Monday, November 20, 2006

The best Porsche 911

Well my 1988 non-sunroof coupe, naturally, but why?
  • It has a galvanized body shell, which means that, in general, rust isn't a problem. Porsche started galvanizing with the 1975 model year. Some would say that this makes 1974 the absolutely worst year, since it has the heavier bumpers without the compensation of a rust-free body.
  • It has a 3.2 litre engine, which is the largest possible displacement using the original case (given the size of the case and the spacing of the bore centers). The 3.6 litre engine introduced with the 1989/90 C2/C4 964 cars uses funky offset head studs to achieve its displacement (which in turn led to the oil leak problems on the early cars).
  • It has simple digital engine controls, which means no points to adjust or replace, and long-life spark plugs. Throttle response is excellent with a single oxygen sensor, and the power is good (217 BHP) if not spectacular. It is very nearly completely user-serviceable, with the only microprocessor in the car being contained within the DME brain. All the mechanical bits are essentially the same as a pre-electronics car.
  • It has no ABS. The 964 introduce ABS to the Porsche 911, but ABS requires close to zero-offset steering. This meant that the Fuchs wheels wouldn't fit. The zero-offset geometry also meant that the cars needed power steering. Which made them heavier. Which led to the development of the 3.6 motor. See above.
  • It has torsion bar suspension. This means a nice roomy trunk in the front (unlike later cars).
  • It, along with other 87-89 cars, has the best legroom of any Porsche 911 ever made. The G50 shift linkage puts the shift lever further from the steering wheel than in earlier (915) cars, while the seat track is mounted lower and further back than in both pre-1986 and post-1989 cars. The 86-89 cars include small recesses in the central tunnel to allow the seats more travel, while the post-89 cars have airbags, which cause the designers to limit seat travel so as to guarantee good performance for unbelted drivers.
  • It has no sunroof. This means an extra 3" of headroom, plus about 30 pounds less weight up in the roof of the car. Three inches? Really? Yes, because of the shape of the 911 roof, the movable panel in the sunroof has to drop significantly in its rearward travel. The sunroof mechanism includes a steel box into which the panel travels, and this box forms a chord across the otherwise highly arched roof:
  • It has no air conditioning. The pre-1990 Porsche 911 AC system is a Rube Goldberg monstrosity that includes a huge compressor hung out over the tail of he car, one condenser mounted on the engine cover (where it thoughtfully pre-heats the intake and cooling air charge and where the constant hose flexing leads to leaks) and a second condenser mounted underneath the front bumper, so perfectly hidden from airflow that a blower is required to draw air from behind the front bumper and blow it down through the condenser). The evaporator is mounted in front of the footwell, and it only operates in recirculating mode, drawing air from the footwell, cooling it, and blowing it out the dash vents (which means that no fresh air comes out the dash vents). These components are strung together with about 20 feet of AC hose. Without this system in place, and with the dash vents replumbed to blow fresh air, the car is about 70 pounds lighter and frankly more comfortable to drive.
So in summary, this 911 - which is really one of a kind -- is about the best there is. It has the classic looks (except for the modern bumpers, which are only available if you accept the rust problem, plus less legroom), it is only about 150 pounds heavier (bumpers, sound deadening, a couple of extra heater blowers) than the lightest of the early cars), and it has the highest power rating of any user-serviceable 911 (to get more, you either need devilishly complex MFI or soul-sucking modern engine management).

1 comment: said...

Really informative and well written article.

i own a really nice 1977 911S in Alaska. It is out of the box stock except for a master mechanic overhaul in 2005 by it's then owner. Engine, transmission and everything. The paint and interior are still 9 on a 10 scale and it's always a headturner. I don't much like the 915 transmission in an otherwise perfect package. I am now a Snowbird each winter and I want a 911 to keep at my home down here in America when I'm here each winter.

I will really look hard at the 1988 911. Another Porscheaphile told me to look hard also at the 1995 911's.

Thanks again for the well written article.