I’m so thankful there’s still a 911 that many enthusiasts hate. Often knocked for its looks, unreliability and pragmatic engineering, the 996 chassis 911 — produced from 1998 to 2005 — is the lone 911 that most can still afford. Even though my first round with the 996 didn’t have a happy ending, it was still good enough to earn a sequel — and I’m hoping this 2002 911 Turbo I just purchased will be my own version of “The Empire Strikes Back.”
For those who haven’t followed one of my greatest automotive failures, here’s the gist: Almost two years ago, I purchased the cheapest 911 available in the U.S. with a manual transmission and a clean title. This scruffy 1999 with a whopping 243,000 miles set me back $9,500, and it still ran great — at least, until I took it to the track. The car was nearly flawless for the six months leading up to the first catastrophic engine failure — and I stupidly decided to swap the “expensive to rebuild” Porsche engine for a “cheap” LS V8 from a Chevrolet Corvette. It turned out it that it would have been way cheaper to rebuild the original 911 engine, as the total cost of making this Frankenstein possible was over $17,000.
The car ran very well after that, but the exhaust setup was so loud that I didn’t want to drive it nearly as much. I had planned to dial back the exhaust, but before that, I grenaded the engine again at the exact same track that I did almost a year earlier. I was so disgusted with the car at this point that I ended up spending another $36,000 to permanently fix the problem. The permanent fix: Buy a really nice 911 Turbo.
I would like to say this was a planned purchase, but it was actually an accident. I was browsing an auction, and I impulsively bid on a 911 Turbo, fully expecting someone to outbid what I perceived to be a very low number. That didn’t happen, and it was actually marginally above the seller’s reserve price, so I ended up buying a Porsche that day. All I wanted to do was procrastinate on the internet for an hour or so — and I ended up buying a car. Thankfully, any regrets I had went away immediately after the car arrived.
In my opinion, the 996 is the only 911 Turbo left that’s a good value, as the average asking price of an older air-cooled turbo is more than a decent house in Kansas. One could argue older Porsche models good investments, but these aging cars will require a lot of upkeep. It’s not likely you’ll find someone that understands Bosch mechanical fuel injection at Pep Boys, so the only people really getting a decent ROI on an air-cooled Porsche investment are the Wizards of the mechanical world.
Unfortunately, even the newer Turbo cars that have followed this 996 are also very expensive — and while they’re faster, I suspect the real reason for the vast disparity in price is the shape of the headlights. Thankfully, I can’t see the oddly shaped headlights while I’m driving — and they don’t bother me enough to turn my nose up at a 415-horsepower, all-wheel-drive, 6-speed rocketship that I can use to comfortably haul around my 5-year-old in the back seat.
The 911 Turbo also benefits from surprising reliability, and it lacks the infamous IMS bearing issue. The Mezger racing-inspired engine actually sounds broken at idle, like a box of rocks is rattling around inside the engine — but that’s totally normal. My car only has 76,000 miles, and it has benefited from some improvements, like a GT2-style clutch upgrade for a more precise pedal feel, as well as improved Bilstein shocks for sharper handling. It’s a little too low for my tastes, but not enough to make it impractical.
Since I bought it for less than a fully loaded Honda Accord, and since these models tend to hold up well enough mechanically, I’m not scared to actually use it. For most of the past month since I purchased this 911 Turbo, it has sat outside in my driveway covered in dirt with dead bugs splattered all over the nose — and I couldn’t care less. Since it’s a modern car, I know it can handle the elements well — and it will easily look great again with a quick wash. The car also looks unassuming enough that I don’t have worry about getting unwanted attention in a parking lot.
So, really, this 911 is the closest I’ve come to making a rational, grown-up purchase. It will probably make for boring videos — but considering all the drama the rest of my fleet creates, it will be nice to have one fun vehicle that I can actually depend on. Just don’t expect to see me doing any track days with it anytime soon.