Air-cooled Tomfoolery: Archibald Vicar on the new Porsche Nine-Hundred And Eleven
From “Advanced Motorism” October, 1964. Photographs by Douglas Land-Windermere, Esq.
The “Volk” who make Porsche sportscars (a firm called Porsche, oddly) invited “Advanced Motorism” to drive their new machine, the Nine-Hundred-and-Eleven. I hadn’t been abroad for a while so I accepted forthwith, chiefly so I could stock up on duty-free Craven “A” cigarettes and a few bottles of Teachers.
Curiously Porsche sent along two airline tickets for a Lufthansa flight to Cologne. We inquired as to why they did not offer us tickets to Stuttgart since that is considerably nearer to where Porsche make their Porsches. The answer was that we would collect a test car from a dealer in Cologne. It would appear that going about things the wrong way is a Porsche tradition. I shall return to this matter of strange arrangements in due course.
“….immediately hailed a taxi…”
Land-Windermere, the photographer, and I, the journalist, landed late at Cologne’s rather drab airport and immediately hailed a taxi which took us to a suitable beerhall. There we recovered from our bumpy journey with numerous drafts of the city’s special lager and hefty plates of various pork cuts. Then we resumed our peregrination towards the
Fleischauer motor car dealership to collect our Nine-Hundred-and-Eleven. After a rather meandering drive where we seemed to cross the famous river Rhine a dozen times we finally arrived at the imposing premises of Herr Fleischauer. The Herr himself met us, imploring us to take extra care of the car as it was to be delivered to one of the first customers. Obviously the Rhenish folk aren’t reading “Advanced Motorism” before risking their Deutschmarks on untried and untested motor vehicles!
Let us return to the matter of strange arrangements without much further ado. In drawing up the design for their new car, Porsche have made it like the old car. Thus the Swabians have demonstrated a typical local character flaw. If we British are renowned for taking a jolly good idea and making a hash of it in the details, the Swabians can be relied upon to take a dreadful idea and struggle heroically to make it work. In the case of the Nine-Hundred and Eleven, Porsche have started with the unsound foundations of the Volkswagen “Beetle” and proceeded from there with much wasted diligence.
“…a large lump of engine…”
Despite having decades to learn that hanging a large lump of engine behind the back wheels is a rather foolish proposition, Porsche are still at it with the Nine-Hundred and Eleven. Even Land-Windermere (who knows nearly nothing about motor cars) coughed in disbelief when we opened the bonnet to find a spare wheel and room for not much else. Of course, our suitcases would not fit and so L-W was doomed to follow me about in a successsion of beige taximeter cabs.
From the inside, the Porsche is cramped and inhospitable. Worse than a Morgan, in fact. From the outside, the new Porsche is not much to look at, resembling nothing if not a Porsche 356 seen in a tame fair-ground mirror. I would very much hope that the engineers at Porsche try a little originality next time around. It is, after all, 1964 and the previous car was on sale for nigh on fifteen years. One wonders how much longer they will continue to plough this dismal furrow before learning that one must always stay “up-to-date” in the world of motor cars.
“….even more unbalanced…”
Making a bad situation worse, the engine powering the Porsche is bigger than before, being a flat-six lump. This means the car is even more unbalanced than the departing one which was only a simple four banger. A chain-driven overhead camshaft serves each bank of cylinders and, as if to justify the horrible expense of the car (3,500 pounds sterling!) there are twin-choke Solex carburetors. Thanking Heaven for small mercies, I see that the swing-axle arrangement of the previous car has been done away with but only to make room for transverse torsion bars. Why did they bother?
Whilst other car companies are providing reliable water cooling for their engines, Porsche is still persisting with their noisome and inefficient air-cooling. I would remind readers that the only reason Herr Porsche designed his “Beetle” with air-cooling was in order that the Wehrmacht could retreat safely from Russia in deepest midwinter without having frozen engines to add to their many worries. As I say, it is 1964 and air-cooling is as modern as horse feed and steam power. Since there is no hot water to warm air coming into the cabin, the car is fitted with a Webasto petrol-fired air-heater. There was an odd smell of petrol when we started the car but Herr Fleischauer said this was due to an adjustment problem and would be fixed the next day. Our test car was painted a peculiar Rowntree brown and came equipped with tinted glass, Blaupunkt radio, and a Hirschmann antenna.
With Land-Windermere trailing grimly behind in a rusting Mercedes-Benz we set off back to the centre of Cologne to find some supper. We parked the Porsche in front of the imposing and rather grimy cathedral and espied another beer-hall to which we repaired. This time Land-Windermere tucked into a roasted pork hock with some excellent pickled cabbage while I helped myself to something called (in German) half a chicken which turned out to be a ham sandwich. I had another ten local brews (the glasses are tiny).The schapps is also first rate and very inexpensive.
“…Land-Windermere´s swollen ankles…”
Readers are wondering what the Porsche is like to drive. And well they might. My honest answer is that I can’t really say. For one, the local brew in Cologne is much stronger than it first appears so it took me a while to get out of the restaurant and indeed, find the car keys. And by then it was bedtime. But I did eventually sufficiently recover my faculties to notice a few minor details. The steering is rather direct and the gearbox is quite precise (but your Alfa Romeo man won’t be impressed).
As to high speed performance I can say nearly nothing. I survived some horrible experiences in a 356 Spyder some years back and these I would rather not repeat. I don’t much enjoy lift-off oversteer and so I was loathe to more than trickle around Cologne collecting a few bits of shopping for the wife. As there is no space in the Porsche, all these purchases ended up around Land-Windermere’s swollen ankles. And the ashtray is simply minuscule. For three-thousand five hundred pounds I would have expected leaded crystal and not the flimsy tin bowl affixed somewhere in the footwell’s solemn depths.
Technically speaking, the Porsche Nine-Hundred-and Eleven offers 40 nags’ worth of power over a Triumph GT6, but costs nearly three times the price. And try finding a Porsche mechanic in Upper Nethering! An Austin-Healey will set you back half the price of the Porsche and has eight more horses under the bonnet (the front one!) An Alvis 3-Litre carries four people and has lovely Swiss coachwork and still leaves 500 pounds sterling in change for a Hillman Minx for your lawfully wedded. All told, it is rather puzzling why a car which is essentially an over-developed “Beetle” and which has a horrifying tendency to chase its own tail costs so very much lovely money to purchase. Would anyone buy a Van Den Plas if it was no more than a dressed-up Austin? I only ask.
There was one other reason I can not say much about the car’s handling. That curious smell of petrol we noticed was a harbinger of a rather inconvenient engine fire which erupted as we stopped the next morning to refuel the 16 gallon tank. A helpful German chap with a fire extinguisher cheerfully set matters to rights. And the reason for the fire? The Webasto petrol heater, by George. The damage was not very severe but it was enough to halt the test drive. Taxi!!
I would like to apologise for any inconvenience to Herr J. Nolden who was the intended customer of the test car. We wish him the very best if he ever takes delivery of his noisy little sportscar!)