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

J.G.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.  :-)

WebFootSTi
WebFootSTi New Reader
12/18/22 2:27 p.m.

Medford is a hop skip and a jump from many NW hillclimb events.  Talk about the most fun one can have with their clothes on...

Olemiss540
Olemiss540 HalfDork
12/18/22 2:51 p.m.

Well of course. I've ruined dozens of cars by trying to improve them. 

But if I didn't spend time ruining cars for a hobby, what in the heck would I do with my hands in between drinks?

Any Tom, JG, or Harry can buy a new warrentied fancy pants faster than hell corvette, but can they ruin a perfectly good 15 year old German Sports Car (GSC)? That's what we are all here to find out. 

Next months headline of GRM "How to buy a nice car and drive it." :-)

ShawnG
ShawnG MegaDork
12/18/22 3:16 p.m.

When I started autocross, I was talking to another driver and I asked him "how can you afford to race a Porsche?"

He answered "I can't afford not to, everything is already sorted for you."

 

A 401 CJ
A 401 CJ GRM+ Memberand SuperDork
12/18/22 3:29 p.m.
ShawnG said:

When I started autocross, I was talking to another driver and I asked him "how can you afford to race a Porsche?"

He answered "I can't afford not to, everything is already sorted for you."

 

I fully believe that but it's not the recipe for me since I actually enjoy turning wrenches instead of other things I could do with my spare time, like watching sportsball 

BobbyBusso
BobbyBusso New Reader
12/18/22 4:33 p.m.

Yup, Porsche just gets it like no other car manufacturer!

I remember tracking my 944 turbo for the first time several years ago. I expected it to need so much to be track happy but I found that it was pretty darned good right out of the box. Sure, it could have had soft compound tires and true race pads but otherwise, it was really perfect. And it held up to new Boxsters at the time (2001).  It was even trouble free although all that heat under the hood would have surely taken its toll if I had continued to track it. And all this with around 100k miles. 

Cut to more modern days with my acquisition of a '00 Boxster S and I'm shocked at all the manufacturing short cuts and unPorschelike issues with this car, especially when it comes to moderate track usage.  I'd be so afraid to track this car unless I had close to $10k in my pocket waiting for, not if, but when it blew up.  Sure, you can push your luck with these cars and risk it, but the risk is much, much higher than with most other cars. 

So be careful with that 997 and the track. Of course, to properly track it, you only need a deep sump (to quell oil cavitation and cooling, $300-800) a better oil baffle (same, $300-500), X51 aux oil pump (to stave off hydrolock in the head under heavy braking, cornering, $1500 but NLA), IMS bearing (uh, *rabbit hole warning,* $400-1800), lots and lots of luck (to thwart bore scoring, bore ovality, AOS issues, oil filtration, waiter pump problems, rod bolt stretch, cylinder D chunking, cracked heads, and a few others I'm forgetting. So basically you need nearly $5000 to make a "modern" Porsche reliable on the track?!?  I'm not sure what they were thinking, I guess profits to keep the company alive at the time. 

Great cars but arghhhhh, just arghhhhh....Not the Porsches I grew up with but still lovely to drive. I love my 986S but haven't driven it in a year since the engine & tranny are out of it with possible transmission failure and engine renewal that has run into thousands of dollars just in parts without even breaking into the crankcase (that would be another $1200 just for parts to refresh and update.)

And yet I still love the car and figure had the car not had any of these issues, would it still be affordable these days?  Probably not. However, think hard before committing or even driving one because once that happens, you won't be able to get it out of your system!

Teh E36 M3
Teh E36 M3 UltraDork
12/18/22 4:55 p.m.

I'm mostly expecting the 62 Midget duratec build to ruin a fun little car. A large party for me has been the engineering and build, and I hope that putting a decent stereo in it will keep some of the good natured street in it. I'm working hard to make the 63 Mini build not ruined- but I am putting a d16 in it. I hope that enhances the already inherent goodness of the whole thing, but it is tempting to do a full build on the motor. 

preach (dudeist priest)
preach (dudeist priest) GRM+ Memberand SuperDork
12/18/22 4:56 p.m.

I have a PASM 987 but the shocks are going bad. For the same, or less, money I can put Olins coilovers on it. It will not ruin it for me as I have had a couple coilover-ed cars and liked them.

Can you ruin a car with mods, absolutely. Depends on the mods and the car.

David Elfering
David Elfering GRM+ Memberand Reader
12/18/22 5:58 p.m.

My 2022 BRZ isn't a 911, but after a year with it, I understand your point. I live in Nebraska so canyon carving isn't a thing, but I am an avid autocrosser. I did the "autocrosser" thing and put fatter tires and an adjustable front swaybar on. Faster for autocross? Yeah. More fun? No. I backed the swaybar off to full soft, put the "crappy" Primacy tires back on, and the love affair was renewed. This was fun again. A friend said I have to choose between being competitive and having fun; hopefully, I can find the middle ground. 

gearheadE30
gearheadE30 Dork
12/19/22 9:17 a.m.

There's definitely a happy medium. After several E30s I'm trying to build the 325es to hit the "better without being worse" mark and keep the 318is for the more hard-edged entertainment. "i" swap, narrower wheel and tire package that doesn't tramline or rub. E36 rack, but keep the power steering. Quiet exhaust. Replace all the bushings and whatnot so it is nice and tight. I've driven some well-built cars on track and have found that, for non-competitive track day and back road purposes, I really enjoy a car that moves around a bit, isn't upset when it hits a few bumps on the local worn out pavement, lets me play with curbs and different lines even if it's at the expense of lap times, and that doesn't require earplugs to stave off headaches. After driving just the 318is for so long, when I bought this thing even as a completely stock automatic car, I definitely remember realizing it was a much nicer place to spend time on the daily commute.

I'm also just excited because after 2 years off the road, it looks like I'm actually going to be able to drive it again in the next month or two!

 

Olemiss540
Olemiss540 HalfDork
12/19/22 10:01 a.m.
BobbyBusso said:

Yup, Porsche just gets it like no other car manufacturer!

I remember tracking my 944 turbo for the first time several years ago. I expected it to need so much to be track happy but I found that it was pretty darned good right out of the box. Sure, it could have had soft compound tires and true race pads but otherwise, it was really perfect. And it held up to new Boxsters at the time (2001).  It was even trouble free although all that heat under the hood would have surely taken its toll if I had continued to track it. And all this with around 100k miles. 

Cut to more modern days with my acquisition of a '00 Boxster S and I'm shocked at all the manufacturing short cuts and unPorschelike issues with this car, especially when it comes to moderate track usage.  I'd be so afraid to track this car unless I had close to $10k in my pocket waiting for, not if, but when it blew up.  Sure, you can push your luck with these cars and risk it, but the risk is much, much higher than with most other cars. 

So be careful with that 997 and the track. Of course, to properly track it, you only need a deep sump (to quell oil cavitation and cooling, $300-800) a better oil baffle (same, $300-500), X51 aux oil pump (to stave off hydrolock in the head under heavy braking, cornering, $1500 but NLA), IMS bearing (uh, *rabbit hole warning,* $400-1800), lots and lots of luck (to thwart bore scoring, bore ovality, AOS issues, oil filtration, waiter pump problems, rod bolt stretch, cylinder D chunking, cracked heads, and a few others I'm forgetting. So basically you need nearly $5000 to make a "modern" Porsche reliable on the track?!?  I'm not sure what they were thinking, I guess profits to keep the company alive at the time. 

Great cars but arghhhhh, just arghhhhh....Not the Porsches I grew up with but still lovely to drive. I love my 986S but haven't driven it in a year since the engine & tranny are out of it with possible transmission failure and engine renewal that has run into thousands of dollars just in parts without even breaking into the crankcase (that would be another $1200 just for parts to refresh and update.)

And yet I still love the car and figure had the car not had any of these issues, would it still be affordable these days?  Probably not. However, think hard before committing or even driving one because once that happens, you won't be able to get it out of your system!

Be careful, the Porsche guys will come after you about how the reliability concern is "internet overblown" and BMW's are just as bad cause rod bearings need preventatively replaced every 80k miles. 

docwyte
docwyte PowerDork
12/19/22 10:20 a.m.

Did somebody page me?  lol.  My first 944 turbo was great on track with just a set of brake pads and proper fluids.  Eventually the heat would've cooked a bunch of stuff and the fact that it was old would raise its ugly head in the guise of failing rubber and fuel lines.  My 996 turbo has basically been bomb proof on track but I bought it for that reason, knowing that a half dozen local 996's and caymans have had catastrophic engine failures on track.  My friends Spec Boxster has been running strong but he's got a bunch of spares, like spare transmission etc.

350z247
350z247 Reader
12/19/22 11:52 a.m.

In reply to Olemiss540 :

This is why you spring for the 997.2/987.2 engines. Completely different and better in basically every way. They'll still need a few small things, but nothing like the 996/997.1/986/987.1 engines.

On a side not, BMW M engines just need their bearings replaced once at 80K miles. Once you have ACL or King bearings in there, you're good.

Olemiss540
Olemiss540 HalfDork
12/20/22 2:22 a.m.
docwyte said:

Did somebody page me?  lol.  My first 944 turbo was great on track with just a set of brake pads and proper fluids.  Eventually the heat would've cooked a bunch of stuff and the fact that it was old would raise its ugly head in the guise of failing rubber and fuel lines.  My 996 turbo has basically been bomb proof on track but I bought it for that reason, knowing that a half dozen local 996's and caymans have had catastrophic engine failures on track.  My friends Spec Boxster has been running strong but he's got a bunch of spares, like spare transmission etc.

Absolutely adored my 996TT and still believe them to be one of the most beautiful cars of all time. Just couldn't handle the potential of a synchro failure necessitating a tranny rebuild that costs more than my e36 m3 was purchased for. Sucks to be broke :-(

So had to Ls swap a E36 M3box racecar instead to try for 996TT speed at half the cost. In no way the model of reliability but atleast when it breaks I can afford to fix it (continuously). 

docwyte
docwyte PowerDork
12/20/22 10:00 a.m.

In reply to Olemiss540 :

Just don't see too many transmission failures in my car.  Very few people complaining about them on rennlist or 6speedonline for instance....

z31maniac
z31maniac MegaDork
12/20/22 10:57 a.m.

Absolutely you can but from being around the BMW and Subaru crowds, it's typically down to buying cheap, low quality parts. 

My NA track rat rode well for being 800/500 XIDAs, can I only imagine how bad some BC Super Low with 784k springs would ride. 

Opti
Opti SuperDork
12/20/22 12:23 p.m.

I ran into this on my C5 and it was the main reason I sold it. After doing some OEM+ upgrades (c6 z06 parts) and engine bolt ons, it was an exceptional car. It was fun and still worked well as a car. To go any farther Id have to make compromises to make it more fun would make it a worse car.

Im a big proponent, if you like wrenching, of start with something that isnt a great car. After your modifications make it more fun but are less geared towards being a good car, the bar was so low to begin with, its still a better car than it was.

Its why I enjoyed my 4th gen more than a C5 and I went back to a 4th gen.

Olemiss540
Olemiss540 HalfDork
12/20/22 12:56 p.m.
z31maniac said:

Absolutely you can but from being around the BMW and Subaru crowds, it's typically down to buying cheap, low quality parts. 

My NA track rat rode well for being 800/500 XIDAs, can I only imagine how bad some BC Super Low with 784k springs would ride. 

True that. Replaced my 996GT3 suspension with Motons, doubling the spring rate, and ended up improving the ride quality compared to the stock Bilstein coilovers. 

Olemiss540
Olemiss540 HalfDork
12/20/22 1:01 p.m.

In reply to docwyte :

californiamilleghia
californiamilleghia UltraDork
12/20/22 1:25 p.m.

I would think many cars were hurt with all the fiberglass Aero conversions thru the years , 

Many looked good when they were installed  but after time looked dated , 

And of course they junked the stock parts......

docwyte
docwyte PowerDork
12/21/22 9:40 a.m.

In reply to Olemiss540 :

Yep, and yet in the 4 years I've had mine, I can't think of a thread on rennlist about this that's turned up.  Is it a thing on the earlier 996 turbo's?  Yes.  That's why I bought a 2003.  However I don't think it's all that prevalent

docwyte
docwyte PowerDork
12/21/22 9:41 a.m.

In reply to Olemiss540 :

A really good set of shocks/struts can control the spring rates better.  I've had the same experience as you, going from a set of KW V3's (garbage!) to Ohlins with 2-3x the spring rate on a B5 S4 avant. 

z31maniac
z31maniac MegaDork
12/21/22 11:06 a.m.
docwyte said:

In reply to Olemiss540 :

A really good set of shocks/struts can control the spring rates better.  I've had the same experience as you, going from a set of KW V3's (garbage!) to Ohlins with 2-3x the spring rate on a B5 S4 avant. 

I've tried to tell people for years that KW's are complete garbage. 

Olemiss540
Olemiss540 HalfDork
12/21/22 3:31 p.m.
z31maniac said:
docwyte said:

In reply to Olemiss540 :

A really good set of shocks/struts can control the spring rates better.  I've had the same experience as you, going from a set of KW V3's (garbage!) to Ohlins with 2-3x the spring rate on a B5 S4 avant. 

I've tried to tell people for years that KW's are complete garbage. 

But they are cheap atleast :-)

 

A 401 CJ
A 401 CJ GRM+ Memberand SuperDork
12/21/22 3:55 p.m.
Opti said:

I ran into this on my C5 and it was the main reason I sold it. After doing some OEM+ upgrades (c6 z06 parts) and engine bolt ons, it was an exceptional car. It was fun and still worked well as a car. To go any farther Id have to make compromises to make it more fun would make it a worse car.

Im a big proponent, if you like wrenching, of start with something that isnt a great car. After your modifications make it more fun but are less geared towards being a good car, the bar was so low to begin with, its still a better car than it was.

Its why I enjoyed my 4th gen more than a C5 and I went back to a 4th gen.

Have you checked out that Swiss C5Z over in the builds forum on here?  Oh Dear Lord.  That thing might rival a Pratt & Miller build.

Pete. (l33t FS)
Pete. (l33t FS) GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
12/21/22 7:18 p.m.
ShawnG said:

When I started autocross, I was talking to another driver and I asked him "how can you afford to race a Porsche?"

He answered "I can't afford not to, everything is already sorted for you."

 

There is a lot of truth in this, not necessarily Porsche specific.

 

It is very nice from a driver standpoint to just get in and drive.  It is very annoying from a car geek standpoint, but that way lies a car perpetually powering jackstands.

docwyte
docwyte PowerDork
12/22/22 10:32 a.m.

In reply to z31maniac :

Oh, I've been ranting about their warranty policy for years.  They make you send in your old stuff for them to rebuild it.  They refuse to sell you new stuff and then refund you when they get back your old stuff and confirm it's blown.  So on a daily driven car, it'll be up on jack stands for 4-6 weeks.  Or you have to put something else in while they're working on your stuff.  None of the other companies I've dealt with, like bilstein, koni, tokico, do that. 

ShawnG
ShawnG MegaDork
12/22/22 11:24 a.m.

In reply to Pete. (l33t FS) :

My ex-dentist was a car guy. He had a couple Porsches and a Lotus 7 (a real one).

I came in one day and asked him what he was driving. He had a couple year old Corvette at that point.

I asked why he changed. Apparently the Corvette was just as much fun but didn't cost him a fortune when it broke.

Supposedly the 7 was broken more than it was fixed and they should be cheap to maintain. 

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