PICKING A PROJECT
When taking on a Porsche project, preparation — along with honesty about your aims, budget and capabilities — is key to success…
How to avoid buying a lemon.
Compared to enthusiasts of other makes, fans of vintage Porsches are in a fortunate position — as long as your bank balance features the required number of zeros, you’re able to visit a plentiful selection of respected marque specialists, peruse a line-up of immaculately presented classics, hand over the necessary funds and drive away in a car fully prepared for sale and ready to be enjoyed. Better still, thanks to the availability of early Boxsters, fans of modern classics don’t need to be wealthy for dream to become reality — less than five grand will see you behind the wheel of a seriously well-turned out 986, though the tide is turning, with prices starting to rise as the mid-engined roadster’s twenty-fifth birthday celebrations get underway.
As attractive as a box-fresh Porsche is, not everyone wants to pay for a car restored or recommissioned by someone else’s hand. Indeed, there are many of us who relish the opportunity to take on a Porsche that’s a little (or a lot) rough around the edges, with a view to restoring the car to its former glory. Put it this way, it’s true to say many of us get just as much of a thrill out of recommissioning or revitalising a classic Porsche as we do driving one. We enjoy the restoration process, buying a down-at-heel car and spending every available spare moment (and, usually, far more money than initially anticipated) bringing our four-wheeled friend up to a show-worthy standard. As rewarding as all of this sounds, however, there are serious considerations you need to be aware of if you’re tempted to join this happy clan of hard workers, as explained by Stuttgart Classica co-founder, Will Chappell.
THINK WITH YOUR HEAD
“There’s no reason why even an inexperienced first-timer can’t consider taking on a full-scale restoration project, although it’s easy to lose sight of reality and get carried away with the romance of it all,” he warns. Cosy winter evenings spent tinkering with spanners as a rusted hulk of Porsche gradually gets transformed into a gleaming winner of silverware, all in the comfort of a centrally heated garage and surrounded by the finest tools and all the spare parts you could wish for. Bliss, right?! Sadly, life isn’t like that. You’re far more likely to spend evenings lying flat on your back on a freezing slab of concrete, rain dripping through the roof, your fingers numb, your toolkit inadequate and your language foul enough to shock a shipbuilder as you curse the day you ever bought the rotten Porsche draining your bank account.
Whether you’re a restoration virgin or an old hand at rebuilds, it’s vital you choose a project that’s within your capabilities. Porsche owners who either can’t afford or prefer not to entrust their doer-upper to a professional restoration company will want to do much of the work themselves, but everyone has strengths, weaknesses and limitations, and unless you’re experienced and skilled as a welder, should you really be taking on the 356 you’ve spotted in need of major bodywork renovation? If you don’t know a torque wrench from a thread chaser, ask yourself whether you’re looking at the idea of restoration through rose-tinted spectacles. Take comfort, however, in the fact everyone has to start somewhere, and we applaud anyone who wants to take on an ambitious Porsche project, regardless of their experience or abilities. And, it must be said, learning on the job is often the best way to truly familiarise yourself with Stuttgart’s finest.
“The mistake many people make is buying the cheapest 911 they can lay their hands on,” continues Will. “Just because you’re going to renovate an old Porsche doesn’t mean you should buy the one commanding the
WHEN YOU NEED TO REFIT THE BITS YOU’VE REMOVED, THERE’S A CHANCE YOU WON’T KNOW WHERE YOU’VE PUT THEM
lowest purchase price. Rust repairs could end up costing double what you’ve paid for the car. Stuttgart Classica has seen this situation unfold time and again. Always ask a specialist like myself or my business partner, Jase, to carry out an inspection of the classic Porsche that’s caught your eye. It might cost a few hundred quid, but we could save you thousands, not only by veering you away from a duff car, but also by pointing out what work needs to be done if the Porsche you’re considering is less afflicted by terminal rot. This advice will enable you to negotiate the price you’ll end up paying and save you even more money in the long term.”
As this issue of Classic Porsche ably demonstrates, the term ‘restoration’ can apply to cars in dramatically different states of disrepair, from MOT failures requiring little more than new sills, fresh paint and a mechanical tune-up to be made perfect, to a box of bits a vendor claims to be a rare 911 but, in reality, is more likely to be the unwanted leftovers from an autojumble. Okay, we might be exaggerating, but in the case of the latter (or any classic car that’s not fully assembled on inspection), it’s essential you’re satisfied the majority of components are present and correct. Even if they’re not in a serviceable state, they’ll be invaluable when it comes to sourcing spares or having pattern parts made. Owners of old Porsches are well served by Porsche Classic and a huge number of independent parts retailers, including Stuttgart Classica, Design 911, Sportwagen Eckert, Stoddard, Karmann Konnection, Restoration Design Europe, FVD Brombacher, Roger Bray Restoration, Mittelmotor and many more besides, but model-specific bits of trim not widely catered for can soon result in sky high spend, especially on early air-cooled models. Draw up an inventory of what you’ll need to successfully resurrect the car and factor projected costs into the asking price of whichever tired Porsche you’re thinking about buying.
Your choice of model is very much a personal thing, but again, you need to apply logic to the decision-making process. Be realistic with your own abilities, budget and aspirations. A two-litre 924, for example, will be much cheaper and far easier to work on at home than, say, an early 356. “As a good all-rounder, a 911 Carrera 3.2 with a G50 gearbox takes some beating as the best platform for a classic Porsche restoration project,” says Will. “You might pay a premium for a G50 car, but it’s money well spent — it’s unlikely you’ll need to invest in a transmission rebuild, which might not be the case if you’re considering an older 911, such as an SC, with a 915 gearbox. In good order, a 915 delivers an engaging and rewarding drive, but few of these units have been properly sorted or set up correctly, potentially adding cost to your project before it gets started.”
STATES OF AFFAIRS
He also advises treading with caution if importing a vehicle from overseas. “Often, people buy air-cooled Porsches from the USA without eyeballing the car before it arrives in Europe. They make the mistake of assuming all old Porsches in America must have spent their lives in the dry sunshine of California and mistakenly part with their cash thinking they’re buying a car in need of
recommissioning, as opposed to restoration. More often than most enthusiasts realise, this isn’t the case — many buyers get caught out and end up with a car requiring far more remedial work and greater spend than a Uksourced vehicle would have demanded.”
While we’re on the subject of budgets, it’s essential your finances are strong enough to see the project through to completion. There’s no shortage of semistripped Porsches to be found online, usually a result of formerly enthusiastic owners having run out of money partway through their build. When budgeting, don’t underestimate the cost of… well, anything. Whatever you reckon it’ll set you back (whether it’s having a wing repaired or a steering system rebuilt), the job is bound to cost more than you think. This is especially true when it comes to air-cooled flat-six engines. One job inevitably leads to another and, suddenly, you’ve got bills to pay that are twice as much as you’d originally planned for. “Look through paperwork for evidence of any previous engine work,” stresses Will. “If the car is approaching or has passed 100k miles, then a top-end rebuild is likely at the very least. The condition of engine internals is almost impossible to check on a seller’s driveway, which is why proof of work carried out at an official Porsche Centre or known independent specialist counts heavily in a car’s favour.”
“Don’t be afraid to buy a left-hand drive Porsche,” he adds. “It might sound strange to UK owners, but righthand drive counts for a small percentage of overall Porsche production. Buying a left-hand drive car will not only be cheaper in the UK, but it enables you to take advantage of a much bigger selection of spares and arguably greater market appeal when it comes to selling up later down the line. It’s rare to find someone using their air-cooled 911 as a daily driver these days, meaning the handful of times you’re going to be inconvenienced by having a steering wheel on the ‘wrong’ side is negligible in the context of long-term ownership. In many respects, left-hand drive is the smart move — you’ll have a greater pool of cars to choose from and will probably
end up with a much higher specification Porsche. I honestly see no disadvantage.”
Let’s assume you’ve bought the Porsche you intend to work on. You tell your mates it’ll be a thorough, in-depth build, as opposed to a rolling restoration. What you do now is critical to how the entire project will pan out — it’s all too easy to dash into your garage, start ripping bits off the car and feel satisfied the strip-down process is going brilliantly, but this is where problems can start. A year or so from now, when you need to start refitting the bits and pieces you’ve enthusiastically removed, there’s a chance you won’t know where you’ve put them, where they came from or how they fit back onto the car. “I’ll remember. No problem,” you say to yourself. Take it from us, you won’t.
You need to tackle the task ahead as though it were a military operation. Want to start stripping parts off your new toy? Fine, but each and every item should be carefully removed, cleaned, labelled and stored away somewhere safe for future use or replacement. The storage of parts is vital for straightforward assembly later down the line, so try to establish some kind of logical system, with separate areas of your garage or workshop devoted to exterior trim, interior trim, steering, braking, engine bay and so on. A properly disassembled car will take up a large amount of space, which is obviously a luxury, but this kind of forward planning and attention to detail will save you a huge amount of time (and frustration) later on.
Having said all this, the most important thing you need to acknowledge is that being able to afford a dilapidated project car and being able to stump up the money required to turn that same bag of bolts into a fully operational show queen are two different things. Conduct research, speak to owners and various specialists, get a handle on the costs and availability of the components required for fixing the poorly Porsche you’ve got your eye on. Once satisfied you’ve got all bases covered, get the car home and start work. And don’t forget to inform us about project progress. We look forward to hearing from you!