Buying my first Porsche and everything after, part 1

Lyn Woodward

When I was a kid, the bubbly shape of my father’s Porsche 356s made me fall in love with cars. So, too, did the high, happy engine melody and the wind rushing through my hair as I sat on the Speedster’s precarious rear seats (sans seat belts, of course—this was the late ’70s after all). Porsche was a sacred part of my childhood that scored a mark on my heart, but life happened and I never thought I’d be in a position to buy one of my own.

An ember in the form of a neighbor’s 1965 Togo Brown 356C Coupe kept my hopes faintly alive for fourteen years as I passed it almost daily in our apartment’s communal parking garage. It was rough around the edges and it didn’t run, but I never stopped pining for that car.

My Porsche dream reignited after I made a pivot to become an automotive journalist. My resolve growing stronger, I even convinced her to let me to pull it out into the light for a wash. No matter how many times I asked about buying it, though, she demurred. I looked up its value in the Hagerty Price Guide and offered her what I thought would be a fair price considering the work it needed but, in her mind, it should have been worth tens of thousands more. And it would be, if it ran. But a clean 356 isn’t cheap, and values have shot up over 50% from the mid-2010s to today. There was no way I could afford that.

So, I did what a lot of buyers do after getting priced out of their dream car – I looked for alternatives. The 356s spoke to me, sure, but I always loved the look of the early 911s, too. I also knew that the 912 combined the 911 platform with smaller four-cylinder engine of the 356. Just like when it came out in 1965, the 912 offers a more affordable alternative. When I started checking out prices, I saw two interesting things: First, 912 values had recently risen, but not to astronomical heights. Second, I noticed that the bump in 912 prices seemed to have pushed up 911 prices of the same vintage. Or maybe it was the other way around. As those early 911s became more unattainable, the 912s caught the attention of interested buyers like me. Either way, emboldened with this knowledge, I was determined to strike quickly.

I made the mistake of setting notifications from auction websites for 912s. It didn’t take many dings in my email inbox to see that 912s started coming up for sale fast and furious, and with each increasing sold price or “reserve not met” notification it seemed prudent to get on with it if this was something I genuinely wanted.

porsche 912 offerup listing page

That urgency sent me to OfferUp, an online marketplace similar to Facebook Marketplace or Craigslist, but a lesser-known one. A good friend, who also happened to be a 912 owner, had found some great deals there. My initial search bore little fruit, but I was determined and kept at it until one popped up. It looked incredibly promising. Or, I should say, too good to be true. Sometimes people want to believe something so badly they’ll ignore red flags and reason. Scammers pray on that kind of emotion, and I got hooked. The bait in this case was a 1966 Porsche 912, advertised as a minor project and asking $8500.

After a morning of frenzied back and forth texts with the “seller” (which is a no-no, never give scammers your phone number), I made my way from Los Angeles to San Diego to meet the 912. I’d consulted with several friends, the kind of people who buy cars online as frequently as most people buy groceries, and even they didn’t know for sure if this Porsche was real or not.

porsche 912 project car brown side view from offerup listing

I’d spoken to the seller on the phone, but that’s not unusual. He had a California phone number, but that’s easy to fake. The brand-new seller profile and an odd, unsearchable name were two more red flags, and then there was this seller’s demand for a deposit.

Initially, he wanted a $1000 deposit as “more people were interested in the car.” Another no-no. Deposits are a bad sign. Thankfully, at this point my spidey sense finally started tingling. A grand is a big ask. I wasn’t willing to lose that much. I guess it didn’t tingle quite enough, though, because I was motivated and kept going. After a bit of back and forth, we agreed on $200. That was a sum I was willing to part with, and I had to see if there was indeed a Porsche 912 behind door number one.

(Helpful tip: If you do send money to anyone use PayPal. They are the only service that guarantees your money if you get scammed. With Venmo, Zelle, Cash App or others you have no recourse if you’re taken for a ride.)

The real car, located not in San Diego but in New York, and asking not $8500 but $34,000. Hemmings/Gullwing Motor Cars

It wasn’t until halfway to San Diego when a friend, who had come along for the ride, did what I should have done long before getting into this mess. One reverse image search later, we confirmed that the photos I’d been looking at weren’t for a 912 for sale in San Diego. They were actually from an East Coast dealer selling their 912 for $34,000. Tail between my legs, I bought my friend dinner and swore off Porsche shopping.

For about two days.

porsche 912 craigslist listing front three quarter

Another listing popped up, this one on Craigslist. It was a project. The silver paint looked sun-faded, almost like bare metal. There was no indication it ran and not much additional information, but one of my 912 consultants thought it might have promise. If it was a real car, of course. More importantly, the price was $20,000 less than cars I’d seen that were only slightly better-sorted. That would leave room for unexpected repairs.

Too good to be true again? Understandably, I felt hesitant. Fool me twice…as they say.

I contacted the seller, who immediately suggested I come see the car that afternoon. No deposit necessary. I went, and the seller gave me privacy as I inspected the car, including one of my trusty advisors over FaceTime. I didn’t feel pressured. The seller answered any questions he could, hadn’t done anything with the car since he bought it, and didn’t know much about it. He didn’t even know if it ran.

Another red flag? Who buys a car and never tries to start it?

Though it sat in a dirt lot behind a sun-beaten house in the San Fernando Valley—the LA suburb where all automotive rubber goes to die—there were many good things about this 912. The dash was brand new. The tires weren’t that old and held air once filled. The engine had all of its bits, and all of them moved, even if they were covered in spider webs. The crown jewel was that it had a brand-new floor pan. That meant minimal rust repair. Someone before this owner, then, had quit partway through a restoration but had gotten far enough along to embolden me. With each bit of good news I visualized the bottom line to a drivable car shrinking. Still, I tempered my excitement.

When he showed me the title, it didn’t have his name on it. Gulp. How is that possible? He didn’t register it because it was non-operational, and he didn’t want to pay registration while he worked on it. Fair enough, and some of my Porsche friends had apparently done this before, too. This seller was also a real, Google-able person.

No, this wasn’t the 356 of my childhood dreams and it certainly needed a lot of work, but this 912 was attainable. The seller gave me a couple of hours to consider, but within 10 minutes of leaving I called him back and said yes. Bill of sale in hand, I wired the money, picked up the keys and title, then called a tow truck to come get the car. “Holy smokes, I own a Porsche,” I thought as I followed the flat bed home. Then reality descended. What the heck do I do now?

(Read part two of Lyn’s 912 story here.)

Lyn Woodward




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    As much as this is your story about searching for a car, this looks like a car waiting for the right owner. You and…Ferdinand? Ferdie for short…( I’ve found anthropomorphism has it’s advantages ) seem to make a nice couple. I’d invite some of your “Porsche friends” over on a Saturday just to take a look.- ‘Everything’s there. Try starting it yet? Why don’t we make a little list and go to the gas station and the auto parts store? ‘

    I agree. Use your network. Is there a terrible secret hidden in that car that’ll spoil the whole deal? Only one way to find out – roll up your sleeves and get into it. Scams happen, yes. But you know what? Good deals happen also – we just don’t hear about them as often. So, you have already picked up the dice – now ROLL ‘EM!

    I’d say you rolled the dice, just waiting for them to stop. Looks like a fun project to me and as noted, they aren’t going down in price so you’ll do fine.

    Hi Lyn. My name is Chuck. I also have a 1969 912. It is my third one. I purchased my first one brand new from Catron Motors in Pomona. It was tangerine orange. I lived in Claremont at the time. After an enjoyable two years with it was stollen. My insurance company found 4 that l could chose from to replace it. I chose a white one. Around 1990 my oldest son was turning 27 and asked if he could have it. When my youngest son was old enough to drve he stated that he wished he could have had the second Porsche. Well five years ago I purchased a third 912 from a fellow in Santa Monica. It needed a little work and I paid 7500.00 for it. My wife and I drive it one or two times a week until my youngest son comes and gets it. Its such a great car. Low maintenance and ecconomicaly to drive. Hope you enjoy yours. Chuck L.

    Step 1. Drain engine oil, look for debris or anything unusual. Change oil and filter.
    Step 2. Hook up a fuel line from a gas can to the fuel pump. Bypass the fuel tank which has God knows what in it, later you will drain it which is actually easy.
    Step 3. Install a fresh battery. Give the key a twist and see if it at least turns over.
    Optional step – set the valve clearances. As long as they aren’t tight, you can defer this.
    Step 4. Check for spark. May be a good idea to change the points, condenser and plugs. Once you have spark and fuel, see if it will run.

    From there, change the gearbox lube, check the clutch free play. Ensure the gears can be engaged.

    I would then go through the brakes. Change every rubber line to start with. Ensure the piston calipers are not frozen, if they are replace the calipers. I find this cheaper in the long run than rebuilding. Fresh brake fluid. Make sure the brakes actually stop the car. Eventually change the pads and rotors, but this will get the car safe to drive for now.

    Now drain the fuel tank and add 5 gallons of rec fuel with a bottle of SeaFoam. Change the fuel filter. Run this through in your test drive and see what you have!

    Very sage advice…I’m sure she and many others will appreciate your systematic approach to reviving an old car safely!

    I subscribe to the “don’t get it right, get it running” school of thought. Make it safe enough to drive and then drive it. It will tell you what it needs from there. Also, you can find out if you really like the car. The early 911/912s are so pretty. Can’t wait to see where this ends up!

    I pray that all goes well for your newfound vehicle, having avoided being the prey of a scammer. I just purchased and imported a 1968 French vehicle from Montreal without seeing it beforehand, and it went well!

    Hot damn! That’s *exactly* the kind of Porsche I have wanted for decades. Well that, an early 911 or 356. 🙂 Unfortunately for me that ship has almost certainly sailed. 🙁

    As above I would recommend getting it running. My personal order of operation is to remove and clean the fuel tank, replace every bit of fuel line and pressure test the metal line from the tank to the engine. Then I’d rebuild the fuel pump and carburetors and only *then* would I change the oil and attempt to get it running.

    Oh, and check out the electrical system before you put any power to it. You don’t want a floating hot wire to surprise you!

    You don’t mention if you’ve already done it, but step one is to go to DMV and get a clean title in your name before putting $ and effort into it. Once done, follow the steps others have suggested to get it running and driving so you can fully assess it and decide how deep you want to go. Should be a blast!

    It would have been prudent to run the car’s VIN through the DMV to verify it had not been stolen. As this is “Part One,” I hope you have now done that. Many people have put $thousands into unregistered vehicles, only to find the car is hot.

    I took the even less expensive route years ago and bought a 72 Porsche 914. The least expensive air cooled Porsche. Don’t laugh. I am on my 5th that I just bought 6 weeks ago. A 914 – 6, 2 72s, a 73 and a 74.

    Fred, For clarification, given her pricing remarks, you’re not suggesting she could afford a 914-6 are you?

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