Good parts for some classic European cars are getting scarce

Matt Tierney

Front and center in any good car project is the list of parts necessary to complete the job. I’m presently at the shallow end of returning my 2002 Porsche 911 Carrera back to (mostly) stock, and recently had my trusted shop price out a few components before diving in. One of my car’s key needs is an exhaust system, so I asked the shop to price a brand-new, OEM heads-to-tailpipe replacement as it would have left the factory.

I was quoted $17,273.32, including tax.

Ouch. According to the Hagerty Valuation tool, the cost of parts alone would be 64 percent of the projected value of the entire car. Based on inventory found on reputable online sellers of OEM Porsche components, a full replacement exhaust for a far newer and far more valuable 991.2 (2016–19) Carrera settles somewhere around the $9000 mark.

Shocked? You betcha. But I shouldn’t have been, considering I was duly warned over a year ago by a foremost marque expert that parts for my car—and all older cars, for that matter—are going to rapidly become significantly more scarce and expensive.

visited Jake Raby’s Flat-Six Innovations (FSI) facility back in the early spring of 2022. As a 996 owner, this former pig farm in the hills of rural Georgia is sanctum sanctorum; Raby and his outfit build the best M96/M97-family engines on the planet, turning engines long seen as unpleasant, problem-prone paperweights into over-engineered reactor cores that match Porsche’s own Mezger for meat.

Raby Flat Six
Jake Raby at his Flat-Six Innovations shop in Georgia. Matt Tierney

Toward the end of the day-long tour, he took me into a repurposed shipping container that held one of his on-site parts archives. This veritable treasure trove of OEM-grade Porsche parts would shame any official service center. Sandwiched between shelves of coil packs, manifolds, and various flat-six detritus, he told me he maintained this archive to battle a wide-reaching parts shortage that was hitting 996s and 997s, hard.

I left with a hot coal in my gut.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago, when a conversation with Jonathan Hodgman of Atlanta’s Blue Ridge Mercedes echoed Raby’s earlier sentiment to an eerie degree. Hodgman’s one of the top resources in the States for pre-merger AMGs and related models, specialty hand-built cars that have always required clever fixes or fabrications for bespoke parts that simply didn’t exist. But as Hodgman tells it, he’s struggling to source OEM-grade “essential” componentry, and it’s become a serious problem. “I used to spend 20 minutes of my time ordering parts. Now, I spend half my time ordering parts,” he sighed. “It’s become a real chore.”

So, along with Hodgman, I checked in with Raby a year and change after my visit to see what is happening, where we are heading, and what can be done. “From the root to the top of the tree, it’s dying,” he tells me in a video call. “There are too many factors that are going to take it all away.”

We’ll start with the “what.” As both Raby and Hodgman tell it, the basic supply of new OEM-quality replacement parts—that is, parts manufactured by either the original equipment manufacturer or to the same quality—has all but dried up. If there are aftermarket or non-OE supplied parts available, they’re of sub-par quality and often fail right out of the box.

“Radiators, hoses, basic stuff started to be a struggle ten years ago or so,” explains Hodgman. “Then the pandemic happened alongside the push for electrification, and that has had a staggering effect on parts availability. Ten years ago, it wasn’t really a problem, it was just annoying. But, as the years have gone on, it’s only gotten harder and harder and harder.”

Raby Flat Six exterior
According to Raby, 996- and 997-generation Porsche 911s are getting hit hard by the parts crunch. Matt Tierney

“It’s 356, it’s 914, it’s Volkswagens, it’s the more modern Porsches—it’s everything,” says Raby. “Inflation has helped with parts supply for 996 and 997s because it’s taken some of the demand away—that’s good. The parts supply is there, but now we have is the quality of the parts.”

He tells me of troublesome oil-air separators and water pumps, finding that more than a few are duds right out of the box. As a result, he’s been forced to build a specialized test rig in the shop to test the oil-air separators before installation. “If it was built during or post-COVID, it has a question mark on it, quality-wise,” Raby says, frustratedly. “Now, we go by date-codes.”

Ah, there it is—the great “Everything Shortage” of 2020 and onward. Peak pandemic supply struggles saw acres of brand-new vehicles parked en masse mid-assembly, awaiting parts. As automakers scrambled to fill in-market parts supply, many production lines for old parts were pivoted in the name of profits. “Suppliers are turning off these mildly profitable lines and retooling them for newer cars for which there are mass shortages as well,” says Hodgman. “I get that it’s simply supply and demand, but that doesn’t help me any.”

So, as the OE supply dwindles, lower-tier suppliers fill the vacuum with sub-standard replacements—or nothing at all. According to both Raby and Hodgman, stock of legacy electronic modules for mass-produced are essentially non-existent. “You need an E-GAS module for your [Mercedes-Benz] 500E—a part that it essentially needs to run? Good luck—I bought the last seven Mercedes had in stock, and they’re never going to replenish them ever again,” says Hodgman, laughing ruefully. “I’m going from recommending certain cars to not, simply because the parts supply is such a dreadful ordeal, and there’s no ready workaround.”

I push Hodgman on what the limits are of this scarcity, asking him what would happen if a wealthy owner brought his 500 E in for a module fix. “Well, I’ll say that we have two options. Either we sit and wait patiently for a good used one—hopefully—cause no one is remanufacturing,” he explains.  “Or, you unfortunately have to re-engineer the car, and that’s an expensive proposition. You’re taking what was a $1000 module problem and turning it into a $30,000-$40,000 re-engineer problem.”

Mercedes Benz 500E sedan rear three quarter

I’m sure owners of most pre-war and low-volume cars are nodding in affirmation by now. Parts supply for some early cars is non-existent to the point where everything is custom fabricated or re-machined. For many cars, it’s been this way for well over half a century, and in most cases this means metal and shop work and is mostly a matter of money and time. The same cannot be said for those irreplicable electric components.

Ok—at this point, you’d think there’d be enough moneyed enthusiasts sick of crappy parts and long layovers at the shop that someone would step in to re-introduce quality components. And people have, to a degree; Raby tells me Flat-Six Innovations is building more exhaust components, coil packs, and modified water pumps in-house. “In some cases, we’re taking older parts and fitting new bearings in and building it ourselves,” he explains. “We’re building a better part.”

Problem at least partially solved, it seems. But this perceived gold rush—driven primarily by the extreme appreciation in the collector car market—has spawned a legion of new shops who, according to Raby, don’t know what they don’t know. “They just buy all these parts and think it’s ok,” says Raby. “They don’t know any better. They could have the best intentions in the world, they could want to sell a great engine, but don’t know it’s filled with junk.”

“People come to me with broken cars, telling me ‘I’ve replaced this, I’ve replaced that,’ and in their mind, those replaced parts are no longer a factor in the problem. A guy like me questions the new part first,” he continues. “There are some instances of cars going to shops, and leaving worse off than when they first went there.”

I reached out to Hagerty senior editor and noted 1970s–2000s Ford expert Sajeev Mehta for a more domestic perspective on the Teutonic shortage. “The thing to remember with mainstream [domestic] brands with huge dealer networks is that their parts supply decreases far less rapidly than the cars themselves get scrapped,” he explained in an email. “I can pretty much rebuild a 1986 Ford Taurus under the hood with parts from eBay and Rockauto because they made the parts by the hundreds of thousands and very few cars still exist to utilize them.

“Dealer networks from Porsche, Honda, VW, Toyota, et cetera weren’t nearly as large as the big three back in the 1980s and 1990s, so their parts supply dried up a lot quicker, which exacerbated the problem during the pandemic,” he continued. “The problems you are noticing are real, and that’s why I smile at my euro-centric car friends and wish them the best.”

I ran this by Raby. “I can get any part I want for my old Bronco with absolute ease,” he laughed. “What you also need to keep in mind is much of what the Big Three built also shared a ton of parts across many models. Porsche? Not so much.”

Raby Flat Six parts shelf transmission housing
Matt Tierney

Where do we go from here? Is there a tipping point?

Hodgman is somewhat optimistic, particularly on emerging tech like metal 3D printing. “I hope as technologies become more accepted and advanced, the price will come down and these niche items will be easier to find,” he reflects. “I hope we’re in this middle lull where the emerging technologies can’t quite meet the demand we’re having now—but hopefully in ten years, that will come around and start to flip.”

“Unless people really step it up, it’s going to become quite a nightmare and chore,” he continues. “At the same time, it’s going to take a lot of mid-grade cars off the road as parts cars. I see that happening now.  Cars that are a little tired, a little worn. But, they have a bunch of stuff you can’t get anymore, and it’s worth more in parts than as a car.” Hodgman tells me has four “rough” 500Es as parts cars, and I cry foul at the idea of decommissioning such a special car. But, without this sacrifice, a lot more 500Es would be off the road.

I ask Raby what we as enthusiasts can do to potentially turn the tide in our favor. “We need to hold manufacturers, shops, and automakers to a higher standard,” he explains. “Be a better consumer through education. It’s up to the hands, minds, and wallets of the [car] owners. If you keep buying the junk, the bar will never be raised.”

In the meantime, I think this has the very real potential to push a portion of enthusiasts who were not considering electric conversion over to the sparky side. When faced with the choice between pickling a prized car for want of unobtanium componentry or installing one of the (nearly) drop-in EV conversion kits becoming increasingly available, more might take the plug-in path than previously expected.

Hodgman rejects this false dichotomy. In true early-AMG fashion, he’s swapping a 6.2-liter M156 (think C63, E63 AMG) into a 500E donor car hooked up to a BMW-sourced six-speed manual. “It’s so, so much easier to get parts [for the M156], and it keeps the true spirit of the car intact,” he says, sounding excited. I ask him when he thinks it’ll be ready. “I’d get it done a whole lot faster if I had another set of capable hands on my staff.”

Hear that? That’s the sound of another can of worms being cracked open.




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    I suspect that Porsche Classic’s recent “approval” of the 986/987 and 996/997 as heritage models may help with quality parts supply, but you can bet you’ll pay Porsche Classic prices for anything you need.

    Porsche classic and the various similar ventures other manufacturers have been becoming more known for lately came to mind pretty early in the article.

    Brands with the high-dollar crowd behind it will eat their own to make all the more exclusive as well. The full classic mentality of only the best, elite of the best are worthy and all.

    Parts scarcity hits domestic American stuff too. The poor quality of new parts and the limited knowledge of parts staff is also a factor –I had to convince a counter person to sell me an AC Delco part (I had old number and modern translation number as they couldn’t figure it out on my first visit) that their computer said was for a Jeep that was exactly what I needed for the Ford truck I was working on.

    Getting parts for my 1985 Celica Supra has become harder in the 10 years I’ve owned the car. Camshaft? Yeah, sure. Hard to get when the car was new. Pistons? Not the exact type my car uses as the available ones are low compression. Engine bearings? Yes, for now. Even some gaskets and seals are getting hard to find. I expect hoses to be next. Soft trim items disappeared 30 years ago.

    Have you looked for calipers or caliper rebuild kits lately? Nigh on impossible to find in the US right now. And that’s scary; I know it’s an old Toyota, but it’s a TOYOTA for goodness sake!

    Your idea of electric conversions is interesting, but I can’t imagine replacing the clatter and whir of the air -cooled flat six in my 85 911 with an electric motor.

    I’m somewhat quality obsessed, and I always recommend people rebuild original components when possible rather than replacing with aftermarket. It always makes me cringe to see a functional, quality original component replaced by a cheap aftermarket alternative in the name of preventative maintenance.

    Porsche is actually stepping up and starting to remanufacture parts for the classic cars. They have a form on their web site where people can request parts that aren’t currently available.

    For what it’s worth, mechanical parts for old British motorcycles are fairly easy to obtain; sheet metal is often a different story. Quite a few suppliers in the US and UK; I’ve rebuilt 50 year old Royal Enfields without running into supply problems. Triumph, BSA, and Norton parts are also widely available; in general part quality is good and lots of this stuff is NOS.

    None of

    That hasn’t exactly been my experience. I have a long list of suppliers in the UK and New Zealand, with a few in the US. Many parts for which I was searching wouldn’t be available for my ’71 T120 and then suddenly appear on the market. It took me quite some time to locate a switch cluster for the left side, and finding a center stand took years. Shipping tended to be about $25 per package, regardless of what the package contained.

    I do agree with you about quality. I haven’t had a bad part yet.

    The current mentality that electronic modules are an all or nothing part that that can only be replaced needs to be re-thought. Electronic modules fail typically when one or two usually common components fail. It takes time and skill to reverse engineer and debug these modules and then find modern cross-referenced components to replace the failed parts but it is possible, even with modern surface-mount circuit boards. I have had to do this for many discontinued modules for my 3rd gen Toyota Supra that is loaded with discontinued electronics.

    Exactly so. I commonly send modules for rebuild, and it’s usually the same parts on each that fail.

    Probably not practical for real high-dollar cars, but when I see NOS parts at swap meets and clearance sales, I grab it. Likewise, when ordering consumable parts I usually buy extra, knowing I’ll need it again some day. A brand you know and trust may not be around next time you shop.

    Sometimes the parts are not available because they have not made them in years and part of it are the hoarders who will maybe sell you a part at considerable cost. Some cars are just hard to come by parts.

    Sajeev is correct, even more so. I operate last model Lincoln Town Cars which share the Crown Vic platform. Bo

    Both OEM and aftermarket parts are plentiful and comparatively inexpensive. In fact on some parts dealers will discount to get the part off the shelf.

    Consumables such as brake rotors were obsolete years ago and it’s trial and error finding consistently good parts at good prices.

    Years ago I was entertaining the idea of getting a Porsche 928. I looked up some parts such as a simple blower motor, $650.00 at the time Wow.I decided to go with a 1972 Corvette to restore due to this very issue. Parts are still plentiful and plenty of options available. I do also have 2 M3’s, E36 and E46 and have had no issues with part availability other then some are very pricey items which has always been the case.

    I own a 1988 Mercedes W124 coupe. I’ve had to shop in Eastern Europe via the internet for some used interior parts. My cruise control and security systems malfunctioned and the modules had to be rebuilt because no replacements were available. I need a new exhaust system, but none are available. Simple parts, such as the antenna seal are no longer available for the coupe. I may have purchased the last one.

    When restoring the car, I avoided Mercedes parts as much as possible and purchased OEM suppliers, such as Febi-Bilstein, Ate, Meyle & Mahle. That helped to reduce the cost of rebuilding. I like the car and mistakenly believed that Mercedes supported its older cars. I would never have purchased an old Mercedes if I had known that parts availability would be such a problem. With my E30 BMW, parts still seem to be readily available……for now.

    Recently took my 1991 Ducati to the dealer for some minor service work. I was told (in approx words) “we don’t work on that old junk”. They just want to replace modules on new Ducs.
    MAJOR SHAME on all mfgs who do not support their own products with parts and service. Disgusting.

    In my experience, no manufacturer supports any vehicle for more than 20 years. In any case, the mechanics at your dealer probably weren’t even born when your bike arrived in the States, and they have no idea how to work on it. “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” explains this situation very well. Be glad they didn’t touch your bike.

    Wrong George. It’s not age or people it’s M O N E Y. Lots more money in quick new parts and new bikes. Why do you think Apple comes out with a new iPhone every 45 mins that really doesn’t do anything more than the old one does. And we won’t discuss the ‘Woke’ mentality visa visa junk everything in a landfill older than 20 years. Nonsense.

    A comment about European cars in general: Marketers are perpetuating the production of cheap, poor quality parts rather than to insist on either funding the production of quality parts AND buyers are going for cheap parts–not realizing that they are promoting the manufacture and sale of junk parts. I continually counsel vintage car owners NOT to buy cheap. But, the human psyche is attuned to “cheap”–and, they get what they pay for. Only to end up at the side of the road or having to endlessly replace those cheap parts. I watch some replacement parts companies over-see the manufacture of valid and quality parts. That’s costly and takes time from beginning to the market place. My advice is to collect vintage cars which match your ability to maintain them. If you have a Volkswagen Beetle budget–don’t buy a Porsche. You’ll be Oh so much happier!

    I have been owning and driving 911s for over 50 years, and the early ones remain my favorites. I currently use a 1973.5 911T coupe as a daily driver. The original parts these cars were made with were of very high quality, and so when I need to replace something, it’s often the original part that I’m replacing. I’ve got two other 2.4 liter 911s that I also drive.

    The good news is that in many instances, for the early air-coole cars, new parts are still available from Porsche or the OEM. The bad news is that, even though they look identical, the replacement parts are often not of the same quality, so instead of lasting for decades they will likely last just longer than the warranty period, sometimes not even that long. There are also some parts that are just not available.

    I have concluded that you can take several different paths when you need a replacement:

    Buy parts from Porsche or the OEM and just accept the fact that they will probably not last long. I don’t find this to be a satisfying option. The parts are usually very expensive, and if they could be counted on to last for decades, that might be justifiable, but they don’t.

    Find someone who will rebuild the old parts. i have taken this route for a number of things, such as fuel pumps and brake calipers, and have had good results. PCA is a good source of information about rebuilders who do quality work.

    Buy parts from a dismantler or other source of used parts. I’ve done this on one or two occasions and it’s worked out ok. However, there’s a certain amount of risk involved.

    Make your own parts. This may be the only option in some instances. For example, the flasher unit for long nose 911s is no longer available. They’ll sell you a part, but it has a 914 part number and isn’t compatible with the electrical system in early 911s. I designed and built my own. I also put an ammeter in the car. I realize that these cars didn’t originally come with ammeters, but it’s a useful thing to have, particularly in conjunction with the modified air conditioner I installed. It’s all electronic and so does not have the risk of running lots of current through the gauge or a shunt resistor. I’m currently playing with a replacement fuel level system, because lately i have not had good results with the replacement sender units that are available. For many people this option is not a practical one, but, as you have discussed at length, it’s beginning to take a certain amount of dedication to keep these older cars on the road.

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