Twenty-Footer

One man's view on the delights of owning an entirely ordinary older 911.

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November 4, 2011

We have all read about them, dreamed about them. A forgotten sports car, tucked under a tarp in a dilapidated barn somewhere in the middle of nowhere. Some limited-production something complete with a sad story, obtained for a pittance and then meticulously restored beyond showroom condition. A sports car too valuable to drive sportingly.

This is not one of those stories.

This is more an ode to the ordinary…a musing over the mundane. My Porsche, a 1984 Carrera Targa, is one of nearly 17,500 built during that model run. A surprise gift from my wife Camilla for my 61st birthday, the car has suffered the ravages of time, weather, poor driving, multiple ownership, quirky modification, and inconsistent maintenance.

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So, you may ask, why write about this vehicle and, more to the point, why read about it? Simple, really. Benchwarmers outnumber superstars. Ten-minute milers outnumber four-minute milers. There are far more beaters than barn finds. For the silent majority, this one’s for you.

My 911 is a tribute to the brand. Despite the mistreatment she has endured, the ole girl starts, stops, does not drip or leak, and makes that glorious air-cooled wail at 6500 rpm. I smile when I drive her.

It was not always that way. Our relationship required an incubation period. It was not love at first sight. In fact, what I first saw was that big dent on the left front fender, the chips, the dings, and the sundry blemishes. The weird red piping on the re­upholstered seats, the red-painted brake calipers peeking through oxidized alloys, and the cellulite on once shapely hips.

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She did not like to start. She did not like to run. She bounced, she jiggled, and she inexplicably pulled left or right when stopping. Downshifting displeased her. With a shift pattern exploring the entire region of her interior, “crisp” wasn’t in her vocabulary. This Targa presented a challenge.

My first challenge was what to do. Not wishing to appear ungrateful, I graciously accepted my birthday gift, profusely professing adoration for my wife and for my “new” Porsche. What else could I do?

Hoping to find rays of sunshine in this rather murky first encounter, I revisited the Targa, examining her more carefully. Un­for­tunately, what I found was dark and stormy. The door-mounted mirrors had been “updated” to include sequential turn indicators reminiscent of a 1967 Mercury Cougar. The black exterior had been re­painted. Poorly repainted: thicker here than there, an occasional surface shimmy reflecting shoddy prep. Likely, she was painted in someone’s garage. Or driveway. Rustoleum was obviously not the brand of choice, because rust bubbled below the left headlight like pimples raging on the nose of a pubescent junior high school student.

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Misguided intention pockmarked the interior. A fancy aftermarket radio-MP3 player adorned the dash. Speakers of various sizes punctuated each door panel. A dark, ominous-looking grill/speaker contrivance was prominently centered upon and embedded within the modified rear deck. That deck, incidentally, had shaken loose from its attachments, apparently from increased wattage emanating from a large amplifier in the trunk.

The car itself was protected by an anti-theft device, effective not only in generating obnoxious noise but also creating such a drain on the electrical system that the battery would only titter after two or three days of inactivity…the preferred activity of my “new” Carrera.

Not all the enhancements showered upon this Porsche were cosmetic. The addition of a K&N air filter, Sparco aluminum foot pedals, and a huge rear spoiler that would have been right at home on a 930 no doubt enhanced performance.

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What to do? What to do first?

My Targa was not nor ever would be a concours contender. Because I actually like to drive the cars I own, I first addressed the mechanics of the car. Camilla questioned the need to invest in repairs right off the bat until, during a short drive incorporating several hills and multiple traffic lights, we ground the gears unmercifully while bucking our way to our destination.

After two shop visits and a cash infusion equal to Camilla’s initial investment, my Targa demonstrated no propensity to bump and grind. She also maintained a shift pattern within acceptable parameters. With snowfall imminent, I filled the tank, administered a generous dosage of Stabil, disconnected the battery, ceremoniously draped the car cover, and headed for Florida.

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Returning to Cape Cod after five months, I pulled off the car cover, reconnected the battery, removed the top, crossed my fingers, and twisted the key. I aspired to cruise down County Road enroute to Catu­met happy as the proverbial Quahog Clam. In­activity had not befriended my Targa. The ole girl was only willing to engage four and occasionally five cylinders during our short trip. She returned huffing and puffing to the safety of my garage. Hmm.

Since I live nearly 50 miles from any “Porsche performance specialist,” I decided to call a repair shop that advertises on our local public radio station. “Yes,” the manager assured me. “We service all makes, foreign and domestic, including (one syllable) Porsche.” Sacrilege, you say? Well, my options were limited, he did seem enthusiastic, and he offered me a ride home.

This incident provided my first dose of reality. A Porsche is a special car, but it is, after all, still a car. The Carrera did not need a German Shaman to impart some magic to its internals, ravaging my pocketbook in the process. A set of rebuilt injectors and new spark plugs later, my Targa sang with a clear voice. She started without hesitation, idled without a grumble, and enjoyed all engine speeds.

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A bond developed between us.

I began thinking restoration rather than resurrection. I could do some things myself. Ridding the interior of its audio-induced appendages could certainly be accomplished with a new interior kit…smooth RS side panels…a clean GT3-style rear compartment devoid of seats, seatbelts, and stereo speakers seemed reasonable.

Exchanging the directional-arrow turn signal mirrors with traditional side mirrors should be straightforward. New rubber seals would fill the gap between the vent windows and the roof. Proper bodywork and new paint would make her sparkle. A lower stance would give the Targa a more aggressive look. Adding a sport muffler and a performance chip would certainly “un­lock the true potential of my Porsche.”

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My wife injected a second dose of reality. She reminded me I own a ten-minute miler, not an Olympic medal winner. I can park in a supermarket lot without fear of an errant grocery cart or careless door ding. Locking the car and hermetically sealing it at every stop is unnecessary. The Targa is now actually fun to drive. She elicits finger pointing and shouts from teenage girls and old men.

I am saving money.

Of course, Camilla was right. I moved mentally from a place littered with cotton swabs and car care catalogs. I envisioned my Carrera from a different perspective, the “20-footer perspective.” You know, the dynamic of looking “pretty good” from a distance of 20 feet or more.

Now before you toss your boar hair brush and wring your chamois in disgust, let me say that I acknowledge a place for garage queens…true concours contenders. Perfection is, well, perfection.

There must be some perverse pleasure derived from knowing that one’s body fasteners are properly plated. But my 20- footer perspective brought peaceful tranquility to me. I would simply clean it, maintain it, drive it, and enjoy it.

I invested in a bottle of 3M Imperial Hand Glaze, a jar of Blue Magic Metal Polish, and a case of Schlitz beer. Over the course of several days, I gently caressed, buffed, and rubbed my girl, erasing many scratches and simply winking at the rest. I vacuumed and scrubbed the interior, draping the floor mats over lawn furniture to dry in the sun. I removed that rear spoiler. I removed the wheels to clean thoroughly those faded red calipers. I massaged generous dollops of Mother’s Back to Black body lotion onto the rubber trim.

Yesterday, Camilla and I celebrated my 62nd birthday. We meandered “down Cape,” winding along Old King’s Highway through Sandwich, Barnstable, Yarmouth, and Dennis in the Targa. We enjoyed the sunshine, the shops, and the burble of the flat six’s exhaust. We chuckled at a niggling squeak hiding somewhere beneath my seat. I did not long to rocket from 0–60 in 2.6 seconds; third gear suited us perfectly.

Stopping for coffee and a Buffalo Chip cookie at the Mercantile, I glanced back to admire her. Not bad for a 20-footer.

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