If you’ve browsed any car auction site and stumbled upon a vintage air-cooled Porsche 911, chances are it isn’t selling for cheap. Regardless if it’s a market bubble or not, people are paying entirely too much for air-cooled 911s. The crazy pricing isn’t even exclusive to the special edition models. A standard 911 Carrera recently sold for over $80,000 on Bring A Trailer.
Before the pitchforks come out, I’d like to state that all of the points I’m about to make come from an owner’s perspective. I have had my 1987 Porsche 911 for years and have personally experienced the highs and lows of air-cooled ownership.
Air-cooled Porsche 911s are not rare
It’s not every day that you get to see an air-cooled Porsche 911, but trust me, they are by no means rare. According to FlatSixes, Porsche produced a total of 443,134 air-cooled 911s across all four generations.
Not all air-cooled 911s are the same, and despite the high production numbers, they are still collector’s items. Porsche produced 111,995 units of the first-generation 911. Despite this, well-kept examples routinely sell for over $70,000 on Bring A Trailer. Since it is the first generation of one of the most successful sports cars of all time, they will most likely never be cheap again.
However, the prices for G-series 911s, from 1973-1989, make absolutely no sense. Despite there being almost 200,000 units produced, this air-cooled 911 generation routinely sells for upwards of $50,000 on Bring A Trailer. While it warms my heart to see my car appreciate through the years, it is by no means a $50,000 driving experience. If we strip back the nostalgia and focus solely on what on offer, it’s hard to justify the premium.
As much as it pains me to admit it, this generation of air-cooled Porsche 911 is not very exciting to drive unless you are absolutely pushing it. For 90 percent of the time, the suspension is quite stiff, the A/C is about as cold as Florida in the peak of summer, and the engine sounds quite rough in stock form. On top of that, the lack of power steering means you’ll get quite a workout maneuvering at slow speeds. The result is that unless the conditions are just right, you’ll most likely end up driving something else.
Want power? The air-cooled Porsche 911 isn’t it
There is no denying that air-cooled Porsche 911s look fast with their whale-tail spoilers and flared wheel arches. While some special 911s like the 930 Turbo earned the nickname “widow-maker,” this was largely due to poor tire technology in the 1970s and 1980s.
If we take the famous widow-maker and its 282-hp output and add modern context, it is less powerful than a V6 Toyota Camry. Add on to that a modern set of tires, and even the 930 Turbo becomes relatively tame.
According to Car and Driver, the original 911 went into production in 1964 with a 2.0-liter flat-six engine producing 148 hp and 140 lb-ft of torque. At the tail end of the air-cooled 911 run, the 993’s 3.6-liter flat-six produced 282 hp and 250 lb-ft. While the Turbo variants offered greater performance, prices for those have shot into the stratosphere, comfortably surpassing the six-figure mark.
Say goodbye to all of your spare cash
These are old cars, and something you’ll have to consider after spending $50,000 on your vintage Porsche 911 that maintenance is far from cheap. Jamming a decently large engine into the back of a tiny car means the engine has to come out for most major repairs.
These cars are like hot potatoes. The air-cooled engines are very strong and can put up good performance despite being mangled internally. As a result, many owners sell their air-cooled 911s right before they need an engine rebuild. Most commonly, the head studs will snap after endless heat-cycles, causing the engine to expand slowly.
While this may sound serious, it isn’t easy to notice just from driving the car. As a result, your $50,000 911 could quickly turn into $65,000 once you factor in the price of an engine rebuild.
Regardless of quirks, I’m taking mine to the grave
I am by no means saying you skip a vintage Porsche 911 purchase if it’s on your wishlist. For one, I most likely won’t ever sell mine, and that’s coming from a notorious car flipper. There is something magical about the air-cooled cars and despite their less than stellar specs, they manage to provide a memorable experience by attacking your senses.
In the end, if you must have an air-cooled 911, make sure you pay as close to $30,000 as possible. Anything over that sum is heading in the wrong direction. However, if you manage to find a great example at a reasonable price, you might keep it forever.