James May

An early Eighties Porsche

Yuppy love

Don’t believe I’ve mentioned this before, largely because I haven’t dared, but some months back I bought myself an old Porsche 911.

This sort of thing can easily happen in your 40s. Some people buy a time-share in a Spanish villa, or build a small extension onto the kitchen, or take up clay pigeon shooting or salsa dancing in an attempt to keep the impression of cloying, middle-aged ennui at bay. But I, like so many others, have bought an old 911, a car I should have owned in my 20s, and might have done if I’d knuckled down and got on with something useful.

Furthermore, by any 911 bore’s standards, I’ve bought the wrong one entirely. It’s a 1984 3.2 Carrera in Guards Red, the colour normally reserved for those fetching ketchup dispensers in the shape of a tomato. It has the tea-tray on the back, the rubber air dam under the front, the sports suspension pack, the Fuchs alloy wheels and the dash-mounted, spring-loaded magazines for cassette tapes. The seats are upholstered in pinstripe fabric and what was formerly the brightwork around the windows and door handles is finished in satin black. The whole thing is a bit merchant banker, really.

In fact, it might have been specified by the Tory government of the time as a wheeled paean to monetarism, and was probably originally driven by someone whose suit was made by the same people who did the seats and who responded to a job advert for someone ‘aggressive’ on a salary of £attractive. It’s the iconic chariot of Thatcher’s children, and in its time would’ve inspired peasants to build impromptu gallows at the roadside.

On the plus side, it’s in absolutely perfect nick, has done a certifiable 50,000 miles and is completely free of defects or damage. It’s had three previous owners, and the last two were even more anal than me. Yet it cost just £15,000.

Now earlier 911s, the 2.4 and 2.7 models, can cost twice that, even though they’re not actually as good and usually fall apart, because they weren’t rustproofed. The later 964 can give engine problems at high mileage, and the 993 is still considered modern and is quite expensive. But my 911, because it’s slightly embarrassing, was a bargain.

“It’s the iconic chariot of Thatcher’s children, and in its time would’ve inspired peasants to build impromptu gallows at the roadside” 

But it’s still a proper, air-cooled 911 and therefore one of the most magical cars I’ve owned. Because it’s an unloved variant, I’m safe from the beardiness that afflicts the cult of earlier 911s and am generally treated with disdain by the driver of a 2.7RS, thankfully. Its 231bhp doesn’t sound much by current standards, but because it harks from a pre-safety era, it is pretty light, at around 1,250kg, and therefore feels frisky and immediate. All I have to do is claim I’m driving it ‘ironically’.

I think this is a good trick if you can pull it off – choosing a really good car that is old enough to be a bit non grata, but not so old that it has become in any way rare, ‘classic’ or nerdy. You can have a very special set of wheels that is modern enough to be useable, yet old enough to be cheap.

And it may not be that difficult. One of the blokes on the Top Gear production team recently bought a BMW Z3 Coupe, again in excellent condition. This was a great but slightly misunderstood car, but has now been largely forgotten and therefore cost him £14k. But it’s also almost a supercar, is excellently built and is starting to look interesting again. But only to the initiated, which is why the price is still good.

Another mate bought a Bentley Brooklands from the late Nineties. This is like the Turbo R, but with the normally aspirated engine, so not as quick, but just as smooth, just as aromatic on the inside and just as plutocratic. It was £12,000. I do know a bit about these old Crewe cars and, having driven it and crawled all over it, I can tell you that it’s a good ‘un.

Endless possibilities present themselves to the slightly cash-strapped but discerning driving enthusiast who doesn’t care too much about public opinion. Off the top of my head, I could suggest an earlier Subaru Impreza, any BMW M3 between the coveted original and the last two models, the Jaguar XJ8 and even, if you’re feeling brave, the Fiat Coupe or the Alfa GTV V6. Somewhere or other is a really good and ludicrously affordable example of all of these things. As long as you’re interested in cars rather than being cool, £20,000 will buy you as much motoring happiness as anyone can cope with.

I mean, any idiot can spend £80k on a new 911. And they usually do.



James May, Column, Porsche

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