It’s been a year since I bought the cheapest Porsche 911 Turbo money can buy: a 2002 Porsche 911 Turbo. Classic Porsche enthusiasts consider it the death of the true 911, as it’s the first 911 without an air-cooled engine. Normal people think of it as the ugly 911 with the weird headlights. But people who actually own one, though, consider the 2002 911 Turbo to be among the best, most reliable Porsches cars ever built.
Of course, I found a way to break mine — badly — and it spent the past four months in a thousand pieces. I look back on this past year as a positive experience, but I’m wondering if this great Porsche value party will soon come to an end.
I paid $36,000 for my 911 Turbo, a perfect price for someone who was looking to actually enjoy the car. At 76,000 miles, the odometer wasn’t too high to be worrisome, and it wasn’t low enough to be concerned about depreciation if I drove it too much. Depreciation wouldn’t be much of a worry anyway — Porsches have been great values for many years. In fact, values of this generation of 911s have started to tick up as people get hip to their incredible value compared to other generations (which I think are overvalued).
With a slightly lowered and more dialed-in suspension, not to mention a GT3-style clutch that mitigates the weird hydraulic assist unit it was originally equipped with, my 911 is modded just enough to feel much better than new, but not enough to feel like I’ve gone overboard. I’ve chosen not to have the engine tuned, as the stock horsepower is plenty, and I love the feeling of the Turbos lagging in late to the party, as though Chuck Norris just roundhouse-kicked the rear bumper. With a tune — or on a newer, variable-turbo 911 — that hilariously fun lag is all but gone.
Despite having an old-school Porsche feeling (which I like) and a mechanical all-wheel-drive system that makes it less dangerous than previous widow-maker generations, old-school enthusiasts hate this car because of the coolant coursing through the engine’s veins. But personally, I’m thrilled this Porsche is so unloved. Between all the hype around newer Porsches and the brand’s manifold special editions (which aren’t even that rare anymore), prices are way too high, and car values aren’t depreciating much. Of course, the air-cooled Porsche craze has brought older Porsche prices to downright crazy levels, too.
So it was an easy decision to put my money where my mouth is and pony up for my unloved 911 Turbo. And the first eight months of ownership were flawless.
As I got to know the car, I found many more things that I loved, such as the leather, which is soft and supple and has somehow held up really well for almost 20 years. The car’s holding together really well, too: The chassis hasn’t developed any creaks or rattles, the electronics haven’t gotten fiddly, and all the pixels in the dash still work. These are the kinds of problems that plague other German brands, but this Porsche seems as though it was built to last forever.
I did have to spend some money on this car. OK, a lot of money. But the first part was elective. I swore that I wasn’t going to buy another silver 911 after having one already. But it seems that Porsche owners were really boring with their color choices back in the day, as it feels like half of the 996-chassis Porsche 911 cars brought into this world were silver. I felt my car was a good enough deal, so I went for it anyway — and later wrapped it in Gulf Orange. Unfortunately, the wrap hasn’t held up that well, as the weird contours of the car and the shrinking vinyl have the wrap peeling everywhere. The shop will be rewrapping the car for free — and using a better quality vinyl — as soon as I want to schedule it.
For now, though, I’m just too excited to have this car back after it spent months in pieces.
About that: It seems that when Porsche 911 engineers were new to this whole water-cooling idea, they decided that the best approach to attach coolant pipes to the engine was to glue them together. As these cars age or rack up track miles, the glued coolant lines tend to fail. Catastrophically.
My car did that on its maiden track voyage. I could have reglued the blown hose back on, but it certainly would have failed again. This issue is so widespread, I discovered later, that many circuits require this generation of Porsche engine to have a receipt showing that coolant pipes have been fixed properly before the car can put tire to track.
That makes sense, as my stupidity shut down the track for half an hour while they cleaned up the mess my car made. But fixing the coolant pipes isn’t easy, nor is it cheap. The engine has to be removed to reach all the metal coolant lines, which then have to be shipped off to be welded or pinned together. An outfit called BBI was nice enough to weld my coolant pipes for free and save me $800 — but even with those savings, the whole job cost $3,400. Sure, we replaced the spark plugs while we were rooting around in there, as they were easy to reach, and we fixed the old coolant overflow bottle, which decided to fail as well. Still, that’s a lot of money for something every 996-chassis Turbo and GT3 owner is going to have to deal with at some point. (Owners of 997-era Turbos, you’ll be dealing with this stuff eventually, too.)
Yes, it was a big, expensive job, but it could have been much worse. Owners of old Ferraris can spend twice that — if not more — every three to five years for the regular engine-out belt maintenance. And my Porsche doesn’t have some horrible defect lurking inside the very expensive engine that could kill it at any moment — another plus. There are no IMS bearing failures, as on normally aspirated Porsche engines of the era. There are no head bolt problems, which my E63 is notorious for. And my 911 Turbo is free of the litany of issues that plague BMW engines.
So despite not having my 911 for four months while the coolant job was getting done, I still think this car is better than most others.
Even with my short attention span, I’m not tempted enough to upgrade to the next-generation 997, as the huge price increase doesn’t provide enough of a performance bump. Going with a newer 991-generation model would be a major upgrade, but I’d lose the manual transmission — and nice examples are still in the low six figures. While I could buy a newer GT3 with a stick, we’re now getting into the cost of a decent house. And I would lose the back seat, and with it the ability to cart my 6-year-old daughter to school.
So I think I’ve found automotive perfection with my ugly, unloved 911 Turbo. In my opinion, it deserves a Doug score of over 9,000, though I’m sure our illustrious Oversteer editor would disagree. Still, I’m wondering how long this perfection will last. This 911 Turbo will eventually get too old to be practical and start breaking a lot more thanks to age-related issues. If that’s not the case, though, and I have many years of enjoyment left, this unloved Porsche won’t stay unloved for long.
As cars get more electronically complicated — with hybrid systems and trick suspensions, transmissions and differentials, all of which will be troublesome to keep operating — I can see people coveting a time before all of that nonsense and running back to this generation of Porsche. Should that happen, I’ll happily be the crotchety old man yelling "I told you so!" Find a Porsche 911 for sale