I’ve known Patrick for 20 years, the two of us wandering far and wide since we met in the middle school lunch room. He’s the rare person who’s easy to be friends with, unfazed by the months that may slip between our meetings. These days, by some twist of the universe, we find ourselves living in the same small Virginia town where we grew up. The town of our fathers.
It started with a call.
“The Porsche’s doing that thing again.”
Patrick’s dad, John, has owned a perfect 1983 Porsche 911 SC since the early ’90s. I don’t mean to imply the car is flawless. It has been used and driven not as some investment property, but as a thing of joy. It leaks. It has some rust. The leather is gone and the interior is heavy with the dark perfume unique to old cars with failed weather stripping. It has never cowered from a thunderstorm. It has never known a climate-controlled garage, preferring to sleep in the barn with the owls and the tractor.
Like I said, perfect.
I have wanted it for as long as I’ve known it. Porsche built nearly 200,000 of its G-Series 911 models between 1974 and 1989, making it one of the most numerous variants in the company’s history, second only to the 997. But here, in the shadow of the Blue Ridge, the car was far from common. It was the rolling definition of exotic in our world of hammered old F-150s and work-a-day Accords. Even now, it’s beautiful. John had the car re-sprayed a few years ago, and the Ruby Red Metallic paint is deep enough to swim in. Deep enough to imagine yourself in.
Lately, the car’s been giving John fits, sometimes starting and running as flawlessly as ever, other times, not, usually far from home. The day Patrick called, it sat belligerent at John’s office. Knowing I’ll put a wrench to anything, Patrick asked if I had any ideas.
That’s how we wound up ripping the door off the car.
I started with the basics: battery voltage, fuses, the variety of solenoids and switches required to coax an old engine to life. None of it worked. And worse, dark, heavy clouds began crowding our horizon. Spring’s a funny time in the mountains. The county pulses with green life, tiny leaves vivid against the dull browns of fading winter. Everything is fed by near-daily thunderstorms, booming things that work their way up and down the ridges. The radar wasn’t kind. We were in for a drenching.
The car’s low, and the starter is positioned so deep within the engine bay that I couldn’t reach it without a jack. We needed to get to a garage.
Patrick said a roll start would usually get the 911 running. Since it began acting up, John’s been no stranger to pushing his Porsche. That’s how he wound up snapping the driver-side door stay a few weeks back. He was pushing the car into its spot in the barn when the door grabbed a post. There was no real damage aside from that $20 stay and the fact that the door could swing out into the fender.
We hadn’t pushed the car far when Patrick let out a string of quiet, concise curses to accompany the crumpling-Coke-can sound of tortured German metal. He was on the driver’s side. He’d let go of the door for a moment, and it had done what it was made to do: swing on those perfect German hinges. And, without that stay in place, it had opened wide enough to snag on a utility pole. At our lazy trot, the momentum was enough to spring the door and crumple the skin. By some miracle, it hadn’t caught the front fender, but its new shape would interfere with the rest of the bodywork if we tried to shut it. The only logical thing to do was remove the door, then attempt a second roll start.
The door came off easily enough, but it took some time to decipher where we could disconnect the wiring harness. There we sat in the parking lot, with the driver’s door of John’s Porsche in Patrick’s lap and me buried to my elbows in the car’s innards. All of this, of course, occurred in clear view of John’s waiting room. He’s a local physician, and in a town where everyone knows everyone else’s favorite pair of socks, the 911 is no stranger.
A nurse opened the waiting room window, and stuck her head out.
“What have you boys done?”
This all felt familiar. That deep gut drop. The ever-expanding sense of exacerbation. We found ourselves living every sad ’80s movie trope, walking in the well-worn paths blazed by characters like Cameron Frye. Maybe Joel from “Risky Business,” but without the feel-good ending. When it comes to the Porsche of your friend’s father, you are always 17 years old, trying to get away with something, and making it worse.
John showed up, and to his credit, he was unfazed by seeing his Porsche in measurably worse shape than when he left it. Maybe he heard the commotion from the waiting room and had time to collect himself before coming outside. Or, maybe like his son, he’s just a better man than I. With his help, we managed to disconnect the door, tucked it in my truck, and set about roll starting the car in earnest. Except, it wouldn’t start. Instead, it sat there blaring its horn. The switch for the alarm is in the driver’s door, and with it resting comfortably 100 yards away, the Porsche was convinced someone was trying to steal it.
With the sky continuing to darken, John called a wrecker, who deftly loaded the 911 SC onto a rollback and tucked it into my father’s accommodating garage before the first fat rain drops fell. Say thanks for small mercies.
After the 911 was unloaded, the tow-truck driver leaned forward conspiratorially.
“This doctor John’s car?”
In a week, I’d have the 911 running again. The starter terminals were corroded, and correcting the problem was as simple as some time with a brass brush and a bit of cleaner. There’s a sweetness to a simple victory after a long and frustrating stack of defeats, and hearing that old flat six stutter to life was all I needed out of the world at that moment. The soft symphony of internal combustion.
The door will take longer. My father and I were able to straighten it enough to get it remounted and shutting properly, but until John can get it professionally repaired, the wrinkled skin will stay a vivid reminder of how bad it hurts to violate the first rule of mechanic work. It’s one I’d guess John knows pretty well himself: primum non nocere — first, do no harm.