Evolution. It’s inevitable, and without it, we would all live very mundane and boring lives. When I got into the car scene, I was always mesmerized by German sports cars, especially the Porsche 911 (who wasn’t?), but when you’re 16 and buying your first car, a 911 doesn’t exactly fit into the budget. Instead, it becomes a dream car you hope to one day call your own.
Thanks to some good timing and a strong desire to keep expanding my automotive knowledge base, I now own this dream car, an ’87 Porsche 911 Turbo. My love for Japanese cars hasn’t subsided, but as with any job or hobby, one has to evolve to keep the mind occupied. The 911 is a car that by most standards is technically flawed, with its motor hanging so far back that it shouldn’t even work right. Yet it is one of the most sought after and enjoyable vehicles to drive. Isn’t that why we all pine to own one?
I hope to answer that very question along with a few others. Is this car worth the $25,000 to $30,000-plus entry price or are you better off buying an FR-S/BRZ for the money? Is it easy to maintain, repair, and fiddle with? And of course, how does it take to modification?
This project will be a learning experiment into the world of air-cooled Porsches. Most owners drop stupid amounts of money to have shops fix, modify, and maintain these cars. I’m going to try to do everything myself, because let’s be real here: I don’t have the money to pay for all that work, and where’s the fun in that anyway?
It’s time for me to step out of my comfort zone and challenge my mechanical skills in hopes of showing you what it takes to live with, modify, and drive an old-school Porsche 911. Hopefully, it’s not as daunting as everyone makes it out to be, and that will encourage more of you to step into unfamiliar territory, because there’s only a certain number of Evos and STIs that one can own until the urge to progress to something different becomes too great.
Purchased for the price of a new Scion FR-S, this ’87 euro-spec 930 (the factory code used to designate the 911 Turbo of that era) has 94,000 miles (or 151,000 km, since the cluster is metric) and has already seen a few upgrades. The outside remains stock minus the 964 Carrera wheels. (I would much rather have had the stock wheels, but oh well.) The interior is about what you would expect for a 25-year-old car. The driver seat bolster is torn and the leather is wearing fast. Unfortunately, the previous owner had some interesting (to put it nicely) tastes when it came to the steering wheel and shift knob. The F&F-esque MOMO Apache wheel will be the first to go, along with the faux carbon-fiber shift knob.
Under the hood, or should I say tail, resides a 3.3L single-turbocharged flat-six that in stock form outputs around 300 hp. It’s received a very common BorgWarner K27 turbo upgrade along with a larger Andial Racing intercooler and a Tial external wastegate. The stock distributor has been ditched in favor of an Electromotive XDI ignition system that controls timing and spark. Increasing the exhaust bark is a catless Billy Boat performance exhaust system.
The paint on the car is a still decent for its age. After using 3M’s Paint Restoration System, it looks much better than it did when I bought it; most of the swirls and scratches are gone, so I’ll be leaving it alone.
The car seems to handle well thanks to its euro-spec suspension, but I don’t plan to keep the antiquated torsion bar setup around for too long; a coilover conversion is planned in the near future.
A compression test revealed 115 to 120 psi in all cylinders, which isn’t bad considering factory spec is 124 psi. That means hopefully the engine is in good working order and won’t need to be messed with too much.
Turbo lag is atrocious. For a 3.3L engine, it spools worse than most four-cylinders. The 930 Turbos are known for their slow spool-up, but with proper upgrades, it can be remedied.
Sadly, the bad outweighs the good. First and foremost, judging from the noxious gas stench on my clothes, the engine runs pig rich all the time and is horrible to drive at part-throttle. Tuning the CIS system that controls fueling is a pain and very archaic. The upgraded Electromotive XDI doesn’t help much, either, since it’s limited to zero to 3,000 rpm and 3,000-plus-rpm increments of control. A map sensor helps pull timing when boost is present, but as you can imagine, there’s not a lot of tunability available. The engine runs well at full-throttle only.
I’m going to do my best to see if I can at least get the engine running OK in its current form, but I can’t help already thinking about an EFI conversion. It will solve so many problems that it seems worthwhile to make the investment up front before getting too heavily into other engine mods.
The worst part about the car is the four-speed transmission. Not only is it hard to get into gear, but Second and especially Third gear synchros are worn out, resulting in crunchy gearshifts 75 percent of the time. When time permits, the trans will come out and I’ll attempt a rebuild on it. Even with all these headaches, there’s something indescribable about the experience behind the wheel of one of these things. It’s so pure and raw that I can’t help but grin when I’m driving it.
There’s a lot to be done, though—much more than I mentioned here—but you can bet that every headache and accomplishment will end up in these pages, so I hope you’re as excited as I am to see what this 911 Turbo will transform into.