The lost gear!

There was a young lady of Niger
Who smiled as she rode on a tiger;
They returned from the ride
With the lady inside,
And the smile on the face of the tiger.

-William Cosmo Monkhouse

As I read this poem, I can’t help but think that the author must have been thinking of an air cooled porsche (maybe, even a pre-964 Turbo). For like the lady’s tiger, they have been known to have quite the appetite for the unwitting driver.

There are many things I love doing. Nothing, however, beats driving my air cooled wonder of the 80s, as St. Louis slumbers, in the Sunday morning chill. Of course, as anyone who is wont to ride on moody tigers will tell you, taking it slow in the begining, has its just rewards. While normally afflicted by pedestrians, bicycle people, dog people and their dogs, as well as people who, evidently, learned driving online, the streets of Clayton at daybreak are bereft of hurdles, as the engine warms up, and thus lubricates the gearbox. Unlike the rapid shifting of more modern cars, barely sneaking above the idle at 1600 rpm, this sleepy tigress needs to be kept in the revs to avoid lugging the engine.


When I first started driving air cooled rear engine cars, I drove them like modern cars. Moving quickly through the gears till I was in the highest achievable gear at the lowest rpm. Turns out, not such a good thing for oil cooled cars. Why, you ask? Well, it has to do with the fact that the engines revs circulate the oil. So, low revs mean low oil circulation, which in turn is bad for your engine.


Which is all very well, but what does that have to do with the “lost gear”?
I’m coming to that. I often wondered why Porsche stuck with 4 gears on the 930 for a long time. When you drive a five speed, you figure out exactly why. While first gear is punishing, and should NEVER be downshifted into, second and third gears are great to wind up the engine. But my favorite gear of all is: fourth. It is amazingly tractable and on the expressway, is all you will ever need.


To anyone who has not driven a rear engined air cooled car without modern accoutrements, this may not make sense. But, having power to the rear wheels, is paradoxically more reassuring than slowing down. Staying in the band between 4250 and 5250 rpm in 4th, feels like the car is being stuck to the road under the burden of Mjolnir’s fearsome force. In the few instances, where I have had to take it beyond the 5300 mark (to avoid idiots), I did not feel a lack of grip, but I fear my 35 year old brakes and 45 year old reflexes on skinny tires may be overmatched.


Which brings me to 5th. Why does it even exist?


When I took delivery of this beast, I drove it as I did my previous cars and frequently drove in 5th. Did not really enjoy it, and did not realize what I was missing by quickshifting through 4th. Speaking to the engine’s tuner, I realized the error of my ways, and haven’t looked back.


Today morning’s saunter in the wild, I strayed into fifth again. This time I could objectively feel the car feel light and jitttery, like a debutante at her first dance, despite running between 3500 and 4500 rpm. Downshifting back to 4, brought back the character, the firmness and reassurance. The tires seemed to cling harder as the cars claws seemed to reemerge.


To those of you, in 4 speed air cooled cars, lusting for the magic of overdrive, I would like to reassure you that it is completely overrated and unnecessary. It’s fine for a sedan or a daily driver. Not, these tigers.

The 1985 Carrera RS that Porsche never made.

Every era of 911 cars was notable for the presence of race derived or the so-called RennSport cars. Often naturally aspirated, these represented the pinnacle of Porsche’s commitment to developing true sports cars rather than supercars and hypercars. Great to drive, compact, practical and reliable, all 911s (and 356s before) have been as adept on a race track as they are as daily drivers – with individual cars often racking up the kind of mileage that an entire fleet of Ferraris would never see (or survive).

1964-5 (the birth year of the 911) as well as 1984-85 were interesting years in the history of Porsche. While in the former, the 911 had just launched to much fanfare, the 80s were a time of rededication to the 911 doctrine. In the two decades since its launch, the 1985 Carrera (911) was still an air-cooled flat six with a largely unchanged body shape. The engine had gone from a 2.0 L 130 bhp to a 3.2 L 231 bhp (204 bhp for the US), while the body had a wheelbase of 87 inches at launch (weighing 2381 lbs) increasing in 1985 to 89.45 inches in 1985 (now weighing 2756 lbs). In both guises, these were striking purpose built cars, as seen below.

A 1968 912 (similar in appearance to the original 1964 901(911)
1985 Carrera 3.2 Targa – The Secret RS

Starting in the late 60s with the R and the ST versions of the standard factory cars, Porsche launched several race oriented road cars. In the 70s, these became the Carrera, Carrera RS, Carrera 2.7 and Carrera 3.0 as well as the ultra-rarefied SC RS, RSR and RSR touring cars. In fact, in 1985, Porsche made 20 SC RS cars with the 3L engine but not with the 3.2. To this day, Porsche continues this with the R, GT3, GT3R, GT3RS, and GT2RS cars. To a classic owner, though, some characteristics of the great cars include, an air-cooled fire breathing raucous engine, a non-assisted steering with incredible feel, delightful suspension with characteristic handling (and none of the silliness of a Turbo trying to kill you), a mechanical clutch and robust gearbox (the old 901 and later the 915). All this, in a practical 2+2 body.

The Carrera 3.2 from the 80s represents the pinnacle refinement of the movement that began in 1965. Come 1989, and the onset of the modern paradigm shifting 964-bodied Carrera/911, these classic lines and characteristics would morph into what is the contemporary Porsche 911. A more modern hydraulic clutch and gearbox, twin spark ignition (an erstwhile feature of racing P-cars from the 50s and 60s), improved brakes, at the cost of a larger and heavier (and maybe, a little more ungainly looking) body. But for purists like I, nothing says the zenith of the 911 aura like a 1985 Carrera Targa – especially, this beauty that is named after my beautiful, and equally hot-headed, spouse.

This particular car started out as a grey market imported (german/ROW spec) car with the Sport package, cruise control and LSD as well as a leather interior. After a brief course in Texas, she moved to California until 2013 when she moved to the midwest. In Nebraska, another loving owner lavished his attentions on her. With the assistance of Terry Worick and Sal Carceller, significant improvements were underway. Retaining her perfectly preserved original paintwork and leather interior, her entire engine was transformed from a competent Euro Spec 231 bhp engine to fire breathing 296 bhp monster capable of humbling any naturally aspirated 964 from the next generation. Taking out the engine, a complete engine rebuild was performed.

Recondtioned heads with ARP head studs and ARP rod bolts
98 mm Mahle cylinders with JE pistons. 10.5:1 compression. Cylinders drilled for twin spark. New piston rings. Engine capacity increased to 3.4 L.
DC21 (Dougherty Racing) camshaft – subsequently replaced by a 964RS camshaft
Competition spec valves with upgraded valve seats and high performance springs with titanium retainers
Patrick Motorsports lightweight flywheel with upgraded pressure plate. Jwest Rennshift performance shifter to make the transmission much sharper.
Custom S-CAR DME MAF with enlarged injectors.
Andial splitter for twin spark
Wideband AFR
Completed engine
Installed engine with Billy Boat 1 3/4″ headers and dual inlet/outlet mufflers with stainless steel tips

In addition, with the assistance of Scott Fowler and Reid Vann Luxury Imports in St. Louis, since purchase, we have corrected all the wiring gremlins of a 35 year-old car, installed turbo tie rods to sharpen the handling. While a suspension upgrade to the car was considered, it has been currently held off on the advice of the experts at Reid Vann. The current feeling is that the handling – even with the stock adjustable suspension as well as the ride height is currently perfect and further enhancements may only result in diminishing returns.

When the rubber meets the road…

As seen on the dyno, this vehicle makes 227 lb ft of torque and 254 rwhp. This is pretty close to the output of later generations of the 964 RS, all with the weight advantage of the older body and close to the maximum that can be handled by the 915 gearbox.

A stock Carrera could do 0-60 in 5.5 sec in 1985. I, on the other hand, don’t care about what this car takes to go from 0-60. Because, when I step on it – she goes. She is not defined by numbers but by the feelings she evokes. It would seem that bats making a hasty exit from hell could not catch up, and if they could, the evil hellhound sound of this car would terrify them anyway. People have talked about using different engine management (e.g TEC3R) but I believe that Sal has built an amazing and unique unit – that is ideal for this car. Like a fine vintage, all good things have really come together in this. Similarly, people have mentioned using Fabspeed and MK exhausts over the Billy Boats – but why would I, when the evil growl from this car’s rear is a perfect match for its character.

During a recent Porsche club drive, this car had no trouble keeping up with newer 997 and even 991 cars. Unlike many tribute cars out there – 911R reproductions, 911ST, RSR Carreras etc. , this car makes no bones about what it is. It is proud to look and feel like a REAL G-modell 911 from the 1980s. It has no fake flares, no outsize tires, no tea-tray, wide fenders or slantnose. It is not backdated, like a Singer. Outwardly, it looks and feels like the perfect factory Carrera 3.2 – with the heart of a Rennwagen.

So, it sounds like an RS. It drives like an RS. It has the creature comforts that a touring car would have.

What can I say?

If it talks like an RS and walks like an RS, I would posit that it probably is the RS version of the Carrera, that Porsche never made in 1985. I represented it, as such, at the recent HCCMO Easter Concours d’Elegance, and, I think they must agree.