Sunday, July 1, 2001

2001 911 Turbo

Porsche Market Letter | Excellence Magazine
I just had what could be considered the perfect three days for anyone who really loves cars and driving them. Sunday I drove up to Reno to meet the new 911 Turbo. For the drive up I chose Ebbetts Pass. I have not been through the Ebbetts Pass since 1962 when I bought my first Porsche 356. That year I made a project of driving back and fourth through most of the Sierra passes. These are really great roads for people who love cars and love driving. The roads are marvelous and if you are reasonably judicious about selecting your time of driving through them the traffic is not too bad. It is also nice to have a driving instrument like the new Boxster S. I drove up Sunday afternoon and met with the Porsche gang at the Reno Hilton. 

Sunday evening the Porsche folks took us to the National Automobile Museum in Reno. This is a great collection, which was started with a seed gift of 100 cars from the Holiday Inn, who purchased the Harrahs casinos and got his collection of over 2000 cars thrown in for good measure. The museum was originally supposed to have gotten 250 cars from the Holiday Inn, but after the Holiday Inn started auctioning the cars of they found out that old cars were worth money, lots of money. And once they found out just how much old cars were worth they got less generous with the cars. Holiday Inn sold a 1931 Bugatti Royal out of the collection for $6.5 million the most any car had sold for up until that time. They never did give the Museum all of the cars that they promised them, but the museum has augmented that first 100 cars with cars donated and loaned to the museum by other car enthusiast that wish to see the museum succeed. 

I ran into our old friend Walter Minato at the Museum. He is one of the Museum’s volunteers and he acted as the technical authority for our tour through the collection. We had a very nice meal catered for the group right in the museum. 

Monday morning at about 7:45 we went to the Reno PCNA Service Training Center for breakfast and a technical presentation on the new Turbo. They didn’t answer all of my questions, but at least I knew more than before. Fortunately I hung around the hospitality suite Monday evening while the factory engineers were still there and they were willing to answer all of my questions. It all started when I asked the project leader what I should tell people who asked me why the brakes squeaked on some of the new cars and not others, the answer was that they don’t squeak. That sounds like the German way to me. The good news was that they were willing to answer the other questions that I couldn’t get anyone else to answer. My big question for them was how the VarioCam Plus worked, the printed information that I have seen so far was not that helpful and the subject was not covered in depth in the introduction presentation. 

Basically the way the VarioCam Plus works is that there are two different sized camshaft lobes on the intake camshafts and a magic hydraulic intake cam followers. The small cam lobe has a lift of 3 mm and a very mild profile. The second, larger cam lobe has 10 mm of lift with a more aggressive profile. At lower rpms and lower performance levels the engine operates on the three mm lift cam. This optimizes both emissions and performance at low load and low rpms. Then as you pick up the pace the helical drive mechanism on the front of the camshaft advances the cam by 15 degrees extending the duration and improving the engine’s performance. When you really stick your foot into the throttle the cam followers switch over to the 10 mm cam profiles for peak torque and power. 

The DME engine management system determines when these changes happen depending on a variety of inputs including the drivers torque and power requirements, the throttle position, temperatures, loads gear selection and what not. All of these inputs are compared with the control maps and then the system determines which operating configuration is best for the given operating conditions. It is possible to run as fast as 100 m.p.h. on the smaller 3 mm cam under light load conditions. But when you stick your foot into it the engine switches to the larger more aggressive 10 mm cams and you GO! You can actually feel the transition from the 3 mm to the 10 mm cams if you drive along at light throttle in the 3000 rpm range and gently tip your foot into the throttle. You will feel a slight bump when this transition happens. It is very subtle, but I noticed the bump and felt that I must have something to do with the VarioCam Plus operation. I asked the engineer about this and he said, yes that was when the system made the transition for the 3 mm cam to the 10 mm cam. As I said it was very subtle and probably most people wouldn’t notice it unless they looked for it. I stumbled onto the bump and went back and looked for it and found that it was repeatable. Both the cam timing and the cam lift are controlled by the engine oil pressure. Remember this is a dual overhead cam engine with one intake and one exhaust cam for each bank of cylinders. The intake cam timing altered with respect to the exhaust cam by directing the oil pressure to one side or the other of the helical camshaft adjuster. When the pressure is on the outside the cam is retarded and when the pressure is diverted to the inside the cam is advanced relative to the exhaust cam increasing the valve timing overlap. The cam timing is actually advanced by 15 degrees or 30 crankshaft degrees by this mechanism.
Each intake cam has three lobes for each valve, the little 3 mm bump straddled by two 10 mm bumps. The intake cam follower is actually two cam followers in one. The operation of the cam follower is also hydraulically controlled by the engine‘s oil pressure. The two portions of the cam follower are interlocked hydraulically by means of a pin which is actuated by an electrohydraulic solenoid valve. The cam follower has an extension that goes up and rides on the little bump, as conditions change first the intake cam is advanced 15 degrees relative to the exhaust cam, which increases the duration and enhances performance. Next the cam follower is changed so that the center extension drops down and the outer edges of the follower rides on the two 10 mm cam lobes. This transition is in addition to the advance that was already cranked in by the helical cam advance mechanism so now you have both the additional advance and the 7 mm higher lift of the 10 mm cam profiles. This is very fascinating technology resulting in incredible performance over the whole rpm range. 

We started the ride and drive portion of the introduction at 9:30 Monday morning heading out of Reno towards the south and Carson City. There were four new Turbos for the ride and drive portion of the intro and eight journalists, so we paired up and my partner was Allan Caldwell, Tech Editor for the Porsche Club‘s Panorama magazine. Allan and I are old pals so this was a fun association for us both. Allan and I drew the new Tiptronic version of the new 996 Turbo for the first half of the ride and drive. I drove first and we drove for three or four miles on the town streets before I had a chance to stick my boot in it. When we finally turned onto the 395 highway on ramp heading south I went for it and we saw 100 M.P.H. plus for the first time of the day. And that was before we were at the end of the on ramp. We still had plenty of time to slow and merge with traffic when we hit the freeway… brakes are good too. 

We turned off of 395 onto 431, the Mt. Rose Highway to Lake Tahoe, the idea being to show the journalist from other parts of the country some great roads and a good look at some of the beautiful sights around Reno. Bob Carlson, a native Californian, who is very familiar with the Reno area having been assigned there for several years with PCNA before moving to Atlanta a couple of years ago laid out the route. The route returned to 395 via Highway 50 and we continued south. 

Our next detour, right after returning to 395, was off onto Jacks Valley Road to Genoa which was about six miles to the West. Genoa is the "Oldest settlement in Nevada--Established 1851." We had a rest stop in the "Genoa Saloon", which is the oldest bar in Nevada. After our rest and a drink we switched drivers and drove south along the foot hills and over to Woodfords and Markleeville on the California side of the boarder to set us up for highway 89 through the Monitor Pass, which took us back to 395 again. This was a pass I had never been through before. The pass is very lightly traveled and great fun to drive. All of this was over on the California side. 

Even though this was a Monday and these roads are fairly lightly traveled they are mostly all two-lane roads so we had many opportunities to pass. The new Turbo is a wonderful car for passing, I have never driven a car with so much passing power. With the 415 hp and the virtually flat torque curve of 413 lb of torque from about 2500 rpm to almost 5000 rpm, with it peak torque of 415 lb ft. at 6000 rpm it is very willing to pass at almost any speed. We found that we could pass in very short spaces, spaces that would probably not consider a passing opportunity in lesser cars, we also found that these passing maneuvers usually resulted in a terminal speed of 100 m.p.h. or greater. One time on the second day of driving while we were passing one of those three trailer trucks that are so common over in Nevada we actually saw 142 M.P.H. before slowing back to our normal brisk cruising speed. 

After Monitor pass we headed south again. Through Topaz, Coleville and Walker on our way to Bridgeport for our lunch stop. After lunch we traded some of the other journalist for one of the a six-speed cars and headed back across to Highway 182 and 388 which are also some wonderful driving roads on the Nevada side. This took us up to Wellington where we turned onto 208 and headed back for 395 where we turned north for Carson City. At Carson City we switched drivers and Allan drove over through Virginia City. We saw all of the skid marks were they hold the Virginia City hill climb. We cruised the main in Virginia City and then headed back for the hotel in Reno so we could rush to get ready for dinner. A wonderful driving experience for us both and in all about 280 mile of mostly great Porsche roads. If you really enjoy driving you owe it to yourself to get over to the Sierras and drive some of these roads. 

We liked both the Tiptronic S and the Six-Speed and didn’t feel put upon having been "stuck" with the Tiptronic. The new Tiptronic for the Turbo has 250 shift maps, so it adapts quickly to your driving style and for the given conditions. This new Tiptronic is amazing in addition to all of the maps this magic transmission actually has two reverse gears one has a ratio oaf 3.16 and the other 1.93. The transmission hardware actually comes from Daimler-Chrysler. Porsche adopted the twin reverse function from them to improve steep driveway climbing performance when the engine is cold. They do not want the drivers to get into the turbo boost phase by depressing the gas pedal too far with a long gear ratio when the engine is cold so they select the lower gear for this condition. The driver actually has no influence over which reverse gear ration is chosen it is selected by the computer. 

The one thing that I don’t like about the Tiptronic is the silly little buttons on the steering wheel. When you are really driving fast they are damn near impossible to find. If they were going to do something like that they should go with the paddles like Ferrari has. I will have an opportunity to spend more time with the Tiptronic in July when I have the Tip car for most of a week. I will take the time to learn more about the capabilities of this transmission, it is hard to learn very much about cars that are as complex as these new Turbos are in one of these short ride and drive sessions. The cars are getting to be so complex that they should probably mail an owners manual to the journalist a week or so before one of these intros so we can bone up on the features of the cars.
We really did like the new Turbos and the only things that we found to complain about was the warts on the front bumper and the digital dash display. I found that I could not read the dash display with my Polaroid sunglasses on and since we needed the odometer reading to run the route this was a problem. The Turbo dash uses a dot matrix display instead of the segment display used in the 996 and Boxster .The route was laid out like a rally with the instructions based on the mileage traveled. After the lunch stop the sun was somewhat in our eyes so I had decided to wear my sunglasses. I actually had to take them off to read the odometer, after a few miles of this I gave up and went back to my regular glasses and squinted. One other minor point is that they have moved the digital speedometer over into the analog speedometer. I have grown accustomed to it being centered on the steering wheel in the tachometer from the Boxsters and other 996s that I have been driving and found it more awkward to look over to the left at the speedometer. If you would have asked me before the first time that I drove a Boxster or 996 if I would like and use the digital speedometer I would have told you no, because I usually hate digital instrumentation of any kind, particularly wrist watches and clocks, but I have grown fond and dependant on them. 

Aside form the warts that they have put on the front bumpers to comply with the bumper laws I really like the modern aggressive look of this Turbo. I have never liked the bulbous look of the earlier Turbos. This car was designed to have huge wheels and tires (8x18" with 225/40 tires up front and 11/18" with 295/30 tires in the rear) that fit within the standard body work so it does not have that awkward look of a car with added on huge fender flares. The car is 2.6 inches wider in the rear than the standard 996 model, but it isn’t objectionable. It has the aggressive, stylish looks designed in and doesn’t take on the overly fat look of its predecessors. Also the ride of this car is really pretty good even with the extremely low profile tires. In contrast recently rode in a 993 Turbo Look with sport suspension and 18 inch wheels and the ride was unbearable. 

It is distinctive looking with its huge front radiator openings, the three radiators themselves have 50% more surface areas than the standard 996. The leading edge of the rear fenders have the very functional air inlets for the Turbo intercoolers. Again the appearance is an integral design and doesn’t have that added on look of the old Turbo flares had. The air from the intercoolers exits below the rear bumper through 959ish louvers. The new trick xenon headlights look cool but we never got to drive the cars in the dark so I don’t have a clue how effective they are. Another thing that the have changed on this version of the Turbo is he rear wing. Apparently the Europeans object to the looks of rear wings so Porsche has made every effort to minimize the presence of the wing. They have also done this with all of their normally aspirated cars having them fold completely out of sight when the cars are at rest. Though not completely out of site the Turbo wing is much smaller than previous versions on the Turbo, partially because they have moved the intercoolers into the rear fenders so that they didn’t have to make room for the intercooler under the rear engine lid and wing. The Turbo rear wing is also able to be more subtle because it also extends at speed like the normally aspirated 996 and Boxster do. All of this fits into the more subtle design of the new Porsches. The new Turbo is by no means subtle, it is still a very aggressive looking car, but it is not overstated like the earlier Turbos were. 

Monday night’s dinner was out at the Bowers Mansion which was built in 1864 by Alison and Sandy Bowers who had earned their fortune from silver in the Comstock Lode. Their claim produced riches they could not have imagined. They built their mansion half way between Reno and Carson City in Washoe Valley. They built a great stone mansion and furnished it with furnishings that they purchased on a ten month trip to Europe. Their mansion was completed in 1884 for about $200,000 including their European furnishings. Besides another great meal the highlight of the evening was that Samuel Clemens joined us for dinner. It was uncanny, this guy really looked and sounded like Mark Twain. Apparently he makes a living by impersonating Mark Twain, he was a fascinating guy. He set at our table of five during dinner and was a fascinating fellow. He popped in and out of character and really knew his history when it came to Twain. The significance of him being there is Mark Twain really got his start writing for the newspaper of Virginia City where the Comstock Silver mother load was mined. It was an evening of good food, good company and good entertainment. 

The second day of the event, Tuesday, was out on the Black Rock Dry Lake which has been the site of the Burning Man hoo ha for the past ten years and the World Land Speed Record that broke the sound barrier at 763.035 mph in 1997. At 8:00 Am we left the Reno Hilton for a trip of a little more than 110 miles out to Gerlach and the Black Rock Dry Lake. This dry lake bed is huge, so we could see why it had been chosen as the sight for attempts at the land speed record. I am not sure what the appeal is for the Burning Man whackos, but there were 28,000 of them there last year. Driving out to the lake and back was another fun high speed tour, but Bob Carlson warned us that the week before someone had been stopped for speeding on one of the Indian reservations out there for 3 miles over the speed limit and fined $500 cash. I guess that gambling casinos aren’t viable options for them in Nevada so they have to be more creative to make a living out there. Bob went on to say that one of his guys had been stopped twice on his way out there that very morning and talked himself out of a ticket both time. I asked him what the good news was, he replied that the road was very straight and you could see for miles. As it turned out even with us religiously abiding by the very restrictive speed limits on the reservations we still made it out to the lakebed at an average speed of 75 - 80 M.P.H. from the hotel. 

Their idea was to have us each establish our own personal high speed driving record. I am sure that conceptually they expected us all to be able to blast through this event at speeds approaching 200 m.p.h. They brought two of the early production cars over for the speed runs, one was chassis number 0011 and the other was 0020, so they were very early cars. They said that the modifications were limited to safety modifications. Both cars had a pair of racing seats, a roll cage and five-point seat belts. They were both Euro spec cars so they were 20 mm lower than the US version, but they told us that otherwise they were stock. They actually looked very much like the four cars that we had been driving around for two days except for the Euro lighting differences. 

Unfortunately the dry lake bed surface was not very good for this sort of activity this year and the cars became very unstable at speeds much above 180 m.p.h. The Porsche troops had gone out to check the sight out on Sunday before the event started and became very concerned about the safety aspect of their planed event. Bob Carlson and one of the factory engineers got the cars greatly out of shape at speed above an indicated 190 M.P.H., so they became concerned and decided to control the event. Hurley Haywood showed up late Sunday evening so they waited until he got a chance to check out the site before making their decision of what to do. While we were out on our ride and drive on Monday Hurley was out at the Black Rock Lake bed deciding what would be safe for all when each of the four waves made the full speed runs at the dry lake surface.
Hurley said that to him it felt like driving in the rain when you got up to the higher speeds. As a result they regrouped and created a speed run on the dry lake that allowed them to control the top speed so that they could save us from ourselves. Since Hurley rode with all of us they were trying to save him as well. I think that it was really that they didn’t want to have to call our wives, girlfriends and what not and tell them that they had killed us off. The original plan was to have a course that was four miles long and just leave the speed up to each driver's discretion. 

As it ended up the speed run was still a lot of fun, but not as much fun as it would have been if we had been turned loose. What they did was shorten the course that we were to run on to three miles total. We were told to run the first mile at about 100-125 M.P.H. and then accelerate through the second mile and maintain that speed through the third mile and see how fast we went. Our speeds were measured through the third mile and given an average speed through the mile as well as a speed trap at the end of the measured mile. So as you can see it was a controlled top speed run, it really depended on how early on in the run you really got into it for serious. This was pretty obvious to some and they were the ones who went the fastest. 

They had a course laid out that was about fifty feet wide that was marked by a string of orange pylons on each side. We each got one practice run to the side of the real course at a speed limited to a speed of about 150 mph. Because there had been so much traffic up and back on that side of the course there were a lot of ruts on that side. I don’t know about the other side I never went over there. As a result of the ruts on what we used as a practice course it was actually pretty scary. We all dutifully did what we were told on the practice course for fear that they would not let us take our official run on the real course if we misbehaved. Because of this you really didn’t know what to expect on your real run. Between this really unstable surface for the practice run and all of their concern based on their running before we got our turns they created a high level lot of anxiety in all of us.
It turned out that the real course was smoother than our practice course had been and it was a lot more comfortable to run and a lot of fun. About half way through the first mile on the real course Hurley told me to get on it, and it dawned on me that there was actually a way to control our top speed through the run. The guy who ran after me was clever enough to figure this out by himself and took off right from the beginning on a tear. Sure enough, he beat me by a mile or two per hour. 

USAC (United States Auto Club) actually did the timing and gave us a great-framed Certificate of Performance for our run. My run was 177.165 mph or 285.120 km/h through the speed trap at the end. As I said I was not fastest, one of the other guys went a mile or two per hour faster. Since after our group ran the word was out on how to go faster and since it is really a rather subjective thing I am sure that by the time the other three waves made their runs that others were also faster. My average speed through the measured mile was 173. 871 so it is obvious that I could have been faster if I was allowed or clever enough to get into the throttle earlier in the run. 

I would have liked a second timed run because after my first run I was comfortable with the whole process and no longer nervous. One of the other journalists did get a second timed run because they had missed his time on his real run. At the time he did not seem to share my enthusiasm for the second run idea, he turned a rather ashen color when they told him he would have to run again. However, after his second run he thought it was a great thing and also felt more comfortable with the whole thing. 

There were only four of the new Turbos in the press fleet so there were only four for the ride and drive portion of the event. The number of cars was what limited the press numbers to eight for each wave and there were to be four waves so by the time they are done 32 members of the press will have had a crack at the rather arbitrary high speed run. I was hoping to break my own personal existing speed record which was 300 Km in one of Ruf’s cars on the autobahn a few years ago, which translates to 186 mph, but it was not to be. I had a great time, but no new personal speed record. 

I left Reno at about 4:00 PM Tuesday afternoon and came home through Kit Carson Pass. I got lost once and stopped at our family ranch in Linden, CA for awhile and arrived home at about 9:00 in the evening. The trip up and the trip back plus getting lost a couple of times put almost exactly 650 miles on the Boxster S. I still love all versions of the Boxster and particularly the Boxster S that I drove up to Reno in. However, after driving around for two days in the Turbo I really missed the extra performance of the Turbo. You had to think more about what you were doing when you thought about passing, because the difference in passing distance is very noticeable. I think that my biggest impression of the new Turbo is the stunning acceleration at any speed. The car is wonderful, if it were in the budget I would order one today.


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