In Praise of Lesser Porsches Ė Part 1

 

The quest to find the perfect lesser Porsche has taken this Scotsman all over the place, even to foreign lands, which is why I ended up in Knutsford. My companion du jour announced she was going to get her nails done, and it would take an hour, although quite what takes an hour when I can file my nails in three minutes defeats me, but thatís girls for you. So with an hour to kill, I gravitated towards the McLaren showroom. It was a Friday afternoon, there was one salesman on duty but tied up in conversation with customers, so I was welcomed, but left in peace, the perfect arrangement. There were three different MP4-12Cs in the room, plus an absolutely fascinating example stripped to its carbon tub and engine as an exhibit, which I prowled round, boggle eyed in admiration at the stunning detail and engineering excellence. Finally I opened the door to one of the cars and climbed in. Wow!

 

 

 

 

 

It felt like Ron Dennis himself had come round my gaff and measured me up like a tailor, and then gone back to Woking and built the car to fit me personally. The dimensions and ergonomics were simply perfect; it fitted me like a Savile Row suit. The style, layout and choice of materials also reeked of sheer minimalist class, just as I like it. It could have been designed by Apple or Braun, a total contrast to the garish interior of modern Ferraris. It is no lie that I sat in that cockpit for fully 20 minutes, unhassled by salesmen, and just "absorbed" Ö it was close to motoring nirvana. A lifelong petrolhead, I started out with mopeds and old Minis, and have spent ever since working my way up the motoring tree. The given mantra has always been "MORE" Ö more speed, more power, more looks, more kit. The McLaren perhaps represents the pinnacle of everything I have thought I have been looking for these last forty-odd years; the performance car honed to utter perfection.

I stepped back out into the busy Cheshire afternoon and thought of that old saying Ö"Be careful what you wish for; it might come true" and realised it had just happened to me. I had finally found the car of my dreams, and it was as pointless as a chocolate ashtray. Back here in the real world were seething traffic, 20mph limits, speed humps, and camera vans lurking on every decent bit of road. What on earth was the point of a perfect 200mph car? And as I trudged off through the chi chi little town to find the nail bar, I noticed the streets were littered with parked Mercedes, BMWs, Ferraris, Porsches and all those ghastly blingy SUV things. The sad truth is we have achieved a sort of motoring perfection, and the best we can use it for is as a sort of outdoor, heavily depreciating, male jewellery. Knutsford High Street, or the road to Damascus? Either way, it was certainly an epiphany. To tell the truth, I have for some years now had the nagging feeling that the performance car market was getting totally out of kilter with what our society allows, or even tolerates, and my visit to McLaren was really the final straw.

 

 

Six years ago I bought a Porsche Cayman, my fifth Porsche, but my first (and probably last) new one. It is Guards Red, and I ordered it with almost no options; only cruise control (to help keep my licence) and heated seats (cos my wife likes them) and nothing else. I was repeatedly told I was mad to buy such a bare-spec car, as I would never be able to sell it again, but as I had every intention of keeping it forever, it mattered not a jot to me. It was (and still is) my pride and joy. I have done over 50,000 miles in it, as I bought it to drive, not to polish, but it still looks as good as the day it was delivered. It is the fastest and most powerful car I have ever owned, and the figures make telling reading; 245 bhp, 160 mph and 6 seconds to 60. Back in the 70ís when I first started driving, and through all those years of devouring CAR magazine, those figures would have qualified you for the supercar club. And in a way they still do, for me at least, as the roads are busier than ever, speed is looked upon as some sort of social menace, and I have to watch my right foot carefully to avoid familiarity with the local magistrates court.

 

 

And yet Ö my Cayman is now obliterated by muscular hot hatches and torque-laden turbo diesels, and is very much the baby of the Porsche range. Far from being a supercar, it is firmly considered a lesser Porsche. People sneer at my pathetic 17" wheels and ask where the sat nav, PASM and leather seats are, and when am I going to trade it up for something faster. But I know a secret Ö less is sometimes more Ö and that was never more true than it is today in the world of sports cars. A week or so ago the Cayman was in for a service and Porsche Centre Edinburgh kindly lent me a new 991 Carrera 4S for 48 hours. In full attack mode it was truly awesome, as an afternoon of spirited solo driving  proved, but it was also temptation on a stick which would have lost me my licence in hours. In waft mode it was delicious, but ruinously thirsty, and moreover it carried a six figure price tag. I enjoyed the experience, but I felt unusually relieved to hand it back. My Cayman may not be so fast, but at least I can deploy a few seconds worth of throttle without achieving the sort of speeds that jet fighters use for take off. In short, I can actually enjoy "driving" it, rather than forever backing off. Less is truly more!

 

 

The problem with being a dyed-in-the-wool petrolhead is that is comes with a permanent itch to forever keep buying, selling or swapping cars. Having decided that I am no longer going to climb the performance tree, where next then to satisfy the itch? I have become aware that a lot of my mates in the Porsche Club have been quietly buying up and salting away nice examples of earlier Porsches, so I decided I should have a flutter myself. Nice though an early model 911 might be, that boat sailed without me years ago, as they are all well outwith the reach of my pensioner wallet. Looking back over all the Porsches Iíve driven (and luckily for me that is pretty much all of them) I have long had a soft spot for the 924, and it also seems to be the only remaining older Porsche which isnít being eyed up by the speculators. I decided Iíd look for a good one, before they too were all gone. This of course is why I was in Knutsford in the first place, on another abortive journey to Englandshire to look at yet another supposed paragon that turned out to be a disappointment. Iíve lost track of how many miles Iíve covered and how many cars I have looked at, but I do know Iíve been from Inverness (the green one) to Rochdale (the silver one), and to Derby (the white turbo) and come home empty handed every time.

 

    

 

Indeed I was almost at the point of giving up, but was idly flicking through the Pistonheads classifieds (yet again) when I spotted a car that had just been advertised. It looked promising; a 1981 2.0 N/A in Guards Red with an almost unbelievable 35,000 miles on it from new. Whatís more it was only half an hour away from me, and seemed curiously underpriced. Before I knew it I was on the blower, and at the chapís house the next morning. As soon as I saw it I realised why the price seemed low, as it was languishing in the corner of a garage, faded and filthy and generally looking very sad and neglected, as it hadnít turned a wheel in two years. 

 

 

Rather dejected, I was about to turn and walk away, when almost out of politeness I ventured into the garage, opened the door and looked inside. Through the grime I detected an almost unmarked interior in vintage brown and cream pasha, and as I closed the door I realised that it shut with that deeply satisfying "thunk" that you only get on a car that has seen little use over the years. Hmm, not so fast cowboy! Although the vendor hadnít even bothered to wash it, he had at least been out and bought a new battery. We fitted it, and sloshed a gallon of petrol into it, and good grief it started almost first kick, and after a bit of spluttering settled down to a smooth idle. I started to feel my wallet twitching. The owner said the clutch was seized, but a spot of brute force and ignorance fixed it so we manoeuvred it out onto the driveway for the first time in years, and Iíd swear I could see the car blinking in the sunlight. By now I was sunk, I did the deal and we shook hands. Within a few more days an MoT had been sorted out, money changed hands, and I drove it home. I now owned another lesser Porsche. Or maybe it now owned me.
 

 

Inevitably, as I inspected it and drove it tentatively over the next few days, I compiled a not-inconsiderable list of things that need to be fixed, replaced, repaired, cleaned and generally fettled. I shall keep the details of the car's progress for another chapter, but even in the six weeks Iíve now owned it, I have ticked off enough of the things on the list to realise I have bought a sound and solid little car. Flicking through the old MoTs I got with the car tells me that over the last 15 years it has averaged less than 500 miles per year. I think it is suffering from lack of use as much as anything, and indeed it seems to get sweeter and faster with every mile that I put on it, as it slowly comes back to life. In fact over the last three weeks I have put more miles on the clock than the previous owner did in his three year tenure, including one particularly memorable run.

I had taken the 924 to a Porsche Club meeting in Dundee, where it was much admired, and I set off home early before it got too dark. From the Tay Bridge to my house is about 20 miles down the A914 though rural north Fife, a road I have been driving and enjoying, on two wheels or four, for as long as I have been driving. I know it like the back of my hand. It is one of those lovely flowing A roads, but which sadly now is all too often blighted by tractors, speed cameras and folk in Micras doing 46mph, but not that night ... I had it all to myself. Had I been in that borrowed Carrera 4S I could no doubt have monstered it, using the prodigious amount of power, grip and braking it has, but in truth it would have been the car doing the work not me. To drive a car like that at sensible road speeds you are so far within its performance envelope that it actually requires very little driving skill from the pilot. Worried about your braking points or turn-in? Don't fret, you can be as ham-fisted as you like and the car will absorb your mistakes and not even flinch. Modern cars flatter you into thinking that you are Lewis or Kimi, but you're not.

The 924 is very different however, much more "old skool". As it has only modest acceleration, the trick is to try to always maintain your velocity. Gentle braking into corners to transfer the weight onto the front wheels, turn in, and feed the power back in while feeling what the chassis is telling you. No ABS, no traction control, no stability management systems, just your fingertips and the seat of your pants. It brought back skills I almost thought I'd forgotten. Less is more. It was a very good 20 miles!

Clearly I have a way to go yet to get the car back into top shape, but Iím looking forward to the journey. Watch this space.

Text and Photos - Copyright John R Hunter