Thursday, April 9, 2015

Rally 4 Kids – The 911 Owners’ Club

Amil Garcia with his 2003 911 GT2, David Green with his 2005 911 GT3, Ginni Dreier with her 
2014 911 Carrera S convertible, and Jack Bianchi with his 2012 911 Carrera S

911 Owners Club - PDFThe second annual United Boys & Girls Clubs of Santa Barbara County Rally 4 Kids is just a month away, and everyone involved is getting revved up. Most of the driving spots are filled, and there is a great range of cars committed already.

Looking at the list of drivers I noticed a strong contingent of Porsche enthusiasts, particularly those driving modern, water-cooled 911s. This definitely caught my eye, since I happen to be an owner myself. So I tracked down these drivers and put together a meeting of a sort of mini 911 owners’ club.

First, a bit of background. The Porsche 911 succeeded the 356 as Porsche’s flagship sports car in 1964. While the brand came close to replacing the vaunted nameplate, the 911’s survival puts it among the oldest continuously produced models in the industry, along with vehicles such as the Toyota Land Cruiser and Ford Mustang (the Chevy Corvette skipped 1983). 

When parsing the history of the 911, car aficionados split the time into two eras, comprising the early air-cooled cars, which used similar engine technology to that of the original Volkswagen Beetle from which the first Porsche cars initially evolved; and the “modern” 911s which switched to a more contemporary liquid cooling system that is common to nearly every other car on the road. These are called “water-cooled,” as the coolant that you put in your car is mostly water, with additives that help it survive the wide range of temperatures an engine goes through. 

Once upon a time, there were Porsche “purists” who decried these more recent cars as not real Porsches (there are certainly still a few of these around). But along with the engine, the company re-engineered the entire car, giving it a sophisticated chassis that has formed the basis of what is still one of the most respected sports cars in the industry. 

But enough of the wonky details. Let me introduce four of the drivers who will be driving the roughly 200- mile winding, circuitous route from the offices of software company QAD in Summerland to the Nesbitt estate, grabbing scavenger items and generally having a blast. 
 
Jack Bianchi is a Santa Barbara native who has been involved in the car mechanic business for years. He retired in ‘06, but still works on cars in his shop downtown. It’s a long, narrow space that houses memorabilia from his adventures all over autodom, including lots of racing. 

We all assembled at Jack’s shop, and I got a look at a couple of the Grand Prix cars he works on. While the shop is only one car wide, it’s not a major issue, since the race cars sit in the back and are rarely extricated from the space, especially since the process of starting them is so involved. Due to the delicate tolerances of these engines, it’s a process that literally takes hours. 
 
At the rally, Bianchi will be at the helm of a white 911 Carrera S. His car is a 2012 model, making it one of the first of the latest generation of 911s, bearing the designation 991. 

The Porsche shield (often incorrectly referred to as a crest) 
is a combination of the coats of arms of the city of Stuttgart 
and the Weimar state of Württemberg
Porsche owners, like devotees of many auto brands, particularly German luxury marques, tend to refer to their cars by these code designa- tions. The 991 was a relatively big change from its predecessor, the 997, whose code indicates that it shared a fair amount of componentry with the first water-cooled 911, the 996.

But Bianchi has owned 911s since well before the era of “modernity.” In fact, he owned just about every early model year from 1965 to ‘78, along with a host of Ferraris and even an Aston Martin DB4.

For his modern 911, though, he has the most effusive praise.

“So I get in [the 991], having driven some pretty nice cars in my life – I owned a lot of Ferraris,” Bianchi says. “I’ve never driven anything like it... It did everything you wanted it to do but make you a sandwich.”

He was shocked at how little you needed to brake for the corners, but also at how balanced it was. His wife has found it to be a great car for road trips to San Francisco. He was so impressed with his new 911 that he wrote a note directly to the manufacturer to compliment them for it. He also called up his friend David Green, also a 911 owner, to insist that he drive the latest incarnation. 

Green hails from the East Coast originally, but came to Santa Barbara – by way of Malibu – in 1991 when his kids were starting school. He has found success in land development, and his past also includes a strong Porsche ownership history. 

Aside from his 2005 911, he currently owns a ‘59 356A coupe, and his wife drives a Cayenne with a diesel engine – which my experience suggests is one of the best diesel motors available in the auto market today. They are continually awed by the Cayenne’s range of up to 700 miles on a single tank. In the past, Green had a ‘73 911E and a ‘65 356C that his wife owned. 

His first real intro to what a modern 911 could be was his back road experience with a friend’s car, a 996 GT3. This was a track-focused version of the first water-cooled generation. 

“It was one of the most visceral cars I’ve ever driven,” he remarks. “The last of the mechanical cars, there’s no electronics in it at all,” he adds, refer- ring to the lack of computerized driving aids like stability control that are ubiquitous throughout modern cars. 

Green was so taken with the car that he bought one himself.

“It has no insulation, no back seat,” he adds, also describing the stiffness of the suspension. “My sister-in-law describes it best as being ‘riding on a stone skipping across the water.’” It’s this black 2005 GT3 that Green will be driving in the Rally 4 Kids. Fortunately for his spine, though, it’s not his daily driver. That happens to be a GMC Yukon.

Amil Garcia is perhaps the most extreme Porsche enthusiast in the group. Having grown up in Guatemala, he moved here in 1988 and formed a successful IT consulting practice. With that success, he has been able to make his myriad automotive dreams come true. Counting Porsches alone, Garcia has owned 73 of the cars. Still, this is only around half of the 140 cars that he’s owned in his life. 
 
“I just get bored,” he says. “Right now, I have three Porsches.” He brought his 2006 GT2 to our meeting, which he’ll be driving May 9. Like Green’s car, it’s a 996, but the GT2 is an even more extreme track tool, with a turbo engine that assaults the road with nearly 500 hp. This car was actually created by Porsche to race in its namesake class, GT2. As such, it has no air-conditioning and is festooned with a huge carbon fiber wing on the rear.

Of the four 911 owners, Garcia is the only one who was among the field of 37 drivers at last year’s rally. He has great expectations for this year’s event, since he thought the organizers did a great job picking stops along the previous 180-mile route. 

“I had a great time, it was a lot of fun,” he says, and the roads and weather proved a perfect combination for the day. The one area he suggested could have been improved was the trip back from Lompoc at the end of the day, so he’ll likely enjoy the fact that this year’s route ends in the same place as the after-party, the Nesbitt estate.

Ginni Dreier heard how much fun he had, and it was an easy task to persuade her to join the trail this year. Her husband, who doesn’t have much interest in cars, wasn’t so hot on the idea, so she declined organizer Diana Starr Langley’s invitation to participate last year.

“I would get emails or texts from [Garcia] and a couple other people who were in the race going, ‘Why aren’t you here? Oh my God, this is so much fun, we’re having a ball!’ And so I just said, next year I’m doing it.”

She explained that her husband wouldn’t be riding along “unless he’s dead and I put him in there” Weekend at Bernie’s style. But Garcia graciously offered to lend her his navigator (as the passenger is designated for the rally) for this year’s run.

Dreier will be driving her 2014 Carrera S convertible in the event. Like Bianchi’s car it’s a 991, but those codes didn’t mean much to her prior to getting together with this group. She loves the way the car drives, but for expertise she relies heavily on Garcia, her friend of more than a decade. 

I asked Dreier if she considered herself an enthusiast, but she demurred, citing her lack of knowledge compared to the men sitting around her. This was where I insisted on disagreeing, however. My friends and family know me as an automotive expert, but it’s not necessarily what makes me an enthusiast. Just like most other “experts,” there will always be someone who knows more than I do about any particular topic. But an enthusiast is just that, someone who exhibits enthusiasm for a pursuit and who loves living new experiences.

Dreier’s excitement about the Rally 4 Kids, like the excitement of the rest of the drivers involved, certainly qualifies her. And by the end of our discussion, she confidently declared, “I’m an enthusiast.” But of course, that doesn’t diminish her desire to fit in among the car geeks. 

Gesturing toward Garcia she added, “I’ll have him give me a quick course on how to sound impressive.”

If you have a story about a special car or piece of car culture in the local area, email Randy at rlioz11@gmail.com. Or follow him on Instagram @rlioz.

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