If you own a Porsche, tyres are rather more than just an MoT consideration. However, tyre replacement is usually a gloomy prospect for any motorist, since there is more to tyre fitting than simply taking the old ones off the rims and fitting new rubber – and the process can be even more intricate on your cherished 911.
Firstly, will the fitters know where your 911’s correct jacking points are? More importantly, do they even know how to remove your wheels from the car? It may be obvious to the 911 fanatic, but the young apprentice at your local chain garage wouldn’t know where to start with a centre locking wheel.
Then there’s the potentially brutal business of parting tyre and rim, not to mention the thought of what will happen to your Porsche’s finely engineered alloy wheel nuts because the fitter probably hasn’t reset the torque of his airgun.
Then there’s the matter of the geometry settings: dare you trust them with your suspension as well? Why hasn’t tyre fitting moved out of the dark ages? Well, there is hope. We recently visited Blackboots, run by Jason and Gavin Saunders, whose operation gives the feeling that this is the future.
Jason manages a team of six and knows what owners expect when it comes to great cars and new tyres. He began at Autofarm over 20 years ago when the company was based in Tring, running a Saab and Suzuki dealership.
“I’ve always been in the motor trade,” says Jason, who as an apprentice panel beater has happy memories of putting Turbo arches on 911s. Then Autofarm went bust and he joined his family’s firm, which fitted tyres and exhausts, a business which grew until it had four branches.
But with outlets as far apart as Milton Keynes and Crawley, Jason found he was spending an inordinate amount of time travelling between branches managing personnel.
He says: “Eventually, we sold the business. I had the idea of running a tyre replacement service I could control more closely and offer a more personal service, and also one which didn’t frighten off lady owners!”
Blackboots opened in 2008 in new premises just off Chesham High Street. Jason recognised that his target demographic would expect not just better service, but a more sophisticated operation.
Blackboots thus invested in state-of-the-art fitting equipment, as owners are rightly concerned that tyre levers wielded unsympathetically can damage alloy rims, and with tyre sizes becoming wider, separating tyre and rim manually is increasingly difficult.
Jason has also been careful to create a much more ‘club class’ environment. This approach has paid off and his clientele extends to a number of Ferrari and Porsche owners, for who he readily finds space to garage their trackday rubber.
When Porsche introduced centre-lock wheels in 2010, Blackboots saw an opportunity, as other than OPCs, no one else could undo the big centre nuts – a more complex procedure than five-stud removals.
The company invested in the necessary tools and advertised its expertise. This has led to a number of new clients, who correspond well with the personal attention Jason likes to give.
Backing this up is considerable investment in geometry equipment, as on performance cars in particular the benefits of new rubber are lost if the suspension settings are out. Jason’s greatest asset here is partner Tony Bones, who writes for the Wheels In Motion internet forum, and for who the whole question of geometry isn’t just a profession; it’s a calling.
“There’s more nonsense talked about wheel alignment than almost any other subject,” he begins. “Firstly, it’s not alignment; it’s a full geometry check, and you have to get it right because it affects tyre contact with the road.
“The industry itself is partly to blame, because when training fitters, too much emphasis is put on getting the readings to fall within the manufacturers’ tolerances; there’s excessive focus on getting ‘green’ readings on the screen when fitters should be concentrating on getting zero tolerances.
“Experience shows that the manufacturers’ suggested readings are often at variance with what we need in the UK with our heavily cambered roads, and we often have to interpret their figures in the light of how the car is being used – driver only or fully laden, for example. That said, I find Porsche’s suggested parameters pretty accurate.”
Blackboots is an impressive operation, with the sort of expertise and intimacy that has immediate appeal to enthusiastic owners. Already repairing alloy wheels, Jason is considering adding performance exhausts to his repertoire, having sold them in the past.
For now though, we believe he has a winning business formula, and congratulate Blackboots for showing how a tyre and geometry service should be run in the 21st Century.
|Chesham, Buckinghamshire, UK
|Most commonly fitted 911?
|Porsche 997 GT3
|Rarest/most unusual 911?
|Most expensive tyre?
|Ferrari Enzo – £450 per corner
|Most unusual fact?
|Blackboots is the only stockist in the UK for the Lamborghini Countach, which takes 335/35/15 – the widest 15-inch tyres outside F1.