Video – One Car To Do It All

I had a comment come in via email from my mate ‘Eggs’ overnight. I’ve got his OK to reproduce it here in order to kickstart this post:

I have been impressed by the number of people (including you) who have recently raved about the quality and seeming durability of Porsche cars. I kind of always assumed that the magic was in the drivetrain and suspension.

Interesting angle.

Indeed, the real magic IS in the drivetrain and suspension. That’s what delivers the driving experience that keeps you coming back again and again. But it’s the durability and quality of the car that keeps it on the road so you can come back again and again. That’s a tangible benefit, which is why Porsche owners talked about it consistently in the research I did before buying my car.

Durability

I’ve only recently bought my Porsche, but I’ve been interested in them for a few years. During those preceding years I did a lot of reading about Porsches and I can definitely echo Eggs’ comments about durability being one of the surprising attractions people talked about over and over.

One downside of Porsche ownership is that the parts can be really expensive if something goes wrong. I have a $15,000 rebuild invoice in my car’s history file to prove it.

The silver lining to that cloud is that they’re really well designed and made using quality materials. Result: with only a few exceptions (by reputation), these cars are absolutely loved by their owners and one of the key reasons, aside from the driving experience, is because they’re extremely reliable if you maintain them correctly.

The classic air-cooled boxer engine is remarkably simple, which is one of the reasons 911 purists love it so much. I used to wonder why so many Porsche owners were happy to pay for engine rebuilds. From what I can tell after speaking to a few of them, it’s not usually to repair something that’s gone wrong. Rather, it’s a form of preventative maintenance to ensure another 10 years of addictive peak performance.

I guess you could call that a pretty good testimony as to how compelling these cars can be to drive. Most other dedicated sports car companies survive along the same lines. They make a product so compelling that people will pay what can be crazy prices in order to keep it going in tip-top condition. In some cases, that’s because they have to (i.e. break down). In Porsche’s case, and I’m quite sure it’s not unique to Porsche, it’s because people genuinely want to keep their cars in superb driving order. They feel OK about paying a small fortune for maintenance because it insures against having to pay a large fortune in the event of a catastrophe.

As with any company, there are known weak spots. I don’t know all of them when it comes to Porsche but I learned about a few of them as I did my research.

The early/mid 1970’s 911 had a 2.7 engine that is not regarded as highly as others. US emissions regulations at the time meant that Porsche’s 2.4 engine was going to lose whatever small performance edge it ever had. Porsche enlarged the engine to 2.7 litres and included some internals designed to burn off build up in a way that didn’t result in the emissions coming out the tailpipe. They even gave it the slightly comical and slightly scary name: “thermal reactor”.

Anyway, those changes made the car run far hotter than an air-cooled car is comfortable with. Owners of these cars back when they were new saw a lot of engine failures and not a lot of support from Porsche, who have a reputation for not acknowledging their problems – buyer beware! Even though the 2.7s that survive today have most likely been modified to overcome the deficiency, prices on the second-hand market seem to reflect the model’s reputation.

The early Boxsters and 996-model 911s have a couple of problems that can rear their heads almost seemingly at random. I’ve seen these models for sale online with several hundred thousand kilometers on the odometer with no reported problems. I’ve also heard about others where the engine has blown for no apparent reason. There are a few known issues (porous blocks, head cracks, and others) but the biggest individual potential problem – the one that can cause these sudden failures – is the intermediate shaft bearing. The results are catastrophic if it fails so there’s good incentive to get it checked and updated/replaced. It’s not cheap, but it’s cheaper than an engine replacement.

Quality

It’s quite easy to think of Porsche and see $$$$$$, which can lead to an automatic presumption of high level quality/luxury/equipment. I’ll testify positively to ‘quality’ but advise caution when it comes to luxury and equipment on the older cars I’m familiar with.

I’ve only driven a few Porsches over the years – 944, 911 (964), 928 and my own 968. You’ll note that these are all pre-Boxster/996 model cars.

With the exception of the 928, I can’t say that any of these cars were built with luxury in mind. They’re certainly comfortable enough to drive everyday but Porsche’s emphasis in those years was very much on performance. Standard comfort items were pretty much limited to power steering/windows, stereo and air conditioning.

The suspension was set up with performance in mind and anything that could be classed as unnecessary excess weight was relegated to the options list. It’s only been in what I’d refer to as the modern era (Boxster/996 onwards) that Porsches had any real emphasis on delivering a comfortable drive as well as a spirited drive. That’s my theory only, by the way.

What they did seem to have in that pre-modern era (again, my terminology) was a commitment to quality in terms of design, engineering and materials. Porsche is one of the few companies where lines like “design and development through racing” are more than just marketing spin. Their parts were honed through racing, designed to operate in high stress environments and given Porsche’s success in endurance racing, for long periods of time. Things wear out, of course, but they’ll usually take a lot of (ab)use before they do.

I’ve been extremely impressed so far with the build quality of my car. It feels remarkably solid (especially given its age) yet I know from reading the specs that it’s very light. That’s a remarkable achievement but I guess it’s the use of low-weight, high-strength components that makes these cars cost a bit more than your average whip.

Versatility

Eggs didn’t mention this in his email, but one of the reasons people seem to love their Porsches is that they ARE versatile and durable enough to be used as everyday cars as well as being more-than-just-competitive track cars.

The following video was made by Petrolicious and it highlights the versatility and adaptability of the Porsche 911. This video galvanised my desire to finally take steps towards buying my first Porsche.

I really like this guy’s car, but I think I’m drawn even more by the experiences he’s had because of the car – the garage he’s built (amazing) and the skills he’s learned.

The video is 10 minutes long. I hope you take the time to watch it and understand.

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17 Comments

  1. The video is awesome! Jack’s “12 Gauge Garage” has to be one of my favorites. It is worth it, to read a more in depth story of the garage build on his blog.

    I loved his 911’s build comparison to Frankenstein, one of my SPG’s went through a very similar build. It is addictive and makes you want to keep the process going!

  2. great video! I did not realize that parts were that compatible over the years of the 911… very cool to be able to use parts from all those different eras.

    As a SAAB driver, 2 things were missing for me from this “1 car does it all” bit:

    1) really hauling stuff (nice he can haul his track gear though)… ie how does he get a washing machine or a load of garage building supplies home from Home Depot? can the 911 tow?

    2) winter. I’m pretty sure a rwd 911 doesn’t do winter so well… I know I sure wouldn’t want to subject it to salt…

    Very nice clip though. If only my garage was so neat! Love the floor lift and the set up overall is amazing.

    1. Totally agree. I’ve been looking around for new cars to do it all but got the feeling there aren’t any out there anymore?
      Even the local Bimmer sales manager admitted that their wagons are useless when it comes to hauling stuff. The 5-series cargo space is probably smaller than a 9-3 SC’s and the hatchback on offer more like a joke after Saabs IMO.
      What happened to the good old turbo c900, 9-5 and 850/V70’s of the world?

      Design came in the way of common sense?

      1. Completely agree. I’ve studied this phenomenon a little bit, and I’m formulating a theory: auto manufacturers in general are chasing lower and lower vehicle weights to meet cost and fuel economy standards which causes them to compromise usable space.

        How? First, vehicles get a little smaller every year. Easy. Second, designers are forced to use structural tricks like rounded roofs and angled canopies to maintain rigidity with lighter sheet metal. This compromises usability particularly by limiting the cargo opening size and shape. Third, people are now used to the styling created beginning with the first generation Ford Taurus and do not warm up to taller vehicles like the C900, 240, etc. which forces makers to limit the cabin height.

        Paradoxically, these designs do almost the opposite of their stated purpose: they drive people to cling to their SUVs.

        I’ll add from my own experience: my last company car, a lowly Dodge Journey, was an insanely usable vehicle. Great cargo space, seats fold flat for more when needed, large doors open to nearly 90 degrees for great access, full-time AWD, decent gas mileage, enough toys to make it comfortable, unbelievably low price. Of course, very lacking in the fun-to-drive category, but that’s the give.

        1. I thought cars were getting bigger? Eg 3 series today vs 20 years ago… Civic today vs 20 years ago, the Accord was that size, and now Accord is bigger still… Manufacturers are just adding a smaller model to the front of the lineup (1 series, Fit, etc) to meet government fuel regs. Size growth might be partly safety related.

          The crossovers often have some decent hauling ability, but with compromised fun… and usually (as you say) such rounded forms that the interior space is not much bigger anyway… they are mainly taller (bad for driving fun). Eg a Forester has about the same hauling ability as a c900 hatchback, but is way taller and handles awfully!

          Imho, if a vehicle is basically an SUV or minivan (as most crossovers are) and it can’t fit a 4×8 sheet of plywood inside and a washing machine on top of that with the tailgate closed… it’s useless to me. Might as well drive a 911 or something fun that can still pull a trailer!

          I agree that it is a shame sport wagons that can haul have fallen out of favour in North America.

          1. American cars are smaller nowadays and the imports have grown on the outside, BUT I think Eggs is absoluteluy spot on.
            The shape that is considered “modern” destroyed the so called premium wagon as there is no room on the inside anymore behind the C-pilar.

          2. Yes, RS has it right — it’s OVERALL that cars are getting smaller. Always a few exceptions.

            As far as the Civic today vs. 20 years ago, they are completely different class of vehicle that happens to have the same name; the Prius is the true heir to the old Civic.

            Still, to your/our point: even the slightly larger vehicles are shaped differently to sell cars. Heck, Chrysler OPENLY talked about hiking up the belt line on the 300 and Charger to allow height for decent headroom while maintaining a look that people would like. It’s crazy how much the look of a vehicle matters.

    2. I think I have answered my own question re how does he get materials home for the garage, winter, etc… finally got a chance to read his website: he also owns a Jeep.

      So it’s kind of one car does it all, and another car to do the stuff that the other car’s not great at… but still a great story about the Porsche and his garage. The website is a great read btw! Very inspiring stuff.

  3. I feel the 911 is a very versatile car. I have a 1973 911 with either 240,000 miles of 340,000 not sure which, but I put 140,000 on it so I am sure of 240,000 miles. [5 digit odometer!]

    The early cars are very honest and simple. No power anything just a CDI ignition.

    When we took my 911 apart for restoration, I could not believe the quality and over engineering of the smallest pieces! You could not afford to build a car the way the early 911s are built.

    I love Jack Olsen’s garage, but it is a bit overexposed I feel. It is in every US magazine, and Jack is on Pelican Parts, Garage Journal, his blog, and everywhere else. He is a Porsche internet celebrity.

    I like the footage. Bouquet Canyon road on the way to Willow Springs track, Piuma Road, PCH, and the Santa Monica mountains in my neighborhood. I liked the way they shot it.

    His car is pretty cool and very well developed.

    I like it when he says he will have the car forever. I feel the same way about my 1973. It is just a blast to drive and very reliable and what else would you want to drive?

    But I do love the radio, A/C, comfort and touring power of our 95 Aeros. I think I will have those forever too.

  4. Honored to be featured as the jumping off point. Fascinating to learn more about German cars. I’ve told you via e-mail that I’m seriously considering a Mercedes for my next. When that happens, let’s compare notes about have that stacks up.

  5. Thanks for the kind words, guys. I wouldn’t honestly say that an early 911 is all the car anyone needs. But as a weekend/canyon/track car, it’s pretty awesome — simple enough and smart enough to keep this owner engaged for a long, long time. But full disclosure: I also have a plain-vanilla BMW daily driver and an old Jeep for hauling parts, hardware and the occasional sofa.

    1. That’s cool, Jack. I think three cars is really the bare minimum for the modern-day enthusiast 🙂

      Thanks for dropping by, and for the inspirational garage.

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