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.