So you want to buy a classic Porsche 911? Join the club.
No, really, join a Porsche car club. It’s the best advice we have to help you navigate the six 911 generations and hundreds of variations Porsche has unleashed in the 55 years since Ferdinand Porsche’s iconic original.
But if you’d rather go it alone, or maybe you’re in a hurry to spend that inheritance windfall, then we’ve done some of the homework for you. We’ve spoken to classic Porsche 911 owners, collectors, car club members and even Porsche Australia HQ to come up with “Almost everything you need to know before buying your first classic 911”.
“Air cooled is the way to go”
Right then, let’s get started. Because the sooner you finish this, the sooner you’ll hammering at the horizon and grinning to the luscious, gravelly howl of your very own 911’s distinctive flat-six engine.
In the beginning…
Hard to believe a car that shares its roots with the 1930s VW Beetle has become the most influential sports car of the 20th Century (voted by a panel of 133 car journos from around the world, by the way). No other car looks like it or sounds like it, and no other sports car can match its unique driving dynamics.
The Porsche 911 is an incredible sports car, no question. Thing is, it should never have worked. This rear-engined coupe is a Teutonic middle finger to the laws of physics because centrifugal force should fling it off the road at every corner.
That’s often what happened in the 60s, 70s and 80s when overly ambitious drivers lifted off the throttle mid-corner. But other more talented drivers used the 911’s power, light weight and inherent agility to dominate races like the Monte Carlo Rally, Targa Florio and 24 Hours of Le Mans.
These days, classic 911s can cost ten times more than a brand new 911 Turbo, which is $390K by the way. But not every 911 will cost you a large house. A quick search of internet classifieds turns up a 1974 911 manual for just $48,000. So, how do you know if it’s a good buy?
Let’s look at the models
There have been six generations of the Porsche 911, each has stayed remarkably faithful to Ferdinand Porsche’s 1963 original with a sleek two-door body and flat-six-cylinder engine snuggled up to the rear axle.
Type 901 (1963-89)
- 1963-73 models with metal bumpers are considered the quintessential 911.
- First 911 Turbo (930) arrived in 1975
- 1974 redesign adds bulging ‘impact bumpers’ to satisfy US safety nannies (Not a good look, still a great car)
Type 964 (1989-94)
- New styling, plastic bumpers, round headlights, first with all-wheel drive, coil springs, ABS, power steering, active rear spoiler.
- A good starter model for first-time 911 buyers
Type 993 (1995-98)
- New styling, new multilink rear suspension tames 911’s unruly rear end.
- The best ‘first’ 911 to buy because it’s gorgeous and won’t try to kill the unwary at every turn
- 993 Turbo in 1995 the first with twin-turbochargers and all-wheel drive.
- Capable of 0-100 in 3.4 seconds.
- Your ego may want this one, but best to get a few years of 911 experience first
Type 996 (1999-2004)
- All new bigger chassis and body, new water-cooled engine, and those headlights
- Unloved, so cheaper than most
- Race-ready GT3 model debuts.
- Lighter, faster, no rear seats, roll cage optional
Type 997 (2004-12)
- Round headlights return, updated interior
- 2009 update brings new direct-injection engine and PDK double-clutch gearbox, new front-end styling, Bluetooth
Type 991 (2012-Now)
- All-new chassis and mainly aluminium body makes for bigger yet lighter 911.
- New electric power steering polarises fans.
- Manual now has seven speeds
- 2015 update brings all-new smaller 3.0-litre twin-turbo engine for all models to reduce fuel consumption but also increases power and performance
The Three Cs (almost…)
Ron Widdison is the editor of the Porsche Car Club magazine of Victoria. After selling his 964 earlier this year (and doubling his investment) he now only owns three 911s – two 993s and a 997.
He’s owned ten Porsches over the years, including seven 911s. Most of them he’s made a profit on, so his advice is worth heeding. Ron buys his 911s using the Three Cs, “but yeah one of them is not a ‘c’. ‘Condition, Kilometres, Colour’ are the biggest things as far as I’m concerned when buying a classic 911.”
Condition: “General condition is important. Bodywork can sometimes be more expensive to fix than mechanical. The bodywork has to be spot on.”
Colour: “If you go and buy a green car, you’re really limiting the market when you go to sell the car. You may love the colour, but when you sell it there will be fewer people who also love it.”
Kilometres: “If you can buy a car with less than 100,000km on it, it’s going to be worth a lot more than a higher mileage example.”
“Coupes will always be worth more than your Convertibles and Targas, and manuals will always be worth more than Tiptronics, says Ron.”
Whatever you choose, do a pre-purchase inspection. “As with any classic, take it to a specialist and have the mechanicals checked. Make sure there’s no rust in it. That sort of thing. And make sure it’s been well maintained. You just have to do your due diligence and check them out properly.”
Buy the best you can afford
Melbourne advertising executive Damian Royce has been “buying and selling and celebrating all things 911 for more than 20 years,” he tells us.
“For me the 911 is about purity … I was attracted to the timeless design, the purity of purpose and engineering. I bought my first 911 in the mid-1990s, a 1971 911E with a 2.2 [litre engine].”
Damian sold that 911E after more than a decade of driving pleasure, and turned a profit. “It was a beautiful car to drive, a driver-focused car.” Since then he’s owned half a dozen more, including two 3.0-litre Carreras, two 3.2-litre Carreras, and a 964 Turbo. He knows a thing or two about buying and owning 911s. Here’s his top tips.
Buy the best you can
- Avoid any examples that need work or have modifications
- Make sure the engine number and VIN match the paperwork
- Make sure it has been serviced professionally and driven regularly
“Buy something that’s friendly on your wallet but in tip top condition”
“It might be tempting to buy something rare that needs a little work, but it could turn out to be a basket case and not all that financially friendly.” Damian also says to check the history and provenance of the car you’re interested in. “Make sure it has been cared for, serviced regularly and driven regularly. Porsche 911s need to be driven, not parked and admired.
“Make sure it has the service books, and that the chassis number and engine number match the books. Also, steer clear of examples with aftermarket or owner modifications. These can lower the value of the car and also make it harder to resell down the track.”
When it comes to buying tips for specific generations, and models within those generations, Damian says a bit of homework can save a lot of cash.
“Each model has their quirks”, says Damian, “so it’s really best to talk to people who know about – or own – the model you’re interested in. If you’re serious, join a 911 club, go to a meeting and soak up the knowledge.”
Picking the silk from the sows
Pretty much every Porsche expert we spoke to said the air-cooled models (pre-1998) are the only ones to buy. “Air cooled is the way to go,” said Ron, “but it’s not just because it has the right engine”.
Ron says the late 1990s to 2000 coincided with a significant change in how prestige sports brands like Porsche made cars. “That’s when manufacturing methods really went from hand-made to machine made. There’s a big difference in the build quality of a largely hand-built 993 compared to a 996 built by robots to efficiency methods popularised by Japanese carmakers at the time. I understand Porsche had to adopt those efficiencies to survive, but the 993 is a better quality car.”
Spell it out: Which one should I buy?
The really collectable ones now are the long-nose cars prior to 1973’s impact bumper design change, says Ron. “Once, no one wanted them, but now they’re hugely collectable because they’re such a gorgeous shape. The pick of those is the 72-73 models.”
Some more sage advice from Ron:
- The 993 is the last of the air-cooled engines, so they’re the best of the bunch. Everything was sorted out by then.
- Early 964s had a few problems, like oil leaks, distributor issues and flywheel issues, but they should all have been seen to by now.
- The last of the G Series cars (1984-89) are great cars. Anything from 1984 onwards is your best buy for reliability. The pick of those is the 87-89 models because they had a better gearbox.
Best Porsche 911 models for driving
If you’re like Damian and driving a 911 is about the purity of man and machine, the true essence of the sports car philosophy, then you’ll want to prioritise a first generation 911 for between AU$70,000-$150,000 – although they can easily go higher.
Start your hunt with early to mid-1970s model, and keep in mind that Porsche increased the engine size to 2.7 litres from model-year 1974 onwards, and added fuel injection to some models, which all resulted in a tasty performance increase.
Also worth a look is the 1978-83 911SC, largely because they’re not as popular with purists, and therefore not as expensive as they could be. They’re light, torquey and loads of fun to drive.
A third, more potent option is the first-generation 911 Turbo (AKA 930 series, 1975-1989) with its signature whale tail rear spoiler. This road-going ballistic missile will definitely get the adrenaline pumping, but be very respectful of the throttle, because the 930’s lively combination of short-wheelbase, turbo-lag and lift-off oversteer earned it the ‘Widowmaker’ moniker.
The Best Porsche 911 models for investing
If we knew the answer to this, we’d be out buying vintage 911s, not writing about buying vintage 911s! Investing in classic cars for profit is a mug’s game, because the market is fickle.
That said, it is possible to maximise your profit potential come resale time. Buy as rare as you can afford – limited runs are gold – and preferably an example that’s factory-spec and unmolested by the aftermarket. Official documentation is a must to prove your car’s pedigree and bona fides.
The 993 generation (1994-98) is a good place to start, although you won’t find one worth looking at under $150,000. As the last of the air-cooled 911s, and a highly accomplished handler thanks to new multilink rear suspension, its appeal with owners and collectors will only keep climbing.
Older 911s such as the Carrera 3.2 (1984-89) and Carrera 3.0 (1976-77) are highly sought-after, so are good investments. Interestingly, the 911SC which bridged the gap from the 3.0’s end in 1977 to the 3.2’s arrival in 1984 is sometimes overlooked, which can make good examples something of a bargain. Relatively speaking.
What’s feeding the frenzy?
Rarity, obviously. But with Australia being one of the few right-hand drive markets in the Porsche world, another factor has recently jetted classic Porsche prices into orbit.
“A big part of the incredible rise in Australian 911 values is the increasing interest from Asian right-hand drive countries,” says Ron. “Lots of new millionaires in China right now, and they want classic Porsches.
“Prices are also driven by production numbers, and that’s a recent development too. I had a 3.2 Clubsport that I sold. They only made 52 but no-one cared up until three years ago. And although I doubled my $75,000 investment when I sold it, the car is now worth $400,000.”
Want a bargain? Buy the mongrel
The 911’s biggest generational change was the Type 996 launched in 1998. This was the first ‘all-new’ 911, which had a completely new chassis, and a new water-cooled engine to the horror of many 911 enthusiasts.
This major mechanical change makes pre-996 models more authentic, and therefore more desirable. That, and the fact the 996’s otherwise elegant styling was tainted by those terrible fried-egg headlights.
Porsche’s designers have seldom put a foot wrong over the decades, but this was a big stumble – one that the next model rectified. Still, if you don’t mind fried eggs, the less popular 996 can be a bargain buy. But don’t expect this model to appreciate in price like the older ones do.
We like the 996 Turbo and 996 4S for future classics.
So, there you go. Not quite everything you need to know before buying your first 911, but it’s a hell of a good start. We’ve no doubt you’ll enjoy every kilometre in your new old Porsche, but don’t forget to enjoy every moment of the pre-purchase process too. There’s a lot of fun in the chase!