I recently caught up with a very good friend of mine who used to be in the motor trade in England 30 years ago. And with the many pleasures of his job, (which there wasn’t many of) was to visit Porsche out in Stuttgart every year. Having sold the cars, he was invited out to be shown the manufacturing facility and testing ground in the summer of 1990. Blasting round their test track in their latest offerings which at the time was the 944 Turbo Convertible, a 928 S4 and a 964 Carrera 4. The 911 which caused a stir back in the day for being the first 911 with 4 wheel drive and being offered with an automatic gearbox. Amongst all of that, the many interesting tidbits from his times out there. Such as a 4 door 928 which he was only allowed to feel under a cover and not be shown. But the one I found most interesting was this. The Honda NSX which Porsche bought in 1990 not long after they were put on sale. I wasn’t told how Honda reacted to the sale. Whether or not they found out is a different story. This was around the time Porsche were strenuously trying to develop their cars for the next generation. With plenty of cash to burn after their 80’s boom from the pinstripe suits who couldn’t be seen in anything else other than a car with a whale tail or 944 written on the back of it. Buying an NSX was a drop in the ocean for Porsche at the time. All this was to change in 1992 of course, when the recession bit, yuppies disappeared and Porsche sales were down 40%. Things steadily improved after this with the introduction of the 993 and Boxster.
So, what were Porsche doing with an NSX? Down at the industrials of the Weissach testing facilities. A group of test drivers were told to drive the thing round the Weissach test track every day until the car hit 100 thousand miles. This wasn’t a stroll in the park either for the NSX. This was flat out every day and every hour. With oil and fuel top ups and tyre changes. And the only cool downs being a lunch break and when everyone went home for the day. 100 thousand miles was achieved quickly, and over a team of test drivers wouldn’t have been at all tedious. Once the car had achieved its set milestone, the engine was taken out and completely stripped piece by piece part by part and studied by Porsche’s engineers. My friend at the time was led into a massive room, lit by overhanging strip lights with a compartmented table in the middle was rather confused at first. He saw 6 cylinders each lying in their own part of the table and thought nothing more of it than just being a 911 engine. Until, the person who was showing him round explained that the whole table contained the contents of an NSX engine and that it had just had every part examined by their engine development team for research. Apart from that not much more was said. Once finished looking around, my friend asked what the point of the exercise was. The response he got couldn’t have been anymore Germanic even if a cuckoo clock had told him. “This is what we want to achieve.”
It seemed Porsche were very envious of Honda’s engineering (who isn’t.) And the only way to test one was to buy one, thrash one, study one. What happened to the car, or what Porsche learned from the exercise is still unknown. What I can say is in 2018t, the Porsche 911 was the most reliable vehicle tested by JD power survey in America. The Porsche brand themselves came second, whilst Lexus came first. So, maybe Porsche’s efforts back then really did give them an insight into proper car design and reliability. What I do wonder though, is how many times have Porsche done this with other vehicles from other manufacturers? A lot of stories about Porsche have come to light of late and I felt I had to put my own story in on behalf of a mate. They seem to be the gift that keep on giving and defiantly in my opinion, the most interesting car company ever. If Porsche do something for a reason, it’s for a good reason!
By Clarke Mackinnon