While it is true that a brand-new Porsche 911 Turbo can set you back an easy $100,000, you don't have to be in Bill Gates' tax bracket to enjoy one of the many fine cars from this proud German automaker. In fact, what would you say if we told you that you could enjoy the Porsche brand for a tenth of that figure?
Ten grand may not be a lot in today's new car market, but we have found that it will buy plenty of fun. Spent wisely, it can even buy one of the most coveted automotive brand names ever.
The Porsche Story in a Nutshell
The Porsche name has been attached to cars for more than 100 years, starting with the Lohner-Porsche Electric Car, which made its debut at the 1900 Paris Expo. A young Ferdinand Porsche was responsible for the car's electric motors, which were fitted to each wheel hub.
The turn-of-the-century electric car was only the first of many noteworthy Ferdinand Porsche designs; he also penned the Mercedes SS and SSK of the 1920s. After founding the Porsche Engineering Office in Stuttgart in 1931, Porsche designed the Type 32 for NSU. Although NSU never produced the design, this forerunner of the popular Volkswagen Beetle finally went into production as the Volkswagen in 1946. On June 8, 1948, the first Porsche sports car-the 356-was hatched.
Fifty years after one of his designs first graced the Paris Expo, Dr. Porsche enjoyed another important moment at the legendary auto show when he saw his new 356 on display. Later, he was invited to participate in the 1951 running of the 24 hours of Le Mans, but Dr. Porsche passed away just before the race. An aluminum coupe carrying his name did take a class win, the first of many. Dr. Porsche's daughter, Louise, son, Ferry, and son-in-law, Anton PiÃÂ¯ÃÂ¿Ã1/2ch, continued to the run the company. Max Hoffman, who met Dr. Porsche at that 1950 Paris show, set up a contract to sell Porsches in the U.S., and as they say, the rest is history. During the next 50 years, the original Porsche 356 would lead to a string of popular street cars and very successful race cars. While many of Porsche's past models have attained near-demigod status-and while new ones are far from inexpensive-there are still lots of Porsches out there for the common enthusiast with $10,000 or less to spend.
Our Low-Bucks Porsche Test Day
There's no better way to prove a point than with some actual, tangible evidence, so we arranged a special test day at Carolina Motorsports Park in Kershaw, S.C. and rounded up a nice selection of affordable Porsches. This would give us the opportunity to talk to the owners in person, photograph the cars and take a few laps ourselves.
In addition to talking to our Porsche-owning friends, we also consulted several experts in the field, including Randy Duvall, a longtime friend of the magazine. Randy has been involved in many different aspects of the Porsche scene for most of his adult life, from importing Euro-spec cars to owning and running his own independent Porsche repair shop. A 25-year Porsche Club of America member, Randy has also prepared cars for the Club Racing program and raced a few himself.
Today, he works for Universal Technical Institute, the firm that has the exclusive training alliance for Porsche Cars North America as well as many other car companies, including Audi of America, Inc., BMW of North America, Jaguar Cars, Mercedes-Benz USA, Inc., Volkswagen of America, Inc. and Volvo Cars of North America, Inc. Randy recently set up UTI's Porsche apprentice training program, and he is now involved with recruiting and placing new technicians.
In addition to containing an online parts and accessories catalog, Pelican Parts' Web page offers many different resources for the Porsche enthusiast, including message boards, buyers guides, tech articles and wiring diagrams. Models serviced range from the original 356 to the latest Boxster and 996. Since the Porsche 928 could be called its own unique animal, we spoke with one of the few shops that specialize in this vehicle, Devek Performance Products, Inc. of Belmont, Calif. Susan Thomas and her husband, Marc, work exclusively on the 928 and other water-cooled Porsches. In addition to stocking all sorts of maintenance and performance parts for the 928, Devek also runs one of the cars in open road, top speed events. Known simply as the White Car, the Devek Performance 928 has been clocked in the 200 mph zone.
Introductions out of the way, now it's time to start our journey through the world of low-buck Porsches. As we have found, such an animal does exist. As for locating a budget-friendly Porsche of your own, several options exist in addition to GRM's print and classified ads. Besides the local newspaper, Internet sites can yield good leads. Cars.com (www.cars.com) compiles ads from more than 150 local newspapers, allowing users to search and browse through their database. eBay (www.ebay.com) is always a popular way to buy anything, including Porsches and Porsche parts. And the Porsche Club of America's national publication, Porsche Panorama, always contains lots of classified ads.
Ask someone to picture a Porsche, and odds are that a 911 will pop into their head. This somewhat bug-shaped sports car has been a fixture in the world's motorsports scene for decades. While newer models can pass the six-figure mark, earlier 911s can easily be found under our $10,000 price barrier. Porsche started building the 911 in late 1964, allowing the car to debut for the 1965 model year. While the basic body shape hasn't changed that much over the years, and the torsion bar front and rear suspension was used for more than 20 years, the engine specifications did not remain unchanged. The air-cooled, flat-six engine used from 1965 until 1999 went through several different versions, giving the enthusiast many choices. Like many things in life, the 911 engine got bigger over the years. Although engine outputs varied depending on induction and state of tune, the 911 can be broken up into groups based on displacement: 2.0 liters in 1965-'69; 2.2 liters for 1970 and '71; 2.4 liters during the 1972 and '73 seasons; and 2.7 liters from 1974 through the end of the 1977 model year. By 1978, the 911's magnesium engine case had reached its limit, so a 3.0-liter aluminum engine became standard issue. The 3.0-liter engine was used until 1984, when it was replaced by a 3.2-liter unit.
The engine has continued to grow since then, but these later cars are really out of our budget range. Turbocharged models have also been available over the years, but they also tend to be pricey, no matter what the vintage. In addition to growing in engine displacement, the car's size and girth has increased, too. The earliest cars have nearly flat sides and a 2200-pound curb weight, while the 1978-'83 911SC features slight but noticeable fender flares, and the car checks in at 2400 to 2800 pounds, depending on body style and equipment. However, these later cars also feature more creature comforts and torquier engines, which could make them better for around-town use. Randy Duvall recommends the 1978-'83 911SC cars as daily drivers, noting that a nice one can be bought for about $10,000. "I'm not saying that idly," he adds. "I've done it." The 911SC's torquey engine, comfortable interior and rust-resistant, galvanized body are attractive qualities, he says. Pelican Parts' Wayne Dempsey adds that the engines can last a long time, with 250,000 to 300,000 miles between rebuilds not uncommon. Many of the '60s cars have gained collector status and have thus surpassed our $10,000 limit, but cars from the early and mid '70s can still be purchased for less than our price cap. If you're going this route, Randy warns that the 901-model gearbox-used up until 1971-may be awkward for some drivers, as first gear is located to the left and down. Cars sold after 1971 feature the 915 transmission, which uses the traditional H pattern. The 1974-'77 cars and their 2.7-liter engines could also pose problems, according to both of our experts. "The 2.7-liter motor is very unreliable," Wayne warns. This was the maximum displacement that the magnesium case could support, and the extra engine heat combined with the thermal reactors caused the cylinder head studs to pull from the engine case. This mechanical failure would lead to destroyed valve trains. However, Porsche's updated Dilivar studs or ARP race studs and the use of timeserted case threads can fix the problem. Without these mods, engine life averages only 50,000 miles. However, since the 2.7-liter cars have gotten such a bad rap over the years, their value is often less than other generations of the 911-good for the buyers' market, bad for the sellers. (Hint: Don't sink a lot of money into a 2.7-liter car in hopes of making a good investment.) There's also a good chance that any 2.7 model you find has had its quirks removed, as the newest one is more than 20 years old.
When buying a used 911, Randy Duvall strongly recommends buying as much car as you can afford. "You could easily freak out buying the wrong 911," he advises, noting that ratty cars are out there. He warns that turning a "project car" into something decent could easily become expensive. Like most other Porsches, parts for the 911 can be expensive, especially those related to the engine. Where many cars can have their cylinders rebored during a rebuild, the 911's cylinder bores cannot be machined due to their special Nikasil coating. Damaged or worn 911 cylinder jugs can be removed from the engine case, and new ones can be installed. Budget about $2000 or $3000 for new pistons and cylinders, depending on the year and model of your 911. Randy says a complete rebuild can easily run $5000 for parts and machine work, so take the time to buy a car with a good, solid engine.
According to our experts, having an expert check the car-including a leak-down test and compression check-is a good move, even if it costs a few bucks. "It's worth giving them the $200 or $300, because it's insignificant if you're going to spend the $5000 to rebuild it," Randy advises. Those looking for a Porsche expert may want to contact the Porsche Club of America, as they have their own Technical Committee. "They didn't get that position without knowing something," Randy points out. In addition to a mechanical inspection, be wary of rust on the earlier cars. Porsche started to use galvanized bodies during the 1976 model year, but early cars aren't always so lucky.
A solid 911 will not be a money pit, however, as the cars are generally well-built and engineered. There are a few tricky areas, Randy cautions, as replacing the rear wheel bearings can be tough. Maintaining proper valve adjustment is also very important.
Randy also says many novice 911 owners have trouble when it comes to oil changes. Some folks will only drain the case or the tank, but not both. Others will drain both, but their catch can isn't big enough to hold the car's 11 quarts of oil, resulting in a big mess. When checking the oil level, remember to have the engine running and at normal operating temperature.
owner profile: Bruce Keillor, 1972 Porsche 911T
Bruce's 2.4-liter-powered 911T has been in the family for a long time, as his uncle purchased the car new in 1972. Upon his uncle's death in 1996, Bruce purchased his car from his grandmother.
His uncle had repainted the car in 1980, while adding the 911S chin front spoiler and deck lid. Bruce reports that the car was a consistent top-three finisher in PCA autocross events during the late '70s and early '80s, too. Since buying the car, Bruce has had the injection system rebuilt while upgrading the engine with 930-spec hydraulic chain tensioners and valve covers. The car has been lowered thanks to a torsion bar adjustment, and Bilstein shocks have been installed at all four corners. This is the first Porsche Bruce has owned, he says, as his past sports car have been of the British variety: 1965 MGB, 1969 MGB GT, 1968 Triumph TR250, 1969 Triumph GT6+ and 1970 Lotus Europa S-2.
What's the best part about owning it? "It's a Porsche-a blast to drive, easy to work on, reliable and looks like a lot more car than it is. It's also dirt cheap to insure."
What's the worst part of ownership? "Parts can be expensive relative to other sports cars in the same price range."
How are repair and upkeep? What do you figure a year's worth of maintenance costs? "Usual tune-up-plugs, points, rotor-about every 6000. Oil and filter about every 3000-factory recommends every 6000, but I figure sooner is better. Valve adjustments every 6000 along with wheel bearing checks and fuel filter. Factory also recommends changing transaxle oil every 12,000, but I do it when I do the valves, etc. I do all the maintenance myself, so the average cost for parts, etc., is less than $500. I have only had it to the shop for one thing: fuel injection work."
What's the most expensive maintenance item on the car, and how do you deal with it? "The most expensive thing I have had to deal with is a new fuel-injection pump. Had a factory-trained mechanic do it, along with some other fuel-injection stuff while he was in there. Cost about $1200."
What do you figure a car exactly like yours is worth? "Price is always tricky with Porsche 911s of this era. I've seen good cars go for $9500 and junk for $15,000. Lots of it has to do with the knowledge of the transacting parties. With the suspension upgrades, 930 engine upgrades-tensioners, valve covers, etc.-spares, and its really nice condition, it is reasonably worth $12,500. I paid $8000, but had to do the fuel injection immediately after I bought it. And I bought it from a family member for the determined low-end of the price range."
The 356 was the original Porsche, and as such it holds a special place for many enthusiasts. "It's like driving a VW from 1960, but a lot more classy," Wayne says. Even though the model run ended in 1965, you can still occasionally find a 356 for less than $10,000. In fact, Randy just sold a decent runner for $8500, although he admits that most of the sub-$10,000 356s will be earlier A and B models in need of some love. The original 356, which Porsche built from 1949 through 1955, features the popular air-cooled, rear-mounted engine and VW-like swing-axle rear suspension. The 40-horsepower, 1086cc engine eventually gave way to bigger and more powerful ones, with the 1488cc, 70-horsepower mill being the high point of the run. Unfortunately, these original 356 cars are still quite rare and even more expensive.
The 356A, however, was produced in greater numbers during its 1955-'59 model run, so there's a chance of finding a decent runner for less than $10,000. Compared to the original car, the 356A is more civilized, featuring softer springs and an updated interior. Engine displacements of between 1290cc and 1498cc were available, with outputs ranging from 44 to 100 horsepower. The 356B appeared for the 1959 model year, with its more upright headlights differentiating it from the earlier cars. Along with the new nose came more interior room thanks to a new floor pan, a larger rear window, a better transmission and cooler-running Al-fin brake drums. Engine choices included flat fours with displacements of 1582cc (60 to 95 horsepower) or 1587cc (115 horsepower).
The final incarnation of the 356 was the 1964 and 1965 356C. The biggest change between the 356B and the 356C was the addition of four-wheel-disc brakes. Along with the brakes came new wheels and hubcaps. Like the original 356, these last-of-the-breed cars can also be on the expensive side. Both Randy and Wayne have a bias toward the earlier A models, although Randy says he would buy the one with the nicest body he could find. Like lots of other cars from the '50s and '60s, the 356 can-and will-rust. Check around the battery tray for problems. Body repair pieces are available, but the labor to do the work correctly can become very expensive. As for mechanical pieces, Wayne says nearly everything is available on eBay. Even though body work can be expensive, Randy says that's no excuse to buy a car with a bad engine: "Just because the 356 engine is Volkswagen-based, you are hard-pressed to rebuild one for under $5000." Since the 356 engine can be pricey to rebuild, Randy says several cars have received modified VW Beetle engines. A torquey, big-block Beetle engine may upset the purists, but Randy says such a combination would make a neat street car. In fact, he knows of some owners of the Carrera 4-the quad-cam 356 racer -that ran VW Beetle or Type IV engines while theirs were being rebuilt. However, he says, the VW-powered 356s proved to be so much fun that a few of them didn't put the Porsche engine back in the car when the rebuild was completed.
Randy also strongly recommends that potential and current owners join the 356 Registry. As he points out, all of the factory-trained 356 technicians are either dead or retired, so it's important to be in the groove as much as possible.
While the 356 is probably the hardest of our Porsches to find for less than $10,000, our experts agree that it's also one of the most special cars produced by the factory. It also can make a decent daily driver. "Nothing else looks like that, Randy says. "Nicest thing about a 356 is, once everything is zeroed out, then it's no more expensive to maintain than a VW Beetle. It's getting there that's the expensive part."
owner profile: Michael Branning, 1958 Porsche 356A
While there are some 356s that can be bought for less than our $10,000 limit, we admit that our example does break the budget-still, it's one of the cooler ones we have ever seen. Michael Branning has an Outlaw 356; traditionalists may not like it, but we think it's pretty neat. The car itself is a rare 1958 sunroof-equipped coupe, but a 1720cc 912-spec engine lives out back. It has been beefed up thanks to a SuperTrapp muffler, full-flow oil filter and Weber down-draft carburetors, and Michael figures it has 110 horsepower on tap. That power is sent through a set of BBAB gears. The rest of the car features other period-correct speed parts, including 356C disc brakes, 15x4.5-inch Porsche wheels, Lexan windows, Moto-lita steering wheel, chrome headlight grilles and polished aluminum fuel tank. A Skirmants camber regulator, roll bar and racing harness also have been added.
What's the best part about owning it? "It's just a fun car with a lot of character. People get excited by it, much more than any other car I've owned, and that's led to a number of nice conversations. Of course, it also is quick and nimble with the 912 engine and BBAB Speedster gearing."
What's the worst part of ownership? "The guilt I feel about not driving it often enough."
How are repair and upkeep? What do you figure a year's worth of maintenance costs? "It's been very good. I only drive it about 1500 miles a year. I know, kick me. The only major issue I've had was a power loss above 4000 rpm;
I put in a new 050 distributor-$75-and a new Permatune-about $200-while chasing the problem.
"I've fixed a few other issues over the last two years with the car myself:
a minor fuel weeping problem at the tank/fuel cock connection, replaced a steering column bushing that was swollen and binding a bit. A well-sorted 356 is pretty inexpensive to maintain and work on yourself. Regular oil changes and chassis lubes are the main things at 1500-mile intervals or less."
What's the most expensive maintenance item on the car, and how do you deal with it? "On a 356, the absolutely worst issue would be rust. I keep it garaged and don't wash with water often. I also don't drive it in the wet. Mechanicals are very solid. Engines typically go 80 to 100,000 miles between rebuilds and transmissions 150,000-plus. Clutch replacement is pretty straightforward. Drop the engine-four bolts-and you are there."
What do you figure a car exactly like yours is worth? "Tough to say since it' s pretty unusual. Sunroof 356As are pretty rare, and this car has a lot of fun modifications. I suppose somewhere from $20,000 to $30,000 depending on the buyer and seller."
912 and 912E
1965 was a major transition year for Porsche, as the 911 replaced the 356 to become the company's new top-of-the-line car. Porsche didn't abandon the four-cylinder market, though, as the 912 made its debut that same year. The 912 shared its body and chassis with the all-new 911, but a 1582cc, 356-based engine provided the power.
Even though the 912 only had 64 horsepower on tap (compared to 110 or more for the 911), the small-engined car was still a hit, outselling the 911 that first year by nearly a 2-to-1 ratio.
With the 914 on the horizon, the original 912 disappeared from U.S. shores after the 1969 model year, but the designation returned briefly for the 1976 model year-the interim year between the 914 and the 924. Now called the 912E, this four-cylinder car used the 1971cc Type IV engine, much like the Porsche 914 and various VW products.
Randy has built a few Type IV engines with dual carbs and big-bore kits, yielding a nice, torquey package. "Under 100 mph, you didn't know it was a four-cylinder engine," Randy says. "That engine makes a ton of torque when you supersize it."
In addition to providing decent around-town power, the 912E's engine isn't so expensive to work on. By comparison, the original 912's engine can cost nearly twice as much to rebuild or replace. Randy says the 912's crankshaft alone costs nearly double the price for the one found in the 912E. Another nicety of the 912E is the use of a partially galvanized body. Either generation of the 912 can be trouble-free, although the early car uses a 901 gearbox-just like the early 911-which some people find awkward. The later 912E uses a 915-type transmission, although it features smaller guts than the one found in the 911, making it somewhat rare. While the 912E may be make a slightly better daily driver, Randy gives both cars high marks. They're cool, he says, although their smaller engines can have trouble supporting air conditioning. Finding one can also be tough, as these weren't the most popular Porsches ever made; the 912E in particular can be hard to find.
Expect to pay about $15,000 for a nearly perfect 912 or 912E, while $10,000 will buy a very nice driver. Some purists would rather have a 356, but as Randy points out, the 912 was the pinnacle of the 356 engine development program. Plus, he adds, these cars feature five-speed transmissions, better brakes and improved handling.
owner profile: Johan "John" A. De Jong, 1968 Porsche 912
A self-described car guy, 77-year-old John De Jong has owned some neat cars over the years, including a Porsche 914, 1948 Volkswagen and several vehicles from DKW.
John has owned his 912 for nine years, and today the car is primarily used for pleasure drives. The car is mostly stock, aside from a Recaro racing seat.
What's the best part about owning it? "The feel of the wheel and pride of owning such a jewel."
What's the worst part of ownership? "Worry about somebody nicking the car when parked."
How are repair and upkeep? What do you figure a year's worth of maintenance costs? "When you maintain the car, it is not too expensive-about $300 a year."
What's the most expensive maintenance item on the car, and how do you deal with it? "The motor, which is the heart of the car."
What do you figure a car exactly like yours is worth? "Worth a lot of money to me, but realistically about $6000 to $7000 range."
The Porsche 914 was Volkswagen and Porsche's attempt at building a low-bucks sports car. Up until the end of the '60s, Porsches were generally aimed at the top of the sports car heap. Those looking for something a little lower on the price ladder had to look elsewhere, as a base 1970 911T started at $6530. By comparison, a big-block Corvette listed for just above $5000. The Porsche 914, released for the 1970 model year with a $3595 East Coast base price, would be the new value leader.
In 1968, Porsche and Volkswagen had put together a partnership to develop this elusive low-buck sports car. The original plan specified a Porsche-designed car using the new VW Type IV flat-four engine. VW would market the base car, although a Porsche-powered version would also be available, which Porsche would market themselves. However, a change in VW management put the two companies at odds for a time, although things were settled by 1970. This new 914 was sold in the U.S. as a Porsche, while Europe knew the car as a VW/Porsche. No matter the market, the 914 featured a two-seat layout, mid-engine power and a notched-back, targa-topped body. Flip-up headlights and a pair of trunks (one front and one rear) further gave the car a look unlike no other.
Unfortunately, initial performance did not live up to the Porsche name, as the original U.S.-spec 914 was powered by the VW Type IV engine with a displacement of only 1.7 liters. Even though the 914 handled well, its 0-to-60 acceleration times of only about 13 seconds didn't endear the car ot the sporting public. (A contemporary Triumph TR6 or Volvo 1800E could kill the 914 in straight-line acceleration.)
A major improvement came in 1973, as a much-improved 2.0-liter engine was made available. It was still based on the original VW design, but Porsche's people specified bigger valves, new steel connecting rods and improved ignition and injection systems. Performance was up, but unfortunately, so was price. The car's $3595 introductory price had risen to $5000, which didn't help it sell.
The 1.7-liter base engine was still available in 1973, although its displacement rose to 1.8 liters for 1974. Bosch L Jetronic also became standard on the smaller engine.
Another big change came for the 1975 model year, as heavy, rubber bumpers were added to the car. Fortunately, these can be easily replaced with the chrome bumpers from earlier cars. As an alternative, fiberglass bumpers are also available in the aftermarket.
1976 was the last year for the 914, and the 2.0-liter engine was the only powerplant available. During the car's seven years of production, however, 115,596 copies of the four-cylinder car were built, making them pretty easy to find. An additional 3000-plus six-cylinder cars were also built, but today their prices easily cross our $10,000 limit.
All years of the 914 features similar bodywork, so mixing and matching engines for the best performance isn't out of the question. If you can't find a desirable 2.0-liter, chrome-bumper 1973 or 1974 model, one can be built from the right combination of parts.
Like all early Porsches, rust can be a major problem with the 914. Typical rust areas include the rocker panels, jacking points and battery tray. With so many 914s sold in the U.S., there's no real reason to buy a rusty or smashed car (unless you hate yourself).
On pre-1975 cars, make sure battery acid isn't attacking the fuel lines, as Porsche originally located the lines under the battery tray. A common fix is to replace these vulnerable pieces with braided stainless steel hose. "You can get cherry 914s for $6000," Wayne says, and decent drivers can be bought for as little as $3000. Even though the cars can be bought inexpensively, he notes that the parts can be pricey. "Every 914 owner has Porsche 914 sticker shock for the first six months," he says. For example, a new 914 door handle can cost $165. A pressure sensor for the 2.0-liter engine, a part that's necessary for the engine to run properly, costs almost $400. (Wayne says you can check the part's vacuum by sticking your tongue on the opening.) Figure a minimum of $3000 for an engine rebuild. For that reason, Wayne recommends buying the nicest car possible (advice that has pertained to pretty much every Porsche on our list). He warns that a lot of money spent on a first-class restoration will probably be tough to recoup. Do note that the 2.0-liter cars are more desirable and offer better performance than the 1.7- and 1.8-liter 914s.
owner profile: John P. Alpaugh, 1975 Porsche 914
Six years ago, John bought this 1975 2.0-liter Porsche 914 from a good friend who had owned the car since 1983. After getting about 85 percent of the way through a lot of bodywork, the friend lost interest and sold the car to John for $4500. Even though the car had spent many years just sitting, John says it made the 750-mile trip to his South Carolina home with little drama. John used the 914 as a daily driver for two years, until he discovered that rust had destroyed the passenger's side main frame rail. "A specialty body shop in Columbia repaired it so that it is now very strong," he explains. "It was an expensive repair-more than the car is worth." The next big repair came in October 1999, when oil starvation at a PCA track event led to an engine failure. During the ensuing rebuild, John went with higher-compression Euro pistons and a FAT Performance camshaft, although the f actory fuel injection was retained for drivability. Other mods include BMW 3 Series front calipers, a Sachs clutch and KYB rear shock absorbers.
What's the best part about owning it? "The very top of the list: driving it!"
What's the worst part of ownership? "The times that it isn't available to be driven due to needed upgrades/repairs."
How are repair and upkeep? What do you figure a year's worth of maintenance costs? "I would estimate about $1500 a year. That includes a set of tires, which only last about a year or less. That is because I use them on the track for drivers' ed."
What's the most expensive maintenance item on the car, and how do you deal with it? "I'm figuring by maintenance we are just talking regular consumables like oil changes, brakes, tires, etc. For me, that would be tires-Yokohama A008P, 195/60ZR15. They aren't really too bad, about $450/set. I only get about 7000 miles because I use them on the track and street and run lots of negative camber."
What do you figure a car exactly like yours is worth? "$7000 to $7500."
944, 944 Turbo and 924S
Even though the 914 lived a troubled life, it did not discourage Porsche from exploring the lower end of the price spectrum. The next low-buck Porsche would be the front-engined, water-cooled 924, which made its U.S. debut for the 1977 model year. (The car was available in other markets a year earlier.) Originally conceived by VW, the 924 was supposed to be a sports car for the masses, featuring a popular MacPherson strut front suspension, huge glass hatchback and seating for four. Semi-trailing arms and torsion bars out back yielded a compact package that handled well.
Somewhere along the line, the car became a Porsche project, although lackluster engine performance kept it from appealing to the traditional Porsche customer, both then and now. The car saw success in racing, but it never really caught on like the 356, 944 and 911 variants. However, that basic 924 shape wasn't bad, and it served as the basis for the 944, introduced to European customers for the 1981 model year. While the basic elements were the same, the 944 received flared fenders, Porsche 924 Turbo suspension and brakes and a real Porsche engine. Producing 150 horsepower, the 944 initially used a 2.5-liter engine that was basically half of the 928's V8 engine. Both cars shared a cylinder head, bore and stroke. The 944 made its U.S. debut on May 1, 1982, badged as a 1983 model. Even though some enthusiasts still didn't like the idea of a front-engined, water-cooled Porsche, the 944 gained praise right off the bat from the various automotive magazines. Prospective owners lined up, and some waited two and a half years for the chance to own one.
During the middle of 1985, the 944 received its first makeover, as the 924-derived, squared-off dashboard was replaced with a more modern, rounded one. Porsche engineers also raised the steering wheel slightly, giving the driver's thighs a bit more room.
The car's looks wouldn't change much over the years, although power would continually rise. A 217-horsepower turbocharged engine became an appealing option starting with the 1986 model year, while the 188-horsepower, 16-valve 944S joined the lineup in 1987.
In 1988, the regular 944 received a slight increase in compression ratio, raising engine output from 150 horsepower to 158. 1988 also saw the introduction of the Turbo S, which came with a modified turbo, more favorable computer, heavy-duty clutch, limited-slip differential, Koni shocks, 928 brakes and stiffer bushings. Only 1000 examples were built. 1989 pretty much signaled the end of the 944. It was the last year for the standard 944 and the 944 Turbo. Both 1989 models are pretty special, however, as the "normal" 944 featured a 2.7-liter, 162-horsepower engine, while the 1989 944 Turbo received the goodies that make the 1988 Turbo S so appealing. The 3.0-liter, 16-valve 944 S2 also made its debut that same year, and remained the only 944 model available until the 968 replacement arrived in 1992.
"I don't think there isn't one you couldn't buy under $10,000," Randy says of the regular 944 models. Even so, he recommends buying the best car you can afford, as the newest 944 is still more than 10 years old. As for year-to-year differences, Randy likes the 1985 ÃÂ¯ÃÂ¿Ã1/2 and up cars, calling the early ones developmental cars.
His other recommendation is the 1987-'88 924S. For two years, Porsche offered the 924S to U.S. consumers. The narrow body and early interior harkened back to the original 924, but the 924S features the 944's engine and drivetrain. Prices tend to be on the lower end, yet performance is right there with the 944. "They're great Club Race cars," he says, "and they're kind of sneaky on the street."
The 944 has several major pluses, from its modern design to its galvanized bodywork, but there are a few problem areas that need to be addressed. For one, these engines feature an interference design, so a broken timing belt can be an expensive problem as the valves meet the pistons. Figure a grand or two to fix that mess. Old oil and coolant seals can be a cause of belt problems, as these liquids attack rubber engine components. Worn engine mounts are also common, and Randy reports seeing lots of water pump problems. "Water pumps can be a pretty weak spot on that car," he reports. The hot fix there is to upgrade to the 944 Turbo water pump. Sunroof assemblies can also be a problem. "The cable system gets goofy," Randy says, and replacement parts can be hard to find. Unfortunately, buying a new sunroof assembly may be the only fix. He has also seen rear windows leak, more on cars from hot climates.
The cars feature good electronics, although problems can come up. Electrolyte and acid leaks from the battery can attack the alarm controls, while a bad DME relay can immobilize any car. The DME relay controls the engine's spark and fuel delivery, so our experts recommend carrying a replacement. Engine rebuilds for the 944 are not as pricey as those for the 911, but could still cost a few thousand dollars. As an alternative, Randy says a 968 conversion would be cool, as the later engine features 3.0 liters of displacement, Variocam variable valve timing and a clutch setup that allows easier changes. (The 944 features a rear-mounted transaxle, and clutch changes can be a bear.)
Everything that goes for the 944 pertains to the 944 Turbo models, as more power can only be a good thing. "A good running 944 turbo is a joy," Randy says, even though there is some turbo lag. "It's pretty much on or off." On the plus side, the 944 Turbo's lower compression ratio means the engine doesn't have an interference design. We're not saying it's okay to neglect the timing belt, but you're not totally screwed should it breaks. On the downside, the 944 Turbos still command more money. For $10,000, Randy figures there are two choices: Buy the the world's nicest "regular" 944, or pick up a 944 Turbo that probably needs some attention. What about the original 924? Wayne says he would shy away from one of them, as the parts are still expensive, the cars don't have a great performance image, and other Porsches tend to have a larger enthusiast following. Add up those factors, and you have a lot of ratty, unloved cars flooding the marketplace.
On the other hand, Wayne says, there's a chance that maybe one day down the road, a really, really nice 924 would be worth something, mainly because it would be such a rarity.
owner profile: Charli De Jong, 1988 Porsche 924S
Charli had bought her 924S only one month prior to our test day, but Porsches and German cars have been part of her family for years. (See her dad's 912 profile.) She purchased the 924S because she wanted something fun to drive; so far, she says, the car has delivered.
She and the car recently took a weekend trip from her South Carolina home to Maryland. "It drove great," she says. "Actually, the engine ran cooler at higher miles per hour."
What's the best part about owning it? "It's so much fun to drive that I use it as a stress reliever. I also like the looks I get! Porsche owners come from all walks of life, yet there is always a Porsche family to hang out with, therefore, great camaraderie."
What's the worst part of ownership? "Everyone thinks because you have a Por sche, you have money to burn."
How are repair and upkeep? What do you figure a year's worth of maintenance costs? "Spending the money to buy a solid used car will save money in the long run. My car is relatively easy to work on, so I do a lot myself."
What's the most expensive maintenance item on the car, and how do you deal with it? "Timing belt replacement-plan ahead and save money for it. Next is tires. I try not to drive too much like a maniac in order to make them last."
What do you figure a car exactly like yours is worth? "Since mine is mechanically solid, has an excellent body and all original parts, it probably ranks on the upper end near $6000."
owner profile: Dan Gielas, 1987 Porsche 944
Dan Gielas, a 20-year-old student, brought his 944 (and his dad) from Pennsylvania down to South Carolina for our test day. The 944 serves as his daily driver, while it is also used for local autocross events. Instead of seeing repairs as necessities, Dan has used the opportunities to replace stock parts with upgraded equipment.
During the engine rebuild his car needed after a rod bearing failure, Dan installed an Elgin camshaft, baffled 944 Turbo oil pan and turbo-spec oil pump. An Autothority performance chip, Sachs Turbo clutch and Meineke exhaust system have also been added.
Underneath the car, Dan runs Koni Sport shocks and struts, Weltmeister progressive front springs and Ferco semi-metallic brake pads. "Suspension is almost complete," he says, "only new torsion bars, better front sway bar and rear bushings remain." Bridgestone Potenza RE71 tires in a 225/50ZR15 size have been wrapped around the stock 15-inch phone dial wheels.
What's the best part about owning it? "Upon mention of my car, the brand name of Porsche is instantly recognized and respected. It automatically gets a bit of surprise from anyone, considering I'm 20 years old and have been driving it since 18. Also, it is built with the same quality as the 911s. "
What's the worst part of ownership? "I feel the assumptions made in calling it a Porsche are somewhat undesirable. It makes people think I'm a rich kid or a snob. As far as the car itself goes, it is a bit expensive to maintain. Proper care is definitely necessary or you will have large bills. And the go-fast goodies aren't cheap."
How are repair and upkeep? What do you figure a year's worth of maintenance costs? "The car is remarkably easy to maintain. It runs fine on 87 octane, and does not consume quarts of oil weekly. The engine is well behaved and does not have cold start or idle problems at all. The brakes put up to repeated abuse without incident.
"The killer with this car is when you neglect it even a little bit. Mine has over 130,000 miles, and the engine was definitely used. Last summer I started driving it three to four times more miles in a week, and after a few hundred miles, it lost enough oil to spin the #2 bearing, the most common engine failure in these cars other than a broken timing belt. Parts and labor added up to almost the original cost of the car-just under $5000. However, once the work was complete, the car was literally as fresh mechanically as it was from the factory."
What's the most expensive maintenance item on the car, and how do you deal with it? "I would say the clutch itself is the most expensive item, but hopefully that is a one-time fix. After doing the job myself, I would recommend any do-it-yourselfer to save the labor costs and do it themselves. It is only time consuming, which is good if you're saving yourself a labor bill."
What do you figure a car exactly like yours is worth? "All of the required maintenance items for a car with my mileage have been done. Most of the engine internals have been upgraded with brand-new pieces better than stock. The suspension is Koni yellow Sports all around with street/race springs in front and upgraded sway bars front and rear. The interior is perfect. The exterior-small dents and chips-and the mileage are the only things keeping the car out of the $9000 level. I would expect my car to be worth as much as $8000."
owner profile: Corey Crowley, 1988 Porsche 944 Turbo (model 951)
Corey has owned his 944 Turbo for about a year, and it's still close to stock, as only a computer chip and Lindsey Boost enhancer have been added.
What's the best part about owning it? "The best thing about owning the car is that it provides a lot of Porsche for the price. In order to get a 911 with the same horsepower and brake setup, it would have cost me double."
What's the worst part of ownership? "The worst part of owning a 944 is that some purists think it's not a real Porsche."
How are repair and upkeep? What do you figure a year's worth of maintenance costs? "I think about $1500 to $2000 a year would keep any 944 in great shape."
What's the most expensive maintenance item on the car, and how do you deal with it? "The most expensive repair is probably the clutch. It is somewhere around $1500."
What do you figure a car exactly like yours is worth? "I think with my mods and repairs that I have done new-interior, chips, boost enhancer, suspension, brakes and electronics-around $12,000."
The 928 is an interesting animal, as its family tree shares few branches with other members of the Porsche family. Way back in 1971, Porsche believed that air-cooled power wouldn't be popular, practical or environmentally sound forever, so a new flagship would be needed. This new car would be totally contemporary in design, featuring a front-mounted, water-cooled V8 engine. Unlike any production Porsche that came before or since, this new car would use a V8 engine-call it a Porsche for the American market. Despite the gas crunch, the 928 made its worldwide debut at the 1977 Geneva car show. An all-aluminum, 4.5-liter V8 was located under the hood, while the transaxle lived out back. Despite the large engine, the car still had a 50/50 weight distribution.
The 928 arrived in the U.S. for the 1978 model year with a 4474cc, 230-horsepower, two-valves-per-cylinder V8 under the hood. Specifications didn't change for 1979, although a displacement increase to 4664cc for 1980 marked the new 928S designation. (Horsepower rose ever-so-slightly, to 231.) The 928S received more power for 1984, with the 4.6-liter engine now producing 242 horsepower.
A big change occurred for 1985, as the car gained more displacement-4957cc-once again. New cylinder heads with four valves per cylinder were also used, and horsepower rose to 292. The car's designation also changed slightly, to 928S3. 1986 was pretty much a carry-over year, although cars built after serial number GS861000 featured four-piston front calipers.
The 928 line received a facelift for the 1987 model year, along with a horsepower bump to 320, but those cars tend to be in the $10,000-plus class today. The 928 was offered in both the U.S. and Europe through the 1995 model year.
With all of the 928 variations available, Devek Performance's Susan Thomas says many customers prefer the early, more rounded body style. Why this preference? The movie "Risky Business" is usually part of the answer. "The most important thing is to buy one that's been well maintained," she says, unless you want a project, which could be an expensive proposition. Up to $10,000 will buy an early-body, pre-1986 car, Susan says, as the 1987-and-up cars can get expensive, with prices ranging from the mid-teens all the way up to $50,000.
Since the four-valve head came out for the 1985 model year, Susan figures that a 1985 or 1986 model could be the best bet: early styling, better performance and the possibility of a price tag under our $10,000 limit. The later S4 cars feature more power, but then again, they cost a lot more money. Unlike other Porsches, lots of 928s were produced with an automatic transmission. While the mix was close to 50/50 (60/40 in favor of the automatics is probably closer to reality), today more automatics are seen for sale. "When people get a five speed, they keep it," Susan says. Even so, the 928's V8 engine is torquey, so it does work well with an automatic gearbox. During the 928's production, there were a few transmission changes that a prospective buyer should know about. The automatic gearboxes were all made by Mercedes-Benz, and the first, 1978-'82 cars had only three forward speeds, while the later cars featured four. When talking about the five-speed cars, be aware that the 1985 and up transmissions tend to feature better synchros. Either way, replacement parts are available; budget about $2000 for a transmission rebuild.
Susan also strongly recommends a compression test. Since the V8 engine produces a lot of torque, a lot of people think a car is a strong performer even when all is not well under the hood. Devek's Web page features information on interpreting compression numbers. Other possible deal-breakers include the clutch, as a repair in this department can be a $1000 to $1500 proposition once you pay for parts and labor. The same goes for the torque tube, the piece that sends the power from the front-mounted engine to the rear-mounted transmission. The five-speed cars have a longer-and longer-lasting-torque tube, but it's still a 10- to 12-hour job. (The torque tube in the five-speed cars is supported by three bearings vs. two bearings in the automatic cars, hence the longer life.) Like most other Porsches, 928 engine rebuilds are not exactly inexpensive. Susan says Devek does basic, stock engine rebuilds for about $8000. Figure about $2000 to $3000 of that price is going toward new parts. These cars also featured complicated electrical systems, so Susan says to be wary of cars with lots of aftermarket electronic parts. Randy Duvall adds that he has encountered 928 electrical systems patched together with household electrical extension cords.
Since these are complicated cars, Randy had a few warnings for us. "They are very reasonable priced, but there's a reason," he explains, as parts are expensive, and 928 experts can be few and far between. "Because the resale value wasn't there, it enabled second, third and fourth owners to bite off more than they could chew-they took cars to people that couldn't spell 928, never mind fix one." Like all Porsches, Randy says a car with a known service record and a relationship with a reputable service center are important.
owner profile: Edward Pelchat, 1985 Porsche 928S
Edward has owned his daily-driver 928S for about a year, so it is still mostly stock aside from Nology plug wires, Dunlop tires and a sump full of Mobil 1 oil.
What's the best part about owning it? "What I like best is the relative rarity about the car. There were only a total of 65,000 produced over the 18 years. I also like the amount of space in the car. I had pretty much decided that I would never own a sports car because of the lack of space. With the 928, I have head room, even with being 6 foot, 4 inches."
What's the worst part of ownership? "The parts for these things can get expensive. Motor mounts are $250 each-$500 total. Eight spark plugs can set you back a little also."
How are repair and upkeep? What do you figure a year's worth of maintenance costs? "I figure you can keep one running for $1500 a year. If you want to keep it nice, it is closer to $2000 to $2500 for the little parts that break that aren't critical."
What's the most expensive maintenance item on the car, and how do you deal with it? "The oil isn't cheap. Eight quarts synthetic oil is around $35. Tires can be a problem if you are not careful. Spinning the back wheels isn't that hard, and it can eat up rubber."
What do you figure a car exactly like yours is worth? "The going rate for the 928S like mine is between $9000 and $13,000. I figure mine is right about $10,000."
Back issues of interest
Check the following back issues of GRM for history, buyers advice and hop-ups on the following Porsches:
Pelican Technical Article:
Affordable Porsches Can You Really Buy a Porsche for $10,000?
David S. Wallens
Porsche 911 (1965-74)
Take your time when shopping for the right Porsche.
You will own the Porsche of your dreams.