words by seth ruden
Since I was of driving age, it was fairly common to be able to pick up an early 944 for about 3k. I've bought a few of them, including my first car purchased, at this price point, and I'm sure I can as many as I want. There are plenty of guys who get them at $500, run chump car and Le Mons and then graduate to spec. In fact, they are outright desirable at the moment and we are most certainly having a bit of a renaissance on them. Jalopnik posts derivatives all the time at this point. But what does that mean for actual valuations lately, are we seeing a nice bump in appreciation as a result? We all feel a bit richer cruising in a Porsche, but does it have legs?
First off, I want to start at the beginning of the line, that when Ferry Porsche and managing directors discussed the idea of adding a luxury tourer to Porsche’s model range, he wanted something philosophically that looked like a Porsche, but was not meant for the usual Porsche customer.
The genesis for the model was intended to actually expand Porsche’s market segment, bringing in new customers; the entry level car, the 924, and the upscale 928 to take on Mercedes, Jaguar, BMW, and Aston Martin. Each had a mission, but one thing is fairly consistent: the entry level transaxle model is frequently neglected and abused, and this seems to be a pattern; incidentally, Porsche's other entry level models - the 914, 912, and early Boxsters - also suffered from shoe-string budgeting. Presently, vintage 911s are being pushed high up in the layer cake and some of the first entry level cars, the 912s, are coming with it. This gives us a bit of hope that our “Poor-Man’s Porsches” may continue to appreciate, but it needs to be put in context.
When I was 17, I recall being at a big car Parking lot sale in Anaheim at Angels Stadium. A friend asked me to go looking for a mid-80s accord, the one with the octopus orgy of vacuum lines, and a tired 911 SC was in the lot. This was around 1996, so the car could not be more than a decade and a half, and it was just worked. Chocolate brown on brown interior, it was the epitome of the tank-like Super Carrera with more than150k miles on it, and could have gone 150 more, easily.
At $12k, the car was somehow affordable and I was confident enough to test drive it. Like any Porsche, it had that feeling that inspired and reinforced competence in your driving. Even though it had been neglected, I could have made it work much harder in the tent-sale-used-car-parking-lot-autocross, had I wanted. Buying it however, was a project more than I could bear, considering how much deferred maintenance I had on my humble square dash 944. That 911 today is approaching $30k, more than doubling its price.
So, if a rising tide raises all ships, we should expect to see the transaxle cars seeing appreciation, to some end, right?
What about the rest of the entry level line Porsches? The 914s that are still out there are sometimes tempting... Half of local sales on CL are for two cars, offered to be salvaged into one, and a ton of rust to sort out in the meanwhile. The roadworthy rough ones are between $5-8k locally, where nice ones, the flat-6 cylinder cars are north of 20 grand. 912's are through the roof in valuation too, with a few rarer models existing to make a degree of exclusivity available as an eccentric 911 cousin.
So, where are the 944s headed? To start with, early cars, are still $3k cars all day long, more than 90% of the time. It has to be this way, with over 50,000 normally aspirated cars coming to the USA, and more than two thirds of the total run having the square dash. I might estimate 40% or less are reliable drivers. That's still a lot of volume to comb through and we have a long time before we are done with $3k sleds.
"Is there a day where the driver 'great condition' 951 is coming in north of 25 large?"
Still, I think clean cars can bring in 5-7k relatively quickly on the lists of Craig. But what is telling is some local sales I’ve noticed lately. For example, there was an exceptionally low mileage 944S locally which didn't move at $8k for a long time, and that appeared to be a ceiling on my market; but there are glimmers. S2's prices have stabilized around 12 grand, and 968s, the ultimate incantation is well into the teens if not low 20's for the cherries, and they move. Ebay has seen more than a few 30-40 grand cream puffs lately, and they are indeed increasing in frequency!
Is there a day where the driver "great condition” 951 is coming in north of 25 large? I would love to see the turbo get the respect it deserves, with one of the most enjoyable power plants in all of Porsche-Dom. The appreciation is deserved, as this car is now finally celebrated for being the peaky-scrappy-bastard that can still show up and battle modern cars at the local track. But that's one of the problems. So many of these cars have been tracked, or owned by kids who thought this was anything different from the fast and furious (<>6). I'm guilty too, of course, I burned one and two others got wrecked. Personally, at least I never went #hellaflush, we battled proper rice back then, and wanted to still go fast too. And that is what really devalues these cars and leaves them with a bad reputation.
Nevertheless, there are signs that the following for these cars has only gathered steam—the amount of die-hard cult owners (hello, brothers) is rising. Innovators are developing products for them, a dozen years after the rest of the aftermarket did, like Rogue Tuning. There are guys like Lart, who made the parting of these cars a real business and into new community. My high baller friends are pushing new envelopes, modding 6-piston 911 GT-3 carbon ceramic brakes or entering 951s in new race classes like time attack, which is raising the profile of the humble transaxle.
Having rescued two basket cases and made them highly respectable once again, I know a growing community of people, like myself who are rescuing survivors and sorting them. Done right, I’ve made a tidy profit on them, as well. 80's kids, like me, find comfort in our childhood dream cars and we now are in careers where we can spend the money to restore these neglected sleds into something that can embarrass even new sports cars (on the track!).
Let's face one thing. We got into these cars ‘cause they were good, fast, and cheap. Our expectations should not be to profit from that experience, but to enjoy it. The pleasure of it is in its experience in ownership, with a funky torsion bar polar moment when you upset the rear, or that peculiar turbocharger sweet whiff, faint but ever present on full boost runs. The cult of the front engine 4 cylinder transaxle is in the value it brings in the inherent indulgence of it, which also exists in the flat 6 air cooled cars.
That's a promising sign, and I would certainly encourage you to rescue a 924/944/968, but do it for the intrinsic value of your gearhead fantasies... and besides, everyone knows the 911 is in a bubble.