I was in Fastlane Paint and Body in St. Albans the other day and saw a lovely Guards Red 1989 Porsche in the 911 Sports Coupe model, which they were refurbishing to pristine condition. It brought memories flooding back of my early days with Porsche in Hertfordshire.
In the 80’s what is now called “Porsche Centre Hatfield” was called “Chariots St. Albans Ltd.”
I ran it, and the business was owned by the inspirational Tom Walkinshaw of the TWR Group.
Tom, through TWR racing, had taken Jaguar back into motorsport after many years in the doldrums and eventually back to the Le Mans 24-hour race in the late 80’s.
Tom knew that to win the toughest race in the world, he had to beat the brilliant and dominant Porsche team who had made worldwide sports car racing “their domain” in the 70’s and 80’s, with the epic and ground-breaking race cars, like the 917’s and 956’s.
Tom always surrounded himself with the best talent available – Tony Southgate, Ross Braun and Andy Morrison amongst others. They were a testament to this, achieving this momentous victory at Le Mans in 1988, in front of a crowd of over 300,000 screaming, fanatical fans.
The original “Chariots” Porsche site at St. Albans was very small, but Tom had big ideas for the business as we took over the whole of the then adjacent Smallford Planters site. The plans were put in place for a brand new, vast Porsche centre to be built covering the whole site, coming to a surface area of about 1.5 acres.
Porsche GB was, needless to say, very pleased with our plans, and invited the main board from Germany to inspect the site and review the plans with Tom and I on their next UK visit.
The grand day duly arrived as did the full board, including Michael Piech and Dr.Porsche.
After a tour of the site, Tom made a short speech and then presented each board member with a special gift to mark the occasion.The gifts were specially commissioned gallon flagons of Glenmorangie whisky.
Typical of Tom, however, the flagon covers, and the bottle labels stated: “To Commemorate Jaguar’s Famous Victory Over Porsche at Le Mans in 1988”
Fortunately, we managed to keep the franchise as the Germans seemed to have a sense of humour that day, and thought the whole thing was great fun.
In reality, they probably just wanted to get stuck into the whiskey like the rest of us!
They did, however, suggest that Tom enjoy the victory as it would be his last!
(Of course, he did win Le Mans again and went on to many other motor racing successes.)
So, what’s this got to do with a lovely 1989 Guards Red 911 that I saw in Fastlane… did I hear you say?
Well, one of the famous racing drivers who drove for Tom (let’s call him “Stig Plus”), bought a brand-new version of this car through Chariots in 1989 – same colour, Guards Red.
I was doing the paperwork with him prior to delivery, and with this 911 model – because of its difficult and some say dangerous handling characteristics, we had a strict process in place which we followed for every first-time 911 buyer.
This consisted of every new owner going out with Jim MacCreadie, our Service Manager, to enable them to understand more about the ‘idiosyncratic nature’ of the 911, and especially its potentially ‘difficult-to-handle’ characteristics.
The objective was to try and make every customer aware that this was a real sports car with teeth, and it could bite you hard in certain situations.
So, the time with Jim was a real learning curve for most customers, and furthermore, a calming down process, as they were often very hyped up on the point of delivery.
While demonstrating the car for up to an hour, Jim would mention things like –
“Don’t lift off the throttle halfway around a corner – remember 60% of the weight was at the back of the car, so any sudden weight transfer at speed could cause stability problems.”
“To check the oil – you have to warm up the engine first for about 10 minutes and then check the oil whilst the engine is running.”
“To understand how the heater works effectively, in all weathers, you have to explain that the effectiveness of the VW Beetle inspired heater wasn’t the reason why people bought 911’s in the first place!
As I was explaining this company procedure with Jim to “Stig Plus”, and I could see him looking at me, and glazing over as if I was a complete git…
Here was a Formula 1 driver, someone who had won the Le Mans 24-hour race, and this dumb Irishman was telling him that he should go around the block with somebody called Jim to show him how to drive a bloody road car!
Needless to say, he declined the offer, paid for the car and duly took delivery on a typical April morning – sunshine and showers.
Several hours later, I received a call from this Formula 1 driver and Le Mans 24-hour race winner, asking me, in a quiet and subdued manner, if he could have a word with Jim MacCreadie!
Apparently, after leaving Chariots, “Stig Plus” had turned right onto Smallford Lane, and right again onto the A414 to head towards the new M25.
Approaching the long sweeping right hand bend before the first roundabout at about 150mph, he hit a large wet stretch of road.
Yes, you’re there before me…
Instinct told him to lift off halfway around the bend, and the balance of the 911 shifted – the 60% of the weight at the rear of the 911 rapidly started to take over.
Unbelievably, he managed to keep the car on the road between that sweeping corner and the roundabout. Thank God in those days there wasn’t much traffic about!
Indeed, on the dry bits of road, over several hundred yards, there were rubber skid marks left to record the occasion, and the marks remained there for about 6 months.
The aforementioned Formula 1 driver and Le Mans winner did talk to Jim for about half an hour and listened intently to his every word.
Some say “Stig Plus” was a legend in his own lifetime…
… I say that the 1989 Guards Red 911 got there before him.