50,000 miles with a Porsche 911

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D.S.J. STARTED me on the downward slope towards becoming a Porsche fanatic and an appreciator of sophisticated fun motoring. In the late ’50s, while I used a Jowett Jupiter and an Austin Healey for transport, Jenks would invariably meet me at an airport with his own much-loved Porsche 356 near whichever Grand Prix he happened to be covering and afterwards put me back on a ‘plane with my cameras and film. In each of these short trips the seeds were being sown for 10 years of Porsche motoring.

My first Porsche, a 356B, was followed by the more sophisticated 356C; then, with disc brakes and increased power, the familiar Porsche shape underwent a change and the 911, 912 series was born. MOTOR SPORT road-tested a 911 in February, 1966, and after driving that particular car for two days of D.S.J.’s test week, I knew I would have to have one. The road-test report was enthusiastic, and while reading through an early production copy in a restaurant at Daytona, who should walk in but Huschke Von Hanstein, Porsche’s Press chief and Team Manager, accompanied by Porsche’s West Coast distributor. They were so enthusiastic about D.S.J.’s write-up that they almost insisted that MOTOR SPORT should have a 911, so it was arranged that the first Weber-equipped car into England (the earlier models had a complicated Solex carburetter set-up) should be for me.

The sleek dark grey lines of my new car more than made up for the wifely nagging about family cars and insinuations that by now I should have grown out of my passion for fun motoring. The trip meter read 28 miles when I arrived at AFN Limited in Isleworth to collect it, but it took an hour and a changed Bendix petrol pump before the still tight six-cylinder horizontally-opposed air-cooled engine was pushing me through the city to native Essex. The five-speed allsynchromesh gearbox is one of this Porsche’s greatest delights; it is light to operate and I find it almost impossible to change too quickly. The excellent choice of ratios means that it is not necessary to select top until over 100 m.p.h. appears on the clock, and this always has a demoralising effect on other motorists who watch you pass at over 90 m.p.h. and then listen, dumbfounded, as you draw abreast and change into top.

Running-in was not too much of a bind, for the rev, limit of 5,000 r.p.m. in the first 600 miles gave just under 100 m.p.h. in top gear, which is not hanging about. A careful build-up of engine speed was observed before 1,500 miles and then the 911’s full 6,800 revs could be used, giving a maximum around 135 m.p.h.

One of the early faults I found with my car was a ripple in the bottom of the windscreen, so when looking down at the road through that patch of glass the “cat’s eyes” seemed to rise up towards the car. I couldn’t persuade anyone to rectify this fault for a couple of years, by which time I was used to it and most of my passengers had been made car sick! When it was changed, it was the passengers who appreciated it most and the passenger seat has now become more frequently occupied.

As the miles began to mount up, it became more and more obvious that the 911 was a real all-round car which could cruise effortlessly at 100 m.p.h. plus, or he hurled with gay abandon through winding back roads, and always the car seemed to say “try a bit harder, you haven’t reached my limit yet”. The accuracy of the steering and its controllability is shown at its best when surging through heavy traffic, for where in most cars you think in feet when avoiding the moving accidents and chicanes which clutter our roads, in the 911 inches are the order of the day. This can be very disturbing for the passenger who regularly commutes in ordinary family saloons and doesn’t understand how a real car should go.

The first major fault was nearly fatal from my point of view. One morning I went to sleep driving down the busy Lea Bridge road when I shouldn’t even have been tired. The bump of the car hitting the kerb on the wrong side of the road and the sight of a bus going past the left-hand window brought me back to reality. The heat exchanger had holed itself inside and exhaust gases were being pumped straight into the car, with almost disastrous results. This was evidently a known fault on the Continent and the heat exchanger was promptly changed for a 911S unit, which was more robust and also improved the exhaust flow.

Porsche service should be carried out every 6,000 miles and the Castrol CR30 grade oil changed. Oil consumption up to 30,000 miles was nil between services, but in the last 20,000 miles a quart has had to be added after about 4,000 miles. The oil check is made every time you stop for traffic lights, for on the dashboard there is a gauge which gives a fairly accurate reading of how much oil there is in the tank (the 911 has a dry sump engine) when the engine is ticking over and the oil temperature exceeds 140°F.

One early problem with the car was oiled-up plugs after use in London traffic for several days on end. The very expensive Bosch platinum-tipped plugs recommended were just not up to the task of town driving. Discussion on this problem with Dick Gale, Champion’s American Racing Manager, produced two boxes of Champion plugs, one of 64Ys and the other of 6Ys. The problem was solved, and—other than outlasting the normal life of the Bosch plug—they cost in England about 20% of the Bosch price.

Tyres are more critical than on many other cars. The German Dunlop SPs fitted as standard are superb and last about 16,000 miles of my type of driving. In both dry and wet conditions they hug the road like limpets, but at the same time when they do break away there is still lots of control left. When the second set of tyres were in their dying stages, a conversation with Gerry Ealson of Firestone prompted me to try a set of F200 Sports. These were brought in from the Swiss plant because the tyres made in England are not designed for speeds of over 120 m.p.h. The F200s fitted were tubeless, which is not advised by Porsche, and during the first month one of them kept losing pressure at about a pound a day. This was, however, a fault of the tyre rim and when a new casing was fitted the problem was solved. The feel of the Firestones was quite different, the steering became lighter and for about a month I was not sure whether I wanted to persist with them. In the wet the adhesion isn’t quite so positive, but controlled slides feel the same as on the Dunlops and the F200 has no vicious tendencies. One important aspect in their favour is that they last longer: with regular service bills considerably higher than for most cars, a saving on tyres must be taken into consideration. The F200s to date have done 20,000 miles, wearing away 4 mm. on the front and 6.5 mm. on the rear of the original 8.5 mm. of tread.

Reliability is the keynote of any car used for business transport. The Porsche has only let me down completely once and on another occasion it let me down partly. This doesn’t count two punctured tyres (which are quick to change) and the fan belt, which is always critical on an air-cooled car. A spare is always in the tool kit and it took 15 minutes to fit at 42,000 miles.

The two failures mentioned were both connected with the distributor. The first was a partial failure, as the car went on to four cylinders when the advance and retard seized solid and the engine gave only about 20% of its normal 130 DIN h.p. The other occasion was just short of 50,000 miles, when after the long hot spell in the summer the distributor cap shorted-out along some hairline cracks in a torrential downpour. It resulted in a long walk beside the Brentwood by-pass and a tow-in by my wife, a nightmare which I hope never to repeat.

Fuel consumption varies quite a lot; for town use it is usually about 18 miles to the gallon; on twisting, winding roads, or in the mountains, it drops to about 16 to the gallon; this is mainly attributable to excessive use of the five-speed box, which is such a pleasure to use that a driver finds himself changing just for the fun of it. The best consumption of 21 to 22 m.p.g. is obtained on long motorway type cruising using 90-110 m.p.h. for long periods, with averages of over 70 m.p.h. Runs like this show the Porsche in its true light, for after 400 or 500 miles, with a quick stop for fuel at about 250 miles (and the 30-mile reserve light blinking), the driver can step out still feeling fresh in circumstances where many cars with badly-placed controls bring on utter exhaustion.

Many times I am asked why I stick to Porsche, and my reply is always the same—it’s the best car in the world. With a racing programme always a few years ahead of production the Porsche models are always improving in the manner which enthusiasts appreciate. So today the 911s and the 914/6 are two of the world’s best cars and, from my way of looking at the market, the best.—M. J. T.

P.S.—At 53,800 miles the car failed completely outside Bowes in County Durham on a cold snowy night. Esso Extra taken on at Selby Fork Service Area contained a considerable proportion of water and weed-like rubbish which made the Porsche run terribly, but it wasn’t until the water froze in the carburetters and fuel lines that all power vanished.