Tuesday, 13 April 2010
Still safe at 70
Porsche once cancelled a road test car. I had been booked a 911 Turbo but at the last minute I couldn’t have it. Why? It was, they said, an insurance problem. I pointed out that in some 40 years of road testing I had never crashed a car. One scrape with a tram in Geneva, an Opel ran into me in Stuttgart once but curiously both times I had heads of PR with me as passengers and they accepted I was blameless. I was once run into by an RAC Rally competitor on the wrong side of the road but that scarcely counted. No, the problem, it seemed, was that I had reached 70. Too old to drive a Porsche? Too old to buy a Porsche maybe. I told the PR office I was writing a piece about an age limit on Porsche buyers. I got my road test. The RAC Foundation’s findings that I am among the 3.7 million drivers, born before the war, who are among the safest on the road are welcome. I shall try and keep it that way.
I liked the 911: I wrote in The Business magazine “Mid-engines are best for handling and Porsche never made a racing car with the engine anywhere else. It is a matter, as engineers will tell you of polar moment of inertia, the dumb-bell effect. Weights on the ends of a pole aren’t easy to swing round. But put them near the middle and it is. Hanging the engine out the back didn’t matter in the 1938 Volkswagen; it didn’t go fast enough. It was only when its designer’s son Ferry Porsche developed a sports car, that tail-heavy oversteer made the handling a challenge.
The 1960s 911 turned challenge into confrontation. A powerful flat-six engine instead of a feeble flat-four, together with swing-axles that tipped the rear wheels on corners, made it problematical. Yet perversely some drivers found the difficulties thrilling, which indeed they were so in the 1970s Porsche made perfectly balanced front-engined cars instead. The 924, 928, and 944 handled consummately; their poise was beyond reproach.”