Does trying to improve a car run the potential of ruining it, too? | Column

By J.G. Pasterjak
Dec 18, 2022 | Porsche, 997, 911, Column | Posted in Columns | From the May 2022 issue | Never miss an article

Photograph by Tim Suddard

The other day, a few of us on staff trekked over to the Florida International Rally & Motorsport Park in Keystone Heights, Florida, to do a little testing of some project cars. As our official test track, The FIRM is a massive resource that allows us to run a consistent strip of asphalt as we develop projects or simply test the hottest new machinery from the OEMs.

My day? Well, suffice it to say my day wasn’t going so great. I had a few issues with the Corvette that basically turned my trip into a waste of time by the end of the first lap. Don’t worry, they’re entirely solvable issues, and I’ll reschedule my testing. On the day in question, though, I drove the car back on the trailer and went into consultant mode for Tom and his LS-powered 350Z project.

But we had another car there that day as well. Publisher Tim Suddard stopped by with his new-to-him 2007 Porsche 997.1 for a few laps. If you haven’t seen it yet, go take a look on our website. It’s gorgeous. Tim has had the hots for a 911 of some sort since he drove a GT3 during a recent Classic Motorsports road tour, and his search finally bore fruit in the form of this Guards Red, manual-transmission, German mechanical artwork.

He described the car as “the last of the analog 911s,” and he got an absolutely screaming deal on it. Now, before you cry foul and claim insider trading, I’ll go on record as saying that the deal he got was entirely the result of diligent work, research and putting himself in the right place at the right time. His column details how that screaming deal came to be, but he’s probably one of the last folks to buy one of these in such good condition before they inevitably skyrocket in value.

But I’m telling the wrong story here. The real point is that Tim wanted to record a legit lap time in the 911 to see where it stacked up against our project cars as well as modern machinery. This would also give him a baseline before any modifications. And since I’m the fella with the most laps on the track, he tossed the keys my way.

And wow, it was perfect.

I mean, it wasn’t perfect perfect, because that assessment depends largely on your definition of the word, but after taking a few laps–and holding myself back from taking a few more laps, and a few more after that–I came back and told Tim that he might just want to leave the car exactly as it sat.

The only way to improve this car is to ruin it,” I think was my exact summation. It was just so, so good at doing so many things while being so completely normal and real that I would be terrified that trying to improve any aspect would negatively affect others.

Look, I’m generally of a mind that a car should either be a track car or a street car. “Dual use” in my world means compromise, and the stopwatch hates compromises. And on the street, you can’t really drive fast anyway, so who really cares how good a car is? If the a/c works and NPR comes in loud and clear, we’re done here.

But this 997 simply owned everything it did. Want to hop in and drive from here in Florida to Medford, Oregon? Sure, no sweat, it’ll eat every highway mile you throw at it and never leave your back in search of therapy. Want to turn a few laps? Again, Dr. Porsche has you covered with a car that displays just enough of the fun tendencies of a rear-weight bias with seemingly none of the scary ones. 

And the way it goes about everything is just relentlessly competent. It’s the platonic ideal of a high-performance car that you can put your elderly grandma in, and she would instinctively know that it was something special. But not in an exotic-sports-car-“edgy” kind of way, or in a raw-track-car-ferocious kind of way, or even in a luxury-car-that-just-happens-to-be-all-ate-up-with-motor sort of way. 

It’s just good at everything without drawing a lot of attention to itself. It’s not Jordan dunking from the foul line over defenders; it’s more like John Stockton, clocking in, doing his job, not being sexy, but still somehow being one of the all-time greats.

And making it “better,” I fear, would require destroying its all-around wonderfulness. Sure, you could shave big chunks off the lap times, but would it still be as amazing at getting from Point A to Point B? Or you might make it a better highway cruiser, but would it still be able to own an apex the way it does now? I dunno. 

Not many cars have ever had this effect on me. I always see what they could be. But this one has me appreciating what it is, and what it is is glorious. 

And no, I’m not just sucking up to Tim so he’ll throw me the keys again sometime, but I’m also not not doing that. Just know that the next time they get tossed my way, I might not be able to resist staying out for a few more laps.

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Feedyurhed UltraDork
4/13/22 7:59 p.m.

Looks absolutely gorgeous in pics. I love EVs but a 911 is still a must have for me before it's all over. Just awesome.

CrustyRedXpress GRM+ Memberand HalfDork
4/15/22 3:47 p.m.

“The only way to improve this car is to ruin it,"

Nice turn of phrase. I still can't get past the reliability issues of the m96, but articles like this make it seem pretty tempting.

DaleCarter GRM+ Memberand New Reader
8/29/22 4:00 p.m.

Yes. :-)


Floating Doc (Forum Supporter)
Floating Doc (Forum Supporter) GRM+ Memberand PowerDork
8/29/22 4:51 p.m.

Absolutely, and that applies whether it's appearance or performance modifications.

MauryH GRM+ Member
8/29/22 7:18 p.m.

Always amazed me that folks pay the big bucks for Porsche engineering...and then use their own ideas to try to improve it.  JG got it right IMHO...

MadScientistMatt UltimaDork
8/29/22 9:23 p.m.
CrustyRedXpress said:

“The only way to improve this car is to ruin it,"

Nice turn of phrase. I still can't get past the reliability issues of the m96, but articles like this make it seem pretty tempting.

Reliability issues? Sounds like a potential area for improvement to me 

docwyte PowerDork
8/30/22 10:07 a.m.

In reply to MauryH :

The nice thing about Porsche is you can go into their parts catalog and improve your car with their stuff.  So you know it's gonna fit and work properly.  That's what I've done, the brakes, intercoolers and some of the suspension parts are OEM Porsche. 

rustomatic Reader
8/30/22 6:59 p.m.

One needs to work out a whole lot of dumb hot-rodding compulsions to be able to truly appreciate good engineering.

The first time I saw a C7 Corvette at an autocross showed me an incredibly limber and compliant car that never lost grip.  Twenty year-old me would have seen a sloshy boat that seriously needed stiff shocks and fat sway bars . . .

dps214 Dork
8/30/22 7:22 p.m.
MauryH said:

Always amazed me that folks pay the big bucks for Porsche engineering...and then use their own ideas to try to improve it.  JG got it right IMHO...

The thing I've learned from owning a few porsches and watching other people modify them is that porsche is really good at optimizing the car for the stock parts. Put coilovers on a miata and it's basically world changing. Put coilovers on a cayman and maybe it's a bit more fun to drive and easier on tires, but the actual performance potential is pretty much unchanged. They do generally benefit from a bit more rear swaybar to dial out the factory engineered safety understeer, but there's a couple of choices of OEM parts that take care of that. Even in the factory engineered upgraded cars (ie the GT car range) the performance potential in an autocross setting where you can't really make use of the extra power is almost nothing. Actually a lot of people would probably be faster in the non-GT car because, while a touch slower, they're much more approachable and forgiving to drive.

msterbeau Reader
12/18/22 1:39 p.m.

The key issue of "ruin" is context.  Ruined for the street may also mean way better on the track.  The primary usage should determine what, if any, modifications should be made.  I like my Kia Forte GT just as it is for it's primary usage - daily driver.  The only things I can imagine changing are maybe 30 more HP and an LSD to put it all down better in corners.  My next car is going to be a (barely) streetable track car.  I'm a short drive to two tracks.  Any further and I will probably rent a truck and trailer.  To some that sounds ruined.  To me, it's exactly what I want.  

Then again, I may opt for a Caterham, which comes pre-ruined.  :-)

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