to-day of city driving it has yet to shine. At this point, it might be tempting to scan the option list and begin grumping about the outrageous cost of extras that should be standard on a $100K car – $400 for auto-dimming mirrors? Really?

Instead, it’s time to head East.

As the sun slips down behind us and the scenery changes from skyscraper-and-supercar to pickup trucks n’ Holsteins, I can feel a little knot of anticipation growing in the pit of my stomach. I’m heading home.

Here, high in the hills above the fertile Fraser Valley, I awake early on Sunday morning to find the 911 coated with crystalline ice, its badge encrusted in hoarfrost. Day is breaking, diamond-bright and brittle-blue, brilliant with all the promise of a cloudless wintry sky. I fire up the big flat-six and a low-pitched thrum backs the percussive tappeting of valves as clouds of vapour issue from twin exhausts to hang in the cold, clear air.

While the frost clears from the windshield, I retreat to the warmth of the kitchen to chat over coffee with my father. About what I can’t remember: it’s not important.

“You want to go for a ride, Dad?”

The Porsche’s summer tires – I am the last to drive this car so shod – are frozen hard as hockey pucks and scrabble at the cracked and heaved pavement at the foot of the driveway. I have the car in Sport Mode with Porsche’s Active Stability Management engaged. This car is fitted with Sport Chrono – a must-have for PDK-equipped cars – and while engaging Sport+ on a public road is the province of sociopaths, kicking the 911 into sport transforms it.

We go haring up the first of several hills, the pleasant whuffling of the Carrera’s exhaust crescendoing into a sonorous turbine-tenor, hard first-to-second, second-to-third shifts hammering us back in the seats with a thump. Finally, Porsche has seen fit to add proper paddle-shifters, though they’re steering-wheel mounted, rather than on the steering column. We climb.

These are the roads I grew up on, intestinal loops of off-camber, often slippery asphalt, patchworked with hasty repairs, rumpled, rutted, rippled, dimpled and undulating. I have ridden the school bus on them, have sat shotgun in my Dad’s ’85 535i as we flew along through tree-dappled sunlight, have nursed a recalcitrant Land Rover along at imprudent speeds during my rash teenage years, have driven them home in the first car I paid for with my own money.

Dad taught me to drive here in that stick-shift E28, and here I am taking him for a ride in one of the finest pieces of machinery ever engineered. We blast along winding, sunny country roads with snow-capped mountains and frost-coated fields as the backdrop, whipping up red-and-yellow vortices of fallen leaves to swirl in our wake. If this is all beginning to sound a bit like a Porsche commercial, that’s pretty much how it felt.

With a dual-clutch gearbox, all-wheel-drive and a hefty price tag, this 911 invites direct comparison to the Nissan GT-R. In fact, picking Godzilla over this car (as optioned) would leave about $10K remaining in your jeans. As a kid, I would have said it was a no-brainer: the car that boasts the better numbers is the better car.

However, I’ve had a reasonable amount of seat-time in Nissan’s scalp-taker, and it’s a very angry, impatient, heavy thing. Where the GT-R stomps, crushing curving tarmac like a steamroller with R-compounds, the 911 fairly dances along the roads.

The Porsche has a taut, sinewy feel as you feed it into a corner and then squeeze the throttle out, feeling a slight hip-pivot caused by the mild pendulum effect of that rear-mounted engine. We’re not hurrying, simply flowing through well-known and well-worn twists and turns, watching for slippery patches and keeping an eye out for neighbours out on horseback. The roads remain abandoned.

I slow as we come to a corner where I remember a past winter’s ice, and sure enough, some badly dug ditchwork has allowed twin rivulets to flow across the steeply pitched road and freeze into thin and splintered sheets. Just for a lark, I lightly goose the throttle from low speed as the 911 picks its way across the ice-patch gingerly, shifting the power around like a cat lifting and shaking its paws as it walks across a wet floor. The result is undramatic: this car is equipped with the new electrically-controlled all-wheel-drive system out of the 997 Turbo, capable of putting 100% of the power to either axle. As the front wheels grip dry tarmac, I’m temporarily piloting a front-wheel-drive 911. Blasphemy.

It’s also capable of an incredible standing start with launch control activated. After stopping to take a quick picture I test it out: Sport+ button engaged. Stand on the brake pedal, bury the throttle in the carpet. 6500rpm. Release the brake.

The result? 0-60 in 4.6 seconds and some seriously impressed Herefords. Or they could be bored. Or hungry. Cattle are a pretty inscrutable lot.

I could drive this car here forever, endlessly looping these empty roads, but this is a fleeting moment and it’s time to return to reality and hand the keys back. But not before handing out one more free ride.

On our way back to the city, we stop in to see a very good friend who is completely useless about cars. His son is just turning five, and is somehow developing into a full-fledged gearhead despite his dad’s neglected Honda Civic and practical minivan. The house is littered with Hot Wheels and Pixar characters. Does he want to go for a ride?

Seconds later, we’re all strapped in, windows down with the heat on full. Bang-bang-bang through the gears and then hard on the brakes as we all dissolve into helpless, joyous laughter. “Uncle Brendan, this car is more fun than I thought it was going to be,” I’m informed with all the irony-free seriousness that the only the very young can manage. Amen to that.

You can buy a 911 in eighteen different flavours, and while this car skews slightly from the way I’d pick mine (skip the PDK, spec an “S”, hold off on the all-wheel-drive and sat-nav and spend the money on driving lessons instead), it’s still a very special car. If you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up.

The new 991 is already here, and I can’t wait to drive it and compare it to the low-mile 993 I drove a few weeks ago, and to this, last hurrah of the 997. The truth of this car? If you save up and manage to swing the lease payments, or pick a used one up with 30K on the clock for the same price as a new STi, then you will discover the same thing I have. Just occasionally, there is meat behind the legend. Just occasionally, the reputation is earned.

Porsche provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review.

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Top-Secret 911 Pictures Released Tue, 23 Aug 2011 11:45:16 +0000

Today, Porsche officially disclosed top-secret pictures of the new “Neunelfer”, a.k.a. the 2012 Porsche 911. Most of these pictures have already been all over the webs. In a year, you’ll find them on Wikileaks.

In the name of completeness, here is the whole take, released today, along with the news that:

“At 48, the Porsche 911 Carrera is younger than ever: The completely redesigned generation of the sports car icon is stepping into the limelight with its flat, stretched silhouette, exciting contours and precisely designed details, yet from the very first glance it remains unmistakably a 911. True to the 911 tradition, the distinctive Porsche design language with its tendons and muscles exudes power and elegance.”

Who’s writing those lines?

S11_0314 S11_0315 S11_0324 S11_0325 S11_0326 S11_0316 S11_0317 S11_0318 S11_0319 S11_0320 S11_0322 S11_0323 Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail ]]> 34
New 911: It’s A Porsche! Wed, 17 Aug 2011 16:14:46 +0000

Though this new 911 is all-new from the ground-up, and some two and a half inches longer than its predecessor… well, it looks like just another 911, doesn’t it? The Panamera-style interior is the biggest change in terms of design, but the rest of the design is just a tweaked-and-smoothed version of the shape we’ve become very accustomed to. Of course, nobody was expecting anything dramatic from the model that defines evolutionary design in the modern car world, but after the major improvement between the 996 and 997 generations, I was expecting a little more than this. Oh well, at least it’s still a 911.
991a 991b 991c You were expecting something different? 991e 991f Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail

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What’s Wrong With This Picture: Is It New? I Think It’s New… Edition Tue, 26 Jul 2011 16:37:30 +0000

With only a tiny bit of front-end camouflage left, the new Porsche 991 has been almost completely revealed… can you tell? One thing is for certain, Porsche’s not about to lose its reputation for evolutionary styling anytime soon.

9915 Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail 9916 I can't even tell anymore! (Images courtesy: Auto Motor und Sport) 9914 9912 991 9911 ]]> 25
Super Piston Slap: Kickstarting a Porsche IMS Lawsuit? Mon, 07 Feb 2011 16:53:22 +0000

Robert writes:

I just replaced the engine in my 2005 Porsche 911 due to the failure of the INTERMEDIATE SHAFT. I would like to know just how widespread the problem is with 911’s and other Porsche models too. Why?

I am considering filing a lawsuit against Porsche to recover the costs associated with replacing the engine. If you have had an INTERMEDIATE SHAFT failure and have an interest in joining in my lawsuit or simply sharing your experience please contact me:

Sajeev Answers:

While Baruth (HINT-HINT) preps his remarks, let’s look back: since the dawn of the automotive era, many a niche car builder received a free pass from their colossal mechanical failures. That’s part of the game: Ferraris is (sometimes?) known for fixing production mistakes well after customers take delivery. We recently saw just that with the Corvette ZR1, too. Even Deloreans were known to…well, perhaps that’s beating a dead horse.

Porsche prides itself on mechanical perfection: selling it lock/stock/barrel in their expensive iron, loading it to the hilt with additional expenses like leather wrappings, Sport Chronos and fancy Porsche Design accessories. But the “grin and bear it” part after spending thousands on repairs and maintenance bothers me. That is, after I worked in a shop where RMS (rear main seal) failures on pre-loved, out of warranty Porsche boxers were more than a little common. It left a mark on me.

But the IMS problem is a rarer, far more painful beast of burden.  The YouTube video above does a good job explaining the problem. And while that particular IMS failure came from a Spec-Boxster street car cum weekend warrior, isn’t Porsche engineering up to that task?  I know plenty of mainstream shitbuckets that do quite well as purpose-built racers in the 24 Hours of LeMons, accomplishing much more with far, far less from the factory.

So it’s a shame, and you can search many a Porsche-intensive forum to see the problem firsthand. And judge for yourself.  My thoughts are as follows: shouldn’t this problem require an announcement from Porsche like this?  Wouldn’t a brand so proud of their engineering decide to take a significant hit on their balance sheet to make loyal customers happy?  Maybe going 50/50 on the repair would be just enough to smooth things over. But I guess the April Fools in the above link applies solely to Porsche owners.

So the lawsuit, or threat thereof.  If this comes to fruition, the real winners will be the lawyers.  And that’s fine, I’ve seen plenty of injustices go unpunished. So who better to fight back than the stereotypical rich jerks in their Porsches? We wouldn’t mind owners of IMS failures chiming in too, just to gauge this lawsuit’s potential reach.

Seriously: Best and Brightest, what are your thoughts on a possible class action lawsuit for Porsche IMS failure?

Send your queries to Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry.

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Porsche’s Nod To Heritage Wed, 22 Sep 2010 15:36:59 +0000

No, not the silly humpbacked 911. That’s just Porsche’s latest wallet-lightening technology. Porsche’s nod to heritage is in the fact that it’s building only 356 of these 911 “Speedsters.” Because, you see, the first Porsche Speedsters were based on the Porsche 356. Oh yes, and by limiting an “exclusive” to a few hundred units means Porsche can charge $204,000 for a 408 HP 911. Which, after all, is actually the more significant nod to Porsche heritage: the 911-based Speedsters, which arose in the cocaine and yuppie-fueled 80s, have long been a high point in Porsche’s proud tradition of charging silly money for ever-so garish “special editions.” Doesn’t heritage just make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside?

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