Friday, 24 November 2006

My mate V-Dub Phil

I wrote this a couple of years ago. At the time I found myself ‘between jobs’ and while looking around for gainful employment I noticed a Position Vacant ad in my favourite old car Magazine, Classic and Sports Car, for the post of Editorial Assistant. Feeling that a CV full of my exploits as a 40-odd year old Database bloke wasn’t really going to hook me an interview, I decided to create a couple of articles to illustrate my abilities.

This is one; it follows the model of a regular column they ran called “My Classic and I”, even to the extent that I used their usual word count. I based it on my friend Phil and his old Porsche 914 (although there’s some poetic licence involved; the early memories are my own).

Some weeks after sending the article off, I had a call from the magazine. The editor, James Elliot, had been so impressed by my pieces, that he invited me to spend a week their gaining experience, on the basis that if things worked out they’d be a job in it for me. Alas, in the meantime I’d started working as a contractor and the moment was lost. I also have to add that Mrs SS7 was not impressed by the idea of a life of worthy penury while I followed my dream.

Here is the piece. By the way; good writing is murderously hard. Each column took about 6 hours of working and re-working:

A senior executive in a major oil company has little enough time for hobbies, so you’d expect any classic resident in the heated garage block to be one of those over-restored Italian garage queens. Not so Philip *******, UK md of the **** oil company, whose garage contains the same Porsche 914 he’s owned for 15 years.

“At university in Leeds in the early 80’s I fell in with the VW crowd and I’ve never really moved on” he says. “Sure, I could afford a more valuable classic, but there’s something about the sound of the flat-four that rings all my bells, and allied to Porsche mid-engined balance and targa top fresh air, its an all time great”.

Phil’s family was not a motoring one. Early memories were of standing up between the front seats on family trips to the seaside in ancient saloons that smelt of old leather, hot oil and musty flannel head-lining. “My father had little interest in motoring but the first family car I really remember was an MG Y type, which would do about 60mph flat out on the then new M6”. The MG also provided Phil’s first accident experience; “We’d driven through a flood on the way home. My mother turned into the garage, which was at the bottom of a steep drive, and tried to brake, but the waterlogged drums didn’t.” She demolished shelving and stored household possessions at the rear of garage, but there was little damage to us or the car.”

The MG was disposed of soon after that to another family member, who later managed to run over the car’s bonnet after a spot of DIY. “The bonnet hinged in the middle like pre-war cars, and could be removed entirely”. Its replacement was a Ford Cortina GT with new-fangled flood resistant disc brakes, followed by various less memorable Ford and BMC family cars.

Phil’s first car, a Mini bought with holiday job money, ended its days in a ditch after demolishing a stone wall. A lack of comprehensive insurance meant its replacement would have to be defined more by budget than desire. “A flatmate went off travelling, and I inherited his Beetle. At the same time I started getting into Northern Soul music, and somehow the two seemed to work together.” There was a small group of like-minded types locally which linked up with others around the country. “We started to see Californian influences in how people were modifying Beetles, and before very long were into it ourselves”.

A series of cool modified ‘Cal-look’ Beetles followed, as funds allowed. “I left university, and started working for BP. The money was good, and it meant I could indulge”. The Beetles got more extreme, running with big bore engines, ‘slammed’ suspension, expensive paint and bodywork modifications. “I reached the point where the cars looked great, but were almost impossible to drive on our crummy British roads; they would simply leap from bump to bump, and I soon learnt you couldn’t steer when the front wheels weren’t touching the road”.

“I was aware of the Porsche 914 because people were using their 2 litre engines in Beetles”. Phil got talking to an owner at a ‘Run-what-you-brung’ day at Santa Pod. The offer of a drive around local roads followed, and within minutes Phil was hooked “After the Beetles, the Porsche designed chassis was a revelation, it went around corners like I couldn’t believe, and still had that lovely unbreakable VW feeling”.

Pretty soon the Beetles were sold, and a long search produced his 914. “I’d heard of someone bringing over a container load of Beetle parts from California, and that he’d also got a low mileage rust free 914”. A trip to Harwich container docks followed, and Phil’s first sighting. “It was in the back of a rusty container, almost covered in boxes’ of VW parts. It looked very Italian, but I can still remember the feeling of excitement I had on seeing it”.

Since then, Phil and the 914 haven’t been parted “Other cars have come and gone, but there’s something about the 914 that means I will never sell it.”

Like most 914 owners, Phil is often driven to defending his choice “I was disappointed that when Porsche launched the Boxster they claimed that it was the first mid-engined Porsche. Its almost as if they are ashamed of the VW influenced 914s, but the early Porsche 356’s were re-bodied Beetles and the 914 was a great success at the time, easily out-selling the MGB in the US market”.

The 914 still gets regular use; “I drive it to work or meetings if it looks like an interesting journey. The clients and suppliers wonder who the guy in the old car is, and seem pretty amazed when it turns out to be the boss. I also get to field the inevitable ‘what is it?’ questions which help break the ice.”

Like so many people in high-pressure careers, Phil likes to get time off in the garage to relax. “After a week spent travelling, or in meetings, it’s great to be able to go into the garage and mess around with bits of metal. This winter I changed the hubs so I could run wider Fuchs alloy wheels from a contemporary 911. I also had to deal with the some inevitable corrosion, but for a 30 year old car its holding up well, tribute to the Germanic build quality. It should outlast me and even do for my son, although the idea of dropping in a larger 911 engine still appeals……”.

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