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2003 Porsche 911 C4S: Long-term Update

Taking the bad along with the good

Les Bidrawn
Sep 13, 2004
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0409_01z+Porsche_911_C4S+Rear_Side_View Photo 1/2   |   2003 Porsche 911 C4S: Long-term Update

From Los Angeles it takes 5 hours to get here, over roads stretching to the horizon. Along the way there is a smattering of long, fast sweepers, tight hairpins and a few grades that make big-rig drivers reach for their lowest gears. It was during those 5 hours, in our long-term 911 C4S, that it became obvious I had found the special car.

More than a decade ago, I saw this spot and remember thinking it would be the perfect backdrop for a special car. Since then, I'd passed by this field more than a dozen times, in vehicles ranging from Brabus G-Wagons to Lingenfelter Corvettes, but I never stopped; for some reason, none of those cars seemed special enough.

I was on my way to the New Dimensions car show, where I was going to display Project Corrado in its supercharged glory. It was not meant to be. To make a long story short, the car broke, and I was in such a foul mood children and small animals recoiled in horror from merely looking at me. The Porsche would serve as my alternate conveyance, and while some might argue it deserved first choice, I was really looking forward to showing off my baby.

I was driving angry, which is never a good idea, especially in a Porsche. The 911 was like a fist punching through L.A.'s traffic, making short work of fellow drivers, many of whom appeared to be standing still. The Porsche delivers its power everywhere, all the time, almost in total disregard to the gear selected. Its torque curve is remarkable--and feels like it doesn't quit until the rev limiter kicks in.

A late-model M3 was shadowing my flight out of town like a fighter pilot's wingman. Given the slalom-like traffic pattern, this was no mean feat. I guess he was mad, too (his other car was probably broken). I knew I could take him on traction alone: Michelin's fabulous new Pilot Sport Cup II tires had been placed on the 911, and their phenomenal abilities were clearly shown to the hapless M3 driver. On one of L.A.'s ubiquitous raised freeway connectors, the road opened like a floating section of autobahn, and we both let fly. We were pretty much dead even until the ramp's radius started to really tighten up, placing huge loads on the rubber. I watched as Mr. M3 fought with the steering wheel, unwinding it to fight off his decreased grip. The concrete expansion joints simply exacerbated the situation; every time he hit a new plate, his car would jump sideways.

On the other hand, the Porsche did nothing; there was no drama whatsoever. The new Michelin Pilots seem to augment the effects of gravity, and if they have limits, you'll need to go to a racetrack to find them. Moreover, these things are quiet and they track arrow-straight (none of that wandering-groove syndrome). The Pilot Sport Cups are quite possibly the best performing tire Michelin has ever made and is, at this point, king of the UHP tire domain.

In less than an hour, I'd left the Los Angeles Basin, and a great deal of my anger, behind. A great car can do that for you. It's like therapy. In fact, tell the wife you need one, or else you might have a breakdown.

Although it usually takes 5 hours to get to this place, I made it in 3. Wicked side winds wreaked havoc on the big rigs and motor homes, causing a few of them to tip over...after they had pulled off the road! The 911 cuts through such stuff like an Exocet missile. It was so planted, I did not realize how windy it was until I opened a window and caused every scrap of paper to shoot out the car. It's just one of the many reasons the 911 is such a splendid long-distance touring car.

0409_02z+Porsche_911_C4S+Rear_Side_View Photo 2/2   |   2003 Porsche 911 C4S: Long-term Update

I took my pictures, marveled at the vista and split, satisfied and happy. The Porsche 911 C4S is a reason why people work 16-hour days and eat nothing but peanut butter sandwiches for 2 years straight. It's that good.

And now the bad. Yet again, we lost an engine in a long-term 911. Abuse, you say? Not a chance. Editor Brown has spent most time in the car and has babied it to the point of nausea, and he cautions everyone else who drives it "not to screw it up!"

What's the deal, then? Is there a common motor malady. Like our previous 996, this one performed flawlessly, right up until it suffered a catastrophic failure within the engine. The crew at McKenna Porsche, where we've had many of our long-termers serviced or fixed, was equally mystified. "We don't know what's going on with the internals," said another Porsche dealer's service manager. "They told us not to open the engine, just replace the entire thing. We've got a bunch of new crate motors on hand to deal with this problem."

While this is a warranty fix, it won't be 5 years from now, and at 20k a pop, 3.6-liter Porsche engines aren't cheap.

A few days later our Porsche was back on the road, screaming at the top of its new, more powerful lungs. While it had been in the shop, we'd ordered, from Porsche's Tequipment catalog, a sports exhaust system. It provides a fuller, more powerful sound via a series of variable-length resonance chambers actuated via vacuum pots. A switch in the cabin can turn it off, but most of us enjoy the deeply raspy growl of the new exhaust.

We've also come to love the PCCB brakes we'd installed a few months back. Although our testing showed that stopping distances weren't shorter than with the "standard" Turbo brakes, the ceramic brakes are vastly better in terms of feel and resistance to fade. Outside of some race cars, no brakes we've jabbed have provided such a clear path between the driver's right foot and the calipers. They're remarkably easy to modulate, too, allowing much more control when entering more deeply into corners.

With such superior dynamics from its suspension, tires and brakes, it is doubly disappointing that the powertrain appears to be so fragile. Porsche's heritage demands better.

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By Les Bidrawn
242 Articles

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