The Tao of Porsche repair
Monday, July 10, 2017
"Also, bist du ein Porschemechaniker?"
"Nein," I said, "es ist mein Hobby."
He looked at the pile of parts, then looked at me.
Had it been one part, the guy next to me at the parts counter wouldn't have asked. But it was more than a dozen Porsche-tattooed bits in bags and boxes; the presumptuous line between amateur and professional had been crossed. And while the answer didn't reveal much, attaching a noun to the subject was enough for the both of us.
Porsche maintenance is much more than a hobby. It's therapy, meditation, education and introspection — the Tao of Porsche repair.
An inner peace of mind is necessary. The job begins not with dropping the parts on the bench, jacking up the car and ripping into it. No, it begins with alignment of heart, mind and body — in that sequence. This harmony preludes involvement with the task, "becoming one" with it; a separation here can be disastrous.
Be it electrical, mechanical or hydraulic, whether diagnostic or routine, the mood is set with an understanding of the subject; this is a must. Studying the workshop manual outlines the order, but goes no further; typical Porsche literature.
It never reveals the finer details that surface during disassembly or reassembly — questions the authors hadn't considered. Here's where mechanical aptitude is crucial and your education begins.
How will it come apart? In what sequence are bolts and nuts removed? Has a thread locker been used by the previous specialist? Parts and images are examined; specific notes to specific procedures are read and reread. More questions surface as the sequence is dummy-run. Most of them will be unanswered until that point of the process is reached.
Postgraduate work ... not a place for the beginner.
When enthusiasm kicks action in the pants, it's time to begin.
Before a single bolt is cracked, the theater is photographed. A camera and notebook are as valuable as the specialized Porsche tools; you can do a job 100 times, yet each will have its own set of quirks and sequences that won't be remembered during reassembly. Thinking ahead becomes an instinct.
There's no clock to punch, no working "flat rate" — if it takes more than a day, so what? The specialist may exchange care for time because his paycheck and backlog of work depends on it. It's different here. Care is a commodity and when the thing you cherish is under yours, it's available in spades.
Like anything else involving Porsches, it's all about the details. During the journey in and out of a job, there are things that set the craftsman — artist if you like — apart from the rest. Cleaning parts and mating surfaces, thread chasing bores, nuts and bolts, using correct adhesives, lubricants and thread lockers, using proper tools or creating them as the need arises, following torque specs, and most importantly, using factory/OEM components.
The beauty of using factory parts goes well beyond the surface.
Infidelity against these details goes against the grain of good values and actions killing the serenity you've created before commencing the job. Furthermore, it's poor work ethos.
I mentioned enthusiasm before, but I think gumption is a better term because it has a few more ingredients like resourcefulness, guts and common sense; elements that are the core of fixing Porsches — especially when things don't go smoothly.
Every job has its share of tragedies. Some are small like frozen or stripped bolts; others a bit larger like breaking collateral parts, or finding issues hidden from sight that need attention and deeper disassembly.
A rusted bolt in an impossible spot — classic example of a gumption breaker for the novice.
This can be bad. It could depress the psyche; completely let the air out of gumption to the point of wishing you hadn't started the job at all. If it's your only means of transport, anxiety sets in to the point of desperation leading to irrational and poor decisions compounding the problem.
The mind needs a break; a diversion. Sitting there staring at the thing only makes it worse. Some of the best ideas, revelations and theories happen when one walks away from the situation — literally. At some point, solutions begin to develop, and connections are made subconsciously. Then, hours later, the ego is reinflated, and you're back at it.
A bad situation is a good thing, though, possibly the best thing that could've happened because nothing fortifies the intellect better then when dealt a bad hand. Research, resourcefulness and improvisation mixed with common sense remap and create new thought processes.
This is red-blooded American gumption. At some point, when you're driving down the road, a sudden release of endorphins at the thought of your accomplishments gives a rush like no other.
You, kind sir or madam, are unstoppable.
Porsche repair is an art. And like any of the arts, possessing some sort of aptitude is fundamental; and practice, like further education, is mandatory. Aside from broadening mechanical understanding, it also broadens interests.
A kink for metallurgy, plastics, bolt grades and chemical compounds may develop. Suddenly, nights are spent reading about material specifications, manufacturing processes and nuances such as breakaway torque on M6 bolts fastened with Loctite 270.
The art of Porsche repair is found in the smallest of details.
Aside from learning how to fix the thing, an understanding of why Porsche engineered and spec'd a specific material for this such-and-such part develops. Familiarity with all aspects of engineering and its related sciences gives one a keener sense of a concept we've come to expect from Porsche: quality.
There's quality of the first order that originates from the factory; the second order appears when maintaining that first order. It's difficult to gauge the quality of workmanship of this second order when the work is hidden from plain view as is the case with mechanical maintenance.
The Porsches I've purchased have been dealer-maintained to the letter; the stacks of repair orders that came with them are proof. Moreover, they serve as a blueprint of who's been where doing what and when. Here's where things get interesting.
So, it was a "specialist" who stripped bores, gouged mating surfaces and failed to properly connect/torque/seat X, Y and Z on at least two of these machines before I got there. Inexperience, a bad day or a distraction could've been anyone of the reasons.
These minor mistakes weren't necessarily preludes to catastrophic failure, but they did give an idea of the kind of care taken and help distinguish good quality from bad.
There's a mentality suggesting one has no business getting involved with such matters of complexity that should be left to specialists who've been properly trained. Nonsense. That's an elitist point of view with no bearing on the desire to learn on one's own terms.
While you may have not been factory trained, and it might take you longer to perform a job, you've gumption on your side. By sourcing the correct information, asking questions, investing in quality tools and honing your skill set job after job — sometimes learning things the hard way — you'll come away with something the specialist isn't likely to have: a deeper understanding and appreciation for your Porsche.
You've become one with it.
Investing in the proper tools and learning to use them properly offers more than peace of mind.
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