The four-wheeled first love I couldn’t forget

I was 11 when I fell in love for the first time. The object of my affection was, of course, automotive—I was only just beginning to find girls interesting, and my distaff classmates couldn’t really compete with the lure of a properly executed sporting car. Not just any car, mind you, but a Porsche 911 SC. Guards red, with those iconic black ATS wheels.

I was smitten. Who wouldn’t be? Even now, a clean SC looks the business. Prices reflect it, too. A pristine ’83 with a mere 8350 miles sold for $81,200 at Amelia Island earlier this month, which strikes me as a bargain. But then, I’m biased.

Thirty-five years after yielding to the faster and better-realized Carrera 3.2, the SC remains a timeless favorite. Among all Hagerty Porsche quotes last year, it was behind only the aforementioned Carrera and the ubiquitous water-cooled 996. Breaking down the demographics, the car’s popularity improved among Gen-X buyers, climbing from sixth to fourth last year, and slipped from second to third among Millennials. It remains third among Boomers and fourth among their parents’ generation.

1980 Porsche 911 SC Targa interior driver
1980 Porsche 911 SC Targa RM Sotheby's
1980 Porsche 911 SC Targa engine
1980 Porsche 911 SC Targa RM Sotheby's

1980 Porsche 911 SC Targa side
1980 Porsche 911 SC Targa RM Sotheby's

Average quotes for the SC climbed 7 percent last year to $39,195, while the Carerra 3.2 saw quotes inch up 1.7 percent to $49,563. Values, too, are up, an astonishing 96 percent in the past five years to an average of $54,131 for a car in #2 (Excellent) condition. The Weissach Coupe, a limited run of just 400 no-compromises cars produced in 1980, has an average value of $61,200 for #2-rated examples.

For the sake of comparison, the Carrera 3.2 has appreciated only (“only”) 78 percent in the past five years. A condition #2 goes for an average of $57,489, with the product-improved ’89 Carrera Coupe commanding $72,300, thanks to a better transmission.

Of course, 11-year-old gearheads could not possibly care less about the monetary value of a car. All they care about is going fast and looking good doing it. I knew from the magazines that the sonorous 3.0-liter engine of the 911 SC (for “Super Carrera,” believe it or not) made 172 horsepower, enough to hit 60 from a standstill in 5.5 seconds. Keep it wide open and you’d hit 140, a spectacular figure at the time. Some people will scoff at those numbers, and say they are easily attained in, say, an Accord. Such people can pound sand. They miss the point. No one’s gonna pay 81 grand for an old Accord in 36 years. These air-cooled Porsches are elemental, raucous machines, light and responsive and communicative in a way too rarely seen today. No one’s ever made a drug that beats the rush of a classic 911 approaching redline in any gear. Trust me on this; I’ve done the research.

1980 Porsche 911 SC Targa 3/4 front
1980 Porsche 911 SC Targa RM Sotheby's

By the time I was 15 I’d devised a plan for getting a 911. Even then I knew it took some serious coin to put something from Stuttgart in the driveway, so I gave myself 15 years to do it. The plan seemed feasible, even reasonable, to a kid earning minimum wage as a prep cook at Village Inn: I’d turn 30 in 1998, which, as it turns out, would be Porsche’s 50th anniversary and the centennial anniversary of St. Ferdinand’s first car. Perfect, right?

It didn’t quite work out that way. A great many factors, not one of them worth detailing here, kept me from ticking this off the to-do list until just after my 45th birthday. Yeah, I know. Midlife crisis. Buy a Porsche. This wasn’t that. Really. And despite the plan, my first Porsche almost wasn’t a 911. I flirted briefly with a Boxster Spyder, the less-is-more, lighter-faster-better version of Porsche’s lovely mid-engined roadster. I called a friend who has driven a great many cars of all ages and eras for guidance.

“Your first Porsche must be air-cooled,” he said. “Because air-cooled.”

I wasn’t sure what he meant, but I didn’t argue. I trust him in such matters and started the hunt. I soon found myself sitting behind the wheel of a garnet 993 with black leather, a broken door-check strap, and no small number of chips and dings. Now, I’d driven a Cayenne hybrid and mercilessly beaten on a Panamera Turbo. I will not wade into the debate over whether those are right and proper Porsches. But I will say I thought I had some vague notion of the magic the wizards in Stuttgart can do.

I had no idea. None.

1997 Porsche 911 Carrera 3/4 rear on track
1997 Porsche 911 Carrera Porsche

Old Porsches are weird. Wonderful, yes, but also weird. They’re tiny little things, not one bit longer or wider than necessary. You sort of fold yourself into one. An upright windshield framed by whisper-thin pillars sits mere inches from your face. The ignition is on the left, just above your knee, because it makes LeMans-style running starts start just a heartbeat faster. Never mind that LeMans running starts went out with go-go boots and Nehru jackets. The pedals are hinged at the floor, because that’s the way your ankle hinges. An enormous tachometer and three oil gauges make clear exactly where your focus must be: on the watchmaker-precise machinery and its ravenous appetite for pressurized lubrication in precise quantities and temperatures. All of this strikes you as slightly archaic the first time you experience it.

But the weirdest thing about the car is that all the weight lies behind you, something you can’t fully appreciate until you take a corner at speed for the first time and visions of throttle-off oversteer fill your head as you tell yourself Don’tliftdon’tliftdon’tlift DON’T LIFT! A friend who can drive a 911 at speed with some authority once likened the experience to balancing a Louisville Slugger vertically on your palm. While running. Nothing I’ve ever read describes it better.

Driving that garnet 993 for the first time, these thoughts raced through my mind in a jumble until I hit five grand in third and the Varioram intake opened with a great whoosh. My mind cleared as the car grabbed me by the collar and dragged me out of the darkness and into the light. I smiled and thought, “I could have a lot of fun in this.”

Well, not that one. I returned to the dealership, thanked the salesman, and walked away after taking one last long look. It was nice, but not that nice. Still, it set the hook. Two weeks later I bought a 1995 C2 with all the right options and just 29K from a broker outside Philadelphia. I flew out and drove it home to California. In the snow. On summer tires. It was a blast.

1997 Porsche 911 Carrera side
1997 Porsche 911 Carrera Porsche
1997 Porsche 911 Carrera 3/4 rear
1997 Porsche 911 Carrera Porsche

1997 Porsche 911 Carrera 3/4 front on track
1997 Porsche 911 Carrera Porsche

I’ve since driven it to Ohio, where I spent a day lapping Nelson Ledges just for the hell of it, and to the top of Pikes Peak, because I was passing through Colorado—and of course you make a sprint to the summit when you’re passing through Colorado. As you’d expect, the turtle-shaped white coupe is well-acquainted with all my favorite roads here in Northern California.

As with all great passions, our relationship has not been without its problems. I awoke one morning a few months after buying it to find power steering fluid in the driveway. Few things make the blood run cold faster than a dark puddle under an old 911. Turns out the rack had blown its seals. A rebuilt one—rebuilt—cost $1300. I bitched about it to a friend, and mentioned that a new rack for a Mustang Boss 302, a car I’d briefly considered before the Porsche, cost $152 at AutoZone.

“Yeah,” he replied. “But the Boss would have already lost 10 grand in depreciation, and nothing short of a blown engine is gonna cost you more than that with the 993.”

I did not find that reassuring. I still live in fear of finding oil under the car, and I loathe the day I have to put a clutch in it. But I will tell you this: Every time I drive my Porsche, even if it’s just a run to the supermarket, I invariably smile and say, “I love this car.” Out loud. I am still smitten. Despite the years, despite the distance, despite the changes that have come to both of us. The flame burns bright.   

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