As I’ve explained on the few occasions I’ve burst into print in Porsche Road & Race, my enduring love affair with the Porsche brand was developed and nurtured from the late 1950s. My father, a dentist by profession, was very mechanically-minded and owned Beetles – and Mercs – from the early ‘50s, but it was our family doctor who raced VW-powered single seaters at the Belvedere and Marlborough circuits in Salisbury, who was most influential in culturing my “Zuffenhausen disease.”
You see, aside from the VW racing bug, he also built up a not inconsiderable collection of books centred on racing cars and racing personalities of the ‘50s, a period when Porsche was beginning to make a mark for itself with its fleet-of-foot air-cooled racers.
While I was devouring the contents of his books and learning everything there was to know about 550s, 718s, RSKs and so-on, the ‘Racing Doctor’ as my Dad dubbed him, went further and successively owned a 356 A and then a 356 B Super 90. In the meantime, he also became the sole importer of Porsche AG in Rhodesia.
Politics conspired to terminate the association with Zuffenhausen and there never was another accredited Porsche importer in Rhodesia or Zimbabwe as it became. But that sad state of affairs did nothing to blunt my endless enthusiasm for the brand and come 1988, I decided it was time to consummate my enduring love affair.
The only way to do so, if a new model was in my sights, was to pay a visit to the South African importer, Lindsay Saker Motors (LSM) Distributors, whose rather small offices I recall were situated close to mine dumps on the south-east side of Johannesburg.
The November timing of the visit was determined by some promised activity at the then newly wrought Kyalami circuit. A 500 km non-championship event, composed of two heats, had attracted a strong armada of 962s, not least a pair for hotshots Bob Wollek and Klaus Ludwig.
The Joest-entered machines were decked-out in the colours of local fuel ‘distiller’, Sasol, and looked a million dollars in their predominantly blue hue. But I have jumped the starter’s lights as the prime purpose of my visit to the ‘city of gold’ was to find out how I could become the owner of a Zuffenhausen express with engine situated in the tail.
An appointment with the then boss, Christoph Kopke who was later to head up Mercedes-Benz South Africa, was made easily enough and so I arrived at LSM HQ in a powder blue Golf 1 loaned by my mates, resident in the northern suburbs of Johannesburg.
I was very much aware that the G-Series Porsches were close to the end of a very long production run and that the 964 would herald a few significant changes to the 911 formula. I was in a quandary, as I didn’t want to expend a lot of the folding stuff, to end up just weeks later with an outdated model. Herr Kopke however, persuaded me to stick with the proven formula, particularly because I was resident in Zimbabwe where there was absolutely no support for the brand. “Even a new Porsche may have niggles,” he opined.
So, there and then, all the catalogues came out and I ordered a 911 Carrera Sport. I definitely wanted that whale tail and the bigger front lip, but I agonised over the exterior colour. Guards Red was tugging at my mind, but I really did like Baltic Blue. However, given we are talking more than 30 years ago, metallic paints weren’t exactly two-a-penny in those days and the thought of potentially botched repairs, if necessary, had me heading to safety and Grand Prix white.
The inside just had to be blue. In generic speak, I liked the navy blue of the time – I recall it being dubbed Marine Blue – but didn’t want the all-leather seating that was standard fare on cars sourced for the SA market. So, it was that a deviation order was allowed by LSM and a mix of period pin stripe centre panels with leather bolsters was added along with Sports Seats, a decision I never regretted.
I also wasn’t happy with the fact that SA customers got Becker radios as standard. I preferred the default Porsche offering of a Blaupunkt unit, a decision influenced 99.9% by the fact that the Joest Racing 962Cs that ran in world championship events all sported the livery of the Blue Spot. BF Goodrich tyres were also specified in recognition of the promotion of this brand on some of the US-entered 962s, but as we will soon find out, this was not a good choice.
Having advised Herr Kopke of my impending visit to Kyalami, he aided my cause by providing me with a couple of tickets that gave access to parts of the circuit others don’t often reach. On the first practice day, for example, I found myself along with my companion who has since attended no fewer than 26 editions of the Le Mans 24 Hour race with me, right inside the Joest pits. Conversing with my heroes of the time, namely Bob Wollek and Klaus Ludwig, was a dream come true and as expected neither let me down on race day when they romped to a 1-2 in both heats.
But I’ve digressed again. My 911 was scheduled for January ‘89 production which meant it would have the new-for-the-year 16-inch Fuchs wheels. It also meant it was on the line just three months before production of this stalwart ended. What was much more important to me was that time would fly by and my 911 keys would be handed over without any delays.
And so it was, that on 28 April, I boarded a plane for Johannesburg airport where a lady from LSM was waiting for me in a 911Carrera Cabriolet. She was unaware that I had brought my wife, so conditions were a little cramped with three of us plus luggage aboard the Cabriolet!
It turned out that the handover of my pride and joy had been delayed a couple of days because of that Blaupunkt radio. In the course of the PDI, a techie had tried to activate the unit not knowing it was code-protected, a feature not present on the Becker with which he was more familiar. The result was access verboten, followed by a run around to find a way to get the music going again. If only they had known, the four-digit code was printed on a little card hidden in depths of all the paperwork!
Starting up that flat-six for the first time was an event of huge significance for me. I was in heaven but my raised metabolism didn’t last forever, given that I had to enter huge streams of ill-disciplined traffic on the south side of the big city.
A couple of days later, we set out on the 1500 km journey back to Harare but a great calamity was just hours away and it involved Zimbabwe customs. Total import duties and taxes on new cars came to more than 100 percent in those days, so the Value for Duty Purposes (VDP) was a most important issue.
I had arranged in advance to have a cheque made out to the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority to speed up transit at the border, but there’s no allowing for the machinations of civil servants collecting money for the State. I had ensured all my paperwork was fully in order and this included providing an ORIGINAL copy of my bank transfer to Porsche AG, as well as an ORIGINAL receipt from Porsche’s bank.
The amount I paid was to be used to calculate the FOB value of the car (it was in transit through SA, remember) but because the consignment note for the vehicle was made out to LSM Distributors, the infuriating customs official said the duty on the car had to be calculated on the SA retail price which already included similar levels of duty to those imposed by Zimbabwe!
This so-called official would not accept that my car was one of three in a 40-foot container which was to be delivered to LSM’s premises, so it was impossible for the consignment note to be made in my name. Even a child could work out that LSM was simply a purchase facilitator in this case and that the SA importer never at any stage owned the vehicle, but Mr Customs wouldn’t listen and took the keys for my pride and joy, telling me the car was being confiscated!
If I was on a high when that flat-six first burst into life, I was now entering the biggest low of my life, as my gleaming Carrera was taken into a filthy stone and dust-ridden yard under the full glare of the African sun. I didn’t even consider how we would get back to Harare, some 600 km away, but a kindly gentleman who had witnessed the whole stupid saga promptly offered us a lift. The fact that he had a Golf GTI 16V was some consolation, but I was inconsolable for the rest of the grimmest day imaginable.
Needless to say, the day after my return home was spent in a frenzied state trying to find some solution to getting my 911 back where it belonged. The only way was to find the extra, unwarranted duty and fight the good fight later. 48 hours after we left the border, we were back in my wife’s Golf GTI, and we got my Stuttgart express back in one piece, exhausted but deliriously happy.
In the interests of a measure of brevity, I shall simply disclose that all the paperwork was presented to lawyers on my return to Harare and the customs’ ruling was challenged at full revs. I won my case and received a pay out from Robert Mugabe’s government that left a balance which exactly mirrored what I had arranged to hand over in the first instance! Needless to say, my opinion of customs details has been coloured ever since.
Now I was back on the road so to speak, I had to give thought to how to maintain the Carrera on home soil as driving the 1500 km to Johannesburg simply wasn’t an option. I advised LSM of the prevailing circumstances and the fact that not one of my previous cars had ever been serviced by dealers, so I had a reasonable level of competence! They kindly agreed the warranty would stand provided there was no evidence, in the event of a claim, that I had triggered the problem.
A year and a bit passed by and all was almost sweetness and light on the Porsche front. I’d done an oil and filter change using Castrol synthetic but I’m not a fundi on air con, so the poor cold air output was grudgingly accepted until I decided to head for the 1990 Le Mans race via Jo’burg where I would leave the 911 for LSM to resolve the air con problem. Their solution was simply to replace the compressor under warranty, but truth be known, the supply of cold air was a permanent weakness only alleviated in part by fairly regular re-gassing. Needless to say, the long run in the now fully run-in 911 was a pure delight, especially as speed traps in those days were a rarity.
In year two, the speedo twice stopped working, a fault I identified as originating in the sensor mounted on the gearbox. LSM happily supplied replacements which would have been a nightmare to fit were it not for my inspection pit that was so much part of my motoring life in Zimbabwe.
Then there was the bugbear of air-cooled 911 ownership – the matter of valve clearances. Having owned strings of VWs in prior years, I was only too well aware of the need to ensure the exhaust valves in particular had sufficient clearance.
The cognoscenti will know that the rockers and adjuster screws on these 911s are buried deep down in the cylinder heads which is why some dealers apparently remove the engine to do the task, but that was not a possibility for me. The special P213 feeler gauge was purchased from a UK dealer along with all the rocker cover gaskets and nylon-sleeved lock nuts and a whole weekend was set aside to do the back-breaking task for the first time.
As far as the inlet valves are concerned, working by feel was the order of the day but apart from the deleterious effect on my back, and the sheer consumption of time, the task became easier with familiarity and was carried out four times from memory.
For the first six years or so of its life, the 911 was used as a daily driver, taking the kids to school and me to work and off to regular meetings. I suspect the kids rather liked this form of transport as Porsches were not exactly a common sight in Harare, but I was always a bit wary of the dangers of travelling in heavy traffic, not to mention traversing industrial sites and the like.
Indeed, one morning I was on my way to an important meeting with a large client and shortly after crossing a railway line near the appointed premises, the car’s handling went very odd. Something had inflicted a four-centimetre cut in the tread of the left rear BF Goodrich. A calamity for sure, but doubly so in backward Zimbabwe where finding a 225/50ZR16 tyre would be an absolute impossibility.
Truth be told, those American tyres had been disappointing, showing a high wear rate and creating even more road noise than expected, but that was nothing compared with having no tyre at all. The only solution was to take all four Fuchs wheels to Johannesburg and get new rubber there. Large cardboard packing cases were found, the Carrera was left on axle stands, and I headed to the airport with my unusual cargo.
South African Airways (SAA) were threatened with dire consequences should anything go amiss in the transit period and sure enough, it did! On arrival mid-afternoon at Johannesburg, my four large boxes were nowhere to be seen. My levels of anguish reached new heights but SAA were brilliant. They eventually discovered that the consignment, which had been shipped in the passenger cargo hold, had been inadvertently delivered to SAA cargo at the very end of the airport. The fact that delivery was made to my hotel at 1 o’clock in the morning gives you a good idea of the threat posed to SAA! Four Toyo tyres were duly fitted on my return and these proved more durable but just as noisy as their predecessors.
In between carrying out ultra-regular oil changes and treating the paint to a weekly dose of non-abrasive Swissvax, life with the Porsche was proving most pleasant, albeit that I had taken a decision to use it only for leisure purposes when the weather was fine and clear. The bodywork and underside were absolutely pristine years down the road, such that I could say this Carrera Sport would stand alongside the best examples on the planet.
It was therefore of great concern early one morning to hear a clunking noise emanating from the rear. I hadn’t run over anything I was sure, but a measured return to the aforementioned inspection pit soon revealed the problem. The left mounting bracket of the rear anti-roll bar had fractured, a problem I soon learned was endemic to this model. Quite why Porsche had elected to weld these brackets to the bodywork rather than using simple bolts, is a mystery. (For the record, a number of US companies sell much better-quality replacement brackets).
In the 19 years I owned the car, it logged only just a little more than 49,000 km – the last 10,000 km taking ten years – and today, it would be a collector’s item given the change in values of older models and the fact that every speck of paint was original as were the brake pads! I recall replacing just three batteries – the original Varta did an incredible nine years – and even more incredibly, it never blew a single bulb!
It also never burned a drop of Castrol Synthetic, but like most of its brethren, it developed an oil leak, albeit a minor one which I suspect originated from the oil pressure switch that was left alone.
With great sadness, I was obliged to sell my prized Porsche early in December 2008, immediately ahead of our emigration from Zimbabwe to South Africa. The fact that it sold without the need to advertise it tells you that it was a much-pampered piece of kit – a legendary car imbued with old school standards of pure German engineering. To ensure the new owner’s complete satisfaction, I also had a set of new Goodyears fitted and had the original Blaupunkt radio cassette replaced with a newer version complete with an integrated CD player.
If I was already a dyed-in-the-wool Porsche fanatic before owning that treasured car, I think I’m ever more besotted today, if that’s possible. The 992 looks simply stunning to my eyes. Sadly, the relentless upward march of prices has put such devices way beyond my reach but not beyond my dreams, which in my autumn years are fulfilled by making an annual visit to Le Mans and by sitting glued to live streaming of any events in which GT3Rs and/or RSRs compete.
When Richard Wiley emigrated from Zimbabwe to South Africa in 2008, he transferred all the images he had of his 911 Carrera Sport, his pride and joy, onto a CD. In the busyness of that move the CD was lost, and along with it all of his images. As a result of this, we have asked the Porsche Museum for some stock images of the model which unfortunately do not show the bespoke options as fitted to Richard’s car. But in this instance, it is the fascinating tale of Richard’s 911 ownership that is important.
Written by: Richard Wiley
Images by: Porsche Werkfoto