Thursday, July 18, 2013

#4 - 1977 Porsche 911S

Truth be told, my first Porsche was a bit of a basket case. I bought it on a whim and had no idea how to maintain or repair it. Most critically, I had no idea how to drive it, and early narrow-bodied 911s are treacherous animals. What could go wrong?

In the 1980s there was a thriving market in used American cars among the half million servicemen stationed in Europe. Yes, minivans and beat up Pontiacs doing 90 mph down the autobahn. Scary indeed. Soldiers could also purchase German cars, but this got tricky. The German government considered a German car sold to an American to have been exported. These cars rarely returned to German ownership. And since most European cars did not meet the more stringent U.S. crash and emissions standards of the time, they were difficult to bring back to the states. As a result German spec cars bounced from soldier to soldier, often falling into disrepair as American-owned cars were not subject to the stringent German inspection requirements (the dreaded Technischer Überwachungs-Verein, or TÜV inspection).

An American officer bought the Guards Red Porsche new from the factory, selling it when his tour ended. The car then went through a series of owners, each no doubt with little clue of how to properly maintain an expensive high performance car, much less afford to repair things as they went wrong. By the time I bought it the car needed a lot. But like many other young men, the allure of a red Porsche blinded me to the puddle of oil and the burning electrical smell.

Of course I immediately took the Porsche out on the local autobahn and drove it as fast as it would go. Even with its leaks and other problems, that was really fast. My GTI topped out around 100 mph. The 911 would do over 225 kilometers per hour, or around 140. Did I mention that I really had no idea how to drive the car? 

Before traction control and anti-lock brakes a rear-engine 911 was a handful under the best of conditions. Sure it was fast, both in a straight line and in the corners. But with the engine's weight hanging out behind the rear axle, the darned things were downright treacherous. If you started to feel the back of the car losing traction in a corner, basic self-preservation told you the lift off the throttle. Wrong answer... In an older 911, instinct kills. 
Lift off oversteer - like this!

Porsche 911s suffered for years from a condition known as lift off oversteer. Lift off the throttle in a fast corner and the car would spin in the blink of an eye. Ask me how I learned this. To be honest, at high speeds the car was frightening. I vividly recall flying down the autobahn, getting in to a downhill sweeping corner and just plain being scared. It would take everything I had not to lift. Amazingly though, if you simply stay on the throttle the inherent ability of the 911 design will usually hang on. Usually.

Between scaring the hell out of me and quickly mounting repair bills I should have hated that car. But I loved it. Did I mention it was a red Porsche and I was 23 years old?

Until I wrecked the GTI in April 1987 the 911 was just a weekend toy. Unfortunately it was worthless as a daily driver, particularly in the nasty weather of Northern Germany, and I sold the car soon after... to another young lieutenant in love with the idea of a red Porsche of course. It would be nearly 15 years before I would own another Porsche. But I would own another Porsche.

1977 Porsche 911S
Owned: 1986-1987
Music: Ziggy Marley and the Melody Makers, Joe Cocker, and always Elvis Costello
Rating: 3/5 (Sort of like the song from A Chorus Line: Dance 10, Looks 3)

And please note my explanation about the photographs used in this blog.

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