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Barnfinding: One-Owner Nightmare

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Article and photos by Adam Wright

I'm Adam Wright, and my brother Matt and I scour the country for long-lost Porsches. Some of our adventures make great stories, which I will share with you starting with this article for I hope you enjoy it and future tales. And if you have any stories you want to share, please do — I enjoy writing about other people’s escapades far more than my own. Please email me

One of the unicorns — and perhaps the Holy Grail for some — of Porsche hunting is the elusive “one-owner car.” I have had a few over the years and a couple of them have been very memorable, such as the 1959 Porsche 356A hardtop cabriolet that was parked in the early ’70s, untouched for decades.

When I was going through the paperwork I saw a Porsche document I had never seen before, and probably won't see again. The owner had picked up the car at the factory and they gave him a pass at the gate so he could walk freely around the complex. You were supposed to turn in the pass at the gate when you left, but he put it in his owner's manual, and there I found it more than 50 years later. That was a cool one-owner car. The Porsche I'm going to tell you about today is more of a one-owner nightmare. 

The riskiest part of my job is I sometimes have to buy cars sight un-seen. It's a roll of the dice, and it doesn't always go my way. Such was the case when my brother/partner found a ’87 911 Carrera, a one-owner car in New Orleans. The first thing you think is Katrina, but we were assured it was not damaged in the historic hurricane.

We had a few fuzzy photographs and a good (or so we thought) description of the car from the owner. He said it was his high school graduation present in 1987. (All I could think was, when I graduated, my dad gave me $300 and told me to go to Savannah and get drunk, and this guy got a new 911, but I digress...) His overall description of the car was: the paint was tired but original, the interior was worn, but the car ran great and had always been dealer maintained with records to prove it. So we bought it, and had it shipped here.

A couple of weeks go by and the car arrives on one of the big car carriers, all the way to the front. I go to drive it off and the truck driver gives me a very bent up key and says, “very tricky” in broken English. This key looks like it's about to break off (more on that in a minute). I go to start the car and the starter just turns. I flip the key back to see if the fuel pump didn't turn on, go to start it again, and the key breaks off in the lock. I'm now looking at the stub of a key, a car at the front of a car carrier —  and the piece de' resistance: The steering wheel is locked and the front wheels are at an angle.

So it takes several hours of winching and moving the car back in position until I finally unloaded it. The car is now in the sunlight and looks horrible. The paint is flowering off the car, there are numerous dents and dings, and the interior looks like animals have been living in it. Basically this guy went to college and packed 20 frat brothers into this car for a non-stop party.

We called the seller, who said he had another key. He sent it to us, but the car still wouldn't start. We took it to our mechanic, who replaced a few sensors. It started and ran for a bit before the dash caught on fire. This car was going from bad to worse.

We called the owner and told him he really wasn't honest about the car’s condition. He agreed and sent us a check for $2,000. We figured we now had less money in the car, but it's still going to be a no-money turd, so we rolled it into a corner, a project for another day.

Then when everything couldn't get any worse, it did. The check bounced! At this point, I really just wanted to light the car on fire and forget any of this ever happened, but first I needed to get my $2,000.

From years of owning small businesses I've learned a few things about bad checks (this isn't my first bad-check rodeo) and I know you get two swipes at someone's account before the check is returned to them. Swipe one was already done, so I had one more bite at the apple. It was a business check, so I figured it was a matter of time before the seller had to put money in the account.

However, checks are void after six months, so the clock was ticking. I called his bank for two months, every day, and sure enough, on the 65th day, he put money in there. He probably figured I was long gone — nope — and the check went through, boom! 

So we were now back to square one, upside down in a pile-of-poop 911. One glimmer of hope with the car was during the first five to six years the guy owned it he was in college, and his daddy was paying the bills. So the car was taken to the dealer, which performed all the necessary upgrades, such as chain tensioners, etc., and regular maintenance items. Once we dug a little deeper into the car we found it was solid, or at least the mechanicals were.

My brother, Matt, had always wanted a 911 Carrera so he decided to take this one on for himself. I didn't care. We weren't going to make any money on it anyway. So he spent the next year re-wiring the dash and replacing the whole interior, then it was on to paint and body.

In the end he got the car he wanted and, ironically enough, four years later the car is now worth about three times what we paid for it. We can thank good timing and the meteoric rise in values of all air-cooled 911s. And when he decides to sell it years from now, he can say when he purchased the 911 it was a “one-owner car!”

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