“They don’t make them like they used to.” I hear this old saying rehashed every other day — especially by petrol heads who truly believe that the olden days were golden days.
But most of the time it’s probably an exaggeration because, let’s face it, modern technology has done wonders for the new machines rolling off the production lines of leading automotive conglomerates such as Ford, BMW, Toyota and Kia. But sometimes I just can’t help but wonder whether there is a grain of truth in that old complaint. You see, a few months ago, a good friend of mine, feeling flush from a recent work promotion, decided to have the engine of his 1979 Porsche 911 rebuilt.
This surprised me somewhat because, apart from an erratic oil leak and occasional puff of exhaust smoke when he started the car, there seemed to be no real reason to split the motor and incur an eye-watering expense. Anyway, against my advice, he booked his beloved Porsche into a local specialist and waited — with some serious trepidation, I might add — for the low down.
A few weeks later The Specialist — a hands-on gentleman with many years of experience working on classic air-cooled Porsches — gave him a call and told him to come past the garage for a debrief. In his office and over an espresso. Very civilised. My friend, knowing that I was interested in the project, invited me to tag along. I accepted and arrived at the workshop one Friday afternoon. I was expecting the worst, to tell you the truth. Any engine that’s done 324 000km is bound to be knackered and past its sell by date.
I had kept my fears — of finding a carbonised, oil-sodden mess of internal combustion misery — from my friend. The formalities over, the coffee drunk, my friend and I were led to a table in a workshop corner where the truth would be revealed. This was the altar of the German sports car gods at which my friend’s money would be sacrificed. I closed my eyes.
When I finally dared to open them, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. The expensive to-replace Nikasil cylinder Bores — or barrels, as they’re referred to in Porsche-speak — shone like a mirror. Smooth to the touch, they showed zero signs of wear and tear. The camshaft lobes were in just as fine a shape. So, too, were the rockers and crankshaft. Sure, the bearings were on their way out and the valves and their guides pretty spent, but other than that, everything else was pretty much as fresh as the day it was bolted into place at the factory 35 years ago.
I took a few photographs on my phone — and they blow my mind every time I revisit them. The resulting bill was still large, but a lot less than it could have been had Porsche not prided itself on engineering excellence. Back then, the company wasn’t chasing exorbitant sales figures. There was far less pressure and more time at hand to make sure that every single component was 120% up to the job. Stuff was meant to last a lifetime, or else.
Will the internals of a Boxster or Cayman or Cayenne or 997 display the same enviable stamina when they’re split three and a half decades from now? As a fan of the marque, I like to think so . . . but can’t help but have my doubts. Simply because — and it’s sad to say this — the proprietors of our modern world don’t seem to make them like they used to. Carmakers. Computer makers. Clothes makers. They ’re all guilty. But, hey, maybe time will prove me wrong. Let’s see.