Tuesday, 19 February 2013

911T Project - Gearbox

In spite of the diversions caused by running around in £100k 991s, I'm still making progress on the 911 project. In fact there has been some noticeable 'mission creep' as my initial hopes that the shell was in good condition were confirmed. More details to follow......

With some help from one of the DDK crew, I dropped the engine and gearbox out last week. 

The 911 engine come out from underneath.
First you need to get the car up high.....
Yesterday I took the gearbox to Jez at Carrera Performance in Horsham to take a look at. The synchromesh on 3rd gear is tired so before I re-install the gearbox in the car I want an idea of its condition. Hopefully the cases will be in good nick, and a refresh won't involve serious (or expensive) machining work. 

The 1973 model year cars were built in the last of the completely engineering-led, money-no-object days at Porsche.  From 1962, product development and competition efforts had been led by old man Porsche's grandson, Ferdinand Piech. His energy and determination were incredible, and the level of development applied to the 911 over the next decade were, to modern eyes, extraordinary.  

Increases in engine capacity you would expect, but over time the car got lighter and even more costly to build. A large part of that was a move from aluminium cases for the engine and gearbox to expensive but lighter magnesium alloy - at one point the largest mag alloy casting ever made. Countless other improvements and developments were also applied to all aspects of the cars - it must have had the cost accountants screaming in their sleep. 

The introduction of the 2.4 litre cars in 1972 brought with it a completely new design of gearbox. Known as the type 915, these units were based on Porsche's racing experience, and were used in 911s for the next 16 years, before being replaced by the easier to use (and much, much heavier) G50 'box.

Mag alloy 915 unit. Lovely castings
An anecdote from John Wyer's book illustrates Piech's approach nicely. During the discussions that preceded JWR's 917 factory campaign for 1970, Wyer was asked how many cars his team would need for the season. Basing his answer on his experience of racing Ford GT40s for Gulf the previous year, he answered "Three; two race cars and a spare". 

At that there was a long, slightly awkward silence. 

Wyer learned later that under Piech's perfectionist regime, Porsche had been using brand new cars at each round of the sports car championship, and had built over 30 racing 908s in 18 months as a result. 

In 1972 Piech left Porsche to go to Audi. Internecine politics had clearly become a problem at the company as various members of the Piech and Porsche families vied for influence. Finally an agreement was reached that resulted in all family members leaving the company. 

Piech of course went on to build a stellar career in the motor industry; at Audi he drove development of the Quattro, and then in 1993 he moved on to head the VW group, where his determination to build a 1000PS car capable of 250mph inspired his engineers to create the fantastic Bugatti Veyron. Ironically, as a result of the catastrophic hubris of Porsche CEO Wendelin Wiedeking and his finance goon Holger Haerter, the VW group now own the company, ending 80 years of independence.

Meanwhile, back at Jez's, he had a couple of 915 gearboxes in for attention at the moment. It makes sense for him to do them at the same time, so he'll get mine cracked open pretty quickly and let me know what it looks like.

We also discussed various options for blast cleaning the body shell and zinc phosphate coating the bare metal. There's a local company he has suggested talking to about taking on the work. They have just completed a VW Type 1 van which Jez is restoring and he seemed pleased with the quality of the work. 

After that it was a short drive down the A272 to the painters (passing over the hump backed bridge where I'd briefly got two wheels of my BMW GS off the ground) located in farm buildings on the outskirts of a Sussex village. My brief to them has changed - they now won't be responsible for cleaning the shell, but will be painting both the interior and front compartment. 

The painter seemed pretty chilled, and the price quoted will stay about the same. They also have metalwork skills which might be useful if it saves me from moving the car one more time. In fact they had a race BMW CSL in that was mostly constructed of tackwelded re-inforcement tubes, so much of the original metalwork has been cut out. 

In another corner there was a competition prepared Mk1 Escort shell ready for paint. The lumpen old cast iron Ford gearbox casing was a noticeable contrast to the 911's complex webbed magnesium alloy one. 

More soon.


Friday, 15 February 2013

Six days with a 991 - Part 2

Continued from here

Wednesday. Today the car goes back to Porsche GB's base in Reading. 

My nine year old's reputation is made when I take him to school in the 991, although reputation for what isn't clear to us. Sitting outside the school I cannot help noticing the glances from the yummy mummies as wait I for the usual parking scrum of MPVs and SUVs to untangled itself.  But no-one comes up to ask me about the car. I think its an English thing, either a unwillingness to make waves, or a willingness for envy - take your pick. 

I'm lucky in many ways, and one is living within close proximity to the great driving roads that thread along the Sussex and Hampshire downlands.  I plan a route back to the OPC that should finally give me an opportunity to extend the 991 a little. The temperature indicated on the dash is still only just above freezing, but the cold dry air now being sucked across the UK from Siberia has removed the wet sheen from the tarmac that had featured over the weekend.  

I pause to take some photographs before cutting north west on fast open roads towards Winchester. As I build speed, the big 3.8litre six changes from torquey traffic slugger to race car howler, rushing the 991 through 3rd gear, and given the space, into 4th and then 5th, before braking hard and blipping the responsive engine back down through the gears for another village 30 limit. The light traffic I encounter is clinically dispatched, and for once my progress isn't marked with flashing lights and waved fists as the overtakees in their mean little hatchbacks realise the futility of attempts to show their puritan disapproval. For once I do notice of the odd creak and dull clunk from below, revealing the cabriolet's compromised rigidity, and the chassis is on occasion confused by some combination of lumpy tarmac, giving rise to an unmistakable hip wriggle of the rear biased mechanical layout.  And even in these open roads I'm always aware of the width and size of the car, it refuses to shrink around me, the invisible nose and tail just slightly too far away, constraining progress as soon as the road narrows. But we make impressively rapid progress, this car and I - borderline ballistic. I drink deep from the heady well of 400bhp, pushing again and again as hard as visibility and self preservation allows.  

But I experience disquiet too. The numbers flashing up in the digital speedo are not those I am going to be able to repeat on a regular basis without facing the possibility of jail time or an accident reassembling a satellite crash. When one's method of transport will reach 115mph in 3rd gear with four ratios still to go, there is little satisfaction to be found in burbling along at 40 or 50 mph, or even the 60mph national single carriageway limit. 

Reaching the M3, I turn north east, switch off the exhaust valve and burble in 7th along with the faster motorway traffic,  letting the adrenaline rush fade and wondering if the journey wouldn't have been more satisfying in my 964, or even my old yellow 911T - even if I would have been travelling 30mph slower. For the record, at this point the trip computer shows a 17mpg trip average, compared to the 24mpg I'd become used to.
Grey car, greyer day.

Several hundred words of amateur 991 driving impressions, and not a mention of the electric steering I hear you ask? Introduced with the 991, the system is engineered to a better level than those used by manufacturers of family hatch-backs, Porsche making an effort to allow some feedback to run up from the contact patch up to the rim of the steering wheel. The effect is definitely different, it's possible to position the car with great accuracy but there's a muted artificiality to the response, even a helpful Gran Turismo driver aid style nudge every now and again. However the new rack never dominates - much more noticeable is the non-linear character of the rack - turning into low speed right angled urban corners takes place with a rapidity that surprises me at first and takes some getting used to.

Writing this a day later I suspect that had the 991's electric steering system not been such a controversial feature I wouldn't have noticed it against the background of the car's overall step change in usability and refinement. 

I wait in the Reading Porsche Centre's showroom while the road salt is washed off my 964 (Porsche's PR department had brokered the loan of it to a magazine - my use of a 991 in its stead was the quid pro quo) and I drink good OPC coffee and wander around looking at the other 911s on display, most heavily optioned coupes with prices well into six figures. 

I look forward to learning how the 964 will feel in contrast, and I also worry that experience of the new would spoil my enjoyment of the old. 

It's time to go. Climbing in to the old car, my first impressions are immediate, the cockpit is so much smaller and closer to me that the first thing I do is try to move the front seat back 6" on its runners. The immediate clunk reveals it is already as far back as it will go, and the upright windscreen still feels inches from my face. Unlike the gear lever, which in contrast to the 991's high mounted version, has somehow been moved down to my left ankle. Moving off, the satisfying and entirely non-artificially enhanced engine note (surely the 964's basso profundo exhaust rumble is the best of all the 911s?) burbles away behind me while the cold oil gurgles into the dry sump tank. From the lack of response to the throttle it feels to me like all the torque has gone missing. 

But within a few minutes, all thoughts of the 991 have gone. As I head back to the old car's winter quarters I find myself enjoying the rustle of the wind from the old style roof gutters, the thump and roar from the tyres, the sight of the big plain instruments right under my nose, the simplicity of the 5 speed gearbox, and the big lunged feel from that old aircooled, two valve motor as it shoves the nuggety little coupe down the motorway slip road, the thin rimmed steering wheel wriggling in my palms. I grin to myself. This is what a 911 means to me.

Without any doubt, the new 991 is a big step for the 911 bloodline. It seems to me that Porsche have total clarity in their vision for the 911;  a prestigious high performance GT car that uses the best available technology to ensure its owner makes absolutely no compromises in order to drive the car daily.  The PDK gearbox (now selected by three quarters of all buyers), the electronic 'hand' brake, the opportunity to pack the car with luxury features, the lack of any particular skills needed to drive it, all make it something that can be bought and enjoyed by wealthy Middle Eastern, American or Chinese buyers. In the new car, they have the luxurious refinement of a Mercedes SL, a Jaguar XK or a BMW 6 series, while being able to feel they are still in a sports car. Yet I wonder how long this trajectory can continue before those sportscar roots become barely present in any meaningful sense, like the active ingredients in homeopathic medicine.  Certainly, any sentiment for the days when the 911s were bought in tiny numbers by knowledgeable and hardcore enthusiasts have long gone at Porsche, in spite of the respect the company pays to its heritage. Perhaps the GT cars are intended for their descendants, or maybe the Cayman's role is to take on the mantle of those early 911s. 

I wish Porsche well. I'll continue to enjoy my 1973 and 1991 cars, I'll probably make the trip to Le Mans next year to see the LMP1 challenger face Audi stable mates, and I'll try and get behind the wheel of a new Cayman. I even await the GT3 with interest, hoping that the rumours of PDK only transmissions are exaggerated. 

But there's not a 991 shaped hole in my heart.

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Six days with a 991

Inside of 20 minutes and this 911 and I have nearly fallen out.

Porsche may have a 60 year history of excellence, but all too often the company fails to distinguish between single minded determination to prove their concepts correct and bone headed stubbornness. It took 20 years of 911 timing chain failures before they finally chucked out various spring & plastic tensioner efforts in favour of an oil fed system, and the least said of the decade (and dozens of half-arsed solutions) it took to sort out the water-cooled flat six engines' ailments the better.

The list price of the 991 Carrera S I have borrowed for a few days is £97,861.00. It is a 3.8 engined, two wheel drive cabriolet with a light smattering of options; sports exhaust, parking sensors, heated seats, a two tone interior and some sound system upgrades. 

In the expensive looking, Panamera derived dashboard, the standard navigation system is beautifully integrated, and offers the driver a Bond-esque repeater in the instrument binnacle. Yet sadly for our newly minted relationship, and for some reason known only to 15 years of Porsche engineers and marketers, it will still only recognise the first five digits of a UK postcode. 

Sadder still, the address I needed to find once I'd left Porsche GB's gleaming Reading headquarters was one of two 'New Roads' located within a few miles of each other in a nearby town. 

And needless to relate, the 'New Road' the 991's system directed me to was the wrong one, something that only became apparent when my knock on the door was answered by a mystified young woman wanting to know why a perfect stranger was on her doorstep asking her about a Carrera 3.2 toolkit he'd purchased on ebay. 

To Zuffenhausen's shame, a rummage in my bag produced my trusty old Garmin Zumo 660 and we were soon heading to the New Road on the other side of town and my ebay purchase. Frustratingly, it was now late afternoon, and the Friday rush hour traffic was no place to learn about 400bhp, even if I did have ample opportunity to experience stop-start for the first time, the supportive 'comfort' seats, the 991's wonderfully natural driving position - with legs comfortably outstretched, a fine music system, a generally wonderful interior, and the gearbox.

Ah yes, the gearbox. This particular 991 cabriolet was an almost unique machine;  one of the very few 911 cabbies delivered in the northern hemisphere with both three pedals and a old fashioned gear lever. 

Porsche's new 7 speed manual gearbox is an intriguing solution to a problem I suspect was only created in the deserted corridors and subdued meeting rooms of Brussels, where earnest Eurocrats create rules demanding greater and greater fuel efficiency from the continent's car makers. 
7 Speeds good?

As a result, Porsche and their engineering partners decided that the new double clutch PDK automatic gearbox would have seven speeds, all the better to allow an overdriven top and nice low CO2 numbers at cruising speeds. Seemingly as an afterthought, the same casing and mechanism has been used to create the manual option, chosen by an ever dwindling number of hard-up, old school or contrarian buyers.

It has to be said, Porsche's gearboxes are functional things on the whole, quietly going about their business without adding greatly to the driving experience in the way a gated Ferrari shift, a snickety Alfa change or even (heaven forbid) an old Ford rocket 'box does. The seven speed unit in the 991 is no different. Its nicely positioned, falling (in that great roadtest tradition) 'easily to hand' as it sits high on the centre console. The knob is a chunky affair, well matched to the surprisingly high levels of effort needed to select a gear - especially when the gearbox is cold - or press the clutch pedal to the floor

As I flogged my way across crowded home-county commuter routes to the quieter motorways of my own bit of the country, the gearbox continued to occupy my mind. The ratios are arranged in 4 planes; 1/2, 3/4, 5/6 and 7, with springing biased towards 3rd/4th. That makes perfect sense in the 6 speeder, assisting the driver to slip out of 5th or 6th into one of the lower two ratios. However, in the 991, anyone cruising along in 7th and balked by slower traffic would benefit from a dose of 5th to regain speed, a gear that's located somewhere between 7th out on its limb and the spring assisted 3rd. I have to admit to picking the wrong one several times, not helped by the otherwise handy gear indicator in the rev counter that displays a blank until the clutch is fully home. That same indicator also contained a further sop to the eurocrats; a small arrow that suggests when the driver should select a higher ratio.  On the level it would illuminate in 6th at not much over 45mph, although the effect of such nudging on fuel usage is not dramatic - I saw consumption figures no better than the mid-twenties in my six days. 

However, compensation for the complex gearbox is soon to arrive when I discover that the pedals of this hundred grand, rich old man's boulevadier are perfectly set up for heel and toeing. Hallelujah! There must still be enthusiasts working at Porsche, tucked away out of reach of the dead hand of marketing product briefs and ring binders full of EC vehicle regulations. 

After nearly ten hours on the road I arrive home, feeling less tired than I had any right to expect.

On Saturday the car and I are reduced to taxi services, as I transport my two sons to the various weekend activities and dates that occupy active 9 and 15 year olds.  A lot of the additional 100mm or so that Porsche have introduced into the new 911's wheelbase goes into rear seat legroom. With the front seat passenger sacrificing some ability to stretch, there's now enough space in the back for a decent sized early teen, even when compromised by the traditionally more upright rear setbacks of the cabby. 

The additional width of the cabin makes this a comfortable place to be; spacious even for a GT. The optional stone and chocolate two tone leather go some way to compensating for the slight claustrophobia created by the heavy A pillars and the blanked-out rear three quarters view of the soft-top. 

A depressing February drizzle and low temperatures prevent too much use of the upper reaches of the car's performance abilities, but an exploratory squirt up a short section of dual carriageway reveals the traditional Porsche 'bissen', or bite, is present - the car drawing breath at 5000rpm and starting its rush for the red-line. It's proper fast this car, while a gentle push on the throttle provides enough performance to deal with almost every situation you'll meet in everyday driving, there's the potential for horizon grabbing grunt at the far end of the pedal's travel. 
And Chocolatey.

Sunday's taxi duties involve a trip through lashing rain and under dark skies to a hockey tournament. More than sixty years development of the original 911's engineering concept have, for good or ill, resulted in a car that most drivers could not identity as rear engined at all. Very occasionally its roots are exposed; even with the wider front track a sharp 90 degree urban corner on a cold wet day results in the front wheels crabbing away from the kerb, as the lighter laden front wheels (twenty inch Pirelli P Zero's on this car) give up the battle for grip. 

Of the slight differences in the way the front and rear of a 911 traditionally ride there is no sign. Sadly for those of us with a history of 911s, that signature bonnet bobbing is gone, sacrificed on the altar of refinement. Another preconception was also confounded, the flooded, pock-marked and battered West Sussex road surfaces revealed no shuddering scuttle, crashes from the suspension or creaks and groans from undercarriage or roof. This is the first convertible I've even driven with a structure that doesn't reveal its lack of strength through the steering. I know the press claimed the same thing for the previous generation 997, but I can remember steering one out of a dealership and all of 100meters to a corrugated section of road before the scuttle wobbled before my eyes. 

The 911's new found extra strength supports probably the most impressive aspect of the car. Unlike so many modern performance cars, the 991's chassis manages to combine the body control needed to rein in its 190mph potential with a ride that offers decent compliance; it neither bottoms out over undulations nor crashes from peak to crest. It certainly puts my Golf on its Bilstein suspension kit and chubby 16" winter tyres to shame, and shows my firm riding 964 (also on 16" wheels) to be the relic it is. 

However, a reminder of those old-skool semi-trailing arm chassis roots remains in the road surface induced rumble and roar from the fat rubber that still provide a typically 911 road noise back-drop to the new car's Bose stereo. A dab on the Sport button does its usual trick, tightening up the suspension, sharpening the throttle, and loosening the car's electronic safely nets, but the sodden gathering gloom wasn't the time or place for experimentation. In fact, in six days and 400 miles I leave the 'Sport' well alone. 

On this Sunday, the north easterly gale gusting down the channel had brought high winds to whip the pouring rain sideways.  After 90minutes battling the conditions, the stout hearts running junior's hockey event had had enough, and I hurried a bedraggled 9 year old into the comfort of heated seats and a volcanic heater, wincing as wet training shoes collided with pale leather and carpet. A stop for hot chocolate and cake at a local cafe went a long way to restoring morale.

Up on the Downs
On Monday I had to transport the eldest son to a week of work experience in the neighbouring county, a cross country journey that involves 40 miles of familiar fast and well surfaced roads. I had been looking forward to this trip since I collected the car four days ago. The downpours over the weekend had flooded the local bypass, bringing with it predictable Monday morning traffic chaos, and it took more than 45 minutes of clutch pumping before we reached the quieter 'A' roads. As the tarmac followed the Roman Stane Street and climbed over the downs, the drizzle started to turn fat and white, and within 5 minutes it was snowing heavily. Thankfully the roads stayed wet, the temperature hovering just above zero, but these were still far from ideal conditions for fast travel. 

As was to be expected nowadays, other road users were taking things easily, some barely crawling, and being overtaken by a flash b*stard in a 911 appeared to irritate, as evidenced by the flashing lights and waved arms. Little did they know that this ostentatious rushing past took only a slight flex of my right foot as I surfed the torque in the higher gears to slip by them, safely and sensibly.

Talking of quiet, there's little in the way of rumbling exhaust note in a standard 991 nowadays, but this one had the 'loud' button indicating the £1800 Sport Exhaust option. I was initially sceptical - it provides nothing in the way of additional performance or reduced weight, but my (not so) inner child preferred the rumble it delivered at low speed, the bark in the mid-range, and the howl in the upper reaches of the rev range. I wasn't the only one, the 9 year old child couldn't leave it alone when he was travelling with front seat privileges either. There is a downside beyond the cost,  cold starts are a clattering row as the car's fast warm up cycle does its thing

Tuesday remained damp and cold with the threat of snow. The car spent the day sitting outside my little house while I caught up with paperwork. Tuesday is swim squad day, so the only transport required was to the pool at the leisure centre, some four miles away on the other side of town. To protect the car from car parking dents I leave it in a corner, well away from the other cars, as far from the centre's front doors as I can. Inevitably, when I return to it an hour or so later there were cars huddled up on either side, surrounded by empty spaces. There's a sociology PHD in there somewhere.  

Continued here

Friday, 1 February 2013

Careers Advice

I am blessed with two sons. Well, they are a blessing most of the time anyway. The eldest one is in his school's Year 10 (or the 4th form in old money), and this week, as is the modern way, he was offered an interview with a 'careers advisor'. 

I can only assume the objective of this was to give the boy some idea of the sort of choices that might be available to him once he leaves the establishment with his clutch of A Level.

It didn't go well.

After the usual preliminaries, he was asked if he had a career in mind, whereupon he announced that he was going to make his fame and fortune as a "Hotrod designer". No guesses as to where that came from.

Now at this point I would have expected this professional educator to gently steer the deluded teen towards something related but somewhat more realistic -  engineer? car designer? technician?

But no.

It transpires that the woman's husband is deeply into his hotrods, so they had a long discussion about the Hayride, various local companies that hack about old Fords, and the merits of flaming paint jobs.

Magnus Walker has a lot to answer for, for my part I have no chance.