Cultivating Porsches down on the Autofarm
It is fairly safe to assume that anyone who can afford upwards of £7,800 for a new Porsche won't pale at the size of official Porsche spares and servicing bills. But, just like mundane cars, Porsches grow older, cheaper, thus passing to owners with shallower pockets, yet need increasing mechanical attention. To cater for exactly such conflicting circumstances, three years ago Josh Sadler and Steve Carr founded Autofarm Porsche Centre at 65, High Street, Iver, Buckinghamshire. Their service of second-hand parts, replacement glass-fibre panels and reasonable cost servicing for 911s, 912s and to some extent 914s has rescued many a bent or broken Porsche from mouldering in a garage while its comparatively impecunious owner contemplates how he can save the whole of next year's salary to pay for repairs.
Sadler and Carr do not profess to aim at robbing Porsche Cars Great Britain of business; just the opposite in fact, ensuring that enthusiasts who would be unable otherwise to afford the cost of Porsche motoring help to keep the second-hand Porsche market buoyant. "We never appreciated how many older Porsches—the size of the market— there were in Britain when we started. To some extent we've generated our own market by putting back cars on the road which couldn't have been if we hadn't existed," says Sadler.
Their business is eased by the remarkable interchangeability of parts practicable between all 911/912 models from the first in 1965 to the current range. The partners assure me that 1976 Carrera suspension will bolt straight on to a 1965 shell, should you so wish, while Carr's own, magnificent, blue, road car is another case in point. Carrera 3-litre front arches, huge Group 4 rear arches, wide Porsche alloy wheels and Recaro seats disguise the front of a 1972 car mated to the rear of a 1970 car in which resides a 1972 2,4-litre engine plonked upon a 1969 2-litre 911S crankcase and driving through a 1970 2.2-litre gearbox.
Concerning mechanical repairs, Sadler reflects, "It's inevitable that we cut corners by the standards of genuine Porsche repair work; we read between the lines in the workshop manual. We don't pretend that our repairs will last as long as Porsche's own, but look at the cost! What I mean by this is that, for example, whereas Porsche would replace the complete assembly in the event of clutch trouble, normally we would simply replace the driven plate; we won't replace expensive parts just on the off-chance. The customer has CO put the relative costs into perspective; the sort of mileage he does, the length of time he intends to keep the car.
"It's amazing how many little tweaks there are to save money, like timing-chain tensioners, which are about £25 each new. What nobody tells you is that a reconditioning kit costs only 79p."
Their servicing and repair operations are fully comprehensive, so detailing is unnecessary. However, I was quite taken aback to hear that a routine gearbox rebuild, including removal from the car, replacing bearings and/ or synchromesh and refitting, costs from £60 to £75, modest indeed for rejuvenating a gearbox which would cost several hundred pounds to replace.
There's a touch of "coals to Newcastle" about Autofarm's glass-fibre panel industry, nearly 70% of production being exported to the Continent, the majority to the Porsche Fatherland, where, so they tell me, glassfibre quality is pretty abysmal, ". . . and we hang our hats on quality." Actual production of the panels is sub-contracted, though carried out with Autofarm's range of 27 moulds. Wings, bonnets, boot-lids, wheel-arch extensions and front and rear spoilers are produced in a variety of forms. Early "slim-line" 911s/912s can be brought up to date by grafting on post-1969 standard arch extensions at £16 each, there are standard Carrera rear arches, Turbo/3-litre Carrera arches, standard late-model front wings can be bought complete for £45 each, and soon there will be Turbo front wings for £60 or £70 each, compared with about £250 for the factory steel item. Two basic front spoiler patterns match the standard 2.4 911S and the 1973 Carrera: at £35 each they are proving a popular line with the growing band of Carrera rally drivers, notably the Irish contingent, who find wiping-off the genuine article at £150 a time becomes a bit expensive over a season's rallying. Flared ends for the quarter panels are needed to match arches and spoilers to some of the earlier models. They also offer a big 3-litre front spoiler which necessitates more comprehensive alterations to standard early cars, including shortening of the bonnet. For the ultimate there's the big, boxy RSR spoiler which can be used only with ventilated RSR front wings, obtained from an outside supplier. Ducktail rear spoiler/boot-lids modelled on the '73/'74 Carrera are £45 each. For £95 there's the Turbo boot-lid, the soft rubber lip of which cost Autofarm a small fortune to develop, but was essential to allow sales to Germany, where Porsche were forced by regulations to adopt similar protection for the £330 or so genuine article.
Sadler and Carr stress that their intention is not to sell cheap, substitute panels for new exotic cars. "We cater for a different sector of the market, for cars at least three years old which might be getting frayed round the edges and which the owners want to update in appearance." Making the point, Carr pointed to a battered and scrapped steel wing from a Turbo which had been replaced by a genuine steel article, not by an Autofarm glass-fibre replica.
With their glass-fibre wares they have created quite a vogue for converting early models into wide-arched dream cars, often accompanied by the substitution of later, bigger engines. A current project for a customer is based on a 1969 2-litre 911, which is being transformed with wide arches and a 2.7 Carrera engine, a very sophisticated form of customising. A complete re-panelling job if carried out by Autofarm works out at about £1,000.
That particular Carrera engine came from Autofarm's stock of second-hand engines, retrieved from written-off cars. Prices vary from £400 for a good, running, 2-litre flat-six to £1,750 for a Carrera. The most difficult to obtain are 912 flat-fours, "which tend to blow up regularly because they're often driven and serviced like VW engines. The cost of a 912 engine is usually out of proportion to the value of the car. You're better replacing it with a 911 engine." They do have a good stock of 912 reground crankshafts, barrels and heads, however.
One of the bugbears of Porsche ownership has always been corrosion and cost of replacement of exhaust heat exchangers and silencers. Autofarm don't promise to keep your Bank Manager entirely happy, but they can soften the blow a little: the two heat exchangers are £75 each, included in the complete exhaust system for £200. From Porsche the bill would be about £400. The Autofarm product's quality may not be quite so good, but an independent dynamometer test on a Carrera engine has proved that it produces no more power loss than the Porsche system. Systems on current Porsches are much better protected against corrosion than they were, of course.
Routine service replacement parts are stocked, such as clutches, brake pads and Bosch electrical items. They can supply second-hand anti-roll bars for those models which don't have them as standard, as well as rear shock-absorbers and Koni inserts for the front struts. From their regular breaking of crashed or rotten Porsches there is a veritable treasure-trove of second-hand bitsand-pieces available. Occasionally badly damaged late-model Porsches are bought and repaired, using new Porsche parts and panels, upon their own correct body jig. This work is carried out by well-known Club rally driver Charlie Woods, their tame body man, who moved out into different premises, and self-employment, when Autofarm's buildings became too cramped.
Sadler and Carr arrived in business by way of Glacier Bearings, with whom the former was a development engineer and the latter a test driver. A joint spare-time hobby of repairing damaged cars developed into a Porsche love affair when they acquired and rebuilt a 911; a search for spares for the car in Germany amongst firms run on similar lines to Autofarm showed them their destiny. Both were actively engaged in competitions at the time, Sadler with a Clubmans U2, though his 1969 season of vintage racing with a 1933 short-chassis Aston Martin Le Mans is remembered more sentimentally, and Carr in rallying, both as a co-driver and, briefly, as the driver of his own Imp. After a lay-off from such activities whilst the business was built up, both returned last season with an exGerman Club racing 911S (perhaps with a factory history, for it carries chassis number 7), rebuilt with Autofarm panels and a standard 2.7-litre Carrera engine. With this bright pink projectile Sadler equalled the class record at Shelsley Walsh, where he ran it up the banking very dramatically on one occasion, and beat the Prescott class record. Carr had less success on the circuits, where the car proved less competitive, but more power is planned for the coming season. Sadler is a great fan of MCC and SODC trials, for which he uses an early 912, but it is Mrs. Susie Sadler, guardian of Autofarm's stores, who's the real trials expert, a well-known competitor with her 1929 Austin Seven Chummy under her maiden name of Halkvard. Carr's wife, Pauline, takes care of the firm's secretarial affairs. Also in the firm are enginebuilder Jack Phillips, a motorcycle trials expert and ex-Glacier man, Colin Haines, who looks after the workshop, assisted by Pete Tognola, and John Lory, who fits body panels. Some time in the New Year the whole caboodle will have to move premises when the present lease expires, but meanwhile they can be contacted on Iver (0753) 65 2170.—C.R.