Air-cooled 911 is now running hot

While water-cooled Porsche 911s have been with us for nearly 20 years, many enthusiasts crave the earlier air-cooled models’ raspier voice and edgier feel. According to Tim Holt, whose West Chester, Pa., dealership, Tim Holt Motorsports, sells only 911s, buyers are hungriest for the last three generations of the air-cooled models: The 1984-89 Carrera 3.2, the 1989-94 964 series and the 1994-98 993 series.

After Porsche dropped plans to discontinue the 911 in favor of front-engine models, the 964 series gave the rear-engine classic a needed jolt. Porsche boosted performance while adding amenities and safety features and also introduced the first all-wheel drive 911, the Carrera 4.

But the 911’s infamous handling quirk, a propensity for lift-throttle oversteer that could send a 911 into a tailspin, remained.

“The 964 was the first 911 with coil-over shocks but still with trailing arms, and they had more power and torque than previous 911s (247 hp and 228 lb.-ft.),” Holt said.

He added that he personally prefers the 964s because they are more challenging to drive than the final air-cooled 911, the 993. Beneath its sleeker body, a new multi-link rear suspension replaced the trailing arm design used since the 911’s inception.

“The 993 is easier to drive, because Porsche engineered the trailing throttle oversteer out of the car,” Holt explained.

It was a wise move, since Porsche also gave the 993 a revamped 3.6-liter boxer with 270 hp and, later, 282 hp with a variable intake system. The 993 introduced the 911’s first six-speed manual, along with a simpler all-wheel drive system using a viscous coupling in place of the 964 C4’s lockable differentials. The cabriolet returned, but the Targa replaced its simple lift-off roof panel with a complex power retracting glass pane.

The 993s were fast, capable of five-second 0-60 times and top speeds approaching 170 mph. Even faster was the mighty Turbo, which returned to the U.S. for 1996-98 featuring 400 hp and all-wheel drive.

Recession, What Recession?

A rather unlikely event sparked demand for the air-cooled 911s, according to Holt.

“In the fourth quarter of 2008, with the calamity of the economy, the air-cooled market started to take off,” he said. “Many people want the 993 because it’s the last air-cooled 911. Some insist on a 1998 Carrera S or 4S, but these were cosmetic, the wide-body look with the standard engine, transmission and suspension. It was the first time Porsche used ‘S’ without making it higher performance.”

High Repair Costs

Even cared-for 964s and 993s can incur hefty repair bills. The early 964s can become oil leakers, according to Bill Boys, a factory-trained Porsche technician who opened his own shop, Possum Hollow Motorsports in Phoenixville, Pa., in 2006.

“They had 11:1 compression and didn’t use head gaskets,” said Boys, prescribing the cure as replacing the cylinders and pistons with a set that works with a gasket. “Cost for the parts alone is $7,000 to $8,000 and it’s about 50 to 60 hours of labor.”

In 964s and 993s, the front suspension bushings and control arms often need to be replaced; cars can feel unstable if not, Boys said.

The 993’s biggest engine worry is carbon buildup – caused by oil consumption – clogging the exhaust air injection system. A glowing check engine light on 1996-98 models, which are equipped with OBD II, could tipoff the problem, Boys explained. The fix, a top-end rebuild, can cost over $8,000.

Tightening Supply

Porsche built some 69,000 993 series 911s, of which about 24,000 came to the United States. But supply is shrinking.

“It’s a challenge getting good, undamaged 911s,” said Holt, who conducts most sales over the internet. “There are a lot of mediocre cars that have been modified, abused or neglected. I can look at 10 air-cooled 911s and find that half have been wrecked.”

Information Holt has gleaned from German shipping companies indicates that thousands of air-cooled 911s have been exported out of the U.S. since 2008, mostly to Germany. The bottom line? Consider this a counter-point to Carey’s article on a slowing Porsche market.