“Would you wanna drive my Porsche to this Concours thing tomorrow?”,
came the voice of Des, owner of local detailing shop Auto Details.
I could honestly think of nothing I’d rather do, and I had fortunately declined to play in a friend’s slow pitch tournament that day, but it’s not very becoming to appear too eager. So I channeled by best James Dean impression, played it cool, and agreed to meet Des on Saturday afternoon at his shop in the industrial park tucked in behind Grant MacEwan University.
When I arrived there just before noon, Des was still waxing and polishing his gorgeously preserved 1990 MY 911 with care and attention. This wasn’t your backyard pressure washer once-over; this was attention to detail. You’d expect an owner who owns and operates a detailing shop to make sure that his personal car has flawless paint, and you’d be right. Despite being almost as old as my younger brother, the 4WD Porsche glistened, even in the unforgiving fluorescent lighting of the shop.
The second thing I noticed, after the gaze absorbing, plutonium green RS stripes, was the carbon fibre hood. To my amazement, the naked CF hood turned out to actually be a viciously pricey 3M rock guard covering the original hood to give ye old carbon fibre look. It was convincing enough to fool me and it even fit the look of the old P-car. After about 45 mins of watching Des and one of his crew spit polish the car, all the while snapping pictures, asking questions, and getting my offers to assist politely declined, the Type 964 was ready to go to the Porsche Concours at Eurasia Auto, a local repair and performance shop that specializes in German cars.
Finally, I plunked myself into the whale-tailed Porsche, finding the upright seat, immovable steering wheel, long gear throws, and upside-down pedals to be amusingly anachronistic and endearingly self-confident, if not entirely bewildering. This was clearly a car that wore its eccentricities on its sleeve and begged you to love it for them. And love it I did.
As I set off towards the Concours, the three pedals controlling clutch, brake, and acceleration absorbed my focus with their concept car goofiness. If a design this counter-intuitive, or at least this unconventional, were featured on, say, the Porsche 918 Spyder concept, pundits like us would dismiss it as vapourware and give it a 3.25% chance of making it to production. Not only were the 964’s pedals hinged on the floor, necessitating a strong core to keep the left leg hovering in midair, toe pointed, but they were also offset to the right about 8” from where you’d expect them to be. The clutch was dead in front of the driver, with the brake where your right foot would comfortably rest and the accelerator off somewhere to the right of Stevey Harps. The clutch’s firm action meant that it was tough to get just right, and rewarding when properly executed.
The steering was light around centre but hefty past anything more than 10 degrees of rotation. The MOMO wheel couldn’t have been more than 10” in diameter, suitably small given the compact dimensions of the car, and it gave the car a darty and connected feeling. The girth and bulk of newer vehicles were made immediately apparent on the road. The little Porsche felt sizeable through the driver controls, but when the headlights were visible from the driver’s seat, I knew I was driving something quite small.
The engine, 3.2 litres of horizontally opposed machination, sounded like an 8mm movie. I could just imagine the pistons smashing into each other behind me, two banks of three cylinders laying flat like a table, positioned as low as possible in the trunk. To think that Porsche manufactured air-cooled engines as long as they did, up until the Type 993 Porsche 911 in 1998, is truly a testament to the stubbornness of the company’s engineers – a trait inherited from Ferdinand all those years ago. It seems to be The Porsche Way to engineer a solution to a problem rather than addressing the fundamental shortcomings causing the problem. It’s very much a case of treating the symptoms rather than the disease. While my passion for public health and almost all things preventative should lead me to spurn such an approach as dogmatic and pigheaded, I loved it for its authenticity and respect for heritage.
All this was running through my mind as I ducked and weaved through city traffic, hunting out gaps. The engine gained and lost revs quickly on account of the feather light flywheel, so attention had to be focused on keeping the throttle inputs just so. The whole experience was intensely engaging, in sharp contrast to the modern conveniences that numb the driving experience in today’s mass-market cars. There’s no doubt in my mind that the cars of 2031 will make today’s cars look raw and engaging, and that cars from 1970 make Des’ 911 look downright luxurious, but my time with this Porsche was still a great reminder of what car enthusiasts are always on about when we talk about “driving feel”, “purity”, and “simplicity”.
The whole drive was enhanced by the quirks of this particular 911. The fuse for the window switches and radio were blown, so any exterior annoyances that could’ve potentially detracted or distracted were gone. All that was left was a gruff flat-six, an audacious clutch, a prickly throttle, an engine somewhere in the back, and a little wheel with which to feel every nuance of road surface.
I made it to the Concours all too quickly. The modest turnout for the event was overshadowed by the silver Carrera GT and white/orange 996 GT3 Cup car I was parked next to. There was also a Boxster Spyder, which was seriously sexy in a way no Boxster has ever been. I stuck around for a bit and chatted to some other Porsche owners and enthusiasts, all of whom wanted to know about the impeccable car I had arrived in. I didn’t have answers for all their questions, but it didn’t matter one bit. It was a beautifully memorable day with some rare cars, and I had a 1990 Porsche Carrera 4 to thank for it.
[Photo credits: author]