The Truth About Cars » 911 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Wed, 23 Apr 2014 16:58:35 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8.1 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 editors@ttac.com editors@ttac.com (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 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/wp-content/themes/ttac-theme/images/logo.gif http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com Capsule Review: Porsche 911 GT3 (996 Vintage) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/11/capsule-review-porsche-911-gt3-996-vintage/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/11/capsule-review-porsche-911-gt3-996-vintage/#comments Sun, 24 Nov 2013 14:00:04 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=506001 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.

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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.

IMG_1166

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 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/11/porsche-reunion/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/11/porsche-reunion/#comments Thu, 14 Nov 2013 15:30:56 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=622185 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.

Me.

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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.

Sunset
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. http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/10/piston-slap-porsches-kid-friendly-option-yes-option/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/10/piston-slap-porsches-kid-friendly-option-yes-option/#comments Thu, 03 Oct 2013 12:25:49 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=587409

Seth writes:

Sajeev,

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 sajeev@thetruthaboutcars.com. 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 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/08/p-cars-and-perception/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/08/p-cars-and-perception/#comments Thu, 29 Aug 2013 19:55:02 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=502889 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 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/08/theres-nothing-new-under-the-sun-test-drive-reviews-of-porsches-entry-level-sports-cars/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/08/theres-nothing-new-under-the-sun-test-drive-reviews-of-porsches-entry-level-sports-cars/#comments Sun, 18 Aug 2013 14:37:56 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=498901 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 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/07/review-2014-cayman-s-vs-1998-911-carrera-s/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/07/review-2014-cayman-s-vs-1998-911-carrera-s/#comments Tue, 23 Jul 2013 19:10:51 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=496771 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.

Well.

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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

But.

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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.

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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 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/06/the-end-of-the-forever-car/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/06/the-end-of-the-forever-car/#comments Tue, 25 Jun 2013 15:05:33 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=493247 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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/06/hello-yellow-happy-birthday-bmw-faint-praises-porsche/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/06/hello-yellow-happy-birthday-bmw-faint-praises-porsche/#comments Thu, 06 Jun 2013 16:54:07 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=491078 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.

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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.

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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).

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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 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/02/wsj-porsches-are-too-difficult-for-celebrities-to-drive/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/02/wsj-porsches-are-too-difficult-for-celebrities-to-drive/#comments Wed, 13 Feb 2013 13:54:55 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=477322

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 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/11/review-1976-porsche-911s-2-7/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/11/review-1976-porsche-911s-2-7/#comments Mon, 26 Nov 2012 15:12:10 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=467889

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…

Authentic.

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? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/08/ever-wondered-just-how-necessary-psm-might-be/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/08/ever-wondered-just-how-necessary-psm-might-be/#comments Tue, 21 Aug 2012 14:00:50 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=457425 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 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/03/vellum-venom-2012-porsche-911-carrera/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/03/vellum-venom-2012-porsche-911-carrera/#comments Mon, 05 Mar 2012 06:13:19 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=433741
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 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/01/the-big-porsche-pig-out-all-the-911-you-can-eat/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/01/the-big-porsche-pig-out-all-the-911-you-can-eat/#comments Tue, 31 Jan 2012 14:47:24 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=428751

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 ]]>
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Review: 2012 Porsche Carrera 4 PDK http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/11/review-2012-porsche-carrera-4s/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/11/review-2012-porsche-carrera-4s/#comments Mon, 14 Nov 2011 18:24:04 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=418160

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 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/08/top-secret-911-pictures-released/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/08/top-secret-911-pictures-released/#comments Tue, 23 Aug 2011 11:45:16 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=408370

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?

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New 911: It’s A Porsche! http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/08/new-911-its-a-porsche/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/08/new-911-its-a-porsche/#comments Wed, 17 Aug 2011 16:14:46 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=407640

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.
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What’s Wrong With This Picture: Is It New? I Think It’s New… Edition http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/07/whats-wrong-with-this-picture-is-it-new-i-think-its-new-edition/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/07/whats-wrong-with-this-picture-is-it-new-i-think-its-new-edition/#comments Tue, 26 Jul 2011 16:37:30 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=404324

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 I can't even tell anymore! (Images courtesy: Auto Motor und Sport) 9912 9914 9911 991 9916 Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail ]]>
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Porsche’s Nod To Heritage http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/09/porsches-nod-to-heritage/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/09/porsches-nod-to-heritage/#comments Wed, 22 Sep 2010 15:36:59 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=366429

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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Ask the Best And Brightest: Should Evolution be Fat or Skinny? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/09/ask-the-best-and-brightest-should-evolution-be-fat-or-skinny/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/09/ask-the-best-and-brightest-should-evolution-be-fat-or-skinny/#comments Fri, 10 Sep 2010 15:03:47 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=365325

While reading the responses to a recent BMWBLOG posting by Josh Lewis, I noted that one of the posters had put together a very interesting comparison of the BMW M3 and the Porsche 911. To put it mildly, somebody’s gone Kirstie Alley while somebody else has stayed Goldie Hawn:

Here’s the comparison, with the data being attributed to Wikipedia, Porsche, and BMW media resources. I’ve removed the GT3 and added the Carrera 3.2 to keep things historically similar:

BMW M3:
E30: 2,740 pounds, 192 HP, 17/29 mpg, L=171″,W=66.1″
E36: 3,219 pounds, 240 HP, 19/26 mpg, L=174.5″, W=67.3″
E46: 3,415 pounds, 333 HP, 16/24 mpg, L=176.8″, W=70.1″
E92: 3,704 pounds, 414 HP, 14/20 mpg, L=180.3″, W=70.2″

Porsche 911 (base):
911: 2,700 pounds, 207 HP, 15/22 mpg, L=169″, W=65″
964: 3,031 pounds, 247 HP, 17/25 mpg, L=168″, W=65″
993: 3,064 pounds, 282 HP, 17/25 mpg, L=167.1″, W=68.3″
996: 2,910 pounds, 296 HP, 19/28 mpg, L=174.4″, W=69.5″
997: 3,075 pounds, 325 HP, 18/26 mpg, L=175.6″, W=72.9″

*1984 Carrera 3.2 US spec

Based on what I’ve seen over a few years instructing at open trackdays, I would suggest that the average novice driver will be somewhat faster around a track in the M3, but that the difference decreases dramatically as the skill level of the drivers increases.

Who’s got it right: Porsche, which has kept weight and power close to the Nineties levels, or BMW, which keeps turning up the volume?

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Let Us Now Praise Fabulous Porsches http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/09/let-us-now-praise-fabulous-porsches/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/09/let-us-now-praise-fabulous-porsches/#comments Sat, 04 Sep 2010 21:14:42 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=364765

Those of you steeped in traditional Catholicism know that we have just one of Porsche’s Deadly Sins left to go before the end of the series. What better time, then, to take a moment to talk about just why people do choose to become Porsche owners. Time and time again in my “Porsche’s Deadly Sins” series, people have asked me basically the same question, to wit:

If Porsche is such a terrible company, and they make such terrible products, why do you have three of them?

It’s a simple question with a not-so-simple group of answers. Buckle up and let’s talk about it.

“Sometimes,” the man said, “a cigar is just a cigar.” But to a true auto enthusiast, a car is never just a car. It’s an object that exists in context. The Consumer Reports guy, the appliance buyer, looks at a Cutlass and a Malibu and sees that they are the same product. We look at them and see the history they represent, the context that transcends the metal.

My automotive sense, my car-loving child within, forever lives in Columbia, MD. I see myself standing with my father as he purchases a new MG, riding in the back seat of his LeSabre and seeing the big Oldsmobiles, the stately Cadillacs, the professorial Saabs, the careless old-money scions (small “S”) in their Nine Elevens and XJSes. I come from a time where the GM brands still meant something, where California was irrelevant in our lives, where the phenomenon of the omnipresent entry-level information technology manager douching it up in a G35 Koop had yet to spring, fully-formed, into existence from the forehead of the dot-com boom.

In that mindset, in that heritage, a Porsche is still special. I treasured seeing Porsches as a child. There was no Cayenne, no Panamera. Even a 924 was gorgeous to see, if not all that stirring to drive. When I sit behind the wheel of my 993, I remember sitting behind the wheel of a 1979 911SC in a Washington, DC dealership, my father distracting the salesperson long enough for me to enjoy myself looking around. It’s the same car, or it’s same enough for me. The existence of the loathsome Panamera cannot trouble my quiet joy in this. My 993 is my gift to my childhood.

I own a 944 because there is nothing that equals a 944 as a legal-speeds road tool. The visibility is superb, the driving position is comfortable. I feel that the car is light enough to maneuver and heavy enough to be substantial. The big four has enough torque to push me along, which addresses the main shortcoming of the original EA925. It is unfiltered, delightful, still special after twenty-six years.

I bought my Boxster S “550 Spyder Edition” for pragmatic reasons. It was 2006. I intended to contest the SCCA National Solo Championship. I didn’t want to wear out my 993, didn’t want to subject it to sixty clutch drops a season, didn’t want to spend the money required to keep an aircooled Porsche running at race spec. I also thought I might be able to drive the Boxster a bit better at speed, and I wanted something to thrash on open track days. The Porsche-hating SCCA refused to let the 2005 or 2006 Boxster in “A Stock” so I bought a 4,000-mile 2004-model garage queen and gave it a shot.

Over the course of the next 29,000 miles, I came to respect, then admire, then finally love the Boxster. The M96 may be a limited-life engine but it can be sweet and lovely at seven thousand revs as I clip a curb on the way out of Mid-Ohio’s Carousel. With Hoosier tires mounted, 245 width in front and 285 width in back, it is a match in the midcorner for everything short of a Formula Continental. It can be thrown sideways at triple-digit speeds then collected at my leisure. The control inputs are honest, forthright, trustworthy. Unlike the 993, there’s real ergonomic thought in the relationship of seat, pedals, shifter. I also happen to think it’s pretty, though it’s certainly not as pretty as any air-cooled 911. If I had to sell one of the three, this would be the one I sell, but nota bene that I sold my Audi S5, not my Boxster, when I wanted to make a change in my automotive lineup.

I often step into one of my Porsches while in the grip of some foul mood, but I rarely step out that way. These are good cars. Each is flawed, each is born from compromise, pragmatism, and connivance, but they are also each fundamentally good in a way I cannot easily explain to you. It has nothing to do with prestige or impressing people; there’s nothing impressive about an old 944 or a Boxster and the 993 is starting to look more vintage than upscale. These are my cars, and I am their owner.

I cannot bring myself to love Porsche, the company, any more. Most of their products are either bad or cynical. There’s too much attention to cost-cutting, too many fiscal manipulations, too much German inside-baseball financing going on. Even in the “good old days”, this was a company which often knowingly sent race drivers to their deaths. As a racing driver and team owner I find that difficult to swallow.

That does not mean I could ever bring myself to not love these three cars, my aging, humble fleet, my little stable of dreams fulfilled. I don’t see myself ever buying a new Porsche. When I think of the Porsches I want, they are all beetle-backed air-cooled throbbers. The branded merchandise, luxury retreats, and single-make “gentlemen racer” series without a single gentleman among their ranks are too much for me to swallow. These are my Porsches. Thank you for reading, and, perhaps, for understanding.

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Porsche’s Deadly Sin #6 — 2006 Cayman “S” http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/09/porsches-deadly-sin-6-2006-cayman-s/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/09/porsches-deadly-sin-6-2006-cayman-s/#comments Fri, 03 Sep 2010 19:00:19 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=364654

Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off–then, I account it high time to get to a Porsche Club meeting and annoy perfectly decent upper-middle-class people.

One of my favorite shticks is to sit there at the wine-tasting/slow-food dinner/whatever and say, “I love my Boxster, but I love the Cayman so much more.” Knowing nods from around the table. “It’s just that I like the convertible too.” More knowing nods. “What I really wish Porsche would do…”

Pause.

“…is make a Cayman convertible..”

Dead silence.

The concept of the Cayman is anything but a Deadly Sin. Finally, a mid-engined Porsche using the same basic engineering as the 911 series, with the same engine (family) and suspension. When the 911 was originally conceived, the world was run by men and cars were purchased by men. In the world of men, it was perfectly reasonable that a man might purchase a car which pleased him and expect his children to sit in the tiny back seat while shutting the holy hell up.

In the modern era, where women drive most automotive purchase decisions and children are treated with the kind of white-glove preciousness once reserved for Faberge eggs and the Dead Sea Scrolls, nobody’s gonna buy a 911 and stuff his brats in the back. Well, I put my kid in the back of my 911, but I’m presumably the exception. The bottom line is that these cars are now second (or third) vehicles and for most people mid-engine dynamics trump extra seating.

The perfect production Porsche would be a mid-engined car with the GT3/Turbo/964-derived flat-six, possibly turbocharged, and a high-quality, durable interior. It would offer Carrera GT pace at a 911 Carrera S price and it would return Porsche to the rightful position atop the world’s performance hierarchy… forgetting the fact that Porsche was never there to begin with.

Five years after the Cayman’s introduction, we know that Porsche did no such thing. Instead, we got a hardtop Boxster with some unfortunate extraneous styling details and an almost deliberately stupid name. What’s a “Cayman”? An island? A misspelled member of the crocodile family? The next bizarre decision was to create yet another variant of the unloved M96 engine and stuff it behind the seats. This mill, which had been 3.4L upon its debut in the 996 but bumped to 3.6L, was un-bumped back to 3.4L, creating a 24-horsepower gap between it and the base 911. Supposedly it’s not the same engine as the original 3.4L M96, which baffles me.

The Boxster S of the era was still 3.2L, so this new Cayman would be marginally faster. Porsche loves to create these little micro-managed performance gaps; it gives the 911 Carrera S owner confidence that, although he’s just been slaughtered down the back straight at VIR by a toothless drywall contractor in a used C5 Z06 with “EARNHARDT LIVES IN MY HEART” on the bumper, at least the guy in the Carrera 3.6 is behind him.

To save a few bucks, the Cayman was scheduled to be built virtually exclusively by Finland’s Valmet Corporation, known for making a fine AK-47 knockoff and the vast majority of Boxsters. Oh, yes. Speaking of bucks.

The Cayman isn’t a Deadly Sin because it wasn’t the Porsche it could have been. It isn’t even a Deadly Sin because Porsche deliberately failed to make it as good as they could have done simply by using the parts already on their shelves, at no extra cost. The Deadly Sin status was granted by our one-man committee based on a single decision made by Porsche.

Convertibles cost more than hardtops. This was not always the case. Back in the coachbuilt days, it was occasionally cheaper to make a fabric-and-stick top than it was to fabricate and attach a steel roof. That has not been the case for perhaps forty years now, so when the world got out that Porsche was making a hardtop Boxster, the cheap-Porker fanatics got well and truly worked up at the prospect.

When the Cayman S arrived, however, it was priced above the Boxster and Boxster S by about five grand, a pattern that continues today. At the time, it was suggested that the different engine and additional standard features justified the price. That pretense disappeared with the introduction of the 3.4L Boxster S (and the 2.7L base Cayman) in 2007. Nope, the extra five grand is on the MSRP simply because Porsche knows people will pay it.

It’s that middle-fingered salute to the buyer that makes the Cayman a Deadly Sin. Priced fairly, the Cayman would be a love letter to Porsche’s most faithful customers, particularly since the new engine in these cars appears to be slightly better than the old one. Instead, we have the following pricing structure for 3.4L cars:

  • Boxster S 3.4L: $58,000
  • Cayman S 3.4L: $61,500 (to be fair, this is the lowest hardtop markup ever)
  • Boxster Spyder 3.4L: $61,200

The Boxster Spyder, in case you haven’t been reading the Internet, is a stripped-down Boxster with an el-cheapo manual top. Since it’s less costly to make than a standard Boxster with a power top, the price is higher. Of course. We’re in Porscheland now.

There’s a Cayman Club Sport coming. If we’re lucky, it will follow the recipe set by the old 964 RS America: less weight, freer-revving engine, enthusiast features. Of course, the RSA was $54,990 when a new 911 Carrera 2 was $61,990. Porsche felt that since the car had less equipment, it should cost less, the same way the original Speedster was the cheapest 356 money could buy.

That was the old Porsche. When the Cayman Club Sport arrives, pricing will be moonshot level. You can bet your PCA card on it.

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When It Comes To Raffled Porsches, Used Beats New http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/08/when-it-comes-to-raffled-porsches-used-beats-new/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/08/when-it-comes-to-raffled-porsches-used-beats-new/#comments Wed, 01 Sep 2010 00:31:25 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=364346

Time to “Revive The Passion”. The Porsche Club of America wants its members to get more excited about their money-raising raffles. Although the raffles usually sell out — I’ve waited too long in the past and missed my chance to win cars like a Cayman 2.7 or Cayenne S — presumably the rate of sale is decreasing.

The first step was to offer cash as an option: disgruntled PCA members who were sick of Porsche’s many concessions to modern cost-cutting reality could then go buy the car they really wanted. Now the club has come up with an even better idea.

Check out the Revive the Passion site. PCA is paying Porsche’s restoration people to rebuild a ratty old ’73 911T 2.4. As far as 911s go, this is pretty far from the top of the desirability ladder. The 911T was the bottom of a lineup consisting of 911T, 911E, and the fabled 911S. And no, not all 911Ts are Targas; the letter stood for something else entirely. The “E” was Einspritz, or fuel injection, while the “S” was Sport. “T” was just… well, probably “T”.

PCA will get my money this year. I’d rather own a 1973 911T, in all of its 160-horsepower, crazy-legs-handling glory, than any of the current lineup. The problem is this: what does it mean when the average Porsche Club member would rather win a used car?

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Porsche’s Deadly Sin #1: 1999 Porsche 911 (996) 3.4 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/08/porsches-deadly-sin-1-1999-porsche-911-996-3-4/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/08/porsches-deadly-sin-1-1999-porsche-911-996-3-4/#comments Tue, 03 Aug 2010 07:33:24 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=362011

Great artists steal, and I’m obviously inspired by Paul Niedermeyer’s GM’s Deadly Sin series here. I am currently the owner of three Porsches, as pathetic as that may be, and I’ve experienced firsthand the many ways in which Porsche disappoints its fans and buyers. Few companies have been as comprehensively whitewashed by the media and the corporate biographers, but the truth is available to those of us who wish to look a bit harder.

We will start with the big betrayals, of course, and the unassuming fastback you see above represents perhaps the worst of Porsche’s many middle fingers to the customer base. It is a 1999 Porsche 911, known to everyone in the world as the “996″.

From 1964 to 1998, the 911 evolved on an incremental basis. As with the first and last Volkswagen Beetles, there are very, very few parts which survived the thirty-four-year journey unchanged, but there’s an amazing amount of interchangeability. It is possible to “update” a 1971 911T to look just like a 1998 Carrera 2S, and it’s also possible to “backdate” a 1994 911 Carrera to look like a classic 1973 Carrera RS. Both of these offenses against human decency have occurred many times, incidentally. Take a look here to see a rather lovely example of a “964″ turned into a “long-hood” 911S, in a color that will be familiar to many TTAC readers.

The 911 was never intended to last thirty-four years. The front-engine, water-cooled 928 was supposed to replace the 911 in the Seventies… but it didn’t, so the 911′s lifetime was extended another decade. The costs and inefficiencies of building a car with a Sixties architecture tortured Porsche. A complete re-engineering was necessary, and Porsche worked with Toyota to squeeze every last dollar out of the new 911′s design.

The list of cost-cuts in the Porsche 996 can be recited by nearly every Porschephile. Frameless doors, complete commonality with the Boxster from the door latches forward, horrifying interior trim quality, drop-in assemblies provided by the lowest bidder, and the engine…

An article on the most common failures suffered by the 3.4L watercooled boxer six can be found here, but for those of you who don’t click on links, the problems range from oil leakage at the rear main seal (which is more or less universal) to cylinder head failure. In nearly all cases, the “fix” is the same: to purchase a complete rebuild from Porsche, at your expense. Figure on $15,000 or more for the “subsidized” engine.

Porsche had been “fighting” failures of the watercooled engine, which appeared first in the 1997 Boxster, from the very first car that rolled off the line. Porous engine blocks, intermediate shaft failures… the watercooled boxers were junk. This is enough for a Deadly Sin — knowingly equipping every naturally-aspirated Boxster and 911 they sold from 1997 to as late as 2008 with failure-prone engines — but, as always, Porsche raised the bar in the customer-screwing department.

During those years, Porsche worked with its dealers to deny warranty claims, place blame on customers, withhold knowledge of fixes, and generally burn every last bit of goodwill they had built up over years of… um… previous engine failures in air-cooled cars. Again and again during those years, owners of pampered, low-mileage cars found themselves paying five-figure bills to keep their cars on the road. For more than a decade, Porsche simultaneously denied knowledge of engine problems while claiming that their newest engine revision did not suffer from the problems that they were denying had occurred previously.

While waiting for his $75,000 Porsche to experience a $15,000 engine failure, the 911 owner could at least fail to enjoy the most dismal, fragile interior ever seen in a production Porsche. Buttons wore out, dashes cracked, radios committed suicide in new and interesting ways, and every single electrical component in the car seemed prone to intermittent, untraceable failure. Naturally, the fabulously low prices Porsche paid suppliers for the jumble of garbage components in a 996 were never reflected at the parts counter. The replacement cost for the “Litronic” headlamp assemblies is enough to make an NBA player weep. I saw brand-new 996s with cracked leather on the seats when the cars were still in dealerships. Make no mistake. Every possible corner was cut.

Long-time Porsche owners found the 996 driving experience to be as bewildering as the build quality. This was a quiet, flimsy-feeling car that outhandled, outaccelerated, and outbraked the outgoing 993 while never feeling anything like as substantial as said air-cooled predecessor. The flimsy feeling came honestly — amazingly in this modern era, Porsche actually cut weight out of the car compared to the previous model — but it didn’t satisfy.

The men from Stuttgart knew they had a loser on their hands, so the 996 was freshened in 2002 with a more durable, more powerful engine, interior revisions, and a facelift. The market’s opinion on these cars, however, is written in the resale values. If you had purchased two Porsches in a row — a 1998 Carrera 2S for $75,000 and a 1999 Carrera 2 for $75,000 — and put 50,000 miles on each, you would find that the 1998 car would command an easy $50K in PCA classifieds, but the 1999 would struggle to fetch $20K.

The 1999 Porsche 911 was a failure in every way but one: the massive savings realized with the new model made it possible for the company to plan new models. And since the new model in question was the Cayenne, you could say that all the news was bad, after all. But that’s a Deadly Sin for another day.

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Can You Tell It’s A Hybrid? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/02/can-you-tell-its-a-hybrid/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/02/can-you-tell-its-a-hybrid/#comments Thu, 11 Feb 2010 15:16:50 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=345029

The euro-trance exhaust note is what tipped us off. The GT3 R Hybrid is not planned for production, but will serve as a “racing laboratory” in the 24 Hours on the Nordschleife of Nürburgring, reports Green Car Congress. Williams Hybrid Power is reportedly exploring road-car applications of its Formula 1 KERS-derived “fly-brid” system. Technical details after the jump.

The 911 GT3 R Hybrid features an electrical front axle drive with two electric motors developing 60 kW each supplementing the 480-bhp (358 kW) four-liter flat-six at the rear of the 911 GT3 R Hybrid. Instead of the usual batteries of a hybrid road car, an electrical flywheel power generator fitted in the interior next to the driver stores recaptured energy and delivers it to the electric motors.

The flywheel generator itself is an electric motor with its rotor spinning at speeds of up to 40,000 rpm, storing energy mechanically as rotation energy. The flywheel generator is charged whenever the driver applies the brakes, with the two electric motors reversing their function on the front axle and acting themselves as generators. Then, whenever necessary—i.e., when accelerating out of a bend or when overtaking—the driver is able to call up extra energy from the charged flywheel generator, the flywheel being slowed down electromagnetically in the generator mode and thus supplying up to 120 kW to the two electric motors at the front from its kinetic energy. This additional power is available to the driver after each charge process for approximately 6 – 8 seconds.

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Review: Porsche 997 Turbo By TPC http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2009/12/review-porsche-997-turbo-by-tpc/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2009/12/review-porsche-997-turbo-by-tpc/#comments Fri, 11 Dec 2009 16:52:16 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=338900 IMG_2688The fastest car I have ever driven is, without a doubt, the Switzer P800 variant of Porsche’s 911 GT2, as reviewed here. The folks at TPC have a roughly similar tuning package that retains the Porsche variable-geometry turbochargers, claimed to produce 775 horsepower and rather amusingly called the “775 Blitzkrieg”. This past September, I had the opportunity to take a ride with TPC’s founder Mike Levitas in the prototype Blitzkrieg. It’s awfully quick, if perhaps not quite as violently impressive as Switzer’s car. However, since TPC was unwilling to let us drive the Blitzkrieg, and since TTAC is unwilling to follow the lead of EVO, Top Gear, and pretty much every other print rag in the free world by writing-up a ride-along as a road test, that’s where we have to let the matter rest. It seems like a good car and if you have money to burn, give TPC a call to find out for yourself.

IMG_2686Luckily for us, TPC customer Joseph Lakowicz was on hand and he positively insisted that I drive his Meteor Grey 997 TT Tiptronic, tuned by TPC to produce approximately six hundred horsepower. Faced with this opportunity to pedal yet another ten-second car on the public roads, I did what any of TTAC’s readers would have done: I took the TPC Tip TT (that’s a mouthful) to visit my childhood home in Columbia, Maryland. I expected that we might be challenged at stoplights by machinery as diverse as the Toyota Highlander and Lexus RX350, and that we would smoke those mothers. This expectation was not entirely fulfilled, as you will see.

It’s been a while since I lived in the little house on Tower Top Court in Columbia’s Long Reach Village. In fact, it’s been more than twenty-six years. One might think that Porsche’s “PCM” navigation system would be capable of finding a three-decade-old home on the East Coast, but in the end Joe and I had to resort to using my BlackBerry’s Google Maps application. “I really don’t mess with the navigation… it doesn’t seem very good,” Joe opined, and he is correct. PCM is a mess and you could get better navigation in a twenty-grand Ford Fusion, or by selecting the very cheapest Garmin GPS at your local Best Buy.

Once the BlackBerry pointed us in the proper direction, however, we were able to head that way with nothing less than utter ferocity. This four-wheel-drive Turbo launches from a stoplight as if it were departing the USS Nimitz on the hook of a steam IMG_2683catapult. Like all pre-PDK 997 Turbos, this is a five-speed, torque-converter gearbox without launch control, so one merely steps on the brake and dials up about 2500 rpm. Releasing the brake will chirp all four corners, flash the traction light, and render the traffic on both sides invisible.

Given that the Tiptronic offers a dilatory, uncooperative sort of steering-wheel manual control, one might be tempted to make one’s own shifts during these stoplight blasts. My second attempt at doing so caused the grey Turbo to select neutral instead of second gear, forcing me to coast to the side of the road as the aforementioned Highlanders and RX350s cruised triumphantly by. Nothing short of restarting the car would permit it to select a forward gear again. It turns out that the 997Turbo is too smart to let you grenade the transmission with excessive force during a shift, surely a reassurance to anybody contemplating pumping-up their own Porsche with this kind of thrust. Best to leave it in “D” and enjoy a completely no-hassle trip into the ten-second zone.

After more than 24,000 satisfactory miles, Joe swears by the concept of the Tiptronic Turbo. I’m not so sure, but there is some massive satisfaction to be had from driving something so disturbingly quick and yet so completely tractable. In the stop-and-go traffic that characterizes Columbia’s main roads, the TPC tune is utterly unnoticeable. This Turbo is as friendly as a Camry while crawling at five miles per hour, and if the navigation is garbage, the hand-sewn cocoa leather dashboard is first-rate enough to soften the annoyance.

IMG_2675Let a hole in traffic appear, no matter how slight, and the big Porsche rips through it with a slurred downshift and a lag-free punch in the back. It is quiet, tractable, and faster than a 997 Cup Car in a straight line. This on-road supremacy is the fulfilled promise of the 1974 Turbo Carrera model, made reality after thirty-some years. Track junkies and back-road blasters will find more satisfaction in a GT3 or — whisper it — a Cayman S. The stock Turbo suffers from being a little slower than a GT-R or Z06, but TPC neatly rectifies this problem at a price considerably below what Porsche would charge.

I arrived at my childhood home to find it much smaller, and much humbler, than I remembered. A quick check of recent real estate sales, however, showed that it was worth more than four hundred grand. This Turbo is similarly deceptive. Subtle to a fault, easy to drive, it can still do the business like almost nothing else. The child in me likes it, as does the adult.
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