It’s hard to believe now, but there once was a time when used, air-cooled Porsche 911s could be had for cheap. Not to go all Old-Man Simpson on you, but we remember a time when clean examples could be had for about the price of a used Honda Civic. Today said Civic is probably worth whatever change you have jingling around in your pocket. Said 911, on the other hand, now has collectors outbidding each other for the privilege of owning a car they can drive to the next Luftgekhult.
This halo effect is rapidly spreading to other vintage Porsches. Heck, even the 912 is starting to command premium prices. But that doesn’t mean the classic Porsche lifestyle is unattainable. There are plenty of other rides from Stuttgart that are just as worthy of one’s attention. But if you want to buy one, act fast: that 911 bubble is starting to spread to these models, too.
Okay, so it sounds like a Volkswagen. That’s because, outside of North America, it was. Developed as a joint venture between the two German automakers, the 914 was originally designed to be both the replacement for VW’s Karmann Ghia and Porsche’s entry-level 912. Introduced in 1969, the VW version (or 914/4) got a lowly 79-horsepower engine from the VW Type 4. Porsche’s version (the 914/6) got a larger but heavier 6-cylinder engine, which was good for about 108 horsepower.
Neither car was a rocket, but by placing the engine in the middle, all versions of the 914 drove like a dream. With a weight balance of 45/55, handling was superior to that of the rear-engine 911, and with its low price tag of just $3,595 USD, it outsold the iconic 911 as well. Due to their scarcity, 914/6s always commanded a premium on the used market. But as the 911’s air-cooled halo expands, collectors are noticing even the lowly four-cylinder 914/4s, causing them to start creeping up in price.
While technically all Porsches have a direct tie to VW, the 944 is another one of those cars that evolved from a joint venture between the brands. An evolution of the 924 platform, originally co-developed with VW to be sold as an Audi, the 944 gave the distinctly ’70s car a thoroughly revised update.
Introduced in 1982, the original 944s featured a 150-horsepower 4-cylinder engine up front, a transaxle in the back, and near-perfect 50.7/49.3 weight distribution front-to-rear. With a 0-60 time north of 8 seconds, this original car was never a good drag machine, but was eager to run and featured sublime handling. And with its bulked up fenders and whale tail spoiler, this was a dream car to those of us who grew up in the ’80s.
Porsche continued to refine the 944 platform over the years. A turbocharged version was released in 1986, boasting more power (217 horsepower) and a 5.9-second 0-60 time. By modern standards, those turbo cars are laggy; personally, we’d rather try and find a clean 1987 944 S. It’s the right balance of weight, power, handling, and peak ’80s styling.
Porsche’s original grand tourer may have been designed in the ’70s, but its look was so progressive, it still looks modern today.
Introduced in 1978, the 928 was originally intended to be a more luxurious, easier-to-drive replacement for the 911. 911s of the era were for the hardcore, with bare-bones interiors and handling that quickly turned dangerous when driven past their limits. These handling issues were due to having a big, heavy engine hanging off the back of the rear axle, making old 911s prone to snap-oversteer when pushed too hard.
The 928, on the other hand, gave users a luxurious, plush interior. It also featured a big V8 up front and a transaxle in the rear to give the car perfect 50/50 weight distribution. Porsche also incorporated some weight-saving tricks, like constructing the doors, front fenders, and hood from aluminum. The resulting machine was fast, comfortable, and could hang with its sportier 911 sibling when driven in anger. It was, for the time, the perfect Porsche.
Porsche cranked these out for quite a while, too. Production ended in 1995 — with the later cars naturally being more powerful and more capable — but with little changing visually since 1978. It’s still not a cheap car to maintain, but with its prices trending upwards, a model from any year would still make a great investment.
Porsche 986 Series Boxster
Some people demean the original Porsche 986 Boxster as “the poor man’s 911.” Don’t listen to these people — they’re just brand snobs. Those in the know agree that the only reason the Boxster isn’t as fast as the 911 is because Porsche’s marketing heads demanded it.
The reason for this — and readers, you’ll notice a trend here — is that the Boxster has its engine placed squarely in the middle. This mid-engine design allowed Porsche’s engineers to create a car that was perfectly balanced, with the centre of gravity placed as close to the middle as possible. This placement aids steering, acceleration, and braking — basically, all the things you want a sports car to do. It’s also why you see engines placed right in the middle in just about every important supercar and racecar.
Anyway, back to the Boxster. Because these cars have been so heavily pooh-poohed, you can pick up a well-cared-for early model for — well, much, much less than a used Civic. Again, notice the trend here…
Those looking to get into racing can find a screaming deal by finding a slightly abused one. Less-than-pretty models can be paid for using only pocket change and a half-eaten hamburger. Okay, not quite, but they’re cheap. And if you’re up for doing a bit of work yourself, the Porsche Club of America offers a whole host of series in which you can run wheel-to-wheel with other Porsches. And denting the fender of your $6,000 Boxster hurts a whole lot less than doing the same in your $91,000 base-model 911 Carrera.
Porsche 996 Series 911
After spending 1,000 words talking about why you should get something other than an old 911, it seems odd to end things by telling you to go buy an old 911. But hear us out. This is the 911 that angered purists by doing three unmentionable things: it sported a new chassis, an updated design, and it was the first 911 to feature a water-cooled engine. Heresy, we know. These 911s continue to be so unloved that they can currently be picked up for the price of a used Civic.
First introduced in 1998, the 996 Series 911 featured a 3.4-litre flat-6, good for 296 horsepower. In 2000, the engine underwent a minor overhaul, increasing displacement to 3.6 litres and upping power to an even 300 horsepower. 0-60 times for these base-model 911s sat at about the 5-second range, and they could hit a top speed of 173 mph (280 kph).
One major (actual) downside to 996 ownership is the infamous IMS (intermediate shaft) bearing problem. Basically, when this bearing fails (and you’ll have no sign that things are about to go bad) the 911’s engine goes boom. If you can find a car that’s had this issue sorted, you should be in the clear. If you’re uncertain, this can be fixed with about a grand out of pocket and some time in your garage. Or you can pay a shop a bit more and have them get your cheap 911 in perfect working order. Of course, if you don’t mind paying the cost of two new Civics, you can find a used turbo 996 that doesn’t have this issue — but where’s the fun in that?