When I tell people I’m a motoring journalist, they always want to know what my favourite car is. And my answer is always the same: damn, that’s a tough one. I’ve probably driven more than a thousand cars, and there have been many, many great ones. Yet one that has always stood out is the Porsche 911.
Yes, I know, this sounds like a contemporary motoring journalist cliché. In a world filled with Magnus Walkers and Singers and Workshop 5001s, it’s easy to be swept up and made all giddy by the great 911 hype. This German sportscar has become the epitome of automotive hipsterism. It’s right up there with beards and plaid and single-speed, steel-frame bicycles, not to mention pulled-pork sandwiches. Almost overnight, the 911 became the darling of the fashionably uncool. Like a bottle of artisanal beer, it suddenly morphed into the ultimate alternative lifestyle accessory.
So it’s easy to board the gravy train and loudly proclaim your undying love. However, and perhaps you might have already picked up on this, I have been a fan since before I could write. When I was a kid I had an old ice-cream tub full of Matchbox models: a mobile garage that harboured all sorts of interesting colours and shapes and angles. The one I liked the most had these big, bloated wheel arches and a huge wing protruding from the space below its rear windscreen. I asked my mom what it was and whether it existed in real life. She told me that it did and that it was called a Porsche.
Porsche? Damn, talk about exotic-sounding. Now, when you’re a kid you don’t expect to see such objects of affection in real life, but then one day I did. It was probably on the old Parkhurst strip, walking with my mom to the American Café, that I first saw a 911 in the metal. And, as with my Matchbox model, I was smitten. It had a shape unlike anything else: a hunkered-down profile that intrigued me. Even back then, I could sense there was something very different about this car.
A couple of decades later, I’d find out that there certainly was. You see, just before the hipsters adopted them as their own, the old air-cooled Porsche 911 models were a dime a dozen. You could, on a sunny Sunday afternoon, page through the Autotrader and find many tidy examples vying for a new home. Taking advantage of his downplayed mid-life crisis, I encouraged my old man to get one. And he did.
For the price of a new Renault Sandero Stepway, he acquired a 1980 Porsche 911 SC. Although its paint wore the patina of a life well-lived, it was, for all intents and purposes, in great mechanical nick. After the inevitable buyer’s remorse he really started to bond with it. So did I: simply because it was like no other car I’d ever piloted before — it was eccentric. The interior ventilation controls made no sense. The heater was actuated via a lever set in-between the two seats. The pedals were offset. The steering wheel was positioned too close to the dash. Yet all these quirks seemed to disappear the moment you twisted that key.
For somebody accustomed to glossy new press-fleet cars filled with driver aids and active suspension technologies, this old mechanical 911 was something of a revelation, not to mention a challenge. We have all heard the gory horror stories about how disobedient these tail-heavy machines can be. And after just a few short sessions behind the wheel I discovered that they were nothing but true.
I soon learnt that driving an old 911 demanded respect and patience: slow in, fast out — never lift. Unlike in an Audi TTS, you had to think about the corner approaching. You couldn’t just bulldoze your way in and hope for the best. I found myself thinking much more about my driving technique and listening, via my fingers and thighs, to what the car was telling me. Once we’d established some kind of rapport, the SC and I got along fine.
My dad, unfortunately, is no longer around, but the Porsche is. More than ever, I look forward to driving it, and I especially look forward to all the trappings that come with the privilege of doing so. The aroma of hot oil (13-litres, no less); that distinctive,clattery roar of the flat-six engine; those five analogue dials that broadcast everything I need to know about the car’s vitals — and nothing I don’t.
This 30-year-old juggernaut has become my personal decompression chamber. What also makes the SC special is the fact that it comes attached to a heritage few marques can match. It stems from a breed of car that, in many different guises, of course, killed it in the racing world. Consequently, it’s extremely easy to imagine that you’re some gentleman racing driver hurtling down the old Mulsanne straight at Le Mans.
Yeah, driving an old air-cooled Porsche is escapism mixed in with a good helping of romance and danger. It reaffirms my love of the automobile and reawakens senses that have, thanks to the flattery of modern cars, been left to atrophy. – Thomas Falkiner (this article originally appeared in The Edit Magazine) (Pics: Waldo Swiegers and Thomas Falkiner)