New Zealand Classic Car - - Feature - Words: Lach­lan Jones Photos: Adam Croy

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.

The mar­ket

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.

Ugly duckling

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 …

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