My Porsche Story – Erik Ohrnberger (part 1of 2)
I Discover Porsches
Both of my parents were born and married in Germany. Shortly after getting married, they immigrated to the US where I was born. My Dad’s company had business in Germany, so they sent my Dad on an extended assignment in Germany, and he decided to move the entire family over, as all of our extended family were already over there.. I was around 6 years old, when I entered the first grade in a German school.
I must have been bitten by the car bug at a very early age, as I remember seeing Porsches on the autobahn, and trying to get my Dad to buy a 911. He never did. He was a Benz guy. Yeah, well, that kinda makes sense. Family of 5 and all.
Since we had nearly all of our extended family in Germany, we kids spent a lot of time with our grandparents. I remember complaining to my Opa (grandfather), that my Dad wouldn’t buy a Porsche, and how cool it’d be to have one. Well, he said in his indulging grandfatherly way, we’ll just have to go and get a 911! I was on cloud nine! Then we went to the Matchbox store. My first Porsche. A red 911. It won all the matchbox races for a number of years.
Flash forward 2001. My old boss/friend moved back to the U.S, from Germany, and he being a Florida raised guy, wanted, and bought, a boat. He was in town, jet lagged, and we had to drive his rental Mustang from the airport, a state over to where his boat was. Since he was quite tired, I drove. I recall hitting a 270 degree expressway on-ramp a bit on the speedy side, feeling the weight transfer from side to side, with the sudden realization of “Hey that felt good!”
Well, what do you expect? I had been driving a GMC Safari mini-van for a number of years, yeah, 2 kids. The Mustang was so much better handling than the Safari.
- The 2002 Pontiac Grand Prix and it’s 2 times at the track, upgrades and unhappiness. -I start hunting for a Porsche
So it came time to replace one of our cars. Recalling how nice the Mustang felt, and being a GM family for years now, I went to the dealership, and said I wanted a comfortable 4 door that was sporty. I ended up with a ’02 Pontiac Grand Prix GT. It just looked ‘right’.
Meeting Vaughan Scott for the first time at a family function on my wife’s side, he convinced me to take the Grand Prix to Waterford Hills Raceway for a Porsche Club Drivers Education event. As you can imagine, with the GP’s stock suspension it was rolling all over the place, and didn’t corner very well.
I upgraded the sway bars from hollow to solid, and replaced a number of bushings from rubber to Delrin. This certainly made the car handle much better than before. One of the best handling Grand Prixs around, my mechanic told me. The problem was that I could corner so hard on a right hander at the Waterford circuit that all the automatic trans fluid sloshed over to the left side of the transmission, away from the torque converter, which led to an engine rpm excursion. Coming to a stop in the paddock area, the transmission foamed over and left a puddle on the ground. Hmm. Not the right car for not the right job.
- Opa’s inheritance, the Zen of it all
As it turns out, my Opa, the one that bought me the 911 matchbox when I was a wee lad, had passed. Along with his passing came a bit of an inheritance. What better way to combine that with a mid-life crisis, and buy a Porsche? Oh the Zen of it all.
- Porsche arrives & the Winter of first repairs
I found what was to become my Porsche, a 1991 944 S2 with 165,000 miles, on Auto Trader in Ohio. I got in contact with the owner,and I had a pre-purchase inspection performed, which came back with lots of minor issues .Based on nothing major, I bought the car and drove it back home.
As the inspection revealed the items that needed attending to, that winter was spent replacing fog & side marker bulbs, power steering pump and hoses, left steering rack boot and left tie rod end, 15-W50 Mobil1, oil filter, 4 wheel performance alignment, torn shifter boot, broken glove box supports, fuel filter front brake pads and brake fluid, alternator cooling duct, front tow eye, rear tow point, spare DME fuel relay for the glove box, air filter, clutch pedal pad and had a 4 wheel performance alignment Yeah, all really minor and expected stuff.
One of the more uncommon things that I did was to wash the inside of the engine to make sure all the oil passages were clear of any accumulated deposits. How? First I warmed up the motor oil by idling the car for 10 minutes or so. I then drained one quart of the oil, and replaced it with automatic transmission fluid. Then I let the engine idle for about 20 minutes drained and replaced the oil with fresh oil and a new oil filter. Automatic transmission fluid has a lot detergents in it. All these detergents would clean out any deposits, clump them together, and move them to the oil filter. People who see how clean the head is under the valve cover are amazed how clean it was. Oil pressure with this engine was never a problem.
- Track days, the first years
The first few years driving the DE events were interesting. Sure the Porsche handled far better than the Grand Prix ever did, but there was a lot to learn, and the Porsche’s suspension was well worn with its 165k miles. The stock suspension was collapsing and the rock hard tires that it came with didn’t make for really competitive times, most of which was attributed to the driver, and not so much with the car. In the corners, I kept sliding out of the stock seats, regardless of what the CG-Lock was trying to do to keep my butt in the seat.
It was also about this time I started to crew for Vaughan and the Pub Racing team. Pub? Oh, yeah, Porsches Und Beer. Famous for the saying “I think my drinking team has a racing problem”. Crewing for the team was a great place to start learning the needed race craft, which easily also applies to driving in the DE events. But more on that later. As for right now, I was basically extra hands helping out when and where needed, and always watching and learning, asking questions in non time crunch times.
Of all the things that needed to be done to the Porsche during this period, the biggest job was the clutch which needed to be replaced. The old rubber center of the clutch pretty much came flying apart, which showed up in not being able to select 2nd gear as well as not being able to disengage the engine from the transmission even when pressing fully down on the clutch pedal.
Over the course of 3 Sundays, Vaughan and I took off the exhaust, transmission, rear suspension carrier, torque tube and bell housing to get at the clutch to replace it. All of these parts were neatly laid out on the garage floor next to the car. It seemed that we had removed everything that made the car mobile. Reassembled with all new clutch, forks, throw out bearings, release bearing guide, and flywheel bolts, it was as good as new.
I thank my lucky stars that Vaughan helped me out. This job was way over my meager mechanical abilities, and since he had a number of years of experience wrenching on his 924 race car, he was way beyond what I could do.
- Suspension upgrade #1 – getting rid of the old & tired squishy bits
Since the original struts were worn out after 181,452 miles, the question wasn’t whether it needed to be replaced, but what would be the best thing to replace it with?
One line of thought was M030 struts and sway bars. The other was a coil over kit from Paragon. The final decision factor was along the lines of if I spent a bunch of money on an M030 setup, and in a few years replace it with a Paragon coil over kit, what sense would that make? So the decision was to go with the Paragon coil over kit with Hypercoils, helper springs, and Koni black double adjustable shocks and add to that a KLA strut brace to prevent the fatigue of the strut towers under track loading. I have to thank Jason at Paragon for calculating the correct, harder, spring rates. I’m roughly running double what the stock spring rates are.
When some 944 owners upgrade to a coil over kit, they take the torsion bars out. From what I’ve gathered, this focuses a great deal of force into the stock shock mounts. Well, being worried about that, I left the torsion bars in, and had Jason calculate rear coil over springs that would complement the spring rate of the stock torsion bars. By leaving the torsion bars in, it distributed the forces across multiple points, reducing the chances of damaging any of them. It worked out great.
Part and parcel with the suspension upgrade was what to do with the tired and worn out upper strut mounts. The original Porsche parts were rubber and were definitely tired and soft. Porsche wanted around $400 each to replace them. That’s a lot of money. Luckily I found some KLA all aluminum KLA Monoball Strut Mount mounts for a mere fraction of the Porsche OEM parts price. a bargain compared to the Porsche rubber ones.
These decisions really highlight how I’ve approached things with my Porsche. If it’s really worth doing, then survey the options, consider the intended use as a track car, and don’t be afraid to spend the money if it’ll get you where you want to do, but do so with clear reasoning why you’ve made the choices that you have.
In part II, to be published next month, Erik rebuilds the engine, further upgrades the suspension, changes seats and replaces tires.
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