seth ruden

In Portland, Oregon, there is a small Facebook group that has some rather interesting affiliations with this magazine. A few features and editors originate from there, perhaps it’s something in the water.
Derek’s 931, Jarrett’s 944S, Stefan’s 951S, Author’s 968 in Portlandia
Jarrett is a member of this informal crew, one of the young ones, who has more of the true enthusiast vibe. This energy is only satiated by a thirst for knowledge.  That’s what’s so compelling about his story, which is typical of many of us at this point in our lives. First car he bought with his first real money, then he went down some naïve paths on the way, before discovering the beauty in the interplay of the machine.  You get a firm grasp of his years when you read his initiation into gearheadedness.

"I began to notice that when my friends with 240SXs, RX7s and Supras matted the gas mid corner, they'd get "driftoid-impress your friends" oversteer. This was part of my rational for seeking out only cars with rear wheel drive. However, I found that when I would try to induce oversteer, I'd hear the howl of 16 valves through a Flowmaster 50, feel a whole lot of g-forces, and emerge out of said corner with SPEED."

Now, all well and good to hoon out now and again,  but this is also a cautionary tale… both in the mechanical sense and to your safety. Jarrett knew what he had, and he knew that it was a sharp knife. He knew it had the potential to make him miserable if things weren’t set right. Not only did he take on a 944S with 16 valves with poor maintenance history as his first car, it was really the first car he worked on. The 16 valve head is a bit complicated and under-engineered when it first arrived. It has two bolts on one flange, where the later models used three, and sits on two flanges. There have been more than a few instances of this flange shearing off, or the chain tensioner mounting bolts pulling their threads. Cams sometimes break or the gears wear down, then you get to the little hand grenade in the middle, the tensioner pad. A non-wear item that wears and sends it’s dirty, dirty shrapnel all over the place. This was the first place Jarrett needed to inspect on his car, and he knew it. Of course, not all was right in the kingdom of timing world. 
lots of warning here… this little guy doesn’t look like a bomb, but it will explode. (image care of Pelican Forums)
Jarrett dodged a bullet, classic worn pads with tall ridges, and fasteners in precarious positions, his first use of an easy-out. The millennial had done a Neo. From there, time to prevent the milkshake… horrific oil/coolant froth that usually comes from our special internal oil cooler setup. It takes a bit of effort for the guys who’ve done this a few dozen times. If you don’t get this to go in clean, all hell breaks loose and you’re rod bearings are drinking malt. There is fooling around with an oil pressure relief valve which can be very treacherous (special tools here, guys… early and late models as well), and the way to assemble it all requires that you have the element (or pipe for turbo) absolutely seated in the correct mating surface (with new Viton seals every time) before getting this thing together. The housings can crack if you get it wrong, you can crush the cooler element, this is precision work.  After the job was considered complete, Jarrett has a suspicion that perhaps it wasn’t as clean as it could have been… so it came apart. To this:
Right, Neo… huh? Well, once the car is sound, he wants to do the whole flying thing. He studies up, watches every video Van has on youtube. and took his appreciation of speed and turned it into a thirst for understanding the engineering. Zero to 11 in like a week, in true form. 

"I was aware that I was working with a rear transaxle platform, but had no clue that the rear end of my car sat on torsion bars. I shit you not, when I first got the car I was confused as to why I didn't see coil springs somewhere around the rear end. Basically this all chalked up to what water-cooled vets call the "polar moment". You may remember this term from high school physics - it basically is a measure of an objects ability to resist torsion due to some form of torque. What does this have to do with the handling of a 944? Well, the aforementioned torsion bar rear end is laid out in such a way that it will squat under hard acceleration, which causes an increase in negative camber and is tied together by a low roll center. It should also be said that without a spring, perches and associated hardware, unsprung weight is kept to a minimum, which is very good. This all adds up to this fantastic feeling of the rear end "hunkering down" when on the accelerator through a corner. Now that I've been doing this a while, I can say that I've never really driven another car that mimics such confidence inspiring handling characteristics."

Armed with a Millennia’s sense that the internets vast dump of knowledge flattens the key ingredient, Jarrettdiscovers Colin Chapmans key ingredient to very cheap speed… just add lightness. It becomes obsession. He dumps his stereo, chucks cruise control, basically anything that stands in the way is fair game. Clubsport wheels, perhaps the lightest stock 944 option, go on and tire sizing and offset are analyzed to the smallest detail.  But then he decides to go big:
"This new found knowledge was reason enough for me to go through and refresh the 28 year old suspension with some harder/better/faster kit. "
"Of course when one modifies their spring rates and dampener valving to be more aggressive, the threshold at which you brake loose is pushed out much further but is also more dangerous to reach/exceed. Despite that, when behind the wheel of my 944S, the beloved polar moment is only accentuated all while the rear end behaves perfectly. I ended up going with the peoples choice for dampening; the single adjustable Koni sport. I didn't want to have too harsh of a ride, but the stock spring rates had to go. They were replaced by 225lb front springs with 27mm torsion bars bringing up the rear."

"I also added the ability to play with ride height at all four corners, such that I can mess with roll centers and my center of gravity for the flattest cornering possible. Suspension upgrades are nothing without an alignment to tie them all together. Once again, popular choice yielded a mildly aggressive negative one to two degrees camber, maxed out caster up front and rear toe that allowed the rear to settle and zero out at speed. I chose to be slightly more aggressive with front camber to accommodate the whacky camber curve of the McPherson front end and slightly less aggressive in the rear to accommodate my square tire combo." [Whats funny is that tomorrow, my own transaxle streetcar is getting an alignment/balance, I’m targeting his spec closely]

"Turn in is snappy, the rear end behaves, the car stays flat. I'm in love."

Youth is grand… so much energy, time and capacity to do whatever you want… But the hooning. I think most of us have seen this firsthand, if you read this far. Eventually, you wreck your first one. Apparently he was in the West Hills of Portland, enjoying his excellent alignment, new rubber, manual rack, superlightweight setup when he finally got grazed by the bullet. Going wide on the road and entering a ditch before going upside down, that’s a pretty damn big lesson. Still, he walked away. I saw him the following afternoon, he was relaxed and showed no evidence of any injury, crediting the car with absorbing all the impact… with a tremendous bend in the frame.
So, where does this all leave us? The car is being parted, a large bill for cleanup, and a broken heart over the loss of his first sled. The resilience is there though… he’s off to technical school in the Fall (driving a Civic), following up on his interest in engineering and automotive technology. He still has a 104mm block and 968 16 valve head in the garage, for a high compression build in the not so distant future.  Its good to see that the Millenials can use the transaxle platform as a tool that takes them places, like it did for the first generations who could afford these cars. You know the kids are going to be alright when you know a Jarrett.


07/10/2015 7:43pm

Meeting Jarrett was great. He's a fantastic enthusiast. Such an unfortunate incident, but a large lesson to be learned. Great article, Seth.


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