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1985 Porsche 911: One Last Drive
May 27, 2012
Because the sale of our 1985 Porsche 911 is pending we haven't been driving it. After a complete detail job it has been sitting in our parking garage waiting for the embrace of its new owner.
But I couldn't resist one last drive in what has become one of my favorite long-term cars of all time.
It was last Sunday. About 9 pm. The wife was settling in with the DVR for some medical drama with a romantic twist. As I was preparing to poke my eyes out, I remembered the Black Plague was sitting at the office and its keys were in my desk.
Twenty minutes later I was driving the 911 past the neon glow of the Santa Monica Pier. We went for a a ride. One last ride. Windows down. Sunroof open. Destination nowhere.
The Porsche and I cruised around for 90 minutes, touring sections of Santa Monica, Venice, Malibu and Brentwood. It was late so traffic was light, and the cool, crisp night air had the 911's flat six in a happy zone. Although I redlined a few gears to feel the car, this wasn't some late night banzai run. Speeds never topped 60 mph and I may have used fourth gear only once.
In a modern supercar, the drive would have been a snore. In our 911 it was pure joy. No other car in our fleet would have been as fun.
For those us that understand that a car is more than a 0-60 time, and that a car's flaws are a big part of its character, our 1985 Porsche 911 M491 will be missed.
Scott Oldham, Editor in Chief
1985 Porsche 911: The Porsche 911 Hour
April 27, 2012
It's 7 p.m. before I hit the San Diego Freeway, and I'm feeling sorry for myself because I'm leaving the office so late, though (as always) there are people staying even later than me.
So I'm whistling down a relatively free-flowing freeway and thinking that I don't generally see Porsche 911s commuting back and forth from my part of the L.A. basin and it makes me wonder if people really drive 911s in L.A on a daily basis.
And that's right when a Porsche 911 GT3 3.8 RS starts pacing me.
When I burble through the morning traffic about 6:30 a.m., I'm used to seeing Boxsters and the occasional 911 Cabrio. After all, L.A. is the place on the planet where most Porsches have always been sold dating clear back to the 1950s, so you get used to people showing off. And then when summer hits and you see people driving home on a Friday afternoon in their hobby cars, I occasionally see a 911 of the Black Plague's vintage, a 911SC or a Carrera 3.2.
But there don't seem to be many serious 911s on the road when I'm traveling around. So it's kind of a shock to see this GT3 RS, which seems to be a little more serious than the run of winged GT3s that you see in L.A., which are usually sporting the full decal package and blacked out windows, like boogie vans with the engine in the back. This car is a nice ivory with the outside mirrors and wing endplates finished in red. We're kind of running in traffic at the same pace.
And then not five minutes later, a dark-blue 996 with some miles on it comes by and peels off for the Interstate 105, heading east. And after the RS and I stagger through the traffic accordion around the South Bay Curve and he takes off, another white 997 comes along to do a close inspection of the Black Plague.
This seems to be a pretty high count of cooking 911s, even for L.A., and it occurs to me that maybe I've been traveling at the wrong hour to see the kind of Porsche 911s that are daily drivers. It's easy to forget that while a Porsche 911 is a stunning value compared to any super sports car you can name, it's still hellaciously expensive and you have to work hard and well to be able to afford one.
It might be that the kind of people who have earned a Porsche 911 are more likely to be going home late rather than early.
And in that moment I felt like that guy in the "Porsche Everyday" television spot. Old, worn out and used up, but then refreshed as the Porsche 911 comes to life. It's the kind of moment that makes you feel lucky.
And I have to say that every time I drive the Black Plague, whether I'm going into work too early or coming home too late or by a miracle am actually headed somewhere good on a Saturday just as the sun comes up, I feel totally lucky to be in a Porsche 911.
Michael Jordan, Executive Editor, Edmunds.com @ 126,736
1985 Porsche 911: Where the Heck Was I?
March 29, 2012
Okay, I blame myself for this, but last night was the first time I drove our soon-to-depart Porsche. Because I was so disappointed by the 1984 Ferrari 308 GTSi, I think I was afraid the same disillusionment would follow. I was so wrong...
Close readers know of my love for all things Porsche (especially the GT3 -- all of them), so this might not come as a surprise to you: I love this car. Why? Because it needs me. Because it actually requires "mechanical sympathy" to operate properly. And like most Porsches, it rewards its driver when he/she does something particularly right and punishes when he doesn't.
I'm not saying that the 1985-era car is perfect. It isn't, but just like Mark Takahashi so eloquently put it, "I managed to see past its faults and find the gem underneath," (I would've said, "...and discover the gem within," but that's me).
I like that the shifter sometimes requires a double-clutch downshift (and even an occasional upshift). The brake pedal feel is absolutely perfect because once the idle-stroke is used up, its the pressure exerted on it and not the remaining travel in it that alters brake forces. I too enjoy probing that slightly dead on-center manual steering rack to find "how much is there."
I guess it boils down to this: Unlike most new cars that simply fall over when you lean on them, one needs to lean on (or lean into) this car to discover where its talents lie and where its limits are. There's some sort of two-way communication at work with the old Porsche that is utterly absent in most new cars. New cars practically drive themselves and where's the fun in that, right?
1985 Porsche 911: Stay Cool
March 27, 2012
Ugh. The worst scenario in any car, let alone a 25-year-old 911. Stop and go, emphasis on stop. Trying to keep a cool car and cool head on northbound I-405, around Los Angeles International Airport during the early lunch hour. I've logged about 600 miles in the 911. Still don't feel I know its moods or just how cranky it can get lurching along in traffic, though.
The temp gauge shows that things are calm and, intellectually, I know there's a big fan spinning back there. The crankcase has plenty of oil. Pressure seems fine. But the horror stories: Bad seals, overheating, pissing oil. Yeah, I don't want to be that guy. Not this afternoon, not on the 405.
And no matter how often I drive the 911, I still can't find the right shift rhythm. There's this tiny RPM window where it'll slot somewhat smoothly into second. Otherwise, it requires a good yank and protests with a thick clunk. I'll be sad to see the Plague go, though. It didn't get a lot of love here. Too much work, said one of my colleagues. Sadly, his is pretty much the majority opinion.
But that's what I enjoy about our 911. It forces you to pay attention. And it rewards you with some sweet music, direct feel and hardly a sweat. So if you've owned a Carerra series, enjoyed it, and intuitively learned something about the cars, what's the next logical step in a Porsche enthusiast's evolution? And why?
Dan Frio, Automotive Editor
1985 Porsche 911: Shaping Up
March 20, 2012
It's simple, really. Our 911 just sounds good. I've been missing it. Driving around in pleasant silver lifepods recently, all hushed and soothing, has made me soft. My road spirit needed some sprints and crunches, and our 911 is an able trainer. It lacks The Comforts, but I'm always more aware of living when I drive it.
The stiff chassis, handlebar steering, soupy gearbox morass, ribcage-sticky seats and baffling interior controls: it all collapses into this neutron star of Germanic essence vibrating behind your back, at a frequency somewhere between purr and rumble.
It's all I really want to hear. All you get from these speakers anyway is a spitting mess of midrange. In these moments, it's way more fun controlling the volume with your foot.
Dan Frio, Automotive Editor @ 125,400 miles.
1985 Porsche 911 Carrera: It's About Time
March 15, 2012
Let's get one thing straight. These are instruments, not gauges.
At least that's what Hartmut Behrens would tell you. Long ago, he worked at VDO in Frankfurt, Germany, when German cars were the latest thing. Instruments meant VDO; gauges meant lights and flashes.
VDO sent Behrens to Detroit to work with the carmakers there, but when he saw how popular German cars had become in the U.S., he left for Los Angeles and took over a speedometer business that had been originally established in 1955. And that's how North Hollywood Speedometer & Clock became the place to take your Porsche 911 clock when it goes bad, as they all do.
Really and truly, there are only two places that make a point of advertising for the business of repairing Porsche instrumentation: Palo Alto Speedometer. It wasn't much of a struggle to get our clock fixed. We brought in our clock (it has been pretty intermittent in that whole time-keeping thing) to NoHo Speedo, and $120 and a day later, it was all over.
Not too much else to report, aside from the fact that this clock reminds us of the days when all cars had clocks on the dash -- real clocks with big hands and little hands, too. (It's a fashion that's coming again, we've noticed.)
Also it was kind of a pleasure to look up at the storefront of North Hollywood Speedometer and see the names of the other brands of automotive instruments that Behrens and his specialists repair, like A.C., Moto Meter, Smiths, Veglia and Veigel. In times gone by, it was difficult to find instruments that could put up with not only the vibration of the automobile but also the crude mechanical drives and later the rogue voltage spikes from primitive electrical systems, so instruments meant performance, not simply fashion.
Hartmut Behrens warns us that not all instrument repairs are completed so quickly. He's overwhelmed with work, largely from the restoration of BMWs, Mercedes-Benzes, Porsches and Volkswagens. "Everyone is fixing up old cars," he says. "Soon they will all be on the road again."
At least we're not the only ones fixing up an old car.
Michael Jordan, Executive Editor, Edmunds.com @ 125,323 miles
1985 Porsche 911: Suspension Walkaround
March 12, 2012
You're not just seeing things. Our 1985 Porsche 911 really does look all awkward and dangly when perched on our Rotary 2-post lift.
We'll soon see why. Those tires are about to come off so we can see what a *26-year-old Porsche 911 suspension looks like up close.
This classic 911 suspension only lasted four additional model years after our car was built. Things finally started to change when the 964-based 911 came out in 1990.
*49 years if you hark back to its debut in 1963.
We're used to seeing struts defining the upper suspension mount and steering pivot in modern Porsche 911s, and we're seeing the same thing here. Thing is, the familiar coil-over spring seems to be AWOL.
No spring down here, either...not that we can see, anyway. Ah, but a torsion bar is hidden inside the lower arm's main tube along that thin white line. This type of torsion bar arrangement is called a parallel bar layout because the bars run parallel to the direction of travel.
The invisible t-bar is mated to the visible outer tube via a hidden splined joint at the forward end (yellow). Here the torsion bar rotates in lock-step with the lower control arm as the wheel moves up and down.
But our concealed torsion bar can only become a spring if its opposite end is held fast so it cannot rotate.
That happens here, inside an aluminum block (yellow) that is bolted to the unibody. This block defines the pivot point and cradles the rear bushing for the lower control arm, but it's also the stopper for the torsion bar.
The torsion bar's end is capped with a fitting that contains an adjustment screw, and the point at which this screw makes contact with the inner face of the block is the point where this end of the torsion spring is prevented from rotating. Because it is threaded, ride height adjustments are easily made by twirling this bolt.
In true 911 fashion the steering rack sits behind the front axle centerline -- probably for packaging reasons. A steel turnbuckle (green) serves as the steering tie rod. Loosen the jam nuts and rotate the center portion with all those vise grip marks to grow or shrink it the desired amount, then re-tighten the jam nuts. More elegant designs provide hex flats on this tube so you don't have to use vise grips. I'm more than surprised that I'm not seeing that here.
Meanwhile, the link-less stabilizer bar plugs directly into a bushing (orange) on the lower control arm.
The design of the strut -- particularly the lower ball joint -- is perhaps the oddest bit so far. This old Porsche (coming to PBS this fall) does not use the sort of front knuckle arrangement we're used to seeing, the kind where the strut bolts to a separate cast iron or aluminum hub carrier at a point somewhere north of the axle centerline. Here the strut runs all the way down and is more-or-less permanently mated to the steering arm (yellow) and an old-school spindle. The lower ball joint (green) bolts directly to the bottom of this assembly, so there's no doubt about the geometry of the steering axis.
Yeah, we could use some new tie-rod ends; the boots are shot but they're not dried out and making noise yet.
You've heard of monoblock calipers, right? These are not them. Yes, you're looking at four-piston fixed calipers, but they're made up of four main parts, held together with eight bolts and hydraulically connected by a crossover pipe.
At first glance the rear of our Porsche also seems to lack any visible means of support. There's no strut, nothing you point at and call a multilink.
A trailing arm (yellow) locates the axle in the fore-aft direction and resists accel and brake torque. We've seen something similar in Ford's control-blade multilink setup.
But this arm is also the torsion arm for the rear spring. The free end of a two-foot long (give or take) torsion bar connects to this blade at its pivot point (white.) The fixed end resides near the center of the car in close proximity to one coming from the opposite side. This layout sometimes goes by the name "cross bar" because the torsion bars run perpendicular to the direction of travel.
Even though this component looks similar, this is nothing like Ford's control blade multilink rear suspension. That's because there's only one additional link (if you can call it that), not three.
That "link" is a massive hub carrier that bolts to the torsion arm to make them both into a rigid semi-trailing arm, where "semi" stands for the resulting angled pivot axis. With no distinct upper and lower links, the camber changes radically as the suspension hinges on this single axis. What little control there is depends on the utter rigidity of this aluminum casting. And so we get the dune buggy posture seen in photo number one when the car is raised off the ground.
Likewise the rear bump steer characteristics are only defined in a rudimentary sense. The angled pivot axis is good in that it causes the outboard rear tire to toe in as it loads up in a corner for a small dose of roll understeer. That said, any compressive deflection of the inner pivot bushing -- such as you might get when lifting off the throttle or braking into a corner -- is likely to generate rear toe out. Skilled drivers can use this to their advantage, but the unskilled might find themselves facing the wrong direction. That the engine is located in the trunk only adds to the amusement.
Generally, this sort of behavior is why they always used to teach braking in a straight line. The more sophisticated rear suspensions we have today have arguably led to a newfound emphasis on trail braking at performance driving schools because it's harder to get many new cars to rotate on command.
Unlike the 911's front torsion bars, the rear ones lack any provision for height adjustment. It's something of a trick to get the ride height and weight distribution right because you can't be off by a single tooth left to right.
Aftermarket companies like Elephant have come to the rescue with devices like this that ease the pain. It's still best to have the left and right bars on the same tooth, but this added adjustment makes it easy to square up and weight-balance the rear suspension at any reasonable height you choose.
You may have noticed the rear stabilizer bar peeking out from the shadows in many of the previous shots. Here we can see that a stubby link connects it to the cast aluminum semi-trailing arm, not the blade-like torsion arm.
The rear shocks also mount to the massive semi-trailing arm. Their close proximity to the exhaust system is a temporary condition that ceases to be an issue when the car is on the ground.
The rear brake calipers are pretty much the same as the fronts: four-piston fixed calipers bolted together from four main parts. And it looks like Porsche has been using electronic pad wear sensors for some time, too.
In a curious twist of mass management (or a wild coincidence) all four of our 1985 Porsche 911's tire and wheel assemblies weigh 39.8 pounds apiece. The front tire size is 205/55R16 and the rears are 245/45R16. Both have the same rolling diameter but the wider rear tires and wheels are not heavier.
Dan Edmunds, Director of Vehicle Testing
1985 Porsche 911 Carrera: Holy Crap, I found 3rd Gear!
February 24, 2012
The last time I drove our Porsche 911 (which I believe was also the first time I drove our 911) was many, many months ago. I had it over a weekend, which gave me the time to get somewhat used to its maze of a 5-speed gearbox.
Upshifting from second gear to third was a hit-or-miss project until I finally got it through my thick skull just how far to the right of first it really is.
So I was quite surprised when I hopped in the car a couple nights ago and found third like the first 10 times in a row. It slid right in, although I was being very conscious about what I was doing.
There are two keys: First, shove the lever much further to the right of first than you would in any modern manual gearbox. Second, don't rush it. Have some compassion for this antiquated machine.
Of course, my mind eventually wandered temporarily (as it's known to do), and I wasn't concentrating on the job at hand and I found no-man's land between first and third.
But in general, this was a far better experience in the 911 Carrera than my original one. Even though I had spent months away from it, I think I'm beginning to understand the old 911 a bit better.
And, wonky gearbox (and a few other niggling issues) aside, I actually do enjoy the whole experience of driving this very mechanical device.
Mike Monticello, Road Test Editor @ 124,586 miles.
1985 Porsche 911: Doesn't Sound The Way It Looks
February 15, 2012
I like the way our Porsche looks. What I do not like about our 911 is the way it sounds. In stark contrast with the tougher, bergrennen-esque exterior, the sounds it makes are just too subdued. I vote we spice it up a little bit. Maybe another 20 decibels or so?
Now, my requirements for how a car should sound are
wholly incompatible somewhat different than those of my coworkers. So while I might simply bypass our 911's mufflers, which is usually the easiest/quickest/best way to uncover the true, sweet sound of this motor, the other four people who actually enjoy driving our 911 might disagree with me.
For them, and a lot of other people, there are quite a few options for aural enhancement on older 911's. Companies like M&K and others build any number of exhaust related parts. Just be sure to bring money. These are Porsche parts after all.
Kurt Niebuhr, Photo Editor @ 121,251 miles
1985 Porsche 911: Stagger and Squeal
February 01, 2012
Just a few more notes on the Porsche and its new tires. The foremost being noise.
Yup, the new tires are loud. When I'm coasting to a stop, they're really noticeable. Perhaps not as bad as mud tires on a Jeep, but they're not that far off, either. It becomes less of an issue when I'm on the gas, since the air-cooled Porsche flutter takes over. I also noticed some brake squeal coming from the right rear.
Finally, there's the appearance of the new tires. The new front tires a just a bit narrower than the old ones, and they don't fill the wheel wells as fully. Too bad, I think, since they looked pretty freaking cool before, but then again, I might be the only one to notice.
Mark Takahashi, Automotive Editor
1985 Porsche 911: More Grip, But Less Fun
January 30, 2012
I finally had a moment to take the Porsche and its new tires into the hills for a spirited drive. Here's what I discovered.
It should come as no surprise that the new tires have more grip than the backwards-mounted decades-old rubber that they replaced. The Porsche rails through corners with a newfound precision. I liken it to a mechanical pencil, whereas before, it was more like an artist's brush.
But I think I prefer the artist's brush. It was more expressive. You could load it up with paint and create bold lines, or let it dry out a bit and make streaky and light shading. Now, it feels clinical. It used to be balanced between handling and power, where you could easily overwhelm the rear tires with a lift-stomp of the pedal, letting the tail pendulum gracefully to the outside of a turn. Or, you could be smooth and hold it through a turn in a steady state.
There's still enough power to break the rears loose, but you have to be very deliberate about it, and it won't hold it out anymore. It's now a quick slip of the tail that is gone in an instant. It requires quicker hands and a more delicate touch on the pedal.
It's still a riot to drive, don't get me wrong. It just feels like it's more of a grown-up now.
Mark Takahashi, Automotive Editor
1985 Porsche 911: New Shoes Feel Fine
January 20, 2012
Mr. Jordan has put so much time into getting new tires and a proper alignment on our 911 that I figured it was time for a drive to see how it feels. Despite the general disdain by the commentariat for the off-brand tires we ended up with, the new Fuzions felt pretty good to me on the highway last night.
I seem to remember that the 911 was a little darty on the highway with the old rubber. Nothing terrible, but it didn't feel completely locked down at speed. Now it's completely solid at highway speeds, so much so that you can go no hands and it barely twitches. Not sure how much credit goes to the alignment for that, but either way it's better than before.
The new rubber doesn't strike me as loud by any means either, at least no more so than the old tires. No idea how sticky they are since I was pretty much just ripping along in a straight line. That will have to wait until another day, one that I'm looking quite forward to now.
Ed Hellwig, Editor, Edmunds.com
1985 Porsche 911 Carrera: The Alignment Wizard
January 16, 2012
Steve Alarcon's hair is silver, which is probably appropriate since he's a kind of wizard. Of course, his magical powers aren't quite what you expect, since they involve the mysteries of suspension alignment and the Porsche 911.
There are two people in Los Angeles to whom you take your Porsche 911 for an alignment, Alarcon at Johnson's Alignment Service in Torrance or Darin Nishimura (who learned the trade from Alarcon) at West End Alignment in Gardena. When we put new tires on the Black Plague, we signed up for an appointment with Alarcon.
When it comes to owning a 911, lots of people want to skip over the issues of suspension alignment, but ask yourself, if you had a car with a wheelbase shorter than that of a Miata with the majority of its weight packaged at the wrong end of the car, wouldn't you want to do your best to ensure that the thing would go down the road straight?
Alarcon is a little bit of a legend in Porsche circles. Over the years, he's laid hands on a lot of Porsches in his family-owned business (his 80-year-old father still comes to the shop every day), and he even does all the Porsches in actor Jerry Seinfeld's collection. Alarcon has also been a racer with the Porsche Owner's Club and IMSA since 1985.
For all this, Alarcon says there is really no magic in the approach he takes to a 911 alignment. "It really starts with just getting the corner weights right," he says. "Porsche's specs call for as little as a 20 pound difference side to side, and if you're off one click on the torsion bar setting, you can jack as much as a 100 pounds into the cross weight. No one can make a 911 handle right if they're trying to align a car with that kind of cross-weight issue . We've even seen a brand-new 911 GT3 RSR with 16 miles on the odometer come in here with the corner weights out of spec, so it shows you that even a car fresh from the assembly line should be checked.
"We also set the corner weights with the weight of the driver behind the steering wheel. That's the way the car is actually going to be driven, so that's the place where the alignment should begin. Again, you want to make sure you start your alignment in the right place."
Alarcon took the Black Plague for a quick test drive before the corner weights were set. While the car was on the scales, he looked at it in profile with the practiced eye of a man checking the conformity of a thoroughbred race horse and said the car looked a little low at the left front corner, as if it had settled a bit. The corner weights bore this out, as they were just a fraction out. (Darin Nishimura at West End Alignment had done the alignment for the car's previous owner, so we knew we were starting from a top-quality basis.)
Next we had a frank conversation with Alarcon about the kind of usage the 911 was getting and what we anticipated for the future. "There are lots of ways to set up a 911," he says, "and it makes no sense to set one up for the race track if you're driving it on the freeway every day. If we set up the car for the way you really drive, you'll have a much more enjoyable experience with your Porsche."
We knew that our Porsche had been set up for autocross by its previous owner, as its low ride height indicated. The Johnson's Alignment technician found more than 2.0 degrees of static negative camber in the rear tires, which is what you would expect, and Alarcon's test drive had led him to believe that the front end had been set with a measure of added caster, which made the steering effort a bit heavy even as it added straight-line stability.
We settled on a little less static camber front and rear, negative 1.75 degrees. The caster is now at positive 6.5 degrees and there's just a tiny bit of toe-in for stability, 0.06 inches in front and 0.12 inches in the rear. We also dispensed with our strut tower bar, as Alarcon noted its old-school design was actually causing the top of the dampers to bind in their mounts, which could lead to a broken damping rod. The technician also discovered an inverted toe link in the front suspension and set it to rights. Alarcon also said that if we wanted to help the car come alive in the handling department, a set of anti-roll bars from a 1986 Porsche Turbo would transform the driving experience.
Alarcon took a more extensive test drive at the end of the two hours it took to complete the work and gave the car his blessing. In a way this is a big part of what you're paying for, since Alarcon's experience gives him insight into whether a Porsche 911 feels right, which is something that is very hard to describe, no matter how elaborate your vocabulary might be. Naturally we came away with an elaborate racing-type setup sheet for the car with its corner weights, caster settings, camber settings, toe specifications and fender heights.
To us, the Black Plague still feels low and settled on the road, but it's more resilient and lighter on its feet, and the steering is notably lighter in effort without any loss in communication. The alignment of the steering wheel has been trued up with the suspension changes, too.
For all our attempts to make Alarcon a wizard, it was a surprise to learn that he is just a simple enthusiast like us. He had a silver Porsche 914 four-cylinder in high school and eventually put it back together as a kind of hobby car (now in white) in 1985. Then he happened to align a racing Porsche 911 for Bill Follmer, son of Porsche racing legend George Follmer, and Bill invited him to run a few laps on the race track with his 914.
Predictably Alarcon was hooked by racing almost instantly, and has raced ever since then in a succession of 911SCs converted to winged hot rods plus a rare Porsche Cup version of the 993-type 911 that he's now restoring to its original specification and graphics. As Alarcon explained, he's just another hobbyist, spending too much money on his 911s just like all of us.
Michael Jordan, Executive Editor, Edmunds.com
1985 Porsche 911: Takahashi Can Have It
January 13, 2012
The more I drive our longterm 1985 Porsche 911, the less I want to drive it. And here's the thing: I like 911s.
I've driven 911s of many vintages and this particular example stands out as atypical. Josh is right about a lot of what makes it unpleasant to drive. It has nothing to do with its salvage title status as some commenters have opined. No, our car is suffering from owner improvements that have spoiled the cohesiveness of the controls, a characteristic that Porsche nowadays does better than any other automaker.
Our 911 needs more ride height (more suspension bump travel), less wheel spacers and/or larger offset wheels. This would improve its bump compliance, reduce steering effort and kickback and bump steer. As it is, Jordan's had some caster dialed out to reduce the steering effort but to me this is a band-aid to the issue of excessive scrub radius resulting from the small wheel offset.
In the "they all do that" column, this thing's shifter remains a pain in the ass. There's nothing enjoyable or rewarding about navigating the 915 gearbox. And the shifter in our car, according to several Porsche gurus who've used it, is as good as they get. The G50 'box that came in '86 is a hundred billion times better than the 915.
Also, the new tires. Holy crap are they loud. These are tractor tires, not car tires.
On the plus side, our car has retained that uncanny hunger for velocity that even early 911s exhibit. You get them on the freeway at 80 and it feels like 20. It just feels rock steady at speed, goading you to ever higher speeds.
Lately I've been thinking maybe we should pick up a dead-stock 964 C2 (1990-94 911). The 964 was nearly an all-new 911 at the time of its introduction and addressed many of the shortcomings of the earlier cars. 964s had some niggles of their own, so a longterm test would be instructive. By being dead-stock we'd be able to evaluate it on its own merits rather than commingling the dubious sensibilities of previous owners.
Think a longterm 964 is a good idea? Leave a comment below or send an email to email@example.com.
--Jason Kavanagh, Engineering Editor
1985 Porsche 911: New Tires, Behind the Scenes
January 12, 2012
You read that we installed new tires on our 1985 Porsche 911. But that didn't even give you half the story. Here is a little taste of the installation process...
In no particular order. Reader's Digest style:
- We eagerly loaded the 911 with tires.
- The tire shop was close. We figured access to 1st and 2nd gear would be plenty.
- Then we remembered reverse, so Rex got a workout.
- Unsure as to whether the fronts would fit with the aggressive alignment, we checked full lock.
- We measured tire clearance at full lock with a specialized smudging tool.
- Even the mighty Hunter could not balance these tires, cause all 4 wheels are bent to some degree.
- And when all was said and done, we paid $129 for our troubles.
Mike Schmidt, Vehicle Testing Manager @ 123,600 miles
1985 Porsche 911 Carrera: Round and Black
January 10, 2012
You would think that getting tires for a slightly weathered Porsche would be the work of a moment. After all, tires are all round and black, aren't they?
But when the ancient Bridgestones on the Black Plague finally had given their all after a summer of sliding through the canyons, it took serious detective work to locate some tires in the correct size.
We'd scoped out the situation clear back last spring, and while it was apparent that the selection of 16-inch tires for Porsche 911s was rapidly becoming smaller, there were choices available. But when we looked again last month, it appeared that every last 245/45R-16 tire on the planet had been kidnapped by aliens.
This is a fairly rare size, of course. Most of the American-specification 911SCs and 911 Carrera 3.2s of the 1980s carry 16-inch wheels with 7.0-inch rims in the front and 8.0-inch rims in the back. A 225/50R-16 is the preferred size for rear tires, and you can still find a good selection of modern tires in this size from first-class tire manufacturers.
Meanwhile, the Turbo (and "Turbo Look") variants of these 1980s 911s have 16-inch wheels with 9.0-inch rims meant to carry 245/45R-16s, and naturally the market isn't very large for these tires. We found that Nexen made a tire in this size (a friend of ours at Honda put them on his 911 Carrera 3.2 and seems to like these Korean-made tires well enough), but we were hoping for something a little more high tech for the Black Plague than just "round and black."
The Porsche forums have been noting the scarcity of Turbo-size rear tires for 1980s 911s in recent months. There were choices to be made if you chose an almost treadless R-compound tire from BF Goodrich, Hankook, Hoosier, Kuhmo, or Toyo, but nothing in a street tire. Then we discovered that the Fuzion ZRi came in the right size, and it turns out that the company has links to Bridgestone and indeed seems to incorporate past Bridgestone technology in its tires. Tire Rack seemed to evaluate this Z-rated summer performance tire very favorably. The trouble was, the only examples we could find being marketed on the Internet seemed to be leftovers in faraway Florida tire emporiums.
Then by a fluke we tried Automotion, a long-time specialist in Porsche parts and accessories with a large presence in Porsche specialist magazines. It has a nice thick catalog that you can download (Automotion will even mail it to you for free), and a few seconds work with the Web site located the set of Fuzion ZRis we needed and a $588.41 click of the mouse dispatched them to us by UPS. Of course, we're a little afraid to read the sidewall code and find out exactly when the tires were manufactured, but among our options in the round and black department, we feel good about our purchase. The truth is, the Dunlop SP Sport D40 tires that we recall as original fitment for the 1986 Porsche 911 Turbo in the U.S. might have been great at the time, but perhaps not so high-tech in retrospect.
There are two lessons here. First, it will be a long time before you discover that parts for an old Porsche 911 are unavailable (New Old Stock, reproductions and junkyard pieces fill the gap), but tires might be another matter, because technology has changed so rapidly over the last 40 years (heck, the last 10 years). There are tire companies that specialize in tires of the distant past, but fitments for the Porsche 911 are not yet on their radar.
The second lesson is, the Porsche aftermarket is vast and healthy. In the old days, you had to find parts with late night phone calls to strangers in foreign lands, but now companies like Automotion make it as easy to own an old Porsche as it is to own an old Chevy.
Of course, sometimes you will have to settle for round and black.
Michael Jordan, Executive Editor, Edmunds.com
1985 Porsche 911: And Another Thing
December 12, 2011
I realized this weekend that the 911's rear tires are done. It's possible I realized this because I actually tried to drive the car like a Porsche should be driven. That was a regretable mistake.
But not as regretable as trying to drive it to work this morning in the rain. The evil machine tried to kill me no fewer than three times. The problem was particularly bad when immersed in the jetwash of a tractor trailer which would occassionaly obscure the road surface.
Time for new rubber. Or to dump the 911.
1985 Porsche 911: Two Days With the Plague
November 30, 2011
The sign-out board came around to me the other day with some interesting cars still available, including the Mustang and the NSX. But I took the 911. I haven't yet driven our NSX, and this was the first time it was available to me. And I'm dying to drive it. I had a week with a Rio Yellow NSX several years ago, and it was pretty memorable. The sound and feel of that V6 pushing almost nothing but subframe was pretty addicting.
But I still took the 911.
It had been awhile. And the Porsche is not the go-to car for the Orange County commuters here at the office. Truth is, Josh Jacquot and I (just two of the OC crew here) are big sissies. We tend to look for the most comfortable, drama-free conveyance to carry us back behind the Curtain after a day at the office. That's not the 911.
A ride home in the 911 is a loud, clanging, and jarring trip. With its 8 billion spot welds by obsessive, chain-smoking German linemen, the 911 just rattles and vibrates for fifty long, often-neglected highway miles. You feel EVERY Botts dot of every lane change. The radio is useless, though no fault of its own. It just doesn't have a chance against the road, wind and engine noise.
But, still the 911 has mojo. I can't explain why I felt compelled to take it for two consecutive nights and mornings for what basically amount to simple, boring straightline runs to home and back. There's simply something about the car. It has nothing to do with cachet. Sure, it's a Porsche. But it's an old Porsche. It means nothing to people who trade in the superficial currency of Los Angeles and Orange County.
A 1985 Porsche is not getting you in the door of any clubs, nor getting you a number from the brunette who just stepped out of her 3 Series at Starbucks (although it may spark a conversation with your attractive Turkish neighbor just stepping out of her Rabbit. Maybe).
No, our old Porsche's real value lies in the sensations it conjures. The sound of that flat-six. The effortless upwelling of torque that you hardly notice when shaking Racer Civic Guy off your rear bumper. Or how you just laugh to yourself when the guy in the 5.0 pulls up alongside - the guy whose license plate actually reads "5OHHHHH" with Vortech logos emblazoned along both rear quarters - downshifts, and pops his blow-off valve.
Driving this old Porsche is simply a feeling that doesn't get old. It's plenty of work, and most of the time, we don't want our driving to be work. But now and then, it's good to have that taste. Excuse me, now. Time to find something in the garage with leather, Bluetooth streaming, and dual-zone climate control.
Dan Frio, Automotive Editor
1985 Porsche 911: Born To Run
November 30, 2011
Usually when I get to drive a car, it's in the dead of traffic hour. That traffic hour is like a dog year here in LA since there is traffic nearly all the time. It's a shame to drive a lovely car such as the 911 four feet at a time. But one day last week I was able to sneak out of the office for an extended lunch.
First gear, I think I've finally gotten used to this clutch as I seamlessly get the car rolling. Second gear, the growl from the back is getting louder as I straighten out my turn onto the freeway on ramp. Third gear, slight pause in revs as I carefully place the stick into the vague area where third gear lives. Our 911 is starting to make some noise as I run down the ramp. I hold it a little high as I look for a spot in the freeway traffic to slide into. Fourth gear, I bring it home with strong acceleration and that raspy engine is singing away as I fly by the weary cars around me.
Windows are down in the the unseasonably warm weather we are experiencing here in SoCal, I'm listening to that engine roar while the wind in my bum-like shaggy hair reminded me I badly need a haircut. Not a lot of traffic. Away from the office. Things are good.
Wham! Suddenly the hard suspension and lack of sound deadening rattle me out of my day dream. You can feel every crack and hear every gap with our 911. Sometimes it's a rattle in the steering wheel, sometimes its a kick to the naughty bits. Wham! Wham! Even the gaps in the pavement sections can be loud in our Porsche.
The ride can be punishing, but usually it just makes you keenly aware of the road surface at all times. Anyone used to a luxo-boat GM float or Lexus soft ride would hate our "classic" 911. In a strange way, the harsh ride is another reason why I like it so much. No, I'm not a glutton for punishment. But when some of those shocks to the car would freak people out, it makes me smile.
It's hard for me to explain in clear terms why I like the stiff suspension in our 911 because this is a gut level attachment. When driving down roads I don't seek harsh surfaces, but being aware of the road in effect is a game to me. I become a focused driver, I feel more connected to the car. Almost sounds like borderline love, doesn't it?
Scott Jacobs, Sr. Mgr, Photography
1985 Porsche 911: The Middle Pedal
November 22, 2011
Dear inattentive space-case driver this morning,
Thanks for giving me a blog post subject. The way you ran that stop sign as I was rolling down Santa Monica truly shows that you don't believe everything you read. "Stop," is obviously just a suggestion and you being late for a latte or mani/pedi is most certainly more important that the safety of your fellow motorists.
OK, that's off my chest now. On to the post...
In a rare occurrence, traffic subsided for a few blocks this morning and I actually got up to 40 mph. Then a white BMW 3 Series didn't even bother slowing for a stop sign, with the driver barely looking to see if there was cross traffic. This was close, far too close for comfort.
I jumped on the Porsche's brakes. In racing, we call it a 10 pedal (maximum pressure). The tires locked-up (no ABS on this car), and the rear end started rotating slightly to the left. In what seemed like a lifetime, I eased off the pedal (maybe an 8 pedal) to regain some traction and fed in a little counter steering. The howl from the tires subsided and I straightened out the car.
The BMW shot across all west-bound lanes to turn left. I didn't get a chance to "congratulate" the driver for their cavalier attitude and let them know with one hand that they're "number one."
But this made me realize how good the brakes are in our Porsche 911. It's got a stiff pedal with only about an inch of travel before you get the pads on the rotors and maybe another 2 inches to go from a 1 pedal to 10. You'd think that they'd be grabby and hard to modulate, but no, they're damned near perfect in my book. On top of that, the pedal seems well set up for heel-toe downshifts, bringing the brake pedal's plane just in line to blip the throttle.
Sure, ABS might have done the job more effectively, but training obviously had a more profound effect.
Mark Takahashi, Automotive Editor
1985 Porsche 911: Tires Look Beat
November 22, 2011
Last night I drove our 1985 Porsche 911 in the rain. After that near death experience I checked the rear tires and sure enough they are ready for replacement. Not surprising, they're the same old Bridgestone S0-3s that were on the car when we bought it. Bridgestone doesn't even make the S0-3 anymore.
So what tires should we buy? What tires should the Black Plague roll on? Honestly, I'm thinking about mounting a set of Blizzaks and driving it to the Detroit Auto Show and back. But...
Scott Oldham, Editor in Chief
1985 Porsche 911 Carrera: Driving the Dream
November 16, 2011
My DSM psychology reference states that we begin retaining memories at age 3. Some of them I'd rather forget, but I can still recall images as a kid in kindergarten when I'd walk past my neighbor's 1980s Porsche 911 on my way home from school.
It was brown (like so many things of the 1980s) and I was intrigued by its sloping silhouette, shapely fenders and big whale-tail spoiler. It was unique. I would stare at it, absorbing every detail for as long as possible and turning back to get one last glimpse even as my mom took me away by the hand.
I didn't know it then, but I was hooked.
A quarter of a century later, I'm driving IL's 1985 Porsche 911 Carrera, my first-ever drive of a 911. In a time when modern cars practically drive themselves and pamper their occupants with amenities not found even in five-star hotels, the old bare-bones 911 really puts the focus back into driving. It feels nothing like driving a modern car.
It has been worth waiting for.
Twist the ignition key on the left and the air-cooled flat-six grumbles to life with an unmistakable chatter that sounds positively crude by today's standards. Awkwardly contort your feet to depress the floor-mounted pedals and row the shifter into gear, that is if you can find one in the corn-maze of a shift pattern. Muscle the steering wheel with both hands since there's no power assist. If you're lucky and can accomplish all these tasks successfully, the car just might move forward.
My first few moments with the Porsche are daunting, as I'm trying not to stall the car for fear of looking like an idiot and also trying not to crash it for fear of actually being one. However, as the miles accumulated, the car and I become more synchronized. While modern cars predict, adjust and even ignore the driver's inputs (taking the fun away in the process), the old Porsche does the exact reverse. It is the driver who needs to be keen and respond in unison with the car.
Doing so brings a sense of reward and satisfaction, as I find while twisting the car right and left over the top of the Palos Verdes Peninsula. An engine that seemed raucous at idle finds a kind of mechanical melody as the revs build, so there's no need for a fancy surround-sound stereo here. The manual steering provides undiluted feel of the road and delivers undiluted response from the front tires. Once you're familiar with the location of the shift gates, changing gears is fun, not fearful.
I was first attracted to the Porsche 911 because it looked like nothing else. But after finally driving one for just a few minutes, I'm attracted to it because it feels like nothing else. It's like reliving some powerful memory that's been with you all your life.
It's a dream to drive.
Stephen Lee, Editor, Vehicle Data, Edmunds.com
1985 Porsche 911: Trustworthy
October 31, 2011
Here's the thing I like most about our 911: I feel like I can trust it. By this, I mean I have faith that, when I get in it, it will start, and I will get to where I'm going. Every time. This car won't let me down.
Admittedly, my faith could be misguided. Our 911 is old. It's been salvaged. It's got 122,000 miles on it. And since we bought it back in April, we've been driving it pretty much every day in LA traffic. We have not been kind. In contrast, I reckon by now pretty much every other similar-aged 911 is in retirement, sitting comfortably in their epoxy-floored garages and sipping Eagle One mai-tais.
I should probably knock on some wood. We've still got six months to go for an epic failure. But so far I just don't feel the need. The 911 has reassured me with its steadfastness.
Our 1984 Ferrari 308 wasn't like this. You never knew what you were going to get from the 308 when you'd go out to the garage. Did it "overheat" by sitting overnight and pee coolant on the floor? Will something stop working or fall off while I'm driving it? Do I have my AAA card with me?
I suppose that's the difference between the two cars. The Ferrari was an Italian "exotic," with all the stereotypes (positives and negatives) to go along with that. Our 911 is the "everyday" German sports car.
I much prefer everyday.
Brent Romans, Senior Automotive Editor @ 122,293 miles
1985 Porsche 911: My Dad Would Have Loved It
October 27, 2011
I've started a two-week rotation with our 911. It began a couple days ago with a long highway drive. I found myself having a lot of opportunity to think during the drive as, well, there's just not much else to do. The 911 is too loud at speed to easily talk on a cell phone. The radio is outmatched. There's no nav or fancy-pants display. So, in a very un-modern way, it's just you, the car, and your thoughts. For me, this meant it wasn't long before I was thinking of my dad.
Back in the late 1980s, my dad was seriously considering buying a used 911. He was looking at a 1978 or '79 SC, meaning the same basic car as ours, just not quite as powerful (and without the Turbo look). Alas, my dad wasn't impulsive when it came to buying cars, and the 911 search was even worse. He researched. He bought stacks of 911 books. We went to car shows. Car buying was drawn out to, at times, excruciating duration.
In the end, the 911 search was never more than that. He never got one. To be honest, I don't really remember the exact reasons why. I suspect that my dad just saw the 911 as too much of an extravagance. We lived in Denver, and he didn't want the 911 to be beat up in the winters as a daily driver. There were bills to pay as my sister as I were approaching college. Also, with a two-car garage, he didn't have the room to store it as a third car.
Ironically, he could have justified getting one a decade later. We were done with school and he was retired. But by then he couldn't really drive one. He had been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease in the early 1980s. By the late 90s, the physical degradation had taken its toll. It was to a point where he couldn't really drive a manual transmission car anymore.
My dad passed away in 2004. Yet I think he would have dug our 911. I'd like to think that, were it not for Parkinson's, he'd probably still own one. No doubt it'd be in nicer shape than ours. I can picture myself calling him up and talking 911s.
I've lived life enough to know that our 911 is, at the end of the day, just a car. There are more important things to cherish (or worry about). But at the same time, you're only on the planet once. Sometimes, you have to allow yourself to live your dreams a little. Every time I twist the key of our 911, a part of me is doing it for my dad.
Brent Romans, Senior Automotive Editor
1985 Porsche 911: Langstrecken
October 19, 2011
I'm going to start out my 911 Rennsport road trip chronicle backwards, with my fuel economy. Porsche pegs the capacity of the fuel tank at 22.4 gallons. Even with the dent in our tank, which might knock that number down by .2 gallons, that's bound to give our Porsche a mighty cruising range. Just how mighty I found out on my return trip Sunday night.
I did that on 21.637 gallons which gives puts my fuel economy just above 23 miles to the gallon. That's not bad when you consider the first 80 of those miles were done in the city and the rest were at Autobahn-esque cruising speeds. To the list of fluids used, add two quarts of oil, which I added at a 76 station on Friday night.
On a related note, filing up a car as small as our 911 with over 21 gallons of gasoline made me start to wonder if it was just pouring out of a hole on the tank as quickly as I could pump more in.
Click through for some high-res pictures from the event.
Kurt Niebuhr, Photo Editor @ 121,832 miles
1985 Porsche 911: Ghost in the Machine
October 19, 2011
(Yes, I prefer the whale-tail-less look on our wide-hipped longterm 1985 Porsche 911. Makes the hips more hippy.)
This is a car with a ton of charm, both good and bad, and it's definitely not for everyone. Nearly all of its secondary controls like mirror adjustments, cruise control, sunroof were apparently installed via the barrel of a shotgun, the gearchange is a low-and-forward deal (the gearchange quality you know all about by now), the heater controls are inscrutable and produce more noise than heated air.
But the closely-situated front seats fit fantastically well and the view out the upright windshield is unmatched by any modern car. And I just cannot get enough of that flat-six bark.
For a car that is so unapologetically mechanical, it's not cold. It's quite the opposite -- there is joy lurking in the facets of its operation, all the way down to the clack of the door latch. It requires you pay attention when you drive it. The steering demands both hands, the gearchange wants finesse. I'm not totally won over by its suspension in its current state of "tune," but nor is it offensive.
The potential's there, and every time I drive this car the mental gears start turning. Probably wouldn't put a brace of paired megaphones on a 911 of my own like the little guy pictured above, but would sample selectively from the Singer playbook. I guess I'm more R-Gruppe than concours. You?
--Jason Kavanagh, Engineering Editor
Porsche 911: Porsche Rennsport Reunion IV
October 07, 2011
Packing the car. Already got it pointed north.
Next weekend we're headed for Porsche Rennsport Reunion IV, the amazing gathering of Porsche racing cars and Porsche drivers. It's visiting the West Coast for the first time, October 14 16 at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.
The Black Plague will be there in the dirt parking lot under the low coastal oaks behind the media center. It'll be filthy, covered with dust and dead insects, and the interior will be choked with fast-food wrappers. At the end of three days, we'll wonder why we brought it.
But what would we think of ourselves if instead we showed up at the largest confabulation of Porsche guys in the western hemisphere in some kind of car that looked like a little red shopping cart from Target?
It doesn't matter what kind of car you drive or where you live, there is always some event nearby to which you absolutely must go. It's not so much to see what happens but instead to simply reaffirm that you are what you drive.
There might as well be a secret handshake involved.
Rennsport Reunion IV is the latest in events staged by Porsche Cars North America to bring together Porsche enthusiasts with the motorsports tradition that defines the company, even now more than 60 years removed from the sawmill in Gmund, Austria. But instead of simply publishing posters to celebrate race victories and putting them up in car dealerships as the company once did in the days before it could afford advertising it is bringing the hardware to Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey, California.
We'll see Moby Dick, the ultimate Porsche 935. We'll see the Porsche 911 GT-1 98LM, the ultimate expression of the 911. We'll see the all-new 2012 Porsche 911. We'll see the Porsche 918 Spyder Hybrid. And on the track there will be three days of Porsches roaring around, famous cars from the 1950s to the 1990s. Imagine the sights! The sounds! The spilled oil!
Part of the deal is a German-style biergarten in the center of the paddock where you can see a display of the most significant Porsche 911s, rub up against some of the 50 famous Porsche drivers assembled for the occasion, and even watch Le Mans on Saturday night. You can find out all about it at the Web site for Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.
To get there and back in our thoroughly un-air-conditioned 1985 Porsche 911 Carrera M491 plus see everything there is to see and do everything there is to do will surely be a test of endurance that will leave us dirty, worn-out, short-tempered and broke.
What Porsche guy could possible resist?
Michael Jordan, Executive Editor, Edmunds.com
1985 Porsche 911 Carrera: Find Your Private Road
September 22, 2011
Really, you need a private road. You don't have to own it, but you have to be able to go there. Otherwise you might never get the whole idea of a sports car.
Sadly my private road is 300 miles away. Fortunately things have always taken me to Monterey for one reason or other since the days when the Inn at Spanish Bay was just an abandoned sand pit beside 17 Mile Drive. So when my third trip up there this summer lined up, I got the keys to the Porsche 911.
Then I made my way to Carmel Valley Road.
If you're going the quick way to Monterey from Los Angeles, you pretty much take the same route that actor James Dean did in 1955, when he decided to break-in his new Porsche 550 Spyder on the road while headed to the sports car races in Salinas. You just head up the Central Valley, then turn left on CA Highway 46.
You can even find yourself at Blackwell's Corner, the very spot where Dean made his last stop before he crashed at an intersection just on the far side of the hills to the west. A brand-new gas station/market/restaurant has been built and there are large figures of James Dean painted by artist John Cerney to mark the spot.
Once you make it to Paso Robles, now more noted for wineries than cattle, you head north on U.S. 101 toward Monterey. If you're just going right to Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, you keep going until you hit CA Hwy 68 in Salinas and then go left. But if you're looking for a 45-mile reward for 300 miles of transportation hell, you turn off long before this at Greenfield. Take the exit for El Camino Real and head west on Elm Avenue/County Road 16. It takes you west through vineyards, although these were sugar beets a hundred years ago when writer John Steinbeck worked in the fields.
A one-lane bridge takes you across the Arroyo Seco River and you bear west on Arroyo Seco Road/County Road 16. There are more cattle ranches turned into vineyards until you bear right onto County Road 16, which shortly becomes Carmel Valley Road.
This is really just a narrow ranch road flanked by hills covered in grass and coastal oaks. The locals use it to go to and from Monterey, so it's best to be careful morning and evenings.
A Porsche 911 is about as much car as you can handle back here, and you need to have good hand discipline on the steering wheel even then (about which, more another time). There are plenty of crashes here on the weekends, and I once came around a corner to find a Mustang upside down on its roof next to the road, the engine stone cold, no one around and the birds twittering in the stillness.
Theres hardly a straightaway in 30 miles, so the 911 gives you a serious workout. The tires skip across the neglected pavement and the car shivers so loudly across the cattle guards that you're sure a weld will split. Since the engine revs so freely, the car will do most of the road in third gear, but there are some tight corners down along the creek where the lichen hangs from the overhanging oaks and you'll be in second. It's not a road that's fast, particularly long, or even scenic in a conventionl sense, but I've been coming here for a long time with a lot of different cars and motorcycles.
Finally you break out into Carmel Valley, which is far enough inland from Carmel to cut down on the riff-raff but still close enough to offer some trick places to eat or stay. To get to Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, you go over the ridge at Laureles Grade. Predictably enough, we found plenty of like-minded guys at the track in parking set aside for Porsches, where Porsche Cars North America had set up Porscheplatz, a tent with a big screen television tuned to the race broadcast.
PCNA hosted us at Bernardus Lodge, pretty much the nicest place to be in all of Monterey, and we discovered evdience of some like-minded enthusiasts in the parking lot as you can see. The valet guys were pretty taken with the Black Plague, maybe because Bernardus is owned by Ben (Bernardus) Pon, Jr., the son of the Dutchman who was instrumental in bringing the Volkswagen Beetle to America.
Pon Jr. was quite successful as a Porsche racer in the 1960s , and he recorded top finishes in his Porsche 904 GTS. You can see pictures from his racing career in Wickets, one of the restaurants at Bernardus. The locals say that if you meet a Porsche Panamera on Carmel Valley Road that seems in a particular hurry, it's probably Ben Pon, who thinks of the road at his doorstep as his own private Targa Florio.
Not everybody has Carmel Valley Road at the doorstep, of course. But that's exactly the point. When you're driving the right car, some roads are worth the trouble to find. Just one drive on the right road in the right car can make a whole year of pock-marked city streets, commute hours without air-conditioning and expensive counseling sessions with your Porsche guy totally worth the trouble. It helps you remember who you are, why you like to drive, and the kind of car that makes it possible.
If a drive like this doesn't do it for you, then maybe you should get something practical to drive. Probably you can find your own way when you drive to the grocery store.
Michael Jordan, Executive Editor, Edmunds.com @ 120,086 miles
1985 Porsche 911: We've Driven it 5,000 Miles
September 09, 2011
Yesterday our very black 1985 Porsche 911 covered its 119,000th mile. Why is this significant? Well, when we bought it the 911's odometer read 113,897, so we've driven the now-winged wonder about 5,000 miles. Probably more considering the speedometer didn't work the first few months we had the car.
So far we've spent about $3,000 on repairs, some of which were no doubt voluntary.
For reference we drove our Click here for the Ferrari's wrap-up.
Scott Oldham, Editor in Chief @ 119,032 miles
1985 Porsche 911: Restless
August 31, 2011
School is back in session, and that means traffic is back as well. I wish that revelation had occurred to me when I signed out the Porsche last night. Stop-and-go, stop-and-go, stop-and-go. Between the sticky clutch and my desire to get the 911 up to full gallop, the commute was maddening. It was like trying to ride a racehorse in my living room. I suppose from now on the 911 will be my weekend entertainment whenever it becomes available. At least for a few more weeks, at which time I hope some students will start dropping their classes.
Oh, and that's Michael Jordan's sweet 911 next to the object of my affection.
Mark Takahashi, Automotive Editor
1985 Porsche 911: Feels Good at Speed
August 30, 2011
This is as fast as I've driven our 1985 Porsche 911. Now I know the speedometer is reading 105 mph or so. But the car and I are not going that fast. The 911's speedo is about 10% optimistic, so this is probably 90-95 mph.
And of course it is on a closed course.
But the real news is on the larger gauge to the left. Look at the Porsche's rev counter. It's approaching 4,500 rpm and I haven't even reached the ton yet. Yes, I'm in 5th gear.
Back in the day Porsche said this car could do 127 mph, which seems about right with the amount of revs left before redline.
The good news is the 911's behavior. At this speed it felt great. Very steady. No drama.
Scott Oldham, Editor in Chief
1985 Porsche 911: It Takes Time
August 29, 2011
Seasoned cars like our longterm 1985 Porsche 911 require you to soak 'em in. You can't just climb in and instantly "get" them. Certainly 911s have a character unlike any other car, and it takes seat time to sort out which aspects are inherent and which are byproducts of age. At least that's the excuse I give when I want to pry the keys out of Takahashi's paw.
First, this is a car you drive. Niebuhr did a terrific job earlier capturing many of its charms -- highly recommended reading.
That horrendous 915 shifter you heard so much about is much better now than when we first bought it. Jordan tells me it's had some adjustment along the way, and no longer is the gate for fifth gear in the next time zone, and nor does it tag reverse on 5-4 downshifts.
Still, most of the time, using the shifter is like guiding a broomstick through a bucket of superballs. But not every time. On rare instances the lever slots into the second gear gate like it was fired from a pistol. Go figure. By all accounts this car's shifter is as good as they get, so I'm calling this one "inherent."
Starts up without a hitch, every time. Robust power. Feels like a well-built machine in ways our erstwhile Ferrari 308 of similar vintage did not. "Inherent."
The clutch pedal takeup is always sticky, and it makes for juddery, sometimes awkward step-offs from a standstill. It's got a cable-type clutch, and probably a bit of grease at the pivot points or a new cable would lick this minor quirk. Put this one in the "age" category.
As cool as this car looks with its lowered ride height and wheels at the hulkamania stance, it makes for a couple of dynamic side effects. One, say hello to the bump stops -- the ride's busy over bumps. Two, bump steer. Three, understeer and steering that's heavier than necessary. These traits fall into the "suffering from owner improvements" box. It does look impossibly cool, though.
Were this my car, I'd re-think the suspension. Either raise the ride height some and consider different wheel offsets and/or reduce the stagger (sorry, Oldham), or go whole-hog and try to make it work at the lowered ride height using shortened damper bodies, bump steer kit, the works. But then, I'd probably buy a different 911 than this one, as I'm more into the earlier long-hood / narrow body style, and the later 993s.
Of course, when it comes to project cars, I'm sort of a glutton for punishment. Which 911 would you go for, and what tweaks would you do to it?
Jason Kavanagh, Engineering Editor
1985 Porsche 911: To Pebble Beach and Back Part 4
August 26, 2011
The drive home Monday was just as sweet. The 911 ran wonderfully and put a smile on my face through the twistier bits of Highway 1.
But the best part of driving home from the big Monterey weekend is the scenery, both natural and man made.
We came up on this Lamborghini Miura S just south of Big Sur and followed it down PCH for more than an hour. My wife was complaining about the fumes. I was loving the sounds.
One of the most beautiful things to see along the way are the historic bridges that pepper Highway 1 between San Louis Obispo and Big Sur.
San Simeon, CA. We're just south of Hearst Castle. PCH is heavenly through this stretch.
We also ran with this Turbo BMW 2002 for while around Santa Barbara, but the guy was on it and left us in the dust. Other cars we spotted on the drive home are a Jag E-Type Roadster, a Porsche 930 Turbo, a new Ferrari California and a Maserati Ghibli.
This place is right on the coast in Cayucos, CA. It doesn't seem like it's being used. It would make an epic hot rod shop.
Scott Oldham, Editor in Chief
1985 Porsche 911: Not Very Forgiving
August 25, 2011
Sorry to interrupt the latest report from Pebble Beach, but I have some breaking news: our Porsche 911 rides like crap.
Ok, maybe that's a little harsh, but so is the ride. Look at those tires, though, do they look very forgiving to you? They barely have anywhere to go.
As magical as this car is on the road, modern 911s feel like Town Cars in comparison. Ours crashes and bangs over cracks in the road like the tires are aired up to 89 psi. That said, I still love driving the thing. Maybe not all the way to Monterey though.
Ed Hellwig, Editor
1985 Porsche 911: Evolution of the 911 Driving Experience
August 23, 2011
With the release of the all new 911 this morning, we're taking this opportunity to post a quick video Porsche made about driving three generations of Porsche 911. They round up an '86, a '94 and a 2009 to flog on the track. "With all the weight hanging over the back bumper, if we snap off the throttle the car will very quickly swap ends." the driver says of the 86.
Look like fun? Absolutely. Which is why Porsche made it. Beyond a simple video to show that they still care about classic Porsche guys, this is a nice little ad for the Porsche 911 Evolution Driving Experience. A 90-minute, 325 GBP (it's offered by Porsche UK) track activity with 30 minutes of driving time in all three (combined).
1985 Porsche 911 Carrera: The 700-hp Option
August 17, 2011
"If you really want to make your Porsche go, this is the engine you want to put in it."
Anyway that's what Frank Honsowetz, the General Manager of Ed Pink Racing Engines, is telling me. His shop is prepping this twin-turbo 3.2-liter Porsche flat-six for a Porsche 935 that's going to be racing at the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca this weekend. The engine is making more than 700 hp at 7,500 rpm, but you can still see the fundamental design it shares with the engine in our Porsche 911.
Ed Pink Racing Engines expanded its expertise from drag racing and Indy car engines to Porsche in the late 1970s, when ex-drag racer Jim Busby brought in his IMSA-spec Porsche 935 to his friend Ed Pink. This engine for Monterey has all the good stuff EPRE developed then, plus the best of lightweight modern connecting rods, pistons and valve gear. Also the engine has been set up with a taller compression ratio and less boost, so throttle response is better and the power doesn't arrive all at once.
You'll recognize the air-to-water intercooler, the cast-magnesium intake plenum, water-cooled Garrett turbochargers, and cooling fan, but Honsowetz notes that the really interesting thing about the engine is the core, which is essentially unchanged from the original 911 engine. The engine block itself is very rigid, with a ribbed crankcase and lots of bearings for the crankshaft. And the camshaft carrier is equally rigid. Meanwhile, the cylinder barrels and cylinder head are just clamped into place by these two structural elements and sort of float around in between. (No wonder the oil keeps trying to leak out.)
It's a really nice engine, Honsowetz says, but there sure are a lot of pieces. No wonder you can go through some money when you're working on one.
Michael Jordan, Executive Editor, Edmunds.com
1985 Porsche 911: Misspent Youth
August 16, 2011
When this car was new, I was a junior in high school who was enjoying the new found freedom that came with a drivers license. The 1982 Corolla I was driving was a far cry from the vehicles I was coveting: an Alfa Romeo Spyder, a Porsche 914/6, a Honda 500 Interceptor and a 1957 Thunderbird. For some reason, though, the Porsche 911 never really made it onto my list.
Now, as I wind-out our long-termer in the canyons, I think of the 911 as that slightly homely girl in my English class that blossomed into a stunning beauty
Riswick texted me Friday night, asking me what I had planned to do with the Porsche that weekend. It's no secret that I usually head into the hills whenever I have the 911. I'm usually out on the road pretty early, though, which generally deters others from joining me. To my surprise, Jimbo and his BMW Z3 2.8 were in, and the 1980s vs. '90s Tour de Malibu was on.
I know these roads better than most, since I spent a LOT of time on them on both two and four wheels (three wheels, if I'm REALLY on it), so I took the lead. As I pondered what I might blog about, besides the headlight swap, it struck me. A-pillars. They're so thin and placed closer to my periphery. It makes it incredibly easy to look through the turns without bobbing my head back and forth. I hate thick A-pillars, and our long-term Camaro was one of the worst offenders.
The drive, at least for me, was wonderful. That air-cooled flutter that gives way to a roar has yet to get old. The grip and progressive nature at the limit will never get old. And through the 70-mile loop, James and his ZedThree were pretty close to matching my pace. I now hand the keyboard over to the Distinguished gentleman from Canada.
A truly spirited drive is dominated as much by the sounds as it is the communication you receive through your hands and the seat of your pants. This especially rings true when I have the top folded back, the tonneau cover in place and very little shielding me from that wonderful growl that emanates from a BMW straight-6 exhaust. And as much as I enjoyed that growl throughout the drive, it was frankly rather hard to hear the closer I was to the 911. That car is LOUD. As we ran side-by-side at full throttle on one particular four-lane road, all I could hear was the 911 blaring away. It's loud, but it sounds wonderful.
As we hit the curvier bits in the hills, the 911 started to grow quiet as it pulled away. Part of that is Mark knowing the roads better, the other is the result of the next noise that began filling my ears: squealing tires. The Z3 already likes to spin its tires freely, but with new pavement down and a thin spackle of moring dew, every turn sounded like I was being pursued by a band of angry Comanches. See, my Z3 wears Michelin Pilot Sports with plenty of tread remaining, but they were installed by the car's previous owner. As I bought the car in the fall of 2007, that makes them quite old and hard.
Things got better, grippier and quieter as the pavement switched to older asphalt and I was able to catch back up with Mark. Indeed, this was the first time I've REALLY stretched the Z3's legs since I bought it and it certainly didn't disappoint. Besides its tires, there is something to be said of its simplicity that is most definitely missing from the current crop of BMWs. Hydraulic steering, a real throttle cable, super-low belt line, no iDrive and no adjustable settings. Of course, its '80s-era suspension and Jell-O structural integrity make mid-corner bumps a rather interesting adventure (there's a reason the M Coupe is so much better), and its seats are surprisingly flat for a roadster, and a BMW one at that.
Yet, none of that sours my affection for a car that started when I was a teenager -- albeit a decade later than Mark. There was certainly no homely girl transformation for me. After Pierce Brosnan drove one in GoldenEye, I desperately wanted a BMW Z3 in Atlanta Blue. Well, I have one now and I couldn't be happier. Tell me Mark, when are we doing this again?
Mark Takahashi and James Riswick, Automotive Editors @ 117,780 and 42,142 miles, respectively.
1985 Porsche 911 Carrera: Clutch Player #2
August 11, 2011
The clutch! The clutch! There was panic on the floor of Edmunds.com's world headquarters as the rumor of clutch problems with the Black Plague 911 swept through the editorial staff.
To own a Porsche 911 is to live in fear of fear of the clutch. This is an old-fashioned cable-actuated clutch, not one of those wimpy hydraulically actuated items. The effort level isn't exactly like an old school bus, but everyone still worries whether they have to right kind of stuff to muscle the heavy action during commute hour. And apparently it's not a skill that comes to everyone, as conventional wisdom has it that some time soon (sooner than you think) you're going to have to yank out the engine and replace the clutch.
So you can imagine the panic when news went out that the voodoo god which lives in every Porsche 911's clutch seemed to be unhappy. What should we do, sacrifice a goat?
Turns out Mark Takahashi twice had experienced a pretty fraught commute with erratic action in the clutch pedal, as if the clutch itself might be slipping and then abruptly engaging. We sent out Scott Oldham to check out the problem, but he came back reporting no problem found (NPF). Of course, if the engine runs, Oldham usually figures that he's way ahead of the game. (Did we mention he's from New Jersey?) Then I took out the car and came back convinced that it was just some static friction (stiction) in the action of the clutch pedal itself, really only slightly different from what the clutch action has been all along.
So we took it along to our Porsche guy, Lee Rice of Rice's Performance Porsches, to see what he thought. He drove the car hard enough to decide that the clutch itself was in good shape. (It's a lightweight clutch, he reckons, which accounts for the willingness of the Black Plague's engine to spool up so quickly.)
Back at his shop, he dove into the footwell and pulled out the crappy floor mat and the wooden floorboard (yes, actual wood in a Porsche!) to reveal the clutch assembly. Just getting at the pedal and moving it by hand confirmed that indeed there was some erratic friction in the pedal assembly.
Like every Turbo chassis, our M491 Turbo Look car has a little helper spring on the clutch pedal assembly to reduce the effort of the pedal action, and this is the source of the spring noise that a couple people had reported. But the culprit in our stiction issue proved to be the plastic bushing at the pivot point of the clutch pedal. Worn by time, it was binding up. Rice had seen this sort of thing before (he's seen everything before), and he tried to flush out the grit in the pivot with some silicon lubricant but couldn't improve things very much.
If this car were driven by just one person, we'd probably leave the bushing as is, since you can adapt to the pedal action. But since so many different people are driving this car -- and so many are intimidated by the idea of a Porsche 911 clutch in the first place -- we're going to ask Rice to replace it. The plastic bushing itself is cheap (some people replace it with a metal bushing, although this might make the pedal action heavier than it should be), but you have to pull out the pedal assembly to get at it, so a couple hours of labor are required, plus fiddling with the clutch cable to reset the clutch engagement point.
Ah well, at least we won't have to sacrifice a goat.
Michael Jordan, Executive Editor, Edmunds.com @ 117,400 miles
1985 Porsche 911: Something in Common
August 02, 2011
What you see here are two of my favorite things. And they both have something in common.
That's my 2002 Harley-Davidson Vrod in front of our long-term Porsche 911. The funny thing is, I didn't make an obvious connection until this morning. As you probably know, our Porsche is air-cooled. It wasn't until 1998 that Porsche switched to water-cooled engines.
Harleys have been air cooled, too, but the Vrod marks the first time the company produced a water-cooled model. Rather than feel their way blindly through uncharted territory, Harley enlisted the help of a company that had some experience switching over from air- to water-cooled. Yup, that's right, Porsche.
The Vrod's Revolution engine was developed for superbike racing with the help of Roush Racing, but the VR1000 racebike never attained the type of success that the company had hoped for. The race program was scrapped, but what to do with all of the engine technology that resulted from this endeavor? After all, this was a 60-degree V-twin with dual overhead cams -- a real departure for Harley.
Harley sent their Revolution race engines over to Porsche to make them streetable. Those engineers in Weissach, Germany tweaked and tuned for quite a while until they were satisfied. Countless torture tests later, the Revolution was finally ready for the Vrod.
All of this is spelled out quite well in a documentary called Harley Davidson: Birth of the V-Rod that was shown on some Discovery Network channels. Porsche and Harley-Davidson certainly sound like an odd pairing, but it resulted in one of my favorite bikes of all time.
Mark Takahashi, Automotive Editor
1985 Porsche 911: What's Missing?
June 24, 2011
I treated myself to a little more 911 love last night when I decided to sign it out. The roaring flutter of the engine has yet to get old for me, as does the graceful manner in which I can get that rear end to rotate past center. Unfortunately, I got stuck in some nasty traffic, but that gave me time to discover a few curiosities.
Really, it was more about what was missing. There are some suede-like plugs in the doors that cover up whatever should be in those spots. I'm assuming that's where a manual window crank would go.
But then there's a little riveted plate in the A-pillar. What the heck is that for?
Finally, there's this switch blank next to the ventilation controls. I'm sure the Porsche-philes out there know what it's for, and I encourage your input here.
What do you think should go in these spots? Or even better, what would you put there?
Mark Takahashi, Associate Editor
1985 Porsche 911: A Video Tribute
June 14, 2011
It's no secret that I'm infatuated with our long-term Porsche. What you might not know about is my affinity for certain movie clips that have to do with cars going fast. On my short list of favorites is Bourne Identity.
So, armed with a couple of GoPro cameras, I decided to put together my own little video.
My limited editing skills and the constraints put on me by iMovie didn't quite allow me to fully express my vision, but I'm pretty happy with the simple results. I edited this with the intention of having TV Song by Blue Man Group playing over this, but of course, I don't have the rights to that song. But that doesn't mean we can't still make this work.
Under the main video player is a smaller one that will play the song. If you start the song just at the seven-second mark (just when the screen goes black), it should be synched with the action. It helps if you hit play on both screens first to start buffering, then pause and rewind both. Also, if you know which road this is, please keep it to yourself. Let's keep this our little secret, mmmkay?
Enjoy, I know I did!
Mark Takahashi, Associate Editor
1985 Porsche 911: Driving The 911
June 03, 2011
I'm not Walter Rohrl and I did not drive on a closed course.
With those two bits of information out of the way, I'll fill you in on what I found out driving our M491 911. I'm not a professional; I'm just a photographer. I've never spent any time in an early 911, don't have preconceptions about Porsches, and never put much stock in the stupid stories that you hear about this car.
As fortune would have it, I had an assignment to photograph our black M491 with a bunch of other Porsches at a private car museum up in Thousand Oaks, so I found myself at the coast, staring up into the hills above Malibu.
I picked my road and set off.
Within five minutes I had to pull over and stop.
Now I normally sit much farther back in a car than the rest of the staff, but that's where I'm comfortable. In the Porsche, I was already sitting considerably closer than I do in any other car I've driven, and after just five minutes of driving, I just had to stop and move the seat forward one more notch. This put me nearly on top of the wheel and made me stop wondering why ex-rally driver Walter Rohrl (a former World Champion) always sits so close in a 911 - you just do.
For one, this 1985 car came long before Porsche put power steering in the 911. Also, the steering rack is fairly slow, so even moderate bends in the road require you to lock your arms over 180 degrees. It's more than just flexing your forearms; you need to put your shoulders and back into steering this car around a corner.
Lesson no. 1: Sit close to the steering wheel.
There's also a lot of kick-back through the steering wheel whenever you cross some kind of broken pavement in a corner. I mean, a lot. If you're the type of "person" that complains of torque steer in front-wheel-drive cars, you'll find that 911 steering kick-back is torque-steer's bitchy little sister.
It comes from the huge amount of castor (about 6.5 degrees, I hear) which gives the steering stability it takes to keep a back-motor car like this going straight down the highway. The price for that stability is lots of steering effort and lots of self-aligning torque from the front wheels ("kick-back"). So when a lightly weighted front wheel skips over a rock or a bump in the road, the steering wheel tries to comeback to center.
Lesson no. 2: You better be paying attention and you better have both hands on the wheel. (Is it any wonder there are no cupholders in this 911?)
The roads that crisscross the Santa Monica Mountains vary from good to poor, and most of them are really twisty. You learn real quick that the 911 won't save you if you screw up. Pile into a corner with too much speed and you'll feel the front wash out. A car with wide rear tires, a wider track at the rear than the front, and not much weight on the nose will do that.
But lifting the throttle a substantial amount won't just tuck the nose into the apex, it'll bring the tail around, too. It's called trailing throttle oversteer. It's not uncontrollable, but on roads like these, where there are no guardrails, this can be an expensive way to drive an older 911 like ours.
Lesson no. 3: It's best to drive this 911 like you're riding a sport bike. You'd rather go into a corner a little too slow than a little too fast.
You have to be on the money with this car. No sloppiness allowed. And it also like to brake or accelerate in a straight line; that's its happy place. Heavy trail-braking into a corner at high speed will yield the predictable tail-out drift into the body shop. Getting on the gas too soon coming out of a corner will also have a detrimental effect on your bank account because the already light front end goes lighter still, so you'll just wind up understeering into (you guessed it), the body shop.
Lesson no. 4: Don't get too clever.
This 205-hp motor isn't going to snap your head back, but the powerband is very broad and the power delivery is linear. I found that most of the corners could be strung together in second gear. Picking up third and then downshifting back into second was never an issue. It just requires the same deliberate, precise approach like everything else about this car.
Lesson no. 5: You either work with this car, or you don't work with it at all.
Any one of our long-term cars will take you through these roads above Malibu and get you where you need to go, but only the Porsche makes something of the trip. I'm not afraid to admit that after I made my loop to Thousand Oaks and back, I felt a little exhausted. It is a real physical challenge to drive this car, not to mention a challenge to do what's required to drive it well and a challenge to bring it back in one piece. Once I got back, it was kind of like that moment when you run the football into the end zone.
I almost spiked the car keys on the pavement.
Kurt Niebuhr, Photo Editor
1985 Porsche 911: It's a Classic, But Our 911 Doesn't Feel That Old
May 28, 2011
Firing up the 911 this morning, I was reminded that although it feels like a classic, our Porsche isn't really that old. It starts flawlessly thanks to its Motronic engine management system and runs strong right off idle. My personal classics are well-tuned machines, but they take a few turns to get going and a good 15 minutes of driving before they fully wake up.
The clutch in our 911 feels solid too. It engages right off the floor which take some getting used to, but the action is smooth and the engagement firm. You can't shift real fast anyway, so it rarely takes much effort to coordinate the two. My biggest problem is getting my feet in the right position as the steering wheel is a little low in my lap. Otherwise, I don't mind the upright driving position in this car.
Ed Hellwig, Editor
1985 Porsche 911 Carrera: Wide Track
May 27, 2011
So practically the first thing, Scott Oldham says, "Let's go wide."
It might be because he's one of those guys who used to smoke cigarettes in that part of the high-school parking lot where only the bad boys hung out. Or maybe it's because he's a Pontiac guy, and remembers the GM car division that Bunkie Knudsen saved in 1959 with Wide Track, the wider track dimension for the Pontiac chassis that helped win a NASCAR racing championship.
As much as it killed us all to admit it, Oldham was right. We had to go wide. And we got right on the Internet to H&R Springs, the default choice for wheel spacers.
We're all about the wide look with this M491 Turbo Look version of the 911, and that's why we're running it without the big tea tray wing in the back. Going wide is part of the Porsche thing, as the blistered fenders and wide rear tires introduced to the 911 in sports car racing during the 1970s changed the car's styling vocabulary. To see how important the wide look is to the 911, you have only to look at the way former Porsche design director Harm Lagaay went back to the wide-body look with the current 997-generation 911 after the narrow-look 996-generation car that preceded it failed to generate much styling excitement.
It was pretty clear to us that our 1985 M491's rear wheels and tires didn't fill up the wheel wells, and while we might have considered big wheels and tires, the big money involved seemed a little foolish in a car with some other needs. Wheel spacers were a more affordable alternative, and we knew that the M491 Turbo Look had wheel bearings that were stout enough to overcome any reservations we might have a twin-bearing setup in the hubs of the special trailing arms that Porsche designed for the 911 Turbo, which was designed for racing. (Of course, the right-rear wheel bearing is making a little noise anyway, so we might address this soon, though there's no hurry, our Porsche contacts tell us.) Probably the car will understeer more at low speed with the wider rear track dimension, but into every life a little rain must fall.
We knew enough to go to H&R Springs for our wheel spacers, since this company founded in Washington by a couple of German expatriates is known for high-quality German-built hardware. Its wheel spacers are cast from an aluminum and magnesium alloy and then anodized.
The installation of wheel spacers isn't exactly the work of a moment, as you want to measure the fender clearance pretty scrupulously and ensure that the tire won't touch the fender, and we wanted to avoid the trouble of rolling the fenders in any case. H&R's dedicated Web site for its TRAK wheel spacers provides all the particulars for measuring the available clearance (driver's weight in the car; measure at two spots, etc.).
As it turns out, a local distributor for H&R's TRAK wheel spacers is nearby in Culver City at Wheel Enhancement, the place where every Porsche in Beverly Hills comes in the search for trick wheels. It also turns out the principals are mad about Porsches. John Brown is working on a 1977 911 that is pretty unmolested, although its Beverly Hills owner sliced the top open and had one of those glass moonroofs installed back in the 1970s, so he's had to put a new roof panel from a salvage yard into it. And Dave Martin is driving a Porsche Boxster Spyder these days, his first-ever open Porsche after a string of 911s and a Porsche Cayman S, and he says the car gets more looks than any Porsche this side of an old 356 and the task of erecting the top for rainy days (or long-distance travel) isn't as bad as people make out.
Once Wheel Enhancement's John Brown made the measurements and checked the clearance with the brake calipers, he concluded that the rear wheels could accommodate 21mm spacers. The TRAK DRM-style spacers would be an easy fit, as they bolt to the existing hub, and then have their own studs for mounting the wheel.
The front wheels were another matter. Even 7mm spacers would be a struggle, as the task of removing the existing studs and installing the spacers with studs long enough to ensure good wheel location and then probably rolling the lip of the inner fender would be more trouble (and expense) than it was worth.
After 90 minutes 30 minutes of which were spent admiring the car afterwards in the parking lot and digging this car's unique wide, wide look we were on our way, and $221.75 covered the whole deal.
Michael Jordan, Executive Editor, Edmunds.com
1985 Porsche 911: Nein!
May 26, 2011
A shift light. A. Shift. Light. I can't stand these things.
I didn't notice it the last time I drove it. Maybe I was too excited about driving a classic Porsche. Maybe a wire got back into line? Perhaps a fix that shouldn't have been.
Do you even pay attention to these things?
Scott Jacobs, Sr Mgr, Photography
1985 Porsche 911: Pedal Problem?
May 20, 2011
With a car this old, things are bound to wear out. The latest item I discovered is the clutch pedal. It functions perfectly as far as I could tell, but it doesn't quite return to full extension anymore. Upon release, the pedal stops an inch or so before it should (shown in the animation above).
I don't think it's a big deal. Something like this happened to one of my cars when I first started driving a manual transmission. For my car back then (a 1989 240SX), I was resting my foot on the clutch pedal. I thought I was hovering over it, but the slight pressure ended up wearing out a return spring. Solution: use the dead pedal.
The problem for the 911 is, it doesn't have a dead pedal. I've just been resting my foot next to the pedal, on the carpet. That ought to fix that problem for my fellow editors.
Mark Takahashi, Associate Editor
1985 Porsche 911: Dream Come True
May 17, 2011
I grew up on a long curvy road. Every weeknight, I would hear Dr. Sid drive his Porsche 911 home. I loved the sound of that raspy note as it faded up the street. Last night I got a brief taste of that childhood dream in our classic 911.
The perspective of 1985 design really tells you that we're spoiled today. No, I don't think our 911 is lacking. It's just modern cars have a very different feel. The fixed steering wheel was one of the first things I noticed when I got in. I could grip the wheel and touch the instrument panel with my extended index fingers. Raising my hand slightly from the wheel and there was a glass. My feet were offset, being tucked to the right and just behind the front wheels. These were all slightly "off" sensations to me, being used to a modern rearward and inline seating position. All of this just made the Porsche that much cooler. I felt more in touch with the car because I was being asked to conform to the car slightly, rather than the car being tailored to me.
Sitting in our 911 I could smell gasoline. The interior looks it's age and there is a cacophony of rattles and squeaks as this thing lumbers down the street, but it just adds to the rich flavor. Just muscling the unassisted steering wheel at low speeds through the parking garage brought a big grin to my face.
On my way back into the office this morning, I decided to take the long route. Few extra blocks, perhaps a few extra miles. It didn't matter. The job was going to be there when I got there. I was just enjoying the moment.
Scott Jacobs, Sr. Mgr, Photography
1985 Porsche 911 Carrera: The Transmission Files
May 09, 2011
Let us not be ninnies about this Porsche 911's transmission.
To be sure, this transmission has its own personality. Partly this is because of its design. But partly it is because it is old and worn, since any precision part acquires some idiosyncrasies after a lot of miles. (Just like me, actually.)
It makes some people feel clever to complain about the 911's manual transmission. You can imagine why, since a transmission is the most fearsomely complex part of any car. When you look into one, it's like peering into a bushel basket of gears, pinions, screws and nuts.
But this transmission ain't that bad to shift. In fact, this particular one is an especially good example of its breed. Here's what we know about it. (From a user's perspective, anyway. This means there will be no charts or diagrams. Well, maybe a diagram.)
What we have here is the Porsche 915 transmission. It comes from collaboration in engineering and manufacture between Porsche and ZF Friedrichshaven AG, the now famous transmission company that originally built gears and things for zeppelins. ZF's name comes from Zahnradfabrik, literally "gear factory."
The 915 transmission is apparently derived from the 916 transmission developed for the famous Paul Frere says in Porsche 911 Story, and he's the expert. I met him once. He led quite a life.)
Vic Elford, Hans Hermann, Brian Redman and Jo Siffert seemed to do all right with the 916 transmission while winning all those races in the 908 at places like the Nurburgring and the Targa Florio, so it can't have been too bad.
The 915 transmission replaced the 911's original 901 transmission in the 1972 model year, when the more powerful 2.4-liter engine was introduced. As time went on, the original magnesium case was replaced by stouter cast-aluminum pieces. Finally the 3.2-liter engine's increasing output required a new, more durable transmission and the Getrag G50 transmission was introduced for the 911 in the 1987 model year.
The 915 features the original Porsche-type split-ring synchromesh for the gears, a design created for the still-born balk-ring design by other manufacturers in the 1950s and 1960s that all synchromesh was then known as Porsche synchromesh. Our impression from a modern perspective is that the design is very precise and effective in operation, but the actual gear engagement takes a moment and it cannot be rushed without damaging the gearbox internals.
By the time our 1985 Porsche 911 came along, people had been complaining about the 915 transmission for years. Much of this had to do with the new, wider audience of drivers that the 911 had reached, an audience that actually wanted a transmission that would shift as quickly and smoothly as an automatic without any pesky need for the driver to improve his skills, or, you know, acquire a semblance of mechanical sympathy. (Then as now, eh?)
The apparent solution came with the application of the Getrag G50 five-speed transmission to the 911 in 1987. Most enthusiasts of the 911 prefer the shift action of the Getrag G50 to the original 915 transmission. The Getrag G50 has Borg Warner-design cone-type synchromesh, which delivers quicker gear engagement with less effort and proves more tolerant of driver clumsiness. And just as important, the Getrag G50 has a hydraulically actuated clutch with lighter effort level and more predictable engagement.
Over the years, much money has been spent in the pursuit of better shift action from the Porsche 915 transmission, notably the short-shift kit. Such a design quickens shift action by shortening the distance of shift throws. A typical short-shift kit reduces the distance of shift throws by about 20 percent in 915 transmissions built for the 911 between 1972 and 1984, notes Porsche expert Wayne Dempsey of Pelican Parts in 101 Projects for Your Porsche 911.
Of course, the 915 transmission for 1985-1986 911s already has a factory-engineered short-shift kit, so the improvement is only about 10 percent, Dempsey says. In addition, short-shift kits generally increase the effort level to execute the gear selection process, which seems to inevitably lead to driver abuse, something that is now reflected in the use of double- and even triple-cone synchros for the shorter gears in the transmissions of modern performance cars.
The real magic in the 915 transmission apparently lies in the bushings for the shift linkage. They wear out over time, and this complicates the process of finding the appropriate notch in the transmission's five-speed shift pattern, especially while downshifting from fifth to fourth, when a heavy hand can either tag reverse gear (which is below fifth in the shift pattern), or slide all the way over to second gear (with potentially explosive consequences). The installation of new shift bushings transforms the linkage, and the benefits from the installation of a short-shift kit frequently have as much to do with the shift bushings as the new rod and lever set.
The rebuilt transmission in our 1985 911 Carrera has only about 4,000 miles on it, we believe, so it should be about as good as it can be. In addition, the former owner installed hard, bronze shift bushings to further tighten the shift action. But while this measure has made the process of finding the next gear more direct something the owner wanted for autocross the action is actually a little too tight, and it feels sticky and lacks feel. Moreover, the effect of the linkage's spring-loaded return to the neutral slot in the shift quadrant has been reduced, so you have to move the shift lever a bit left to find first gear and you still have to be careful while downshifting from fifth to fourth in order to avoid inadvertently tagging reverse. (Sigh.)
Of course, all this really amounts to is a discussion of how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. (Porsche guys love this sort of thing.) The truth is, the Porsche 911 shifts in the classical German manner, with relatively light-effort, long-travel shift throws and positive, noticeable gear engagement. This 1985 Porsche 911 Carrera is closer to a Volkswagen GTI than a VW Beetle in the way it shifts, and it is nothing like shifting a Bentley Speed Six or Peterbilt heavy truck, no matter what you might have heard. It takes a bit of learning, but anyone can do it.
Of course, not everyone can do it well. This takes some effort. The thing is, you can't rush the shifting process. This is a classic Porsche, so you do it the Porsche way or not at all. It makes you feel stupid at first because the engine with its light flywheel effect inevitably drops a lot of rpm while you change gear, so you feel like a granny in an old Beetle. But finally the shift action becomes intuitive, the floor-pivot clutch pedal and the cable-actuated clutch become more predictable, and finally you get it.
Once you do, you tend to roll your eyes whenever you hear 911 people complain about the 915 transmission. If it were easy, then anyone could do it, and what fun would that be?
Michael Jordan, Executive Editor, Edmunds.com
1985 Porsche 911: The Early Approach Toward Sport
May 03, 2011
Spotted this absofreakinglutely pristine 356 Speedster on the slow crawl towards downtown last night. The guy's nuts for risking a shunt by the vapid meatheadery that is LA freeway traffic, but I admire that he drives this car like a car.
Seeing this car reminded me of the way Porsche used to do things.
The 356 Speedster was the brainchild of an American, importer Max Hoffman. He was Porsche's sole link to the burgeoning US market, so he carried some weight with the factory. Anyway, ol' Max wanted a no-frills sportier version of the 356 for the USA. Thus was born the Speedster, which was lighter, faster than the other 356 models... and cheaper. Today the Speedster is one of the most cherished, valuable and sought-after variants of the 356.
Fast forward a few decades. For 1993, Porsche planned on celebrating the 20th anniversary of the iconic 1973 911 Carrera RS, a car that was never imported into the US. The anniversary car -- a 964-series based RS model -- was also not planned for US consumption.
When the North American branch of Porsche heard this news, they mounted a campaign to bring the 964 RS to the States. Ultimately the factory relented, producing a limited-production version of the RS for the US market named, appropriately, RS America. It was lighter, faster, firmer, sharper than the Carrera 2... and cost ten grand less.
Nowadays Porsche charges significantly more money for their sporty variants. While its great that they're able to make money using this approach, I think back to the hard-charging Americans that influenced the production and importation of some of the company's most desirable models. That these models were less expensive than their stablemates did not water down the brand; in fact, they did the opposite. These models are at the core of what is a Porsche. They elevated the brand. Created legions of enthusiasts.
As the company branches out ever-further into (brilliant) sedans and popular SUVs, amassing greater revenues and mitigating risk, the time is right to give a wink and a nod to the guys that underpin the brand's appeal. Without the latter, there wouldn't be the former.
Who will be the American to press the issue this time?
--Jason Kavanagh, Engineering Editor
1985 Porsche 911: The Pattern
April 19, 2011
The above map is to scale. So is the shift pattern.
Disclaimer - I like this car. A lot. After a weekend, I can go through gears in this car easier than Elizabeth Taylor went through husbands. Too soon?
Lets take a run through the gears.
Gears one through four are tight together, much like they should be on a four-speed gearbox. Only fifth seems to be in a different orbit. It's like they just stuck fifth gear into a 'box where only four had been before.
So let's look at that map.
First is in Beverly Hills. Nice place. Second is in Rolling Hills Estates. It's a nice place too, but it's going to take a while to get there. Just be patient. Third is all the way the hell back up in Hollywood. Don't worry, if you learned anything from your trip from Beverly Hills down to Rolling Hills, the trip back up should be a lot quicker. Fourth... fourth is in San Pedro. It's next to Rolling Hills Estates, but if you're not careful, you're going wind up back in Rolling Hills Estates and you're gonna have a problem. Rolling Hills and San Pedro are solid three wood apart. And much like the two cities themselves, what you can do in San Pedro, you can't get away with in Rolling Hills.
Now for fifth.
Fifth is in Upland. It's a hell of a long way to go. Much like Upland, the first time you go there, you start to wonder if you've gone too far, only to wind up there after you thought you couldn't possibly go any further east. A little blip of the throttle ensures you drop it into gear without a second thought.
Now comes the hard part.
Our 911's shift linkage is not self centering; once you're in Upland, it wants to stay in Upland. To get it back into fourth takes an act of faith. Upland to San Pedro. Pick the wrong exit and you wind up in Rolling Hills; you're going to pay. This is how I get there. I pull it out of fifth, and throw the lever west until it hits the stop above second. From there, I move it east, barely, until I think I'm over fourth and with a blip, I drop it into gear. Another blip to match the revs I hope are correct and then I let the clutch out and listen. A spike means I've gone to far and I'm in second and I'm going to have explaining to do. No spike means I'm right where I want to be and I just mash the throttle and revel in some flat six sound - I can also breath again.
For me, the lack of a self centering shifter is the most difficult part about this gearbox. I'd love to say how difficult this 911 is to drive, with the hopes of scaring off the rest of the staff, but the fact is, I really dig this car. It take some adaptation, but if you care enough to learn its ways, it rewards you with things only an air cooled 911 can. I want more.
Kurt Niebuhr, Photo Editor @ whatevertheslowodometersez
1985 Porsche 911: Not as Scary as I Thought
April 18, 2011
I had missed the initial walkaround given to the editors about the 1985 Porsche 911 Carrera -- it was mandatory before getting behind its wheel due to all its "quirks" -- but after watching editorlikes it uh lot," I felt a bit more prepared to pilot this 26-year-old car.
I was intimidated by its lack of power steering and speedometer function as well as its finicky shifter, but I reasoned that if I could drive our '84 Ferrari 308 I could handle this. And I liked it wayyy more than the Ferrari. (I'm only comparing the two because they're the only two sports cars from the '80s that I've driven.) Sure, it doesn't have power steering but then again it didn't feel like I was trying to arm wrestle Andre the Giant like the 308 did. OK, that's an exaggeration but you get my drift. I sweated buckets every time I drove the Ferrari.
And all those warnings about the precise way to shift the 911 -- "putting it in 1st gear feels like dislocating a cat's leg," cringe! -- only made it seem more terrifying to deal with than it actually was. Piece of cake! If anything it feels like when your weird friend dislocates his shoulder and pops it back in. He's OK after that. Not terrifying at all.
Anyway, for all its idiosyncrasies, I could get used to this car. It's definitely easier to imagine as a daily driver than the Ferrari.
Caroline Pardilla, Deputy Managing Editor
1985 Porsche 911: An Unexpected Delight
April 18, 2011
Up until we bought this long-term 911, there has been a huge gap in my Porsche drive portfolio. I've driven a 1964 356 C coupe that filled my driveway for almost six months, and I've driven nearly every Porsche since 2005. In between was an expanse of rear- and front-engined cars that I never had the pleasure of driving. It's as if I started listening to the Beatles, then skipped a few decades and got into the Black Eyed Peas. In the process I missed out on the Rolling Stones, U2, Prince and Stevie Ray Vaughn.
Now that I've gotten a taste, I can say that I'm a believer.
There's plenty to distract you from the goodness at the core of the 911. It's loud, hot and it still needs some work here and there. But as an owner of notably fussy cars, I'm ok with that. I took the Porsche on my favorite 70-mile stretch of roads. It has an intoxicating mix of tight hairpins, long sweepers and plenty of elevation changes. I started out conservatively, since the tires are quite old (though there's plenty of tread on them).
I gradually began ramping up the aggression and the Porsche reacted incredibly well. It tracks beautifully from turn to turn and second gear is tall enough to handle a majority of the run. I was cautious of the heavily weighted tail coming around, but I found out that it takes a lot to make that happen. I was able to get it rotating ever so slightly in some of my favorite sections and it was smooth and wonderfully controllable. In one spot, I felt comfortable enough to give the pedal a quick lift-and-stomp, kicking the rear out like a pendulum through a first-gear hairpin. Fantastic.
Then there's the sound. The flutter of an air-cooled Porsche is as recognizable as the clutch rattle of a Ducati or the potato-potato lump of a (real) Harley. We just had the radio reconnected, and one of the local radio stations was playing all of my favorite hits of the 80s, but I still spent most of the time with the windows and sunroof open.
I ended up enjoying our 911 much more than I thought I could. So much so that I woke up early this morning to wash it myself and treat some of the plastic bits to some Forever Black -- a small token of my appreciation for giving me a fun weekend behind the wheel. Sorry Mustang, I think I have a new favorite.
Mark Takahashi, Associate Editor
1985 Porsche 911 Carrera: What We Got
April 08, 2011
If you're looking for an old Porsche, the 911 Carrera is what you want.
It cuts through all the model variations since 1965 and puts you in touch with the real 911, the source of all the stories. And yet it's also drivable in the 21st century, modern enough that you don't wonder how many free tows you have left on your AAA membership every time you twist the ignition key.
Here's what makes this car the used 911 we wanted to own.
What we've got here is a 1985 Porsche 911 Carrera 3.2 M491 "Turbo Look."
The Porsche 911 was supposed to die in 1982, a victim of U.S. noise and emissions regulations. The Porsche 928 and 944 were meant to replace it. But elements within the company rebelled and the car was revitalized as the Carrera 3.2, which was built between 1984 and 1989.
Although there are a few minor changes, this is essentially the same 911 body introduced to the U.S. in 1965, although it's sitting on the 89.3-inch wheelbase introduced in 1969. It looks just like the car Butzi Porsche designed in the early 1960s, only with the 5-mph bumpers gracefully adapted by Tony Lapine in 1974.
This generation of the 911 has all the little eccentricities the first 911 inherited from the Porsche 356 and the Volkswagen Beetle before that, notably trailing-arm rear suspension with torsion bars. When you take a seat behind the steering wheel, you're totally in the Beetle wayback zone, with the broad windshield right in front of your face, the steering wheel close against the dashboard, the shift lever buried beneath the dash and the pedals hinged on the floor.
What makes the Carrera 3.2 unique is its engine, although it's still plainly the same, air-cooled, horizontally opposed six-cylinder designed and developed by Hans Mezger and Ferdinand Piech for the first 911. This 12-valve SOHC 3.2-liter six combines the all-aluminum construction of the Type 930 engine (developed for the first 1976 911 Turbo and then adapted for the 911SC) with the 95mm bore of 911SC engine and 74.4mm stroke of the 3.3-liter Turbo crankshaft, plus the Bosch Motronic 2 DME (Digital Motor Electronics) control unit. What you get is oil-tight construction, 200 horsepower SAE net, and set-it-and-forget-it reliability.
This car carries the Type 915 transmission, the one with Porsche synchromesh, the floppy shift linkage and widely spaced gates. A short-shift linkage was incorporated in 1985, so the transmission in this car is about as good as the 915 transmission gets, although what you really want is the Getrag-built G50 five-speed with Borg-Warner synchromesh that was introduced for 1987.
This car represents the M491 option, the "Turbo Look." Though Porsche had to discontinue sales of the 911 Turbo in the U.S. between 1980 and 1985 because of emissions issues, aftermarket suppliers found serious success in reproducing Turbo-style bodywork for U.S. customers. To get in on the action, Porsche introduced the M491 option in 1984, which featured the Turbo's rear wing, wider fenders, stronger hubs, stronger and stiffer suspension, and upgraded brakes with cross-drilled rotors. We've left the Turbo Look rear wing in the garage, and the car rides on the 911's traditional Fuchs forged wheels, though they're we understand they're from a 944 Turbo, as thee car had been wearing the so-called telephone-dial wheels that were characteristic of the post-1989 911.
Early pre-1974 911s are light and lively, though they drive like little cars. The cars of the mid-1970s were disdained at the time but seem pretty good now, although build quality wasn't great and engine response was soggy. The 1978-1983 911SC made its name with its reliability (despite failure-prone cam-chain tensioners and an exploding airbox), but seems kind of generic now with its 172 hp engine. But once you get to the Carrera 3.2, the 911 finally feels like a proper performance car.
What we have here in this 1985 Carrera is a lot of 911 for not much money. The engine is astonishingly clean, never even smokes on start up, and runs sharp. Usually the 3.2 engine requires a valve job at 110,000 miles, but this engine clearly does not need one and we think it's been recently rebuilt. The transmission has also been rebuilt in the last 4,000 miles. Meanwhile, the suspension and undercarriage are spotless. We understand this car was taken apart and put back together, and its condition seems to confirm it. It has also recently had a suspension alignment by a highly reputable shop. Some comfort and convenience issues need to be resolved, but none are deal-breakers.
In short, this is the right model of Porsche 911 for us. Its apparent mechanical integrity makes it a real driver, which is far more important to us than whatever value might be compromised by its salvage title.
If you like your Porsche 911 impeccably presented just as it left Stuttgart, you'll hate our black Carrera. But if you're the kind of person who has liked the 911 because it's a kind of hot rod, a platform for making a personal statement of style and speed, you'll totally get what this car is about.
Michael Jordan, Executive Editor, Edmunds.com
1985 Porsche 911: Around the City
April 06, 2011
Right now, everything about our newest, and oldest, long-termer, this 1985 Porsche 911, is cool to me. Even being at the gas station with it is fun, and so I started taking photos at 1 a.m.
Until last weekend, I'd never been in the cockpit of an "old" 911 with an air-cooled flat-6 before, and the sound and feel is unlike anything I've ever experienced. It sounds like a bit like other horizontally opposed engines I've been around, but there's more rawness to it. Oh, it starts and idles just fine every time, but it's louder (louder than its thinner cabin insulation can account for) and it shrieks with increasing intensity as you add revs. I'm fumbling with words here, so we'll simply have to make you some videos... many videos... over the next 12 months.
The shifter is vaguer than any shifter I've ever experienced (and I'm counting older Kias), so you'll read plenty of commentary on it over the next year. It's one thing I never knew about the older 911s, and it demands a patient, deliberate hand. I've made peace with it, but it's definitely the least good thing about the car.
The chassis, on the other hand, is one of the best things about this 911. I don't necessarily care for the modifications the previous owner made to the suspension (the calibrations feel very firm...not that I have any idea how the car felt off the showroom floor), but the Porsche feels as steady and secure cruising on the freeway as any modern car. And the unassisted steering gives you all kinds of information without pummeling you with harshness from expansion joints and ruts.
Finally, although, I've heard many writers complain about the very upright driving position in the old 911s, I like to sit very upright so I actually like it. And although the sport seats are worn, the cushioning is still comfy and the lateral bolstering is still functional. And... yeah, I better give someone else a turn to drive the car.
Erin Riches, Senior Editor @ 114,241 miles