Jeremy Clarkson once declared that “you can’t be a true petrolhead until you’ve owned an Alfa Romeo”. Not for the first time, though, Jezza was wrong. With a few recent exceptions, modern Alfas are just gussied-up Fiats. And the classics, while bursting with brio, are less dependable than a Southern train..
No, if there’s one car every enthusiast should aspire to own, it’s a Porsche 911. This quirky, rear-engined coupe has evolved – and occasionally revolved – over more than five decades. Fast, fun and engineered with typically Teutonic thoroughness, it has inspired an automotive cult all its own: witness the number of dedicated 911 magazines in newsagents. And it’s still going strong: the millionth example recently left Stuttgart, and special editions, such as the 911R, sell out before they even reach showrooms.
Video: Porsche 911 Carrera 3.2
Convinced? Now for the bad news. We’re not alone in this view, and used Porsche prices have risen sharply over the past decade – outpacing even the already-buoyant classic car market as a whole. Still, even if Brexit bites and the stock market takes a nosedive, good 911s – particularly earlier, air-cooled cars – are likely to remain highly sought-after
If you want the full, 100% proof 911 experience, you need one the original pre-1989 cars; and they don’t come much better than the last-hurrah Carrera 3.2, now available from around £30,000. The lovely 1989 example tested here was kindly supplied by Canford Classics.
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How does it drive?
The classic Carrera isn’t an easy car to drive, but that’s key to its appeal. You need to engage your brain, exploit its strengths and work around its weaknesses. And learning those takes time.
Despite being shorter and narrower than a new Porsche Cayman, the original 911’s cabin doesn’t feel short on space. Well, not unless you’re squeezed into the toddler-sized rear seats. It’s comically sparse by 2017 standards, though, with controls scattered seemingly at random and floor-hinged pedals skewed towards the centre of the car.
Ergonomic eccentricities are soon forgotten when you fire up that trademark air-cooled flat-six, however. It whirrs, rumbles and churns: not musical, but deliciously mechanical. And the howl it makes at high revs will reverberate inside your skull for hours.
The 911’s unassisted steering and spindly gearlever demand measured, deliberate inputs, yet positively fizz with feedback. It feels lively and light-footed, effervescent even. Those characteristic front wings bob up and down, following the contours of the road, while the all-round disc brakes offer confidence-inspiring bite.
You never forget this is a rear-engined, rear-wheel-drive car – one with no electronic safety aids, no less – but the Porsche is hardly the ‘widowmaker’ of urban legend. It simply requires respect and a certain degree of restraint, especially when it rains. A new hot hatch will be quicker whatever the weather, but you’ll be having more fun.
Tell me about buying one
Chris Lowe, lead technician at Canford Classics, is a big fan of the Carrera 3.2: “It has better brakes and a more powerful engine than the 911 SC it replaced, and larger wheels make it more drivable day-to-day”, he explains. “Plus, it’s still air-cooled, so it doesn’t stray too far from the original formula. Overall, they’re just super-cool cars.”
The 3.2 was sold in three body styles: coupe, convertible and Targa. Coupes are generally considered most desirable, although the removable-roof Targa is now firmly back in fashion. A ‘tea tray’ rear wing was optional as part of the Sport pack, along with stiffer dampers and shapelier seats. Alternatively, buyers could go the whole nine yards with the 911 Supersport: a 3.2 with the stretched wheelarches and beefed-up brakes of the 930 Turbo.
Rust is the fatal foe of any classic 911, so Chris advises checking bodywork carefully: the roof pillars and sills are the main trouble spots. Take a fine-tooth comb to the paperwork, too. “Originality is key to value,” says Chris, “so ask for the Certificate of Authenticity from Porsche, which details the original specification – including any options fitted.” Also, be prepared to budget for mechanical maintenance: “Many 3.2s are due engine or gearbox rebuilds, and the same goes for suspension. Bushes will usually need to be replaced.”
It’s also worth noting that the post-1987 G50 gearbox – as fitted here – is slicker and more user-friendly than the original 915 unit. As such, G50-equipped cars tend to be worth more.
Is the Carrera 3.2 the ultimate retro daily-driver? Perhaps, even if the aforementioned rise in values means most owners now reserve their cars for sunny Sundays and special occasions.
In truth, the G-Series 911 felt a little dated by the mid-1980s, yet it has aged remarkably well. To drive, it feels raw, vital and life-affirming, while its essential robustness stands in marked contrast to the flimsy over-complication of many modern cars.
Three decades hence, when scores of present-day ‘991’ 911s are festering on scrapheaps with undiagnosed software gremlins, one suspects the classic Carrera will still be going strong. It’s a sports car icon, both of its time and timeless. Buy one now before prices get even crazier.
Many thanks to Canford Classics (01929 472221) for the loan of this immaculate 1989 911. The car is currently for sale, priced at £55,000.
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