Buying a 1974 - 1977 911

How to buy today’s true bargain 911s—pick a good one and you’ll be shocked at how good it is.

by Jim Schrager

For some perverse reason, I find myself attracted to what others don't want. Perhaps I smell a bargain at hand. That may explain my love for some of the most misunderstood and underrated 911 models.

Unknown to many Porsche enthusiasts, there are some great bargains to be had in the used 911 market. No, I'm not thinking about newer models still worth many tens of thousands of dollars, even though these recent used cars may be great deals. And I'm ignoring the early 911s (1965-73) that have recently obtained nosebleed prices along with near "classic" status. I'm thinking of the cheapest 911 models around, cars you can buy with the lowest cash outlay possible. I'm not talking about a rusty hulk or a car with three wheels and bailing wire holding the front suspension together, I mean a running, driving 911, a complete car that can bring years of great fun. I present, for your consideration, the much maligned 1974-77 911s. As we look closely, you'll see there are some great cars in this group and some fantastic bargains as well. First a bit about what these cars aren't.

For the most part, they aren't collectible. They also aren't cars to restore, although you can always improve them bit-by-bit. They aren't cars that will grow dramatically in value anytime soon and won't tend to draw a crowd of Porsche folks to admire. But none of that makes them any less fun.

The 1975 911 Coupe—quick, light and performs as we expect a Porsche to perform. It retains much of the essential feel of the early cars.

They are cars to drive and enjoy. They are 911s that can fit into almost anyone's budget. In spite of what you may have heard, if selected with care, these Porsches can be reliable and great fun to drive. More than that, these are 911s that you can use the way the cars were meant to be used, which is whenever you want for whatever you need. They are, in sum, a dirt cheap way to enjoy one of the greatest cars ever made.How much will all this fun cost? We'll set our budget at no more than $10,000, yet with some luck and hard work, it's possible to find one at thousands less. Pick a good one, and you'll be shocked at how good it is.

I should make my point of view clear: In my experience, Porsche never made a bad 911. There are good, better and best 911 models, but there has never been a bad one. Some years have more problems than others, so we'll need to pick our car with care. But a bad 911, an example in decent running shape that isn't a great car to drive? Never happens.

The 1974-77 911s tend to be blurred together in a single lump because they share the same basic big-bumper narrow-body design, 2.7-liter magnesium-cased engine, 915 transmission, and CIS fuel injection.While these important characteristics are constant, among these four years there are important differences. Two vital distinctions are the degree of rust-proofing used in the body/chassis structure and the extent of emission control problems. The good news is that these 911s, for the most part, have been so disparaged that good cars can sell cheap. Pick carefully from this group and a great car awaits you, all at what rates as one of the lowest cost ways to get involved with the 911 hobby.

Targas, like this 1975 911S, are the ultimate open-air motoring model.The vinyl outer covering and interior headliner wears out with use and age, so budget accordingly.

First, let's get the engine issues on the table. Porsche, along with every other producer, had trouble meeting the sharply tightening emission control regulations that swept into force during this period. They did the best they could with what they had available and the result was often high engine temperatures that greatly accelerated wear. But before we get there, first some good news: the 1974 model year escapes the really intrusive emission control gear that the other years were stuck with. So 1974 cars get placed with the 1975-77 cars but avoid most of the really destructive problems.

The 1975-77 cars ran hot to improve burning the by-products of the combustion process, and given that the magnesium alloy cases were already fairly highly stressed from the 2.7-liter displacement, the higher temps caused serious problems. Valve guides wore much too quickly. Head studs could pull out of the engine cases, requiring disassembly of the engine for proper repair including threaded inserts in the cases to provide a wider anchor area for the head studs. These engines could also suffer failure of the intermediate shaft, a key engine component placed inside the crankcase to drive the cam chains and rarely a source of trouble in previous (or later) engines. When new, these 911s could be a real pain to keep on the road, causing many owners to give up and simply sell, often with damaged or broken engines.

Now for some good news. Today, many of these cars have been nicely rebuilt, with updates and upgrades that allow the engines to run well and with excellent durability. While you must check the pedigree on the engine you are considering, there is a very good chance the problems have been solved—even though the bad reputation may remain.More good news: these are not low-powered cars.A proper 911 from this period is quick, light, and performs as we expect a Porsche to perform. It retains much of the essential feel of the early cars, which is often lost with later cars.

These engines have all the normal issues with 911s, in that oil leaks are common. Turbo lower valve covers are an easy way to reduce oil leaks.Upgrading to Carrera-type pressure-fed chain tensioners is always a good idea. The CIS fuel injection, if well cared, for is smooth and powerful. Do ask if a "pop-off" valve has been added to the airbox to avoid a disabling crack if the car backfires.If the car hesitates rather than running smoothly, don't take this flaw casually.It could mean you have a corrupted CIS fuel distributor or worse. Don't count on a tune-up being all it needs.

If someone has given up on the Bosch CIS fuel injection, a pair of Weber carburetors is the typical replacement. This can work well, but you'll give up a bit of power and may have emissions issues depending on your state inspection procedures.

For body styles, you'll have the familiar coupe, with sunroofs getting a bit more common than in the early cars, and the Targa. Unless you are going to race your car, sunroofs are a pleasant and highly desirable option, but Targas are the best for open-air motoring. The vinyl outer covering and interior headliner of the folding Targa top wears out with use and age, so budget accordingly. For the first two years, 1974-75, rust is the same old problem it always was, other than with the floor pans which were galvanized in 1971, so check for rust carefully.

Now for some more good news: Starting in 1976, Porsche's experiment with galvanized steel envelopes the body and chassis except for the bolt-on front fenders. This is very good news indeed, as it means that these 1976-77 models bring the added benefit of not being subject to the bane of every old Porsche that's been beat around on the street: rust. Do check the battery tray area, however, as battery acid spills will eventually eat through the front trunk floor and can compromise the safety of the front suspension mounting points.

The 1974 911 Carrera is distinctive with its spoiler, rear wheel flares and wider rear 15-inch alloys.

The Porsche Type-915 gearbox is used for all these years, and it works well if handled with care—which means no "slam shifting" and never forcing it into gear. synchronizers can wear with time and mishandling, but good used gearboxes are available starting at about $1,500 or yours can be rebuilt starting at about $3,000. For 1974, 915s have the "quicker" ring and pinion gear ratio of 7:31 of the older 911s, so these will feel a bit friskier than the 1975-77 cars. From 1975 on, 8:31 ring and pinion ratios were used for better fuel mileage and lowered emissions.

These narrow-body cars use the tried and true 6x15 inch forged Fuchs or ATS pressure cast alloys ("cookie cutters"), providing a good trade-off between ride comfort and handling. It is these wheels that help give the narrow-bodied cars the "vintage" feel that makes them special. In 1978, most 911s got 16-inch wheels with wider widths in the rear. Upgrade to the later 16-inch wheels only if you must, as the ride will significantly deteriorate with the harsher tires that fit the larger wheels. In fact, steel wheels dating back to the 356C (although wider now) were also available in these years and our 1976 912E (with a 911 engine) proudly wears a set of painted steel wheels. These 15-inch wheels will accommodate a variety of sizes, my favorite being 185/65/15 as it is very close to the original size of 185/70/15 but just a bit smaller in diameter, which will make the car feel a bit quicker in the stop light grand prix we all enjoy on the way to the mall.

Drive your 911 to the mall? Heck yes, that's what they were built for and anyone who doesn't do that is missing half the fun. Brakes and shocks work well and need no upgrades. For safety requirements, 1974 introduced the integrated non-adjustable headrests that included entirely new seats. The beauty of these seats is that they were padded with sculptured foam instead of horsehair and as a result, will last much longer before needing to be rebuilt. Standard seats have a unique "semi-bolster" on the bottom that takes a seam from each outer edge and connects it to the underside of the seat bottom, giving the seat its special shape. Sport seats, although an entirely new design for 1974, have separate bolsters and are an option in strong demand.

These years brought a few special models that merit comment, although when looking for bargains, it's easiest and usually best to stay with the mainstream 911 and 911S models, as they are the most plentiful. In 1976, along with rust proofing most of the body and all the chassis, Porsche added two new models at the ends of the performance scale. The 912E was a standard 911 body with the 914 2.0-liter fuel injected four-cylinder pushrod engine. It was made only for the American market so Porsche could have a car at a friendlier price, prior to introduction of the 924 in 1977 as the entry-level car.

These are fun cars, but the engines can be expensive as they age. Find a great 912E and it can be a fine car. It's just harder due to the limited build numbers. Some, like ours, have been converted to 911 power and that works well. The other introduction in 1976 was the Turbo Carrera, also known as the 930. There can be some bargains here as well, but not at or below our $10,000 price point. Plus Turbos are complicated and expensive to fix and many procedures can't be done at home in your garage. These are great cars but probably not an ideal first 911.

The 1974 911 Coupe gearbox has the “quicker” 7:31 ring and pinion gear ratio of the older 911s and will feel a bit friskier than the 1975-1977 cars.

Porsche shuffled the 911 models around a bit in these four years. For 1974, you had three USA models (as before with the 911T, 911E and 911S) in the base 911, 911S and Carrera, although the Carrera and the 911S shared the same engine. The Carrera was distinctive with its spoiler, rear wheel flares, wider rear 15-inch Fuchs alloys and big brakes. In 1975, the 911 was dropped and the 911S and Carrera cars carried on with the same engine.In 1976 and 1977 there was only a single 911 model, the 911S, and the Carrera was dropped and replaced by the Turbo Carrera. The one-year run of the 912E was in 1976.To recap 911s for the USA, the base 911 appeared only in 1974, the 911S appeared in each year (1974-77), the Carrera in 1974-75 and the Turbo Carrera in 1976-77. Your best chance for a bargain will be a 911 or 911S model, although the 1974-75 Carreras are occasionally available at good prices.

Things are quite different in Europe, however, where the 1974-76 Carreras came with the 1973 2.7 mechanical fuel injection engine of the 1973 Carrera RS, which makes these cars quite valuable. You can also find three-liter 911s from Europe from this period but they are rare in the USA. Both will probably be out of our price range.

One thing to be careful with in these years is customizing. If done well, cafe racers, RS replicas and the like are great fun. But be careful of cars that were hacked, with patched rust and bent chassis and all kinds of mismatched parts stuffed into a pile of junk. While a beautifully executed "R Gruppe" car is a joy to look at and drive, most of these won't be in the bargain category.

The Zuffenhausen production line in 1974 was run without the efficiency of today’s automation, in production numbers that were limited by the economic realities of the era.

Engine swaps are fairly common on these years, as too many people drove these when new until they broke. That's what happened to our 1976 912E, and it's OK. There can be some real bargains with cars with swapped engines and by no means should you walk away from a car with a different—but strong—engine. Just be sure you buy it at the right price.

These 1974-77 911s have had a troublesome reputation but the fact is by now many have been rescued and can be fun cars. Stay away from any example with serious rust or in need of an engine overhaul, as either makes the car too expensive to own unless you can do the work yourself.It is quite possible with some careful shopping to own one of these great cars for under $10,000.If you have any concerns about the condition of the car, insist on a pre-purchase inspection by a knowledgeable 911 mechanic and be sure he asks all the tough questions.

Buying an old Porsche has always been somewhat of an act of faith. You take a look and if the car puts a smile on your face you dive in feet first to make it better. Nowhere is there more fun than getting a 911 at a bargain price that you can improve and enjoy. The new ones cost a fortune and need no improving, the oldest ones are being taken off the road and into museums at a fast pace, and that leaves the best ones, the cars we can drive and make the way we want them to be. Special seats? Different wheels? An unusual stereo?European-type headlights? It's all within your reach with one of these 1974-77 cars. Choose your Porsche with care and these 911s bring the chance for maximum enjoyment at minimum expense. Gentlemen and ladies, the fun starts here.

Jim Schrager is a contributing editor at Sports Car Market magazine, the 356 Registry Magazine, Porsche Market Letter and Panorama and has written two books on Porsches: Buying Driving and Enjoying the Porsche 356, 1956-1965 and Buying Driving Enjoying the 911 and 912, 1965-1973.

This article originally appeared in the February 2009 issue of Porsche Panorama, and is copyrighted.