DELWYN MALLETT

Let’s get naked! Mallett bemoans the fact that we can no longer admire the engine of a new Porsche…

Porsche Cars North America took advantage of the 2011 Rennsport Reunion meeting, with its guaranteed concentration of around 30,000 Porsche faithful, to launch the 991, aka the then new 911. The unveiling ceremony, with TV crew and press photographers in attendance, generated all the eager anticipation that one might imagine, and when the public was finally allowed to descend on the car they behaved just as one would have expected – like a bunch of unsupervised schoolboys invading a motor show for the first time. It was all quite exciting even if the new car still looked like, well, the previous 911.

 

The crowd jostled as they waited to climb in and be ‘the first’ to experience the luxurious new interior, twiddle the steering wheel, wiggle the gear lever, push a few buttons, watch the sunroof slide open and shut, and slam the doors a few times each. But there was one significant thing missing from the whole event – a view of the engine! The surprise, turning to puzzlement and then disappointment on the faces of the chaps who made a beeline for the blunt end of the 991 was quite palpable when it dawned on them that all that was visible beneath the narrow rear lift up panel (far too small to call a deck lid) were two small electric fans and a filler cap.

 

The 911 engine had become progressively less visible over the years, submerged beneath more and more camouflage, a process that accelerated with the water-cooled versions. So I suppose that this final vanishing act is the natural conclusion of that process. The notion of an enthusiastic owner ‘tinkering’ with his engine is already a distant memory, but not being able to take even an admiring peek at the bit that makes the motor car ‘motor’ has surely removed one of the great pleasures of owning a thoroughbred. It’s a bit like buying a race horse and making it wear leggings.

 

It seems that the old salesman’s patter ‘And this is the heart of the beast, sir’ will hitherto be excised from the Porsche sales manual. And what a sad day that is. Boxster and Cayman owners have had to become acquainted with the fact that their mid-mounted engines are off limits, and front-engined Porsche owners, if ever they lift a bonnet, have grown used to engines smothered by plastic panels. But a 911 without an engine to admire is surely a sacrilege!

 

By contrast, It’s impossible to think of Ferrari without conjuring up an image of crackle-finished cam covers, beautifully sculpted manifolds, machined script, and a multitude of Webers. Ferrari consider their engines such an important part of the brand mythology that they present them as glorious works of mechanical art and, when possible, displayed beneath transparent covers.

 

As a long-term 356 owner I have spent approaching half-a-century wondering why, and cursing the fact, Porsche chose to limit access to their engine with a letterbox-sized opening. Was it that they were ashamed of its origins as the motor from the humble Beetle? I guess a sad fact has always been that Porsche engines, unlike most of us, have always looked better naked. The requirements of air-cooling necessitated that the 356 engine was mostly contained within a shrouding of cheaply-stamped tinwear.

 

It wasn’t until the four-cam Carrera engine arrived that Porsche had an engine worth admiring for its aesthetics, but in the road cars it was still barely visible. A bigger engine cover surely would not have compromised structural integrity that much? The Italian-built Carrera Abarth, with its huge louvred and air-scooped fully-opening rear, demonstrated beautifully that it was possible, and at the same time not only gave easier access to the Carrera engine but displayed it in all its magnificence. My Czech Tatra 603, with it rear-mounted air-cooled V8, has an engine compartment so large that you can almost get in and cuddle the motor. Plus, you can wheel the engine straight out of the rear without jacking up the car.

 

The early 911 engines were good to ogle, even more so in ‘racing trim’ stripped of disfiguring air-boxes and with carbs be-trumpeted. They sported enough metal bits for buffing, polishing, plating, enameling and Aeroquiping to satisfy the needs of the most ardent customiser. But no more. Of course this could all be part of a cunning plan by Porsche to wean its customers off the ‘old fashioned’ allegiance to the piston engine. Modern 911s may have left us with only the glorious sound of the legendary flat-six to enjoy, but if the future lies with electricity even that last thrill may soon be taken away from us. DM