words and images by derek mccallister 

the result of a failed head gasket on a 924
There seems to be an interesting trend I am seeing among the exotic car world right now which is that Lamborghini and Ferrari cars, vintage years specifically, are well on the rise.  On top of this, the 911 has gone up in value, and so have many other sought after and obscure Porsche cars with a following (914/928, etc).  

The recent market price of exotics are causing the cars to leave the grasp of many of us who dreamed of them, pushing them into the hands of those who have a lot of money to throw around; concurrently,  the entry level exotics are also approaching the higher inventory prices.  I have recently been watching Jalpas, Urracos, 308s, and 348s increasing in cost.  To be more specific, I recently watched a Jalpa sell for over $110,000, which you could have easily bought a Diablo for years ago when the market was tame.  Years prior, the Jalpa was selling in the $40-50k range.

The Countach is steadily increasing, Miuras are at an all-time ungodly price, and some of the Maseratis are also reaching out of this world prices.  911 cars have gone way up, and watching factory original 914 cars go up is becoming an incredible trend.

Another trend I've seen recently is the lack of rising values in the naturally aspirated 924/944 cars.  I highly suspect this is because there are simply too many examples floating around.  But this leaves us with a timeless issue in the world of the front-engine, water-cooled Porsche cars, which is that it drives them further into oblivion.  I'm writing this because a particularly large peeve of mine is misguided advice that is to encourage the sacrifice of financial well-being over passion. 
above is an image of an early 944 rubber center clutch, below is what it takes to get to it.
Anyone who is familiar with my hobbies, my passion with cars, will tell you that I am extremely passionate and that I highly encourage people to go for what makes them happy.  I am also the type of person who sees cars as an investment in happiness, and not necessarily an investment for monetary purposes.  However, there are a lot of people that I think just aren’t ready to play that game;  namely, very young folks who dream of owning a Porsche.  Let me explain.

I recall a time in my life when I worked some boring minimum wage jobs; working in body shops sweeping floors, trying to get someone to show me how to do body work, shoot primer and how to do basic body things on cars.  To me, the experience was worth sweeping floors to have some skilled people show me how to do that stuff, and I'm glad I did it.  

"...a new trend I'm seeing is that buying these cars is within the reach of younger kids;"

Now, I always wanted to buy a cool car.  So one summer, I decided to save every bit of cash I could in order to put money into my car (which wasn't much); it ended up mostly going into maintenance and fixing stuff that needed attention.  I had my eyes set on a 3rd generation RX7 for a long time— I always wanted one.  They don't appeal to me now, but I recall wanting one so badly when the prices were high; around 10k for one that needed some work.  

That was big money to me then.  I did the math and if I got a better job and saved and saved, it seemed somewhat feasible.  Then I learned about maintenance, and what turbos cost, and before I knew it, after crunching some numbers, I finally had to admit that it was just out of my grasp to own and maintain one the way I wanted it.  Of course, what kid who is getting into cars isn't intrigued by something rare, beautiful, fast, and fun guaranteed to put a smirk on your face when you start it up?
well worn 931 seat hides
924 engine bay...yes, it can be this bad.
Eventually I decided to take some college courses and realized how much that was going to cost.  I got another job, which paid more, but then I had the realization of what it was like being an adult —it cost money.  Suddenly I had rent, bills, school loans, a car loan, and the idea of buying that FD was way more out of reach.  DAMN.  Being an adult was expensive!

This drops me into to the Porsche world.  You can buy a 944 Turbo for LESS than what you can buy a cherry 3rd generation RX7.  What's worse, you can buy one that needs work for about the same cost as a cherry N/A 944.  For those of us that don't mind restoring them, and have money to toss at them, that's actually great!  We know what lies beneath the hood, we understand the potential and we know what a beautiful car they are.
911 engine fan removed to access the alternator
914 wiring harness repair in various states as shown in the top three images
I fell in love with my 931, and I still love my 931.  But a new trend I'm seeing is that buying these cars is within the reach of younger kids; and by kids I mean teenagers, kids in their early 20s.  They come onto various Porsche forums already pretty damn determined that they want one, hoping for some confirmation bias, and I see some people give great advice and try to bring them down to reality and help them realize the cars cost money.  Others tell them to do it and that they aren't that bad. 

This is all fine and dandy when they get their hopes up, and then down the road they neglect something like the timing belt because it costs a few hundred bucks to do it properly such as replacing the rollers, doing the water pump, etc., so they skip it.  It breaks, the head decides to host a boxing match between the pistons and the valves, and then they call up a place to find out what it'll cost to replace it leaving the car it become one of two things:  a project in which now they want to swap an LS1 into it that never happens which eventually turns into parting it out, or they sell it to someone else as a parts car and go buy something else anyway.  Then they forever tell everyone that the 944 is an unreliable piece of crap and a horrible car and when people ask what it was like to own one the answer is usually, “They're stupid cars and unreliable and I'll never own another one as long as I live.”
radiator "stop leak" stops working.
failed main seal with the new one on the left ready to take its place
This actually makes me sad, because the 944 and 924 cars are fantastic.  However, they have to be maintained.  If you buy a normally aspirated 924 (not an S model), the first thing you should do is take the valve cover off, replace the oil elbow since they crack and can starve the head of oil, and then do a valve adjustment.  Period.  How many people who buy them know that going into it?  If you buy a 944, the first thing you should probably do is replace the belt, rollers and water pump. Why?  Because a collision between pistons and valves isn't fun.  But how many people know this going into buying them?

When people buy a Porsche, they want it to be a fun experience, a beautiful experience.  I waited for years till I was established enough in my finances to buy my first Porsche.  I would not buy one unless I could afford the car, the maintenance, parts, and unexpected pieces in case the worst happened and the engine or transmission grenaded on me.  My Porsche cars have always been daily drivers, and I enjoy them that way.  However, I also realize that it's not cheap if I break them; but I know what to potentially expect.

"a cool cheap Porsche to own becomes a more enticing proposition."

I feel that the fastest way to ruin someone's view of Porsche cars is to recommend them to “follow their dreams” at a very young age before they are ready, or just becoming a college student, or working on other major life goals and go buy a Porsche of any kind, especially if it is their main mode of transportation.  Now, that is not to say that all young people aren't established early, or incapable of financing such things, or aren't capable of making enough to maintain such things.  But with the prices of the 924 and 944 in the $1,000-5,000 range, which, incidentally, is Honda civic money; considering one as a “primary car” or “a cool cheap Porsche to own” becomes a more enticing proposition. 
even wiper motors need attention in a car that's seen it's share of neglect.
The reality of it is, I think a lot of young car people want a car with flare, with physique, something that will make the ladies go, “You drive a what?” or own something they can be damn proud of.  Who doesn't?  There's nothing wrong with that.  The problem lies when you let your image damage your future, and a car that costs a lot to maintain can seriously hinder your progress early in life. 

If I can offer the young people who want one badly any advice it would be this:

You're young.  You've got your entire life ahead of you.  You're likely at an age where you're exiting school, getting ready for college, working a part time (or many part time) jobs, you're piling on classes and credits, getting ready to pay for school loans, you're trying to get all of that to stretch out so you can afford to live check to check till you've got that all done.  I get it, I've been there, many of us have.  There is no shame in living within your means, and for fuck's sake, the last thing you need is for your engine to grenade, a belt to snap, an axle to break, a clutch to go out, your differential to blow up, a head gasket failure, or a turbo failure on a Porsche. 

Imagine for a moment you've just paid rent, you've got a hundred bucks to get you by for the rest of the month and then out of nowhere you start hearing a weird CLUNK from the front of your Porsche, and it's suddenly engaging strangely.  Unfortunately, when you bought that early 944, the previous owner didn't tell you that the clutch was near end of life, or they didn't know, and the rubber centered disc has now split.  It's on the “get it home tabs.”  Then the realization hits, and hits hard— you're going to need a clutch.  You call up a shop and ask how much it'll cost and to your astonishment, they quote you over $1000 in parts and 16 hours of labor.  The total bill could potentially hover around $2,000.  
what it takes to do the can chain tensioner pads in a 968...not for the meek.
Our young friend goes on the forums and asks if this is realistic and the old timers tell the young guy that it is indeed a 16 hour job for someone who has never done this.  But it will take weekends— lots of weekends which will have to somehow cram in between his busy work schedule and college schedule if he does it himself for the cost of the parts.  Perhaps, though, he only has $1500 in savings from last summer's job, and now he needs to shell out about $1000 to replace the clutch and all the parts he'll need to do “while he's down there.”

Unfortunately, this is a scenario I've seen time and time again.  Worse scenarios are timing belt failures, roller failures that eat the belt alive, or oil cooler seals going out, head gasket failures, bearing failures and things that all cost much more than all of the above.  It suddenly sinks in that this car is going to cost them a LOT of money to fix, and it's just not in the budget right now.  The dream car they bought needs repairs and they have no choice but to either take out a loan and fix it, or take on another job to fix it, or sell it for cheap and go get something else with whatever they have leftover.

I have seen so many scenarios for these unfortunate owners who encounter these situations and it sincerely makes me sad to see people have such experiences.  Any of us who have been in the game long enough can quite easily tell them it's no big deal, or how easy it is, especially when we've done it time and again ready to deal with it when the time comes.  I think a lot of us forget how it is to be young and full of desire for these things, but having these things barely within affordable grasp to buy the car, and not be truly prepared to maintain it or deal with potential failures.
underneath a USD$2000 928 lies a world of unknowns and expensive fixes on someone else's failed attempts at owning and fixing a Porsche on the cheap.
I understand this is primarily a rant, but it seems to be a huge trend that I've seen on many of the Porsche forums of late. I’m a realist and although some might consider that to be pessimistic in moments such as these, I can only urge you to be realistic with yourself and take into consideration your mechanical ability, your finances, and your future before embarking on a journey that could become your worst nightmare if foolish idealism rules the day. 
editor's note:

bla, bla, bla, you may groan but while Derek may sound like an old chap whose just pissed in your Cheerios, he's an under thirty Porschephile wise beyond his years who knows the game all too well. he warns enthusiasts half my age, but I'll go so far as to say enthusiasts in my bracket, "middle age," need the same bit of sobering news.

to paraphrase Derek, be realistic. sure, you've waited well into your forties, you're at the top of your career making good pocket change and figure now's a perfect time to indulge, you've waited long enough. that twenty, thirty, or even forty thousand dollar Porsche you're ready to park next to the Caravan will land you in the same world of shit as the USD$1000 924 or 928. just because you paid a so-called premium doesn't mean you can drive the Porker care free, it'll still have the same sorts of issues as the ones Derek has outlined, only it'll hurt that much more because you've just gutted your piggy bank to buy the thing.

be prepared, do your homework, and most importantly, budget the asking price of that dream Porsche in up-front deferred maintenance and repairs, the figures will climb higher than you think even if you provide the labor. have a look at our "owner's report" page to get a sample of the sorts of things you'll run into when the honeymoon is over. the positive side of all this banter lies in the experience you'll gain when you dive right in and address the issues leaving you a used vintage Porsche that's far better than a new anything else.

el jefe

the honeymoon period for the realists will have to wait until nearly USD$10,000 is sunk into that rare 968 on top of the small fortune already spent just to get your foot in the door.
expect to get your hands dirty even if you pay a premium. sooner or later, the intimidation lessens and you'll realize after dozens of repairs that half the fun of ownership is working on the thing yourself...as long as you have a budget set aside.


03/28/2015 21:35

On the 16 valver cam chain tensioning pad, unless the vario-cam is significantly different than my 91 S2 (which doesn't have vario) I've found that if you put a rag on the top of the chain, press down, hard, two small hole in the mount and the plunger lines up, and you can put insert a small allen wrench to hold it in the compressed state. Now that the spring tension is being held, you can lift the chain and the top pad slides off pretty easily for replacement (the one that takes all the abuse). A few bolts that mount the entire tensioner down, and you can wiggle it free of the chain out of the head, and replace the bottom pad on the workbench. Wiggle it back in, tighten the tensioner back down (to torque specs please! It's steel bolts in threaded aluminum), and you've swapped your pads without removing the cams, which are a major pain to time correctly. Ask me how I know. :)

03/28/2015 21:40

Thanks Erik! Always appreciate your wisdom!

03/28/2015 22:37

I did the same thing on my 90 S2 Erik. But I know some people replace the chain itself when doing that service, so I'd bet that's why he removed the cams.

03/28/2015 23:09

yes, I the chain was replaced Reid.

Michael O'Donnell
03/28/2015 21:41

Totally guilty of this. Bought my 83 944 when I was 20 because I was enticed by the notion of owning an exciting car for less than anyone would have imagined. Fortunately it's been a positive experience and has taught me many lessons about owning a car, and the value of hard work. Still daily driving it. For any other young guys reading this article, don't be scared off, but the author is bang on... it isn't a cheap car just because the buy-in is low. It's easy to work on and you'll learn a lot.

03/29/2015 08:40

True, in many ways. The thing is that 500 bucks in new parts demand factor ten in working hours: either you have that money, or you have the time (read: 2nd car).
And one aspect hardly mentioned: if you decide to dive in, you'll need several hundred dollars for workshop equipment: proper lifting equipment, appropriate keys and (torque) wrenches, all the liquids, lamps, electric test tools etc. My first major jobs cost more in equipment than in parts.

Chris Frye
03/29/2015 10:40

I have something to say about this. Yesterday afternoon, I spent the bulk of my day at the local pick and pull yard. Although I came up empty in my search for various automotive treasures, I noticed something. The vehicles in the junkyard seemed very new! Unfortunately dear readers, our transaxle Porsches are antiques. Gulp! My 924 rolled off the lot during the Carter administration in 1978. Even the newest 968 and 928 models are at least 20 years old. As a grizzled veteran of the car business, who worked at a VW/Porsche/Audi dealership on the East coast and a dialed VW dealership on the West coast, I am reminded of the automotive market. An average trade-in at a dealership is between 8-12 years old. Vehicles of all makes, shapes and sizes aged 13-30 become survivors if they are still on the road. The bulk of cars in this age group end up at the local pick and pull yard or end up on a scap metal freighter to China. I mention this because the idea of using a classic or antique vehicle as a dally driver is a recipe for disaster. Although my friends at the local Porsche dealership still see 924/944/968/928 models on the service drive, the bulk of these survivors are driven seasonally or sparingly. Most of the VAG techs are much younger than the actual cars! Comments such as: "What's a Scirocco?" "I've never seen an early 924 that wasn't an "s", are common among the experts. An older vehicle is never truly supported by the manufacturer, and one must depend upon the wisdom of a specialist or learn to do the work themselves. Either way, this can create an expensive and frustrating proposition for the owner of the car. The price of entry to buy the car is only the beginning of the commitment! Speaking from experience, my wife and I have two solid daily driver vehicles that allow the Porsche to be our occasional ride. I would encourage anyone to live out the dream of Porsche ownership. I would also encourage a younger buyer on a budget to seek out a relatively Civic, Corolla, Sentra, etc. (only another Volkswagen product if you are a total masochist) as a daily appliance.

Joe Sharp
03/30/2015 21:48

Great article Derek. You speak the truth. Even I did buy a X1/9 when I was 20, and then replaced it with a used, but beautiful 914..
As you know I'm north of the 60 age, and I STILL feel like I'm only 20 when driving the 944 I have now!

For anyone who doesn't know, Derek DOES have a Jalpa in his garage

03/30/2015 21:56

naturally, I agree with D. However, he can slow down a little bit. Prices are starting to start climbing. The days of the $1000 car aren't long for this world. Good for us, not as good for the teen wannabes.

Not to worry though, Boxsters are next.

matthew mariani
04/03/2015 21:26

Very interesting read Derek.

Cliff Wilson
03/31/2015 14:44

Wow! Great article! These cars (944's) were what I saw on the dealers lots and dreamed about as a teenager...they were awesome!

Fast forward almost 30 years and I jump into this 944/951 game without prior knowledge nor experience. A few cars, lots of busted knuckles, and a small fortune later, I now probably qualify for an advanced degree and possibly even veteran benefits!

I now have a very solid and dependable 951 that can be enjoyed every day if desired but it didn't come without a hefty price...monetarily and non-monetarily!

Boulder Geek
06/25/2015 12:43

I am also one of those mid-40s enthusiasts who got their driver's license in the 80s, and dreamed about the sexy fender flares of the 944, the 930, the slant nosed 935. You would watch Magnum .p.i (I know you did) for a glimpse of the 308GTSi. the Alpine Countach ads were on your walls, and "someday" you would arrive and be able to join the club.

Until then, college, low paying jobs, maybe grad school, maybe a house, maybe a wife, maybe a kid or two. Loans need to be paid back. Whoops, watch out for that recession! Time to retrain into a different career. Whoops, post-Y2K killed your IT career? So sorry.

For many of us, the 911 Twin Turbo dream will never happen. At 48, I just treated myself to a birthday present, a 944 NA that I wanted but didn't need, and with a budget that doesn't provide for full restoration. It's an adventure. Like my old Volvo 850R wagon, when it is running well, it's amazing. And when it lets you down, it's soul crushing. The sports-car-dreamer in us is never truly quiet. It needs to be fed, and sometimes it demands blood and sweat, tears and ground down teeth from the stress.

But, as I tell my patient significant other, at this point in my life, I haven't declared bankruptcy. I still have a house. Never went to prison, nor developed a heroin habit. I guess a little indulgence is in order.


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