When we make some money, as a rule we like to spend it.
So, when it comes to buying cars, if you have loads of money you look at the most expensive brands, pick the one you like and feel comfortable with, and of course the one which sits at the very ‘top’ of their particular model line up. ( if you’ve got it flaunt it! ).
In my early days at Porsche, because of the masculine and ‘difficult to drive’ reputation of the then 911’s, Porsche mainstream buyers usually were men, in their 50’s or 60’s, and who frequently had more than a passing interest in motor sports of all kinds.
In the 80’s the top of the range models – the 911’s and 928’s were great fun and exciting to drive, but they also were quite hard work, being very noisy – especially at speed, and they had very firm sports car suspension, which coupled with big wheels and tyres gave an extremely hard ride and as a result transferred lots of road noise into the car. Add to this the fact that 911’s at that time didn’t have power steering and the clutch was very heavy to operate, you can see why I use the expression ‘hard work’ to describe them.
To the purest of course, all this didn’t matter, this was sports car driving in its finest form.
This was how it was meant to be.
On a Saturday morning, after a hard week at work, you could slip into those old jeans ( even if they were getting a bit tight ), pull on that tee shirt saying something silly, put on the dark glasses and go for a blast with the drivers window down along some country road , listening to the engine noise and feeling yourself being shaken about by that stiff sports car suspension. Pretending afterwards to your friends that of course you had the tail end hanging out in the 911 – it was no problem at all. You just knew that if you had chosen a different path you could have been another Nigel Mansell or Ayrton Senna.
This ‘ Saturday morning feeling’ was as close as you could get to that ultimate high . This was ‘intravenous Guinness’.
Such were the therapeutic powers of the Porsche – guaranteed to cure all ailments know to middle aged man!
At that time, the 1980’s, if you bought a new Porsche , after three months ownership you could have something called a ‘compatibility check’ .
This was really an opportunity for the owner to check over or confirm any concerns they had about the cars general characteristics , and in effect, a check to see if the car was actually suitable for them.
This placed great responsibility on the dealers staff and their interaction with a potential customer. You have to remember that in those days the dealership and sales volumes were tiny by comparison to today’s massive Porsche Centres, so it was customary for senior management to get involved with most transactions and therefore help educate the customer in the product, both plus’s and minus’s.
No, don’t misunderstand me, Porsche weren’t giving people their money back if they didn’t like the car, it was more a case of seeing how the dealer could help or advise the customer to get the best from their car.
The problem the customers had was that at the point of buying these cars, despite all the difficult characteristics mentioned above, most potential buyers were just blown away by the look of the car and the pure excitement when they got behind the wheel.
A purple mist would engulf them, the cheque book would be produced , and a car would be bought.
They just wanted a Porsche and had to have one.
For a small number of new owners however, a few months into their ownership familiar comments would start slipping out:-
‘My backs playing up again’ ( hard suspension )
‘ I can’t hear the radio at 60 mph’ ( engine and road noise )
‘My wife finds the ride uncomfortable’ ( hard suspension )
‘The clutch is very heavy . ( liable to give you leg muscles like Arnold Schwarzenegger ).
We would then see one or two of them drift off to another ‘softer’ quality product like a Mercedes – Benz SL or a Jaguar XJ coupe. Great cars in their own right, but fundamentally different from the Porsches. Those cars in the 1980’s, were ‘boulevard cruisers’, and critically were easier to drive and more comfortable to travel and live with.
Nowadays most modern cars, whether a prestigious or a volume brand
are packed with features which are deemed ‘essential ‘.
Suspensions that can be adjusted to suit your mood or driving preference ; sound systems which transform the inside of your car into the Albert Hall ; noisy exhausts that can be switched on and off ; and infotainment technology on the dashboard that could land a man on the moon.
So overall, the margin of difference between competitive models is not now as great as it once was.
Manufacturing has changed markedly in the intervening years as companies have merged to form great conglomerates, leading to shared platforms and shared technology, and as a result reduced production and development costs.
To survive the recession in the late 1980’s early 90’s, Porsche needed to introduce much more efficient Japanese style production processes throughout their factory ; totally review its parts supply chain, and reduce the options on offer throughout its products. It also needed to develope a product range which could appeal to a broader audience – in other words affluent men and woman in their 30’s and 40’s.
The result has been truly remarkable . Porsche would rise from the ashes and become consistently the most profitable car manufacturer in the world.
The credit for this must go to the brilliant but then much vilified Porsche boss Wendelin Weideking and his very able team of engineers and marketing people for driving this amazing change.
I recall when he visited our newly opened Hatfield Porsche Centre in 2003 he told me that Porsche had achieved record and increasing levels of profit and production over each of the previous 10 years.
A truly unbelievable feat when you consider how close they were to going to the wall .
So, if you were to test drive the latest Porsche 911 today, the chances are you will still be blown away by the look of the car , the excitement driving it generates , and the likelihood is that your decision making process will also be heavily biased towards the ’emotional purchase’.
The difference nowadays is that you won’t need that ‘compatibility check’ three months after you’ve bought it as the car is so easy to drive .
Just ask the wife.