To become very rich, you usually need to have been a bit well-heeled in the first place so you have something to work with. And therein, for most of us, lies the problem. It's a problem which precludes the ownership of some covetable cars, and it hurts all the more when those cars were affordable not so long ago.
JAN 30th 2017
John Simister: Quelling the thirst for an air‑cooled 911
Meanwhile, the lucky owners of such cars who bought them at the right time can enjoy the juicy fruits of their foresight. And should they sell them, they too can experience an upward spike in their net worth. An air-cooled Porsche 911 should do the job nicely.
I don't suppose I'll ever own an air-cooled 911 now, although I have come close in the past. I could probably run to some sort of tired 996, but all that cabin plastic, all those contrived 1990s curves… I couldn't do it, much as I've enjoyed driving them and their 997 and 991 successors over the years.
A friend of mine has just sold his very tidy 964 version, the last 911 to be obviously related to the original given that its 993 replacement, albeit still air-cooled, had radically different body panels and rear suspension. This 964 went, via a dealer, to a buyer in Hong Kong. By the time the buyer's import duty and taxes have been added, he will have paid well into six figures for a car which cost my friend maybe £30,000 a couple of years ago.
That seemed a high price then, but it was a car fully refurbished and mechanically rebuilt. It needed nothing, looked gorgeous and drove perfectly. My friend is a very happy chap; he bought the car after someone else had done all the vital spending on it, and now he has reaped the gains that the market has sent his way.
This Hong Kong connection is serendipitous, because the last time I got anywhere near buying an air-cooled 911, it was a car sold new in that then-British territory and then brought over to Britain. It was a 1978 SC model, with the interim 188bhp low-compression engine and an odd spec with wind-up windows and orangey-tan trim. But time is kind to odd specifications. It doesn't matter now that a classic car doesn't quite conform to a contemporary Glass's Guide stereotype if, as here, it's in tip-top condition with a big folder of bills from a respected British Porsche specialist.
The SC was at a Surrey auction in 2014. I couldn't go, which was very frustrating as I'd worked myself up into quite a lather of covetousness, but two friends were going and one of them, the owner of a lovely 2.7 RS Carrera which he bought when they were cheap, said he'd bid on my behalf if the car proved in the metal to be as good as it seemed. It did, as far as he could tell.
We were communicating live by phone as the bidding started. In very little time there were just two bidders: my proxy and one other. I stopped at £13,000, my limit – I hadn't even seen the car! – so the other buyer won. Within a week it was on eBay at £23,000. He'd had to spend a little on fixing a sticky clutch linkage, but it was still a nice earner for him.
So ended my 911 dream, because this was exactly the point at which prices took off. Shortly before this non-purchase, I'd failed to buy another one, a 1980 model offered for sale by a well-known Porsche specialist and featuring both the high-compression, 204bhp engine and that mind-bending Pascha interior trim, a cloth material with a distorted chequerboard pattern redolent of chemically-induced hallucination, or so I'm told.
But here's the strange part. It wasn't all that great to drive. It pulled to the left, the engine felt flat; it was a bit tired, frankly, and my expected rush of desire was quenched with the steamy hiss of a bucket of water on a bonfire. A couple of other SCs, and an example of the 1975 911S that was really a rebadged 911E (I won't go into the minutiae of 911 derivatives here) were similarly not as sharp as memory said they should be. A Porsche 911, it seems, goes through the same life stages as any other old car, and no amount of hype can prevent it.
So I won't be owning an air-cooled 911. Given the fact that to own a mediocre one would be a terrible disappointment, and a good one is unattainable, I can't see that changing. All is not lost, though. My 2.7 RS Carrera-owning friend is a very generous man, and I'm always welcome to have a go in his car. As it's a great example of my, and most other people's, favourite early 911, this state of affairs will do very nicely. I shall call him right now…
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