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Used Porsche 911 buyers' guide
The Porsche 911: ultimate polariser of motoring opinion. Thousands of delighted owners know their 911 as the place where great motoring memories were made. Buy a bad one and you'll want to bury it. Buy a good one and you'll want to be buried in it.
The Porsche 911 has been in continuous production since 1963, so buyers have plenty to choose from. Volume models have always been four-seaters, and the famous flat six boxer engine has always been in the back.
Classic or modern is the first choice. All 911s are quick enough to use daily, but poorly ventilated early cars are a compromise once the weather turns damp. Later cars can be nice to drive, with PAS, ABS, A/C and the myriad more acronyms Porsches now come with as standard. Test drive as many as you can and make your mind up for yourself.
Ignore those who insist coupés are best: this is not true for every owner. There will also be those who advise picking a more common colour that might sell quicker when you want to get rid of it, such as Silver, Black or Dark Blue. Ignore this and anyone rubbishing Tiptronic (Porsche automatic) transmissions because they fetch less second hand. If an automatic gearbox suits your needs, then buy one - the price differential will have been addressed by the time it gets to you. Newer Porsches run PDK automatics: a nice dual-clutch system, albeit with a weight disadvantage.
Buy the car that suits your needs: forget the future owners. If you like it, someone else will too. Buy a car you'll enjoy and use: there's nothing worse than a 911 reserved for Sunday use that never goes anywhere. Don't be afraid to try the unexpected: approach 911 buying with an open mind, and your purchase will reward you for many years to come.
Where to Buy?
If your target is a two-year-old 911 Turbo, official Porsche centres (OPCs) are the best places to start. Every used car sold through an OPC comes prepared to high Porsche standards, and all come with a two-year warranty. One warranty claim can easily eradicate the price differential between buying official and buying independent, so consider the savings carefully.
Older 911s don't fit with the OPC image, so you'll be buying from an independent dealer, private individual or auction. Auctions might look cheap, but as 911s are highly prized by the trade, anything running through auction could well have its fair share of issues. Steering clear is good advice for the newbie.
To the uninitiated, private sellers can come across as friendly and knowledgeable, but many have run their dream 911 on a budget and are getting out of it as something has cropped up. Independent dealers often have a selection of 911s for sale, but not all own the cars they sell: many are sale-or-return from private owners. Make sure you know whose property it is you're looking at.
Having bought and sold 911s as both trade and private, I know there are good sellers and cars out there. But remember: visions of driving their first 911 can blind buyers to blatant bad news. Don't be enthralled into expensive mistakes: bad 911s can break the sturdiest bank accounts.
Having a potential purchase inspected by an independent Porsche specialist shouldn't cost more than £250 and can save a lot of heartbreak later on. Specialists including GT1 in Chertsey, Francis Tuthill and SpecialistVehicle Preparations can all help with inspections.
Keenly priced Porsche 911s in good condition sell quickly once advertised, so buyers need to be ready to react, and deal fast. Holding out to get another hundred quid off a good car is a false economy: good cars are hard to find, but that's part of the fun of owning one.
Individual model series' in the long-running 911 line are known by their Porsche type number. Type numbers run like this:
1963-1973: Early 911s (metal bumpers)
1974-1989: Impact-bumper 911 (painted aluminium bumpers)
1989-1993: 964 911 (plastic bumpers, old-style body)
1993-1998: 993 911 (plastic bumpers, lying-down headlamps)
1998-2005: 996 911 (fried-egg headlamps and water-cooled engines)
2005-2011: 997 911 (round headlamps, water cooled)
2011- : new 911, known as the 991
Everything from project early cars to rough 997s can be found in the sub-£20k bracket. The best examples of most models will now fetch over £20K in the UK, so, below that waterline, it is very much a case of buyer beware.
Alongside Coupé over Targa, common or garden-buying advice recommends models like the 3.2 Carrera with the G50 gearbox, Carrera 2 964s over C4s and so on. Forget this notion, as it often leads buyers towards 'bargain' cars that are usually past it.
Project 911s always cost more to repair than buying a good example to start with, so buy the best condition you can afford. Air-cooled, flat six engines can snap head studs (911 SCs), suffer valve guide wear (3.2s) and leak oil like a beached supertanker (all including water-cooled engines), so proper inspection is crucial to peace of mind.
Last cars in a model line are not always the most fun: mid-year 1977-1983 911 SCs are light, torquey and wonderfully charismatic to own and drive. An early 964 Carrera 4 Targa (last of the lift-out roof panels) would be bottom of many shopping lists, but nothing will match it on a winter sports drive through a sun-drenched Alpine pass. These cars are among the best value for money in the sub-£20k bracket. Good examples are getting harder to find and rising in value: another plus point to buying something rare.
Insider Tip: bottle that beginner's enthusiasm when looking at 911s. Even when kidneys start vibrating with excitement, keep thoughts to yourself and listen carefully to what the seller has to say - are they genuinely knowledgeable?
Any to avoid: not really. Mid-70s basic 911s with the uninspiring 165bhp 2.7 engine are rare these days for a reason: more exciting cars around for the money. Still, they have their own charm. Cheap 996s can be a mega money pit. Basic engine rebuilds on badly worn examples can start at around £12,000, which is more than the cars are costing to buy.
Potential problems: rust on older cars costs huge money to fix. Galvanised body shells can fall apart after 20 years of UK use. Shiny new paint hides a multitude of sins and the longer rot stays covered up, the closer the car gets to scrap. "It hasn't gotten any worse since I've owned the car" is patently ridiculous. Specialists like Racing Restorations offer menu pricing on rust repairs, which can help with decisions to sort it, sell it or scrap it.
£20k+ will buy very good examples of late 3.2 Carreras, most 964s and standard-body 993s (up to £30k). Wide-body cars like the 964 Turbo, 993 C2S and C4S (4wd) are heading out of this price bracket, so a nice one could be a smart buy for the future. Clean early cars can still be found in this bracket, but be quick: many RHD early cars are heading to Australia and the Far East.
Cheap 996s under £20k are tempting, but many of these cars are currently enduring the "911 money pit" stage. Engine problems are well documented and rebuilds can easily exceed the cost of buying a cheap one. Good 996 GT3s are a different animal and a nice buy in this bracket. Don't be too scared of cars used on track, assuming decent service history. Watch for uninsured damage repairs: remember the important professional inspections.
The better looking 997 suffers from many of the same issues as the 996: coil packs, suspension slop, exhaust rust, oil leaks, cylinder bore wear, scruffy trim and so on, but the styling remains contemporary. Buy the right 997 now to own over ten years and there's a good chance you can run it through the depreciation and watch values climb the other side of the curve. Favourite depreciation busters must be the S-bodied cars: although production volumes are higher than on S-bodied 993s, the wider body gets a bigger engine on many 997s.
Insider Tip: replicas of classics like the 3.2 Carrera Club Sport and 964 RS based on cheaper Carrera models are not always worth more than the cars they were based on. Do your homework on what's been done: cosmetic fettling does not add a fortune.
Any to avoid: early 911 Turbo (3.3-litre 930 model from 77-89) is getting hard to find in good condition. Repairing exhaust leaks from broken studs, worn turbos and injection issues can be pricey: buy one that's been sorted. 1989 five-speed worth a chunk more than four-speed.
Potential problems: early 996 engines can suffer from case problems leading to bore wear, intermediate shaft problems, oil leaks and the like. Some 997s are the same. It's worth watching for cars that have already had the engines replaced or rebuilt around improved aftermarket cases. Or go with the lottery!
Spending £40k on your first Porsche 911 means lots to choose from, but it's no guarantee that you can buy what you want. Many 911s are unobtanium: latest GT3 RS 4.0 and 997 Speedster are both hard to find, and one-owner '75-'76 3.0 911 Turbos are not on every street corner.
Early 911S (pre-73): a nice buy under £50k should the chance come up. Serious need-to-inspect bells ringing - hope you can hear them. Air-cooled RS models still a safe bet: 964 RS and 993 RS both great drivers' cars. I'd own the 964 simply because it is such a huge hooligan hoot to drive. Your mother won't like it, but all your mates will.
Over £40k puts you in light-used 997 Turbo territory: still the daddy when it comes to boost, unless you prefer the last of the great air-cooled Turbos: the all-wheel-drive 993. This spending level also opens the owner door of a 997 Carrera GTS: the best water-cooled 911 I have yet driven. My money would go towards a C4 GTS manual Cabriolet in Macadamia, but I'm not you.
Insider Tip: ensure any dealer-supplied warranty does not have a maximum claim limit. Engine rebuilds at Porsche dealers can be tens of thousands: a new 3.6 911 engine is almost £35,000 (much cheaper when rebuilt with new cases by a specialist). Yes: thirty-five thousand pounds. Read the warranty small print for yourself!
Ones to avoid: some 911s are arguably overpriced now. Rare-groove specials like the 3.2 Carrera Club Sport sometimes get as high as £35k or more, but are they worth it in themselves? Same question for the 3.2 Speedster: a car that seems overpriced in the UK at the £75k value many insurers now recommend. Porsche aren't making any more of these cars, but whether they represent the best you can do with your money is up for debate.
Potential problems: at this end of the price range, watch out for fakes: special editions that are not as they seem. Ringers (false ID cars), forged service histories and clocking are all trade tricks that will devalue your 911 by hundreds of pounds on lesser cars are thousands or pricier models.
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