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Barnfinding: Beware the 'cheap' Porsche

Monday, January 1, 2018

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 PCA.org. 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 adam@unobtanium-inc.com


The rule of thumb when buying a Porsche is always to spend your money on the nicest car you can afford. Look for detailed service paperwork, ownership chain history, and, if applicable, a Carfax report. All of these things will tell you a lot about the car you are buying. A qualified Porsche shop or dealer should also perform a pre-purchase inspection (PPI) to identify any potential problems not mentioned by the seller. But even knowing all the rules, I can attest to throwing them all out the window when a dream car comes along at a ridiculous price.

Many of you who read my columns or have seen me at Porsche events know that my focus is mostly 356, with some early 911s and 912s thrown in. It’s not that I don’t like newer Porsches, it’s just not many come my way. Those aren’t the circles I travel in, and as a result, I just don’t get the call for much of anything past about 1974. However, every now and then I trip over a newer Porsche. Such was the case a few years ago.

I did a 50-car deal with a friend in the Midwest several years back, mostly 356s with about a dozen 911s and 912s. It was a deal of a lifetime, and we filled many tractor-trailer loads of cars. It was an impressive sight. Mixed in the yard of early P-cars was a 1995 993. On first sight it wasn’t that bad, but once I saw it from the back, it was a real horror show. The first thing I noticed was a tree growing through the trunk. Then I saw a lot of melted plastic and metal — it looked like the engine had a fire. I never looked very closely at the car, because that isn’t what we do. But after the 50-car deal was done, I couldn’t get the 993 out of my mind. I didn’t want it for resale; I wanted it for my collection.

My problem is that I’m pretty calculating when it comes to cars I plan to resell — all brain and no heart. But if it’s a car for me, I tend to use too much heart. I have always had a special place in my heart for the 993, the last of the air-cooled Porsches, and some might say the last true 911. That’s a debate for another day, but a silver over black 993 is a truly wonderful machine and I decided to see what I could work out with my friend. Turns out it was left at his shop and nothing was really known about it other than the severe melt. I pulled a Carfax on it and found it had a re-built title, salvaged and brought back to life in 2002, so the end value would always be affected. But there might still be hope for the car, I thought.

My friend told me to make an offer, so I weighed the risk and figured I would make a silly offer that he wouldn’t take and I could move on. I proposed $5000, which I was sure would get me a chuckle but no car. A nice 993 will sell for $50,000, so $5000 is crazy low, but I was kind of hoping he would say “No, buying a car with this damage is really a bad idea.” Luckily — or perhaps un-luckily — for me, he accepted, so I now owned a 993 with a giant question mark on it. Another friend had a shop a couple of hours away, so I decided to tow it there for the mechanicals and then have my local body shop repair the damage to the rear.

When I went to pick up the car my first surprise was a good one. The car was running! We actually drove it onto the trailer — albeit on five cylinders from the sound of it. I was amazed. My friend said he thinks the car was in a fire but wasn’t the cause of the fire. Basically the rear end was melted from the outside in. My mechanic confirmed this when he pulled the motor. The engine bay was sooty but not burned, so all the fire damage was cosmetic. This deal was only getting better and better. So once in the shop, the meter was running and running.

Keep in mind that not only did I have a car that had been sitting outside for seven years and was full of mice nests — we counted seven — it was also a 20-year-old car. The age makes a difference, and at that point lots of stuff that was original was reaching the end of its life. Anyone who has bought a 993 in recent years knows they will need to completely refresh the suspension in the near future if the work hasn’t been done already, as I did with this car. My mechanic then got the engine running and I ended up spending about $12,000, bringing the total thus far to $17,000.

Once I got the car back I sent it to my local shop for some finishing details and spent another $3000. The car was now running great, I loved it, but it still looked like a melted crayon on the pavement. So it went to the body shop, and — just like a good Porsche repair shop — it was not a cheap date. We had to replace the wing, the decklid, the rear bumper, and lots of little stuff, and the bill came to $5000.

So the car is now back in my collection after spending $20,000 on top of the purchase price. That’s not bad considering what a good 993 is worth, but it does make this a cautionary tale. With the branded title this car will never reach full market value, so I’m guessing it would be worth about $30,000-35,000, and it cost me $25,000 to get there. But keep in mind I got real lucky on a couple things: There wasn’t an engine fire and I didn’t have to rebuild the motor, just replace a lot of seals, injectors, and other wearable items — basically no heavy lifting. If the car would have needed an engine rebuild or new gearbox, I would have been well over $30,000, which would have made this a big exercise in moving money around but not actually saving any.

The good news is the car is the nicest Porsche I’ve ever owned in terms of driveability. The 993 was a culmination of 30 years of 911 development and you can feel it behind the wheel. From its beginnings in 1964, the 911 has been a well designed and very sporty car, and given Porsche’s quest to always make the new one better than the last, the 993 really is the finest air-cooled Porsche. But read this tale and know that there is no such thing as a “cheap Porsche;” you pay on the front end or you pay on the back end. I could tell people at the next Cars and Coffee that this 993 cost me $5000, but that wouldn’t really be the whole story.

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