When I was even thinking about getting an old 944, I firmly intended to get it as a car to use and enjoy, not one to baby and worry about. I was maybe going to turn it slowly into a mean autocross car. Or maybe daily drive it in winter as a beater. Or maybe crazy rallycross car with skidplates and rally tires. Or all of the above at the same time! The beauty of the 944 platform is that it has a wide range of capabilities and is a fairly simple car, aside from the motor. It has great handling, no doubt, and has been many things to many people. And they are plentiful, which in the Porsche world these days makes them relatively affordable and parts easier to obtain. I am now seeing sad posts where folks are talking about not wanting to being their RS America’s to the track anymore because they are too valuable now. I don’t think that will ever happen to my 944. I got it to be “my Miata” – a small, nimble car that is heavy on fun but light on cost. I didn’t want to have to worry about it being clean or nice. It would just have to run well and be a good driver. Continue reading Porsche 944: From My Beater to My Baby?
Work on the 1986 944 in Copenhagen Blue has commenced. I’ve grown rather fond of the little thing these days as happens to many of my cars. This one appeared fairly complete on delivery but soon started to show that all was far from perfect. But I wasn’t looking for perfection. I was looking for a project. A car that needed some love so that I could do some learning. And I got what I bargained for. Continue reading The ’86 944 Punch List
When thinking of a fun car to drive on an autocross course, the answer always seems to be, “Miata.” And who would blame you for thinking so? A small roadster with front engine, rear-wheel-drive, great chassis. Not overwhelming power, but massive grins on any twisty road. So what could compete with it?
Not too much. But being a Porsche-phile, I thought I’d try to find something. Enter the Porsche 944. The new 2015 Miata has 155bhp. My 1986 944 has 160bhp. The Miata weighs about 2,600lbs. A 1986 944 weighs 2,850lbs. The 944 is front-engine and rear-transaxle for a perfect 50-50 weight distribution. Very much like the Miata. For me, the 944 has two minimal rear seats which means I may try to stuff a kid or two in there. Try that in your Miata. Continue reading When the Answer Isn’t Always Miata
I’ll admit to being a fan of the Wheeler Dealers show from the UK that appears on Velocity from time to time. If you haven’t seen it, the two main characters find old cars (“motors”) and try to get them back on the road, trying to sell them for a “profit”. Since they don’t factor any labor costs into the restorations, I find the numbers to be quite fictitious. Ed China, the mechanical miracle-worker, has a garage with a full lift and many specialty tools that are very cost prohibitive for a home mechanic. So I hardly find this show to be the home DIY tutorial that it purports to be. But its great fun to see the classics they source and the love they put into getting them back into fighting shape.
Here’s to finding a “cracking motor” for yourself! Continue reading Wheeler Dealers – Porsche 914
The more I read about the 914, the more I’m realizing that even simple cars are really not simple. With a fairly short production run from 1970 to 1976, and not too many running changes in the car, I would guess that the 914 is a good introduction to “classic cars” – that is the fun that is chasing down rare parts, odd issues, and figuring out whether something is really even an issue or if it’s supposed to be that way.
In the wacky things column, I’ll have to put the windshield washer setup. In the 4-cylinder cars, it appears that the spray function is not run from a pump or something normal. To build pressure to squirt fluid onto the windscreen, they hook the fluid tank up to a rather interesting source of pressure – the spare tire! I guess it works and was a funny strategy used often by VW. You’ve got a pressure vessel stuck in the car already, so why not use it?
A well-known, crazy thing is that the battery sits in the engine bay right under a grate that provide for engine cooling. It gets hot in the engine bay and batteries don’t love heat. Or cold. Or anything or anyone, really. They also don’t benefit from being spritzed with water periodically. I know, surprise! Electricity and water aren’t friends! And they leak a bit of battery acid onto the support below, the “hell hole”, which rusts and breaks and is probably the most known flaw of Porsche 914s.
Luckily the 1973 we have is a later car, but up to 1973 the passenger seat was fixed. Generally sounds like no biggie but the passenger compartment in a 914 is pretty good sized for what it is. And a passenger might want to steady themselves using their feet sometimes. With a fixed seat, its not possible. So Porsche made some wacky little foot rest thingy and clipped it in there for a while until finally coming to their senses in ’73 and making the passenger seat move. Ours slides forward and tilts back even – giving it some recline. Not bad stuff, actually. But foot rests? I thought only Rolls Royce ever thought those were a good idea.
I want to put lack-of-braking-power into this category too! It is crazy to stomp on the non-loud pedal and wait. And wait. And hope. And pray. And wait some more. Before finally coming to a stop. It certainly keeps speeds down. But also makes for exciting driving everywhere when you know you can’t do a panic stop if you have to. They sure lived on the edge in 1973!
I think it’s a little crazy to have so little info about what’s going on in the engine too. Our car has an odd option mix, it seems. It didn’t get the “appearance package” which would have included a nice center console with more gauges (oil temp, volts, and a clock!). So we just have rpm, speed, fuel level, and some lights (oil, handbrake, generator). I’d really like to know oil temp.
Fitted on the car now is a period aftermarket steering wheel – made by Raid/Racemark who worked on it with Mark Donohue. That makes it pretty special right there. I guess there was a squabble and Racemark wasn’t allowed to keep Mark’s signature on it. Ours doesn’t have the signature on it unfortunately. It’s still work a few hundred quid on its own, from what I can gather from eBay listings.
I’m sure I’ll find more oddities to come but that’s enough for now.
The newest addition to the project garage is a 1973 Porsche 914 in signal orange, hence the name “Signal”. She is in good shape so most of our work will be minor updates and maintenance (hopefully). She is more of an “investment” than a project at the moment, so retaining and increasing value is the main goal. But enjoyment is also a form of value so she’ll certainly be driven as well, as Porsche’s should be.
Purchase date: 8/25/2014 – car, extra 1.7 motor, extra transmission for 1.7 (non-matching to motor), 2.7L 1976 911 6-cylinder (from a crashed 911 known by prior owner), fuchs wheels, steel rockers, flares, extra shifter, original steering wheel, mufflers, books, various other parts. And the fun begins…
- Cleaned up interior of car.
- Put vinyl conditioner on top, dash, seats. vacuumed front, rear, and interior.
- Noted later porsche floor mats on top of original looking mats.
- Found the fasten seat belt light cover under a floor mat.
- Driver rear half shaft boot at transmission is leaking.
- Gas pedal has quite a bit of travel before engaging.
- There is a loud squeak from rear brake calipers especially in reverse.
Transmission felt better on second road test but still grinds going into first and reverse at low speeds. Finding 2nd and 3rd is challenging. Downshifts are challenging as is rev matching. Tires are Doral (?) brand all seasons (probably garbage). Seals under the removable top and around windows are chewed up and will need replacement. Car would benefit from a fire extinguisher just in case. Need to get jack posts to work on car. Need engine stand for work on 6 and extra 4 cylinder motors. Will need to create space to store spare parts. Found dent in back bumper. Exhaust tips are very rusty and need either polish or re-chrome. Steering wheel is 10-15 minutes too far to left when car is pointed straight. Looks like a bigger master cylinder is a direct bolt-in and may provide more confidence with the brakes: http://www.pelicanparts.com/techarticles/914_replace_master_cylinder/914_replace_master_cylinder.htm
8/26/14 – Noticed that the driver front (pop-up) headlight is a bit lower than the surrounding bodywork. Wondered if its adjustable for height? The hood around it also appears to be a not-quite-perfect fit so that may not be helping things. I pulled off the steering wheel (27mm socket) and attempted to get it straightened out. Will have to road test it.
Researching how to polish up the chrome wheels a bit as there are some spots that could use some love. I tried my Noxon metal polish on the wheels and it was not doing much. I got out my electric polishing machine and tried some Griot’s Fine Hand Polish on the disc. Still didn’t do much. I got some interior panel removal tools (a hard plastic tool) and went to work scraping off the old adhesive bits where wheel weights used to be. It annoys me when shops put on new weights but don’t bother to remove the old black, nasty adhesive strips where the old ones were.
After much scraping, a little blowtorch action, and cursing, I found that brake cleaner did a fabulous job of removing the residue from the wheel weight adhesive. Then I did a quick search for how best to clean chrome. Turns out you just spritz with water and use a small square of aluminum foil to clean chrome. Oxidation from the chrome gets far more attracted to the aluminum so it cleans up the chrome chemically. And the aluminum oxide is the same stuff as in sandpaper, so a mild friction surface is created that helps to gently pollsh the metal as well. It worked very well and the wheels are starting to look great.
I tried to work on the exhaust tips a bit too. But they are very rusted and pitted so they shine a little more now, but still are a long way from perfect. The wheels would benefit from a coat of fresh black paint where they aren’t shiny chrome, but that’s a project for another day.
As I surveyed the hood, I noticed that one of the front plastic covers for the indicator lights was upside down. Two quick screws and that is sorted.
I took the car for a spin around the block to check my wheel alignment and its now just about perfect. I’m starting to get a hang of shifting a bit more. Down-left for first is crazy and hard to remember. And downshifting is really tricky since everything is in the wrong place. Heel/toe downshifts are very hard to execute. The brake pedal travel is so long and the brakes are so weak that I often find myself just concentrating on making sure the car stops. It seems that shifting takes a rather gentle and patient hand. The car doesn’t seem to love being above 4k rpm in first gear so the first-second switch comes early. But getting second is tough. Its to the right but not as far as I usually think. So I have to go back left a bit to get it into gear. By now I’ve lost lots of momentum. But I’m getting better. Second-third is a nice straight down movement. Fourth is fairly easy. And I don’t hit fifth around town much.
Fourth-second downshifts are common and not easy. Rev matching that little motor is going to have to come naturally. Fourth-third is still tough as I don’t want to hit first and often end up in fifth despite my best efforts. This may take time. But the car fires right up and runs pretty well. With the top open and the sound of the motor, I still haven’t even turned on the radio. I may never do so.
Low speed parking is challenging but not due to steering, which is pretty easy. Shifting again is the challenge. You need to rev the motor a touch to shift into first without grinding. Almost the opposite for reverse. Any gas and you’ll grind. Sometimes you’ll grind getting in anyway. You just have to be patient and be gentle with her.
The shop manual arrived today so I’ll see about sorting the headlight height and maybe the driver door height so it opens easier from the outside. I ordered some jack pads today so I can get her into the air and look around a bit more. She may need a bit of rustoleum here and there just to ward off the rust cancer as best we can.