One of the most desirable sports cars ever made, you need to have your wits about you when buying a 1963-89 air-cooled Porsche 911. Here's what to look for...
How much to pay
• Project £15,000-50,000 • Good £19,000-150,000 • Concours £60,000-350,000 •
Running costs ★★★
DIY Friendly ★★★
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Only a handful of cars can rightly claim to be legendary, but near the top of the pile is the Porsche 911. It’s a car that has been in production for more than half a century and while the name has endured, the car itself has evolved enormously, from a short-wheelbase air-cooled car with 130bhp to a longer-wheelbase coupé and convertible with four-wheel drive, forced induction, water cooling, massive power and a trick dual-clutch gearbox.
Here we’re going to focus on the earlier air-cooled cars that have much in common, but even in the period we’re covering there was a vast amount of different iterations. As a result it can be hard to keep up, but one thing is for sure; whatever you buy it will be beautifully built, intoxicating (if potentially a bit hairy) to drive and a blue chip investment if you buy well.
Your AutoClassics Porsche 911 classic inspection checklist
These 911s features an all-alloy flat-six, although a magnesium block was fitted between 1969 and 1974. The engine is durable if looked after, but eventually the valve guides wear, so look for blue exhaust smoke upon start up and on the over-run, signifying that oil is being burned. (A puff of blue smoke on start-up after a a few days unused is usual though.)
The timing chain will probably be rattly too by this point, as that will be ready for renewal. The chain’s tensioning mechanism was improved in 1981 and again in 1984; these later set-ups can be fitted to earlier cars.
There’s a remote oil tank that’s made of steel and it rusts. Replacement with a stainless steel tank is the only solution; leaving the tank or trying to repair it will lead to debris getting into the engine, wrecking it.
There should be 45psi of oil pressure at 2500rpm once the engine is warm, but if the oil level gauge seems pessimistic don’t worry too much; it’s only reliable at tickover when the engine is warm. Regular oil changes are essential, using high-quality lubricants, and because the sump has a capacity of 10-11 litres, getting the oil hot before piling on the revs is also a must.
Three different manual gearboxes were used on these 911s. The one fitted to 2.0 and 2.2-litre 911s is strong but eventually the bearings go, given away by whining when fourth gear is engaged.
The 915 gearbox fitted between 1972 and 1985 is tougher still, but once again the bearings eventually wear out. If there’s crunching as you change gears, most likely into second, the gearbox will need a rebuild soon. A decent specialist will overhaul your gearbox fitting only whatever new parts are needed, rather than sell you a rebuilt transmission off the shelf.
The GG50 transmission fitted from 1986 is the toughest of all, but the gear linkages wear leading to a notchy shift. New bushes usually sorts things.
Suspension and brakes
While the suspension design remained largely the same throughout production, there were constant improvements. Some cars didn’t get an anti-roll bar but many owners see this is an essential fitment, so it’s worth installing one if there isn’t one already there.
If the dampers haven’t been replaced for a few years it’s worth fitting new ones; Koni or Bilstein are generally favoured. Also ensure the bushes aren’t worn out; investing in a fresh set will be money well spent, along with a four-wheel alignment check.
Fuchs alloy wheels are the most desirable, but they can crack around the spokes if the car has been abused. They can be refurbished but it’s a costly job.
Cars used sparingly can suffer from seized calipers, and the various rubber pipes and seals in the braking system disintegrate with age. Everything is available, but it can get very expensive so brace yourself.
Bodyshells were galvanised from August 1974; earlier cars rusted badly while later ones still corrode, just more slowly. Things improved over time, with 1980s cars better rustproofed. The underseal on 1970s 911s can mask rot, while crash damage is common – both problems that can fester out of sight.
Start by checking the front and rear bulkheads; if corrosion has eaten into these from the base of the screens you need to find a different car. Next home in on the A-posts, B-posts, the front fuel tank support, inner wings and sills.
On early 911s you should also check the outer wings, floorpans, sills, door bottoms and battery boxes for filler. The same goes for the front crossmember, heater tubes, battery boxes and sunroof surround if one is fitted. On that note, sunroofs are best avoided as they’re noisy when open, reduce headroom and can be unreliable.
All US 911s with impact bumpers were fitted with hydraulic rams; some cars sold in other markets got compressible steel structures. If these have been damaged by an impact corrosion is guaranteed, so check the inner wings for rust.
The interior trim is durable, but if there is any damage it can be tricky sourcing exactly the right parts, as there were so many changes and variations over the years. Most things can be sourced on a used basis though.
There isn’t too much exterior trim to worry about. The steel rear quarter bumpers of early cars tend to rust while the aluminium impact bumpers are prone to corrosion, but that’s purely cosmetic.
The heat exchangers that provide the cabin heating can corrode, while the heater controls also seize up. Even when it’s all in good condition there can be an oily smell inside the car – it’s what they call character...
- 1963: The 901 is launched; it’s swiftly renamed 911. The 1991cc flat-six produces 130bhp to give 130mph. These short-wheelbase cars have especially vicious handling.
- 1965: The first right-hand drive cars are built.
- 1966: Cast-iron weights are fitted behind the front bumper to tame the handling. The 160bhp 911S arrives, with Fuchs alloys, vented discs and a rear anti-roll bar. The Targa debuts with a zip-down plastic rear window; a glass screen is optional from 1968 and standard from 1971.
- 1967: The 911T is a budget model with 110bhp and four-speed gearbox. The standard car becomes the 911L, with a five-speed gearbox and dual-circuit brakes. The unloved Sportomatic appears, with a four-speed semi-automatic transmission.
- 1968: The wheelbase is increased by 2.2 inches, the wheelarches are flared and there’s a lighter engine block. There are also twin batteries ahead of the front wheels for better weight distribution. The L is renamed the E, which gets Bosch mechanical fuel injection, along with the S, to give 140bhp and 170bhp respectively.
- 1970: Some of the underbody panels are now zinc-plated.
- 1971: The flat-six is stroked to increase capacity to 2341cc.
- 1972: The RS 2.7 homologation special arrives with Nikasil liners, big-bore engine, magnesium crankcase, lighter panels, wider wheels and optional duck-tail spoiler.
- 1973: The 3.0 RS and RSR editions debut; just 109 are made, of which 50 are RSR racers. The regular 911 gets impact bumpers to meet US regulations, and the engine now displaces 2687cc. A ‘whale-tail’ rear spoiler option replaces the previous ‘duck-tail’ item.
- 1974: The 911 Turbo appears with a 260bhp 3.0-litre flat-six for 153mph. There’s a whale-tail spoiler, deeper front spoiler, flared wheelarches and revised suspension. Regular 911s get a galvanised bodyshell and the 2.7 Carrera can now be ordered with a duck-tail spoiler.
- 1975: The Carrera gets a 200bhp 3.0-litre engine. There’s also better ventilation and engine cooling plus a lighter clutch.
- 1977: The 3.0 SC arrives, with 180bhp (188bhp from August 1979 and 204bhp from August 1980).
- 1978: The Turbo gets a 300bhp 3299cc powerplant.
- 1982: The Cabriolet is introduced.
- 1983: The Carrera gets a capacity hike to 3164cc, giving 231bhp.
- 1985: The Turbo gets Motronic engine management and there’s a Turbo-look body available for the Carrera.
- 1986: There’s now a flat-nose Turbo option while the Cabriolet gets a power roof as standard.
- 1987: The Carrera Club Sport coupé debuts.
- 1988: The Turbo gets a five-speed gearbox.
- 1989: The Speedster appears; 2065 are built.
Never has the maxim ‘buy the best you can afford’ been more apt. Extra cash spent at buying time could slash far more from the running costs over the first few years. It’s essential that you inspect lots of cars before buying and that you do so from a reputable source.
A 911’s worth can be affected radically by its history and specification as well as its condition and rarity, so do your homework before buying if you’re not to pay over the odds. If you’re on a budget don’t be afraid to try some DIY maintenance, but there are some excellent independent specialists out there too, who do great work for relatively little money.
The 911 driving experience is very much determined by which edition you buy, as well as its condition. The early short-wheelbase cars are very twitchy and early Turbos suffered terrible lag, making them tricky to drive.
These early 911s are rare though and in reality you’re most likely to buy something from the late 1970s or 1980s. That’s not a bad thing as later 911s are far easier to drive quickly, without being so challenging that you fear every drive might be your last – some early cars also weren’t that quick.
However, the fact that the 911 can be hard work to drive really well is seen by many buyers as a good thing. It’s all about the satisfaction of getting to grips with a car that can bite back if you don’t treat it properly, but it will also reward you like no other car when you get it right.
Picture courtesy of MagicCarPics
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911 2.7 Carrera RS