It seemed like a no-brainer at the time: The 911 – any 911 – is an iconic sports car with an unrivalled racing pedigree. We’ve all dreamed of owning one, so when the opportunity presented itself, I had to buy it. I became the very proud owner of a 1995 911 Carrera (993) in Speed yellow.
It was a steal at just $21000. Air-cooled 911’s aren’t getting any cheaper, especially with their resurgence in popularity, and this one already had many of the tasteful big-dollar parts fitted. How could I lose?
My excitement was promptly doused by bouts of laughter from your favorite Editor. “Buy it and then tell the readers why you should have bought a GTI in the first place!” he laughed. It was a fair challenge – and after $1700 to ship the car from coast to coast, and a set of Nitto Invo tires to replace the aging rubber, the price tag was within a few dollars of a brand-spankin’-new VW GTI.
Nevertheless, the red mist had come down and commonsense solutions like the GTI were out the window. I was determined to prove Emmerson wrong. After all, I’d built the 993 so many times in my dreams, I already knew what parts I’d need. I was planning on a full RS Clubsport spec – and what better to piss off the locals than bright yellow?
It’s been a year since I bought the car and, as you can see, it looks exactly like it did in my dreams. You can’t miss the tackiest wing Porsche ever built – that of the 993 RS Clubsport – replicated beautifully by Extreme Dimensions, along with the “taco holder” RS Clubsport-style front splitters.
It’s worth saying that the Extreme Dimensions wing is one of very few that correctly replicate the air intakes on each side – and is easily the most affordable of the bunch.
The “RS”-style side skirts come courtesy of GT3TEK, along with the functional brake duct scoops to replace the factory foglights. Finally, I found a set of orange corner lights because clear is so last year!
The previous owner had installed the RS rear bumper, so I left the car in the hands of a local guru to get all the pieces to fit together. In the span of a week, Mr Spoiler in Manassas, VA had recreated my wet dream.
But enough about the body – those Nitto Invos (235/40 and 275/35 R18, respectively) were wrapped around a custom set from Forgeline Motorsports S03 wheels. The beefy five-spokes are true to “RS” sizing, in 18x8" and 18x10".
I’ll confess to having exaggerated the offsets to make the car look cooler, though. If you’ve got a keen eye, you’ll note that the centers are matte black and the lips are gloss black: If you want attention to detail, call the Forgeline guys, they really looked after us. And the deep black makes the “Big Red” brakes (from a 993 Turbo) pop.
Inside, I’ve added a set of Recaro Pole Position seats (in leather/alcantara), which were standard fare in the genuine RS. The plan is to eventually match the inserts with those from a real RS as well.
The car handles like a dream, thanks to the folks at H&R, who supplied Street Performance coilovers and anti-roll bars. I can’t recommend the suspension enough – it’s infinitely adjustable and gives a satisfyingly taut ride without the dislocation of the lower vertebrae commonly found in less-developed aftermarket setups.
The 993 isn’t known for great steering feel, but this one does a little better thanks to the previous owner who had all the bushings converted to solid, heim-jointed components.
Throw in some Porsche RS engine mounts, uprights and a solid steering rack brace and you’ve got a pretty tossable hammer.
Being a 911, it sits in the garage more than I’d like. So I added an Optima Yellow Top battery. Designed for heavy duty, these things are pretty much the only ones capable of managing the parasitic drain inherent in Stuttgart’s air-cooled creations.
But here’s the thing – in the year I’ve owned the car, I’ve put less than 900 miles on it. I’ve spent more than $2000 fixing miscellaneous stuff and doing maintenance work, and I’m not counting the cost of modifications.
It’s a combination of things – once you have your car “just right”, you’re scared shitless to actually use it – hitting a pothole or getting a door ding at the supermarket would be unbearable.
But there’s a cost for not using it, too. Gaskets and miscellaneous rubber seals start to dry-out, leaving the 993 leaking like a sieve. And leaks on this car aren’t cheap. Count on doing at least the lower valve cover gaskets (at about $500) every time you think about leaving the car sitting.
But while the valve cover gaskets are obvious, the car is oil-cooled, which means there are lots and lots of oil lines that can leak. That’s not to mention the boxer engine configuration, which means the crankcase itself is liable to leak.
Then there’s routine maintenance. You probably don’t even remember the cost of an oil change on your daily driver, but in a dry-sumped six that takes… oh, about 11 quarts of synthetic oil, it’s a memorable experience: There are two oil filters, neither of which are cheap, and they’re both really hard to reach if you’re a DIY-er.
Spark plugs, you say? You can pop the hood on a GTI and change the four plugs in about ten minutes, but the 993 takes 12 plugs (two per cylinder) and, if you can’t solve a Rubik’s cube or you have more than 6% body fat, I wouldn’t advise changing them yourself. The job is comically difficult, taking at least four hours with the right tools.
The clutch is a seven-hour job, if you’re lucky, and the piece itself is $700 after a substantial discount.
In short, the 993 is designed to haul ass first, and be easy to work on second. Okay, third. Or fourth… And I’m leaving out simple stuff like gas mileage. It’s worse than you’d think, because if you want to keep carbon deposits from building up inside the engine, you need to drive the car hard – it blows the soot out of small air passages in the heads. But when you drive it hard, you pay at the pump. If you drive slowly, you pay in the rebuild. Pick your poison!
However, you better keep the speed down because what cop isn’t going to notice a car like this?
Truth be told, I can’t count the number of times I’ve wished for a GTI – it’s got a warranty and I can park it on my busy city street without cringing. You can do a hell of a lot more with a GTI, too. Drive it every day, and in any weather; pack it with your four best friends, throw the luggage in the back and get 33mpg all the way to the beach. And I won’t even get into the speed – the direct-injected GTI is no slouch, knocking out 0-60mph in 6.7sec stock before you start modifying.
Should we talk about the safe and predictable handling characteristics? Damn, I’d have put 10,000 miles on a GTI by now. Dollar per mile, the GTI is the clear winner…
Unless you count depreciation. The 993 has, if anything, been going up in value each year. Even when you count the cost of repairs, you won’t be approaching the depreciation of a new GTI.
So what’s our conclusion? The fact is, the 993 isn’t a daily driver (I’ll catch flak on the Porsche forums for that statement). Its rarity will make you feel like a fool for driving it, and the cost of repairs will make you wish you had a GTI. That’s not to mention the fears I talked about above.
Things change if you already have a GTI. And a garage: Park the 993 and drive it on special occasions. The feeling you get from driving an old 911 is, to quote Ferriss Bueller, “So choice.”
The A-pillar is 6" from your head – you can touch your nose to the windshield and can wrap your arm around the roof. There’s not an engine out there that sounds like an air-cooled boxer-six, and you’ll enjoy it whether you’re blasting back roads or heading for groceries. The car has a bumpy growl that makes me smile even at idle. And not that I care, but you can park a 993 at Cars & Coffee without feeling like a jackass. Try that with a GTI. So, our cop-out conclusion? Make more money, own both.
And there’s more…
After waiting anxiously for the 993 to arrive, I could finally hop in and go for a spin. The car would be fine, of course – it passed an independent pre-purchase inspection with flying colors as well as the leakdown test. But, it wasn’t fine, it didn’t feel as fast as it should have.
Fortunately, my friend has exactly the same car (it was handmade by the same guy, just six days later!) and the difference is obvious. On a good day, my 993 +felt like my mother’s Acura TSX. So the 993 that was supposed to be a turn-key affair underwent ten months of troubleshooting that delayed this article. Everything, and I mean everything, was checked by three different Porsche experts at three different shops.
Following the lack of a simple solution, my heart sunk knowing that it would probably need a rebuild. And here’s the trick about buying a car that originally cost $65000 – you’re paying for maintenance and upkeep on that original value. So despite the relative simplicity of the tried-and-true 3.6-liter 12v engine, rebuilding the top-end will cost you close to $7000. And with the 100,000 miles mine has done, I may as well start looking at the bottom end, too. Oh, and it’d be smart to do the clutch while you’re in there!
The idea that it needed a rebuild didn’t feel right. The leakdown checked out, and the shop responsible for the pre-purchase inspection reported the car wasn’t just okay – it was fast.
We decided to remove the catalytic converters despite clogged cats having been ruled out already in a backpressure test by a previous mechanic. But what’s an hour of labor when you’re about to drop $7k on a rebuild?
“Wow, the power is there!” proclaimed the email from Chapman Auto Werks. I couldn’t believe my eyes. After $1800 in troubleshooting labor over three mechanics and ten months of Honda power, Taylor Chapman solved my problem in an hour.
I placed a call to Fabspeed to get high-flow catalytic converters (they’ll pass emissions in VA and still net a claimed 8hp over stock), and I’ll be on the road by the time you read this.
So I had a lucky break, but in truth I should sell it before it’s too late. But a sexy car is like a sexy woman – able to dig deeper into your bank account than you might ordinarily go. If this were the GTI – even a mythical $60,000 GTI – the for-sale ad would have been up long ago. But those curves… Who can resist those curves?