Porsche 911 buyer's guide - Rusty and burned Porsche 911

Butzi Squared’s Porsche 911 buyer’s guide

Porsche 911 buyer’s guide

Okay, you made the decision. You need a classic Porsche 911 and you need it right now. Now comes the hard part: Pace yourself. Do not flip through the classifieds, but do look for advice from other Porsche owners, from internet forums or even from this small guide on how to become the proud owner of an early Porsche 911.

 

Heart choices

Porsche 911 buyer's guide - The Porsche 911 generations

The Porsche 911 has been produced since 1963. So if this was a complete buyer’s guide, there would be a whole range of models to cover: The 991, 997, 996, 993 and 964. But it is not a complete guide. These few words are not about the space-age Porsche 911s with their PCM, PPDK and laser adjusted POS steering, but about that early and rough first generation built between 1963 and 1989.

 

Let’s talk money first

For starters, you need to settle on a budget. Don’t be stingy. A cheap car can turn into a very expensive experience. Notorious B.I.G. was evidently not a Porsche owner. Had he been, he would have known, that mo’ money equals less problems. Not mo’.

So scrape together whatever you’ve saved, borrowed and stolen from your kids’ piggy bank, and take a long hard look at it. Because now you need to be realistic.

Do not, ever, spend all that money on the car itself. You need to expect the unexpected and put some aside for unforeseen repairs. Exactly how much of a reserve you need depends on the car in question. Obviously, if you buy a rusty bucket with a leaky engine, you need a bigger buffer, than if you’ve spent a small fortune on a car that recently went through a complete nuts and bolts restoration.

But here’s the kicker: No matter how much you put aside, you need to top that with an extra 5,000 EUR. Why? Because that’s the amount your original estimate of 1st year repair work will be off. Honestly.

Based on current prices on Mobile.de, you can still pick up a 911 at the 30,000 EUR mark. But it will be in dire need of repairs. Most likely the engine will at least be needing a top end renovation, and both gearbox and clutch probably need some TLC as well. But let’s be a bit optimistic here and put the repair costs for the first year at a bargain 10,000 EUR. Top that with another 5 grand, and you will need a minimum budget of 45,000 EUR to buy and actually drive an early 911 model in today’s market.

Still with me? Great, then it’s time to move on to the fun stuff: the cars themselves.

 

The old guard from 1963-1973

A 1964 Porsche 911 with its steel wheels, chrome and smooth lines.

 

These are the original and undiluted Porsches as they were conceived by Ferdinand ‘Butzi’ Porsche himself. They have no bulging arches or clumsy bumpers, but simply the clean lines of the first drafts. These are the cars of choice for die-hard early Porsche fans.

If you’ve only ever driven a modern computerized car, you will be in for a surprise, when you get behind the wheel of an early 911. The act of driving suddenly becomes an acutely physical experience. You will be overloaded by sensory inputs; your fingers transmit how the road surface feels under the front wheels, you fight the resistance of the clutch, brakes and transmission, the smell of oil and gasoline is everywhere, and then there’s the noise. That wonderful whine and roar of a flat-6 coming from the back. It tells you exactly what the engine is doing at any given moment.

An early 911 is not a forgiving car.

These are not easy cars to drive. Sure, you will quickly adjust to the hard brake and clutch pedals, but that is only the beginning. Nowadays Porsche has managed to tame the inherent wild behaviour of a rear-mounted engine through modern dynamics and electronic trickery. But back in the mid-60’s any computer that could control the sudden snap-oversteer of an early 911 would weigh half as much as Jupiter and be limited to more mundane tasks such as dropping nukes on the Commies.

An early 911 is not a forgiving car. It is hardly the widow-maker either of which it has been accused. But you need to practice on a proper track, if you aim to drive it anywhere near its limits. Otherwise it will snap around and bite your head off.

50 years or more has passed, since these cars were put on the road. And you can be sure that most of them have been driven, uhm, spirited. So rust, bad repairs and hidden structural faults from accidents are a main concern. You also need to be aware that they either have old-school carburettors, some of which it can be hard to find replacement parts for, or complicated mechanical injection systems, that few Porsche shops know how to adjust and even fewer how to repair.

But let’s look at the options, shall we?

This? Not an option. Unless you have some sort of incriminating photographs with which you could blackmail Putin or the like. But in that case you would probably be too busy watching out for Polonium in your tea.

 

The days when you could pick up a cheap barn-find are absolutely gone. Early 911s from 1963-1973 have attracted the most interest from fans and investors, so they have seen the sharpest rise in value. Prices seem to rise at a slower rate now, but it is anyone’s guess whether they will continue to rise, stagnate or even drop in the next 5 years or so.

The 1963-1973 models have between 110 and 190 horsepower (if we ignore the 1973 RS model with its astronomic price tag) and engine capacity ranges from 2.0 to 2.4 litres.

A drivable 911L or 911T with 130 hp, would set you back at least 50,000 EUR. The model S 911s are a whole lot more expensive, and it is hard to judge how far up prices can go. A very well restored model could be worth as much as 200,000 EUR or more. The 1973 RS cars mentioned earlier have moved beyond the 1 million Euro barrier.

At the more affordable range, the 1972 and 1973 2.4 litre models are preferred by many. And coupes tend to be more desirable than the targas.

It is impossible to pinpoint the best model to buy. Sure, the 1972 S and 1973 RS models are much sought after, and their prices reflect that, but you can get that early 911 thrill at much more affordable prices, if you show a bit of flexibility and follow these rules of thumb:

 

  • Go for L, T or E models. The 911 S has become quite expensive.
  • Late-era cars from 1970 and upwards tend to be better than the earlier ones.
  • Buy the best 911 you can afford (but don’t forget to put money aside + 5 grand).
  • Look at bodywork, engine, gearbox, suspension and interior in that order of priority.
  • Original cars will keep their value much better than cars that have been tinkered with.

 

The 1974 to 1989 models

The affordable early 911. A 1975 Porsche 911 2.7 Targa.

 

Porsche fans can thank the US market for 3 things: The sales volume helped make Porsche a successful company, the dry California climate preserved many early 911s, and the US laws brought us those hideous impact bumpers that make your eyes bleed and your heart cry when you look at a 1974-1989 Porsche 911.

In 1974 harsher US anti-smog laws and increased safety concerns forced Porsche to rethink their engine offerings and to redesign the 911s bumpers. Gone were the smooth lines of the original design. Now they got broken up by giant bumpers designed to bounce into equally obese Americans.

From 1974 to 1978 the 2.7 litre engine reigned supreme, until it got replaced by the 3.0 litre model which itself had to step down and make place for the 3.2 litre in 1984. Generally speaking the engines got better and better, and both the 3.0 and 3.2 engines are extremely durable.

... a well maintained 2.7 litre is very durable and is a joy to drive ...

Most people consider the 2.7 litre engine as the weakest choice. And they may have a point. In order to comply to the new US smog laws, Porsche had to let the engine run hotter than they desired themselves. And as you know extreme heat is an engines worst engine, since it increases wear and tear a lot. Worse still, for weight saving reasons (remember, an early 911 engine is a huge lump that hangs way out in the back), Porsche had used a magnesium crankcase. While magnesium may be light, it has the unfortunately property for car engine material, that it deteriorates with age. So cracks and pulled studs can be an issue. Having said that a well maintained 2.7 litre is very durable and is a joy to drive because it simply loves to be revved, whereas the 3.0 and 3.2 engines have a more sedate feeling to them.

The 3.0 engine came in a lot of variants with 180-204 bhp. In everyday driving situations you would be hard pressed to spot any real difference. And the performance is still respectable by today’s standards: 0-100 kmph in 5.9 seconds and a top speed of 240 kmph. The 3.2 model upped engine power to 231 bhp resulting in slightly better performance.

If you are looking for a Porsche 911 from these build years, you have to remember this date: 1987. That’s the year when Porsche waved goodbye to the trusty old type 915 transmission and replaced it with the G50 and a hydraulic clutch. Now, there is nothing wrong with a well maintained 915 transmission, but there is also no denying that for most people the G50 will feel smoother, more direct and faster. And what’s more important: It can handle more torque than the old model – an important consideration if you plan to increase the engine power of your Porsche.

Optically there is an important difference as well. The 2.7 litre models from 1974-1977 have the classic narrow body of the earlier years, while the 3.0 and 3.2 litre models came with wider bodies with bulging wheel arches. And speaking of bodies: Porsche began to fully galvanize the chassis from 1976 and onwards. So there is less risk of damaging rust.

Cars in this time period get more expensive the younger they are. So you would have to pay most for a Porsche 911 Carrera 3.2 from 1987-1989 and less for a 1974-75 2.7 litre 911. The same rule of thumb regarding targas and coupes applies here: the latter go for a higher price.

A reasonable 1987-1989 Carreras will set you back 50,000 Euros, while the cheapest choice, a 2.7 litre model, can be had for around 35-40,000 Euro. For years the consensus has been that a 1978-1983 Porsche 911 SC with its 3.0 engine is the best possible investment. These are cars with a reputation for extreme durability, and they have been produced in huge numbers, which helps to keep the price down. But still you should expect to pay at least 45,000 Euro for a drivable specimen.

The last of a generation, the 3.2 Carrera.

Whatever else you do, remember this

Don’t let this man fool you.

 

Chances are that you will fall in love with the very first Porsche 911 you drive. It may be black and have a burgundy leather interior, the sort of which John Holmes would choose. The 70s vibe may make you blind to the car’s leaky engine and broken transmission, so you go ahead and buy it immediately.

Take it from one who’s been there: Don’t.

You need to inspect and drive at least 3 different Porsche 911s before you make your mind up and settle for one. Don’t ever just look at one, because no matter how bad the car may be, it will end up being the one you buy. So take your time, look around and be smart about it.

That’s the first rule. Here’s the second.

Put all the cars you seriously consider through a professional pre-purchase inspection at a respected Porsche shop. You cannot expect the seller to pay for it, so you will have to find the money yourself for the 2-4 hours an inspection may take. Do it. It will save you tons of money in the end.

The thing is that no matter how much you think you know about cars, and no matter how long the friend you brought along has had his Porsche, you will need professional equipment and 911 knowledge, if you want to be certain, that your potential new dream car doesn’t become a nightmare.

So there you have it: Don’t buy the first Porsche 911 you see. And have a proper 911 mechanic inspect it.

Do you have any advice, you want to pass on? Then don’t be shy about it, put it in the comments section.

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