The Porsche brand isn’t generally considered affordable. New Porsches have always been expensive, even during the company’s infancy – a well-optioned 356 coupe was pricier than a new Cadillac. And used Porsches have always scared potential owners who believe bankruptcy-inducing maintenance costs are imminent. However, Porsches are generally well-built cars that are supported by the factory, the aftermarket and by one of the best marque clubs on the planet, the Porsche Club of America. Following are five entry-level Porsches that are great to drive and not headaches to own:
1997 Boxster ($7,500-$10,000)
WHAT IS IT? The Boxster returned the entry-level Porsche to more familiar territory for marque devotees. Unlike several other entry level Porsches, the Boxster was powered by a water-cooled six-cylinder engine, but in Porsche-like fashion, the engine was horizontally-opposed and located behind the passengers. Recalling the 718 RSK racer of the 1950s, it also looked more like a traditional Porsche.
WHY DO YOU WANT IT? Even though the oldest Boxsters are now over 20 years old, it is a thoroughly modern sports car with A/C that works and a heater that will melt a safe. Handling is sharp and with the right exhaust, Boxsters can make an appropriately menacing, guttural, Porsche-like wail.
WHAT’S THE DOWNSIDE? There are still plenty of Boxsters on the road and they’re the belly button of the Porsche world, everyone seems to have one. Boxsters were also built to a price, interiors and switch-gear look and feel cheaper than what you’d see in a 993. And no discussion of early Boxsters is complete without the mention of the intermediate shaft bearing or “IMS.” IMS bearings can disintegrate with little warning sending metal shrapnel throughout the engine, effectively grenading it. Cars with IMS fix kits from LN Engineering cost more, but are worth the peace of mind.
1977-82 924 ($3,500-$7,000)
WHAT IS IT? The 924 wasn’t meant to be a Porsche at all. Everyone knew it from the launch and nobody’s ever forgotten it. Project EA-425 was a joint VW/Audi sports car project that Porsche consulted on. Volkswagen decided not to build it and Porsche couldn’t bear to see all of its work wasted, so Porsche bought the rights to produce the car as a 914/912E replacement. Audi built the car under contract for Porsche using its single overhead cam 2.0-liter four-cylinder mounted up front to a rear transaxle matched with a damned fine chassis (4-speed in early cars, 5-speed in later ones).
WHY DO YOU WANT IT? The Audi-powered 924 represents the absolute entry-level of Porsche ownership. Perfectly decent cars are available for under five grand. Granted, they’re buzzy, and not particularly fast, but then, the same could also be said for the much-revered BMW 2002. In stock form, 924s are among the best-handling Porsches ever, totally neutral and utterly controllable under all circumstances. They also have the advantage of being very easy to wrench on. Everything is accessible and fairly simple. The Audi motor is a non-interference design, which means that if the timing belt breaks, the car just comes to a halt. No damage is done to the internals. The revived 1987-88 924S used the same narrow body paired with the more powerful 2.5-liter interference engine of the 944.
WHAT’S THE DOWNSIDE? Very little. If you buy a bad one, it’s fairly easy to exceed the purchase price in fixes, but it costs so little to buy the best, so why mess with a project? There’s not much hope of 911- or 356-like appreciation in the near-term, but anyone who has ever branded any Porsche as being totally uncollectible has been consistently proven wrong. Just check the current prices on the 912, 2.7L 911s, 912E, 928, 914, etc.
1983-89 944 ($5,500-$7,500)
WHAT IS IT? Because of its buzzy, Audi-sourced engine, the 924 wasn’t always viewed as a true Porsche. It was in many ways a great chassis in search of an engine. The 944 addressed all of that with its Porsche-built 2.5-liter four-cylinder. The Porsche engine mitigated the inherent coarseness of an inline-four by employing balance shaft technology licensed from Mitsubishi. Its wide stance and flared fenders also give the 944 a more aggressive look than the 924.
WHY DO YOU WANT IT? The 944 is an ideal learner’s sports car. The chassis has phenomenal balance owing to the near 50/50 weight distribution of the front-engine/rear transaxle design. The engine, while smooth and willing isn’t very powerful, which means fewer opportunities for novices to lose control.
WHAT’S THE DOWNSIDE? Unlike the Audi-engined 924, the 944’s belt-driven camshaft toils in an interference engine. This means that a broken belt or worn-out tensioner can allow the valves and the pistons to unite suicidally. Bad news indeed and it means a $1,500 belt service every five years. Over the course of ten years, you can easily spend more than a third of the acquisition cost of the car just on timing belts. It is however a DIY job for the mechanically inclined.
1970-76 914 ($8,000-$10,000)
WHAT IS IT? The 914, which replaced the 4-cylinder 911 known as the 912, was discontinued in 1970. It was a joint-venture between VW and Porsche and that’s precisely how it was marketed in Europe. In the US, it was called the Porsche 914, but it was built in Wolfsburg and denied the famous Porsche hood badge. Styled by the design firm of Gugelot whose previous experience in industrial design was appliances, it didn’t look much like a Porsche and its 1.7-, 1.8- and 2.0-liter Volkswagen Type IV engines didn’t sound very Porsche-like either. The mid-mounted engine, however gave it more forgiving handling than a 911 and the massive front and rear trunks made it somewhat practical.
WHY DO YOU WANT IT? If you absolutely want an old-school, air-cooled Porsche and don’t have $25K plus to blow, this is it. At under $10,000, you’ll probably be limited to the less powerful 1.8L engine and the 1975-76 rubber bumper body.
WHAT’S THE DOWNSIDE? Not much. No 914 is galvanized, so rust is always a concern, particularly around the battery box. Some early Bosch electronic fuel injection parts for D-Jetronic and L-Jetronic systems can are hard to find (many 914s have been converted to carburetors because of this) but other than that, if you buy a good one, it’s hard to imagine losing money.
1980-82 924 Turbo ($7,500-$10,000)
WHAT IS IT? Porsche was stung by haughty car magazine reviewers who deemed the 924 gutless, buzzy and a pretend Porsche. Determined to silence the critics, Porsche applied its hard-won turbocharging expertise to the 924’s Audi four-banger. And while the turbo did nothing for the engine’s inherent coarseness, it did wake things up from a power standpoint. Runs to 60 mph fell from about 10 seconds to 7.7 seconds.
WHY DO YOU WANT IT? The 924 Turbo combines the 924’s lightweight and good handling with adequate horsepower. Cool touches like the vented nose panel and handmade NACA duct on the hood add to its appeal. Wild, period color schemes and optional op-art Pasha cloth seat inserts were other details usually seen in the more expensive V-8-powered 928. 924 Turbos are rather rare and Magnus Walker has been snatching them up of late. He’s rumored to have about 13 of them.
WHAT’S THE DOWNSIDE? Turbo bearings will fail at some point during your ownership, but the turbo units can be replaced somewhat reasonably. Things are less accessible under a Turbos’ hood, as opposed to a naturally-aspirated 924, and you’ll have to deal with both turbo lag and the rather agricultural, pre-balance shaft Audi engine. At least it’s an honest-to-goodness turbocharged Porsche for 10 grand or less.