James May

James on the Porsche 911

James on the Porsche 911

For the first time in my life as a motoring journalist, I'd like to dispense some genuine and heartfelt consumer advice. Here it comes: buy yourself an old 911.

Regular readers will know that I've spent much of the last year driving a selection of supercars. I'm now ready to record my conclusion to the exercise, and it's this. They're all a bit of a waste of money, really. Buy an old 911 instead.

In all honesty, I'd rather have the Ferrari 612 Scaglietti, which I thought was one of the finest cars I'd ever driven. But it costs £213,000, and you could save two hundred of them by buying an old 911. Even a new 911 Carrera 2S will set you back about £75k once you've paid for all the bits that should have come with the car in the first place, so, rather than doing without the options, why not do without the car and spend the saving on an old one instead?

This is in no way a preamble to some tiresome rant about how cars were better in the olden days. All old cars are terrible, which is why they're not made any more, but the exception is the 911. The basic premise of the 911 is an idea that goes back to before the war anyway, so in that sense they're all old.

I'm on my second old 911, both of them 3.2 Carrera coupes from the Eighties. This is the one I'd go for, because it's the one I've got and I know what I'm talking about. It's also one of the cheaper and most plentiful versions out there, thanks to the explosion of 911 enthusiasm during the yuppie era, so there are loads around. Mine cost £15,300 with 48,000 miles on the clock, a complete service history, and in perfect condition save for a stone chip in the bonnet. It's the best thing I've ever bought.

"I’m on my second old 911 – a 3.2 Carrera coupe from the Eighties. It cost £15,300 with 48,000 miles on the clock and in perfect condition. It’s the best thing I’ve bought"

The first thing to check when considering a 3.2 911 is: does the roof come off? If it does, it's one of the cabrio versions, and they're for pussies. Having satisfied yourself that the roof is made of proper metal, make all the checks you would on any car - does it actually belong to the bloke selling it? Do the documents exist and match up? Is it in fact just a Beetle with a Porsche badge stuck on? Actually, it is, but you know what I mean.

Now the bodywork. All post-'75 cars were galvanised, but that's no guarantee against rot. Weak areas are around the headlights, the trailing edges of the front wings, inside the door pillars and around the rear windows. Underneath, the ‘kidney bowl' around the rear wheel arches gets a bit of a beating, and replacing it is a sort of rib-expander surgery job, and expensive.

While you're poking around, check for crash damage, since 911s have always been easy to crash and have often been owned by people who were likely to. Look for uneven welding - the original stuff is always excellent, because it was done by Germans - and signs of replacement panels or indeed of another 911 of different provenance lurking within the one you think you're buying. Body repairs on 911s can be pretty expensive, largely because the panels are pricey.

The engine, on the other hand, is easy to maintain and very robust. I have met owners who have covered a quarter of a million miles without a rebuild, so don't be put off by 100,000+ on the clock. Providing the oil has been changed regularly, it will be fine. Even a little smoking is not too much to worry about. Air-cooled 911 engines make some terrifying gurgling and chuffing noises, but this is normal. Clatters, on the other hand, spell trouble.

Any pre-'95 car will be fitted with the ancient and notoriously cussed 915 gearbox. Changing down into first will normally need some extra clutchwork and, when cold, second might not seem to be there at all. This is as it should be, but any kerrang noises during fast shifts are bad news. Richard Hammond's ‘favourite gearchange' is fourth to fifth in a 915 box.

The interior will probably be pretty good, whereas that of a contemporary Ferrari will probably be in the footwell by now. Things like the door bins can become a bit warped and saggy, but all these bits are available for a reasonable price and it all screws together with the toolkit you got for £4.99 with 20 litres of diesel. Make sure everything works. It usually does.

I don't believe you need to spend more than £15,000 on a very good 2.3-litre 911. It is the most characterful and engaging car for the cash and probably for twice as much.

This is the only bit of car buying advice I will ever dispense. I'm usually hopeless at it. But this is so easy, even I got it right.

James May, Column, Porsche, Porsche 911

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