Some Reflections After 30,000 Miles With a “Damen”
Before becoming too deeply involved in the question of driving a Porsche it might be as well to pay a quick visit to the factory and find out something about the cars. Situated on the north-west edge of Stuttgart, a mere three minutes from an autobahn, this small factory is entirely new, the old one having been damaged and requisitioned by military authorities. It was in this original factory that Dr. Ferdinand Porsche had his design and development business, the new factory being built when the construction of Porsche cars began in 1950. Since the death of Dr. Porsche. who was a pure inventor as well as a designer, the firm has been effectively carried on by his son Dr. Ferry Porsche. Apart from car manufacturing, the Porsche concern still do contract design work for all branches of the engineering industry and among the far-reaching effects of the Porsche genius are the new gearboxes on the Grand Prix Bugatti, and experimental B.M.W.s, both of which are built under Porsche patents.
The factory is divided into four departments: machine shop, assembly, service and racing, the last dealing exclusively with competition motoring, the building of the sports/racing “Spyder,” the assembly of the 4 o.h.c. Carrera engines and experimental work. When I went to take delivery of my Porsche coupé I took the opportunity of having a look to see how it was made and when I eventually drove away I had already gained a certain amount of confidence in the car. The Porsche is very definitely a hand-built car, the output being in the order of six or seven cars per day, the assembly line running from the front of the factory to the rear, so that when you arrive in the morning you might see a green coupé joining the line and by the end of the day it will be near the end about to receive final adjustments, a continuous flow of about nine or ten cars being on the assembly line. Next door to the Porsche factory is one belonging to Reutter the coachbuilders and the two are joined by a short private road. This branch of Reutter is occupied solely with Porsche work, and while it is not owned by Porsche it is under their control as far as work is concerned.
There is no chassis in the normal sense of the word, but a flat platform with box-sectioned sides and box structures at the front end and at the scuttle. The whole thing is made of sheet steel pressings which are spot-welded together and it was interesting to see that in some places where the sheet was bent without a former the ripples formed on the surface of the metal were left as they had the same stiffening effect as an intentional corrugation or a pressed out stiffening channel. At the front are two tubular cross-members to carry the suspension units, another at the rear and a large one across the scuttle joining the rectangular section uprights on which the doors are hung, while these members are used to transmit hot air to the screen ducts. The bodywork, whether the fixed-head coupé, the drophead or the open Speedster, is also of sheet steel and when built is fitted to the platform chassis and welded into place, thus forming a very strong and rigid monocoque. The body is then trimmed, glazed and painted and “undersealed,” but as yet there are no mechanical components on the car, but as the platform was built on a one-piece jig all the necessary holes to take bolts, bushes or bearings are finished. This complete body/chassis unit is then taken into the Porsche factory and placed on a three-wheeled trolley, so that it is about three feet off the ground, and it then joins the assembly line. On the base of the trolley are trays containing all the smaller mechanical parts for the chassis, while larger components, such as seats, steering columns and so on, are on racks alongside the assembly line at the points at which they will be required.
Most of the mechanical components, in the shape of castings, forgings or stampings, are made by outside firms to Porsche specifications and drawings and subject to Porsche inspection before being used, while all machining requiring great accuracy is done at the factory. Engines are assembled by individual fitters, each one being responsible for the whole unit, and the rear axle/gearbox unit is built in the same way. The two major components are assembled on either side of the main line and fitted to the car as complete units. The completed car is removed from its trolley and placed on a special machine on which wheel alignment, castor angles, camber angles, toe-in, etc., are all checked to micrometer accuracy and the car is then given a 60-mile road-test after which any further adjustments required are effected and it is then ready to leave the factory.
There are three basic types of engines built, all having four horizontally opposed air-cooled cylinders, but the main production is concentrated on the normal or “Damen” (the lady) and the Super. These two differ in compression ratio, valve and port sizes, exhaust system and crankshaft, the normal have conventional rods and lead-bronze big-ends and the Super have roller-bearing big-ends with non-splittable big-end eyes in the con-rods, the whole assembly being built-up by the Hirth Company on their patent splined journals and webs. These Super cranks and rods arrive at the factory already assembled, the others being machined and assembled at Porsche. The inlet valves on the normal engine are vertical and the exhaust valves inclined, both operated by pushrod and rockers, a single camshaft centrally placed above the crankshaft having four cams on it which operate the eight valves, each cam working opposed valves. The whole principle of the engine is like the VW, which is not surprising as Dr. Ferdinand Porsche designed that particular vehicle, and the air-cooling is effected by a large fan on top of the engine and driven off the dynamo. This fan blows air through ducts to close-fitted shrouds around the cylinders and heads, the hot air escaping underneath the car. In the main duct an oil cooler is mounted so that the oil is cooled independently of the speed of the car, which is very useful when storming a mountain pass in second gear, for no matter what the road speed the faster the engine runs the more cooling there is to the oil; this also applies in traffic driving. This same layout is followed on the 1½-litre “Spyder” engine. which is now giving 115 b.h.p. at 6,200 r.p.m., but on this unit there are two overhead camshafts to each bank of cylinders. A roller-bearing crank is fitted and from the clutch end there is a gear-drive to a short shaft underneath the crankshaft; this shaft drives two bevel wheels mounted back to back, each in turn driving another bevel gear coupled to another shaft so that the rotation of the main shaft is turned through a right angle in each direction, the secondary shafts running one between each pair of cylinders. When these shafts, enclosed in tubes, reach the cylinder head they drive directly onto a bevel gear mounted in the centre of the exhaust camshaft, which is the lower one on each side of the engine. From this camshaft bevel gear another bevel and short shaft runs upwards to a similar pair on the inlet, or upper, camshaft, this system giving an inclined valve layout in each cylinder. A double-choke carburetter feeds to each pair of cylinders, whereas on the push-rod engines a single-choke carburetter is used, though it is possible to fit doublechoke instruments. Twin plugs per cylinder are used on the ” Spyder ” engine, against single plugs on the normal and Super, and naturally the camshaft engine has a larger cooling fan, still driven by belt with the dynamo mounted on the fan shaft, the whole engine being closely ducted by metal shields. This unit differs from the normal engines by having dry-sump lubrication, with a separate tank and oil cooler in the nose of the car on the racing models.
The production version of this camshaft unit has a slightly lower compression ratio and is known as the “Carrera” engine, so named since its proving-ground was the Carrera-Mexicana or Pan-American road race; Le Mans and Mille Miglia also played a great part in proving the reliability of this engine. Competition is a by-word at the Porsche factory and the Porsche car is a perfect example of a race-bred one, the 1956 models all being available with the Carrera engine. Until the recent Frankfurt Motor Show the push-rod Porsches were sold in 1,100, 1,300 or 1,500-c.c, form, either “Damen” or “Super,” the only differences being in the bore and stroke, the rest of the car being the same for all models. Now, however, the 1,100 has been dropped and the 1,500 has been enlarged to 1,600 c.c., that being the International capacity dividing line for Gran Turismo cars, and both sizes are still available in normal or Super form. If you want a car for touring purposes, Porsche recommend the normal engine, the Super being a competition version for rallies or races, and both units being interchangeable a keen owner could have one car and two engines, a “cooking” one and an “eating” one. The “eating” engine being intended for competition, its life is not anticipated at more than 40,000 miles, whereas the “cooking” one is reckoned to do 60,000 miles before worrying about wear and tear. As my use of the car was to tour Europe in reach of motor races I had a 1,500-c.c. normal, “a nice car,” said Porsches, ” that is reliable and long-living, but rather dull, it does only 95 m.p.h. and 5.200 r.p.m.”
Before I made the choice of a Porsche I had to suffer a great deal of barracking with remarks such as “My God, the oversteer,” or “they are impossible in the wet,” “the fan belt breaks and then where are you?” “it will spin as soon as you see a corner,” “you need a bath after changing the plugs,””they are noisy and rough,” and “bloody clockwork contraption.” I put up with all these because I thought the aerodynamic shape a the saloon looked about right and it was a car I could lean my elbow on (my friends mutter rude things to me about dwarfs when I discuss heights!). I have now completed 30,000 miles of Porsche motoring, all of it spelt with a capital M (see Motor Sport for December, 1954, page 699) and the oversteer I enjoy having learned to drive on a chain-gang Frazer-Nash, the wet petrifies me in any car, the fan-belt is original and has not even needed adjusting, I have only spun it once in the total distance covered, the plugs I changed as a routine every 10,000 miles and the engine keeps so clean I only needed to wash my hands, which I reckon to do within 10,000 miles anyway; I never had occasion to look at a plug while on the road, this being 1955. The noise is outside the car, not in, and the roughness sounds on the Super model but not on the “Damen” and I found my model has a jolly strong spring in its “clockwork mechanism.”
The whole essence of driving a Porsche lies in the fact that everything is finger-light; the steering, clutch, gear-change and brakes are all of a light smooth feeling that at first comes as strange after conventional cars. It has a live feel in its manner of going that wants caressing, not taken firmly between clenched fists as on some cars, while this manner of going is something that the driver has to accustom himself to. If you approach a Porsche with a view to driving it like a conventional car you will hate it, but on the other hand if you are prepared to spend say 1,000 miles in learning to drive all over again, you will love it. The Porsche is essentially a sporting car and likes to be driven in a sporting fashion, in fact the harder the better, and you find after a time that there are a number of things about it that you must absorb into your system. One is an appreciation of the rev-counter, for while the engine pulls happily from 1,500-5,000 r.p.m., it pays dividends to keep it between 2,500-4,500 r.p.m., and it doesn’t wear out. Another is to realise that the direction in which the nose of the car is pointing is of no importance, providing the driver is convinced of the way he wants to go; and finally, before you start going quickly in a Porsche you must be able to drive anyway. I have met lots of people who have tried a Porsche and thought it terrible and when I have seen them driving a conventional car I understand why; they just cannot drive properly anyway. With its low build, trailing-link i.f.s. and swing-axle rear suspension and rear-mounted engine it has an obvious oversteer characteristic, but this is constant and progressive and not changeable and sudden. The worst thing is surely an understeering car that changes its characteristics to violent oversteer in the middle of a fast corner. With the Porsche there are three ways of taking a corner: first at touring speeds, when there is no roll at all and the steering is neutral; secondly at fast road speeds when there is still virtually no roll but a slight oversteer which requires you to unwind the steering slightly before you leave the corner, this unwinding being progressive and varying with radius of the corner. Thirdly, there is the method for very fast cornering and this is where the Porsche technique must be applied; if it is not then you find yourself in a classic vintage oversteering slide on full opposite lock and about to turn right round. This special Porsche technique is better described by the acknowledged German expert on this type of motoring Richard von Frankenberg and I quote from an article he wrote for the Sports Car Club of America. “Often it is said that the Porsche is a difficult car to steer at high speed. In my opinion, this does not hold true. It must be admitted, however, that the Porsche must be driven with a different technique than the normal front-engined car. This ‘different’ technique one has, so to speak, to learn. The Porsche is a car which announces in time when it reaches the limit of road adhesion and it is for this reason that I find it easier to drive than a normal car. There are many cars which possess good roadholding characteristics and which one can really drive to the limit of adhesion. Once this limit is crossed by just the slightest margin, these cars break loose and with such force that steering correction will hardly keep them on the road. The Porsche announces the fact that it intends to break loose, a little in advance, by a side wiping of the rear wheels and if one does the correct thing at this particular moment, then the first wiping away of the rear wheels becomes completely harmless. As a matter of fact, you will feel, from prolonged experience, that this is a completely normal and controllable action.
“Pleasure touring in a Porsche car will show little difference in handling characteristics from the normal automobile. However, its driving at really high speed there are two important points to remember. First is the motion on the steering wheel shortly before the turn and at the entrance of the turn itself; one must ‘saw’ the Porsche wheel. It is important to hold the steering wheel relatively loosely and make small corrective motions before the full centrifugal force has its effect on the car. One does not drive the car around the curve in a simple circular line — instead one drives it in a so-called ‘snake line.’ I would repeat that it is important to hold the wheel loosely, so that the ‘sawing’ motion does not become a jerking one, but remains a small continuous motion. You will find the steering gear of the Porsche helpfully ‘easy and ‘soft.’
“The second point is that when driving into a curve at high speed, one does not wait until the Porsche breaks away in a surprising thrust-like manner. On the contrary, intentionally and consciously one brings about the breaking away in the beginning of the curve, a few tenths of a second before the turn itself. This only has sense, of course, when the car is driven really fast, so fast indeed as to tense the car to break away regardless. What you really do is to force upon the car your intention in purposely making it break away, a command the car will follow obediently. After you have set up this situation, you don’t have to recover the car as you would do normally by relatively strong counter-steering. The car moves as a whole, the front-end pointing towards the inside of the curve and it literally ‘wipes’ round the bend; this typical Porsche movement we call ‘wischen’ (wiping) and it, is a state between normal rolling travel and skidding, and one makes the necessary correction by ‘sawing’ on the steering wheel with an easy hand.
“At the end of this wiping motion, one must watch that the car does not point too much towards the inside. In the ideal situation, the wiping motion runs out into a harmonious roll as one leaves the curve. This results in a high speed at the end of the curve because the whole wiping motion must naturally be a continuous acceleration. This is important because all braking must be completed at the beginning of the curve and you open the throttle earlier than with most cars, driving the entire curve under full acceleration.
“When one has understood this controlled wiping motion, better still, when its mastery has become part of your blood, then Porsche driving becomes enormous fun!”
The above description, by von Frankenberg, of the Porsche technique gives a very good explanation for the antics of a Porsche that is being driven fast. His remark that the steering is easy and soft is due to every steering box being “run-in” for 24 hours before being fitted to the car. The steering gear is conventional worm and sector running in engine oil, and in the assembly shop is a machine to take five assembled boxes and they are worked through the full range from lock-to-lock by a reversing mechanism driven by an electric motor. The lids are removed from the boxes and a special running-in oil is flowed through them. Day and night the steering box is wound from lock-to-lock and thus the full length of the worm is lapped to the sector, final adjustment being by shims on the sector pivot. This explains to a great extent the lightness of Porsche steering, its constant “feel” throughout its movement and its complete lack of high-spots or harshness, a feature that all who have driven a Porsche must have noticed. The “snake-line” referred to by Frankenberg is well summed up by a friend of mine who described the movement of a Porsche round a curve as a series of chords and tangents. The closing remark, about getting it into your blood, is very true, Porsche driving not only becomes enormous fun but you become a Porsche addict, like the addicts of chain-gang Nashes, Bugattis or Bentleys.
In almost exactly eight months of fun I have covered 30,000 miles with my “Damen” and executed every known Porsche antic with the exception of the “gound-level-flick-roll” and I find it hard to extract pleasure from other forms of motoring to the same degree. The performance is not the outstanding thing about the ordinary 1,500-c.c. normal touring Porsche; it will out-accelerate a Zephyr or Mark VII Jaguar, the maximum on English roads is a very honest 90 m.p.h., while given time, as on an autobahn or by-pass, it will do 95 m.p.h. and, under favourable conditions such as a mountain side or a following wind, I have done 103 m.p.h., these figures being rev.-counter readings, the speedo being 7 m.p.h. fast at maximum. The genuine top speed, such as I would do on the way home from the office every day, if I had to suffer such a journey, is 4,600 r.p.m. in top (95 m.p.h.) and with a maximum-permissible of 5,200 r.p.m. this is a comfortable feeling when a long downhill stretch approaches. These sort of figures are not the real charm of the Porsche. That lies in its manner of going, for the suspension gives a very smooth ride, the body makes negligible wind noise, the controls are light, the all-synchromesh gearbox is one of those that will go down in history, and a new standard in lightness, the engine emits a hum like a dynamo at a crusing speed of 4,200 r.p.m. in top, and the seats are comfortable, while the driving position always evokes cries of acclamation from anyone who tries it. It is only natural that a car developed around competition motoring should have an excellent driving position, and as the Porsche saloon is not easy to get into and out of, unless you are fairly agile, it is rather fun to watch an awkward friend struggling to get in and hear the muttered remarks about dwarfs change to satisfied comments as he finds a near-perfect driving position. Visibility, in spite of almost sitting on the ground, is such that even I can see the road eight feet in front of the bumper when adopting a fairly reclining arms-stretched position. If you sit upright, vintage-fashion, this is reduced to six feet. The easy, quiet manner of going and the comfort factor all combine to make it possible to cover more than 600 miles in a day’s Continental motoring, driving alone, and yet not feel tired at the end, while 8-10 hours of a consistent average of 35 miles into each hour will show a fuel consumption of 34 m.p.g., the range of the tank being an easy 350 miles. On English roads 400 miles in a day are effortless and do not involve early starts or late arrivals.
Of all the “bogeys” thought up by anti-Porsche types the only serious one is always overlooked; most of the “cracks” at Porsches can be counteracted by the simple remark “When did you last drive a Porsche?” to which the answer is invariably “Well, I haven’t actually driven one.” so you follow up this with “When were you last taken for a ride in one?” and you would be surprised how many leaders of the opposition then have to admit that they’ve never been in a Porsche and they add feebly “but, I do know that it’s a fact, old boy.” Even quite well-known rally and racing drivers have been caught out by this counter-play and when they are the central figure of an admiring group they do not like it at all. If these “know-alls” had any experience of Porsches they would quietly ask about the health of the rear tyres and then it would be my turn to look embarrassed, for rear-tyre wear is a slight problem. My best pair lasted 6,500 miles and the worst 4,700 miles, and as I have used various makes there is little point in naming them, except that the best were some much-maligned racing tyres. This excessive wear is entirely dependent on how you drive; if you “wischen” all the time, as I do, then you must pay for it, if you are content to tour then you could do 20,000 miles. The VW is a similar sufferer, one owner needing new rear tyres in 8,500 miles, another having done 14,000 without a trace of wear. Equally, I knew a man who could never do more than 6,000 miles on his hotted-up Morris Minor without needing new tyres; speed round corners as well as high cruising speeds must be paid for no matter whether you over or understeer. If you can afford the fun, well why not have it. The Porsche front tyres are very reasonable, they last 12,000 miles.
As to maintenance and reliability I have few grumbles, for maintenance has consisted of routine oil changes every 1,500 miles, new Fram filter element every 10,000 miles and regular greasing. Reliability is such that I never stopped on the road for any “mechanical” reason in those 30,000 miles, though I did suffer some troubles. At 5,000 miles some of the grease in the speedo cable worked its way into the instrument and being of the magnetic-drive type it was converted to hydraulic drive, which meant that it indicated 120 m.p.h. most of the time, but as the mileometer was mechanical and continued to work I did not bother about the free replacement until I returned to the factory at 16,600 miles, the reasons for this return being manifold. I had got the hang of “wischen” motoring and had been warned that if I indulged in it on bad road surfaces the gear-lever would give a violent judder and the rear-end would be subject to abnormal strain and the gearbox mounting might crack. I did what I was told not to do all over the Italian mountains, through the Massif Centrale of France, the Pyrenees and the Portuguese mountains and on the return from Lisbon there was an ominous “click” each time I lifted my foot. This was after 16,000 miles, so I could hardly complain and, anyway, the only effect that this broken gearbox mounting had on the car was that it jumped out of top gear on very bad bumps at over 80 m.p.h. In addition I had a cracked windscreen collected from flying stones when overtaking another car, and I felt it was time the engine was looked at, while the rear shock-absorbers were worn out and I wanted new heavy-duty “competition ones” fitted.
While at the factory I agreed to let the Service Department give the car a routine 15,000 check, but when I suggested a decoke and valve grind they roared with laughter. I had to admit that it was still doing its 4,600 r.p.m. in top, used a pint of oil between changes, and ran as smoothly as when I left the factory, but being old-fashioned I felt the cylinder heads ought to be removed after 16,600 miles of very hard driving. All the mechanical units were removed from the car, cleaned, checked and replaced, though nothing was opened. The engine was checked for compression, timing, valve clearances (they had been done once, at 10,000 miles) and new plugs and ignition points fitted, but that was all. The brake linings were renewed and the drums checked for truth and skinned where necessary and new stub-axle assemblies were fitted. The brake linings and stub axle and suspension bushes were replaced as a matter of course, on an exchange plan, not because they were worn out but because the next check was not anticipated before 30,000 miles and by then the original ones might have worn a little and as the Porsche is a car meant to be driven fast, the Service Department like to know that everything is 100 per cent. While this work was being done I was able to see the new gearbox mounting, which is incorporated in the 1956 cars and will avoid the trouble I had, and also the new saloon with the Carrera engine. At the same time I had the opportunity to try a Speedster, the cheaper open two-seater, with normal 1,500-c.c. engine. Being more spartan it was considerably lighter, my car weighing 17½ cwt. in normal road trim, covered with odds and ends such AP extra lamps, radio, tools and so on, and being really fully equipped for comfortable touring, so that this Speedster together with its slightly lower axle ratio was a very lively car. As most of the weight saving arose from it being open it resulted in a lower e.g. and 90 per cent, of this weight removal was from the rear-axle loading, being roof, windows and mechanism, rear window, rear-seat squab and lighter bucket seats and as a result there was quite a marked difference in handling, the “wischen” cornering not, being so pronounced, but as it was a sporting two-seater it had all the failings of such models such as unlockable doors, flapping hood at 90 m.p.h., continual indecision about hood-up or hood-down, and while being great fun as a “dicer” it was not what I would have liked for motoring 1,000 miles a week continuously, that is, when the normal saloon Porsche is the available alternative. After all, one of the most pleasing things about the Type 356 saloon Porsche is its aerodynamic body, which spells efficiency and a sense of keeping abreast of the times; it is difficult to justify an open car for long-distance high-speed touring.
While doing the routine Service Schedule, every little detail on the car was checked, even to fitting a new grille in the ash-tray; I had discarded the original as being a non-smoker I used the ash-tray for toffee-papers. Thrown in as a matter of courtesy was a check for alignment of the machine in the assembly department., tightening and a better fitting of the extra lamps I had mounted myself and a wash and polish, inside and out. The steering had required a 40 thou, skim to satisfy the meticulous Porsche standards and the car was given a 20-mile road test before being handed over for me to drive like a lunatic for another 15,000 miles over Europe’s best and worst roads, conditions that would never prevail in England.
After a visit to Sweden I returned to Germany and competed in the Rhineland Rally, a wonderful event consisting of leaving the car in the open all night and from a 7 a.m. start covering 22 laps or 380 miles round the entire Nurburgring, using the Grand Prix circuit and the old Southern loop as well. The only stipulation was a maximum time for the whole distance and in the 1,600-c.c. Gran Turismo category the schedule was aimed to make a Porsche “Damen” hustle along a bit, though easy enough for a Super 1,500 c.c. Those who qualified then competed in a timed hill-climb on one part of the circuit. By now I had covered 21,000 miles and “race” preparation consisted of a new set of racing Dunlops, an oil change, and removal of all my luggage. After 17 laps around an average of 60+ m.p.h. I suffered a choked main jet, probably from the open refuelling churns used, and the time lost in locating the trouble after a slow return to the pits was more than I had in hand, so that was that. However, it was a good dice while it lasted.
Returning to duty motoring, the end-of-season trips brought the total to 28,000 miles and two weeks in England made up the round 30,000. Passing through Stuttgart on my way to England I paused to have new rubber bushes put in the front anti-roll bar as it was rattling when going over cobblestones and I again suggested a decoke, or new piston rings or something. The chief tester took the car out on the autobahn and could not see why I was complaining — well, I wasn’t exactly complaining, I just thought . . . They took the clutch adjustment up a notch, clicked the brake adjusters a couple of notches each and I left thinking “I suppose they know best.” On the way from Stuttgart to Cologne I put 210 miles in three hours, did 77 miles in the first hour, held 4,800 r.p.m. in top for at least three minutes on the Dormstadt-Heidelberg stretch that used to be used for record breaking, all at 33 m.p.g. with the radio playing, and realised that perhaps Dr. Ferry Porsche and his men do know something about building nice touring cars. — D. S. J.