The one thing that’s missing from new 911s

John Boggiano bemoans the death of the spare wheel

If you’ve recently bought yourself a brand new 911, you have my commiserations. Oh, of course you have my congratulations too; great car, astute choice, wonderful taste, all that sort of thing. But, sad to say, commiserations are certainly due to you also.

There’s something missing, you see. Your shiny new toy really ought to come with an important little feature whose omission, mark my words, you will one day curse.  It’s an item that used to be considered essential but is nowadays all too often absent.  Yet that’s not because progress and the march of development has rendered it redundant. Far from it; it’s just as important today as ever it was. It’s just that we have become accustomed to going without it – that is until one cold, wet, miserable night when you will really, really miss it. It’s not a very glamorous accessory, in fact it’s really quite cheap, but it weighs a bit and takes up a chunk of space, so it’s been sacrificed in the name of ‘efficiency’. Yes, it’s our old friend the spare wheel.

How poorly that wholesome accessory, a force only for good, has been treated over the last few years. First reduced to a shadow of its true self in the form of a ‘spacesaver’. Then humiliated further by being carried around collapsed and deflated. Next relegated to the options list, making its proponents feel like evolutionary throwbacks asking for a starting handle. Finally suffering the ignominy of deletion from even that extensive sales document, ‘replaced’ by a squashy bottle of gunk and a noisy electric compressor with the output of a hairdryer.

Don’t punctures happen these days? Well yes, they certainly do. A friend of mine has suffered five over the last three years, and she doesn’t live on a building site or date deranged darts players. I’ve had a couple in the same period myself. Punctures, I mean. And don’t sit there smugly basking in the belief that they don’t seem to happen to you, or you know what you’ll find when you step outside right now to check your tyres…

Now I’m all for reducing weight and maximising space – no, really I am, but this is a step too far and it’s just not necessary. For one thing, accommodated appropriately within the car’s structure, a spare wheel needn’t actually take up much space at all. For example, in a 964, the spare (with its tyre deflated, I’ll grant you) is bolted facedown to the boot floor. This means that within its circular embrace can sit all sorts of other stuff – toolkit (ask someone over 30…), the compressor, a first-aid kit, your Porsche baseball cap and all sorts of other useful and less-useful stuff that tends to get carted around by most people. The true space penalty of the wheel itself is really very small.

Reputedly, the 964’s spare was also put to good, solid use as part of the front-end crash protection. Personally I find this hard to go along with – after all, when bolted to the floor like that it would surely tend to do a reasonable job of transmitting any frontal impacts straight to the front bulkhead, completely bypassing the crumple zone and circumventing the engineers’ best efforts to avoid you ending up with a lamp-post between your knees. And if it does contribute something positive, what happens when it’s in use; are you meant to accept an increased risk? But I digress; the point is a spare wheel needn’t take up a lot of space if it’s done properly.

However, while we are musing that salient thought, let’s go further. When it comes to spare wheels, like car keys, windscreen wipers and all sorts of other stuff, in this day and age we really should have moved on from the need for them at all. A bit of lateral thinking is all that’s needed here. After all, why are we still running around (sorry, rolling around) on pneumatic tyres anyway? First used in (consults Wikipedia) 1887, surely it’s time to move on.

Now I fully accept they have numerous benefits – easy regulation of firmness through pressure adjustment, contribution to the ride-quality and er… well let’s just say there are many – but it’s time to move on. Modern suspension design and engineering is, surely it is, more than up to the task of coping with a tyre that’s not using air as a support medium. We could go to soilds, gels, aerated foams – whatever takes our fancy. Then there are ideas like Michelin’s Tweel – take a look on the net if you’ve never heard of it – although that’s perhaps overdoing it somewhat.

The point is that there’s a yawning chasm in modern vehicle engineering here that’s crying out for somebody to fill it. Then we’d be able to do away with even the silly squirty stuff (apparently using that means you can’t subsequently get a puncture repaired anyway, so you’ve just wrecked your tyre) and all the worry and uncertainty that goes with a long drive without a spare wheel. Everybody wins! Except KwikFit, obviously.

And speaking of tyre-repair, and without alluding to any specific companies this time, have you ever taken a punctured tyre to one of those places in the realistic expectation that it can actually be repaired? It just doesn’t happen – you’ve got a high-performance car, your life depends on your tyres not going bang and your well-being on them not going hiss. Besides, the nail’s always in the sidewall or the tyre’s too worn to justify repairing, which normally means you’re going to have to replace its companion too. See? Pneumatic tyres are trouble. Expensive trouble. Let’s get rid of them.

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