I can’t say enough how brilliant I am for buying this 2002 911 Turbo, even though purchasing it was a total accident. It just proves the old idiom "even a blind squirrel finds a nut once in a while." But despite widespread criticism of its appearance, you don’t have to be blind to love a 996 chassis 911 Turbo. I honestly believe this car is the best 911 on the market right now — well, almost.
In my last post gushing about my 911 Turbo, I hinted a little at how great of a value it is. For only $36,000, I was the high bidder on a very nice, tastefully upgraded example, which didn’t need a single repair when it arrived. This is not normal operating procedure for me, as I tend the buy the cheapest of whatever I’m interested in — and I almost always end up spending way too much in repairs, making the total investment more than buying a nice example in the first place. Still, even though I didn’t buy the cheapest 911 Turbo, it certainly was a great deal.
My other 911, a 1985 3.2 Carrera, actually cost slightly more than this car, but I ended up selling it for a small loss to justify my impulsive 996 purchase, and I have zero regrets about doing this. As great looking as that car was and as great as it was to drive thanks to its small proportions, the nostalgia was the real reason I bought it. The smell of the old German leather brought back childhood memories of riding around in my father’s air-cooled 911 as a kid, but I had to ridiculously overpay for this drive down memory lane. With the explosion of the air-cooled market in recent years, prices have reached ridiculous levels, and it seems I shrewdly bought mine right as prices were starting to go down. Everybody that’s wanted an air-cooled 911 has already bought one, and it seems the market is now flooding with cars being sold by less than die-hard fans that have grown tired of the quirks.
So I feel it was a wise decision to sell my air-cooled 911, especially since I wasn’t driving it much. Doing this would help me afford a newer Porsche if I wanted, but I actually think my 2002 911 Turbo is better than the following generation. Stop giggling at me and think about it for a moment: Are properly rounded headlights really worth a $30,000 premium? Obviously the 997 generation has better performance figures — but this can all be matched with a cheap aftermarket tune. Other downsides to the 997 compared to the 996 is the weight, as well as the electronic all-wheel drive (versus the mechanical in the 996) making the driving experience less analog and less dangerous, which also means more boring.
Of course, my modern 911 doesn’t have the snap-oversteer tendencies of the previous generations, which were called "widowmakers" by some, but it’s still old enough that it requires some driving skill to properly handle. With the latest Porsche offerings, all of its computers and fancy buttons make launching and high performance driving easy enough that my five-year-old could probably do it, and that takes away most of the fun, in my opinion. Porsche was smart enough to recognize this and to offer cars like the 911 T and the GT3 Touring, but, once again, those cars are ridiculously expensive, selling for well over their MSRP in some cases.
The other thing about buying an expensive 911, whether it be old or new, is that it blends in with all of the rest. The average person isn’t going to frantically whip out their phone for a Snapchat picture of a $200,000 GT3 Touring or an old 993 911 Turbo like they would a $100,000 Ferrari F430 or Lamborghini Gallardo, so there’s really no "flex" credentials with any 911. Personally, I like that nobody cares about my car except enthusiasts. I’m okay with my wing on the rear not being obnoxiously large — and that I can drive it anywhere without much attention. With the rear seat and decent cargo area, coupled with its reliability and modern conveniences, it’s a very practical car and an easy car to own as well. I find myself driving this car more than anything else in my fleet.
But there is one thing that scares me.
I’m really concerned about driving this hard, and it’s not for the reason you might think. Even with my history of destroying cars on the track, I’m not worried about breaking this 911, but I am terrified that one bad shift might totally wreck its value. For warranty purposes, Porsche began equipping their cars with a rev counter, which records how many ignitions an engine has over redline and at what time. So when it comes time to sell, buyers will ask for this report along with the standard pre-purchase inspection, and one late or mis-shift can have a huge effect on the value. Since the engine climbs to redline so quickly, especially in first gear, it’s ridiculously easy to make this mistake.
A major drawback with the 996 computer is that it doesn’t register how far over redline the engine went, which is something the later cars have. My 996 only has 2 ranges (under redline and over) while a 997 has 6 ranges, which will show an actual "money shift" that is much more likely to damage the engine. Kissing the redline on occasion is normal for a sports car and usually isn’t harmful, especially on an overbuilt German engine, but with this car, it has serious consequences. Basically, your right foot can do as much damage as a dirty vehicle history report.
So I will always have to worry about big brother watching and recording my stupidity. It’s also why I’m reluctant to have my car tuned, since it will dramatically increase the chances of putting my car on the naughty list. A modern, PDK transmission-equipped 911 Turbo wouldn’t allow this to happen, and its high resale values and fewer maintenance worries makes slightly used Porsche ownership truly guilt free. Screaming to sixty in 2.6 seconds with the 2014 and the newer Turbo S would also be thrilling to do.
So if you can handle a 6-figure car loan, the 991 generation might be the better choice, but this 996 is a fairly close second. Just keep a very close eye on the tachometer if you don’t plan on keeping it forever.
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