February 25, 2013— After much consideration and discussion Wide Open concluded that the only appropriate car for our forthcoming road trip/event video was a Porsche 911 (more on why later this week). The trim level doesn’t matter, the cosmetics don’t matter; what absolutely matters is the mechanical condition and the ability to do roughly 6000 miles in a week and a half.
Why a video and what event? For that answer you’ll have to wait a bit longer too, but suffice it to say it’s on the Atlantic coast and we’re driving our newly acquired 1977 Porsche 911S. If you’ve ever bought a car you probably didn’t run out and shove wads of cash in the hands of the first seller you saw. Neither did we because we need to drive 6000 miles in a week and a half.
There was the daily regimen: check Ebay, craigslist.org, Pelican Parts, Rennlist, theSamba.com, autotrader.com and autotraderclassic.com. I spoke to my Porsche-owning friend Ben every morning and bench raced the merits of every far-flung 911 we discovered. The event looms and a 911 is imperative.
I walked up and down Lincoln Blvd. in Venice stopping at every car dealership beside the long street to inquire about Porsches. We saw slant-nose hackjobs, mid-1980’s SCs that had been turbocharged, lowered, cabrio’d, even one that had a center console retrofitted with a mirror (anyone for skiing?). One 964 was sitting in an ominous oil puddle with a “just serviced” sticker on the windshield. No, thanks.
Wide Open finally found a potential candidate in the Valley. It was a red 1983 911SC and the seller wanted $17,500, negotiable. I arrived on time and the car was parked in the driveway, car cover still on, with a 1970 Pontiac parked between it and the street, also covered. I knocked on the door and a large dog began barking. A woman came to the door dressed in a bathrobe, her hair wet. “Jim went to the store, but he’ll be back in a couple. Feel free to take the cover off yourself.”
I decided to wait for “Jim.” He and his scraggly ponytail showed up ten minutes later and pulled the cover off the Porsche. It was red and shiny, but had clearly been re-sprayed very casually—there was overspray on the exhaust, doorjamb stickers, etc… I asked if I could drive it as the cosmetics were unimportant. Jim looked at me as if had asked him to solve a complicated calculus problem. A test drive?! How very unexpected!
He agreed, uncovered the Pontiac and drove it onto the lawn so the Porsche could exit the driveway. The Porsche finally fired after Jim spent time securing the battery contact. Jim suggested he drive first as the brakes were, “tricky.” Tricky is one way to describe the brakes. Another way is—worthless. Approaching the first stop sign, I heard the brake pedal bottom and yet we weren’t slowing. Jim swung the car right to avoid any potential cross traffic. We drove in this manner for a few blocks and then he announced it was my turn. As you can imagine, I wasn’t too eager at this point. But I sat down, strapped in and gave it a go. We survived, miraculously, and Jim speculated that the brake master cylinder needed to be replaced. This car wasn’t the one.
We found another car in Colorado, owned by a Porsche dealer, in seemingly great shape. But while the dealership conducted the compression test a Brit bought it off Ebay for full-price, “Ahem, we’re very sorry but…” After some back and forth I decided that paying full price, just because they claimed to have an interested party, was unsuitable.
A few days passed and I ran into my friend, Nicolai Iuul of Ammo Films who recommended we speak with local Porsche mechanic, William Benoit. “William’s a lovely guy. If anyone can find you a car, it’s him.” Wide Open visited William’s small, two stall shop in a Venice alley the following day and he reluctantly agreed to help in our quest, in spite of the fact that he thought the compromises between budget and mechanical requirements were too great.
The next morning, at approximately 8:30AM the phone rang and Mr. Benoit was on the other end, “I think I may have found you a car, but it won’t be around till next Saturday.” He went on to give some specifics and we agreed to meet on Saturday. What happened? Check out the photos, we bought it! More backstory and the first drive soon! [kiWO]
The Test Drive
February 28, 2013— If you read the preceding article, you already know what happened. But the process was less than smooth. William Benoit had called me on Wednesday unexpectedly to tell me that the car would actually be available for a drive on Thursday—the owner, Rob was coming back to Los Angeles (the Porsche was his LA car) early and thus the car would be around earlier than expected.
I eagerly walked the mile and a quarter from Wide Open’s offices to Mr. Benoit’s shop Thursday morning. There were a couple of Porsche 914s sitting outside the bays and an older Cadillac too. A quick glance in the shop revealed a 930 Turbo, but the 911 I was looking for was missing. I called out to William in his office and he came out smacking his forehead, “Rob called late last night to let me know that he wouldn’t be able to make it. Sorry I couldn’t call, it was late.” He apologized for forgetting to call that morning and reassured me that it would be there Saturday as originally planned. I walked home disappointed.
Finally, Saturday arrived after a two-day eternity and I called William to ensure that the car would be there. “It’ll be here,” he said impatiently. Once again, I walked over and as I rounded the corner to the alley I saw William speaking to a young-ish brown-haired guy. More importantly, I saw the silver tail of a 911 peeking out beyond the Cadillac. Introductions were made and Rob spent some time highlighting certain merits and describing his experiences with the old Porsche. We opened the engine cover and it was clean (for a thirty-five year old car). Glancing beneath the car, it didn’t seem too much oil was leaking, for a Porsche.
It was finally time for the drive and I asked Rob to drive first due to the “tricky” braking Valley Porsche (read previous article). Rob seemed to think it strange, but he agreed. He drove the car easily and gently and told me how he’d owned it for about ten years. He was the ideal former owner. I wished all the previous owners had been this gentle with the car. I don’t think he revved the engine over 3500 RPM once. Regardless, his shifting seemed labored and deliberate; I hoped that was lack of experience.
When it was finally my turn, I discovered that it wasn’t Rob’s fault. The shifter was incredibly notchy. You had to be simultaneously gentle and forceful—gentle to move the shifter deftly and forceful to engage the gear. But the 911 was compliant and made the right sounds. We drove around neighborhoods for about five minutes and the brakes were solid and confidence inspiring. I decided to push a bit and I swung it right through an uncontrolled intersection. It held the turn and the unassisted steering was direct and communicative.
The power, while certainly not excessive, was sufficient and it was clear that this little Porsche was meant to be pushed. It bogged a bit under 2000 RPM and seemed to find its rhythm above 3000RPM. I asked Rob if we could take it on the highway and he could probably tell that I was enjoying myself. What car enthusiast wouldn’t be enjoying themselves? Here was a car with go-kart like steering, great brakes and good throttle response.
We got on the 90 and I pushed the 911 over the speed limit. It was solid and felt like it could continue easily to some very illegal top speed. Towards the end of the 90, I lifted off the gas pedal slightly to see if the rear would get squirrely but it stayed planted through the turn. I was sold. The reliability was an issue, but at the end of the day, “even a new car can break down,” William lectured me, his blue eyes unblinking, “there are no guarantees.”
I’d have to put my faith in the fact that this car was powered by 1930’s technology and that the German engineers had refined it over the preceding forty years. The compression numbers were consistent and acceptable and all that was left was to negotiate and sign. If the car had cost twenty percent more I would have bought it. Fortunately, it didn’t and after a very brief negotiation Rob and I shook hands. Then I drove it home. [kiWO]
Five Hundred Miles in Five Days
March 1, 2013—Wide Open wanted to get a feel for the Porsche as quickly as possible. Also, since it had mostly been parked for the last four years, we wanted to get the old 911 used to moving again over large distances. So, Sunday we fired up the flat-six engine, let her warm up and headed for Topanga, only stopping to pick up a friend. The sky was clear and so were the freeways.
We arrived in near-record time and quickly headed for coffee to break the cold of the morning, met up with more friends and showed off the new/old Porsche. Someone offered to buy it on the spot, but we needed the car for a special upcoming project.
The following day we drove out to Anaheim for dinner with the parents. I was very surprised that my dad was really taken by the 911. He’s not a car guy and usually responds with a sarcastic, “that’s delightful,” when I share some tidbit of car trivia. But he genuinely seemed to enjoy some of the Porsche’s eccentricities (more on these in a future article) and the overall presence of the car. Cool!
The final shakedown was a run to Palm Springs a couple days later. The car arrived in the oasis without a whimper and the oil temperature never topped one hundred ninety degrees. It ran like a champ! When power was needed to pass on the freeway, there were always ample reserves. When the brakes were suddenly checked, they slowed the car without drama. I’d still have to drive back to Los Angeles, but we were “go for launch.” More soon… [kiWO]
March 4, 2013: Forgotten Tools, Derelict Strip Clubs and Fuel Economy
Everything was ready for the journey: the car was checked out, running well and my co-driver, Anthony Cioffi, was all set. I couldn’t wait to execute this plan, which had been hatched a couple of months earlier. The Amelia Island Concours was honoring the Porsche 911 for its fiftieth birthday and we had already received our press passes. But something was missing. Wide Open had attended the North American International Motor Show in Detroit and while it was a fun show, it lacked a crucial element.
That was the driving factor (if you’ll pardon the pun) behind our decision to drive cross-country to Amelia Island. And while we could have used any car, only two were appropriate. This year, the Amelia Island Concours is honoring both the Porsche 911 and the Ford GT40. We love the GT40 and would do just about anything to drive one cross-country. Unfortunately, our insurance (and our budget) wouldn’t quite allow it. So, as you’ve read in the preceding articles, we decided to seek out a decent 911, to honor the marque as well. So happy fiftieth birthday, 911!
I awoke at approximately 6:15AM, got ready and packed the car. Besides my clothes and toiletries, I was bringing a 117-piece mechanic tool set, jerry can, flares, compressor, sleeping bag, jacket, computer, video gear, photo gear, and road atlas. I set out to battle traffic on my way to pick up Anthony. He was ready and waiting when I arrived and we promptly headed to an audio-visual store as I had forgotten to buy a microphone for our video work. Anthony realized that he had forgotten the tools he packed upon getting back on the freeway and really getting underway.
Traffic headed east was virtually non-existent and we initially drove towards Las Vegas, before cutting east in Barstow and following historic Rt. 66 through Amboy to Needles. The Porsche ran strong as Rt. 66 parted from the side of I-40. Rt. 66 is a bit slower than I-40 obviously, but it’s empty and cuts through the desert like a fast, solitary rattlesnake designed just to carry you.
The Colorado River came and went and still we didn’t need gas. For a thirty-five year old sports car, the Porsche is quite impressive with regard to fuel economy. Hell, it handled everything it had been tasked with so far, with aplomb. It accelerated vigorously and handled slow twisty sections quickly and smoothly.
We pulled off the road at a grimy, desolate truck stop about five miles shy of Kingman, Arizona when we finally needed gas. It had a restaurant and nudie bar in the back and an eighteen-wheeler parked out front along with a roughly twenty year-old Pontiac Bonneville and a burned out limousine. Anthony started walking around back but then decided it wasn’t worth the trouble. Meanwhile, I tried unsuccessfully to use my credit card and upon entering the storefront to swipe it, couldn’t find an attendant present (he was probably hanging out in the strip club). Anthony and I decided to drive on to Kingman for gas and lunch as we were so close and waste no more time at this truck stop would-be entertainment mecca.
Kingman is an unspectacular town, but has beautiful surroundings, lots of red stone and high bluffs. After the fuel stop, Anthony took over in the driver’s seat and I just enjoyed the drive. We’re trying to make Albuquerque, New Mexico, where a new experience awaits: couchsurfing.org. If you don’t know what it is, check it out. Suffice it to say that we may be driving towards accommodations at an ax-murderer’s home and hope that if needed, the Porsche will fire right up as always. After five hundred miles it’s still rock solid. I hope our good luck continues. [kiWO]
March 6, 2013: Not Murdered and Even Better Luck!
Fortunately, we weren’t killed in Albuquerque. We rolled over the continental divide late on Monday night and had no trouble finding our Couchsurfing.org host’s home near 12th St. He told us to park in the lot next door, adjacent to a church or community center. It seemed a bit questionable but would have to do under the circumstances.
Our host, Patrick, was a tall, lanky red head about twenty-five years old who rapidly told us how he had just moved to this big city a couple of months ago and was originally from Las Cruces, NM. He also warned us about traffic the following morning. Patrick was eager to share his music with Anthony and me and was adamant about our being honest and not sparing his feelings in our critique. He ‘wrote’ electronica and I thought what he played was decent.
After a few minutes we headed out for dinner and had some trouble finding an open restaurant at such a late hour, but eventually found a good pizzeria, Il Vicino. We each ate a pizza and drank a beer and Patrick spent the entire meal telling us stories too absurd to re-tell. He was trying his best to be ‘one of the guys’ but his innocence and simplicity shone through more than anything. Patrick shared plans of moving to Ibiza to become a world-famous DJ. He just came off as heartwarmingly delusional.
When we got back to his place, he showed us to the living room and Anthony and I each took a couch. I rolled up my leather jacket to use as a pillow and unrolled my sleeping bag. I set our alarm for 6:30 and got my things ready for the next morning. At dinner, Patrick had told us how his spare tire was stolen off the back of his SUV. I hoped the Porsche would be fine for the six eternal hours between then and our wake-up.
The Porsche survived unmolested, as did we, and we set out for Texas on a cold, clear New Mexico morning. The awful traffic that Patrick warned us about amounted to driving sixty miles per hour rather than at the posted speed limit or above and only lasted about four miles. We continued east on I-40 and as we descended the Rocky Mountains we saw clouds ahead at a lower altitude. It was like driving under water—there was a very defined edge to the clouds and once we drove under them, the sun was obscured and the clouds enveloped us in a misty, snowy fog. It didn’t last more than twenty miles, but had a surreal, otherworldly feeling.
Eventually we split from I-40 and took amazing back roads all the way to Austin, Texas. The speed limits are the same, frequently seventy-five MPH but these are usually empty, arrow straight, two-lane undivided roads. The 911 was in fifth gear for hours at a time, only slowing when we’d pass through some sleepy little town with a stop sign. On some of those roads, people would actually move onto the shoulder to allow us to pass more easily. These are some of the most well-disciplined and courteous drivers Wide Open has ever encountered, to the point of endangering themselves. We also had fun running with a Corvette for a little while.
Throughout this drive, we’ve been shooting video and while we’ve been stopping to mount the camera on the exterior of the car and ensure that the suction cup is secure, in the Texas panhandle we decided to try mounting it while in motion. Anthony was driving about seventy MPH and I lowered the window, kneeled in my seat and leaned out to secure the GoPro just behind the front wheel. I attached the suction cup to the door and tightened the lock. Just as I turned my head because I was trying to listen to Anthony, my sunglasses flew off of my head and exploded on the pavement some distance behind us. Shit! I got back inside and Anthony asked if he should stop.
I asked him to and he slowed, made a u-turn and began accelerating towards where he thought my glasses had come off. Just then, the camera, still rolling, decided to leave the car as well. The camera, suction cup and case shattered over the blacktop. Double shit! Anthony made another u-turn. We were lucky that there was virtually no traffic. Unfortunately, the little traffic there was managed to find the camera.
We watched helplessly as a Ford F350 ran part of the case over. Looking at the camera after collecting the various scattered bits, I realized it was still recording. It survived! In fact, almost all the components were in tact, they had just come apart at the clasps and locks. With such good luck, I decided to look for my sunglasses.
About twenty minutes later, I found the frames and one lens that had popped out, the other was still in the frames! I slipped the wayward lens back into the frame and my glasses were repaired! About all that had been lost was thirty minutes and perhaps some of my dignity digging around on the shoulder of this small highway among broken bottles and scrub brush.
We arrived in Austin after sunset and headed to Stubb’s for some delicious barbeque. After our fill of meat and sauce we headed to the Sixth St. bars for some local beers and to close out the evening. We spent the night in a sub-par hotel and after being rudely awakened this morning by construction in the adjacent room we angrily settled our bill and headed east once more. [kiWO]
March 8, 2013: Is That You, Ferris Bueller?
In spite of the fact that we got lost taking an HOV lane on the highway in Houston that simply ended on a surface street near the aquarium, there wasn’t too much excitement through Texas. I-10 was a long, straight road where absolutely nobody followed the speed limit. We stopped in Lake Charles, Louisiana long enough to eat some chicken, beans, rice, mac and cheese, cornbread and cake for only eight dollars.
In a small neighborhood restaurant simply called “The Kitchen,” we were greeted by the staff and other diners alike. Another patron who followed us in asked if we were in the Porsche and then jokingly, offered to sell it to us. The food was exquisite and the people were the friendliest we’ve ever encountered.
After flying through the rest of Louisiana and finally crossing the Mississippi River we arrived on the Gulf coast in Ocean Springs, Mississippi in time for dinner. While we hadn’t enjoyed too many restaurants or bars that seemed to be popular with locals, Wednesday served up two gems: the aforementioned Kitchen and Ocean Spring’s Mezo’s Juke Joint.
Mezo’s was garishly decorated in Mardi Gras colors both inside and out. Lights were strung through the trees outside. Still, Mezo’s seemed dark and slightly dangerous. A couple of cats slept on the sprawling veranda and locals came and went, ordering a beer at a time and disappearing into the night. Some stayed and chatted with the bartender and everybody seemed to know one another. Music played over the PA while a piano player warmed up in small room off of the main barroom. A couple entered looking for some friend but left because their friend wasn’t there.
There was more driving tomorrow and so we walked home early. The following morning, we ate the hotel’s free continental breakfast and a guest wished us a “blessed” day. That was the third time someone had told us to have a “blessed” day since entering the Deep South the day before. The general attitude was thankful and friendly.
We decided to get off of the interstate highways and left Ocean Springs by US90. Small towns, curious faces and fast food joints separated swamps and bayous. Rusting cars sat next to barns with collapsed roofs. Vines hung from trees and the woods were thick only twenty feet from the road. Standing water touched the roadway here and there and it was obvious that the humidity must be oppressive in the summer.
We returned to the Interstate after a fuel stop as there was no way across Mobile Bay other than I-10. We pulled to the side of the road next to the “Welcome to Florida” sign to snap some pics. About to press the shutter again, a distinctive wail shrieked from behind us and went by almost instantly. “Ferrari!” I yelled, “get in!”
Anthony and I dove into the silver machine as a red blur rapidly accelerated away from us. I buckled up and mashed the gas in pursuit. We left a black eleven on the pavement as the Porsche’s new tires struggled for grip. The transmission, usually notchy, seemed to enjoy the acceleration and was compliant engaging second, then third, fourth and fifth gears. The Ferrari, a 328, disappeared around an eighteen-wheeler. I dropped the 911 back into fourth gear and kept my right foot down.
A couple of minutes later we were right behind the Louisiana-plated Ferrari, the driver’s blue baseball cap visible through the rear window. Finally, we pulled alongside as I lifted off the gas slightly to give him the thumbs up. The driver wore mirrored Ray-Bans and smiled broadly. I flattened the gas pedal again and we proceeded to spar over the next forty-some miles sometimes following, sometimes leading across western Florida until he exited the freeway. As he split off from I-10 he waved through his car’s open targa roof. [kiWO]
March 9, 2013: Amelia Island Arrival
We didn’t stay on I-10 much longer either. Maybe ten miles after the Magnum PI Ferrari exited we also pulled off to get gas and afterwards, kept driving on a back road through the swamps. Ahead of us, we caught glimpses of a white first-generation Mazda Miata keeping a quick pace. Over several miles we slowly caught up.
Following the small sports car in and out of shady bogs we had fun shadowing but wanted to pass. We thought we had gotten our chance when the road widened into four lanes but the Miata immediately seized the opportunity to swing into the passing lane around a slower pick-up truck. We also went by the truck expecting the Miata to move over after we’d both passed.
The Miata didn’t move over and Anthony decided to pass on the right. But we were rapidly bearing down on an eighteen-wheeler and the Miata was unrelenting. Parallel with the little Japanese roadster our lane began merging with the Miata’s. I looked over and a weathered, puny grandma with a pink visor flashed a grin and moved towards us. Anthony had to yield. We fell in line behind her, she behind the large diesel.
You had to respect her gumption and impishness. It seemed like she was saying, “if you’re going to pass me, you’re going to earn it!” Indeed. A couple of miles later we finally drag raced her into a corner, and won, on a double yellow two-lane. Who knows if she was upset, but since she had closed the door on Anthony and me, we’d been laughing like schoolgirls. That grandma was just having fun in her car, like us.
We eventually wended our way back to I-10 and entered Jacksonville as the 10 ended in the I-95. Through some local streets, we headed as far east as possible and finally saw the Atlantic Ocean on a small bridge leading to Amelia Island. It wasn’t sunset yet and we stopped to shoot some photos near the beach, the sound of the waves breaking and seagulls cawing behind us.
While we photographed, a 1956 Robin’s Egg Blue Ford Thunderbird stopped to ask if we needed help because we were nearly on the road. We said no and as soon as he pulled away, a Miata driver (not the granny) stopped to ask if we were part of the Porsche Club driving event tomorrow (presumably surveying the route). “Porsche driving event?” we asked. Apparently, Porsche was running a drive for owners around the area at 7:30 in the morning with Hurley Haywood and the Brumos Porsche team.
As night fell, we proceeded to the Ritz-Carlton to pick up our media credentials, but arrived after the Concours Media department had closed. We found a motel close to the Jacksonville Airport and checked in. Anthony and I then located a Buffalo Wild Wings nearby and ate about five pounds of spicy wings. The following morning we did not go on the Porsche drive.
I won’t get into details, but we spent the day driving short distances shooting video and taking photos. And we discovered a ferry to a small island with the most animated deckhand on planet Earth. He was an older black man, in a beige Ferry company uniform with matching cap, who befriended everyone because they happened to be there. As cars pulled on the ferry, he enthusiastically shouted encouragement and high-fived drivers, passengers and pets alike. It was a joy to watch him work. If this man doesn’t like his job he is the best actor I have ever seen. Anthony nicknamed him Zatarain’s (after the spice mix).
When we returned, he recognized us and if the Porsche’s California tags initially excited him, Zatarain’s was positively ecstatic upon seeing us again. He high-fived Anthony then ran around the car to high-five me as we drove off the boat. [kiWO]
March 12, 2013: Border Patrol Stop and a Cheerleader
Sunday, as soon as the Amelia Island Concours ended we did a donut on the fairway-cum-media parking lot and headed for the exit. Anthony and I were going to try to get back to LA as quickly as possible and thus weren’t staying in Jacksonville another night. We headed out on I-10 and got as far as Pensacola that day. We had planned to go north to Birmingham, Alabama to meet a friend at Barber Motorsports Park but rain changed those plans. So we pressed west and by Monday night, we were in New Braunfels, Texas, just east of San Antonio.
Tuesday morning it occurred to us that if we pushed hard enough, we might make it to LA late that night. We headed out at 8:45 in the morning and while the first hour was slow and choked with traffic, the plains finally opened up and we were able to stay well above the eighty MPH speed limit the remainder of the day. We slowed into Fort Stockton to refuel and passed Paisano Pete on the way to the gas station.
Our fuel stop completed, I put the key into the ignition cylinder and turned. Nothing happened. The engine didn’t even turn over. At first I thought the battery was dead, but the dashboard was illuminated like a Christmas tree. Could it be the starter? Doesn’t matter—"let’s push-start it." Anthony got out and was about to start pushing when the door to the gas station’s minimart swung open and a pretty teenage girl who looked like she should be the head cheerleader of the local high school came out yelling aggressively, “I WANT that car.” Her tone was so belligerent that I thought she was car-jacking us. “I WANT that car,” she repeated for effect. In contrast to her feminine beauty, she looked masculine in jeans, a t-shirt that was too large and boots. “We'll talk if we get it running,” I replied.
Her demeanor suddenly changed and, happily, she said, “I’ll take the right side,” and leaned into the back of the car, flicking her ponytail off the fresh tattoo on her left arm. I popped the clutch while they pushed and the engine coughed to life. I circled around the block and Anthony jumped in. We waved a thank you and continued to lunch. Too bad we didn’t have more seats.
After a mediocre tex-mex lunch we repeated the push-start and continued west. The car continued running strong, but there now seemed to be a flutter in the RPM’s as revs climbed. As we slowed for a border patrol checkpoint on I-10 the Porsche went flat. All systems died and I had to mash the brakes to avoid rear-ending an SUV when the brakes lost power too. We managed to re-fire the engine as we still had some momentum. The car was causing quite a scene because I was trying to keep the revs up and we were cranking it while the car bucked with the clutch going in and out. But as we creeped through the checkpoint and the border patrol agent yelled, “you’re both citizens, right?” the car sputtered ominously.
“Yes!” we answered, still rolling about five MPH. Then, the SUV stopped just past the checkpoint and we were forced to stop completely too. Anthony immediately jumped out and began to push, but it was no good. Our new push-starting ritual had no effect. The 911 refused to start even with a couple of border patrol agents helping. We called a flatbed as the sun dropped.
The driver, Lloyd, suggested a garage in Las Cruces, New Mexico specializing in German and Japanese cars. Fortunately, the mechanic lived next door to the garage and promised he’d look at it first thing in the morning. We left the car and walked down the road, carrying our gear to a small motel and checked in. We even managed to find a brewery nearby and drank some of the homebrew and met the locals, one of whom offered us an invitation to a “desert party with some girls from El Paso.” We politely declined and decided to turn in. [kiWO]
March 13, 2013: One More Time and Anthony Leaves
On Wednesday morning I awoke earlier than I should have as we had nowhere to go. I recalled the previous night and was glad that we skipped the desert party. Hanging out with a bunch of tweakers isn't my idea of fun. The sun was just rising and it would be a while before I'd know anything about the car.
Since I had the time and didn't want more fast food, I walked to a supermarket in the cold desert morning and bought a few things including the first fresh produce I’d eaten in a week, a tomato. I returned to the motel and ate on my bed while watching some cable show. Anthony was still asleep.
Over the next three hours, I called the garage a couple of times and both times was told that the car was about to be brought in. I decided that we’d depart, as the motel’s checkout time approached, and walk back to the garage to [hopefully] speed up the proceedings. The mechanic who received us last night was there and directed me to another mechanic with a Russian accent and a crew-cut who had assumed responsibility for the Porsche. The Russian informed me that the car did start, but that the starter was probably bad and would have to be replaced.
“Trast miy. They goe bad all the tyime,” he said. I asked him to whack the starter as the gear can get stuck and rapping on it tends to loosen it. “O-kye, but is not fyix,” he replied. Rather than replace the starter, I asked him to re-gap the ignition points, because I suspected that the points were too closed and were responsible for causing an RPM flutter at high revolutions. The wide Russian started at me blankly. “Hold on.” He went to retrieve the owner.
The owner, Manny, well-dressed and hair slicked back, took me by the arm and said “Don’t worry, we’ll get you a starter.” I argued, but it was clear that he was going to make some money. A few minutes later he told me that he didn’t have a starter and couldn’t locate one in all of Las Cruces. “That’s fine. I didn’t want one anyway. Could you however gap the points as I suspect they’re too closed?”
He smiled and spoke slowly, “look man, this is old technology. None of my boys know how to do it. Me, I do. I’ve been doing this shit for thirty years. But, now, I’m the owner and I ain’t no grease monkey. So I ain’t doin’ it. Good luck to you, LA is that way,” and he pointed west. At least we weren’t charged.
We fueled the car, determined to stop as few times as possible, and got on the road to Los Angeles just before noon. The RPM flutter became worse with every passing mile so that car couldn’t achieve eighty MPH any more. I drove gently, frequently under seventy MPH, trying to baby the car. If the problem remained constant it would take us about eleven to twelve hours to get home.
As I drove, I prayed silently every time the odometer ticked another tenth of a mile that we’d get one more. I glanced nervously from the road to the one mirror to the tachometer to the speedometer to the fuel gauge to the oil pressure to the oil temperature. The day was becoming warmer and so was the engine. We sweated.
We knew that we would have to stop for fuel once more and hoped we’d be able to keep the car running. Our fuel strategy came down to this: if we drove as far as possible until the car was on fumes we’d get closer to LA, but it would be useless if we were in the desert and miles from a real Porsche garage if we broke. We’d learned our lesson the day before.
So we determined that we’d stop in Phoenix near a Porsche mechanic, just in case. We got some suggestions about thirty miles out and made phone calls. Stuttgart Southwest came highly recommended and was about a mile from a gas station right off the freeway. That would be it: we’d either refuel and continue or the car would die on the off-ramp and we’d be calling AAA, again.
Traffic thickened as we approached the off-ramp and I crossed my fingers that we’d get a long, clear green light for our left turn at the top. I downshifted to keep the revs up and the light was green. Yes! There were about ten cars ahead of us and they were crawling, but at least they were moving. We were about two hundred feet from the intersection with five cars to go. Then the light went yellow.
Two more cars made it through and the third stopped. So did our engine. When the light went green again we attempted our habitual push-start but the engine just wouldn’t fire. Some jerk in a Ford F150 yelled, “buy American!” as he passed. For future reference, if you see two people pushing a car in traffic and want to help, please start by offering real assistance. Then, and only then, might you earn the right to pontificate.
I put the hazard lights on and when the light changed again Anthony and I pushed the car over the freeway, across another intersection and into our target gas station. I called Stuttgart Southwest and told Jack, the owner of the shop, that I’d be there as soon as the flatbed came. Although Anthony and I discussed pushing the car the mile to the shop, he wanted no part of it. We called AAA for the second time.
The flatbed still hadn’t shown up after an hour and a half. At this point, the sun setting, Anthony decided that he’d had enough. He called a taxi and gathered his bags. He said he had work to do and couldn’t wait for the car to be fixed. He was right, he didn’t have to deal with this. “Yeah, I’ll take your sleeping bag,” I told him and he left for Sky Harbor.
When I set out over a week ago, I left from Venice and picked Anthony up in South Pasadena about twenty miles away. We’d been across the country once and nearly again in ten days. It was nice to have a companion, but we’d had no time apart and frankly, I was looking forward to enjoying the 911, by myself. I watched the birds and people go by in the waning heat, leaning against my broken Porsche at a Tempe gas station. I waited another hour and a half until the flatbed finally appeared. [kiWO]
March 14, 2013: Music
The Porsche 911 was slowly pulled up the flatbed, then gently lowered back down about a mile away at Stuttgart Southwest (SS). Almost immediately after breaking down, there had been an outpouring of offers for help from the local enthusiast community via Facebook. Fortunately, I had a solid plan, executed well and wasn’t caught by surprise like the first time.
Had I not, the local community’s overtures would have been enthusiastically received and acted on. Thank you all again. I stood alone once more after the flatbed left, in the middle of a semi-industrial office park sparsely lit by floodlights, but was almost immediately picked up by my girlfriend’s sister, Lori, who lives in Phoenix. No cheap motel for me tonight. She took me out to dinner and made up the spare bedroom in her house. In the morning, she took me to breakfast and then drove me back to Stuttgart Southwest to check on the car.
When we arrived at SS the parking lot was bursting with Porsches of all types: 911’s of all generations, 914’s, and a few Boxsters. I think there were even a couple of Cayennes. I finally met Jack Doverspike, the affable principal, who exuded competence. He was the polar opposite of Las Cruces’ Manny. Jack apologized for having missed me the previous night and gave his assurance that they’d get me on the road as soon as possible. Lori waited for me to finish in the shop and then left me at a nearby Barnes & Noble where I worked until Jack called, “she’s all done. Just needed new points. Thank you. Youbetcha.”
I walked back and after shooting some video at SS, I threw all of my gear in the trunk of the resuscitated 911 and cranked the engine. She fired right up with a strong aircooled roar. I couldn’t wait to get back on the road.
Once under way, the old Porsche had guts again and accelerated as she had when I first set out. Running through each gear up to 5000 RPM, the Porsche roared and gained ground quickly. It was exhilarating. I couldn’t find twisties in this part of Arizona, but I did manage to get off the highway and ran on Salome Rd. and US60 for a while. It was hotter than the day before, but I wasn’t too worried about the engine any more. I had the windows down, the sunroof open and while the antenna still didn’t work (it never had, yeah, we ran cross-country twice with no tunes), the sounds of the engine roaring and the wind whipping the pages of my road atlas were music enough.
The rest of the drive to Venice was just as fun and relaxing. I parked the car later that night after completing a total of 5661 miles in less than two weeks. Roughly two months before the festivities, I had set out to buy a 911 that was mechanically capable of making it to the marque’s fiftieth birthday celebration in Amelia Island, Florida and home again. I hadn’t found the car until nine days before my departure date. But I found it, drove to Florida in four days, celebrated the 911’s birthday at an incredible car show, was interviewed by Jay Leno’s Garage for a segment, met a couple of my heroes, made it back in five days and drove some great roads.
In three weeks time I’ve gotten to know this car better than most owners ever do. It won’t be easy for me to sell. Thank you 911. [kiWO]