Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Porsche 911T Project - Propulsion conundrums

The 'B' series engine that BMC used in various MGs is famously a heavy old lump. Initially with a capacity of 1500cc, it used what might generously be called 'tried and trusted' technology, and with block and heads made of cast iron, 5 main bearings,  push-rods and siamesed ports, it weighed just under 200kgs and produced around 100bhp in standard 1800cc MGB form. That is, if you were lucky and the pair of SU carburettors were properly set up.

The old 'B' series engine; mainly cast iron.
The 'B' series was first lowered into the MGB in 1962, and ever since engineering geniuses have worked on improving the engine's output, to the point where a state of the art racing engine will now produce close to 200bhp. That's enough the propel a 830kg historic FIA specification MGB at a fair old lick. However, while a run-of-the-mill B series rebuild comes with a £2,000 price tag, that heroic racing engine will cost you, dear customer, £10,000.

I found myself musing over pushrods and cast iron when investigating my options for replacing my 911s tired old motor. In contrast to the B series, the 911 engine was made of the best alloys the foundry could provide, and a few years into its life, Ferry's old engineering-led Porsche company went even more exotic, casting the main engine and gearbox casings out of magnesium alloy. All the better to save a few kilograms of weight, cantilevered out behind the rear axle.

The weight of all this expensive German engineering? Well, close to 200kgs seeing as you ask. It varies depending on the precise variety of 911 (add a turbo or two and that's another 50kgs), or the same as the MGB's lump. And decades of work by just as clever engineers have resulted in historic 2litre 911s racing with a bit over 200bhp.

The prices aren't quite the same though. A straightforward 911 engine rebuild performed by someone who knows what they're doing will cost you the thick end of £7,500.  Should you desire more in the way of power it'll cost you twice that, even before you get to exotic induction set ups. A full house 911RSR race engine on the famed high butterfly throttle bodies can cost you £40,000, and I'm sure its possible to pay even more. 
300bhp of slide throttled, mechanically fuel injected 911 gorgeousness

The engine in my 911T was by marketing desire and engineering expediency one of the low points in 911 hierarchy. In the early 70's, meeting emission regulations in the critical US market was one of the biggest challenges facing Porsche. By 1972, the capacity had been bumped up to just under 2.4litres by increasing the stroke, and therefore mid-range torque. While the 'E' and 'S' models still had decent power outputs (165bhp and 190bhp respectively), the lowly 'T' was given cheap cast iron components and had its breathing constrained by narrow inlet and exhaust ports. 1973 also marked the introduction of the Bosch K-Jetronic fuel injection system that would underpin 911s for the next decade. Unfortunately, the first effort used in the 2.4T wasn't that unsuccessful - it also demanded a specific piston design that didn't lend itself to increased in compression ratio beyond the T's  8.5:1. I can still remember how contemporary journalist presented this as a tremendous advantage, allowing owner to stop at the 2 star petrol pump to fill their 911. In reality it was bad news for efficiency; the 2.4T produced only 140bhp, up a mere 10bhp from the smaller 2.0 the 911 was launched with a decade earlier.

The most desirable option for me would be to have my engine rebuilt to match the car's hotrod looks. The 2.4 can easily become a 2.7, achievable by changing the pistons and barrels for RS items. Unfortunately, this approach means most of the rest of the components joining the old pistons in the bin. And even the bits left would need some serious engineering to allow them to cope with the 200bhp that is my target. The estimates I've had for a proper job tot up to around £15,000, and while originality and the lightweight of the mag. alloy motor is clearly desirable, its difficult to see this making sense in a car that might sell for not much more than than on a good day.

I think I need to think about this again.


Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Words of Hot Rodding Advice

Courtesy of R Gruppe:

1. Wear your seat belt while driving. Statistics show that you are more likely to survive an automobile accident if you are wearing your seat belt.

2. Own at least one black car in your lifetime.

3. Never let popular opinion or trends dictate what color you paint your car.

4. Learn basic mechanical skills, you never know when you will need them.

5. Drive your hot rod across country (and back) at least one time.

6. Own a car without a top.

7. When people ask you about your hot rod, be friendly. It's staggering to think of the impact rodders could make if they all did this.

8. Attend at least one national event.

9. Carry extra parts and a tool kit in your car on every journey that is further away from your home than you care to walk.

10. Remember, rock chips and bugs are like a badge of courage.

11. You also are no better for driving your hot rod than trailering it. It's all about attitude. I've met jerks who drive their cars, and extremely nice people who don't.

12. Go to the Henry Ford Museum at least one time in your life.

13. Own a car that will make your butt put a death grip on your seats upholstery.

14. Help younger rodders in any way you can.

15. Own at least one car with a Caddy, Hemi or Olds motor in it, Small Block Chevys aren't the end all and be all.

16. Always drive slowly through residential areas.

17. Make at least one pass down the drag strip in your car.

18. Build at least one car in your lifetime.

19. Don't be ashamed if you didn't build your car. There are very few people out there who can do it all.

20. Learn to do as many aspects of car construction as you can.

21. Never rush a project, it will always show.

22. At the same time never take more than a decade to build a car. Trends seem to cycle every five to seven years.

23. Stay clear of trends, that is unless you are the one starting them.

24. If you are going to do a burnout, do it where nobody will see you.

25. Never, and I mean never, try to outrun a cop.

26. Build cars that are safe.

27. Learn how to draw flames.

28. Build your car for YOU, not for the fame and glory. Fame and glory fade with time but YOU will be around as long as you live.

29. Never wax your car in the sun.

30. If you get your car in a magazine, buy only one or two extra copies, not fifty. If you buy all the copies up, no one will ever know you were in a magazine.

31. Remember, your painted car is no better than a primered one. Maybe the owner of that primered car likes it that way.

32. Don't ask "Is it Glass or Steel?" You are only showing your place on the "Hot Rodding Food Chain".

33. Be modest.

34. Remember, Opinions are like belly buttons, everybody has one.

35. Work on forming your own opinion, and don't be afraid to voice it.

36. Buy your own torque wrench. Nobody likes to loan their torque wrench out only to have it returned loaded.

37. Use jackstands.

38. Listen to constructive criticism. But remember, there are people out there who enjoy to see you get angry. If you learn to tell the difference between the two, you are wise.

39. Take someone over age 65 for a ride in you rod. They can remember when these cars were used as everyday transportation and it will most likely trigger a fond memory that they will share with you.

40. Likewise, take a child or teen for a ride. Young opinions are forming, and who knows, they may become the next generation's rodders.

41. Always wear sunscreen in a roadster. 

Friday, 7 December 2012

The World Famous Paradise Garage

Was there ever a better name for a classic car dealership?

Many years ago, in a different life, I lived in South London. The truculent, non-conformist and somewhat inexperienced younger me had just fallen out with a senior manager at my employers and as a result, early one summer I found myself sitting at home on 'gardening leave'. 

What unalloyed bliss, what an opportunity! Four months of paid indolence, and plenty of jobs available when I decided to return to the life of a wage slave. 

Plan A was to spend the summer watching Test cricket, but after a couple of depressing days at the Oval while a desultory England side was outplayed by the visiting Australians (who would win the six match series 4 - 0), I realised that this plan would be more than my mental health could stand. 

So one fine Saturday morning I found myself in Scout Lane, off Clapham Common, offering my services as cleaner and Gofer (go for this, go for that...) at the Paradise Garage. For some reason my services were required, and the following Monday I reported for duty.

It was the best job I ever had. The Paradise Garage was run by three public school chaps and a Yorkshireman, each with a long history in the top end of the motor trade. Their usual stock was the sort of quality classic that had long been the bedrock of the collector's car market; David Brown Aston-Martins, pre-badge engineering Bentleys, Lagondas, and the odd Italian exotic. The showroom was a surprisingly large space tucked away in a yard at the end of a small alley, big enough for a dozen or so cars. In one corner, being stored for a customer, was the Embiricos Bentley, an elegant streamlined special that had competed at Le Mans just after the war. 

Upstairs was the sales office, the walls lined with shelves holding reference books and the sort of old car ephemera and junk that props up every motoring auction's sales list. Outside, on the other side of the yard was a large wooden workshop, smelling of ancient engine oil and the musty scent given off by old cast iron components.

Would-be customers usually arrived in taxis, emerging wide-eyed and anxious, many never having ventured this far south of the river, but they would be genially welcomed by one of the chaps and a cup of my instant coffee. None of the cars were adorned with anything so vulgar as a price, nor did the display adverts placed each month in prime positions in all of the better motoring magazines. If the would-be buyer was lucky, one of the chaps would gently let them buy a car. 

It was bubble time in the market, in six weeks I watched the quietly stated price of a lovely DB6 Vantage Volante rise by £50,000 to match the latest auction results. It sold, too, probably to some poor sod who'd borrowed heavily against rising values to buy it. Two years later the bubble burst, and that Aston would have struggled to move on for within £100,000 of what the over-leveraged buyer had coughed up.

More interesting than the buyers were the sellers, turning up in long-cherished old cars that were suddenly worth more than their house. I remember the appearance down the little alley of Grand-Prix Bugattis, beautiful Bentleys, various MGs, a Mk2 Jaguar with 15,000 miles on the clock and still owned by the original buyer, and a Ferrari 250 with a crackling engine note. Often another dealer would drop by, keen to compare the latest fantastic auction results or just talk over old times. Without exception they were interesting characters, though whether it was the effect of years wheeling and dealing or their unemployability in the real world I couldn't rightly fathom. One old chap, not a day over 70, used to race an eight litre CanAm McLaren for relaxation, and once arrived with his arm in a cast having come off his 140bhp Yamaha OWO1.

Apart from coffee making, my duties involved keeping the stock clean; a daily gentle dusting of bodywork and the occasional hoovering out of old interiors. On one occasion I took the Brasso to a pre-war Bentley's brass chassis plate and got a proper bollocking for removing priceless 'patina'. I also used to help out with the photographs needed for the adverts, which usually took place against the backdrop of one of Capham Common's ponds. This meant a ride in one of the old cars, a definite highlight.

The much younger me, with vintage Bentley and duster
When it became clear I wasn't a complete idiot, I was allowed to move some of the stock - usually the postwar stuff with synchromesh gearboxes. The most terrifying experience was driving a MG TC across the river to Chelsea; negotiating the maelstrom of the Wandsworth one-way system without meaningful brakes had me waking up in a cold sweat for a week. I remember the disappointment of a baggy, truck-like Aston-Martin V8, the surprisingly contemporary feel of a E-Type Jaguar, the sweet weightlessness of a Bristol-engined AC Ace, and the quality and refinement of a lovely Derby Bentley tourer.

A source of additional income for the garage was loaning stock for commercial photography. One day I was asked to take a car to a studio in nearby Battersea. Arriving, I positioned the car on a raised dias as directed, and started removing blemishes revealed in the gleaming bodywork by the studio lights. Stepping back to admire my efforts, I almost fell over an obstruction on the floor. It turned out to be a naked girl lying on a low bench, the photographer lining up his shot of her generous feminine curves against the car's.  For a week I hung around the studio, safeguarding expensive coachwork, wiping bum-prints from leather seats, chatting to the models, and generally having the time of my life while the next year's Lucas calendar was photographed. 

Towards the end of the summer I started looking for a 'proper' job, and shortly after started working for a Chelsea advertising agency. The Paradise Garage struggled to weather the recession of the early 90's, the four became two, and for a while was located in a Chelsea basement garage, before quietly folding a decade or so ago.

I still keep in touch with one of the chaps, now retired to a Cotsworld pile. Of the others, one runs a classic car dealership in Hampshire, while a third still works in the trade as an agent, usually helping rich Americans find cars in Europe.

But that trading name has never been beaten.


Thursday, 6 December 2012

Porsche 911T Project - Smoking

Driving through my own smokescreen - not a good sign. 

Generally, you'd have to admit that when it comes to cars, smoke should be kept deep down inside the mechanisms, with perhaps an odd well mannered puff released in the name of 'character'. What my brain was struggling to comprehend, this sunny day on a quiet motorway, was just how I'd managed to produce a minor destroyer screen of the stuff, and actually drive through it. 

As any fule kno, the engine is at the arse end of a 911, so noxious emissions should, by rights, be worrying following traffic, not the driver sitting some 4 feet in front of the tail pipe.

I did it again, repeating the slight increase in effort needed to overtake the Trilby'd lane 2 dodderer, and was again greeted by a curtain of grey, oily smoke. 

The penny dropped like a rod going through the block. The heater was on, oily fumes escaping from worn rings were exiting through the colander of a heat exchanger and making their way into the cockpit via the heater vents at the base of the screen, and rising like a prog. rock special effect in front of my eyes.

Oh well. Actually the poor old engine had been doing its best to let me know its last legs were approaching since its arrival from Florida. The oil pressure didn't rise much beyond the bottom quarter of the dial, cold starting produced some meaningful rattles (and another small smoke screen), and I did have to add oil to the tank every so often. 

Its just that until I actually found myself fumigated I could pretend that "they all do that", and that "those old 911 engines are as tough as old boots" and plan to spend dwindling funds on bright shiny new things.

So, this winter I have to bite the bullet and sort out a new motor. 


Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Porsche 911T Project - Interior

As bought, the interior of the 911 was a real mess. The original steering wheel and seats had been replaced by cheap aftermarket items, and there was a nasty radio cassette unit jammed into the dash. 
Horrible wheel, overspray, gash stereo,
rusty rings, u/s clock.........

Further investigation revealed big holes in the door cards where speakers had been 'fitted', a cheap US made replacement carpet set (hanging off in a number of places), yellow overspray on the dash, bodged fixings for a number of switches, corrosion on the instrument rings, and one door top was from a later model (complete with the hole for the electric window switches). 

Holy door cards.
I also noticed that the dash top doesn't fit at all well, the rear parcel shelf trim hasn't been done correctly, the stuffing in rear seats is coming out, the alloy sill trim is only present on one side, and the door bins are very tatty.

Like I said, a real mess.

On the upside, the headlining looks to be in good condition, and...., well that's the upside.

Things were improved once Tuthills had fitted the Momo wheel and Recaro seats, I spent a weekend giving it all a damn good clean and I found some rubber mats to use, but there was a whole shopping list of stuff still needed. 

So I started shopping.

The UK's best known Porsche trim shop, Southbound, are not far away, and better still they're at the other end of one of the best driving roads in the south of England. I popped in, and ordered new door cards in their classic RS pattern with a leather pull strap, Fiat interior handle, an early 911 style pocket, all finished in the slightly earlier basket weave vinyl. After some consideration I also ordered a matching strip to re-cover the dash, and the whole lot  arrived a couple of weeks later. I also found a correct driver's side door top from those lovely DDK people, along with a working clock.

On my 'want' list was some music. Chris Harris' green 911 hotrod had a beautiful Becker Mexico head unit installed, patterned on a late 60's unit, but packed with modern electronics, including sat nav. 

Retro Becker Mexico - better than money in the bank
It is expensive, but looked like the perfect solution.

Sadly it turns out to have be another boat that has sailed; from what I understand, Becker retired hurt from the aftermarket, and production of the Mexicos ceased a year or two ago. As a result, a unit in good condition now sells for two or three times the original sale price. There are some cheaper retro-styled units around, but are nothing like as convincing. 

Regrouping, I decided to try and find an original unit, and rapidly discovered this was another thriving little petrol head market. All those Blaupunkt, Pioneer, Becker, Radiomobile and Phillips car stereos you remember from your childhood? They're still around, the good ones commanding serious money from collectors, dealers and restorers. 

Sometime later a poorly described Becker unit appeared on ebay. A lot of the older radios do not have FM, but this one did, and crucially it also had the DIN socket that would let me plug in an iPod. It was bagged.

Now I like my sons to have a project for the summer holidays. Mine was to sort out the doors and dash. As I was fast discovering, old 911s generally unbolt, and the same was true of  the interior. A couple of hours one afternoon had the doors stripped, and the following week I'd fitted the new cards. 

Bare door
It really only took a week because I also dismantled, cleaned, and re-greased the locking mechanisms and window regulators. In addition, I fitted the thick clear plastic waterproof membranes needed to protect the new cards from rain water flowing down into the door - £50 a pair from your local Official Porsche Centre. It was clear that I wasn't the first person to tear into the doors of the poor old 911, judging by the number of original nuts, bolts and fasteners I found that had been replaced with an assortment of 'close enough' replacements.

The end result was a big improvement, and lifted the interior. As is often the way, it also highlighted the other areas that could do with improvement.

Completed door with RS style 'basket weave' panels 
The dash trim was a considerably bigger challenge, as it involves removing all the switches and controls on the lower dash, including the heater levers, as well as the steering wheel (to get to the sections under the column trim). There's also inevitably quite a bit of blind scrabbling around under the dash trying to undo hidden fixings.  The brake bias adjuster Tuthills had fitted was another stumbling block. I'm not sure if pop-rivetting it to the dash is exactly rally-inspired engineering, and while drilling these out was straightforward, it took me a couple of phone calls before I figured out how to release it from the dash - by undoing a plastic collar. With sad inevitability I cross threaded the wretched thing putting it back. A further call to Tuthills revealed the the small plastic collar could not be bought without coughing up £100 for the whole adjuster mechanism. There's nothing like a financial incentive to trigger a bit of lateral thinking, and I managed to clean up the thread using a suitable sized metal nut. 

What was I thinking? The interior in pieces
I wasn't the first person under the dash either, Porsche's little plastic collar to keep the light switch fixed to the dash was now a knurled ring jammed onto the threads, and the section of metal plate where the radio hole is had been cut out and discarded by a bodging Previous Owner (PO). "*Sigh*" How difficult is it to do these things properly?

Not very difficult at all really, the OPC got me the plastic light switch collar, and some suitable plastic coat card replaced the missing lower dash trim plate. The old trim was persuaded off the plate, and using this as a pattern I cut the basket weave with the holes needed for switches etc.  and glued the new trim on. 

Using the old trim (bottom) as a pattern I cut out the
 holes for switches, heater and radio.
Fitting the radio had me stumped. While there's a DIN sized hole in the dash, there was no obvious way to mount the Becker. I'll admit I did take the whole shebang along to my friendly local ICE  emporium, where they revealed that the radio should be attached by two small vertical bars hidden behind the radio's fascia, fixed behind the dash panel and tensioned by screws. They also tidied up the rat's nest of wiring the PO had installed. As soon as I got home the radio came out again to let me finish off the re-trim, but once the basket weave was on, I stuck it back in, hiding the cable for the iPod in the glove locker next to it. 

Radio in and dash trim in place
I have to say, the music quality is also a bit period; thin and tinny and not loud. Partly that's because I didn't fit speakers in the doors so it relies on two in the rear compartment, where they project a mono signal to your ankles. There's more to be done in this department, but it's an improvement.
In fact, the 'new' interior was a big improvement all-round, not only did it look better, but wind noise from leading edge of the door had been noticeably reduced, and making the car a more relaxing place to spend time.

Detail showing the basket weave finish (and blimmin' yellow
overspray on the lower dash roll)
There's still much to be done, but sorting out the mysterious non-fitting dash, the bodged parcel shelf and the thin tatty carpet is going to mean a campaign on a much larger scale. 

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Porsche 911T Project - Fuch off (or Wheels and Tyres)

The car arrived from Florida on what looked like a set of 15" diameter Fuchs (or 'Fox' in German) wheels in the classic early 911 two tone style. What was even better was that they were a nice wide rim that filled out the 2.7RS-style wheel arches - 7" wide at the front and 8" at the back. As an(other) aside, the RS was the first Porsche to be sold with different sized front and rear wheels, 6" and 7" in that case, although I remember them in the 80's racing on 7s and 8s. 

Sadly, a closer examination revealed that they might be all they first seemed; the finish was suspiciously shiny (not a factory style as far as I know), and the tell-tale edges of the 'spokes' were not smooth. Pulling them off revealed the truth, not only did the casting marks show they were US copies, but they each weighed a tonne! Unlike most alloy wheels, the Fuchs used on Porsches are forged, not cast. This produces a regular grain in the metal, giving material that is very strong for its weight. That's why Porsche are able to use their standard production rims in high stress competition applications - even rallying, and why the Fuchs are amongst the lightest wheels for their size. 

Now when it comes to wheels and tyres, lighter is better. I'm no chassis engineer, but even I can see that springs and dampers are going to find it difficult to control a big heavy object flapping around at the end of the suspension, and that less weight will give them an easier time. All things being equal, reducing this unsprung mass gives ride, traction and handling benefits - and for a driver the car just feels nicer to drive.  I can remember a back to back session I enjoyed with Caterham a few years ago, comparing one car on fashionable larger rims and low profile tyres with one on the traditional 13"s. All who tried it preferred the car on the smaller (and lighter) wheels. However, cosmetics are important to all of us, and a set of skinny wheels would look lost in the RS arches on the car, so I started to look into the possibility of replacing the replicas with the real thing.

It rapidly became clear that for the last few years the smart money has been investing in gold, African diamond mines and old Porsche bits.  Some of the prices for genuine Fuchs wheels, especially in the rarer and wider sizes made my eyes water - had I decided to go for a 11" wide RSR wheel I'd have needed to find several thousand pounds - for each one.

Hmmm, these or Rio Tinto Zinc shares?
Eventually, ebay turned up a suitable set in the US. I made an offer, and the money I saved over the advertised 'Buy-it-now' price paid for shipping to the UK, and the customs gouge. On arrival they proved to be a good buy, little used, and not suffering from 'refurbishment', which often involves taking metal off the rims. They're a later date from 1983 (the build date is stamped on the back of real Fuchs wheels) and the centres are all-black, but they were very noticeably lighter that the reps currently on the car. 
Looking good at a trial fit

It didn't take long for me to fit them onto the car - a quick mock-up showed the all-black rims worked well with the various black bits now appearing - and a spin around the block revealed that a noticeable edge had been taken off the low speed ride, and the steering had lightened up a bit.

A quick word on tyres. Finding suitable fat 15" rubber for an old 911 hotrod is not getting any easier - blame the increasing use of gigantic wheels on anything more sporty than a bog-standard shopping hatchback. It is possible to get sticky track-day tyres, but finding something that is period sympathetic is more difficult. The original RS used 185/70 and 215/60 on its 6" and 7" rims, while the early turbo's fitted with the same 8" and 9" rims I'm using had 205/50 and 225/50 - sizes no longer available from the same manufacturer - not 'V' rated anyway. 
 Ur-Fuchs fitted!

After much discussion with Tuthills, we decided to go up a size, and I've had 205/60s and 225/60s fitted, both ContiPremiumContacts from Continental. They were designed for heavy saloons, not the 400kg front of a 911, so we'll see how we do. At least I'm able to take advantage of the 40 years development in tyres that have taken place since the car was built. 
The Fuchs Reps went on ebay......

So far, I'm pleased to report, the limitations of the car's speed is still the driver.

That's pretty much it for the cosmetics - interior next!

Monday, 29 October 2012

Porsche 911T Project - More Cosmetics

While I was much happier now - the yellow paint mis-applied to the car was showing some signs of a shine - I still wasn't happy with the slab sided look it was currently wearing. An obvious solution was to fit some ST style 'P O R S C H E' decals in black to match the pinstripe on the bumper.  

The various scratches on the engine lid were also something I found hard to ignore, and the blotchy sills where I'd filled in the trim fixing holes really stood out. 

So I had pretty much made up my mind to take the car to a paint shop. And while I was at it it I got them to paint the bonnet and engine lid black, just for the hell of it.

Actually, the paint match isn't anything like as good as it appears in these pictures, the sills are several shades lighter than the rest of the body. And the paint on the engine lid has settled a little where I'd filled the line of holes, but I've resigned myself to living with this until I can get the car re-painted.

Still, it looks ok from 10yards away!


Hello Winter

Its that time of year again. I changed the wheels on the Golf at the weekend, from the factory delivered 17" alloys with fat low profile summer tyres to my set of winter tyres on 16" steelies.  
This is my third winter using specialist cold weather and snow rubber on the daily driver-  in my case Continental Winter Contacts in 205/55R16. I also enjoy the bonus of a very noticeable improvement in ride delivered by the deeper sidewalls - it was the first time I'd used them with the uprated Bilstein B12 kit fitted to the car earlier in the year, and the combination works together brilliantly. 

Call me an old f*rt, but I sometime wonder of the grip provided by rubber band tyres is worth it.

I became a winter tyre believer one afternoon shortly after I'd had them fitted for the first time. A sudden dump of snow left the Sussex roads surrounding my place of work a treacherous rink of fresh snow and hard packed ice. At the bottom of a nearby hill there was a long line of cars waiting while various vehicles struggled to the top. The hill itself was a mess; cars and vans in the ditches, others trying to drive up the verges, and progress only possible when groups of desperate drivers and passers-by pushed. And even then I could see some pedestrians struggling even to stand up on the icy slope. 

As I drove slowly down the hill I tried the brakes, expecting the feel and hear the chuntering sound of the ABS system. There was no chuntering, the car just stopped. I tried again - a little faster - with exactly the same result. From the driver's seat I'd estimate the grip available was similar to that expected on a streaming wet road. 

I had a stress-free drive home, enjoying the looks of offended mystification on the faces of other drivers as I slipped past them tracking straight and true while they hung on to their wheels for grim death.

If UK drivers fitted winter tyres at the on-set of the cold weather, the utter predictability of this happening every season would be much diminished.


Thursday, 25 October 2012

911T Project - Cosmetics

One big advantage of having a car with lousy paintwork. Its very difficult to make anything worse. So I was quite prepared to come back from Halfords with an armful of various products and get stuck in.

The paint on the car varied from dull/shiny to rough and unfinished - mostly around the panel shuts and the glass fibre bumpers.

I started with a bit of clay. It produced a lot of contaminants and smoothed the best of the paint, but it didn't do much to improve the shine. Next stage was a paint cutter. I tried an Autoglym product, but it was too gentle. The traditional 'T-Cut' worked better, and after a follow-up polish, I started to see an improvement - at least on the roof, wings and doors. 

The same approach wasn't enough on the worse rough paint, I needed to cut through the rough oxidisation. After some hesitation I tried a bit of fine wet & dry. It was what I needed. Over a week or so I attacked the area around the engine lid, under the headlights, and the door shuts. The paint there was contaminated and I found myself with base coat showing in some areas, but at least I now had a car that was more or less glossy - and from 10 yards it even looked pretty good.

The single door mirror was a matt-black square job. But I noticed that where it had been scratched a chrome finish was revealed under the black paint. After several hours careful chipping away with the blade of a craft knife I ended up with a chrome mirror. Another good result.

A further trip to Halfords resulted in the acquisition of a fibreglass repair kit and some filler. Using this I was able to repair the cracked front spoiler, and replace the 50p sized chunk missing from the lip.  Much energetic cutting and polishing later and the paint even returned something close to a decent finish. I used the same approach to fill the line of holes across the engine lid. That went ok, but my attempt to apply some paint (a Fiat yellow looked a good match) wasn't so successful. More DIY paint was needed on the sills when, with the aid of a heat gun, I gently removed the self-adhesive rubber strips the previous owner had stuck on, only to reveal a line of holes on one side. 

Earlier, I'd ordered some stickers from Highgate, a RS-style black coach line for the bumpers, and a reversed out S/T inspired decal for the rear. The combined effect was to  break up the yellow, and visually lower the car. 

Finally I replaced the reflective numbers plates with the pre-73 silver and black type that are correct for my car*.

I even felt brave enough to take the car up to a DDK event, and hesitatingly parked in a line up of other 911s, their perfect deep paint gleaming in the sunshine.

It was a start, but the deep scratches on the bonnet the blotchy result of my attempt to paint the engine cover still worried me.

Then at the Goodwood Festival of speed I found myself standing next to a white 911 hotrod.......

* The local DVLA office insisted that Tuthill register the car as a 1972 even when faced with an official Porsche document showing a July 1973 build date. It meant 'historic' tax-free status and I wasn't going to argue with them! 

Monday, 22 October 2012

911T Project; Paint Envy

At the end of April I headed over to Banbury to collect the 911 from Tuthills.  The country was drowning under weeks of biblical rain, but this particular day was dry, even warm, and I was looking forward to a drive back to the south coast in my 'new' car.

It was waiting for me in the yard's car park, looking shabby and neglected. But I'd said I wasn't worried about the cosmetics, hadn't I? After paying a bill that made my eyes water, my ears bleed and gave my cheque signing hand palsy, I jumped in the ready for the off. Richard wandered over to give me a briefing, and we messed around fitting pedal rubbers. His final words were "Well we've done what with we can with the fuel injection system - its still not perfect but see what you think". He may have mentioned some tips for cold and hot starts too.

I didn't listen to a word. 

After months of planning, dreaming and waiting I was finally driving my own old 911.

I'd picked a route along the old Oxford Road and then cross country via Abingdon, Ascot, and then down the familiar route through Petworth to home. 

In the sunshine I had a ball. Sure, the car was noisy, smelled of oil and the gear change needed gentle persuasion for find a ratio, but the steering was light and chatted away, the engine did its air-cooled buzzy thing, and the sunroof even opened. The ride on the fat 60% aspect ratio Continentals we'd selected was fine once you were up to speed, cornering was flat and the driving position was perfect  

It was a great drive, I even called ahead and arranged to meet a friend for a pub lunch. And I took a photograph:

Five minutes after this picture was taken I broke down. The motor span, the engine caught, but didn't run. Luckily my friend was gone and missed out on my humiliation. All I could do was call Tuthills and see if they could suggest anything. 

The fix was easy, and something I became very familiar with over the next few months. When attempting to start the warm engine I'd used a little too much throttle; the cranky CIS system had then produced a backfire with enough energy to unseat the air box, and the resultant air-leaks leaned off the mixture to the point where it wouldn't run. Refixing the air box (using the two highly engineered rubber straps) brought about movement once again, and a couple of hours later I parked up in the garage at home. 

I then spent a lot of time staring at the car. You know the scruffy matt yellow paint  job that wasn't going to bother me? 

It did. 


As did the holes left by the previous owners attempt to add a whale tail to the rear, the chunk taken out of the front spoiler, the scratches on the bonnet, the rubbish extruded plastic sill trim, the sandpaper rough 'finish' on the door shuts and bumpers and the stone chips on every panel.

I spent the evening admiring the stunning paint on the R-Gruppe cars I so badly wanted to emulate and came up with a plan.



Why is it that many of today's cars, which bear almost no relation to those built at the dawn of motoring, still share one single component; a seat covered in dead animal skin?

Don’t get me wrong, dead animals have their place; its just that covering car seats isn’t one of them.

The stuff is freezing cold in the winter, likely to give you 1st degree burns on a hot day, and is slippery all the year around. It was originally selected because cars usually didn’t have roofs, and needed a tough seat covering that would stand up to the elements. When car builders eventually realised that a roof was a good thing, we all moved on. Take a look in the back seats (where the owners' bottoms rested) of an upmarket saloon from the 1920’s and you’ll find rich fabrics; the skin was reserved for the paid help up front who drove the owner around.

I appreciate that previous attempts to find a replacements for the stuff haven’t been all that successful; the 50s gave us vinyl, and the 60’s leatherette. Those efforts simply recreated the weak points of cow skin, and removed the one good point; the nice smell. A 70’s beige velour might not have been very much better, but at least you didn’t skid across it before hitting the (vinyl) door trim when trying to engage in what passed for enthusiastic cornering in those days.

My nearest branch of Millets is crammed with racks of warm, wind and weatherproof clothing made from high tech fabrics. The motor industry is capable of building vehicles with complex hybrid drivetrains, featherweight carbon chassis, and which pretty much drive themselves.  

Surely, a seat fabric that cools or heats as required, feels good to the touch, and grips you comfortably is not beyond their ability?


Friday, 19 October 2012

AC Cars and Porsche

I picked this snippet up from Trevor Legate's recent book on the Cobra.

In the late 50's, AC Cars were developing a replacement for the ancient 6 cylinder engine that had been used in AC's since 1919. Designed by their chief engineer Marczewski, it was conceived as (somewhat remarkably) an air cooled cylinder boxer that was to be built as a 4 and 6 cylinder.  A 6 cylinder version was fitted into a prototype Greyhound.

They had trouble, and Legate mentions "a visit to Porsche to discuss problems encountered with the smoothness of the engine.{which]...bought to light problems that could only be rectified by the design of an entirely new crankshaft. This was beyond Acs limited budget and the project faltered'.

AC then went in to use Bristol and Ford UK 6 cylinder engines until Carroll Shelby arrived on the scene. 

Its fascinating to think that AC could have had a air-cooled flat 6 engined sports car years before Porsche did.


Thursday, 18 October 2012

911T Project: Pedals

The final part of the ergonomics equation was the way the pedals were set up. My objectives were simple: a good brake feel, and an ability to heel and toe without uncomfortable contortions.

The pre-1974 911s are not fitted with a brake servo. While this leads to much greater pedal pressures it does remove one possible cause of a spongey pedal. As I had asked Tuthills to replace all of the flexible hoses, the system should be as good as it was going to be in standard form. Richard did try and talk me into their rally spec. braking system; its FIA approved and proven in countless Tuthill prepared cars. But at £1,000 a corner it was a big bill at this stage, especially as it looks as if the engine will be running in standard 140bhp form for some time longer. 

A key component of the Tuthills rally set up is an adjustable bias pedal box. Containing separate master cylinders for front and rear axles, this replaces the (possibly 40 years old...) original Porsche component with two moderns items, adds some nice braided hose, and would also let me adjust the pedal position a little as well. The front/rear balance is changed using a neat dash mounted knob. 

It seemed a good solution, so supply&fit was added to Tuthill's job list, along with some updated Ferodo pads for the 'S' spec callipers already on the car.

Porsche's standard accelerator pedal is frankly a bit cheap and nasty. I'm sure it's made of the finest German plastics, but after 40 years of use mine was looking shiny, slippery and worn. And in spite of the brake pedal changes, I was still finding it hard to comfortably use the side of my foot to give a rev-matching 'blip' on down changes. 

In one of the Porsche mags I spied the neat answer, an alloy pedal made by D-Zug in the US. Patterned on the one used by Porsche in the 917, not only did it give me the adjustability I neede, but was also set more towards the vertical, bringing it closer the the brake. It looked just was I was after. The D-Zug team were a delight to deal with, and within a couple of weeks a pedal in anodised dark alloy was delivered to SS7 Towers. 

It was beautifully made, simple to install, and the only slight hiccup caused by the unusual (for a European) imperial Allen key sizes used for the pivot I was able to sort using an old key I found at the back of my tool chest. 

The result is good pedal feel and perfect spacing for my size 10's. 

Oh, as an aside; I discovered sometime after placing my order with D-Zug that the well known Los Angeles based Porsche hot-rodder Magnus Walker uses their pedals in the fantastic cars he builds.