Recently I dazzled you with advice on why you should never buy a 2007 Mercedes-Benz S550. My pithy commentary and artful use of .GIFs had the unintended effect of making me seem like the anti-Tavarish, someone who advises against buying a daily-driver European luxury car for less than a Japanese econobox. Sorry to disappoint, but I’m just as crazy as anyone here, if not worse. Exhibit A of my reckless disregard for any sense of financial security is my new purchase: this 1999 Porsche 911.
With future PSAs, I will continue giving solid consumer advice, pointing out disasters of automotive engineering to avoid. That being said, I rarely practice what I preach, and that’s how I ended up with this 911.
Here is a list of what I did, which any sane person should never, ever do.
- I bought what I believe to be the cheapest running and driving Porsche 911 coupe with a manual transmission in the country. As the saying goes, “There’s nothing more expensive than a cheap Porsche.”
- I bought a Porsche with zero paper service records. ZERO RECORDS. Not even a damn Jiffy Lube window sticker. No piece of paper documenting the replacement of the IMS bearing, which is famous for going IED inside the engine.
- I trusted the word of a used car dealer, assuring me the car was good enough for me to fly cross country with $9,500 cash, pick up the car in Southern California, then use for my very important work trip in the area for the next few weeks.
- Even though I have never owned a 911, I decided I was qualified enough to mechanically inspect the car myself before purchasing.
Any Porsche enthusiast would tell me I’m insane for doing any one of these things when buying a normal 911. I did all of it with a car that has an interstellar odometer reading of 243,000 miles.
Besides the mileage, how did I get a 911 for so cheap? It’s simple: I bought a 911 no one seems to want.
1999 was the first year of a dramatic redesign of the 911. Up until this point, the rear mounted flat-six engine was air cooled. There was no need for a radiator, water pump, or coolant to keep the engine at operating temperature. This was something Porsche buffs loved. For the launch of the new 911, Porsche engineers decided they had reached the limit of cost effective, reliable performance out of air cooling, switching to engines with liquid cooled systems and never looked back.
Die-hard enthusiasts treated this change like Apple yanking the headphone jack out of the iPhone, except about 1,000 times more egregious. First, you had the argument that Porsche was flushing its unique heritage, and unique sound, down the toilet in the name of progress.
The upsides weren’t even that apparent: despite the introduction of a water based cooling system, the horsepower difference between 1999 and 1998 was negligible (296 HP vs 282 HP) and the added weight of the new model made 0-60 times identical. The styling of the headlights, resembling a pair of cross eyed eggs over easy, didn’t do the car any favors either.
Many Porsche purists will say the real 911 died in 1998. As the years ensued, the used car market followed the opinion of these snobby purists, with an air-cooled Porsche 911 Turbo made in the ‘90s now bringing higher prices than the brand new 2017.
Even lesser-model air-cooled 911s have slowly crept up in value and are currently commanding insane prices. The days of buying a beater 911 on the cheap are all but gone—unless you consider a water cooled example. I had no shame in purchasing one of these snubbed 911s.
Still, the mileage on mine pretty much unheard of from a 911 of this era. The distance to the moon is about 239,000 miles. At 243,000 miles, my Porsche has been driven far enough to reach the moon and race the Lunar Rover around most of the circumference. A name for my new purchase came to me easily.
I may have used Microsoft Paint and a machine Windows 98 to create this image. The doctoring of this moon landing photo is so bad that if Buzz Aldrin saw it, he would certainly punch me in the face.
What didn’t give me a right cross to the jaw is how this 911 actually drives. It’s fantastic, but I will get to that in a bit. Let me first explain the logic behind making this suicidal purchase decision.
Porsche parts are extremely expensive. With the 911 being a desirable car, not many are getting junked for their parts. This means even used part prices are ridiculously high. A good used engine ranges from $5000-$8000. The gearboxes, sport seats, and front clip body panels sell individually for $2000 each. The 18” Twist wheels with good tires are worth $1000. The list goes on, and with the low supply there is a high demand.
Apollo 911 could have a problem like Apollo 13 and I would quickly recoup my money parting it out. Unfortunately, there is a flaw to this logic that 911 owners will fully understand: these cars are so good, so intoxicating, the moment you drive off in your new 911, you are completely, hopelessly in love.
Driving a 911 is like driving an extension of your own body. Very few modern cars give you this visceral feeling of being totally connected. It’s as if you can control the car by thought. Whatever you think the car should do, it does, and it talks back to you. No, it feels back to you. You feel everything the car is going to do.
The Miata gives a similar experience, but I’ve never fallen in love with a MX-5. Driving a Miata feels more like using a very precise tool compared to the complete immersion of the senses you get in the 911.
You see the shape of the 911 and can’t help but feel seduced by the understated sexiness. You feel the quality with the substantial clunk from closing the doors, the touch of the high grade interior materials, or the satisfying connected sensation you get shifting the gears.
You smell the rich leather. You hear the incredible exhaust note that could never be mistaken for any other car. You taste the….. well, I haven’t tried licking it yet.
I didn’t expect to fall in love. I’ve been around the block many times in various 911s over the years. Actually owning one is different. This scruffy little 911 with faded paint, road rash, and cracked leather was all mine. I am completely under its spell.
Since Apollo 911 is a collector car, I get to smugly call these blemishes “patina.”
I was very surprised how mechanically excellent this car is. The motor, transmission and suspension feel very tight. No leaks, and everything working as new with only a few minor quirks. Just look at the unbelievably clean undercarriage.
It was like I had entered an alternate universe where German cars are unbreakable and used car dealers tell the truth. Considering the very low price I paid, I felt like I stole the car, like these guys from Gone is 60 Seconds.
This might explain my front bumper “patina.”
So far, the car has been performing flawlessly for my work trip, and my affection is growing deeper. There’s no way I could ever part out my beloved Apollo 911 if a major mechanical component failed. It would be a crime against humanity to kill this gorgeous machine that’s already survived the distance to the moon.
And so begins my journey to financial ruin.