Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Seating Plan

I've written about the importance I attach to engineering a correct driving position before, and the 18 months it has taken to restore my 911 has given me plenty more time to think about seats. 

In 1973, a Porsche 911T would have left the factory with a set of 'comfort' seats. While they might have been comfortable, these seats were probably better suited to a fireside in winter than doing the job of supporting an enthusiastically cornering driver. 
Comfortable, but not good
At some point over the last 40 years an owner of my car felt the same. Sadly, they chose to replace them with the cheap 'sports' seats that were in the car when I bought it. They were uncomfortable, badly made and installed so high up in the car that my head brushed the roof. They needed to go. 

The sports seats prior to an appearance on Ebay
Back in 1973, the original buyer could have opted for a sports seat made by Recaro (as are all Porsche seats) but these were expensive, and not many did - although if you'd been sensible enough to buy one of the 1,500 2.7RSs built that year you'd find a set when you opened the door - at least if you'd bought a 'Touring' version you would have. 
Recaro sports seats in a 2.7RS Touring
Original sets of these are now unobtainable - or at least, obtainable only if you're prepared to hand over a kings ransom. It is possible to buy reproductions; they are expensive, and while I'm sure the quality is good, I did want to sit on a set of real Recaros. I've experienced Recaro seats in any number of cars in the past and always appreciated their comfort and support. My need for access to the back of the car in order to stuff luggage or small boys into the rear perches meant I needed a front seat that tipped forward. That ruled out many of the race inspired models with their fixed backs, but this was always going to be a road car anyway. 

I spent a lot of time on the 'bay chasing after typical 1980's Recaros, and researched the possibility of modifying a period Porsche tombstone in the same way as Singer have done, but that didn't seem very original. 
A pair of modified 964 seats in a Singer Porsche
A few years ago Recaro produced a seat snappily called the Sportster CS. It's a high back design with good side support, slots for full harness shoulder straps, and a hard plastic back. Better still it adjusts for rake, and the back tilts. Recaro have used this design as the basis of many bespoke versions for manufacturers to fit in their sporty cars, so you'll find similar seats in hot Fords and Renaults, as well as upmarket vehicles from Aston Martin and Maserati. 

Now the Sportster CS is best part of £1,000 new, but I spotted a pair of the original aftermarket versions on the 'bay, and snaffled them up with a cheeky £900 bid. They had a slightly odd combination of grubby red Alcantara seat and squab with grey vinyl leatherette bolsters and head restraint, but they looked promising. When Tuthills Porsche were readying the car for its first UK MOT I asked them the install the seats. The first set of seat frames were too high, but a second version dropped them a couple of inches to the perfect height for my 6' 2", and I used them in the car for its first year on the road. 
The Sportster CSs as originally installed
There were many things about the pre-restored version of my 911 that were difficult to live with, but the seats were probably the best I've ever used in a road car. The colour though, didn't work with the otherwise black interior, or the yellow bodywork, and they were top of the list of things to change when I started the 'light' restoration. 

I'm something of a non-conformist when it comes to car interiors. As evidenced by thousands of aspirational Mercedes, Jaguars, BMWs and Audis etc., it seems the great majority aspire to have their seats (and dash, door cards, centre tunnels etc.) covered in leather - creating a veritable womb of dead cow skin. Why anyone would choose to sit on something that's cold in the winter, hot in the summer and slippery all year round is beyond me; leather doesn't really appear to be a material that's at all suitable for car seats. If you look at the most expensive coach-built limousines of the 1920s and 19030s you'll see that while the hired help doing the driving made do with a leather clad perch, the wealthy owners in the back sat on rich fabric. 
Sumptious fabric for this Bugatti Royale's owner
I'm with the fabric sitters,  so when it came to recovering the seats it was only going to be a fabric.

I researched the fabrics Porsche have used over the years. There's a wide range, from psychedelic checks that mess with your eyes, through wild tartans to utilitarian corduroys.

Bad trip
Eventually I chose a black and white houndstooth check known as Pepita in Porsche circles. This was used in the 911s from the late 1960s to early 1970s, and the two tones would unite the white headlining with the  black vinyl door cars and would be mirrored in  'Salt and Pepper carpet.  Sourcing an exact match to the original proved difficult and expensive, but there are options available that are so close only a Porsche geek with a ruler would know wasn't real. The small rear seats would use a combination of Pepita and vinyl that's close to original and matches the fronts.

So seats and fabric was handed over to Joe at Trimdelux, and in the fullness of time he worked his magic and I put the transformed Recaros back in the car in time for the MOT.


Friday, 29 August 2014

911T Project - The Light At The End of the Tunnel

You might expect that once your project car is back on its wheels with the engine installed in the right place you are nearly done. The past weeks I've spent franticly working through a long work-list belies that; putting the glass in, sorting out lights, exhaust, bumpers, wiring, controls, interior and a host of other small tasks took all that time and more, but I'm finally about done.

It was the nasty, cheap, smelly and suspiciously sticky carpets installed in the car when I bought that it really started me on the whole project. I seem to remember my initial objectives were to renew the carpets and fix the smokey engine, before it all snowballed into the restoration I've detailed here. 

Anyway, here is the old set laid out on the lawn for reference:

Rancid carpet

After a couple of abortive attempts to order carpet from a well known Dutch supplier I decided (with the help of a trimmer friend) to make my own. It took eight metres of carpet, and a good couple of days in a hot workshop on the warmest day of the year to cut out the dozen or so pieces I needed. I've selected an original Porsche carpet known as Salt and Pepper.  
Carpet template.
Right handed scissors + left handed user = sore hands

This all needed to be fitted into the car, which took another couple of days breathing fumes from strong contact adhesives, but the end result is looking promising. 

Re-trimmed rear shelf,  basket weave vinyl, and salt 'n pepper

I decided to re-use the exhaust that came with the car. A go-faster stainless set up is the ultimate goal, but this will allow me to get the car running. 

Yellow silencer
When the car was painted, back in the US, there was no attempt to mask the system, so the silencer was covered with yellow overspray. A few hours with the wire brush in the grinder and some light coloured high temperature paint sorted that out.

Grinder and wire brush; instant exfoliation

Bright shiny exhaust straps, white silencer, waiting for the
rain to stop falling on my 'workshop'
Trying to source a set of bumpers was a saga in itself. The glass fibre RS style front and rear bumpers that were on the car originally were of poor quality, and I didn't like the RS front air dam without the matching RS ducktail. In any case they were wrecked when the paint was blast cleaned off the car.
Bumpers V1.0
Modern road conditions and my heightened sense of self preservation means I probably won't venture much above 90mph so I can live without a front spoiler. So I sourced a standard, steel non-spoiler front item on ebay The car will look like the 911Rs that were raced before Porsche really started to understand that air flowing under the car generated lift, and therefore needed to be stopped with air dams and spoilers.
A 911 generating lift

The ebay buy was in good condition, so it just needed the trim holes filled and then painted. 

I also bid on a cheap used rear unit, but when it appeared it seemed to be only good for scrap; certainly it needed more glass fibre repair work that I was capable of. I was about to order a new unit from one recommended supplier when they told me delivery would be delayed by a month while the workforce went on their summer holidays. I then tried another specialist, but when that one arrived it had none of the brackets needed to fit it to a car. 

By this stage I had three of the damn things littering the place, and not one good enough to send to the paintshop. Then, while wandering around the local sailing club, I had a bit of a brainwave. I found a local chap more used to sorting out damaged glass fibre dinghies, took along the cheap ebay bumper, and a week later collected it looking almost as good as new. 

When the engine was in the car it became clear the the Carrera 3.2 specification oil pipes I'd so carefully cleaned and painted were the wrong length to match up to the earlier engine. So I estimated the dimensions of what I needed using some stiff wire and had a suitable flexible hose made up by a local hydraulics specialist. 
£50- worth of flexible oil pipe

At this stage, I needed to go and get the seats that had been sitting on the shelves of an understanding Joe at Trimdelux in Littlehampton ever since I stripped the car a couple of years ago. Over that time we've had long discussions over colours, fabrics and finishes, and the final decisions have been made. This gives an idea of what we're going for - a combination of traditional 911 materials, black leather, and modern seats.
Rear seats in progress

Salt 'n Pepper, basket weaver, belts, extravagant
hide covered B pillars
Finally I'd got about as far as I could with the limited facilities available. There's only so much I can achieve working outside on the driveway, and without an ability to get properly under the car even tasks that would be simple with a lift, like attaching the petrol pipes or fitting the earth strap to the back of the gearbox, are next to impossible lying under a car. 

So earlier this week the car was pushed onto the back of another trailer and taken off to Jez at GCS in Horsham. He's been tasked with setting the suspension geometry and ride height, checking all the nuts and bolts are tight, sorting out any of my FUBARs and obtaining a MOT certificate.
Off for the finishing touches?

As I write, I'm waiting for Jez's verdict. 


Tuesday, 15 July 2014

911T Project - engine update

I'll just leave these here. Its the lovingly rebuilt engine from my 911T, complete with its new set of lungs courtesy of PMO in the US.

And here it is again, back home in the car where it belongs:


Classic Le Mans 2014

Each time I travel across to France for the Classic Le Mans I worry that the specialness of the event will be subsumed under crass commercialisation and overcrowding. Well, in spite of the best efforts of the organisers to do just that, I still had a great time, and still rate it one of the 'must do' old car events in Europe. 

As in 2012, I took my son and we travelled in my 964, just back from having its original, not messed with, thrashed, tracked or neglected & completely bullet-proof engine completely rebuilt. Also travelling with us were various old Porsche driving friends, so we were nine in total at our Gites, some 10km west of the circuit. After years of camping in the Le Mans circuit wastelands, I'm at an age when a comfy bed, hot shower and good food are as important to me as the track action, so as far I was concerned the additional cost was well justified, especially as our host turned out to be an excellent chef. 

The 964 outside the Gite with a 1966 predecessor
Another improvement on previous expeditions was the decision to travel a day earlier, arriving on Thursday evening after taking the scenic route down from Dieppe. It meant we had to whole of Friday to wander around the paddocks in relative peace, and could get close the cars and even talk to drivers and mechanics before the bedlam that is the Saturday. 

Even with a bizarre schedule that saw the first race only get under way at 5pm, it's still magic to see old racing machinery being driven properly on a track that lets big, fast cars really stretch their legs. Inevitably, our focus was on the later grids; four, five and six, where six, eight and twelve cylinder Porsches from the 1960s and 70's were out in force. Although the Saturday evening's races were affected by the weather, our successful blagging of access to the ACO's clubhouse meant we weren't. 
The view from the roof of the ACO's clubhouse
I'm no great photographer, but one of our party is, you can see some of his pictures from the trip on his Flickr page here.

On the Monday we left, but rather than head north back up to the ferry port with the others we decided to spend a couple of days seeing the Normandy D day sites, finally arriving back in sunny West Sussex on Tuesday evening.

Good trip.


Wednesday, 25 June 2014

911T Project - More Progress

When I started this project in January 2012, my intention was that the car was going to be back on the road for the summer. That summer; the hot one we had a year ago.

Here we are, 20 months on and bits of the car are still spread over large swathes of West Sussex as well as in my garage, utility room, and office. Oh well; as the poet said: "The best laid schemes o' mice an' men, Gang aft a-gley

In my defence, my original plans that New Year's day involved no more than new carpet and a quick blow-over, plans which, in all honesty, have developed into a full-on restoration with a chunk of resto-mod thrown in.

That's my way of explaining why I won't be driving the car to Classic Le Mans next month.

Meanwhile, things are moving on:

The cylinder heads have been comprehensively refreshed and re-worked. Originally
they had very narrow ports and a hole for the CIS injectors.

The ports have been opened up to 'S' specification, and the CIS injectors
blocked off. Valve guides were replaced, seats re-cut, and the whole unit treated to
a good polishing. Flow rates are now up 50%

The new carburettors have arrived from California. They are made by
PMO and have an excellent reputation. Certainly they look the business -
it seems a bit of a shame to hide them in the engine bay.

Here's the engine in build. We decided to take the risk of not splitting
the crank case as all looked to be in excellent condition. The eventual
power output is anyone's guess; anything between 150-200bhp is
possible. More important is a unit that behaves itself.
A replacement dash was sourced. The condition wasn't great so it was
an excuse to get my mate Garry to cover it in leather.

The car with a windscreen and bonnet. Words that take moments
to type, but a process that took several weeks and the intervention
of my Porsche guru to complete.

Engine lid on, something that I learnt is much easier when you take
the grill out. Thanks for the tip Internet.

The new completion target is September, but I'm not telling which year.


Thursday, 22 May 2014

Earned a beer

I'm no great drinker, but somedays you really feel like you've earned a cool tinny. Fitting the oil pipes and cooler to the 911 turned out not to be the work of a moment. More accurately, it was the work of a fortnight.

I faced a number of 'challenges' (as us rank amateur car restorers like to call major SNAFUs) to do with attaching 30 year old used parts to a car that didn't have them fitted in the first place. Firstly I had to enlist help to get the remains of the flexible oil hoses off the solid hoses, and galvanic corrosion between the steel pipe fixings and the aluminium diverter valve meant another £300- into Porsche's coffers for a new one. It also took me ages to find the correct adaptor for the oil cooler to replace the one I'd butchered freeing it from the old pipes.

Fresh aluminium gently reacting with steel
Attaching the pipes and cooler without the benefit of the brackets, fittings and holes Porsche thoughtfully provided on the 911S and RS models (the ones with front oil coolers from new) took a number of goes and (oh the shame) a visit to B&Q for the necessary hardware. 

B&Q's contribution; coach bolts
I used 50mm coach-bolts to fit the three shaped clamps under the sill, taking the positions from a photo of a un-messed with 2.7RS. I used a modified galvanised heavy duty shelf bracket to support the bottom of the oil cooler, and made a mild steel bracket (well, several, actually) to support the cooler at the top. There are metal/rubber bobbins at both points to protect the cooler from vibration.

The Mk7 oil cooler mounting bracket
The one fixing that was on the car. Thanks Ferdinand.
Oddly, the captive bolt needed to support the pipes as they run under the rear wheel arch had been fitted when the car was built, and had spent 40 years sitting quietly waiting to fulfil its reason for existence.  Oversight? Standardised assembly? In any case, it's now reached the top of Maslow's triangle, fulfilled and holding up the two pipes it was born for.

One week in, all flattering to deceive.
Early 911s have two batteries, each held in boxes let into the front inner wing. The right hand one sits about where the oil cooler should go, so as I didn't want to make any changes that couldn't be reversed at some point, I had to fit the cooler in front of it. 

It took many goes at getting the oil pipes in the right place without interfering with the wing, and at the same time placing it as close to the battery box as I could to stop any fouling on the tyres. 
Sufficient clearance around the tyre
That box does stop a clear airflow to the cooler from the horn grills under the headlight, but I reckon its going to be much more effective at keeping the expensive engine happy than not using one. Airflow from the front of the car into the wheel arch is turbulent in any case - spinning road wheels cause a build up of high pressure under the arch in all closed wheel cars.

Finally, after many, many test fittings the assembly was fitted.  As an afterthought I fitted the front wing. 

Its all looking a bit more car-shaped. 

The beer was good. 


Wednesday, 7 May 2014

A Very Sensible Hatchback

'Fast' is a very relative term. On a horse, 25mph is exhilarating while 500mph in a 747-400 all the away to Australia is literally soporific. Nearer the ground, I'm looking forward to being re-united with my Porsche 964 soon, its brawny 3.6litre engine punches out 250bhp, quicker than most cars on the road and capable of pushing the 911 to 160mph. But I was reminded how things have moved on since 1990 by a recent try in a 5 door hatchback.

I have a vague recollection of handing over my details to a cutie on BMW's magnificent edifice at the Goodwood Festival of Speed last July and asking about their 135i. There has been something of a buzz about the M-Light version of their visually challenged hatchback and I was curious enough to want to try one. Ever since then a persistent salesman from my nearest dealer has been on my case. He called me again recently and announced that he was able to offer me a car at a "silly price" so I thought I'd go along and waste some of his time.

I dug out some decent clothes and turned up at the dealership promptly at the agreed 11am. The forecast was for a bit of precipitation so I took the Golf, not the bike. At least that meant I was able to put some light go-faster shoes on - all the better for stepping lightly on an over-servoed brake pedal. 

There were a couple of new 1-Series sitting in the showroom when I arrived, so while the salesman was girding his loins for our encounter and the pleasant receptionist was rustling up a cappuccino, I had a good look around. I suspect this most recent iteration of BMW's smallest is a bit bigger than the 130i I looked at buying a few years ago. Unlike that car (which I remember as being an almost completely pointless four doored two seater) this has near Golf space in the rear with the front seat in 'my' position - and I'm a lanky six foot one-and-a-bit on a good day. As expected the boot is shallow - what with a diff and multi-link rear suspension set up under the floor 'n'all, but the five doors would be a practical plus over the somewhat limiting three of my own Golf. At least that upside banana 'character line' under the doors has been banished - I always thought it made the car look as if its spine had been fractured - but even without that obvious flaw the 1-series remains slab sided and moonfaced.

Inside, the steering wheel is a big chunky for my tastes, while the dash architecture is generic BMW - functional, classy and with some nice details. As some compensation the road wheels are relatively sensible 18's. BMW have even finally binned the inadequate sliding calliper brakes of 'M' cars in the past for a decent 4-pot set up in a fetching shade of blue. 

The two cars in the showroom were laden with options; both had the 8 speed autobox that Chris Harris likes, a £2k nav system and a load of 'convenience' doo-dahs for people who are unable to operate their own wipers & lights or park(or change gear...). However, in contrast to BMWs of old the standard level of kit is generous and includes such niceties as Xenon lights, a large screen+mouse interface, a DAB radio and dual zone climate control. 

Sadly, this generosity extends to the nasty Dakota leather that also comes as standard - presumably this reflects UK buyers' misguided preference for dead cow skin under their backsides. 

There is no cloth option.

After a half decent cup of coffee (it wasn't as nice as the one Porsche Portsmouth give me when I pop in to buy four quids worth of parts) the determined salesman and I went out in their demonstrator, a black 5 door with that 8-speed autobox. Mr Persistent went first, demonstrating a nicely refined BMW approved driving style; 45mph through the village's 30 limit, binary pedal technique, seat nice and high, and a good arm's stretch to the steering wheel for the 'full Stirling' driving position.

At the handover I levered the seat to the floor, pulled the fat wheel into my lap and raked the seat's back up. Much better.

First impressions were dominated by the variable assisted steering rack; turning out of the handover car-park and the steering lock was noticeably not directly related to my input -  the car adding exponentially more lock the further I turned the wheel. Not really very re-assuring and I ended up zigging and zagging down the road until I got dialled in. The assistance is of the electrical variety, and like some many of these systems it really only appeals to drivers who think 
steering 'feel' means how the your fingertips like the cheap leather covering the rim. Any connection with the road surface that allows to you judge grip and balance is almost entirely missing. 

The first few miles were busy 'A' road and second impressions were of a controlled but acceptable ride - even on the standard 18inch run flats - and a refined, even hushed lack of noise. In Comfort mode (alternatives are Eco and Sport - more later) the changes were smooth and plentiful as the box hunted for the highest possible gear. However, unlike my Golf's DSG system, it was willing to drop a gear or two (or three or four..) at a slight prod of the gas pedal.

After a while we turned onto the fast sweepers of the dualed A24 north of Worthing, and as the road opened up I pushed my right foot to the stop.

Feck me.

BMW claim 320bhp, but my seat of the pants dyno tells me they're telling porkies. There's a lot of accelerator pedal travel, but get it anywhere near the floor and it feels almost as quick as the 991 I 'owned' for a week last year. I wouldn't be at all surprised if the thing grunts out well over 350bhp, meaning it would be knocking on the door of 170mph without the limiter. I wasn't about to confirm this on the A24 but 3 figure speeds were horribly easy to achieve, all accompanied by a delicious yowl from the straight six that's only partly synthesised through the car's ICE system. This is some sensible family hatchback.

It was also pretty easy to waft along at normal motorway speeds, but after a few miles I left the open spaces of the A24 and joined a familiar A road heading back south towards Angmering. In 'Sport' mode the ECU delivers sharper throttle response and quicker changes,  responding rapidly to commands from the paddles either side of the wheel. In fact I suspect BMW have engineered a little 'thump' into the system just like the faux racers from Maranello. 

The steering still felt a little numb, definitely the weakest part of the dynamic equation. I suspect traction in anything but perfect conditions would also be a challenge; even in the dry, more aggressive use of the available torque produced flickers from the ASC light on the dash as the car went light over brows and lumps in the road. In fact, the chassis seemed not quite up to the standards of the drive-train. It lacked an ability to flow over a road like the best fast cars; as the pace increased the body moved around more than felt comfortable, affecting my confidence to push very hard. Poorly specified damping? Lack of suspension travel? Mind you, even at 8/10ths we were travelling at speeds I wouldn't like to have to justify to a member of Sussex's finest. 

On the upside it was lovely to feel the balance of a rwd chassis again; get all the braking done before the corner, turn in and pour on the power and there's no sign of the Gti's perennial understeer - in fact  the little Beemer seemed to pivot gently through neutral into a slight oversteer attitude before the blinking light cut the power - I suspect any attempt to turn the electronic stabilisers off might have been greeted with some resistance by my now strangely subdued company.

A bit more of this and we were back at the dealership. I'd nearly forgotten the pushy salesman  but as I popped to the loo (its an old man thing) I overheard him discussing our little test drive which appeared to have left something of an impression. I sympathise, I'm a poor passenger and I'd hate to be at the mercy of any test pilot who came into my showroom - especially one who fancied themselves as a wheelman/woman. I did apologise, and he claimed to have experienced much worse - in fact he was charmingly complimentary.

Sadly I then had to put up with a lot of sales bullsh*t over the price. The stock cars are not the strippers I'd specify at £30k, but fully dressed £38k jobs. A lot of money for a 5-door hatch, even one that's borderline ballistic. Even at the 10% discount he inferred might be do-able - without much prompting on my part. While I *might* just have a word with myself at £27k, at a lot more than that I'll hang fire and buy one on a couple of years.

On the other hand, if any of you want Cayman performance with hatchback practicality and understated looks I give you a shortlist of one. Oh, and I'd tick the box that removed the M135i badge and replaced it with a 116i one.