Firstly, let's be absolutely clear about one thing: THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A CHEAP 911. If you think you've found one look again because it is much more likely that you are looking at a huge list of repair bills some of which could easily rival the cost of your 'cheap' 911! There is an old adage which says something like 'buy cheap, buy twice' and that is so true. A good 911 is worth money so why would anybody give you something worth say 20K for a fraction of that sum? Be suspicious of the old cliches involving divorces, demanding babies, house moves, leaving the country (with your money?) etc. as reasons for selling. Most serious owners would rather die than let go of their 911 so genuine reasons for sale will much more believable and much less urgent eg ''I've just bought a better one.'' If a seller actually said ''this car is in a mess, it's going to cost a fortune to fix and I can't afford it or be bothered anyway'' then you could pretty much accept that but you don't see that one very often, it's usually disguised with divorces and babies etc.
Don't assume either that, for example, an early SC will cost less than one 5 years newer. It won't if it's a good one. Age is largely irrelevant except in the special case of the earlier classics which can cost as much as or more than new ones. Probably the best place to start when sizing up a 911 is the documentation. Good classic 911s are owned by good owners and they tend to spend a lot of money and time keeping it that way so you should be EXPECTING to see a huge history file, preferably with the original service record dating back to day one. Genuine sellers will be very keen to show you their file which will contain evidence of serious care and will have big bills with it covering important things like the engine, gearbox, bodywork, heat exchangers, braking system, etc. etc. etc. You do not want to see a few bills for some alloy gizmos, a few tyres, a couple of petrol receipts, the latest ICE, and an air freshener. This is NOT full service history and is worth nothing and if the seller has nothing better to tell you about the car then you should leave it well alone. Don't accept just old MOT certificates and tax discs either as these are nothing more than evidence of the car being used on the public highway having satisfied basic road worthiness criteria.
Beware the seller who tells you that the car has not needed anything doing to it because they are clearly telling about something called neglect and if YOU take the car on YOU will end up paying for it. If the paperwork isn't right or, worse still, missing then don't even consider the car because if you buy it then you will already have inherited a huge problem for when you come to sell the car again. On the question of maintenance you will often see sellers proudly announcing how much has been spent on the car and if that is for the right things and the amount is consistent with good care over the car's life then that's fine and is in fact what you should be seeing, but how much is right? If you take a figure of 2K as being a conservative estimate per year to run a classic 911 and cover all of it's maintenance costs and servicing but not the boring stuff like fuel and insurance etc. then a 25 - 30 year old 911 should have receipts in tens of thousands of pounds (my own K series 'SC which is now 31 years old has had about 37K lavished on it so far) so when a seller of a 30 year old 911 announces ''bills for 15K''are they really telling you that little has been done to look after this car over it's lifetime?
The biggest area for concern, and one which is commonly glossed over in many ebay listings is the condition of the bodywork ie RUST. Some sellers would have you believe that the tiny spot of rust under the headlights and around the door-shuts etc. is nothing to worry about and wouldn't cost much to fix, however this IS something to worry about a lot and actually costs an arm and a leg to repair properly because if the value and integrity of the car are to be preserved then genuine, galvanised Porsche parts must be used and with one front wing currently costing around 600GBP you will begin to see that once labour costs and VAT are added this 'minor' repair is actually going to run into thousands. If you opt for the cheap and flimsy aftermarket panels you will end up doing it all again very soon anyway. This was my own car just before restoration. Doesn't look bad does it and similar to the sort of thing seen listed on ebay?................
THIS is what was lurking just below that 'tiny paint blister' that we hear so much about and remember that this is extremely common, expected even, on an old 911........
Make no mistake, this is a big and expensive job to put right and this one was not the worst by a long way.
Whatever you do, take no notice of the seller who tells you that 'someone' has quoted a few hundred to repair it to a 'high standard'. If they are not just guessing then their 'someone' is only offering to botch the repair and whilst it may look fine for a short while the problem will still be there and, just like Arnie, it will be back! There are no two ways about this but to repair this sort of damage properly is going to cost THOUSANDS. Look closely at the above photos. That was the result of a previous owner trusting a 'Porsche specialist' to stop water leaking into the car. He did; by gluing two pieces of Lino over the access holes in the floor pan leaving the water sitting, unseen, inside the sills. He also removed the factory footwell carpets and substituted cheap overmats in their place. For this masterly repair in 1997 he charged nearly 1000GBP and he is still trading today.
One reason that the seriousness of this corrosion is underestimated is the poor understanding that some have of the construction methods used by Porsche. The sills, for example, which are visible along the side of the car are two part and the inner ones corrode first. Porsche cars are fantastically engineered and constructed so this takes a very long time but once the rust is visible on the outside you can bank on serious damage underneath it all and out of sight. The same is true of the front and rear wings where there are inner wings to worry about which could be in a very sorry state before the outside shows any obvious signs of trouble. Any so-called repairs here using filler will not last very long and you will eventually have to bite the bullet and do the job properly or get rid of the car. THIS IS THE SORT OF THING WHICH CAUSES MANY BAD CARS TO FIND THEIR WAY ONTO EBAY. Don't get caught as it's unlikely that somebody selling a 911 doesn't know what's wrong, they just aren't telling you. Be especially wary of Targas for the same reason but also around the roll arch. A 911 which has been repaired with non-factory panels will be worth much less than one which has been repaired properly, even though they may look the same. Again, delve into the history to check.There are a few old chestnuts which get rolled out by many sellers in an attempt to trivialise serious problems such as:
''It's not my car, I'm only selling it for a friend/neighbour/relative.''.......is this really true or does it look suspiciously like ''don't look at me mate it's not my problem'' when you find out the truth about the 'cheap' 911 you have just bought?
''All Targas leak''.........no they don't, unless they have been butchered or neglected in some way. Is it likely that a maker such as Porsche would have had so much success selling cars with built-in showers? There may be a lot of Targas which do leak but they shouldn't and something expensive is wrong.
''All 915 gearboxes are a bit notchy''......no they aren't but they can become that way after years of abuse and need rebuilding. There may be lots of 911s around with 'notchy' gearboxes but it is not normal and something expensive is wrong.
''This 911 uses hardly any oil''.......something very wrong there as the 911 engine is designed to consume about 1 litre of oil per 1000km. Much more likely that the seller doesn't know what they are talking about.
''There is a small tear in the seats which is easily repaired, no problem.''......upholstery which is several decades old is likely to be very ripe and prone to tearing. True it's an easy fix; you take it to a retrimmer and give them lots of money for them to retrim your car. Easy, but not cheap.
'' There is no service history because the previous owner lost it/wants to keep it for sentimental reasons etc.''......yeah, right! The service history is a crucial part of the car's value and if it is 'missing' then the most likely reason is that is never existed which suggests neglect again or something worse.
''No rust here. These cars are galvanised and will last forever.'' ...........nice thought but no. Hot-dipped zinc coated panels as used by Porsche are extremely tough and IF LOOKED AFTER will last a long time but the process can only retard corrosion not prevent it and once the galvanised surface has been sufficiently damaged then the steel underneath will rust away as happily as bare metal. The zinc also only acts as a sacrificial metal so, once again, when it has done it's job then the old 'tinworm' will move in and devour your car and your money with it
A word on heat exchangers: essentially if you have a classic 911 one of the best real improvements you can make is to fit SSi heat exchangers. They are not cheap but in the long run you will not regret it as they are virtually indestructible unlike the mild steel ones which almost drop off as you drive away from the workshop, well maybe a bit later. Again you will often see the words 'ssi heaters fitted' in seller's descriptions which is good IF they are GENUINE SSi and not one of the many fake SSi 'types' which are so common and are basically crap compared to the real thing even though they cost as much as genuine SSi!!!
SSi heat exchangers are beautifully made in the U.S.A:
come in a box:
and have a serial number stamped on the outer casing:
As you can see they are not polished to a mirror finish like the cheapo ones so do check thoroughly. It will all be in the history file anyway won't it?
There is also good reason to be very wary of cheap copies because there is a possibility that they could end up killing you! It's all about the grades of stainless used and WHERE they are used. The cheap ones get it wrong.
When you get to see a car the engine bay can tell you lot about how the car has been looked after, or not. 911 engines stay remarkably clean so you should not be seeing dirt and oil all over the place. For example this is my own 'SC engine bay after thirty years of basic care and maintenance and they really should look that clean if they have been looked after:
My personal belief is that when you see cheap aftermarket hoses and replacement electrical components in there that tells you something about the attitude of the owner and should raise serious doubts about cost-cutting elsewhere in the car's maintenance. The engine bay should also have a full set of gold coloured foil information stickers along the rear slam panel. If they are missing this may mean that the car has been repainted and you should want to know why. Restoration is fine but why weren't the stickers replaced? Accident damage however is not good news. A rear end shunt for a 911 can result in serious mechanical damage and misalignment of the chassis which would result in dangerous handling characteristics. This is especially true of the Targas as their chassis is not as rigid as the coupe.
Everybody likes to think they have found a bargain but a bargain 911 is not one with a low price tag. The true 'bargain' is one which costs a fair market price which has been properly and regularly maintained to give years of trouble free driving with relatively low running costs IF the same pattern is maintained. That is the key really. These cars need not cost a fortune to run if they are kept in good order but let it slip for too long and they can easily ruin you. Unfortunately this is the fate of many 911s so where do they all go? If you follow any of the advice given in this short guide you may just prevent one of these 'dogs' from finding it's way onto your property and into your bank account. You may also be on the way to finding a decent 911 and, if you do, you will certainly not regret it!