words and photos by steven wade

My wife and I planned a 2-week road trip up the east coast of Australia for September/October 2013. We live in Hobart, the capital of the island state of Tasmania, to the south of the Australian mainland. Our plan was to drive from the southernmost mainland capital - Melbourne - and follow the coast as far as Newcastle with an inland detour to our national capital, Canberra, along the way.
The plan-within-the-plan was for me to head to Melbourne a few days before our scheduled departure to test drive a couple of 944's - an S2 and a Turbo. I was born in 1970 so whilst the 911 was always seen as the pinnacle of the Porsche family, the front-engined water-cooled 944 of the 1980's was the must-have exotic European on the streets during my teenage years.

I didn't want to rely on a new-to-me car for our family holiday so I planned to choose my preferred Porsche, work through the negotiations and then pick up the right car on our way home.

"The 3.0 litre was incredibly responsive and had torque by the trouser-load."

I drove the S2 first and I was super impressed. The owner had put much of the M030 pack into the car, plus Porsche's limited slip diff. I'd driven an early 944 8-valve but this was my first time in a 16-valve and the difference was like night and day. The 3.0 litre was incredibly responsive and had torque by the trouser-load. The LSD and big brakes meant that cornering and stopping were just as much a feature as the acceleration. I was hooked.

I also drove the turbo. On the downside, it needed a lick of paint. On the upside, it was a turbo, it had sports seats, a great history and it was a few thousand dollars cheaper than the S2.
Driving the turbo was great because it confirmed to me how much I loved the S2. I'm not a petite guy, so the sports seats dug in a little too much for my liking. I'm used to turbocharged cars (I've spent a lot of time in Saabs and used to work for Saab in Sweden) but the lag in the 944 Turbo and the relatively sloppy response of the 8-valve engine just didn't do it for me. It was a great car, but just not for me.

A few phone calls and several nervous hours later, I'd negotiated the purchase of my first Porsche - a 1989 Porsche 944 S2 with Guards Red paint and a black leather interior. My wife and I left on our driving holiday with me feeling over the moon, anticipating our return just as much as the holiday itself.
We returned on a Sunday two weeks later. I was relaxed and excited to put the icing on my holiday cake. My wife flew home to Tasmania and I'd already made a booking to bring the car home on the overnight ferry on Tuesday night.

On the Monday, I went to the S2 seller's house to take a final drive and conclude the sale. The car was just as I'd seen it two weeks before. I drove it again - fantastic, again - and we finished my second test drive at the bank, where I had a bank cheque drawn to buy the car.

As we got back to the seller's house, I remembered one final inspection tip that I'd read online - throw a bucket of water over the rear window to make sure it doesn't leak. Those big glass hatchbacks are quite heavy and if the hinges are worn or stretched, the water can leak through to the rear cargo deck. We got a bucket of water, threw it over the back of the car and sure enough, water was streaming inside the car.

"I don't know about you, but I don't want to pay nearly 20-large for a car I can't wash without needing a snorkel and flippers next time I get into it."

I was gutted. I'd fallen in love with this car. I was finally going to buy one of my teenage dream cars but the opportunity was being ripped away.

This might seem like a feeble reason to back out of a purchase but let me explain something about Porsche prices in Australia. You can pick up a first-series 944 pretty cheap here - around $5,000. At the time of writing, that's around $4,500 US. You'll be buying problems at that money, but you can pay that little if you want to. A 944 turbo starts around $15,000 and I've seen them sell as high as $30,000. Most S2's are between $20,000 and $25,000.
I'd negotiated a deal at around $18,000 for the leaky S2 and I don't know about you, but I don't want to pay nearly 20-large for a car I can't wash without needing a snorkel and flippers next time I get into it. I didn't want to have to worry about whether this problem could be economically fixed at that money, either. I'm sure it could, but I didn't want to deal with that.

It was extremely disappointing and very, very hard to walk away from a very decent guy with an otherwise wonderful car but there were other, better cars out there.

I draw your attention once again to the fact that this happened on a Monday and I had a ferry trip booked to head home on Tuesday night. It was just after lunchtime on the Monday when I called my sister and asked her to pick me up as I was unexpectedly car-less.

Here's where your textbook guide on how NOT to buy a Porsche kicks in. I had just over 24 hours to find a vehicle and of course, having waited and saved my money so hard for so long, there was no way I was going to get on that ferry without a Porsche.

The only other reasonable 944 in Melbourne at the time was the turbo I'd already dismissed, so that was ruled out. Flying interstate and getting back in time for the ferry might have been a possibility, but only if things worked out exceptionally well. I was not inclined to tempt fate that way. My only option seemed to be trading up - checking out the two 968's that were for sale in Melbourne at the time.
I tried both owners but only one of them was immediately available to talk on the phone. His car was a 968 ClubSport, built in September 1994. The car was in proper ClubSport Spec with no electric anything, no rear seat, etc. The only concessions to comfort are A/C and a two-speaker stereo. One of the common problems with ClubSports is that people bought it because it had the trendy badge. It was cheaper and lighter than a regular 968 but that's because it was de-contented. Many of the trendy buyers went ahead and picked all the heavy items from the options list to make the car more comfortable.

Anyway, I spoke to the seller at around 3pm and while the car was located nearby, it was stored at his son's house and the owner himself lived a few hours away. The son wasn't available to show me the car and the Dad couldn't get into town that afternoon. We made an appointment for 10am on the Tuesday - the day of my scheduled departure. This was cutting things finer than I was comfortable with but I wasn't in a position to make much in the way of demands.

"I bought the car in an hour."

The one good outcome was me negotiating a reasonable discount on the asking price over the phone, before I'd even seen the car. I didn't want to waste neither his time or mine if we couldn't agree on price (assuming the car was in good condition). I mentioned 944 prices earlier. You can add around 30% on the price of an S2 for a 968 in Australia. I hadn't budgeted on spending $30K for a car, especially one that I hadn't even conceived of buying just a day before. And yet......

I bought the car in an hour.
The owner was a wonderful older man who'd obviously done well for himself over the years. He had a 996 for regular use and the 968 was his track car. He's spared no expense on making it suitable for his needs, nor had he skimped on maintenance. The engine had a full rebuild in 2009 and there was an invoice for $15,000 to prove it. There was a lot more spent at other times during his ownership, too.

The car presented beautifully and the extra kick from the 968's Variocam engine was evident straight away. The handling was even better than I'd imagined and he'd had a high-end sports exhaust fitted, one that gave the car one of the rarest things - a decent sounding 4-cylinder Porsche exhaust note.
I have a couple of maxims that I like to invoke when I buy a car. One of those is to buy the best version of a given car that you can afford. You'll forget about the extra money eventually but if you accept a lesser target than the one you were aiming for, you'll be thinking about the car you should have bought for a long time after.

It wasn't my intention to buy a 968 ClubSport at all and it was a stretch to do so, but I'm so glad I did. I would have been pretty pleased with that S2 I nearly bought (until it rained heavily, at least) but I'm super-pleased with the 968CS.

I know that I got lucky and I wouldn't recommend anyone else doing what I did. I bought out of perceived desperation but my instincts told me this was a very good car from an extremely conscientious owner.

My advice: don't try this at home. Not unless you really, really have to.

a little about Steven Wade:

I’ve been active online as a publisher since February 2005. Swadeology is my personal blog. My previous blogs were in the automotive sphere and up to the end of December, 2011, I worked as a writer/blogger for Saab Automobile AB, in Sweden.

I was born in 1970. I grew up in Melbourne, where I lived until age 24, when I moved to Hobart, Tasmania. I studied accounting and management, graduating in 1997 and I completed my CPA studies in 2001. I am married and the stepfather to three great human beings, as well as being master to one wonderful dog.

editor's note:

I found myself reading about Steven's  journey peppered with good Kharma a few times., and each time I came away not only enlightened but transported. It was as if I was there witnessing the nail-biting story unfold before me in the flesh...the only problem was that I wanted to stick around a little longer. Ah well, maybe the sojourn will happen again picking up where we left off.

Our heartfelt thanks to Steven for sharing this incredible story of pure luck and chance. Please visit his most excellent website Swadeology for more  examples of his gifted work.



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