Porsche Uber Alles

porsche uber alles

Every month the pages of car magazines sport autoerotic photographs of the greatest thing to hit the roads since, well, the last time. In their celebration of unbridled speed and handling, reliability simply isn’t a major factor. It should be. A high performance car may be fast, furious and fun, but if bits keep falling off, if it spends more time in dry dock than cruising the highways and byways, it's nothing but a pretentious, expensive fraud. And yet automakers continue to build "supercars" that can't even run hard for an entire day without some kind of extremely expensive tinkering afterward.

There's a long, sad history of big name cars that show up for a magazine road test, only to go weak in the knees when the stop watches come out. Once at the Transportation Research Center in Ohio I watched a bewinged, bellowing, NACA-ducted Lamborghini Countach fail to crest 140 mph. Then there was a cross-country comparo featuring a Lamborghini Diablo and some Ferrari-of-the-month. The article neglected to elaborate on the fact that a van containing mechanics and assorted parts followed the cars at a discreet distance.

Back in 2002, the redoubtable Brock Yates, late of Car and Driver, challenged Ferrari/Lamborghini (for the purposes of this article they are interchangable) to place in the top three in his annual One Lap Of America. He put five G’s on the barrel to back up his claim that they couldn’t measure up. "All the swooning about Italian iron fades away when the party gets rough,” Brock said. “When it comes to a hard-core street fight, they're as soft as mozzarella in the Tuscan sun." Perhaps that’s also why a Ferrari PR man once admitted that his customers are “an integral part of the development process.”

Nor should we overlook that latest of nonsense cars: the $1.3m rolling sucker bait known as the Bugatti Veyron. Here we have a 1001hp car with a “troubled gestation,” with more cooling than the Sears Tower, that requires a troop of people to acompany it whenever it's tested. Let's overlook the fact that it's as ugly as a mud fence. How do you say garage queen in French? Or is it German? Even the $455k Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren has been criticized for its snatchy brakes and the persistent smell of unburned fuel in the cabin under hard deceleration.

And then there’s Porsche.

There's an old racing expression: "To finish first, first you must finish." Porsche doesn’t just pay homage to it, they live it. The German company has dominated nearly every race series in which they’ve competed. More to the point, Porsche’s won the grueling 24-hour race at Le Mans sixteen times. That’s more than Ferrari and Ford put together. This phenomenal stamina is now built into every Porsche road car.

A while back, I was invited to speak to a local chapter of Porsche owners. I tried to explain the over-engineering that makes Porsche’s road cars so tough. For example, their engines and transmissions are built absurdly strong for their size. You will find more bearing area, big-ends and mains, for each liter of displacement in a 911 engine than in any other engine in production today. It’s an obscure technical point, but a telling one. You simply cannot buy a more robust high performance automobile. It’s a difference a skilled driver can feel.

There are plenty of surveys that document Porsche's reliability. Porsche’s Finnish subcontractors, Valmet Automotive, recently received the Bronze Plant Quality Award from J.D. Power’s Initial Quality Study 2006. The Cayman S was ranked best overall (together with Toyota Lexus LS 430) for having the fewest quality problems in the entire industry. The Cayman S was best in its category "Compact Premium Sporty Cars,” with the Porsche Boxster ranked third. And Porsche was awarded the highest initial quality of all automobile brands.

OK, it is true that the Carrera GT’s carbon fiber clutch is a disaster that transforms a perfectly serviceable (if low slung) daily driver into a San Francisco supercar owner’s worst nightmare. But it’s the exception that proves the rule. The Porsche Turbo is still the single most effective exemplar of the “everyday” supercar. It’s the only ultra-high performance automobile I’d jump into at a moment’s notice and confidently head for the other end of the country, or take to the supermarket to pickup a weekend’s supplies.

Is reliability the ultimate measure of a high performance car? Of course not. Otherwise, the Porsche Turbo would be in a class of one. In my opinion, in fact, it is. But reliability is an important safety consideration too for anyone who intends on using their exotic as God intended. And it jibes with the age old question: what’s the world’s best car? Simple: The one that lives up to its promises.

[For more of Don Vorderman's work, please visit www.carcritic.com.]

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  • Biturbo Biturbo on Nov 30, 2006

    SpawnyWhippet your link points to a base C6 and a convertible no less. Also we cannot talk used cars prices because C6 Z06 is hard to find even here. But you can import a new C6 Z06 if you want and it will be cheaper than a new 997 Turbo any day. Both are import cars and a Holden dealer can import Chevrolet Corvette.

  • SpawnyWhippet SpawnyWhippet on Nov 30, 2006

    Thing is that the stupid Oz government is very protective of local markets and impose massive trade tariffs, fees and duties on imports. If I bought a Z06 privately in the US and imported it, I'd probably end up paying $100 - $150k in taxes and fees. I spoke to a Holden dealer and he just laughed at me when I wanted to arrange a test drive. The 997 Turbo is officially imported and available new for about $300k, or $250k used.

  • DenverMike When was it ever a mystery? The Fairmont maybe, but only the 4-door "Futura" trim, that was distinctively upscale. The Citation and Volare didn't have competing trims, nor was there a base stripper Maxima at the time, if ever, crank windows, vinyl seats, 2-doors, etc. So it wasn't a "massacre", not even in spirit, just different market segments. It could be that the Maxima was intended to compete with those, but everything coming from Japan at the time had to take it up a notch, if not two.Thanks to the Japanese "voluntary" trade restriction, everything had extra options, if not hard loaded. The restriction limited how many vehicles were shipped, not what they retailed at. So Japanese automakers naturally raised the "price" (or stakes) without raising MSRP. What the dealers charged (gouged) was a different story.Realistically, the Maxima was going up against entry luxury sedans (except Cimarron lol), especially Euro/German, same as the Cressida. It definitely worked in Japanese automaker's favor, not to mention inspiring Lexus, Acura and Infiniti.
  • Ronnie Schreiber Hydrocarbon based fuels have become unreliable? More expensive at the moment but I haven't seen any lines gathering around gas stations lately, have you? I'm old enough to remember actual gasoline shortages in 1973 and 1979 (of course, since then there have been many recoverable oil deposits discovered around the world plus the introduction of fracking). Consumers Power is still supplying me with natural gas. I recently went camping and had no problem buying propane.Texas had grid problems last winter because they replaced fossil fueled power plants with wind and solar, which didn't work in the cold weather. That's the definition of unreliable.I'm an "all of the above" guy when it comes to energy: fossil fuels, hydro, wind (where it makes sense), nuclear (including funding for fusion research), and possibly solar.Environmental activists, it seems to me, have no interest in energy diversity. Based on what's happened in Sri Lanka and the push against agriculture in Europe and Canada, I think it's safe to say that some folks want most of us to live like medieval peasants to save the planet for their own private jets.
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  • MaintenanceCosts There's no mystery anymore about how the Japanese took over the prestige spot in the US mass market (especially on the west coast) when you realize that this thing was up against the likes of the Fairmont, Citation, and Volaré. A massacre.