14 Feb 2017

30 Years In the Past - The Porsche 924S Experience

Go to find the keys in the key drawer. Fingers scrabble around and find the BMW key - big, chunky, buttons, no actual key. Nope. Volvo key - sleek, chunky, buttons, no actual key. Nope. There's only one left. Round, slim plastic bow out of which sticks an actual steel shank with teeth cut out. Yep.

Walk out of the house and see the lines of the 924S. Slim, low, lithe, aerodynamic, rubber spoiler, no headlights, small wheels, big tyres, huge glazed hatchback, copper colour in need of a good clean. Dirt straked behind the rear wheels. No excessive size or weight.

Use the real key to unlock the passenger door. The driver's door lock is irritable and won't open from the outside, only in. Open the impossibly thin and light door. A modern door has heft and weight and noise and certainty. The old Porsche's door has daintiness and narrowness, hope and a light mechanical noise when opened or closed.

Lean in and across and survey the overwhelming brown-ness of the interior. The seats saved only by white pinstripes. Pull the clasp on the driver's door and push it open.

Close the passenger door and walk around to the driver's side and slide in. A modern car is built for everyone. A Porsche 924S is built for the median. Too tall and you won't have headroom. Too fat and your legs won't fit between the unadjustable steering wheel and mildly adjustable seat. Too short and you won't reach the pedals.

Fit it and you sit in the best driving position in the world of motoring.

Take in your surroundings. Three dials in front. Speed, revs, engine temperature, fuel and just three warning lights - low fuel, low oil, low battery.

In the centre are three more dials. Time (analogue), oil pressure, alternator output. Nothing digital, nothing unnecessary, nothing that makes a noise. Except the engine and indicators.

Put the real key in the real ignition barrel and turn it. The engine makes half a turn and barks into life. Strong and real it isn't enhanced by electronic sorcery and flaps, instead it transmits what it is - exploding fuel and metal parts rubbing together, helped by oil. You hear the tappety sounding engine and the waffle of the exhaust note over anything else.

Modern cars alienate you to sensations other than those prescribed by their makers. The 924S fails to mask noise, smell and sights. The glazed area is huge. The mirrors are tiny but you just need to turn your head to check the blind spots. You see the white smoke of the cold engine exhaust billowing up and around the hatch window. You smell the exhaust. You hear everything going on outside.

The gear stick is firm and its action precise and mechanical. It vibrates in tune with the engine. Release the handbrake - its position down between the door and the seat. Select first gear and ease the clutch up and the throttle out and pull away.

Easy does it whilst the engine is cold. It feels bulletproof but it is 30 years old after all. It's never been rebuilt, subject only to regular servicing. You hear the engine from the front and the exhaust from the rear. A strange sensation to those used to modern machines.

The ride is relatively soft - the big tyres ironing out pot holes and speed bumps - but it doesn't roll in corners. The balance of the car is fabulous. A product of lack of weight and clever distribution of that weight.

Engine is warmed up, check dials and see everything is well and carry on.

The throttle pedal has a false limit. Once you feel you've reached the end of its travel push a little harder and access another inch.

In second gear when you press the accelerator hard the car will lurch forward. It's not fast but it feels swift and will spin the rear wheels in first or second. It has no traction control and no ABS but it doesn't really need it. Lightness has many advantages one of which is a lack of inertia compared to heavier modern cars.

Push on and enjoy the mechanical symphony of driving the machine, pushing it to its easy to find limits. There's a real sense that you control the car - which is often missing in modern cars.

At speed and the noise increases. The exhaust noise overwhelms the engine noise. In short doses it's a good, boomy, large bore, 4-cylinder racket. On enthusiastic drives you use it instead of a rev counter to precisely place engine revs. On longer journeys you turn up the tinny stereo to mask its roar.

In corners the car pivots around a point just rear of the front wheels. You respect the power and the balance and use your controls to adjust everything accordingly. To do so well is both easy (because of the car's inherent abilities) and satisfying.

It's at its best on smoothly twisting back roads but is fun on faster A-roads. Overtaking needs to be anticipated and brings another level of satisfaction when accomplished. See the gap, drop down a gear, hear the engine scream as the revs rise, mash the accelerator, make the move.

Open a window and exhaust fumes make their way into the cabin. They all do that - something to do with the shape of the rear end. Open the sunroof as well and the fumes come in and then out again so you breath sweet fresh air instead of carbon monoxide and nitrogen.

Barreling along in the 1986 Porsche 924S is a fabulous, fun experience. It brings the elements to you. It gives you experiences modern cars hide from you. There's nothing false or fake about the car - only raw reality.

By Matt Hubbard