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Porsche 911

Porsche 911 Published: 5th May 2016 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Fast Facts

  • Best model: RS, Turbos anything good
  • Worst model: Sportomatics/early US imports
  • Budget buy: SCs and Targas
  • OK for unleaded?: Yes but use an additive on hard-driven older cars
  • Will it fit in the garage? (mm): L4290 x W1650 mm
  • Spares situation: Excellent
  • DIY ease?: Generally good
  • Club support: Very good
  • Appreciating asset?: Yes but may have peaked
  • Good buy or good-bye?: Super buy if you like them
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Timeless classic that’s the most sensible yet desirable super car around, providing practicality and pragmatism with performance. Good spread of specialists to contain costs but repairs and restorations are still expensive. Prices are soaring for all pre-996 models

As great a car as it certainly is, but Porsche’s 911 is more a triumph of engineering over design. A high performance rear-engined car that’s loosely based upon VW Beetle principles is hardly the recipe for success or driver satisfaction but, over the decades, the Porsche evolved the 91, from a hair raising road car that was likely to bite you, to a docile, usable supercar that’s as easy to drive and as usable as a Volkswagen Golf – only far more exciting.

This Porsche may have changed out of all recognition since its launch some 53 years ago but thankfully has always remained a 911 in spirit and character while appealing to those who love the older classic models or the more contemporary types. As you can imagine there’s a massive array of models to choose from; but the most important thing is to buy well. Here’s our advice to winning a prize Porker,

HISTORY

As you can appreciate, charting a legend that’s been in production for over half a century would fill an entire magazine so here’s some timelines for guidance only as there’s plenty of books on the market which cover this area far more comprehensively!

1963 The 901 is launched, but complaints from Peugeot lead to a swift renaming; the 911 is born. With 130bhp from 1991cc, 130mph is on offer. These early cars have a short wheelbase, so handling is especially, infamously, very tricky at the limit – as many discovered to their cost!

1965 The first right-hand drive cars are finally built, and the new entry model 912 goes on sale, powered by a 90bhp 1582cc flat-four and a four-speed gearbox as used in the previous 356 range.

1966 Cast-iron weights behind the front bumper help to tame the handling, but only a bit! The 911S arrives, with 160bhp, Fuchs alloys, vented discs and a rear anti-roll bar. The Targa also débuts, with a zip-down plastic rear window; a glass screen is optional from 1968 and standard from 1971.

1967 The 911T is a budget edition with 110bhp and four-speed gearbox. The standard car is renamed the 911L, with a five-speed gearbox and dual-circuit brakes. The unloved Sport-o-matic also appears, with a novel four-speed semi-automatic transmission that was truly modern thinking.

1968 The wheelbase is lengthened by a substantial 2.2 inches, the wheelarches are flared and there’s now a lighter engine block, all to aid the car’s handling. There are also now twin batteries ahead of the front wheels for better weight distribution. The L model is renamed the E, which gets Bosch mechanical fuel injection, along with the S, to give 140bhp and 170bhp respectively.

1969 The least liked (but ironically now quite coveted) 912 is phased out while the various 911s get a 2195cc engine and a raft of suspension changes.

1970 Some of the underbody panels are now zinc-plated to ward off rust.

1971 The flat-six engine is stroked to take the capacity up to 2341cc for more torque as well as power.

1972 The first right-hand drive Targas are made available, but the big news is the RS 2.7 homologation special, called Carrera. The engine features Nikasil liners, and a magnesium crankcase, while the bodyshell sports lighter panels, wider wheels and an optional duck-tail rear spoiler.

1973 The 3.0 RS and RSR editions début; just 109 are made, of which 50 are RSR racers. The regular 911 gets impact bumpers to meet US regulations, and the engine now displaces 2687cc. A ‘whale-tail’ rear spoiler option replaces the previous ‘duck-tail’ item.

1974 The most powerful 911 yet made appears; the Turbo. The boosted 3.0-litre flat-six gives 260bhp and 153mph, but right-hand drive cars don’t appear until 1975. There’s also a whale-tail spoiler, deeper front spoiler, flared wheelarches and revised suspension. Other 911 changes include a move to galvanised bodyshells while the 2.7 Carrera model can now be ordered with the earlier a duck-tail spoiler to aid stability.

1975 The 912E marks a brief return for the four-cylinder 911, now with a fuelinjected 90bhp 1971cc VW engine which was also used in the mid-engined 914; just 2089 are sold. The Carrera also gets a 200bhp 3.0-litre engine. There’s also better cabin ventilation and engine cooling plus a lighter clutch.

1977 The 3.0 SC arrives, with 180bhp (188bhp from August 1979 and 204bhp from August 1980). Quite a popular and likeable derivative now.

1978 The Turbo models get a 300bhp 3299cc powerplant plus detail changes.

1982 The Cabriolet is introduced to replace the earlier Targa-roofed ranges.

1983 The Carrera gets a capacity hike to 3164cc, giving out a useful 231bhp.

1984 Carrera 3.2 is introduced with improved G50 transmission fitted three years later (an important buying point).

1985 The Turbo version gets Motronic engine management and there’s also Turbo-look body available for the plainer Carrera as an option.

1986 There’s now a ‘flat-nose’ styled Turbo option while the sun seeking Cabriolet gains a power roof as standard.

1987 Carrera Club Sport coupé débuts.

1988 After some 14 years, the Turbo versions finally gain a five-speed gearbox.

1989 Carrera 2 is now powered by a 3.6-litre engine. Suspension sees coil springs replace torsion bar set up plus there’s a four-wheel drive model (Carrera4) while a Tiptronic semi-automatic transmission option is offered.

1994 The 993 was in fact the last of the classic air-cooled 911s and when it bowed out in 1998, by then, the 3.6-litre engine was developing 285bhp in normally aspirated guise, and 402bhp once turbocharged. 993 is identified by a major restyle with smoother looks and improved cabin. Much revised suspension now features a multi-link wishbone design that finally cures tail happy handling. Targa has full length glass roof.

DRIVING AND PRESS COMMENTS

The earliest 911s were a real handful because of their short wheelbase and trigger-happy handling, while early Turbos suffered from massive lag, which could make them a nightmare to drive, with the boost arriving just when you didn’t want it!
The chances are however that you’ll be looking at something from the 1970s or 1980s, without too exotic a spec – the RS models are stupidly valuable nowadays. However, even these share many of the traits of the more attainable derivatives; the heavy controls, inch-perfect steering, plus the rearward weight bias.

Without doubt a 911SC (1978-83) is the best value for money. But with heavy clutch and (usually) stiff gearshift it’s not quite a ‘daily driver’. Post-’84, living with a 911, as perhaps your only car, gets easier. The Carrera 3.2 is arguably the best compromise – especially with G50 gearbox – and reckoned by many to be the ultimate extension of the original 911 line.

The 964 that followed is smoother, more comfortable, more powerful, but somehow less engaging for the sporty driver. A good one, however, makes a great grand tourer, while the 4WD of the Carrera 4 makes for a 911 that anyone can drive with confidence.

The problem arises if you drive one, especially early models, like a modern and do ‘naughties’ such as lifting off or braking in a corner – poor driving on any car but which an early 911 will punish the pilot! Well known high performance tutor John Lyon insists that the 911 understeers when pushed and it’s only because drivers don’t unwind the excess lock as the rear starts to lose grip that the Porsche flings out the tail. The fault driver not car-induced he feels.

That said, any 911 can be hard work to drive really well. It’s all about the satisfaction of getting to grips with a car that can bite back if you don’t treat it properly. On the other hand, a 911 also rewards you like no other car when you get it right.

The controls are timewarp and earlier 911s can be heavy to drive plus they don’t tolerate clumsiness due to tiredness either – you have to be in the mood to drive a 911 and perhaps why they don’t deserve to be used as a daily. There’s no doubt you feel more ‘at one’ with an early (pre-SC) 911, lighter weight, narrow(er) wheels and tyres, and the lack of servo assistance on clutch or brakes, make for a more ‘seat of the pants’ drive.

The cockpit is comfy if a tad cramped but the rear seats are passable for small kids and luggage capacity is fair given that there’s no rear bootlid.

Not unexpectedly, the press raved about the 911 from the word go although whether or not it was also due to the ‘King’s New Clothes’ syndrome is debatable because fairly strong words were written about the handling on early cars and deservedly so. But by 1972 things had improved considerably although as Motor pointed out in its road test the 911S remained “not a very forgiving car”.

A decade on and Autocar reviewed the Carrera which replaced the SC range. With a 0-60 dash in under six seconds and a top speed of 150mph yet an overall economy of 22.2mpg, there was no complaints with the new 3.2 engine while the spoilers also did their work: “Straightline stability in still air was better than the unspoiled SC… The Carrera may be less demanding to drive but still calls for care at high speed”, it reported although quickly remarked; “Driven sensibly, the Carrera should not bite back.”

At the end of the decade, it twin tested the Carrera CS against the recently launched 944 Turbo and said that while early 911s were beasts “the modern 911 is well sorted – and never more so than in the CS” although it admitted that the rearengined 911 was not as forgiving as its front-engined stablemate. Hailing the 911 as an all time great some 25 years after launch, it said that the CS boasted an “animal magnetism that the “swish 944 doesn’t come close to matching.”

VALUES AND MARKETPLACE

So large is the 911 market, that we can only generalise in the space available but there’s no bad models to avoid – even the once dismissed 912 has its followers as prices are now proving.

With such a vast range of models to choose from, classic or contemporary, it really depends what type of 911 (air or water cooled) floats your boat and meets your budget but you need around £25,000 for a respectable SC, perhaps the least liked variant, says experts Parr (01293 537911) although, like others, feels 911 values may have peaked.


As a rule of thumb, the earlier the 911 the more expensive and exclusive it will be; early chrome bumper cars are for no holes barred 911 enthusiasts who have £40-50 grand to spend – minimum – and an easy five figures for top examples. The 964 used to represent good value but even these broach £30,000 if half decent. Parr’s Lawrence Stockwell says owners are spending strong money on maintaining and restoring 911s, in part due to their soaring values and the overall standard out there on the open market is pretty good; the days of cheap 911s are long gone!

Asking prices are mainly governed by specification, history and condition. LHD models are perhaps the cheapest route to 911 ownership with poseur Targas worth £1000 less than coupés, but cabriolets (from 1983) are worth two to three grand more. The current hot mover in the 911 price stakes is the up and coming Carrera 3.2 of the mid 80s, chiefly because of the old 911 character it retains. Stockwell adds that you must decide what type and age of 91 is best for your needs and this can only be achieved by talking to a 911 expert; Tiptronic and Sport-o-matic semi autos aren’t liked or popular for instance.

Leading 911 experts Paul Stephens of Suffolk says you need to know your 911s before buying and says it’s better to own a good SC than a poorly Carrera2 for the same money – adding there’s a lot of tired 911s about waiting to catch out eager enthusiasts – and the same goes for a good LHD against an average UK car. The problem stems from the fact that as values for prize Porsches rise, it drags the poorer cars up with them. In fact, Paul Stephens advises that, if you’re on a tight budget then it’s usually better to buy a nice 996.

IMPROVEMENTS

Early engine castings are weak and will probably have been replaced by now with an improved design. It’s the same story for the magnesium units, especially where 2.7-litre engines are concerned.

Within the period we’re covering, in theory it’s possible to fit any engine to any 911 because the mounting points didn’t change across the generations. It’s also possible to tune them in various ways, so it’s worth establishing exactly what’s nestling in the car’s rear end. Most US cars featured less powerful engines than equivalent UK models, so expect an import to serve up a little less fun. There have been all sorts of detail changes to the suspension specification over the years. Fitting better anti-roll bars to any 911 along with better damping is worthwhile. Brakes can be usefully improved quite simply, either with later 911 hardware or from a variety of aftermarket upgrades.

Perhaps the biggest ‘improvement’ (if you can call it that) is to have your car thoroughly serviced and sorted by a 911 expert to the point where you might feel the car is not worth uprating after all!

What To Look For

GENERAL

  • 911s rust badly; it wasn’t until August 1975 that the bodyshells were galvanised. Even then, many early cars still corroded; the plating just slowed the rate of rusting. However, things got better; as the Seventies turned into the Eighties, the cars became much better rustproofed but they still corrode with the best of them.
  • If you’ve never driven a 911, try a few before buying as they are an acquired taste and can vary widely meaning without experience it will be hard to spot a bad one.
  • Don’t think that a lightly used 911 is good news as the Porsche flat six engine hates long term inactivity where major engine damage can result in it lying dormant.
  • Make sure that the heating works, as the heat exchangers can be problematic being prone to corrosion, plus can lead to oily smells inside.


BODY & CHASSIS

  • Whatever the age of car, start by looking at the bulkheads at each end, as rust can spread from the base of the front and rear screens. If there’s any corrosion in these areas, you’re better off finding another car because the necessary repairs will be involved and very costly.
  • Early galvanised cars corrode where stone chips haven’t been attended to quickly; cracks also develop in the paint around areas such as the A-posts and anywhere the car has been jacked up. Inspect the front fuel tank support, inner wings, sills plus A and B-posts.
  • Early 911s could corrode pretty much anywhere, and even relatively new cars, such as many from the 1980s, will have rusted unless they’ve been well looked after. You need to make sure that you take a look at the inner and outer wings, sills, battery boxes, floorpans and door bottoms – look for evidence of plating or filling. Check front crossmember, battery boxes, heater tubes and the windscreen surround.
  • On impact-bumper 911s, check whether there are hydraulic rams behind the bumper, or crushable steel structures. The former tend to shrug off minor knocks, while the latter squash, with the metal then corroding. Only some UK cars featured the rams, while US cars all had them. Check the state of the boot floor; a hefty crunch will have led to rippled panelwork.

ENGINE

  • The 911’s flat-six is generally durable if maintained, but whether it’s thrashed or not it’ll wear out eventually. The first sign of impending expenditure is (blue) oil smoke when the car is started up and on the over-run, signalling that the valve guides have worn out.
  • By the time the guides have worn the timing chain will also have seen better days, so listen for rattling when the engine is revved.
  • Low oil pressure isn’t necessarily a concern; the dash-mounted level gauge is only accurate at tickover once the engine is up to temperature, which is why it’s best to rely on the dipstick instead. Expect to see 45psi at 2500rpm and ask for evidence of the lubricant having been changed regularly, using high-quality materials.
  • What’s of more concern than an apparently low oil pressure is any sign that the remote oil tank has rusted, as it could spell disaster.

TRANSMISSION

  • There were three types of engines fitted, the first (2.0 and 2.2-litre cars) is generally tough, but wears out eventually; listen for worn bearings in the intermediate gears. Between 1972 and 1985 there was a stronger gearbox fitted, known as the 915 unit. Listen out for bearing wear and feel for baulking in the gears. Whichever gearbox is fitted, rebuilding one costs anywhere between £800 and £3500 depending upon wear.
  • The gearbox that’s fitted to post-1986 911s is the strongest of the lot and unlikely to give any significant problems. Called the G50, it’s very durable (and can be retrofitted) but the linkages might be past their best by now, making selection difficult; a fresh set of bushes will usually work wonders.
  • Clutches also got better engineered as time progressed; the post-1970 item was a big improvement. However, once again it’s the G50 clutch that’s the best of the lot.

RUNNING GEAR

  • Koni or Bilsteins are favoured by most who really know these cars. Look for evidence of perished bushes and expect to pay around £1000 to have the work done – and on top of this you’ll need to pay for a geometry check, which could add another £500 to the bill.
  • Any car that’s been converted from left to right-hand drive should be avoided, even if it’s temptingly priced. There aren’t many such cars about, but there are some – and because the conversion is rarely done well you’re better off simply steering clear – as it were.
  • Although brake specifications evolved, there aren’t any weak spots as long as the car is used regularly and properly serviced. Cars that haven’t had enough use will probably be suffering from callipers that have seized up, while the rubber pipes and seals can disintegrate with age too.
  • There are all sorts of aftermarket wheels available for the 911, and if you’re not into originality, as long as what’s on there has the correct clearances there’s probably not much to worry about. However, you must ensure the tyres have a decent speed rating (VR or ZR). If you want original wheels Fuchs are regarded as the most desirable of 911 wheels but these are pricey plus can crack around the spokes.

Three Of A Kind

PORSCHE BOXSTER/CAYMAN
This mid-engined modern has an old 911 flavour about it. Lots to choose from and all generally drive great, even the base 2.5 which some say lacks power – just try one! That said, the quicker S model will always be more sought after – and a fair bit dearer. Early cars are 20 years old now and prices have fallen below £5000 but all are expensive to repair and a DIY nightmare. Cayman essentially an upmarket fixedhead spin-off but prices start from around £12,000.
PORSCHE 914
This VW-inspired mid-engined Porsche roadster failed to win fans when new due to lack of pedigree and pace plus 911-like prices. However, this muchmaligned sportster is now a classic to watch. Handling is reputed to be even better than that of the 911 and with proper Porsche power (914/6) goes well. All save for a handful are left-hand drive only. Spares are no longer a problem and prices for decent 914s start from £10,000 for a 1.7 version.
ALPINE GTA V6
This Frenchie is the closest in concept to the 911 you’ll find elsewhere and it’s as thrilling to drive. The first GTA was introduced in 1984 with 212 RHD models made. The mightier Turbo (370 RHD) mustered 197bhp while the last of the line A610 of 1992 was a 250bhp, 160mph cracker although less than 70 UK cars were sold. You can buy for around ten grand but they are harder to own than a 911 due to parts supply and the lack of UK specialists.

Verdict

The 911 remains a marmite classic that you either adore or abhor. A good one will prove to be better than money in the bank so buy the best your budget allows – even if it means opting for a version that wasn’t your first choice. And don’t keep it mothballed – 911s don’t like being shut away in the garage long term and are best regularly driven to keep them healthy. That will do you the power of good, too…



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