Agri engineers hear about Porsche history and other automotive developments

LEFT: Having a discussion around a Toyota hybrid battery at McMillan Specialist Cars

NORTHERN Ireland Branch of the Institution of Agricultural Engineers members and guests recently enjoyed a visit to McMillan Specialist Cars in Antrim to hear George McMillan provide a detailed commentary on both the history of the prestige Porsche brand and on some of the latest technical developments in the changing world of the automotive industry.

McMillan Specialist Cars provides detailed servicing, diagnostics and modifications for Porsche cars of all ages as well as other brands used in road or motor sport applications.

right: Harry Barr, George McMillan and Peter Frost at McMillan Specialist Cars

Mr McMillan’s own career, as an automotive technician, began 40 years ago with the Porsche main dealership in Belfast before moving on to use his specialist knowledge and skills within his own present company. He also spends part of his time providing specialist technical advice and staff training for Toyota UK. This working contact with hybrid and other emerging technologies includes travel to other countries for road testing and preparation of dealership service direction material.

The first Porsche engineering venture dates back to the late 1800s but the name is best known for the successful sports/racing cars from the 1940s onwards, under the direction of Dr Ferdinand Porsche. Major successes included the Le Mans 24-hour races, in direct competition with Ferrari. This was the inspiration for the popular 1971 film of the same name starring Steve McQueen.

Dr Porsche is also famous for his design of the original VW Beetle. The first low-profile Porsche sports car shared many of its styling and mechanical features, including the air-cooled flat four rear mounted engine. Many of these features are still recognisable within the evolved distinctive iconic silhouette profiles of today’s Porsche models.

The early motor sport successes with cars like the 906 progressed to models like the racing 917. Popular demand for a sporting, but comfortable, road cars led to the production of both open top and enclosed designs.

There have been many model numbers since but the rear engined 911 (first introduced in 1966 with its 110hp 2 litre flat 6) is still one of the best known. The eighth generation 911 Carrera versions have tiptronic gear shift and three litre six cylinder engines with powers up to 450hp. There are 2+2 coupes, open top and light weight versions in both two and four-wheel drive. More information on the current ranges of Porsche vehicles can be viewed at

Individual Porsche family members were closely involved in the day-to-day running of their company and one of them was Ferdinand Piech (grandson of Ferdinand Porsche and a brilliant innovative engineer) who had joined Porsche in 1963.

Around 1972 the Porsche family decided to take a step back from the detailed technical management work in the company. But Ferdinand Piech, as a single-minded innovator inclined to take ambitious design risks (such as building the W12 engine), did not agree with this policy and left the company in 1972 to join Audi. The successful Audi Quattro 4wd rally car was introduced in 1977 and other innovation within the VAG (VW Audi Group) from 1993 under his management included the new Beetle in 1998, the Bugatti Veyron, the development of common platform designs shared across the Seat and Skoda brands and the acquisition of the prestige sports car brands of Lamborghini, Bentley and Bugatti.

Ferdinand Piech continued his management of the VAG and has been recognised as one of the great influential figures in the automotive industry even if his strongly focused engineering style may also have been described by others as single-minded.

Since Dr Piech’s death during 2019 (aged 82) Porsche, as now part-owned by VAG, has continued as a prestige manufacturer of both sports car and SUV ranges. Older models have a long service life and are very popular collectors’ items. Institute of Agri Engineers members enjoyed seeing the many examples at the McMillan premises where customers bring their cars, of all ages, for specialist care and servicing.

Mr McMillan’s involvement with Toyota led to a technical discussion around the influence of national environmental protection policies and the role of manufacturers in developing lower-emission vehicles. The introduction of the Toyota Prius hybrid in 2000 was a significant development. More than four million have been sold worldwide and most of the Toyota range of cars/SUVs are now available as petrol/electric hybrid versions. Battery power is used at lower speeds with the petrol engine driven generator coming in automatically to add power for acceleration and faster travel speeds. The system recaptures electrical energy during deceleration. Plug-in versions are also available using mains power to charge the battery for increased electric-drive range. The main battery needs to be ventilated and kept cool to maintain its efficiency.

Hybrid batteries now have a long guaranteed service life and members were able to have a close-up look around the layout of one example taken from a flood damaged vehicle. Hybrid technology vehicles, and some totally electric versions, are also now available from other manufacturers.

Electric cars are expected to become more popular for customers with at-home charging facilities and limited daily travel range requirements. Extended-range electric driving requires a sufficient network of remote public charging stations which would need to expand further if electric car numbers increase significantly.

The Toyota Marai, the first mass-produced hydrogen powered car, is now available in the UK. It is based on the hybrid drive train but with a fuel cell stack instead of the usual petrol-engine driven generator. Acting like a battery in reverse, it combines hydrogen gas with air to produce electricity and is zero emission as its only exhaust gas is water vapour.

The vehicle’s own pressurised storage tanks are quickly refuelled from a specialised facility and provide a travel range comparable to petrol or diesel power. The heavy duty storage tanks and fittings are of high density carbon fibre construction and the underside of the vehicle is designed to quickly disperse any gas leakage to atmosphere. If the car is involved in a collision, the hydrogen supply shuts off automatically.

Some Marai cars are already in use on UK roads and it was interesting to note that the highest density of hydrogen powered vehicles within the UK is in the Aberdeen area. It has access to a ready supply of electrical power, from renewal sources, to power the electrolysis process used to generate hydrogen gas from water. If hydrogen vehicles become more common a national network of specialist supply stations will be required. More information can be viewed at

The wide ranging and well informed presentation about the automotive design and service sector generated a lot of discussion around the topics, some of which were:

n The race history of specific Porsche cars;

n Viewing of actual Porsche vehicles;

n The case for, and against, more fully electric vehicles.

n Differences in technical perspective from design, service and sales personnel;

n The features of older, manually designed castings, compared to those arising from the computer aided design versions used in recent vehicle production;

n The current popularity, and future, of diesel powered vehicles from European manufacturers;

n The detail of providing service, and restoration, for older classic cars.

Mr McMillan was formally thanked for his most informative, enjoyable and clear presentation. n More information can be viewed about the services provided by his company


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