KC to LA, postscript: Webasto! by Ben Shahrabani
October 17, 2013—I must confess that I was going to withhold this tidbit. The trip from Kansas City to Los Angeles has been covered most excellently (thank you "Bill & Ted" for the right words) by my co-driver, Wide Open’s editor. But upon reflection, my misunderstanding of certain information—that would have been quite helpful—is so humorous that I had to share it.
Bill, the 911’s seller, took some time to review the car from top to bottom upon my arrival in Kansas City. Even though the car is pretty basic, there was a lot of ground to cover in a relatively short amount of time. One thing that apparently stood out was his warning "…this car has the optional Webasto gas heater. I've never used it. Don't touch the controls for it. I'm not sure what might happen…" Well, his words remained prominent in my mind as I immediately told Yoav (when he was already at the airport) that we would probably have little to no heat during our trip. Bill showed me two controls for the heat—one was a floor lever that I believed was the control for the Webasto. Another was on the dash.
In Porsche’s early days, an optional Webasto gas heater could be fitted in the luggage compartment. Later, Porsche settled on using the hot exhaust system to warm air for the heating system, just as Volkswagen did with the Beetle. The principle is basically the same on all air-cooled 911 heating systems. The two exhaust manifolds are enveloped in steel shrouds through which fresh air from outside the car is forced and heated on its way to the cockpit. The Webasto gas heater is exactly what it sounds like. It takes gasoline and converts it into heat for the car's occupants. The idea never caught on and was discontinued on later cars. I myself can think of at least two reasons it didn't—inferior fuel mileage and something that can go "boom" up front.
The lever on the floor in front of the shifter is for the regular heat. One won't get any heat at all unless that lever is pulled back first, as it opens the heater valves on the heat exchangers. Then you can direct how much goes to your feet or the base of the windshield by adjusting the vent seals in the rockers.
The only thing that stood out in my mind was Bill's warning "…I'm not sure what might happen…" if the lever was pulled. So we didn't try the floor lever for most of the journey until we nearly froze in Utah’s high desert. But it wasn't the Webasto that we thought worked and saved us that cold, cold night: it was the car's regular heat! The knob we thought was the regular heater was actually the Webasto. I had them backwards! If I'm totally honest, I think I smelled raw gasoline and smoke when we manipulated the dash-mounted knob. We may have cost ourselves a few brain cells.
So, Yoav, I apologize for almost costing you a toe and poisoning you with gas fumes…but the snafu does make for a better story, doesn't it? [kiWO]