Of track days and hydrolocking…

porsche9441_2_492d85363ad70-lightboxWell I had some pretty specific requirements in mind and a fairly tight budget.

My new motor had to be rear wheel drive. It had to be cheap. It had to be reliable. It had to be compact, not too heavy and quite importantly, have the potential to be fun on track. Various cars were considered, Lotus Excel? Tempting but I didn’t want a car that ran on carbs. [Atkins, eh? -ed] Ford Capri? Just a wee bit too unsophisticated. Manta GTE? Try finding spare parts! The 944 fitted the bill pretty well and what’s more I really wanted one. Maybe it’s the shape, with its obvious coke bottle profile or maybe it was the novelty of having pop up headlights, but the more 944’s I looked at, the more I wanted one.

After test driving a few examples I settled on a slightly dog eared but fairly sound example of a 1984 2.5 Lux. Like most aged second hand cars it came with a huge wodge of fairly meaningless receipts, patchy service history and a few rust bubbles but nothing too serious. It was duly pressed into daily service and proved totally reliable, at first anyway!

My initial findings were that the car felt pretty together but after a few months of hard use, mainly commuting by back road from my home in Reading to various locations in Berkshire, Hampshire and Oxfordshire I soon found that the car had a nasty habit of following lines in the road and bouncing in a very unsettling way across bumps and undulations. My confidence in the car’s abilities started to slide and I decided to get to the bottom of the problems. The track rods, wheel bearings and steering rack were replaced but the results were not the spectacular transformation I was hoping for.

Over the next few months I systematically rebuilt the front suspension, replaced the dampers with Koni adjustables all round and for good measure fitted a couple of cheap fixed back bucket seats (the original driver’s seat was so saggy you could virtually feel the floor pan with your buttocks!); finally the car was actually starting to feel like a sports car again.

But just as I was starting to bond with the Porsche, disaster struck! Heading to work one wet morning I came across a flooded section of road. It didn’t appear too deep and before I took the plunge I watched car after car safely traverse the 10 foot stretch.

I made the decision to go; I headed down the center of the road trying to keep the car as far out of the water as possible, made it to the other end and then the car just died, the electrics didn’t appreciate being soaked. Clearly all I needed to do was let the car electrics dry out. I let the car rest for a couple of minutes, doused the ignition system with good old WD40 then tried to fire up the engine.

Unbeknown to me the air filter housing had filled with water. As I cranked the starter, there was a horrible mechanical noise and then silence. Water had been sucked straight into number one cylinder, the compression stroke succeeded in snapping the con rod which then punched a hole in the block. Let’s just say I was not best pleased!

Really that should have been the end but I had sunk quite a bit of time and effort into the car, it had got under my skin and I wanted to see it run again. I dumped the car on a friendly local mechanic and paid a well respected Porsche specialist to supply a second hand engine. After a wait of about a month and a half I finally persuaded the friendly local mechanic to get off his arse and fit the engine!

Roughly two months after the drowning the car fired back into life; from this point onwards I was determined to get some serious use out of the car.

In the following months I discovered the internet car meet. Nope not the Max Power thing of meeting in a McDonalds car park, perform burnouts, donuts, etc. and impress spotty youths but a more low key, almost clandestine thing altogether. A typical meet would start by gathering with the group of like minded people in a Little Chef (bad fried food to start the day was essential), then heading for Shropshire or Mid Wales, etc. sniffing out interesting and challenging roads whilst traveling in convoy, with of course a stop for a pub lunch.

The “meets” thing was great but I also really wanted to get on track. After scanning a couple of relevant websites I found a good value event at the Hethel circuit, Lotus’s test track.

Popping the track day cherry! It was late summer in Norfolk, the weather was bright sunny and warm. On arrival at the track I checked the car over, digested a bacon butty and listened to the safety briefing. I discovered that I was in the first of the sessions, no chance to relax a bit, watch the others go out, there was almost a slight air of panic; was I really ready for this? My pulse was steadily climbing; I found clambering into my car with a helmet on was a new and odd experience, everything felt a lot more constricted, including peripheral vision.

The first few laps were actually something of an anti climax as they were sighting laps undertaken whilst following a safety car, once that car pulled off my feelings of trepidation were replaced by excitement and a touch of red mist! Most of the morning became a blur punctuated with odd moments of roll over steer and locked brakes, this wasn’t scary at all it was brilliant!

I started the afternoon with a tuition session; now this was not something I was used to at all. It had been the best part of eight years since I had received driving instruction from anyone, and I was sat there having my steering, braking points, gear changes and my lines pretty much completely de-constructed and then re-structured!

It’s amazing how much you can pick up in just twenty minutes of tuition, the final couple of sessions felt so much smoother and quicker, I just wish I had taken the instruction earlier in the day.

Apart from using a little oil and water the car had stood up to the abuse really well but it was quite apparent that a few choice modifications would improve its on track abilities. Time to start digging and do some research!

Headline photo: Andy Bridgewater
Other photos: Brian Thompson





Steve Hempstead