This is the thirteenth in a series by Howard LaPlante on his early experiences with cars.
The 917 L was an amazing race car! However, it was soon found that at speed it was a handful; perhaps we should say it was extremely dangerous! The problem was that the long tail that been thought to give more stability at speed worked in just the opposite way, it gave lift instead of providing down force! Brian Redman reported that at speed the car was all over the road! However, with the usual Porsche engineering and patience the 917 Kurzheck (short tail) and the 917 Can-Am went on to become a major force in racing. The 917 became the mid engine race car that gave Porsche their first overall win at Le Mans. There were ultimately eleven variants of the 917 before it was legislated out of racing. I remember watching the 917 Can-Am car race at Elkhart Lake, it was a spectacle to see! Loud! Fast! Most impressive of any race car that I have ever seen!
Back to personal memories once again. The 914-6 was an all-time favorite. I once again had an opportunity to buy a car that was too good to pass up. The man in charge of Land Rover sales in the midwest approached me with an offer to trade his 1965 MGB and a lot of cash. I now owned a MGB, but not for long. Son decided that he wanted to trade his VW convertible for the MGB. This was in 1970. My son drove the car through high school and 4 years at the University of Minnesota. After graduating with an engineering degree and a job at Sperry Rand – Unisys he purchased a new VW Sirocco and put the MGB away. Over the years he has continued to lavish care on the car. It now sits proudly in his garage in Laguna Nigel, California. Looking like new!
Well, now I had a VW convertible. As the summer went on, I was quite intrigued by the new Audi line of cars that had just been introduced. I had driven the new Audi 100 and had been impressed. I remember being quite surprised when the hood was opened. Because of the arrangement of the front wheel drive, that is, the engine was forward of the front wheels and extended to the very front of the car, and then the biggest surprise of all, the radiator was alongside of the engine with a electric radiator fan. I had never seen anything like it! The dealership stressed the advantages of front wheel drive. Well yes, but I had been driving rear wheel drive cars all of my life. Did I need a front wheel drive car? The question was answered in late fall. Went down to the dealership right after a heavy snow and drove the Audi 100 once again. The salesman took me up hills covered with snow, it went up with no problem! It’s ability in the snow was very impressive! But the one thing that really convinced me was when he showed me how when coming from an unplowed street to a plowed street, you could pull right out and go! The front wheels were after all on the dry pavement!
Oh yes, one other thing, because of the front wheel drive and the hand brake on the rear wheels. Handbrake turns became very easy and fun! However, as much fun as it was to do handbrake turns, it did get me into trouble a few times! The first time was on a snowy cloverleaf as I started to merge onto the highway, the car did not want to turn! Well, no problem, just give the handbrake a bit of a tug! I did, and the car turned alright, and drove right over the yield sign! Later I had another almost identical experience, only this time it was a stop sign! Fortunately no police around either time! Having good bumpers (bumpers, remember those?) caused absolutely no damage to the car. Another time I was about to make a right turn on to a side street, the roads were snow packed and slippery. Pulled the handbrake, the car turned alright! Problem was that I did a 360 at least twice! Fortunately I missed the other cars and the trees on both sides of the road!
I traded the VW convertible and purchased a new Audi 100 LS two door sedan with the 4 cylinder 1.8 L engine that produced a whopping 79 HP. But, the car was light and the performance was very good. The Audi 100 went on to become, by 1971 the most commercially successful model ever in Audi history. Production of 500,000 cars. The 100 was a most satisfying family car! Many wonderful trips. The car was comfortable had a large trunk and was quite economical. It gave good service, - until on a trip to Florida. We encountered a very hard rain. Of course, with the front wheel drive it went straight down the road.Regardless of the water on the road. But then! Suddenly it seemed that the muffler had come off!
– To be continued.