29 July 2005

Which Porsche You Should Buy- and Which Should Be Left Alone

Excruciating tuition bills from the school of hard knocks has taught me that, no matter how fond I am of the cars from Stuttgart  , some Porsches are best left unbought. Here’s a rundown of those you should stay away from, lest you endanger your financial and mental health.

1. A 912 With a Bad Motor

I was recently called in to consult on the purchase of a 1967 912 that was for sale on eBay with a claimed “good” motor that just hadn’t run in years. Of course, it was about as far from “good” as you can get; it was locked up solid. I wasn’t surprised, as 912s far too often have major engine problems that are unable to be solved by simple tune-ups.

There are always those who have the “perfect” solution to this problem. Among the cars I’ve recently called on was a 1966 912 with a “funny noise” coming from the engine. It was a rust-free California car painted an incorrect color; the seller was asking $6,000. He was quick to volunteer that new big-bore kits were available for $300 and most any VW mechanic could easily rebuild the motor.

Longtime readers know where I stand on this sort of pseudo hot-rod modification. Not only do these cheapo rebuilds offend my sensibilities as a purist, but they usually result in a poorly performing engine that’s impossible to keep in a correct state of tune. The result here is always the same: a largely undesirable car that doesn’t drive like a vintage Porsche should.

When new, 912s were great. They were a real bargain, giving their owners much of the 911 experience at a 35 percent discount. But today, rebuilding a 912 engine to original standards with no excuses is about an $8,000 affair. When the values for these cars are going to top out at $7,000 for a nice #2, you just don’t have any room left to work.

2. A 911 With a Rusty Chassis

I’m not a big fan of 911s with any rust at all. But if it’s isolated in the front suspension pan area, it can be repaired for about $2,000 and you can still have a solid car. Rust at the rear of a 911 is a different matter. This is anything but easy to repair – if it can be done at all – and is often the talisman of a chassis that’s beyond hope.

While the aficionados will say that Stoddard Porsche (www.stoddard.com) now sells special repair panels for the rear chassis, I would still be wary of undertaking such major surgery. If the car is a 911S in good colors with its original MFI engine, it’s probably worth doing. Even so, this will be a long and painful journey. Unless you know your stuff, it’s best to keep looking.

Lest you not believe me, here’s an example of what you can expect. A local Porsche friend bought a 1971 911E, in the great period color of Signal Orange, for the modest sum of $4,800. (And yes, it ran.) There was just one slight problem: The rear end had collapsed. Upon further inspection, it was clear that the rear torsion bar console had rusted through. Checkbook in hand, he started on his quest.

About $8,000 later, he had a $6,000 car on his hands. After he fixed the chassis, the rest of the car also needed work. After more than three tough years of trying to get the rust repair and chassis work correctly completed and the engine rebuilt due to its significant oil leaks, he cut his losses and sold the car for $6,000.

3. A 944 With a Blown Engine

Because 944 owners are often maintenance-averse, it’s fairly common to find these cars with blown engines. This usually happens when their rubber-composite timing belts snap, unleashing an ugly cacophony of valves smashing into pistons.

Sure, these cars are dirt-cheap, and you can source another engine or even rebuild the one in the chassis. But resist the urge and buy a better car instead. The expense of getting and installing a new engine far outweighs the ease of simply buying a different 944. I recently saw a decent 1987 944 with good maintenance records trade hands for $3,000. They are both plentiful and inexpensive enough that a project 944 is only a good idea if you’re extremely bored or someone gives you a couple of free cars.

4. A Fakey-Doo 930

It’s a Herculean task to sell a stock 930 once you’ve had your fun with it. Don’t make an already tough job even harder by buying one with fake plastic bodywork. These cars just don’t appeal to the hardcore Porsche folks, who tend to be more interested in finesse than flash, elegant engineering instead of cubic horsepower.

A local dentist called me recently, desperately wanting to buy a 993 Turbo that was complete with Strosek bodywork, the full package that included tiny projector headlights. He was singing the praises of this machine, with its 600 hp and all the “fantastic” (his word) bodywork. At $125,000, he thought it was the bargain of a lifetime.

I took a look at the car and I think the only original panel was the roof. I advised the would-be buyer to put away his checkbook and wait awhile. Sure enough, six months later the car was still for sale, at the radically reduced price of $85,000. I still think that’s too much.

My rule on these cars is to take the same car in stock configuration and subtract 25 percent for all the body mods. That means I’d value this one at about $50,000.

5. ALL 924 Turbos

Turbo 924s don’t rust, but that’s cold comfort when it’s parked at the end of your driveway, immobile. Any 924 is a troubled machine, but when you bolt a slapped-together turbocharger on that agricultural engine, you have a match made for masochists.

The truth is that these cars don’t run for long. You may find a beautiful, low-mileage example, but I’ll guess it’s mostly because none of them racked up too many miles before trouble set in. This model is truly one of Porsche’s darkest moments, a car to avoid even if you’re given one as a gift.

Keith Martin, Editor

Sports Car Market magazine

1 Reader Comment

  • 1
    Joe Florida December 1, 2016 at 07:14
    This was an article from 2005? If only you could see then what a Porsche 912 sells for now. So bored that you take on a 944 restoration? True! Buy the best example closest to showroom and stay on top of maintanence and you will have a reliable car to enjoy for a long time. Prefer the 87 and up 944 and 924S models. More reliable, better cooling and electrical.

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