How To Buy A 911
You're late to the party and finally decided to buy an air cooled 911. In this article we're going to give a general overview on what to look for when you're buying one. This focuses on the 911 platform from 1965-1989. Porsche made over 300,000 911s from 1964-1989 and over 150,000 are still on the road. With the high prices you want to make sure you buy a good one.
There’s a plethora of information online on year to year changes, so we won’t go through that. Our main focus here is getting a good solid car regardless of year, trim and budget. What you want is an honest car with good bones that’s structurally sound and solid. Mechanically these can be fixed and rebuilt 100x over but body and metal work is very expensive and difficult to get right. So it doesn’t matter if you’re looking at a 1970 911s or a 1986 3.2 Carerra, the faults are very similar.
The Bumper, the headlight, the front fender wing and lower windshield.
The bumper is something that could have been changed or repainted since fender benders are common on daily drivers. The main thing to look for is if it sags and if the gaps are consistent.
The headlight area rusts underneath the light, this is a common area, and also the fender is very prone to rust since moisture gets trapped on the inside. To check, open the hood and move the carpet, you’ll be able really see right in. A little surface rust is ok but if you see metal flaking or a previous substandard fix, that issue will have to be resolved since it will rust again.
Look right under the windshield near the seam. If it’s rusted, it’s expensive to fix and it’s difficult. Remember that if it’s rusted, there will be damage underneath inside as well.
The next spot is the lower fender wing, look for bubbling paint. If you see any, it means the inside is worse.
The way the door sits and works is very important. Porsches have very good gaps from the factory. If the gaps are off or if the door doesn’t close perfectly with a solid feel, something is wrong. The door or the fender was removed for work to be done and since it’s difficult to realign it or the work was sub-par, it will almost never fit right. The gap, especially where it starts to curve towards the door is the hardest to get right.
REAR DOOR JAM
At the bottom of the door (underneath the lock catch) is common rust area. It’s actually void on the inside so mud and humidity get trapped there, make sure it looks good.
Second is the seam that goes from top to bottom, it needs to be perfect, if the car got into even the slightest side impact, that seam is next to impossible to get right.
At the bottom look at the sill, stick your head underneath and feel around with your hand for flaking.
Around the wheelwell is a common rust area. Debris gets flung into there and humidity gets trapped. Look for any signs of rust or bondo all around with extra attention spent on the lower front part. On the outside paint chips are normal since the fender flares curve outwards making it a magnet for rock chips. If unattended these chips will eventually start to rust. I’d put a stone guard to avoid future issues. Check the jacking points as well since you’re there. Again the door gaps should be perfect.
Finishing at the rear is the rear bumper, the lower rear windshield and around the lights. First look at the fit of the rear bumper since just like the front it’s a common fender bender area, make sure it doesn’t sag.
Rust likes to rear its ugly head around the lights, look for bubbling or any sign of previous work.
The big thing to look for is the rear windshield. If the seals have perished, water gets inside and gets trapped. It will rot the firewall and the rear tray. If you see any bubbling at all, look for any humidity in the rear cabin, damp carpets or a funny smell. If you find anything like that walk away from the car.
All Porsche motors are generally very reliable but with even the newest motor being 30 years old now, I would expect that work on the motor has been done. Oil seeps in the cylinders so when you first start the car it might smoke a little, the smoke should disappear within about a few minutes of driving.
If the gearbox is a G50 it should feel like a modern car, it’s smooth and easy to work. A well-adjusted 915 gearbox will work nicely but will need a little more effort getting in gears. They need to warm up to start to work better. You shouldn’t have any grinding in any gear. If the previous owner has been hard on a 915, the synchros will be used up.
At low speeds the steering should feel a little heavy and the clutch should be light. Once you start to drive the steering should really lighten up and shouldn’t hear any knocks or rattles. The suspension is very compliant and should be very comfortable.
MILEAGE, THE SELLER, THE SPECIALIST
Mileage doesn’t mean anything. Two cars can have 100,000 miles with one driven every day for 20 years and parked for 10 and the other driven on weekends and nice getaways for its entire life. What is important is recent work and maintenance.
Usually you can tell how good a car is by the seller. If the car is in a upper class neighborhood and the seller has always brought the car to the dealer or the local Porsche garage, there’s a good chance it’s a well sorted car.
If you feel the car is a good candidate, bring it to the local Porsche Specialist. Spending 150-200$ for the specialist to give the car a once over is worth thousands in the long run. You’re getting a lifetime of knowledge for basically the cost of an oil change.