Loving the Whip

A 968 with one of its contemporaries.

Our perception of time is a strange thing, as it is so tremendously malleable. When, for example, I find myself at work, slogging through a night shift, every moment can seem interminable. When I finally get home, however, I look at my kids and am forced to wrangle with the mystery of how they’ve warp-sped to double-digit age, even as framed pictures of their infant selves still sit prominently on my bedroom shelf. Back at work, I get an email telling me to update some of my insignia to reflect my time in service, and part of me scoffs, because only old guys wear that insignia. Moments later, a 20-some year-old new kid asks me to talk to him a bit about saving and investing, reminding me that I am not the mountain-climber anymore—I really am the bearded fellow sitting at the top. And it occurs to me: that grizzled dude really only remains there because his knees and back are too bad to risk the journey back down.

Cars, though, can be a helpful way of marking time, can act as milestones in their own way. It’s certainly easy to remember how long you’ve owned something when you are reminded every month by the statement from the lender that arrives in the mailbox, of course, but the paid-off cars are a bit trickier. It helps to have a story that goes with the buying experience. So as I recently pondered on how long I have owned my 968, it helped to go back to its story. Turns out I wrote it back in August 2015, so the car has been with me nearly five years now.

In retrospect, driving a $7500 1992 Porsche 968 home over 750 miles was perhaps not the brightest idea. This wasn’t the world’s best-kept 968 – this was a 148,000+ mile (and the odometer was intermittent at best) example, with a questionably saggy suspension and a subpar repaint. But I’d wanted one since college, and this one met my requirements: six-speed manual, coupe.

I never owned a ‘project car’ before this one, and all five years in the story so far have been awfully educational. Leave the lights on one morning at work, killing the battery? Check. Burn my hand and blow the audio unit’s fuse by crossing up jumper cables (different electrical instance)? Check. Superglue a door mirror back on in a Wal-Mart parking lot during an interstate drive? Check. Have the starter die on me in the work parking lot (not the usual work parking lot, the work parking lot in another state), necessitating a tow to the nearest dealership? Check. Disconnect and detach the rear wiper mechanism, leaving a hole in the rear glass that needed to be plugged with a wine bottle cork until the proper metal plug arrived in the mail? Check. Drive to Porsche Parade in Missouri, only to get “Caution – Brake Fluid Low” two days before the autocross? Check (got it fixed in time to clear tech and place first—in a class of one—at the autocross). Be told by a dealer that the new Koni struts I’d bought to replace the worn-out originals were not sized correctly and immediately reply with a Koni-official YouTube video showing how to cut the struts to size? Check. Knock the windshield-mounted rearview mirror off? Check. Twice.

So this old 968 has taught me quite a bit, about both itself and myself. It was much like a child, in that it could be incredibly frustrating in one moment and then utterly endearing the next. And now, in this bleak, graduation-party-less COVID-19 spring and early summer of 2020, the car approaches something of a graduation of its own. The engine mounts, the balance shaft, the struts and suspension, the power steering, the battery, the timing belt and water pump, the fuse in the radio, the rearview mirror – it’s all fixed. Soon, a Billy Boat exhaust will arrive, and during installation, the transaxle mounts will be refreshed as well. When these steps are complete, the car that used to stagger at idle, sag around corners, stutter on throttle application, and whiff of exhaust at WOT will instead respectively hum, slice, pounce, and sing.

A couple weeks back, I rolled through a fast-food drive-thru with the kids in the rear seats and the music playing. The girl at the window, who could not have been born with the 968 was new, gave the boys some extra branded swag and said with a smile, “Loving the whip!”

Yeah. Me too.