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Experts Help You Decide on an Air-Cooled Porsche 911

First-class travel—911 1964-1998

Kerry Morse
May 4, 2016
Photographer: Courtesy of Porsche

The water-cooled 911 has now been part of the car culture for 17 years and as each new model is constantly praised for improvements, the original air-cooled flat-six variants are constantly being reappraised. The subject of air versus water can be heard at club gatherings, Cars and Coffee, swap meets, random conversations, and read on forums. One thing is absolute: The desire to own an original air-cooled 911 has never been more in vogue than at the present. The evidence of the consistent rise in value and the record prices being paid attest to the culture of collecting what has long been considered an icon of automotive engineering.

The market for one of the originals is far from whole. There isn't a polemic structure—it can be as simple as what one can afford to shell out or a purely emotional search for that one car from a personal memory. And then there are the investors. The enduring question is what is the "right" 911 to search out?

Many are first-time buyers who aren't sure of what they really are after and overlook the most basic of questions: What do you want to do with it? The answers are far-reaching and as subjective as the 911 variants from 1964 to 1998 can be. I put forth a series of questions dealing with some of the areas of interest and concern to several individuals who maintain and repair 911s for their livelihood, and for good measure, those who offer up those cars for the market. More than just opinions, these individuals speak from years of experience.

Air cooled porsche 911 experts Paul Kramer Photo 2/7   |   Air Cooled Porsche 911 Experts Paul Kramer

Paul Kramer is the proprietor of Auto Kennel and specializes in road-going Euro sports machinery with an emphasis on the rides from Zuffenhausen.

Morse: Someone walks in and says they want a 911—take it from there.

Kramer: The first question I want to know above and beyond their budget, their sentimental attachments to one they saw as a youth, their friend told them to get one, etc., is how they imagine an air-cooled 911 fitting into their lifestyle.

Many people have a romantic notion of owning an older Porsche. They imagine zipping down Hwy 1 without a care in the world or pulling up in front of a crowded hot spot in town for a grand arrival. However, that really isn't reality. I want to know the last time they drove an "old" car. Do they plan on driving it in traffic to work full- or part-time? Do they have a family that will keep them from using the 911 most of the time, except at the occasional Cars and Coffee?

There really are just three phylums of air-cooled 911s: 1964-1973, 1974-1989, and 1990-1998.

For most people, the long-hood 911s (pre-1974) are out of the question. I've found that usually this is the second air-cooled 911 a buyer gets...not the first. They need to graduate to this level of commitment. Although great cars, they aren't the most comfortable for long drives, they are very expensive, and most spouses don't like driving in them. I think air-conditioning is becoming more important to have a "livable" experience with these cars. I found that, depending on budget, anything from 1974-1989 are great options. They give you that "vintage" experience without scaring you from the hobby. They are easy to drive and incredibly reliable. The only negative is that the clutch can be bit heavy for the novice. I say, go to the gym and do left leg curls.

The 964s (1989-1994) are probably the best solution for someone who wants to "have that air-cooled experience" but isn't ready to have a vintage car. These are basically modern cars wearing vintage 911 makeup.

Patrick Long is a factory driver for Porsche and quite simply, loves 911s—especially those nicht wasser and his strictly for air-cooled cars Luftgekuhlt event is a must for the true enthusiast. Long is constantly asked for his opinion or guidance on a possible purchase.

Air cooled porsche 911 experts Patrick Long Photo 3/7   |   Air Cooled Porsche 911 Experts Patrick Long

Morse: Well?

Patrick Long: On an air-cooled car, I would say a 1989 911 CS. Rare, modern old school, last of the impact bumper generation, one of the fewest production-numbered cars, fun to drive, reliable. No carbs or rust, but no power steering, ABS, etc.

An entry-level car such as a later SC is what I send people to buy for their first car. I think it's the best value for money around and a lot of car for under 30k. Scott Hendry opened his shop in Anaheim more than 40 years ago and continues to provide service with a focus on mechanical restoration toward the air-cooled cars. What was going to be one of two questions turned in to lunchtime with some thoughtful observations covering the full-scale uses of a 911.

Morse: First-time 911 owner or someone who has a 996, Boxster, etc and wants a taste of old school.

Air cooled porsche 911 experts Scott Hendry Photo 4/7   |   Air Cooled Porsche 911 Experts Scott Hendry

Scott Hendry: Ever had someone question you about some favorite trip or vacation you've just taken and then ask that innocuous question: "So what did you like best?" Often Porsches are like that for me. Which one do I like best? Which model is my favorite? The one I'm in right now...

Maybe a better way of thinking about it would be—if I had, and I don't, a hundred different Porsches in my garage—which one would I likely get in and make my everyday driver? That's a question I could wrap my mind around, because my favorite is usually the one I'm in currently. Having worked on the cars steadily since, well, 1967, I remember falling in love with the 1970-1971 cars with their 2.2L engines! What a sound! Then it was the 1972-1973 cars with their new transmissions and 2.4L! Nice! 2.7L in 1974 really got your attention in the day—they could spin their rear tires by just applying the gas pedal! But that hand throttle.... Still wonderful! Then I bought my only new Porsche in 1978—egads! 3.0L! Bigger fenders! P-7 tires! What's not to like?!

So which one would I get in and drive to the store? Or Cars and Coffee? By far, the model that treated its owners the best, smiles per mile, was the 911SC of 1978 to 1983. And that's still the car I recommend today. It's lighter, nimbler, simpler, and cheaper—relatively—than the Carreras of 1984-1989. And, more importantly, they have more personality. True, they are now 35-plus years old—and that factors in.

Something I have noticed over the years—as time has gone on—911s have lost some of their personality edge. They have become more like the rest of the automotive world. And I, for one, miss the clear-cut distinction the 911 had over the rest of that motoring world! I like their old persona—their personality. They didn't do everything "right"—they did just a wonderful "few" things really well! Want proof? Not a month goes by that someone doesn't look at my SC and say something like: "I used to have a 911SC—and I wish I still had that car! Why did I ever sell it?"

So, potential new 911 owner—here's what I would say to you: Buy the best car you can find and afford—it will be the least expensive in the long run! And if you are thinking $30K to 40 something—yeah, a 911SC or 3.2 Carrera is probably just the thing. But remember the first commandment of buying a used Porsche—you buy it—then you spend money to fix it. There is no such thing as a used Porsche that doesn't need something.

Morse: A person who has an SC and wants something better with more power.

Hendry: It won't be better. It will just be faster, more complicated, and heavier—and not take as much skill to drive it! I can't tell you the number of times a customer has made just such a change and wished he could go back! I have a close friend who has a 1996 C2S and then added a 912 as a garage-mate. Guess which car gets the most smile-miles now? Right, the earlier car!

Morse: Someone who wants a driver/weekend track car or a basis for an R-Gruppe car?

Hendry: I'm not sure what the perfect track car is. Probably the same dollar limitations apply. Buy the most expensive one you can afford. The Perfect R-Gruppe car? This is a lot more expensive proposition. And most R-Gruppe cars are pre-'73 long hood—F-body cars—which, by their very definition are more expensive than the G-body cars. Funny, most guys who set out to do this find they really aren't that interested in a noisy, semi-track kinda car. Does your speedo needle frequent the 100-plus ranges? OK, 85-plus? Still, it's less expensive to buy one already mostly done—rather than start from scratch with, say, an empty tub. The magic of an "empty tub" is the empty canvass scenario. It can be all your own ideas. With money being the only limitation. The sky's the limit! An actual quote: "I had an unlimited budget—and I still went over!"

Morse: Last of all, which 911 for casual weekend use that has a potential increase and value?

Hendry: All air-cooled 911s have seen an increase in values. The key here is to get a good car—not just any 911. Low miles are preferred, but original paint tops the list of what's sought after. Followed closely by original colors that are out of the normal ranges. That said, anything after 1974 is probably the best deal—with, again, the 911SC leading the charge.

So, what is it about this whole early air-cooled 911 thing, anyway? They're noisy, you can hear their engines, you always seem to have the radio off, the window's usually down, and notice that big grin on the nut behind the wheel? Exactly! If you turn them on, they should return the favor! It's a partnership. You two are doing this together—not just going for a ride!

And if you don't get it—don't get one.

Ruf, just the name gets the attention, especially if that name also mentions turbo. The luft auspuffrohr is the ultimate expression of the air-cooled 911.

Morse: If an owner of a 996 or 997 Turbo asked for your opinion of what would be the best all-around air Turbo to pursue with weekend and casual driving in mind, what would you choose and why? And if that person asked you to apply your talents?

Alois Ruf: I would definitely choose a 964 or the later 993. With the lightness feeling of the 964, you can develop a certain relationship between car and driver that has the tendency to become more and more profound the more you drive the car. Now the 993's very similar DNA is a bit more sophisticated with the more refined suspension. I love both; the 964 and 993 are great platforms to work on. Besides, they are my favorite models.

Air cooled porsche 911 experts Michael Schatz Photo 5/7   |   Air Cooled Porsche 911 Experts Michael Schatz

Michael Schatz is surrounded by all manner of the testing and diagnosis equipment required to service the late stuff, which provides most of the income to his shop in Camarillo. When asked about which pre-water 911 he likes best and would suggest to a friend, he put down his Stahlwille torque wrench and considered the question.

Having owned 30 or so of them, the answer was easy, a 964 Carrera 2 Coupe. I love that car. My 1991 was the best Porsche I ever owned. What was supposed to be a weekend pleasure car almost immediately turned into my daily driver. The car still has the classic 911 look and feel, with the power, brakes, decent climate control, and enough creature comforts to match—and by today's standard, it still feels like a sports car. It is expensive to own, but in my position of being a technician and owning my own shop, it really doesn't matter. The car was a huge milestone in my opinion, the first truly new car in the history of the 911. Now the hard part: what would I recommend to someone as their first air-cooled Porsche. This is tough one, from a value, performance, cost of ownership, style, etc. point of view. Every 911 is a very special car—the history, nostalgia, the look, what is this person really looking for in a car like this. When I look at the big picture, I'd have to say a 1981-1983 911SC. These cars are virtually bulletproof, they drive well, look great, sound great, and really in my opinion capture the true essence of the 911 with enough modern touches to make it a truly great example, and probably the easiest in so many ways to own.

Air cooled porsche 911 experts Derek porsche 550 Photo 6/7   |   Air Cooled Porsche 911 Experts Derek Porsche 550

Derek Boyck is a young, energetic individual who has a small, one-man shop in Lake Forest, but he spends most of his time at the locations of his clients where he helps maintain their collections of Italian exotica and German wundercars.

Derek Boyck: The more I think about this, the harder it is to suggest just one. I find it easiest to just say a 1974 911 or a 964, plain and simple, but the car I would really tell them to buy in that price range is an early 912.

Recently, a friend of mine had the rare chance to pick up a long hood 73 911 T, for somewhere near 50k. It's a nice two-owner mechanical-injected car. It's not without its problems and needed sorting, but overall a good matching-numbers car. I wouldn't imagine chances at the early cars at that price happen very often, and when they do, usually the car is of pretty poor quality.

In recommending an air-cooled 911 in the $30-50k range, I would look at the 1974-1975 model years. Being in California, they are smog exempt, easy to service, enjoyable to drive, reliable, and parts are available. Anything later, I would go with a 964.

Finally, we have Bruce Canepa. If the Petersen Museum were a retail outfit and restoration center, it would resemble what Bruce has constructed in Scotts Valley. A true car guy to the point of being annoying, his passion for Porsche is without question, and his overall view of the market worth noting.

Air cooled porsche 911 experts Bruce Canepa Photo 7/7   |   Air Cooled Porsche 911 Experts Bruce Canepa

Morse: I want a 911 that I can drive on weekends and take to Cars and Coffee and an occasional tour of 1,000 miles.

Bruce Canepa: First of all, everybody has a different idea of what's fun to drive and what they like. I like short wheel-based 911s—some people think they're a little nervous, but I think they're great because that's what makes them fun. After the short wheel-based 911s, I like all the early 911s, 1969-1973 are great cars, everything from the sound, the feel, everything about them. They're truly sports cars, and then they got a little heavier after that. 1974 is a good car. I skipped 1975-1977 because of emission stuff, and then you get to 1978-1989—those are good driving cars. I would rather have a long hood earlier car, then of course 964s and 993s. It really becomes personal preference. I guess if I had to pick one car, I'd say I'd pick an early 1970s "S." I think my favorite car is definitely a 1973 S.

Morse: A 911 as a daily driver that is considered the most reliable?

Canepa: Well, a daily driver is a 964 or 993. The 993 is the best air-cooled Porsche ever built. It does everything correctly. I can't really find deficiencies in those cars, and it doesn't matter whether it's a C2, a 993C2S, or whether it's a turbo. They're just fabulous cars. If you like a little more of the traditional Porsche look, the 964 was the very best of the traditional-looking Porsches; it's the best to drive and it's extremely reliable. So either one of those cars, the 964 or 993.

Morse: A 911 that I can prepare for concours—what is the model year that shows best?

Canepa: The earliest 911, like a 901 or a very early 911. My favorite is a 1967 S because it's got the performance aspect to the early car. It's actually a really fun car to drive and I want cars that show good, but they have to be able to back up how good they look and a 1967 S is a fabulous car. After that, any S model car in long hood versions, I think those are all great cars. It's really hard to say what model shows best because 1976-1979 turbos show really well, and then a 964 turbo or 993 turbo or turbo S. A lot of manufacturers have one good car every 10 years, and Porsche has had a good car every year for 20 or 30 years, so that's a tough answer. That really gets back to personal preference again.

Morse: Of the 911s you have personally owned, which has given the most enjoyment of pure driving, and I mean on the road not at the track, although with you there is little difference!

Canepa: That is tough to answer. The 1973 S is a great road-driving car, as is an early turbo although those are kind of a handful. I like the way they sound, feel, and drive. And then I guess the ultimate road-driving car has to be the 993 turbo. You never get tired in that car. There's no fatigue. It does everything extremely well. It's all-wheel drive, twin turbo, so it doesn't have much lag. It's got great performance, great handling, great ride quality; that is one of the best all-around sports cars in the world, period.

I mean, I'll take a 935 out and drive it over Highway 17, which is fun because no one expects you to do that. And on New Year's Day a couple years ago, I took a 934 that we put some street tires on and did a few things for a customer and turned it into a street car. I drove that all over the place and that was fun. Yeah, it's a little bit of everything with Porsches. They're all enjoyable.

Morse: The best 911 air-cooled turbo for a buyer for future investment?

Canepa: In air-cooled turbos 1976-1979, the 1989 if you want it for a five-speed, but the 1976-1979s were more genuine turbo cars. They had lag and they had power. The 1989 got a little softened up. It didn't have as much power and it was a little smoother and not as much of a bad-boy car to drive as an early turbo. On the other end of the scale, the 993 turbo is the other great car for future investment because it is the best air-cooled Porsche ever built. I'm not including 959s because they're so expensive and that's a different kind of car. The 959 may be my favorite car, but for the money the 993 turbo is special.

Morse: And finally, pick a 911 that falls into these price ranges you would recommend.

Canepa: Up to 50k: The 1978 911 SC-1989 Carrera Coupe. Those were all great cars.

Up to 100k: 964: A two-wheel-drive 964 is a great car.

100k-200k: The long hood 911s (a really good one now is at least 150). I would say any of the 1969-1973 911s, and that continues all the way into the 200-300 range.

200k-300k: 993 turbo, Speedsters, 964 Cup cars.

300k-500k: Now you're really looking at the rare cars, so a Cup car with no mileage (like new), a 964 turbo, a 993 turbo S. A 73S that's perfect is going to be north of 300k and a 67S that's perfect is also going to be north of 300k at this point in time.

By Kerry Morse
48 Articles

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