Yes, it’s good news from our man Laird and the Cayman. The suspension is working well with new springs and the blowing exhaust headers have been welded rather than replaced. Finally he’s happy... For now!
The latest from the 911&PW fleet including air con and cooling rads for Bennett’s 996, a new Boxster for Tipler and header fix for Laird’s Cayman
What a difference a few months make. And what a bona fide, 12storey, fully-carpeted joy it is to bring you an update to the Croc Chronicles containing nothing – yes, nothing! – but good news.
Regular 911&PW readers with disproportionately high tolerance levels for drama will know what an up and down journey it’s been with the Croc. An engine replacement under warranty within a week of purchase was about as inauspicious a start as they come. Struggling to bond with the car thereafter on its fashion-spec factory wheels and awful, mushy, standard-spec brake pedal was hardly a winning follow on.
The litany of glitches and faults since have recently culminated in the double whammy of a suspension refresh gone wrong and the prospect of an epic four- figure bill to address a pair of blowing exhaust headers. But brace yourself for an uncharacteristically upbeat and breezy denouement to all of the above. Because the suspension is sorted, the exhaust is fixed, I haven’t been bankrupted in the process and the Croc and I are now in a committed relationship.
In other words, it’s taken very nearly three years but I’m now fully at one with and at peace with this car and looking forward to and hoping for many more years and many hundreds of thousands of miles behind the wheel. But hold those thoughts.
Let’s begin with the final resolution to the saga of the suspension. The issue there involved the springs as supplied with the Bilstein B12 suspension kit. The front springs that come with this hardware are, not to put too fine a point on it, completely out of spec. They run the front axle far too
low and provide almost no travel. Resolving that kind of problem through conventional channels such as a warranty claim is a nightmare scenario that would involve significant labour costs and a car left unusable for an extended period. That’s just no good, regardless of the rights and wrongs of any of it.
Ultimately, then, the easiest solution was to fit some front springs sourced from H&R myself. These, too, were a little off – again, too low – but more in the realms of off compared to my preferences rather than just completely off by any sane metric. An extra set of front 6mm spring pads and the result was within my window of tolerance. It also drove a lot better. Much better. More on which in a moment.
As if the front spring palaver wasn’t enough to keep me busy, the Croc’s two blowing exhaust headers have also been putting the fear of the Almighty into me. For starters, we’re talking £1200 a pop for replacement items from Porsche. A shocking price to be sure, but then the primary cats are integrated within each header, which explains at least some of the horror.
The only outfit I could find doing pattern parts (ignoring supposedly high-performance headers with so-called ‘race’ cats, in which I habour zero interest) was an outfit Stateside that offered very appealing pricing locally but a stiff overall likely landed cost in the UK. The solution, in theory at least, was to have the headers welded. All well and good. But would they come off without a glitch? In its wisdom (ie none) Porsche uses cheap steel fixings to secure the headers. Said fixings in the form of bolts or studs are not only subject to super-high temps. They’re also very exposed and located significantly aft.
All of which means you have a combo of roasting heat and a constant spray of muck and water and road salt and all the rest. The result is that they corrode chronically, which in turn means they mostly snap when removal is attempted, following which it can be very expensive to have them drilled out of the heads and any repairs to the threads made good.
Mercifully, the Croc’s headers were removed with the engine swap in late 2014. My fixings were still a mess, when the fine fellows from AW Motorsport near Chichester had at them, only one stud snapped. AW also managed to get the headers patched up very nicely and the whole thing turned around in little more than a day and for an overall bill that failed to breach the four-figure barrier. Not exactly chump change, but it could have been so very much worse.
The net outcome of all of the above was a Croc with, essentially, zero faults and a fairly well sorted chassis. The chassis had come together a few weeks previously, but it was hard to really appreciate the character of the changes while the exhaust sounded so hideous. With that addressed and the Croc sounding, if anything, sweeter than ever (I’m not one for loud exhausts and I prefer a mix of exhaust, induction and mechanical tunes to the ear-bleed of so-called sports pipes), the whole car came together in a genuinely magical manner.
Depending on how you look at it, I haven’t really done anything hugely dramatic to the car. Smaller wheels, a new brake master cylinder, a bit of tape over the clutch pedal sensor, some slightly lower springs and some firmer dampers. Hard core mods these are not. Nor is the car night-and-day different to drive. It’s no faster, it sounds stock and the chassis mods are pretty mild.
And yet the improvement in driving enjoyment on offer is off the scale as far as I am concerned. On the factory 18-inch wheels, the feedback is just so dull and the chassis so very inert. On 17s, it comes alive with feel and transparency and adjustability. The firmer brake pedal likewise puts you so much more in touch with the retardation available despite doing precisely zilch to improve actual braking performance. Likewise, the slightly firmer springs and dampers tighten things up that critical bit and once again that puts you more in touch with what the car is doing. Little of this is about how fast. It’s all about how.
Most intriguing of all is how a slight remaining flaw in the chassis setup in the form of a little superfluous bobble and minor lack of general compliance actually improves the experience. It gives the car a distinct mid-engine character at all speeds where the standard chassis results in anodyne neutrality. I’m not alone, I think, in taking the view that the most interesting driver’s cars are a little bit broken. Well, the Croc remains just a little bit broken. And I absolutely love it. PW
The Croc’s suspension has been a cause of much misery, but the mix ‘n’ match of Bilsteins and H&R dampers has sorted the issue
Ride height low, but not silly low. Note Laird’s anti-fashion 17in wheels
Above left: Amazingly only one exhaust manifold stud required drilling out, a legacy of a fairly recent engine replacement. Above: Exhaust manifold expertly welded
Below left: New exhaust studs and gasket in place. Below: Exhaust survives to live another day