For years, I’ve been annoyed by the air-cooled 911 — mostly because I didn’t buy one 5 years ago. To car enthusiasts, recent skyrocketing prices on vintage Porsche cars is a prime example of their gripe against the “investment” era of car collecting — but if I’ve proven anything since documenting my stupid car antics on Oversteer, it’s that old cars make terrible investments. Still, I’ve always wanted an air-cooled 911 — and just like everybody else in recent years, I had to massively overpay for the privilege.
On paper, paying $38,000 for a 200-horsepower, high-maintenance, difficult-to-drive, strangely balanced sports car that shares its heritage with a Volkswagen Beetle seems insane. Even more crazy is that this expensive price only buys you an average example. My newly purchased 1985 Carrera Coupe has over 100,000 miles, a driver-quality repaint and an accident early in its life reported to Carfax. If I wanted a “no stories” low-mileage example, I would of had to pay at least $10,000 more — unless I were lucky enough stumble upon a long-term owner who’s totally unaware of the current market. That does happen fairly often, but it seems there’s a Porsche-flipper on every corner to buy those within 5 minutes.
Despite it being my favorite pastime, I don’t have time to browse cars for sale on the internet at all hours of the day — but I wanted this exact Carrera. Growing up, my father had several air-cooled Porsches — including a 1986 930 Turbo. He paid $40,000 for this highly desirable, 6,000-original-mile example around the year 2000, and sold it a few years later for $60,000 — coincidentally, just before I reached driving age. Today, that car would easily be worth $160,000 — way out of my price range, but even if I had the money, I could think of much better cars to spend it on.
So my budget forced me to “settle” on a 3.2 Carrera, the last generation of the impact-bumper 911, and unlike with my previous idiotic experiences with sight-unseen, cross-country purchases, I had a mechanic look it over prior to purchase. Even with my due diligence, it still showed up with a bad surprise. The blower motor for the AC was locked up, and the old R12 refrigerant was low on charge. From the factory, these cars had marginal air conditioning to begin with, and I had to pay $1,200 to experience that again.
When you consider that $38,000 can buy you a 911 Turbo from the early 2000s with similar mileage and in similar condition, or a really nice 10-year-old Carrera S, it makes zero sense to pay this much for a vastly inferior old car — that is, until you actually experience one. I purposely use the term “experience” rather than “drive,” because just the act of driving isn’t all that impressive. The car is certainly slow by modern standards, and the gearbox is terrible for a sports car — but none of this matters.
The next time you see a nice old Porsche at a car show, ask the owner if you can smell the interior. Chances are they won’t think you’re crazy, because they know how intoxicating it is. Newer cars, with all of their plastic materials, mostly have to simulate this with artificial odors, but the smell of an old Porsche is unmistakable. Same goes for the perfect exhaust note, which manages to sound exotic without being offensively loud.
There are plenty of other things that make an old 911 feel fantastic — but the only one that really improves the driving experience is the proportions. In both length and width, my vintage 911 is 6 inches smaller than a new one. It’s way smaller than a new Cayman as well, and it’s even an inch skinnier than a first-generation Miata. So it has this fun, small-car driving feel — but unlike the Mazda, the quality of materials, as well as the styling, is outstanding.
I’m slowly learning all the quirks, and how to actually drive it well — which is another really rewarding part of the experience. I now totally get why people love these cars so much — but the prices will never make sense. For my sake, I hope the old 911 remains timeless, kind of like a Rolex watch, and that I didn’t just buy in a bubble that’s about to burst — like the people who collected Beanie Babies.