Spotter’s Guide To The October 2018 Road&Track

I could take or leave the whole Singer Por-sha phenomenon, but Preston Lerner does some great work tracking the development of their newest take on the air-cooled engine. What’s depressing about the article is that Porsche themselves should be able to do anything that Williams F1 can do. We were told 20 years ago that EU noise regulations were the reason that the air-cooled engine could not continue. The real reason was, most likely, cost. The M96 engine costs half as much as its predecessor, and the current mill is probably cheaper still. Can you imagine a modern GT3RS with the Singer/Williams engine? It’s enough to make me a Por-sha fan again.

Also in this issue: Sam Smith’s great take on the “Dajiban” phenomenon. After that, on page 62, you’ll find an article that has been a pet project of mine for a while now: a discussion about the compromises, and engineering challenges, faced by automotive audio teams. I received invaluable help from several OEMs on this but the best part of it was visiting Harman Automotive this past summer and being educated on the current state of car audio. Absolutely thrilling stuff — for me, anyway!

15 Replies to “Spotter’s Guide To The October 2018 Road&Track”

  1. PaulyG

    Unfortunately, the engineering first, cost second approach has probably left the German automakers for good. They will argue, correctly, that their cars are way more reliable today for the first and second owners.

    What good does a car that lasts 20-30 years do for an automaker? What good does a car that can be taken to 90%-100% capabilities for hours on end do for an automaker who knows that 99% of their cars will never witness even 50% of their capabilities? Why not build to a price and then sell for a premium by harvesting the reputation that you developed for the past 60 years or so? Shareholders and executive compensation certainly don’t care.

    As a fellow lover of quality objects for the long haul (isn’t that the definition of quality anyway?), it is sad to see. I cherish my 3.2 every day. It is a lifetime car for me.

    • stingray65

      The German quality used to be based on the need for the cars to survive many hours of high speed autobahn cruising, but that need has become largely obsolete for several reasons. First, the autobahn is too crowded or legally speed restricted to offer many extended high speed opportunities. Second, the cars have gotten so capable that the speeds that most drivers can reasonably/regularly attain/maintain (i.e. 90 to 130 mph) are loafing for today’s 140 to 180 mph cars with serious overdrive gearing. If I remember correctly, my 1971 BMW Bavaria was geared in direct drive 4th to spin 6,000 rpm to maintain a supposedly safe maximum cruising speed of 120 mph, which is about 150 to 200% of the RPM that a modern 5 series would need to achieve the same speed – not to mention the higher quality of today’s oils and metallurgy. Third, cheap flights and high speed rail have replaced a lot of high speed road trips.

        • Ronnie Schreiber

          Apparently, enough officers prefered the Czech Tatra 87 that it is said that more high ranking German military men died behind the wheel of a Tatra than in actual combat, Supposedly, Hitler eventually prohibited it use by German officers.

    • Athos

      What good does a car that lasts 20-30 years do for an automaker?

      Properly done, it could be a potential gold mine for any OEM. There’s plenty of money to be made on spare/restoration parts, certificates…

      I think the game changed for the Germans when the original LS400 was launched. Toyota’s F1 cost-no-object program delivered a world class ~W126 car for a fraction of the money. To compete at that price, German OEMs had to learn to be efficient and to lean their designs.

    • ScottS

      “Why not build to a price and then sell for a premium by harvesting the reputation that you developed for the past 60 years or so?”

      Very well stated.

      As Jack so often reminds us, Porsche is now primarily a truck manufacturer. In a world where you have to have the volume to survive in the auto industry, it makes sense. Just think for a moment about BMW and Toyota collaborating on a new sports car platform as neither one of them could justify the investment independently. At Porsche, it makes perfect sense to put all the chips into water cooled engines where R&D costs can be shared with the trucks. You have to wonder what a firm like Porsche could do with air cooling given the current state of materials, coating and lubrication technology?

      I still like air-cooled bikes better, but they too are becoming very scarce these days.

  2. Jason Rogers

    Noise regs? Nah. I think it had to be exhaust emissions. Piston bore clearance cannot be as tight on an air-cooled cylinder because of uneven cooling and thermal expansion. The Williams engine likely wasn’t developed with emissions in mind.

    Maybe they could have continued a while longer. Harley Davidson only just now had to go to partial water cooling with their latest engines. But car and motorcycle regs aren’t the same standard.

  3. JustPassinThru

    The problem is many-fold – as noted by above commentators. But the big problem is, first…Porsche does not WANT to do it. Apparently, as Porsche + Audi has been tightened into the VAG fold (that sounds dirty and it is – I liked the company better when it was Volkswagenwerk AG) and VAG has become something that none of its current component divisions ever were.

    What happened to VW, as it absorbed NSU, was much the same as what happened to Chrysler when it absorbed the remnants of AMC ten years later. The aggressive (in the case of AMC, talented) managers took control of the dominant company from the inside.

    VW became NSU; and NSU, remember…was FAILING. They were not known for quality – their only claim to fame was the Wankel. And what became the Golf/Rabbit was near completion when VW bought them, partly because of West-German government pressure and partly because the NSU program offered a way to move beyond Beetles.

    And it took a few years, but air-cooling was doomed at the People’s Car Works. Air cooling…the signature characteristic of Dr. Porsche’s designs…had to GO. Even before the rear-engine design could be axed in the surviving Transporter/Vanagon.

    And today, VAG is interested, not in quality; nor in consumer value; nor in even engineering prowess. They’re interested in the status market. It’s now the reiche-volksvagen – the Rich People’s Car.

    The traditional air-cooled Porsche was a ten-tenths performance car for rallyists. NOT a mass-market model. And so, the descendents and heirs of the victorious NSU seditionists within VW, have contrived a “good” reason to dump the air-cooling.

    And they’ll have another “good” reason for Porsche SUVs. But we know what the real reason is, do we not?

  4. Carmine

    Ahh, Singers….the pinnacle of the air cooled Porsche smell your own farts zeitgeist, yeah eleventy million dollars is totally reasonable sum for re-fabbed 911 with nicer leather…….without looking too much into it, isn’t the reason that Singer can do this and Porsche cant is because these are basically custom cars made from used 911’s and therefore pretty much exempt from everything?

  5. Dirt Roads

    I dunno, Jack, Williams has some good engineers but they are in the doldrums in F1 lately so maybe they can’t come up with “the best” engine for a Porsche. Just sayin’…

  6. Frank Chambers

    Nice article on car audio systems. However medieval churches were not designed to preserve the clarity of the human voice. One measure of the audo quality of a space is the reverberation time. When the reverberation time gets too long, speech is hard to understand. Knudsen’s architectural acoustics text from the 50’s has different recommendations for reverb times for Catholic and Protestant churches. He recommended longer times for Catholic churches – the music sounded nicer and the Latin mass did not have to be understood!

  7. Bill Malcolm

    Low thermal inertia of an air-cooled engine means cylinder head temps vary quite a bit with load. Not a great recipe for ever-tightening emission controls or maximum sustained power.

    You can size the cooling fan for required dissipation of heat at maximum power, but then all other modes will be sub-optimal. You could go all techno to make a variable speed, variable blade incidence cooling fan and waste a considerable amount of R&D money. Or you can suck it up and do what everyone else had been doing for decades and go liquid cooling. Naturally, being Porsche you also want to do something different, so why not engineer an IMS system with suspect bearings, so that a Great Big Surprise awaits the owner down the road? That will also lead future myth believers to wax eloquent on those old air-cooled flat-sixes, endowing them with qualities they never possessed.

    Still, without myths that everyone with money agrees are truisms, how would the gold bauble trinket trade ever operate?

    • ScottS

      Moto Guzzi’s latest engine is an air cooler with cylinder head cooling augmented by the oil system. This engine and meets the current Euro 4 and upcoming Euro 5 emissions standards. The engine has pretty high power for displacement (100 hp/liter) and I expect like past Guzzis it will be highly durable. With Porsche’s engineering capability it would not be technically challenging to design a high output air cooler.


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