Yes, it finally happened. After nearly 20 years and 248,000 miles, the engine in my 1999 Porsche 911 decided to leave this world. It didn’t go out in a blaze of glory — or with a violent bang. It died in a way that was just as confusing as the way it lived — and I captured its final moments on video.
Last week, I took my 911 to the track. Since purchasing it for $9,500 — and naming it Apollo 911, since it’s driven the distance to the moon — I’ve been conducting a series of tests to gauge the health of the car. The track day was certainly the biggest challenge Apollo 911 had ever faced; it seemed to run great — except for a loss of oil pressure in the turns. Turns out, this era of 911 is known for overheating its oil and having issues maintaining lubrication while fighting G-forces on the track. Just seconds after celebrating a triumphant victory over a Mazda Miata in the last track session, all hell broke loose.
A violent death rattle roared as the engine wildly misfired, which happened just as track officials were signaling the end of the session. I limped the car into the pits and shut down the engine. I was certain the motor was destroyed, but when I restarted it, everything was normal. No death rattle, no misfire — and, bizarrely, it was idling smoother than ever.
I couldn’t tell anything was wrong with the 911 until I started it again the next day. A puff of gray smoke spit out the right exhaust bank for a few seconds, which smelled of unburned fuel. The track day incident had left engine codes for misfires and cam timing — but the codes never returned when I deleted them.
For the next week, I drove my Porsche a few times, and was relieved to find things were mostly normal. The only concern was a slight rattle and a little less power at high RPMs. I wanted to figure out what was wrong, hoping it wasn’t terminal, so I decided to make a video about it.
The plan was to document the smoke on startup and the rattle so a Porsche expert would be able to diagnose the problem. But none of the issues would replicate. I had written a script where I talked about the possibility of doing $10,000 engine rebuilds or an LS V8 swap — but I felt stupid saying it, since the engine was running so well. I then decided to show a few hard accelerations — and that’s when the death rattle came roaring back.
I hurried back to the garage, hooked up my engine computer scanner, and discovered the codes for the misfires and cam timing had returned as well. Restarting the engine resulted in a few odd bangs, which I decided to make a joke of by singing Bob Dylan’s "Knocking on Heaven’s Door." I had no idea how right I was.
With filming completed, I wanted to capture a few filler shots of my car driving along the countryside. I pulled up to an intersection about a quarter mile from my house, and everything felt great. The engine was idling smooth and effortlessly…until it wasn’t. There was no gushing of fluids, no holes punched through the block, no other violent noises signaling death. The 248,000-mile engine just quietly chose that moment to stop. Turning the key was a futile effort. The motor had seized tight.
A passerby in a pickup truck kindly towed the Porsche back to my house. In a last effort during the tow back, I tried a pull start, which only made the rear wheels lock up as tight at the engine. This confirmed what was very hard to accept: My beloved Apollo 911 is dead.
The options I previously thought laughable to consider are suddenly my new reality. Do I spend more than what I paid for Apollo 911 to fix it? Given the massive parts value, I could recover a good chunk of money selling it for spares — but that seems like a criminal offense.
Of course, I have to resurrect the flagship of my fleet — and make it better than ever. I just need to figure out how…. Find a 1999 Porsche 911 for sale
Tyler Hoover went broke after 10 years in the car business and now sells hamburgers to support his fleet of needy cars. He lives in Wichita, Kansas.
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