Me and Mr. Speedums: A Love, Hate, Love Story

Since before I could drive, I always wanted a Porsche 911. But not just any 911 though, I wanted a Red Targa, as that always seemed the most aesthetically correct combination. I had this want long after Red Targas fell out of fashion. Heck, even after air-cooled Porsches fell out of fashion. I also wanted a Red Ferrari 308 Targa, but that is a different story.

Then one day in 1997 my better half and I were at a used car lot investigating a Mercedes 300TD to replace our dying commuter car. And there it was: a slightly rough looking but beautifully classic red 1974 Porsche 911 Targa. My childhood desire was for a later car, complete with obligatory whale tail, but this was better! I forgot they even used to have brushed stainless Targa bars! I had to have it! It was cheap (relatively) and I justified it by saying that I always wanted to have a project car to work on and that this was just a glorified Beetle. Right? Well that argument worked and both the Benz and Porsche came home with us.

Then reality set in. Although currently red, this car had been painted many times from its original brown. Some of the reasons for the repaint were obvious, some only appeared over time. There was some rust, nothing that seemed tragic. DMV laughed at the 73,000 original miles and explained what TMU (total mileage unknown) meant. But the real problem was that it never really ran right. After years of shuffling around local mechanics without it ever being sorted out properly, my dream car was relegated to just puttering around close to home on nice days. Oh, and I finally had to fess up that a 911 is not just a Beetle with a few extra cylinders, not even close. And that my automotive repair skills were pretty much nil, even with Beetles. But by this time that revelation was no surprise to the other half.

Then one night coming home, we hit a deer. And a rock. And a tree. And a fence. And almost a horse. (I think it was in that order.) The resulting body work revealed even more hidden damage from previous owners. But by now I had a BMW convertible for nice days, so my baby was patched up and tucked into the garage where he sat for many years providing transient housing for the mice.

One day over breakfast in 2006, I saw an ad in a local Hunterdon County magazine for Powertech. They claimed to be Porsche specialists, but I have heard that before. And their ad referenced racecar prep, which made me even more leery. My poor neglected baby was far from a racecar. But by this time the “why is that piece of crap taking up space in the garage?” conversations were getting tiresome. So I called.

I had a couple of conversations with the guy who claimed to own the place and who eventually convinced me the car was worth saving. My request was pretty simple: I love this car, but I never wanted to see it again unless it was in perfect running order, starting with completely rebuilding the engine. We eventually agreed on what would be done and I turned my car over to these strangers.

After that, I was on the phone for weeks with Powertech talking through the progress, discussing changes, looking at pictures, and fretting about the inevitable hidden issues that needed to be addressed. I was actually enjoying the process and starting to miss the little guy.

We left for vacation right before the car was to be finished and put back together. My last few conversations with Powertech were shrouded in a margarita enhanced state of bliss. The conversations started to sound more like “well, since the car is there anyway, can you….?” After all I was drunk in a pool with a credit card I thought nobody knew about. What’s a few more bucks? I vaguely remember something about upgraded pistons, rebuilding the transmission, and replacing the seat covers and carpeting. The rest is a bit of a tequila induced blur.

When I got home, sobered up, and retrieved the car, I was shocked. It was perfect! It ran like a top, sounded beautiful, and looked amazing. I was in love again! I drove him every chance I got. I had his leaky windshield seal replaced. I had the bad paintwork fixed. I had his chrome redone. For years on sunny weekends we happily roamed the New Jersey countryside topless (the car, not me).

In parallel to my rekindled love affair with my Porsche, I became great friends with Mike Daino, one of the owners of Powertech, to the point that we were hanging out almost every weekend. Of course we inevitably talked cars, cars, and then more cars.

A few years later over many, many cocktails, I mentioned to Mike that my true calling in life was to be a racecar driver. Mike, having actually been a racecar driver, did not laugh as to was my intention. Instead he told me all about Driver Education with the Porsche Club, recalling all his years of driving and teaching others how to drive. Uh oh, he was serious. The only way I could think to back out of this with any dignity was to use the car as my excuse. My car was cute and perky and fun to drive, but he could not go on a track. He had no roll cage or any other “racecar things” that seemed required in my head. The other cars would laugh at him.

But no, that argument was not going to work. Mike eagerly explained to me that my little guy with his 2.7 liter engine, original seatbelts, and all-season radials would love the track, and that “all Porsche’s are really just street-able race cars.” So, after a few more cocktails, I drank the Kool-Aid and signed up for the NNJR DE event at Pocono. It was called “Ladies’ Day,” so how bad could it be? Mike even bought me a helmet for my birthday that year.

When the event arrived, I was a nervous wreck. What the heck had I gotten myself, and my newly rebuilt car into? But after a few shaky runs with Mike in the passenger seat, I got over the fear of chipping the paint, crashing, and generally making a fool of myself. I had a blast! And I quickly learned a few things, notably:

1. I had absolutely no idea how to drive.

2. All-season radials make the most god-awful noises on a track.

3. An apex is not what I thought it was.

4. My car was the coolest car ever.

5. I wanted to do this every day for the rest of my life.

During the euphoric high that lasted all through that weekend, my car was no longer “The Porsche”. He earned the right to a new name. He became Mr. Speedums. The back story is long and embarrassing, but non-the-less, the name stuck.

Even though I was horrible and would not get a chance to drive again that year, I was hooked. I bought a set of track tires and wheels, had the seatbelts replaced, had a fire extinguisher put in, and waited for 2010.

The next spring, the newly outfitted Mr. Speedums and I packed up and went to Lime Rock for the first event of the season. I had talked the other owner of Powertech, Keith Peare, into being my instructor. We were going to be amazing, right? No. My driving was just as bad as last year, including one horrific spin in Big Bend. But I still was hooked. Even another spectacular spin at Pocono in July could not dampen my enthusiasm.

Next step? Why Mr. Speedums needed an auxiliary oil cooler and new sway bars of course. These made him sweat less and lean less, but not spin less. I can proudly say that we attended six events that year and spun at every one. But never twice, as Knute put the fear of god in me with that darn two spin rule. No way was Mr. Speedums getting thrown out. We were having too much fun.

Our second season Mr. Speedums and I moved up into the Yellow run group and then Blue. I bought him new graphics to go with his Blue run group sticker. We even sweet talked our way into White for two events so we could drive solo (even though I dragged Mike, my perpetual traveling instructor/mechanic out with me most of the time). Mr. Speedums rewarded me by not spinning once the entire season. And hey, I think we were getting pretty good at this. That is what we tell each other.

And what is on the agenda for 2012? We are not sure yet, but a decent set of seats and harnesses are a must.