I BOUGHT A 911 (AND SOLD) TURBO
LACHLAN DIVES HEAD FIRST INTO PORSCHE 911 OWNERSHIP, ONLY TO DISCOVER ONE OF HIS LIFE’ S DESIRES ISN’ T WHAT HE THOUGHT …
As much as I look forward to revisiting all-day drinking at the flat, using T-shirts as pillowcases and investing in a toupee, I’d like to think I’m a few years away from a full-blown mid-life crisis. Despite this, when the opportunity presented itself to own a Porsche 911, I jumped at it. And as strange as it might seem, it was a financially motivated decision.
In the last five years or so, something interesting has been happening in the used Porsche market (let alone the rest of the classic car market, we’ll deal with that another time). To the untrained eye, they’re simply rear-engined sports cars with the three numbers more recognized as a symbol for a historic New York tragedy, and as the most famous phone number in the world, than as a car. But for a few, those numbers — paired with an air-cooled horizontally opposed Boxer engine — have meant a big pay day. Porsche stopped making the air-cooled engine late last century, which caused a furore among those adorned with Porsche-emblazoned caps and jackets. How dare they mess with perfection? What was the rationale for water cooling over air cooling? (For a very long time there have really been no other cars — bar the VW Beetle — that have been powered by air-cooled engines).
So as I was walking the dog a while back, I came across a gaggle of gentleman lingering around a garage. Inside this garage sat a very tidy 996 Turbo.
Like many others, I’d been following the used 911 market with interest, and a slightly raised eyebrow. The prices for air-cooled Porsches have gone bananas of late, and when I spotted a $300,000 993 Turbo for sale in Christchurch earlier last year disappear within 24 hours of being listed, I got curious and called the dealer. It sold for full asking price immediately. Since then, the overseas market has headed further into the asylum, with the US$2 million asked for a very tidy 993 GT2 ending with a sale for US$2.4M.
On the back of all of this, I asked the owner of the 996 if he would be interested in selling. As it happened, he was planning a move back to the UK, so he told me he’d consider it. We swapped contact info, as he was jumping on a plane that day, and went our separate ways. Several weeks later, I received an email from the owner telling me he wouldn’t be coming back to NZ, and the Porsche was mine if I could stump up the cash. All things considered (all things being new tyres and a service required), his asking price was more than fair based on historic pricing of 996 Turbos.
This was last year, and you’d think, as a car writer, the first thing I should have probably done is write about it. To tell you how amazing it is to finally live out my life’s desire to own a 911. I’d tell you the sublime driving experience makes it one of the best cars on the road, and that its tried and tested formula nears the peak of perfection. But I’d be lying. So I didn’t write about it. I drove it a bit. I put a baby seat in the back of it and took it on a road trip. It broke down, it needed a new fuel pump, so I got it fixed and it went a bit better. So I took it on another road trip. Then I locked it up in the garage and carried on with my life.
Time has not been particularly kind to the 996 generation of the 911. Not only did Porsche decide to move to the previously mentioned water cooling, which pissed off more than a few people, but they also introduced new headlights. “New headlights?”, I hear you say, “who cares?!?”. Well, the internet cares. At the start of the century, in the darkness of living rooms and offices around the world, to the sound of dial-up whirring and banging, the internet went nuts over the new 911. And it never really stopped. Despite the correction of the headlight issue in the 997 and subsequent 991, the 996 appears to be destined to be the ugly duckling of the 911 family.
Apart from the change to a fundamentally more sensible cooling system for any vehicle and some new headlights, the 996 appeared to be a good car (says the eternal optimist). Not long after its release, issues were being raised about something called an IMS bearing (not to be confused with the equally problematic IBS). The IMS bearing has ultimately been the 996’s Achilles' heel, and meant every person with a half-formed opinion and a keyboard has something to say about it. The reality, as
I understand it, is this. Yes, it’s a bearing similar to an axle bearing that can effectively self-destruct for no good reason. Some will be lucky, some won’t. It’s not cheap to fix, and once it is fixed, it doesn’t mean it will stay that way. As luck would have it, the Turbo utilized a different block and gearbox entirely. In fact, the engine was a race-derived number and solid as a rock.
Lows of expectations
So, I bided my time. I waited for the market to skyrocket. I waited for this ugly duckling to become a swan, I was merrily counting my chickens. But nothing happened. A few other punters sent their 996s down the $1 reserve route, setting new lows of expectations around what they’re worth. My glee at spotting such a gap in the market began to dissipate. I met other people who had, over the previous several years, had punts on the 996. I met even more who had owned 993s and 930s and sold them at the bottom of the market when no one really wanted them. I was adamant this wouldn’t happen to me.
I came very close to doing a deal with a BMW 1M, which would have made me very happy, and I’m quite sure is a safer punt than a 996 Turbo. Unfortunately that car sold before I was able to get the deal over the line. I dropped the price of the 996 a little, and a gentleman who had previously viewed the car came out of the woodwork. At the new price, he was interested (of course he was). So we made a deal. My foray into ‘classic’ Porsche ownership hadn’t made me rich, but it had allowed me to tick a box and have some fun.
The new owner has promised to take me for a drive once it’s all sorted. So, I look forward to jumping in the passenger’s seat of the 911 knowing I’ve owned a rear-engined piece of history, but with no great urge to do so again. On to the next box …