14 May 2013

5,661 Miles in a Porsche 911: A few Bumps in the Road

Editor’s Note: Yoav Gilad is Editor in Chief at [keep it] Wide Open, a website dedicated to bringing the thrill and romance of cars to the enthusiast. Yoav recently undertook a cross-country journey in a Porsche 911 to celebrate the model’s 50th year. This is the final story in a three-part series documenting the adventure.

Sunday, as soon as the Amelia Island Concours ended, we did a doughnut on the fairway-cum-media parking lot and headed for the exit. We were trying to return to L.A. as quickly as possible and thus weren’t staying in Jacksonville another night. We made it to New Braunfels, Texas, just east of San Antonio by Monday night.

Tuesday morning we realized that if we pushed hard enough, we might make it to L.A. late that night. We headed out at 8:45 a.m., and while the first hour was choked with traffic, the plains finally opened up and we stayed near the 80 mph speed limit. We slowed into Fort Stockton to refuel and passed Paisano Pete en route to the gas station.

Our refueling complete, I put the key into the ignition cylinder and turned. Nothing happened. The engine didn’t even turn over. At first I thought the battery was dead, but the dashboard was illuminated like a Christmas tree. Could it be the starter? We decided to push-start it. Anthony jumped out and was about to start pushing when the door to the gas station’s minimart opened and a pretty young woman who looked like a head cheerleader came out yelling aggressively, “I WANT that car.”

Her tone was so belligerent that I thought she was car-jacking us. “I WANT that car,” she repeated for effect. In contrast to her feminine beauty, she looked masculine in jeans, a t-shirt that was too large and boots. “We'll talk if we get it running,” I replied.

Her demeanor suddenly changed and, happily, she said, “I’ll take the right side,” and leaned into the back of the car, flicking her ponytail off the fresh tattoo on her left arm. I popped the clutch while they pushed and the engine coughed to life. I circled around the block and Anthony hopped in. We waved thank you and continued to lunch.

After mediocre tex-mex, we repeated the push-start and continued west. The car ran, but there was now a worsening flutter in the RPM’s during acceleration. We managed to get quite far, but finally, about thirty miles past Las Cruces, N.M., the old Porsche died and couldn’t be started again. We were towed back to town and diagnosed the problem . Then, we waited until morning for a third-rate mechanic to tell us that he wouldn’t work on the car,  “I’m the owner [of this shop] and I ain’t no grease monkey. So I ain’t changing the points. Good luck to you; L.A. is that way,” and he pointed west.

Fortunately, the car had started that morning. We refueled again, determined to stop as few times as possible, and got on the road just before noon. The flutter became more pronounced with every mile. I drove gently, frequently under 70 mph, babying the car.

As I drove, I prayed silently every time the odometer ticked another 10th of a mile that we’d get one more. I glanced nervously from the road to the one mirror to the tachometer to the speedometer to the fuel gauge to the oil pressure to the oil temperature. The day was becoming warmer and so was the engine. We sweated.

Determined to stop for fuel in Phoenix near a Porsche mechanic, we got some suggestions and made phone calls on the way. Stuttgart Southwest came highly recommended and was close to a gas station right off the freeway. That would be it: We’d either refuel and continue on our way, or the car would die again and we’d be calling AAA, again.

Traffic thickened as we approached the off-ramp and I crossed my fingers that we’d get a long, clear green light for our left turn at the top. I downshifted to keep the revs up and the light was green. Yes! There were about 10 cars ahead and they were crawling, but at least they were moving. We were about two hundred feet from the intersection with five cars to go. Then the light went yellow.

Two more cars made it through and the third stopped. So did our engine. When the light went green again we attempted our habitual push-start but the engine just wouldn’t fire. I put the hazard lights on and when the traffic light went green once more Anthony and I pushed the car over the freeway, across another intersection and into our target gas station. I called Stuttgart Southwest and told Jack, the owner of the shop, that I’d be there as soon as the flatbed came.

Three hours went by. That time also cost me my co-driver who decided not to wait, and decided to fly home and return to work. I stood alone after the flatbed dropped the 911 and me in a semi-industrial office park sparsely lit by floodlights, but was almost immediately rescued by my girlfriend’s sister, Lori, who lives in Phoenix. No cheap motel for me tonight. She took me to dinner and made up the spare bedroom in her home. In the morning, she drove me back to Stuttgart Southwest to check on the car.

When we arrived, the parking lot was bursting with Porsches of all types: 914’s, every generation of 911, and some Boxsters, too. I finally met Jack Doverspike, the affable principal, who exuded professionalism. He was the polar opposite of the Las Cruces mechanic. Jack apologized for having missed me the previous night and gave his assurance that they’d get me back on the road as soon as possible. I waited in a nearby bookstore until Jack called, “She’s all done. Just needed new points. Thank you. Youbetcha.”

The Porsche fired right up with a strong aircooled roar. And once under way, she had guts again and accelerated as when I had first set out. Running through each gear up to 5000 RPM, the “neunelfer” roared and gained ground quickly. It was exhilarating. It was hotter than the day before, but I was no longer worried about the engine. I had the windows down, the sunroof open and while the antenna still didn’t work (it never had; we ran cross-country twice with no tunes), the sounds of the engine roaring and the wind whipping the pages of my road atlas were music enough.

The rest of the drive to Venice was just as fun and relaxing. I parked the car later that night after completing a total of 5,661 miles in less than two weeks. Roughly two months before the festivities, I had set out to buy a 911 that was mechanically capable of making it to the marque’s 50th birthday celebration in Amelia Island, Florida and home again. I didn’t find the car until nine days before my departure date, drove to Florida in four, celebrated the 911’s birthday at an incredible car show, was interviewed by Jay Leno’s Garage for a segment, met a couple of my heroes, made it back in five days and drove some great roads.

In three weeks time I’ve gotten to know this car better than most owners ever do. It won’t be easy for me to sell. Thank you, 911.

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