Mak­ing a wel­come re­turn, US colum­nist, Terry Thomas, pon­ders the lure of the air­cooled 911 and how – as surely as night fol­lows day – he keeps re­turn­ing to the clat­ter­ing, air-cooled flat six. This time it’s a Car­rera 3.2 and it’s go­ing to be a keeper

911 Porsche World - - Contents -

Terry Thomas has his say


My Porsche own­er­ship jour­ney has been both long (35 years) and var­ied (13 cars over that span of time). Yet, af­ter dab­bling in all man­ner of Porsche for­mu­la­tions – 911s, transaxle cars, a 928, and three Cay­mans (Caymi?) – I con­tin­u­ally find my­self back where I started, with an air-cooled 911 in my garage. De­spite the com­pe­tency of the 944s, the majesty of the 928, and the all-around mag­nif­i­cence of the Cay­man, it seems that all the roads I travel, cir­cuitous though they may be, in­evitably lead back to the luftkuh­ler.

Why, given the cor­nu­copia of modern Porsche water-cooled won­der­ful­ness, does the air-cooled car hold such mys­tique, not only to me, but to so many? I think it’s the sheer will and un­com­pro­mis­ing per­son­al­ity of the thing, born with the first in 1965 and end­ing with the last in 1998, long af­ter ev­ery other man­u­fac­turer had aban­doned both air cool­ing and rear-mounted en­gines. No, Porsche re­mained stub­born, aided by the le­gions of fans who loudly pro­claimed they would have noth­ing else. Dur­ing my for­ma­tive years, the abil­ity to drive a 911 well was a badge of hon­our, for the early, swing arm cars (up through the 3.2 Car­rera) re­quired fi­nesse and skill to avoid trou­ble. In this age of do­ev­ery­thing, nanny-aided, no-skill/no-thought-re­quired trans­porta­tion ap­pli­ances, the air-cooled 911 stands out in stark, de­fi­ant re­lief.

One drive in an air-cooled car, espe­cially one of the afore­men­tioned swing arm cars, demon­strates not only how far we have come, but also how much we have lost. You do not bend the car to your will; you and the car jointly agree upon the course of ac­tion dic­tated by its de­sign­ers all those years ago and en­forced by the hun­dreds of pounds of en­gine lurk­ing be­hind the rear axle. The car does not strug­gle to as­cer­tain what it thinks you want it to do, it does ex­actly what you tell it to do. Choose your words care­fully.

And speak to it gen­tly. This is a fin­ger­tip car. Set upon it with fists of ham and it will de­liver a mem­o­rable les­son in ap­plied physics. Try to man­han­dle a cranky 915 gear­box and it be­comes a balky, bit­ter mal­con­tent (and, for an ex­tra thrill, one can even choose a turbo ver­sion, which be­stows yet an­other whole layer of op­er­a­tional chal­lenge upon the pro­ceed­ings). But drive the car with re­spect, gen­tly but con­fi­dently, and it morphs into an ex­ten­sion of your­self, de­liv­er­ing ela­tion that is un­matched to this day. Of course, the car is not for every­one. The air-cooled 911 is like liqourice. Not every­one likes liqourice, but those that do like it a lot.

A whole lot, it seems. De­spite be­ing two decades out of pro­duc­tion, the cars re­tain a fol­low­ing verg­ing on fa­nat­i­cal. Vir­tu­ally any part is now avail­able from a wide va­ri­ety of sources, and a cottage in­dus­try full of ven­dors ex­ists to pro­vide a nearly non-stop flow of new, im­proved parts to serve the car’s le­gions of fans.

Thanks to the in­ter­change­abil­ity of many com­po­nents be­tween the years of pro­duc­tion, one can mix and match parts to cre­ate a car uniquely suited to its owner. It’s the equiv­a­lent of a com­pletely cus­tomis­able four-wheeled Bar­bie Doll for men. Or women.

Within the last year or so, I came to re­alise that the win­dow of op­por­tu­nity to own an­other ex­am­ple was slam­ming shut, given the rapid and seem­ingly un­end­ing rise in prices. It’s as though the whole au­to­mo­tive world, bored with the same­ness and lack of per­son­al­ity of the cur­rent crop of au­to­mo­biles, sud­denly took a step back, re­garded the hoary old 911 anew, pointed, and sim­ply said: 'that.' The lat­est – and likely last – air-cooled ex­am­ple en­trusted to my care is a 1985 coupe, ac­cu­rately de­scribed as a “driver,” by the seller. The price was dear, and re­quired the sale of my 2009 Cay­man S, as I had nei­ther the funds nor the space to keep both. A Seat­tle-based car since new, it has suf­fered none of the cor­ro­sion that ru­ins many ex­am­ples from less mild climes, though it has cer­tainly had a few ad­ven­tures, judg­ing from the body shop re­pair or­ders that ac­com­pa­nied the car. But it is both straight and me­chan­i­cally sound...for the most part, mak­ing it the per­fect can­vas upon which to paint. I shall fix, fet­tle and fuss, up­dat­ing this and back­dat­ing that, un­til it is ex­actly what I want it to be, heed­ing not the cho­rus of “keep it 100% orig­i­nal!” that in­evitably creeps into dis­cus­sions th­ese days. Nor will I suc­cumb to the ten­dency to stiffen, soup up and oth­er­wise 'im­prove' the car to the point where it is happy on track but mis­er­able ev­ery­where else, a charge of which I have been guilty in the past. No, this one must re­main civil, and com­fort­able enough for long trips with Mrs Thomas. To that end, I am even con­sid­er­ing tak­ing the plunge and in­stalling elec­tric air con­di­tion­ing, the wretched orig­i­nal unit hav­ing been re­moved by the previous owner and packed away in a box, where per­haps some­day in the fu­ture a re­storer of 911 an­tiq­ui­ties will be de­lighted to find it. Given the stub­bornly ana­logue na­ture of the car, my first act as its new owner was to ap­ply to the State of Washington for a per­son­alised plate that said “ANA­LOG.” Alas, the state, in its wis­dom, nixed that idea, on the grounds that this par­tic­u­lar was “pro­hib­ited,” pre­sum­ably be­cause the first four let­ters spell a naughty word. Based on this sur­pris­ing – and silly – bit of gov­ern­men­tal prud­ery, I de­cided not to bother ap­ply­ing for a plate that read “FUCHS.”

Per­son­alised plate not­with­stand­ing, I plan to build ex­actly the car I want, then drive the wheels off the thing, urged along by the dis­tinctly unique whirring and chut­ter­ing em­a­nat­ing from be­hind, si­mul­ta­ne­ously car­ry­ing me both for­ward into the fu­ture and back into the past. PW

Hound­stooth seat in­sert re-trim car­ried out by lo­cal seam­stress. Again look out for full story in a fu­ture is­sue









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