How our man, Richard Wiley, came to be the custodian of two Porsche 911s over a period of nearly nine months. Porsche Road & Race contributor, Richard Wiley, has spent many hours of his life in aeroplanes, travelling primarily to or from motoring-related events or motor races. Apart from the fact that these travels have extended across five decades, there’s been nothing especially remarkable about any of his flights with one notable exception. Some eight years ago, he was seated next to a gentleman who came to share a passion for Porsches. Contact has been maintained ever since and in 2020, Richard’s chance encounter led to a Porsche 996 Turbo being entrusted to his care. Here’s his story, one that can have few parallels in the annals of high-performance motoring.
Way back in the sands of time and long before Covid19 started to germinate – I’m guessing the year was 2012 – I was on a mid-morning domestic flight between Johannesburg and Cape Town sitting in the first row of an SAA 737. I’d just disembarked from an 11-hour international flight so was not overly disposed to making small talk with my neighbour who clearly felt much the same way.
The ice was eventually broken some 30 minutes into the flight when an attendant came to ask if we would like to sample a snack or two and partake of some liquid refreshment. I expressed my preference for a large plate of oxtail, a standard request from me on flights as it always seems to animate the crew and get them to converse beyond the “fish or chicken” stage.
The ploy worked with its usual efficacy and generated smiles all round – albeit no oxtail materialised. Indeed, my “neighbour” was moved to ask if I was partial to that rearmost component of a cow that to me is a delicacy only rivalled by tripe!
Now the ice was broken, the flight attendant responded with alacrity to our every wish and my neighbour moved into phase two of a conversation piece by enquiring as to what I did. My answer was that aside from annoying my wife periodically, I was not the most active person on the planet as my advancing years and retreating hairline should have telegraphed.
Indeed, I was sort of retired, I offered, having expended more than a third of a century in one advertising agency and at least that length of time simultaneously devouring every car magazine on the planet in between spending years camped at Le Mans.
I was, I opined, actually ‘semi-retired’ but to stay out of my wife’s hair, I was now pursuing with some vigour, an occupation that I had dabbled in since 1975 – writing about cars, a task which had taken me in “retirement” to many corners of the globe and put me behind the tillers of many desirable pieces of automotive equipment.
To be specific, my obsession with sharing that car fetish with others, through the written word, has taken me, inter-alia, to South Korea, India, France, the UK, Germany, Hungary, Monaco, the Netherlands, Morocco, Portugal, Spain, Belgium, USA, Tanzania, Kenya, Malawi, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia and more.
I nearly forgot to mention that in between all these activities, prior to semi-official retirement, I also spent ten years of my existence in cricket administration at club and national level, but this has only been slipped in to prove that contrary to my wife’s views, there was life beyond the motorcar.
But I have deviated a long way from Row 1 of a noisy B737 and need to return to what my new-found acquaintance was quizzing me about. Now that he had very clearly established that my life revolved around four wheels, his first question nonetheless came as something of a surprise. “What” he asked, “did I think of Porsches?”
I had not disclosed that I spent some of the happiest years of my life – all 19 of them – in the company of a 911 Carrera 3.2 bought new through LSM Distributors in Johannesburg on 28 April 1989. That car has featured in these pages before so I won’t repeat any further detail, but the mere length of tenure of this much-missed air-cooled classic should telegraph that I thought an awful lot of Porsches and had done so from an impressionable age of around six.
My response to the question was lag-free and detailed in the extreme. Indeed, I suggested to my questioner that we would need to return from whence I had come – Frankfurt – to give me time to expound all my positive associations with the Zuffenhausen wunderwagens, starting in Gmünd and continuing apace to Weissach.
A suggestion that an Aston Martin had been put on the table as a possible future purchase had me choking on my stale bread roll – but fear not. By the time we touched down in Cape Town, any thought my new-found friend might have had of purchasing a piece of antiquity from Newport Pagnell had been thoroughly extinguished.
Indeed, he disclosed to me that he had many friends who had seen the light and collectively drove fleets of Stuttgart’s finest. “Would I be good enough,” he enquired, “to include him and all these friends from the Porsche Club of South Africa on my ‘brand’ mailing lists?”
So began an association that has endured to this day whereby I bash out, copy, edit and collate reams of information that has anything to do with Porsches across the globe, and mail the gushing texts and glowing images to the aforementioned Porsche-philes. To this day, I haven’t met many of my propaganda victims, but that matters not. If the contents help consolidate the knowledge base of Ferdinand’s flock, I am happy.
In the meanwhile, and I’m fairly certain this was in 2017, my contact from that original SAA flight – let’s call him B for the sake of brevity – who had been resident in Cape Town but had now moved to Johannesburg, phoned me to ask if I’d like to accompany him in delivering his newly-acquired, pre-owned 997 Turbo from the Mother City (Cape Town) to his abode in the north west reaches of the City of Gold (Johannesburg).
Rather naturally, I answered in the affirmative even before I asked how I would make my return to Cape Town. And so it was on a Saturday afternoon, B arrived at my house to collect this co-driver whose own boost levels probably exceeded those of the Turbo gleaming in the summer sun.
How I relished my hours behind the wheel of that jet black Turbo on the 1500 km run. Notwithstanding a genuine scare with low fuel levels and not a garage in sight for what seemed like an eternity, the flat-six propelled us at great pace and with consummate ease, up hill and down dale. Only a slight whoosh from the air intake vents on the flanks suggested that Stuttgart’s finest was doing any more than stretch its legs, but there again, the usual level of 911 road roar accompanied by a generous dose of wind howl from around the frameless side windows collectively combined to put the flat-six orchestra partly in its place.
For most drivers, the end of a 1500 km drive would be welcomed with open arms, but in our case, it was welcomed with open doors. You see, B had recently acquired a new 991 GT3 and he clearly understood my personal priorities by suggesting we head off in the normally aspirated flat-six to relish the sounds of a sport exhaust and the mechanical wail of a crankshaft rotating 9000 times in a minute.
Where the Turbo was a model of muscular decorum, the GT3 proved to be a sharply honed scalpel, thrusting and barking a soulful tune that had me in a state of near ecstasy, notwithstanding the recent completion of a very long run from Cape Town.
It had not escaped my notice that a Cayenne also occupied a spot in the extensive garage space on B’s property, so it was self-obvious that the “Porsche virus” had got a good hold on him, but it was a Range Rover that was used to take me to the Gautrain station in Sandton en-route to O.R. Tambo airport for my 120-minute flight back home to the Cape.
Life then returned to normal with my regular allocation of press cars and occasional vehicle launches to keep me out of my wife’s hair. In the meantime, the high-flying B and his Porsche-owning colleagues continued to receive my mailed Porsche missives but B himself was in the throes of moving to London to represent his company at a very senior level in Europe and the Middle East.
That meant letting out his dandy property in leafy Jo’burg suburbia which in turn meant finding somewhere for his fleet of Porsches to remain safe and under cover. I clearly hadn’t been paying due attention to the changing composition of B’s fleet though. Since my aforementioned visit, he had had the once jet black 997 Turbo treated to a very classy respray in what I can only describe as a deep Irish Green complemented by the addition of a new set of Fuchs-style alloys with black spokes just like those that adorned my beloved and much-missed Carrera 3.2.
And it turns out the lovely metallic grey GT3 had found a new owner, but two other Zuffenhausen machines had replaced this track-based missile. B had clearly become infected by the lure of older Porsches and had acquired from the Classic Division of Porsche Centre Cape Town, an early 996 Turbo.
He’d also invested in a 997 with a difference. Painted in a debatable shade that I’d suggest most would describe as caramel, this 997 of approximately 2007 vintage had been breathed upon by a Porsche specialist, but more of that after I’ve espoused a few thoughts about the Turbo.
So it was that I received a WhatsApp message in early March 2020 from B in London suggesting that he had an unusual offer for me that I might just find interesting. He was, he said, unwilling to dispose of his 911s while the market in South Africa remained depressed and that he would anyway prefer that the cars did not remain idle for an indeterminate period while he was resident in other climes.
A phone call soon followed and it was put to me that I might care to “look after” the aforementioned 996 Turbo. It just happened that a Germany-based couple in my complex would be heading home in a matter of days to avoid the early chaos surrounding Covid, and they were happy to offer me garage space.
“Wunderbar,” I thought, as I excitedly accepted B’s offer to act “in loco parentis” to one of Stuttgart’s finest which had already been loaded onto a transporter for the long journey from Johannesburg to Cape Town.
A couple of days later, I was on my way in my wife’s Golf 7 – what a brilliant car this six-year-old example has proved to be – to collect the Turbo from an apartment some 55 km from my abode in Somerset West.
More than once, the thought crossed my mind that I must be one of just a handful of individuals entrusted with someone else’s Porsche, and not just any Porsche at that. After all, a Turbo is known to have claws and teeth if not treated with a modicum of respect. But somehow, I suspect that the owner knew that my love of the brand and my long-established reputation for pampering every car I’ve ever had my hands on, would ensure that this Porsche would be treated with kid gloves.
So it was that a Biarritz White machine was presented to me under a bright sun in earshot of the breaking waves of the Atlantic Ocean. The near-twenty-year-old Turbo was still mildly travel stained from an earlier run on a damp road, presumably in Johannesburg, and obviously showed some surface dust from the long transporter ride to the Cape, but it was clearly a very solid example of the revered breed.
The return drive home brought memories flooding back from my Carrera 3.2 days. Aside from remembering to get in bum first and swing the legs in, the severe left off-set of the pedals needed to be dealt with and the gently writhing steering wheel, albeit in powered form in this application, needed to be left to its own devices. Oh, and let’s not forget the rock-hard feel of the brake pedal which wrongly suggested that stopping this 1540 kg missile could need a lot of calf muscle.
Put simply, life could hardly get better, especially when a few breaks in the traffic allowed me to exercise the loud pedal and bask in that intoxicating yet relaxed rush that is so much part of Turbo DNA.
Truth is that “rush” is an understatement. A longer association with this machine that showed 122,000 km on the clock revealed what I can only describe as explosive mid-range acceleration clearly aided and abetted by a non-factory three-way electronic “box” mounted near the pedals that seemingly massaged the ignition and injection settings.
Blimey – I thought the Audi V10 Plus that I had custody of some while back gained speed at a ridiculous rate but this near two-decade-old 996 shaded it without any obvious effort. A subdued whoosh from the trademark intakes buried in the rear flanks was accompanied by a gruff but restrained bellow from the exhaust. And with that bellow came an adrenalin rush that never failed to trigger a grin and reaffirmation of a belief that Porches always outperform even the loftiest expectations.
I should record here and now that this Turbo was fitted with the Tiptronic auto ‘box that many critics declare is responsible for masking the responsiveness of an engine that does suffer from mild turbo lag typical of forced induction units of the era. Maybe because there is so much torque waiting to be liberated, and maybe because I’m knocking on myself, and suffering from ignition retardation of the human kind, I was happy with the ‘box.
I particularly liked the steering wheel push buttons that facilitated upward and/or downward shifts which for the most part were surprisingly cushioned and not unduly delayed, albeit nowhere near PDK speeds. Indeed, the mechanical prowess of a car just a few days short of 20 years tells you an awful lot about Porsche engineering standards just as it tells why journalists back in 2001 declared the Turbo the saviour of the 996 genre.
In deference to the fact that this beautifully preserved example of the breed – I personally spent hours waxing the resprayed but nicely applied paintwork and somewhat fewer hours on cleaning up the headlight lenses – was the prized possession of an individual resident some 10,000 km away, the Turbo was never pushed into corners at any pace, but let it be said that not once in everyday driving was I ever aware that a heavy six-cylinder engine offering not far short of 500 HP (with the aforementioned modification) was delivering its delights from behind the rear axle.
Moving to the interior, I should record that many cows had given up their hides to swathe the seats, the doors and the dash. Truth be known, the design of the 996 dash is somewhat disjointed and hardly a paragon of logical layout, but somehow the bits I disliked in photos weren’t nearly so offensive in real life.
The electrically adjustable front pews don’t look especially sporty, but they are wonderfully comfortable and sufficiently supportive to contain any sliding around on the relatively slippery leather surface which I treated to a dose of “hide dye” to disguise the rigours of 20 years‘ use by quite a variety of owners, judging by the handbook.
The somewhat busy red-on-white dials also looked rather dandy and I have to admit to being mildly surprised by the volume of information available courtesy of a stalk-operated, simple digital read-out that included what I assessed to be an accurate oil level indicator.
As much of the tenure of this near twenty-year-old road rocket happened to coincide with Cape Town’s winter wet season, the acquisition of the temporary garage proved to be a boon because I regard wet roads and motorcars as mutually exclusive items. Accordingly, the Turbo only emerged with the sun, as it were.
Unsurprisingly, the presence of nearly 500 potentially rampaging horses lurking in the rear turned my wife into an unwilling passenger, but I promise here and now, that I exercised remarkable restraint when in her company. As a mature member of society, I also made it my business to exercise the loud pedal with discretion when on my own, and the complete absence of any speeding fines was testament to my decorum! I admit though, that the occasional twitch of the right leg to deal with younger folk making a lot of noise at the lights in Honda Type Rs and suchlike, was very difficult to avoid.
Life could hardly be better but there was more to come. The real owner of the 996 Turbo had returned to his homeland, temporarily, and arranged to swop the Turbo for the 997 Carrera S (mentioned earlier) that had been the recipient of a not inconsiderable titivation at the hands of a Porsche enthusiast trading under the name Dutchmann.
The editor of this esteemed site has already provided a comprehensive run-down on the origins and workings of the Dutchmann organisation situated within earshot of Lanseria Airport to the west of Johannesburg, so I will spare readers a repeat dose.
Suffice to say, this 997 had been titivated with a full respray in the aforementioned rather dubious caramel colour and had also been treated to lashings of tan-coloured leather applied to the dash and door areas. Hidden away in the footwell was a similar three-way “tuning” device to that fitted in the Turbo.
An earlier 160 km run, as a passenger, through the Western Cape in the company of a number of modern 911s, revealed that this 997 was not short of horses or decibels, for that matter. The auspuffer in “sport” setting allowed the flat-six to clear its throat in no uncertain manner and sparked memories of the late Bob Wollek’s Le Mans GT3 R in 2000. The entire pit lane donned ear muffs long before the howling flat-six entered the finishing straight, and this Dutchmann was little different which meant that sport mode had to be selected with, shall we say, a measure of decorum!
Compared with the 996, the 997 lacked the astonishing mid-range grunt that two turbos deliver, but let it be said that throttle responses proved to be razor sharp, even from relatively low revs. The normally aspirated machine not only revved more freely and spun with silky smoothness, the car also felt lighter on its feet and a lot more chuck-able.
As with my much-lamented 911 Carrera, the clutch pedal felt heavy, not to mention considerably offset to the left, but it took up smoothly and acceptably progressively and paired well with the short-throw manual ‘box. The brakes too still offered up that hard-as-nails initial pedal feel but this quirkiness simply ceased to be an issue after a few days’ use.
Despite my efforts to exercise unusual restraint while circulating in my neighbourhood, which also happens to be home to many birds of the feathered variety, I could not resist pressing that “sport” button every now and then to enjoy the simply unrivalled and exceptionally loud melody emanating from the rear.
Unlike me, those birds were very pleased to see the back of the Dutchmann which was again swopped, short-term, for the 996 Turbo pending the imminent return of the owners of the house and attached garage, which had been home to two of Stuttgart’s finest. And while I mourned my return to driving ordinary cars, I delighted in the fact that neither Porsche left even a single drop of oil on the smooth garage floor on which they had collectively spent some 250 days being pampered and titivated.
What memories, and what a privilege to be entrusted with such machinery over such a long period.
Written by: Richard Wiley
Images by: Richard Wiley