A few things to know before stealing my 914
April 1, 2022 11:15 AM   Subscribe

Wow, broken fuel gauge AND broken odometer. That's living a life of adventure and uncertainty. I'm surprised the speedometer works.
posted by surlyben at 11:25 AM on April 1 [3 favorites]

Given that the author is the Miata's daddy, I'd imagine all this just gives the car character to him.
posted by NoxAeternum at 11:30 AM on April 1 [5 favorites]

A friend bought a 912 once, and the experience was so stressful he could only recover by buying a second 912 that had been more expertly restored and consigning the first to its best possible fate: donor car. Even the more expertly restored car required a similar set of steps to start when the engine was cold, but after that it ran pretty well.
posted by fedward at 11:34 AM on April 1 [6 favorites]

oh, it's a love story! how sweet. beautiful car!
posted by chavenet at 11:36 AM on April 1 [8 favorites]

My dad spent most of his 50s working on a 1974 911 Targa in our one-car garage. I think if somebody'd stolen it and gotten more than half a mile away, he'd have asked them to lunch instead of calling the cops.
posted by penduluum at 11:38 AM on April 1 [20 favorites]

I love that under the guise of trying to help, he is really just taunting the thief. Nobody who knows about cars or who watches the Motor Trend channel would attempt to steal that car.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 11:54 AM on April 1 [2 favorites]

Sometimes I play video games like Forza with their simulations of vintage cars in perfect working order and then look online and think insane things like, "I could afford this 1980 Fiat Spider."

Now when I think these things I will read this article and repent.
posted by The Monster at the End of this Thread at 11:55 AM on April 1 [24 favorites]

Surprise is your best weapon against this transmission.
posted by meinvt at 11:56 AM on April 1 [10 favorites]

Porsches are not hacker cars. That's Volkswagen's job.
posted by rhizome at 11:59 AM on April 1 [4 favorites]

This is like something out of the "Saw" movie franchise: the car thief shuts the door gently, but the locks click solidly, and then a speaker under the front seat begins playing this text in a measured, quiet voice, while an electronic timer begins beeping once per second in the background...
posted by wenestvedt at 12:11 PM on April 1 [7 favorites]

Pretty sure this car was on the heist list for the film Gone in Sixty ̶S̶e̶c̶o̶n̶d̶s̶ ̶M̶i̶n̶u̶t̶e̶s̶ ̶H̶o̶u̶r̶s̶ Days
posted by BrotherCaine at 12:15 PM on April 1 [6 favorites]

or you could have the best of both worlds by buying a volkswagen 411 which had a 4 cyl porsche engine in it

i had one - it was a bit of a piece of junk but one night i was waiting at the stop light of a 4 lane highway and this guy in a tricked out mustage pulls up next to me and goes vroom vroom - i guess he was going to show me

when the light changed i floored it and left him WAY behind in the dust - unfortuately, after 70 mph, this car didn't have anything, so by the time we got to the next light, he'd almost caught up

rinse and repeat a couple of times - i think he must have been in shock that a shitty little car like mine was blowing his doors off
posted by pyramid termite at 12:19 PM on April 1 [14 favorites]

A counterpoint to the freeway entrance - if you can survive below 50mph, it does mean you probably don't have to shift so often. I think it took me two on ramps to get into 3rd driving home from school after an evening shift in the labs when my Saab's clutch mysteriously lost all hydraulic pressure, but once I was on the freeway I had a solid 15 minutes or so to stop worrying about using the starter to get rolling and shifting by matching RPMs.

It's fun, I highly recommend it to anybody.
posted by Kyol at 12:19 PM on April 1 [2 favorites]

This had me crying laughing, as someone who has owned cars like this (although not Porsches) their whole life.

When I was younger and people used to ask to borrow my car, I'd have to say things like, "Sure! Just make sure to put the fuse back in for the ignition first. You have to remember to take it out again when you stop driving, otherwise the locks will start locking and unlocking themselves in a nightmarish symphony until they drain the battery completely. Oh, and try not to make any left turns. The windshield wipers will start up and only the car has the power to decide when they stop. Have fun! Oh wait, one more thing. Don't forget to crack the windows for the exhaust or else you'll pass out!".
posted by stellaluna at 12:20 PM on April 1 [22 favorites]

My dad still has his 914 sitting in the garage, partially dismantled. He bought it new in 1969 and decided to rebuild the engine in 1980. And so it has been ever since.
posted by fimbulvetr at 12:29 PM on April 1 [8 favorites]

Ah, the old Porsche Hassen Leben (hating life).
posted by JustSayNoDawg at 12:31 PM on April 1 [3 favorites]

Also the lock situation is 100% how my old Corolla rolled - the key was stuck in the ignition, so I left the doors unlocked because that was the only key.

I just ran a heavy chain between the brake pedal and the steering wheel when I parked it instead. It worked, nobody ever messed with it, even parking down at the university where a little casual car theft wouldn't have been noticed.

I don't miss driving a series of shitboxes, but there was definitely some flavor to it.
posted by Kyol at 12:41 PM on April 1 [4 favorites]

My dad still has his 914 sitting in the garage, partially dismantled. He bought it new in 1969 and decided to rebuild the engine in 1980. And so it has been ever since.

Perfect for Garage Squad. They'll come and fix it up.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 12:43 PM on April 1 [2 favorites]

Oh, man. I laughed; I'd forgotten about 914's.
My car, though not technically running-- being as parts of it are 30 feet or so away from other parts of it, all parts the car would like to have to, erm, run;-- actually did run except for the screech the starter makes sometimes and the alarming issue with the rear differential at speeds above 80 (my car likes 80, when it's running). Since you only need 1 wrench to get a part of the car open, and you can actually open the driver window without severely gouging your hand, much, on the broken lever, I'm quite smug about it all.
Except for the not-yet-running part, that's kind of a bothersome thing.
posted by winesong at 12:50 PM on April 1 [1 favorite]

Nobody who knows about cars or who watches the Motor Trend channel would attempt to steal that car.

Watch the auctions on Bring a Trailer. Anything that says Stuttgart in the crest on the hood is getting pretty valuable this day
posted by hwyengr at 1:00 PM on April 1 [1 favorite]

Also the lock situation is 100% how my old Corolla rolled - the key was stuck in the ignition

Yeah, not only could you start my ancient Corolla with a screwdriver, but you could pull the key out without turning the switch and the engine would keep running. Got to work late one day, parked the car and ran up to the office. Came back down four hours later for lunch and it was still purring.

Spent a summer replacing the burnt out clutch with a friend. We'd never done anything close to as complicated and by the end we'd put everything back together and still had a handfull of nuts and bolts. Damn things started on the first try. Drove it for another six months (kept off the highway just to be safe) until I found it with a broken windshield one morning and replacing it would have cost more than the car was worth. Loved that car.
posted by gwint at 1:10 PM on April 1 [7 favorites]

This is great. The thing is, the 914 would make a nice little platform for an electric conversion. What sort of masochist would be still burning dinosaurs in an old fixer? Get a couple of lead acid batteries, a Zilla motor controller, and kick it EV 2003 or so style!
posted by straw at 1:41 PM on April 1 [3 favorites]

Presumably the vanity plate "4EA" has been taken in every state already.
posted by clew at 1:44 PM on April 1

Dear Norman Garrett,

While this was all well and cute, I have a serious bone to pick with you as a designer (and likely as a man). I cannot buy a Miata. Why do you ask? Let me tell you: there is no place to put my purse in a Miata.

Look, I'm sure you're asking "why do you need a purse when driving?" and there are multiple ways I can answer that, so here are just a few of the top options:

1) If I get pulled over, I need to produce my licence. Where is my licence? In my purse. And, no, cops really don't want me getting out of the car, walking to the back, opening the trunk, digging out my purse before pulling out a licence to give to them. They really don't.

2) My sunglasses are in my purse. Especially during long drives, the light levels change, and there are times I need to put on or take off my sunglasses. I can't do that if they're in the trunk.

3) If I get rear ended (which has happened to me more than once) seriously enough that it impairs the opening and closing of my truck, then I'm stuck without my purse (and the money and vital information it contains) at least in the short term (until I can get the trunk pried open). Being in an accident is bad enough, having to worry about the contents of your purse on top of that? No thank you.

I could go on, but you should be able to get the idea. I sometimes need access to my purse. That means I need to have my purse in the cabin, and look, I don't have a huge, massive bag, but it is bigger than a cigarette pack and definitely won't fit in whatever you decide is sufficient for a glove box.

In contrast, my little 1970s roadster (for which I could write a similar set of instructions about how to steal the car, including having to flip the non-factory cut-off switch for the fuel pump before starting the engine) was both smaller than the Miata and better designed. I could slide my purse safely and securely behind the back seat (meaning it wouldn't go flying out of the car). I could also squeeze a full-sized box of Kleenex back there, which I consider to be an absolute necessity of a safety feature in any car since you never know when a sudden sneezing fit will hit or when you need to wipe bug smear or other debris off your glasses (remember open-top car).

Norman, I'm sure you're never going to read this, but it's the closest I'm going to get to sending you this message (at least with minimal effort on my part). Look, I get it, you're a guy, you don't have to deal with this stuff. Maybe I shouldn't dump on you, as you're not the only designer who makes these kinds of mistakes, but tough. I'd tell the same thing to the guys (and I'm sure they're guys) who designed the Sky/Solstice, which I also couldn't buy for exactly the same reason.

I know nobody is asking, but since I feel like some people may still not see the purse thing as a big deal, let me share this story.

I went out to an event put on by GM where the company brought out a whole pile of new vehicles to let the public test drive them for a bit and get familiar with them (hoping to create some potential buyers). I was standing in a line of guys (I was the lone woman). A Sky and a Solstice were set up for demo rides. One had an automatic, one had a manual. For the most part, there was a long wait for the auto, as none of the dudes--all who would have said they're "car guys" if asked--could drive stick. The sales/PR rep was also in the "young, cool dude" category.

Well, when I said I wanted to take out the manual, every guy in line turned to stare in utter disbelief. I mean, why in heaven's name would a girl think she could drive a car they couldn't (especially one who doesn't look like a supermodel, because as movies have taught us, if you look like that it's okay if you're good behind the wheel)? So of course they were all watching me. (Believe me, I felt every eye, and I was petrified I was going to stall it, because that's usually how my luck runs.) Anyways, I walked around to the drivers side, looked behind the seat before opening the door and realized that, no there was no place where I could actually stash my purse. By this point, sales dude was in the car, so I slid behind the wheel, turned to him and said "please hold my purse as there is no place in the car to put it."

Well, you have never seen a fake PR smile (which was actually more like a grimace because he got stuck with the unattractive girl) slide into an expression of shock and horror and embarrassment that he, a manly man and a cool dude, was not only being wheeled around by a woman, but that he had to hold her purse in the process! Horrors upon horrors!

So in short, I hope Mr. Garrett, that you are teaching your students better and more inclusive design philosophies and approaches than the ones you yourself employed during your career.

Oh, and for the record, I had a perfectly smooth launch. Afterwards, a relative who I attended the event with, was laughing so hard, that they could barely describe how shocked not only Mr. Sales Guy looked first when presented with my purse, but also the the reaction of the dudes in line to both the purse exchange and my handling of the car.

Also, I keep telling my insurance agent, I should get a discount for my daily driver, given that it's also a manual and that the odds of it getting stolen are a lot lower than similar automatic versions of the same car, given how few people can handle a manual transmission these days, but sadly, he hasn't bought that argument yet.
posted by sardonyx at 1:47 PM on April 1 [81 favorites]

I am told, by friends who are knowledgeable about such things, that the 914 is a popular platform for electrification. I had assumed it was because the car is so light. Now I think there are other reasons.
posted by adamrice at 1:57 PM on April 1 [6 favorites]

I had an early-80's Saab 900 with the ignition in the console between the front seats. It was common in those cars for the key head to get snapped off by an errant fist while releasing the parking brake, leaving the blade behind in the ignition. I left a stubby screwdriver (good ol' Craftsman!) in the console for starting the car (I had a spare key so I could lock the door and the hatch lid).

The only other thing wrong with that car was a leaky sunroof over the driver's seat, resulting the springs rusting and falling out and leaving a big hole where the driver's butt was supposed to be. Fortunately a marine cushion just happened to fill that hole perfectly, and it was waterproof! I made sure to always carry a towel in the car to keep myself dry on rainy days.

It was a bit cumbersome on surface streets but loved driving on the highway. I recall one trip I took from Asheville NC to Mobile AL; on I-85 people were treating the route sign like a speed limit, and that Saab just purred along...I finished that trip in about 6-1/2 hours (standard time is 8+).
posted by Greg_Ace at 2:08 PM on April 1 [6 favorites]

My best friend has one in his garage. Each of the past 5 springs we've had the same conversation about how hopeful he is to spend the summer enjoying topdown driving on windy backroads in the north cascades. Each summer we have similar conversations about the setbacks he's had getting things roadworthy. Each fall we have the same conversations about how motivated he is to finally spend the winter doing what is needed to get it ready for next spring. Each winter we have similar conversations about how much backtracking he's had to do to get ready for the final steps to drivability in the spring. It's april and the rinse/repeat cycle is as predictable as longer days and rainshowers.
posted by OHenryPacey at 2:12 PM on April 1 [7 favorites]

not only could you start my ancient Corolla with a screwdriver, but you could pull the key out without turning the switch and the engine would keep running

A friend of mine used to like to pull the keys out mid-drive and throw them at unwitting passengers.

Another guy -- who was not in any way, shape or form mechanically-inclined and made a very bad decision in this purchase -- bought a late-60s muscle car (it was a Car of Theseus that had probably once been a GTO) whose previous owner had modified it to Go Real Fast. It turns out that they had not, however, modified it to Go Real Good.

It had switches that did mysterious things but which needed to be switched on and off at the right moments or the car wouldn't start. Or would stall. Once it stalled when we were making a left turn in front of oncoming traffic. It had non-retractable seatbelts where you could choose lap or shoulder, but not both. You couldn't park it on an incline or it wouldn't start; one time we pushed it halfway across a parking lot before we found a suitably-flat spot.

Sure was fast, though.
posted by uncleozzy at 2:17 PM on April 1 [7 favorites]

you could pull the key out without turning the switch and the engine would keep running
In college, one of my friends had a Yugo like this.
The parking lot was at the bottom of a hill, so he'd pull his keys out on his way down and just coast to his parking space.
posted by cheshyre at 2:24 PM on April 1

I went down to a dealership to drive a 911, I took one of my girls for a treat. The seat is made for a skinny man butt, and the pedals were so close together, I could barely use them. My feet got all bound up just using the clutch and brake. I asked the sales guy about it, he said he had special driving slippers to drive these cars, because he also had wide feet. What the ever lovin' eh? Vikings need not apply, nor Valkyries.
posted by Oyéah at 2:59 PM on April 1 [8 favorites]

Hey thieves, meet my '69 Fiat 850 convertible... hope you know how to drive without a clutch. It broke off. If you're less skilled look over an notice that pair of vise grips poking out of the center thingy, you can yank on that and get some almost clutch going. Keep the revs up until that light goes out or you'll kill the battery. See that valve there? That's the heater, it has to setting off and fucking engine coolant hot. There's a new wiring diagram in the glove box (don't ask). It does have a 4-barrell, racing shocks, and a set of Pirelli tires. If you can get it to go.... it's a terribly terribly fun big boy go-kart that can scream twists and turns. I sorta miss it. Took like three weeks to find somebody willing to weld my clutch pedal back together.
posted by zengargoyle at 3:06 PM on April 1 [4 favorites]

While this was all well and cute, I have a serious bone to pick with you as a designer (and likely as a man). I cannot buy a Miata. Why do you ask? Let me tell you: there is no place to put my purse in a Miata.

I can't buy a Miata because the car itself is about the size of a purse -- the seat is so close to the pedals that I can't actually get my legs under the dash (and I'm tall, but hardly a giant). I've read that people do things like remove seat foam to try and get a bit more leg- and headroom, but I'm doubtful that would be enough for my legs to actually fit. I would definitely own one if they weren't designed for much smaller people.

After owning mostly newer cars in the last 5-10 years, I picked up an older vehicle not long ago and I was reminded of how many quirks show up as a vehicle ages. Letting someone drive it means first having a training session to go over the oddities; you can't just hand over the keys.
posted by Dip Flash at 3:19 PM on April 1 [2 favorites]

For your gratification: 1993-ish.
posted by zengargoyle at 3:33 PM on April 1 [5 favorites]

My stories are all about American cars, like the ‘72 skylark that you could not turn left in too fast, or the battery would fall into the fan blades, or the 76 Skyhawk (yes, I’m looking at you Buick) on which both doors failed one after the other until the only means on ingress/egress was through the window. This wasn’t too terribly much of a problem for my athletic young self except that as far as you could roll a window up was an arms-width, since you had to do the rolling after climbing out. So what, you say? Reader, It rained and rained and rained that year, and much of the time, there was an inch or two or three of fetid rainwater on the floorboards, which were shaped like buckets, until it finally dawned on me to drill holes through them. Oh, and the one motor mount. If you accelerated at all, the engine would lift up off the broken one, then land with a resounding thud when you released the gas pedal. What an utter piece of shit that car was.

I’m saving the rest for a blog post.
posted by Devils Rancher at 3:41 PM on April 1 [17 favorites]

Now I think there are other reasons.

Yeah, like it may be your only opportunity to hurt the car the way it has hurt you.
posted by penduluum at 3:44 PM on April 1 [4 favorites]

A friend of mine had a 914 back in the early 90's. He had a screwdriver handy to spark up the ignition under the car, via the solenoid. It was easier than bump-starting it. Not *every* time, but more often than most people would be comfortable with.

He liked the car because he was tall and it had great legroom.
posted by Chuffy at 4:15 PM on April 1 [1 favorite]

special driving slippers to drive these cars

I was today years old (is that still a thing?) when I found out about driving slippers. I went to read about them. They say you shouldn't walk in them too much. They are not made for that. Also, I think they are just regular moccasins with rubby little grips on the bottom. (Though, I don't see how grippy moccasins would help someone with wide feet maneuver narrow pedals.)
posted by Glinn at 4:38 PM on April 1

Nobody who knows about cars or who watches the Motor Trend channel would attempt to steal that car.
If it had the six (cylinder) in it, I'd totally steal it. Those things are fun.

(My brother had a Cali desert 914-6, though at some point he gave up on the tuning mess and just put a fuel injection computer in it.)
posted by introp at 4:48 PM on April 1

I was watching a video of someone making and then starting a tiny gasoline engine recently. It should be my thing - making stuff, making it work - but as the builder fiddled with the carburetor to get it running, I had a shudder of revulsion. Too many childhood memories; neutral at the time, but no desire whatsoever to go back to them now. The sound, the smell, the fiddling with some dead thing that had pretensions to deserving the care that livings things do.
posted by clawsoon at 4:51 PM on April 1 [3 favorites]

Mini Gasoline Engine Build - 1000 Hours in 15 Minutes - YouTube? Brought back so many memories from elementary school days tearing down/up go-kart engines and "helping" the neighbor boy build muscle cars. Bore that cylinder out and put in a bigger piston, shave the heads on that thing, get you a couple extra horses out of that 5HP motor. Still wish we had found a VW/Porche engine to mount on that go-kart frame designed to hold one. The next best was the go-kart with a 500cc motorcycle engine.
posted by zengargoyle at 5:08 PM on April 1 [1 favorite]

This was a great read.

When I was a graduate student, my friend had an old VW Golf that kind of matched the description (other than being a Golf rather than a 914). He too left it unlocked, in the middle of a busy city. Because seriously, who would even be able to get it started?

It was stolen.

The police found it, abandoned, one block away.

Ah, the memories!
posted by brambleboy at 5:19 PM on April 1 [8 favorites]

Yes, zengargoyle, that was the one. My father was a mechanic, mostly small engines and older farm equipment, so I remember a long parade of lapped valves and honed cylinders and filed points and torquing head bolts in the order specified in the repair manual and turning the carb screw all the way in and then backing it off one-and-a-quarter turns or however the manual said, and then the smell of exhaust on the first start after an overhaul.
posted by clawsoon at 5:28 PM on April 1 [1 favorite]

It always amazed me how good of a theft deterrent a stick shift is. They're not that hard to drive if you have a basic description of how to make them go, but I guess you don't want to be learning in a car you're trying to steal.

I left mine unlocked for most of a decade, often parked in some dark corner for weeks or months at a time and other than a couple of instances of people rifling through the glove box hoping for something valuable nothing ever happened to it other than losing yet more oil out of the rear main seal I was too cheap to get replaced because it never was worth more than like a thousand bucks during the time I owned it.

I probably should have installed a battery cutoff switch when the fan controller went on the fritz rather than selling it for $200 to some random guy that knocked on my door when weeds were growing up around it because I'd left it sitting so long out of annoyance at having to reattach the battery terminal every time I wanted to drive it.
posted by wierdo at 5:31 PM on April 1 [2 favorites]

For some reason there were a lot of Volvos in my family. My dad used to have a P1800. Then my mom had a '71 240 DL in gold and my grandma had an almost identical one in maroon. Then we wound up with an '82 DL in blue, which I got secondhand when my mom replaced it with a car that didn't suck. It had the following special features:

Seat heaters with hair-trigger toggle switches. In Florida.
Horn that would honk when you use the left turn signal, and other occasions.
Engine that would randomly shut off (and kill the power steering), usually at highway speeds.
Grass growing on the floorboards in the back.
Self-immolating water pump. I think it had to be replaced three times while we owned that car.
posted by Foosnark at 6:20 PM on April 1 [4 favorites]

I too want to share: The ignition switch in my 1987 VW Scirocco is faulty, and would work to turn the ignition on and crank the car, but can't switch the car off. To solve without getting the notoriously difficult ignition switch out, I wired in a switch to the coil. No spark = Engine stops.

Several years of driving like this later, a component in the driver door latch mechanism failed halfway, and the latch had to be manually opened in order to accept the pin on the door frame before shutting the door. No manually open = door won't shut.

Add these two together and my car remained in the car-stealiest parking lot in Portland after having a window smashed, and being successfully hotwired, because the car wouldn't start, and the door wouldn't shut. When I got in, all I had to do to drive away was flip the coil switch and touch together the stripped, loose wires under the dash.

I now also have a 1980 VW Dasher which has a carburetor swapped onto it. You can get about a half-mile before the fuel in the float bowl runs out because you didn't switch on the fuel pump.
posted by shenkerism at 6:35 PM on April 1 [3 favorites]

The unsolicited warning I received when I once looked at a 914 was "There is no room in the engine compartment to work on anything, and you'll have to, and the ground clearance is so low it'll hang up on the roads around here." I wasn't in any serious danger of buying the 914 (had an '84 Mazda RX-7 at the time, and no place to put another car), but that certainly put a nail in the coffin.
I've had a few vehicles that required "the knowing" to operate. It might be important to have experiences like that in your life, if only to fully appreciate stuff that works without needing extra attention.
posted by coppertop at 6:37 PM on April 1 [3 favorites]

My security system on my '73 VW Super Beetle was to just pop the distributer cap and pocket the rotor. It was far too easy to get into that thing without keys... just jiggle the vent window a couple time and it popped open, reach in and unlock (that saved my butt a number of times when I locked the keys inside). If you didn't have a screwdriver to start it, any idiot could hotwire it.
posted by fimbulvetr at 7:01 PM on April 1 [1 favorite]

I was impressed that a person as young as the one in the second photo was so intimately familiar with a vehicle of that vintage and complexity until I googled Norman Garrett. The man has good genes and seems to have passed them along.

Funny story and perfect for a Friday evening bull session.
posted by bendy at 7:08 PM on April 1

the car thief shuts the door gently, but the locks click solidly

No it doesn't. RTFA
posted by bendy at 7:09 PM on April 1

Metafilter: vehicles that required "the knowing" to operate
posted by Greg_Ace at 7:42 PM on April 1 [3 favorites]

Horn that would honk when you use the left turn signal, and other occasions.

Ah, a cousin of my long lost ‘76 CB400 Four. Once one of the rear turn signal wires got pinched between seat and chrome fender, breaking the insulation. I learned of this when I initiated a lane change at about 70mph in heavy freeway traffic. The short drained off so much of the available current that the coils stopped firing and left me coasting in a sea of close-set and much heavier vehicles for about half of a second. Before the fuse could blow, the flasher relay broke the shorted circuit and the coils started firing again, giving me another half-second of power before effectively unplugging the engine again… and again…. and again. By the fourth terrifying time the entire electrical system and engine had flashed, I detected the familiar rhythm and understood that I needed to re-center that thumb switch and get off the road.

That was only a bit less exciting than the time the handlebar-mounted windshield got knocked slighty off-center, and the resulting asymmetric wind pressure threw the bike into an extreme and involuntary 60mph slalom.

It was a great motorcycle. I still miss it, kinda.
posted by jon1270 at 7:44 PM on April 1 [4 favorites]

Oh god I just remembered a quirk about my '71 VW van... I've written about this vehicle before, the one that I'd bought in non-working condition and spent a bit of time and money to get cleaned up and running. But I now realize I've left out a key memory because I'd deliberately suppressed it, for soon to be obvious reasons.

One of its "endearing" quirks is that the previous owner had the key for the doors, but not for the ignition. The person who got it running again basically hooked up a momentary switch to the starter that lounged in the glove box ready to be pushed when I wanted to start the car, and a dash-mounted toggle to kill the ignition when desired. So far so good, I drove the thing in that state for the next two, maybe three years with no trouble in that department.

Then one morning after I'd backed out of the driveway the steering wheel lock randomly engaged when I tried to turn the wheel to drive along the street! All I could do was drive it back up into the driveway along the locked-in arc and flip the ignition off. I got a locksmith involved, who after 20 or 30 minutes of struggling managed to completely disengage the steering column-mounted ignition switch and free up the steering wheel - for good this time.

Problem solved, but for years afterward I had nightmares about what if that lockup had happened while I was driving!! *shudder*
posted by Greg_Ace at 8:03 PM on April 1 [5 favorites]

Porsches are not hacker cars. That's Volkswagen's job.

Well, then you'll be glad to know that this is basically a Volkswagen model in Porsche skin. The 914 was a partnership between Porsche and VW. Originally the 4 cyl was to be sold as the VW model and the 6 cyl as the Porsche model. Instead, they were both badged as Porsches.

Further, the engine you find in 70s Type 2's (the VW Microbus) is in essence the same exact engine as the 914's engine.

I'd also suspect that the modern era's Boxster is a relative to the 914… mid engine, audi transmission, VW coolant, etc and way more than a hint at the Ghia design. They're all the same company now, of course, and before that were kissing cousins since day 1.
posted by readyfreddy at 8:50 PM on April 1 [1 favorite]

and one other last bit of trivia… Karmann Ghia is named partly for Karmann motorworks. Karmann is who made… yes, Porsche bodies too in the 60s, 70s, and 90s.
posted by readyfreddy at 8:55 PM on April 1 [1 favorite]

Karmann Ghia

also known affectionately in the US as "car-mangy-a"
posted by Greg_Ace at 8:58 PM on April 1

If you move the knob quickly enough, the transmission will be out-smarted and cannot anticipate your next move.

Absolute freaking gold. I’m sure it’d be even more hilarious if I had more than a completely basic understanding of cars, but I still giggled along the whole way and guffawed aloud at the above.
posted by obfuscation at 6:15 AM on April 2

"The knowing" reminds me of (previously) "the knack": "The thing I hated most about being a child in the 1950s was that you couldn’t just open the cupboard."
posted by clawsoon at 6:46 AM on April 2

I had an old friend who went through two 914s, and this story sounds pretty much correct.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:52 AM on April 2

Most cars well into 80s once they had a 100K or so on them had ignition switiches that no longer retained the key while running. This wasn't seen as a negative in a land where -20 was common in the winter (because you could start your car and then leaving running and locked while you retreated indoors to warmer temperatures) and I remember my father once getting a switch "fixed" when he purchased a truck and it didn't do this.

When I was 25ish I bought a PowerWagon that was only a couple months newer than me. As is typical for me I managed to buy a model that was a transition year with a lot of mechanical and interface uniqueness. The fact that it was already converted to run on propane was a big plus of the acquisition.

However it's 20+ years of life plus what would now be 60 year old tech level and the general quirkiness of mixer propane setups meant I was pretty much the only one who could start it without a lesson resembling the linked article: Put the key in the ignition. Give it about 1/4 accelerator then set the throttle at 1/8. Release the accelerator. Turn the key to the start position and once it makes a half dozen revs press and hold the priming button while continuing to crank. If it doesn't start up pretty much immediately at that point turn the key off and wait half a minute or so before attempting again from the beginning. At sub zero temps let it idle at 1/8 throttle for at least a minute before touching the accelerator or you'll overwhelm the ability of the evaporator to gasify the liquid propane and you'll be stuck until you thaw it out (you can get about two blocks on a frozen evaporator). Just the fact it had an accelerator and a throttle threw most people.

The previous owner had taken good care of it and it was amazingly rust free but the paint was 15 years old and faded and between the winch mount in a bush bumper on the front, Tire and Jack-All mount on the back and the old school 4X4 stance at a time before 4x4 trucks were considered personal luxury vehicles it stood out a lot in the valet parking lot of the Banff Springs Hotel. The valet got a kind of horrified look on his face when I started explaining the startup procedure to him and once I explained that because of the -20C temps he pretty much had to get it right on the first try I was allowed to retrieve my own vehicle.
posted by Mitheral at 8:58 AM on April 2 [4 favorites]

In my high school and college days my family had an old Chevy Impala that pretty much refused to run at idle. When my friend was with me and we'd stop for a soda or something I'd hand him money and say "You go inside; I'll stay out here and keep starting the car." Nearly forty years later we still regularly joke about that.
posted by neuron at 10:11 AM on April 2 [1 favorite]

Borrowed a car from my brother when we were in town. He's was a late century car and boat mechanic before he started working for Microsoft, and had made a hobby of raising older abandoned-at-home Mercedes diesel sedans from the dead, so we got one of those.

There's a standard procedure for starting diesels that we had to be taught, but the shutdown procedure seemed weird. You stopped the car, got out and opened the hood, found the open end of a particular white nylon tube, and sucked on it until the engine stumbled, and kept sucking until the engine stopped completely. He also told us not to get any spit in the tube.

Clare Bell had an electrified 914 in the '90s, which did fine in the Santa Cruz hills, very google-able.
posted by the Real Dan at 10:16 AM on April 2 [2 favorites]

There was a summer in the early 90s when I learned how to "kick start" a Nissan Sentra (which I nicknamed the Nissan minima). The battery and/or starter had problems and one day I figured out that instead of push starting it I could put it in neutral, open the driver side door. Put my foot down on the pavement and push godawful hard then pop the clutch in just long enough to put it in reverse and turn the key.

Now my quads aren't up to pushing a car with one leg anymore, but I also have the experience and wisdom to just make sure I have a car that runs without a bunch of workarounds.
posted by BrotherCaine at 7:05 PM on April 2 [1 favorite]

It's amazing how long you can drive a car with broken starter pinion gear by always parking strategically on a slope and then coast bump starting when you are broke; at least around here where there pretty much isn't any flat land.

Get a couple of lead acid batteries, a Zilla motor controller, and kick it EV 2003 or so style!

What would something like that cost for material all in? I see the Zilla and Hairball alone is $3500. This kit with a different controller is $7,600 and doesn't include batteries and ancillary bits like cables. This Hagerty article quotes a shop saying they charge about US$50K to convert a Beetle (more for 911s) but most of that cost is going to be the 3-400 hours of labour which one could avoid by rolling your own. Still that's a lot of nights a weekends devoted to a project that might not actually be of interest especially on top of 10-15 thousand dollars in parts. A lot of money for a car that might only be worth $20K in running condition.
posted by Mitheral at 7:41 PM on April 2

Thank you for sharing this piece. It brought back memories of my car enthusiast dad, who recently passed on. When I was a teenager in the '80s my dad acquired a string of 60's-70's vintage cars in a similar condition to the writer's 914, including a 1965-ish 911 with a VW engine that spent more time on blocks than on the road, but I was lucky enough to drive it a few times. There was a late 60's Beetle which also shared some of the quirks that made Garrett's car unstealable, including holes in the floor, inability to find second gear, and a driver's side door that flew open whenever the vehicle turned right.

There was an early 70's Mercedes that some old lady had driven from New York to Florida every year for 15 years, and I remember using it to commute to summer classes in college and hoping it wouldn't overheat or lose its power steering before I got there. I got very practiced in pushing the stalled car out of an intersection by myself and waiting for the engine to cool enough so that I could pour extra water in the radiator and then still make it to class on time. Oh, and the horn would honk when you turned the wheel too hard. I was a 19 year-old girl, who many dads wouldn't want to put into that kind of situation with an unreliable old car, but he believed it was character building.

I learned to drive and got my driver's license in an old Pontiac Astre with a fussy clutch and a stiff gear box, and I never understood why he set me up with such a handicap (we had new Pontiac with automatic transmission that I wasn't allowed to drive). I believe my dad loved all these cars more for their quirks and malfunctions. He took a delight in needing to have "the knowing" of each car to make it run successfully.
posted by amusebuche at 10:21 PM on April 2 [1 favorite]

I semi-daily a manual Cold War-era convertible Saab 900, and though it’s in vastly better mechanical shape to the author’s 914 the article still resonates with me deeply. Its slightly shabby cosmetic appearance and residual 80s yuppie cachet means it never looks out of place no matter where I go, and I can leave it unlocked with the top down in all but the worst neighbourhoods, knowing that a combination of centre-mount ignition, reverse start lockout, and plain *weirdness* makes it a less attractive theft target than almost anything else on the road.

Still whenever I’m in traffic with the roof down I look around at other cars and hear Homer Simpson in my head saying “Everyone is stupid except me.”
posted by MarchHare at 11:25 PM on April 2 [2 favorites]

Mitheral, the same EV West that sells the 914 EV conversion kit has an almost complete VW Bug kit (minus battery enclosures) for $17,762, given the price difference between that and the starter kit ($7598). I'm guessing the parts for the 914 would be around $18K total for ~90 miles of range. I don't know how much wrenching that would include but I'm guessing a minimum of $700 in tools/tool rentals would be needed if you don't already have them.
posted by BrotherCaine at 2:27 PM on April 5

I semi-daily a manual Cold War-era convertible Saab 900

I have an automatic, but I don't daily drive it. Turbo, but the transmission holds it back. Still probably for the best given the traffic around here. It needs a few things fixed before I drive it regularly again, and if I'm going to do those repairs, then maybe I should do these other optional ones too...and then it's off to eBay and euro webshops to try to hunt down all the parts, before I lose track of the project again.

I do love the car (and all its quirks), and I'll get it back into service sooner or later; hopefully this summer. It's already getting hard to find shops willing to work on it though, so I don't now if I'll be able to keep it going indefinitely.
posted by snuffleupagus at 4:28 PM on April 7

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