14 days

News Flash


Scrutineering Bay

Not that it's any of my business

Notes from the Cellar

Across the Border

Focal Point







Mail  to a friend

Baby You Can Drive My Car

Family and friends


sportscarpros Notes from the Cellar 

John Brooks
Index Index
Back Back


Top of Page

Electrical Banana……..Is Bound to be the Very Next Phase

Hurdy Gurdy Man
Even as a kid hearing Donovan’s song “Mellow Yellow” I instinctively knew that something weird was going on………..electric bananas? whatever next? Still it was the 60’s and we were enjoying “the White Heat of Technology”, “the Space Race”, “Free Love” and there would be “Jerusalem” just round the corner or so we were led to believe.  Of course the lyrics had to mean something other than battery-powered fruit, but what? Back in those days schoolboys in short trousers were not party to the latest hipster trends, all we had was our Latin primers and no iPods or MTV, so we had to wait for the onset of old age and Wikipedia before all could be revealed…..apparently the reference is to the incredible highs that could be got from smoking banana skins…Yeah...…….sounds like something that Bob Dylan laid on the impressionable Scot backstage at the Albert Hall in ’65 while stealing his stash of Acapulco Gold, Don’t Look Back indeed….mind you any man who can then go on to jam with Jeff Beck and hash up the confusion that is “Goo Goo Barabajagal (Love is Hot)” obviously bought the entire fruit crop of the Dominican Republic and a jumbo box of Swan Vestas.

Man From Del Monte
How this fits in today’s world is anyone’s guess but when Morse calls and says that he will be in the UK at the end of the month the normal rules of time and space start to get a little warped around the edges. A bunch of bananas would be a good staring point, but I digress. The plan was for him to come over for a few days complete paperwork and formalities for one of his client’s purchase of a McLaren TAG MP4/3. It would also involve him giving it the once over at Donington to make sure that the car started OK and the wheels did not drop off.

The opportunity to make some sort of a story out of this transaction was too good to miss, which is how Lance, a man with a van, came to be outside my flat. The truck contained a bright yellow Porsche 911 Carrera, the base model in the 997 range. Lance’s main task in life seemed to be that of spreading Christmas cheer not only by delivering early presents from Santa to hacks like myself but also to those in his family. While making small talk as the car was unloaded and trying not to appear completely uncool by drooling, I learnt that he and his wife were taking their daughter, still at that age when Christmas is magical, to Lapland for the day on the following Friday. I hope Santa is/was generous to him and his.

“Put your foot to the floor on the clutch to start it” and with a turn of the key the lump behind me growled into life……….now the fun would begin.

Palm Beached
It was sometime since I had even sat in a Porsche, in fact that was some years back at Kevin Jeannette’s workshop in West Palm Beach.  I got to jump in and out of assorted Porsche racing legends, 956, 908, 917, 910 etc., making vroom noises and behaving like the kid who had exclusive dibs on the Toy Factory. I had not actually driven a 911 for over 10 years and that particular example was an old air-cooled nail. This omission is distinctly odd particularly if you consider the place that Porsche occupies in the pantheon of sportscars. Even more so when SCP is full of Porsche people, Morse, Cotton, Oursler and Lister to name a few. Why had I missed out? Were they as good as my friend Der BeerMonster maintained? It was time to find out.

Extra! Extra! Read all about it!
The 997 Carrera, base model or not, is a serious bit of kit, especially for someone like me, nearing the time when every car journey will be undertaken wearing a grey carcoat and trilby……..and at 13 to 15 mph under every speed limit…….a nodding dog behind the wheel as well as on the parcel shelf.

I had a look at the spec sheet for some of the facts and figures……it made some interesting reading…….colour: “Speed Yellow”…..mmmm; top speed 177mph and 0-62mph, 5.0 seconds, which is nifty by any standards. The other figure that made me sit upright was the difference between the base price of £60,810 and the on the road price in this car’s specification, £74,390 or £13,580 on extras or “options”!!!

The list seemed rather extensive:

19” Sport Design alloy wheels   £1,256.00

Rear Window Wiper                                                                £229.00

Coloured wheel centre                                                                   £107.00

Smooth leather sports three-spoke steering wheel                           £432.00

Sports seats                                                                                £257.00

Sports gear shift                                                                           £380.00

Porsche Ceramic Composite Brakes (PCCB)                               £5,349.00

Sport Chrono Package Plus                                                          £507.00

Bi-Xenon headlamps with washers                                                 £705.00

6-disc CD autochanger                                                                 £348.00

Sports chassis 20mm lowered & limited slip diff’                          £1,030.00

PCM Navigation module                                                             £1,260.00

PCM Telephone module                                                                £523.00

Tyre pressure monitoring system                                                   £427.00

Sports exhaust system                                                              £1,160.00

OK, I suppose that if you can afford the car in the first place then additional cost of these “essentials” is largely immaterial. There is the argument is that they will contribute considerably to the car holding its value in the previously owned arena and thus reduce a big element of the cost of ownership.

“But” and it is a big “but”, £13,580 or 22% of the original purchase price, is a shed load of money or it seems so to an impecunious photographer. At over £5k the “Porsche Ceramic Composite Brakes” or PCCB if you are inclined to acronyms are aimed at the Track Day crowd but everyday motoring in the South East of England precludes such fun or indeed almost any kind of enjoyment.

Similarly sports chassis and suspension packs would be a good option in a country where the motorist paid a huge amount of tax which would then be re-invested in better roads and cheaper public transport( Say France or Germany). Instead of which in the UK the motorist gets royally screwed and the proceeds are largely pissed up the wall on a variety of non-transport schemes that range from the merely incompetent to the brazenly corrupt. Take your pick from the scandal de jour, there will be another one along in a minute.

Meanwhile the roads in the Home Counties resemble medieval tracks in places, which is odd considering the staggering amount of wealth generated in the region, I wonder where it all goes? With the 997 I had to change my daily route because of badly maintained speed humps in my locality. Which is long winded way of saying that a less extreme chassis/suspension set up would be necessary if regular trips to the chiropractor were not on the menu. Still it has to be said that the lowered car looked really cool.

On the positive side of the ledger the sports seat option would be a winner at any price, comfortable and supportive, 500 miles in a day was not an issue. The wheels looked great, the Xenon lights were fantastic and as for the rest, well if a press fleet car can’t have a few bells and whistles what is the point? And to be fair to Porsche, the price includes over £11,000 of Value Added Tax (sales tax for those not in the EU paradise) that will keep another Quango warm for an hour or so.

Art for Art’s sake, Money for God’s sake………..
Porsche AG have always had a firm grip on the business side of things, they make a profit; some car companies would have to look that word up in a dictionary (General Motors posted a $39 billion loss in the 3rd quarter of 2007).

Porsche have turned in profits and growth for 13 straight years under the guidance of Dr. Wendelin Wiedeking.  For 2006/7 it was nearly €6 billion pre tax, a doubling of the previous year’s result. Mind you the figures need a little scrutiny or so said one of my clients when I was discussing this with him. As he is financially literate I took him at his word and had a poke around.

A little light spadework on Google turned up some interesting facts, the revenue for 2006 (€8 billion) and 2007 (€7.4 billion) was roughly the same but the net income after tax rocketed from €1.4 billion to €4.2 billion. As margins on car sales have remained static at best, it first appeared that “Danger! Accountants at work!” or extraordinary generosity from the Taxman must be the cause, but no it was much sexier than that.

The Financial Times ran the following report:
By Richard Milne in Munich, FT.com site
Published: Nov 12, 2007

Porsche on Monday revealed it earned three times as much money from trading derivatives as it did from selling cars, prompting accusations it was acting more like a hedge fund.

The German luxury sports car maker said €3.6bn ($5.2bn) of its €5.86bn pre- tax profit in the year to July was from share options.

Stripping out the €521m it made from revaluing its 31 per cent stake in Volkswagen, which it controls, and €702m from its share of VW's profits, it made at most just €1.05bn from its "core" carmaking business.

"It does look like a hedge fund," said Stephen Cheetham, an analyst at Sanford Bernstein.

Another London-based analyst said: "It is a hedge fund investing in just one stock."


On Monday, Porsche's full-year results show how far it has travelled from its position as a maker of high-priced, luxurious sports cars. It made about €3bn in options trading in the second half alone, analysts calculate.

It also made no comment on how the credit crisis, which largely developed after July and the end of Porsche's business year, had affected it or its derivatives trading.

"As an investor you are flying blind at the moment," Mr Cheetham said. "My problem is risk management. As appetite for risk declines generally then investors will be less willing to tolerate such [trading]."

The markets gave their own verdict on this state of affairs with shares that had traded as high as €1,865 each in October now sit at €1,227. In fairness looking at the long-term position, a capital gain of 25.15% was achieved over the past 12 months and 222.76% over the past five years, heady stuff indeed.

One thing’s for sure even the Cincinnati Kid would struggle to beat these guys at poker, this performance is the financial equivalent of a 1969 era 917 flat out down the Mulsanne Straight, high wire work without a net, don’t be around if it goes wrong.

A proper perspective on the relative position of Porsche in the sportscar scene is that Ferrari, arguably the other great sportscar brand, is 85% owned by Fiat, while it is on the cards that Porsche will soon assume overall ownership of the VW Audi Group – a company that builds around 100,000 cars per annum is acquiring a group that builds 6,000,000! In the process they will own Bentley, Bugatti and Lamborghini...............

Big Yellow Taxi

Ah yes, cars, cars.

Which brings us to the real point of this fabulous machine, driving the bugger.

Morse and I had a fair amount of ground to cover during his short time in the UK and thus it was an early call at his Bentley residence.  This entailed as part of the route a run along the notorious A31 or The Hog’s Back. Perhaps at 6.30am on a freezing December morning there are better places to get to grips with 310bhp and the alleged idiosyncrasies, particularly in view of the kamikaze antics of the other denizens of the road.

Sheet ice is a common condition on this exposed route during the winter months and I was taking a cconservative approach at around 40 mph while being passed at what seemed twice that level by every man and his dog. Of course it came as little surprise that along the route I passed at least 3 cars that were upside down in the hedges either side of the road with their unfortunate drivers pulling themselves unsteadily out of the undergrowth, having survived the crash landing; a little ice goes a long way.

After picking up my passenger (who was almost on time) we negotiated the morning rush hours on the M25/M40. Feeling a little conspicuous in the bright yellow machine, we stuck to the speed limits, about the only car that did despite the suffocating presence of radar, cameras and god knows what other surveillance devices. One thing that soon became clear while driving the 997 is that the Porsche badge brings out the worst in a sub-species of A6 and 5 Series’ drivers who seemed determined to behave badly at every opportunity; let ‘em go says I.

But that aside the car was great to drive, years of refinement and attention to detail means that everything falls to hand naturally even for those not familiar with it, Teutonic efficiency. The transmission was precise and seamless, quite unlike the last 911 I had driven which required steel toe capped boots to work the clutch and a third gear that seemed to have a different location each time it was to be engaged.

Heavy traffic was just as easy in the Banana as my regular 740. As I got familiar with the cockpit I found a button marked “Sport” which I prodded…….the engine did feel more responsive, at least aurally; traffic, weather conditions and a severe lack of ability precluded me from really pressing on and seeing the difference that lighting the blue touch paper could make.

On arrival at the circuit and feeling famished we headed to Donington’s Paddock Café which provided a unique dining experience, at least we both hoped so, and then it was time for Morse to go to work. The general test day meant just that with a weird assortment taking to the track together, the Rollcentre Pescarolo LMP1 out with Club Racing Clios, Formula Renaults and of course “our” MP4/3.

Conditions were bright but still freezing, so tyre temperatures were marginal and it was no surprise that red flag periods were frequent as some less experienced but brave drivers found “the limit”. During one of these interludes a familiar howl came from the pit box next door, a DFV being warmed up ready to power an earlier F1 model from McLaren, an M23 in the familiar Marlboro livery………it was, as I said, a cosmopolitan scene in the pitlane.

Over the Hills and Far Away
Inspections completed it was time to head back to the delights of Hampshire. Next day we headed over to the workshops where the MP4/3 lives to finalise paperwork and other matters. As Morse was present something strange would have to happen and suddenly I found myself as the under-powered element of a three-car convoy. The other ingredients of the train were a “normal” road going McLaren F1 and the ex Ray Bellm 1996 F1 GTR, still in Gulf Oil colours and now street legal. We made a exotic sight on the A3 as we headed the 20 odd miles to a storage facility, of course one A6 driver had to get involved but aside from that idiot we were given a wide berth by the dazed spectators. SCP will carry more on that journey later as the passenger in #12R was our own Lizett.

As with all good things there must come an end, Liz and Morse headed for the seventh circle of hell known as Heathrow bound for LAX and I had another wagon appear at the gaff to retrieve the Banana. Would I buy one with my own money, simply put, yes. It is a supercar that you can use every day and with forty years’ development by arguably the best automotive engineering talent on the planet there is little wrong with it, a cliché perhaps but no less true for all that. Hell even I looked as if I belonged to the club………on my last trip before handing the keys back I passed a bright orange GT3 RS going the other way, the driver lifted his finger in salute, I was no longer travelling hopefully, I had arrived.

John Brooks, January 2008