The Porsche 911 is one of the most iconic and easily identifiable cars on the road. Other than a loose resemblance to the Volkswagen Beetle, there’s no mistaking Porsche’s incredible 911 Carrera for any other car on the road. It’s also one of the best performance cars out there, providing limitless levels of driver engagement and, of course, the prestige that enthusiasts want out of a Porsche.
They still offer the manual transmission, and if you don’t want to row your own gears, the record-shattering PDK dual-clutch gearbox is also a wonderful choice.
The Original 911
Porsche gave us the 911 in 1964, with an air-cooled rear-mounted engine behind the rear axle. In its 50 years of production, it has spawned hundreds of limited editions, trim levels, and of course, racecars including race-winning RSR cars. It also spawned the 935 Turbo that took home the trophy in the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1979, and a plethora of racecars to this day.
The 911 remains a good purchase today for the enthusiast because of its pedigree, precision, driver engagement, reliability, and last of all, value. Everybody already knows that Porsche is held to the highest of standards globally, and you’ll always be seen a certain way for owning one.
What people don’t know is that these cars are actually an amazing value for what they cost. Just about every iteration of 911 has appreciated significantly over the past decade, and that bubble isn’t about to burst anytime soon.
Air-cooled 911’s were produced from 1964 to 1998, and the original 911E, L, S and T models are still extremely desirable. Of course, these cars are desirable due to their age and history in the same way that many other cars of that era are, and not necessarily for their driver engagement.
1973 brought the Carrera RS, with the “RS” standing for Rennsport in German, which translates to “race sport”. Built with a larger 2.7-liter engine over the standard Carrera, it got go-fast bits like mechanical fuel injection, bigger brakes, wider wheels and tires, widened rear hips, and of course, stiff suspension.
1975 brought the 930 Turbo, which was Porsche’s first 911 that went with turbocharging rather than sticking with natural aspiration. It got 260 horsepower and a four-speed manual transmission, and a big rear spoiler now known as a “whale tail”.
Fast forward to 1989, and the 964 generation came about with the most modern styling ever, styling that aged incredibly well and inarguably looks stunning to this day. Engine displacement went to 3.6-liters, and the Turbo would join the line for 1990. The 964 is one of the most desirable generations today, and was one of the first to skyrocket in value.
Just 10 years ago, around 2010, these cars were at the bottom of their depreciation curve and could be had in the $10,000 range. Those who would hold out hoping they’d drop even more would regret it in the years following.
The 964 also had RS and RS America models, cars that are worth well into the six-figures today, especially considering the USA only got 701 RS America cars. Finding an RS America for an affordable price today is pretty much the same as finding the actual Lucky Charms guy at the end of a rainbow.
After the 964 would come the 993 in 1994. The 993 was even more modern-looking and just as gorgeous as the 964, and the prices these things are commanding today reflects just that. Just about every Porsche enthusiast today would agree that the 993 is one of the most sought after generations of the 911. 993 Turbos are also well over $100,000, and even less-desirable trims like a base Carrera Cabriolet in a terrible color would be worth at least $50,000 in decent shape.
The 911 went from air-cooled to water-cooled after the 993, just in time for the 1999 Carrera, which was called the 996. Porsche opted to change this in order to keep up with other marques, namely Ferrari. It’s much easier to get more performance out of a water-cooled engine, and this comes with a reduction of unnecessary noise as well. However, it’s indisputable that the sound of a naturally-aspirated, horizontally-opposed six-cylinder is one of the best aural symphonies ever.
Today the 996 is known as the ugly duckling of the 911 range, its fried egg-like headlights and somewhat awkward interior make for some mockery from Porsche purists. As a result, it’s also been the last to appreciate, and for those shopping at a lower price point, the most accessible way to get into a 911.
Make no mistake, though, the 996 still drives extremely well, and save for its one major issue, is fairly cheap to maintain. You see, the 996 was plagued with something called “IMS”. The intermediate shaft that runs the camshaft of the engine was prone to failure, and if not addressed, could cause serious damage and virtually kill the motor of your 911.
This engine, codenamed the M96, was affected by the IMS issue, and most Porsche techs will suggest that if you’re buying a 996 that hasn’t had the IMS addressed, fix it immediately. Preventative maintenance is the name of the game here, and this is very easily done at reasonable costs. Once the IMS has been taken care of, the 996 is no less reliable than any other generation of the 911.
Since the 996 has already virtually bottomed out in price, it’s unlikely to get any cheaper, so you may want to get one while you can. Most experts are predicting that, like the generations before it,
the 996 will eventually appreciate as well, so this might be the time to get one and enjoy it without really losing a dollar when the day comes to part ways with it.
997, 991, and 992 Generations
The more modern iterations of the 911 Carrera are the 997, 991, and the brand new 992. All of these are incredible driving machines that can put the hammer down on the racetrack just as well as keep a smirk on your face while commuting to work. The 911 is one of the most pure driving experiences ever, and right now, there’s very little price difference between a modern version and a minty-clean air-cooled.
The 991.2 went to full turbocharging for the 2017 model year, and completely eliminated the naturally-aspirated engine. Of course, performance was improved, but that mechanical sonata that the regular flat-six would bring to your ears was gone and replaced with a muffled grumble that can sometimes remind you of a boosted Subaru.
The 992 was all new for the 2020 model year, and while it’s a stunning engineering masterpiece,
it may have lost some of that passion over the years.
Buying A 911
You see, the 911 is special for a variety of reasons. Not only is it an amazing driver’s car that can pull in a straight line despite what the humble horsepower and torque numbers will have you believe, and also shatter records at the most technical of tracks around the world, but it’s a car that doesn’t kill the wallet on maintenance, and, for some magical reason, doesn’t really suffer from the depreciation curve.
If you’re looking to buy a 911 right now, there’s pretty much an unlimited number of opportunities at just about any price point. If you’re looking to spend $20,000 or less, you’re effectively restricted to the 996, in either Carrera 2 (rear-drive) or 4 (all-wheel-drive) forms. You’ll want to avoid the Tiptronic automatic and just go with a good old fashioned manual because, well, save the manuals! But, also because it’s really the best way to enjoy a Porsche. The only risk here is that purists will judge you and scoff at you for owning a 996. But don’t kid yourself, this is a real 911.
The track-focused 996 GT3 is definitely the most accessible of the GT3’s today, but it’s still a hardcore track-scorching monster.
Those looking at buying a car for investment purposes will want to look no further than a 993 or the 964. Of course, the more you can afford the better, but the Turbo and RS models are the most desirable. A super clean Turbo variant will obviously be the strongest and most recession-proof, but if this past year has been any indicator, collector car pricing isn’t all that affected by pandemics.
The more modern cars are still on a bit of a depreciation curve, but they’re pretty bulletproof daily drivers. A modern Carrera, S, or 4S would be a certified monster to pick up certified pre-owned
and enjoy if the goal is long-term ownership.
Those who intend to keep their sports car for decades to come shouldn’t really look any further than the 911. Comparable sports cars sometimes have major issues that affect their long term longevity,
making them just not quite as easy to own as the 911.
And somehow, the 911 still remains the only car where values climb steadily. Let’s not forget that a few years ago European banks were legitimately recommending to their customers that those wanting to protect their liquid cash in a volatile market should invest in classic Porsche 911’s.
If you’re looking for the easiest sports car to own, look no further. And hey, if the banks are saying it, it’s got to be a pretty smart thing to do!