The internet has transformed how we go about shopping for many things but one of the last retail experiences to resist this wind of change has been buying a car. Not any more. We are now being encouraged to purchase our next daily driver without leaving our armchairs or even picking up a phone to speak to someone. Just select the model you want and choose a colour. Press “Buy Now” and wait for it to be delivered to your door. We seem to be rapidly getting used to the instant gratification that Jeff Bezos and his friends seek to provide. But are we losing something with the “have it delivered tomorrow” consumer experience?
This was brought home to me recently when I was lucky enough to spend an afternoon with Rob Mackie, who related to me the story of buying one of the first Porsche 911s delivered to the UK. Not just any 911 mind, but a Sports Purpose car in which he was destined to compete at the 1967 Targa Florio. At the time Rob, then 26 years old, worked for Dan Margulies, the famous Knightsbridge vintage car dealer. Dan was a keen amateur racer and Rob, with several years of European rallying experience under his belt, was his hot-shoe co-driver.
In 1966 Dan bought a race-worn Ferrari 250 GTO from an Italian with the intention of running it at the Targa Florio. Rob raced it for him at a couple of UK events that year but struggled with the driving position which didn’t suit his six-foot frame. Despite its performance he was not looking forward to the prospect of several hours at the helm of the big Ferrari on something as physically demanding as the Sicilian course. Fate intervened when a North London accountant made a handsome offer for the GTO, and Rob was somewhat relieved when Dan decided to look for something more suited to the Madonie.
Dan had previously bought and sold a few Porsche 356s but had no experience of the “new six cylinder car” as the 911 was then referred to. Rob doesn’t remember anyone racing a 911 in the UK until the following year when Vic Elford famously won the Brands Hatch rally cross in a showroom demonstrator live on TV. He thinks Dan got the idea from a Swiss rally driver that he knew and a meeting was arranged to test drive a 911S at AFN, the UK importer, at their premises in Isleworth. They were each allowed to drive the car but only under the strict supervision of the sales manager. Rob tried to get some impression of what it would be like to race, only to be hastily told off by his nervous passenger. A request to test the car at Silverstone was rejected out of hand by AFN’s proprietor, John Aldington, however, the drive through suburban London was enough to convince Rob that the 911 would go really well on the twisty Targa course.
The 911 must have created quite an impression because Dan placed an order for a Bahama Yellow 911S that day, however that still left the question of how best to specify the car and set it up for racing. It was apparent that AFN had no idea what was available from Porsche or indeed what was legal under the racing regulations. Perhaps this was understandable as Porsche had yet to advise their dealers of the racing potential of what would become the most successful car in motorsport. So a few weeks later Dan put Rob on a plane to Stuttgart to make enquiries directly at the factory.
Rob recalls arriving from the airport by taxi during the afternoon at the new car delivery department opposite the main factory gates. He hadn’t been told who to see but the receptionist summoned the head of department, Gunnar Rohgert, to welcome him. After a cordial chat over a cup of coffee he told Rob that they’d booked him into a local B&B. It was on Rohgert’s way home so he dropped Rob off and picked him up again on his way to work the following morning. It was an early start as all Porsche employees began the working day at the same time 7:12am – so chosen because the clock on the day the factory opened had been 12 minutes late.