3 water-cooled Porsches to buy right now

Over the course of 24 hours this week, the value of Bitcoin surged about $1000, plunged  nearly an equal amount and then rose back to its previous 24-hour high. Porsches are hardly crypto-currency, but they’ve certainly seen some wild gyrations in value recently. The good news is we should see more stability in the future, in part because air-cooled Porsche values are leveling out. Water-cooled cars, on the other hand, are a good buy right now. Here’s why.

In 2013, the Porsche market exploded. The value of the broad-based (but still overwhelmingly air-cooled), 25-car Hagerty Porsche Index increased almost 150 percent over the course of a year. Viewed at the individual car level, some of the results were even more astonishing—a 1967 911S that might have been a $75,000 car in 2012 was pushing $300,000 by 2014. Early 930 Turbos were making close to the same money. The growth was simply unsustainable.

Happily, the bubble didn’t burst, but there was a soft landing. Ironically, in spite of the continued buzz around air-cooled only events like Luftgekühlt, most of the market action now is in water-cooled cars. This turnabout was the topic of a panel discussion that I sat on in Scottsdale, Arizona last week with Hagerty Price Guide publisher Dave Kinney, Valuation team head Brian Rabold and dealer/collector/expert Nathan Merz.

While the last year and a half has seen some significant pull-back from the 2015 highs in air-cooled Porsche prices, the new market floor is nowhere near the old floor. And even though the air-cooled market is relatively flat now, a lot of buyers still appear permanently priced out of the 356 and early 911 market, which has made the best of the water-cooled cars more attractive, particularly to younger buyers.  Here are three of the solid buys from the panelists.

996 Twin Turbo/996 GT2/996 GT3

2002 Porsche 996 GT2
2002 Porsche 996 GT2 RM Sotheby’s

The 996 story is usually dominated by the loud-mouthed, opinionated and under-informed who dump on the car’s headlights and intermediate shaft bearing issues. Overlooked are three very special 996 models: A pair of GT homologation specials in the GT2 and GT3 (the former turbocharged, rear-wheel-drive, analog and very scary, the latter naturally aspirated, also rear-wheel-drive, but less scary); and a regular production all-wheel-drive twin-turbo. All are grossly undervalued at the moment with the 996 TT available starting around $40,000, (less if you can deal with higher miles, a cabriolet or a Tiptronic transmission), around $60,000 for the GT3 and $125,000 for the GT2. None of these cars have an intermediate shaft bearing, and as Dave Kinney pointed out, you can’t see the headlights from inside the car.

1978-80 Porsche 928

1979 Porsche 928
1979 Porsche 928 Mecum

The last of the 928s, the GTS, has sailed well into six-figure land for a manual transmission car. The early 928s, however, with their distinctive 15-inch “phone dial” wheels, clean sides, free of rub-strips and more plentiful manual transmissions are what we should all be looking for now. Part sophisticated European GT and part V-8 muscle car, the 928 is so much edgier and more desirable than any of its competition, which ranged from the E24 BMW 6ers, Jaguar XJS and even Ferrari 400i. Maintenance and repair costs for bad examples (which are plentiful at auctions and on Craigslist) are frightening, but you know better than to buy one over the phone without a pre-purchase inspection, right?

1992-95 Porsche 968

1995 Porsche 968
1995 Porsche 968 Mecum

With the 968, Porsche closed the book on the four-cylinder transaxle platform that started back in 1977 with the 924. As per Porsche’s standard practice, the last model generally ensured that we’d miss the car when it was gone. The 968, with its massive 3.0-liter naturally aspirated four was a torque factory outlet. Its styling was arguably the best of the four-cylinder transaxle cars with some additional family resemblance to the 993 and 928 intentionally baked in.

Six-speed coupes are what you want. With just 2234 Porsche 968 coupes in North America, they’re legitimately rare. Prices are certainly on the rise, but it’s not too late. Well-maintained 75,000 to 100,000 mile examples are still out there in the high teens.

What’s not hot right now? The panel was unanimous. Convertible Porsches (with the exception of special cars like Speedsters, Boxster Spyders, 918s, and so on) are the loss-leaders of nearly every model. 944 S2 cabriolet, 968 cabriolet, 911/964/993/996 cabs all are tougher to sell and bring less money than the coupes. Targas generally fall somewhere in the middle. A Tiptronic transmission presents a further challenge at sale time.

The saying used to be “when the top goes down, the price goes up.” Not in Porscheland, and particularly not among younger buyers. It makes sense. The great convertible mass-extinction took place around 1975, when it looked like the U.S. would outlaw them for safety reasons. Logically, if you were born post-1975, the romance of an open car is a non-sequitur. Porsche people also like to track their cars and the lack of rigidity of an open car cuts back on the appeal for that pursuit.

2002 Porsche 996 Turbo
2002 Porsche 996 Turbo Mecum

Porsche cabriolets are by no means bad cars; their tops are well-constructed and fairly quiet. But the solid engineering and stout construction also comes at an aesthetic price when the top is down. A stowed roof is not the canvas carbuncle that convertible haters make it out to be, but neither is it exactly hidden from view. If you simply must have a 964 or a 993 and don’t have 50 grand to spend, a nice cab is a better option than a rough-condition coupe.

As the panel mentioned multiple times, cars aren’t the stock market. There’s some intrinsic enjoyment in car ownership that you don’t find in investing in an index fund. In Porsches like everything else, buy what you like and let the rest take care of itself.

Rob Sass is the Editor-in-Chief of Porsche Panorama, the official magazine of the Porsche Club of America

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