5 Porsche Choices For First Time Owners

Exotic. Sleek. Radiating a seductive aura of power and control. And that's just the ignition key.

1978-1983 911SC

If you want the satisfying thrust of an air-cooled flat-six in a bulletproof package, it's hard to beat the 911SC. These cars were powered with a 3.0-liter six that was a huge step up in reliability from the preceding 2.7-liter unit, and laughed at road salt with their fully galvanized body shells, an industry first. The SC--S for Super, C for Carrera--was offered initially in Coupe and Targa form only, joined in 1983 by a Cabriolet.

Consider Rainer Cooney another of the car's ardent admirers. "I mean, those are the best value for the money; you can pick 'em up all day long for 15 grand--and they've been holding at 15 grand for the last five or 10 years. So you can drive it for three or four years, treat it nice and turn around and sell it for 15 grand." He added, "They were built after they started their rustproofing campaign so unless it's been whacked or somehow or other molested, they're not going to have a huge rust problem like the early 911s do. And the engine is after the '77 engines where they had problems with the studs and cases stripping their threads; they're a reliable, proven unit that will go for a substantial amount of mileage without having to worry about the thing hand-grenading on you." Engine: 2,993cc air-cooled flat-six Layout: Rear engine, rear-wheel drive Horsepower: 180 @ 5,500 RPM Torque: 244-lbs.ft. @ 4,200 RPM Maximum speed: 136 MPH 0-60 mph: 6.7 seconds Curb weight: 2,750 pounds Average price: $15,000-$18,000 Pros: Easy service, great parts availability Cons: Starting to get old; Seventies interiors are an acquired taste

1984-1989 Carrera 3.2

When one car winds up on all six experts' lists, you know it has to be something special. The replacement for the fine SC, the Carrera had a larger, 3,164cc flat-six that made 200hp, which was bumped up to 214hp for the final two years of production. Its integrated electronic ignition and fuel-injection system made the engine both more powerful and less thirsty. Like its predecessor, the Carrera 3.2 was available in Coupe, Targa and Cabriolet form, with a five-speed the only transaxle available. In the beginning, the Carrera could be ordered with the Turbo's flares, whale-tail and front spoiler extension; in 1985, the Turbo-Look became a regular model. Here's what the choice among 911s comes down to: SC or Carrera 3.2. "The Carrera is going to have all the refinements over the SC, and it's going to be a few bucks more, too, so it really depends on what you want to get into at the entry level," John said. He suggests, "shop around and really have yourself a budget as far as with each particular model. If you really have your heart set on a Carrera, you know, great--you can still find some good deals out there, you know? It's going to cost you a few thousand more than an SC, but then you're going to get all the additional refinements over the SC." "These are affordable and still have the classic 911 look and feel," Gordon said. "Don't expect the A/C to work, and a few chronic problems should be checked. But don't feel uncomfortable with a 150,000-mile car, either, if it has a complete history." He prefers the 1987-1989 cars for their improved G50 five-speed transaxle, which he calls "a revelation. What took them so long? More money than the earlier Carreras, but worth it." Two members of our panel narrowed it down to a single model year. "1989--It's a great year," Alex Finigan said. "You can use it as an everyday car and the price is reasonable. It's under $20,000 for a nice one. It's one I would consider buying." Al Zim agreed. "In my opinion, the 1989 911 is probably the best car to purchase. It has the G50 transmission and was the last of the series. 1978 through 1989 were the best of the 911 series cars. Unfortunately, the '78 car is 31 years old, and in that time someone has worked on the car who had no idea of what they were doing." Engine: Air-cooled flat-six, 3,164cc Layout: Rear engine, rear-wheel drive Horsepower: 200 @ 5,900 RPM (1984-1986) / 217 @ 5,900 RPM (1987-1989) Torque: 265-lbs.ft. @ 4,800 RPM Maximum speed: 146 MPH 0-60 mph: 6.2 seconds Curb weight: 2,750 pounds Average price: $19,000-$23,000 Pros: A good seller, so many to choose from Cons: A bit more expensive than the SCs

1983-1991 944

It suffers from appearing to be similar to the 924, the "budget Porsche" that preceded it, but don't be fooled: The 944 is a refined driver's car. Like the 924, it offered all-independent suspension, a front/rear transaxle layout, and the practicality of a big glass hatchback; unlike the 924, its engine was not the gruff 2-liter Audi four, but a 2.4-liter unit that was essentially one-half of the alloy V-8 developed for the flagship 928. To chase away the big four's shake at idle, Porsche gave the engine counter-rotating balance shafts. Initially displacing 2,749cc and making 147hp, the engine would grow in 1989 to 2,990cc and 208hp in the 16-valve S2 coupe. A Cabriolet version went into production in July 1989. Critics of the day who were underwhelmed by the 924 loved the new car. "The 944 is one of the most exciting cars to come out of Zuffenhausen in a long time," Road & Track said. "It is spirited, yet smooth. It handles superbly, yet its ride is not harsh. It has swoopy looks, period.... If all of these accolades seem effusive, it's because the 944 is the sort of car that makes driving fun." It still does. The 944 "is a very nice, well-balanced car that you can get for a reasonable amount of money--not a turbo, but just a regular 944," Rainer says. "Obviously, 944s have got the water cooling and the water pumps, and proper service records are very important. When they tell you to change the timing belt at 80,000, you've got to change the timing belt at 80,000; that's an interference engine, so if something happens later on, you're paying for it. But the beauty of the 944 versus the 911 is that it's a very well balanced car. 911s, up until recently, when they changed the suspension and a lot of other things, were a driver's kind of car. If you went into a corner too hot and chickened out, you were going to pay at the body shop. But a 944 with the transaxle in the back is an extremely well balanced car--even a novice can drive that car relatively quickly without any surprises." Gordon also praises the car for its poise. "These are marvelous, well-balanced cars with modern equipment, big brakes and almost open-air motoring when you put the sunroof panel in the back. Over 200hp in the S2 lets you keep up to most current sports cars." He cautioned, "Earlier 944s have only about 150hp, and because of their lower values, it's hard to find one that hasn't been boy-racer beat." Engine: Water-cooled inline-four, 2,479cc (2,990cc 1989-on) Layout: Front engine, rear-wheel drive Horsepower: 143 @ 5,800 RPM (160 @ 5,900) Torque: 137-lbs.ft. @ 3,000 RPM (210-lbs.ft. @ 4,500) Maximum speed: 132 MPH 0-60 mph: 8.3 seconds Curb weight: 2,945 pounds Average price: $9,000-$15,000 Pros: Balanced handling; incredible bargains available Cons: Cabriolets a bit short on storage space

1992-1995 968

When Porsche released the further refinement of its 944, it gave the model a new name: 968. The body was subtly modified, with a nose reminiscent of the 928s, but the biggest development lay under the hood. The 2,990cc, twin-cam four had been given Porsche's new VarioCam system, which allowed the timing of the intake camshaft to be varied by as much as 15 degrees. In one swoop, it made the four cleaner, smoother and more powerful. A new, six-speed transaxle was provided, with a four-speed Tiptronic optional. "The excellent brakes carry over from the 944, with their aluminum calipers clamping down on vented discs all around," the late Paul Frère wrote in a contemporary review in Road & Track. "Bosch ABS operates efficiently and is not oversensitive to bad road surfaces. And as Porsche power-assisted steering units are among the best I know, the 968 is an altogether rewarding car to drive." As with the 944S2, the 968 was offered in Coupe and Cabriolet configuration. Although they were given a lukewarm welcome by some critics, who seemed to think that they had seen all this before and wanted something new, the 968 represented the pinnacle of Porsche's four-cylinder, water-cooled cars. For all that, the car never sold well, and just 12,776 were built during the four years of production, fewer than 5,000 of which were destined for the U.S. Later models tended to be loaded with optional equipment, as dealers looked for a way to move the cars. Two of our panelists, Gordon and Prescott, gave thumbs-up to the 968. "It's fairly rare, as Porsche didn't build a lot of them, so you won't see yourself coming and going," Gordon noted. "It has all the attributes of the late 944s with more power and refinement, and a Cabrio is available. A sweet driver's car." One dissenting opinion comes from Al, who points out that the car's low market values have put many of them into the hands of less than caring enthusiasts. Parts and labor are expensive, too, he argued. Engine: Watercooled inline-four, 3.0 liters Layout: Front engine, rear-wheel drive Horsepower: 236 @ 6,200 RPM Torque: 225 lbs.ft. @ 4,100 RPM Maximum speed: 156 MPH 0-60 mph: 5.9 seconds Curb weight: 3,295 pounds Average price: $16,000-$19,000 Pros: An even better car than the 944 Cons: Slightly more expensive than the 944

1996-2004 Boxster

What's more affordable than Porsche's entry-level, mid-engine roadster? How about one that's a few years old and has a few thousand miles on the odometer? The Boxster is the one car that made this list that's still with us, although Porsche moved on to a second-generation model in 2005. The Boxster is powered by a water-cooled flat-six, mounted amidships and driving the rear wheels--marking the first time a Porsche had carried a water-cooled engine anywhere but in its nose. Only one body style, a roadster, was offered, but a lift-off steel hardtop was an optional extra. In 2000, Porsche introduced the Boxster S, with an engine .5 liter bigger and 16 horsepower healthier. The car has been a big success for its maker, which is good news for you, too, if you're in the market to buy a used example--there are plenty to choose from on the market. Prescott referred to the first-generation Boxsters as "very rewarding. They can be bought in the teens, and if they've been properly maintained are wonderful cars." Agreeing with his assessment is Gordon: "It's an absolutely modern car that sets the benchmark for handling. Sure, they're common, but this is a real sports car for the kind of money you'd put out for a Mitsubishi roadster or a Dodge convertible." Porsche continues its policy of continuous development, which means that newer Boxsters will have more to offer than their predecessors. Priced at $39,000 when new, Boxsters are still slip-sliding down that depreciation curve. The price guides put the value of a 2000 Boxster in excellent condition at $14,000, with the S version commanding another $2,000 to $3,000. If you buy one, will you really feel like you're a part of the Porsche community? Do you really need to ask? The PCA even has a Boxster Register, which holds its national Boxstoberfest each fall. Engine: 2,480cc water-cooled flat-six Layout: Mid-engine, rear-wheel drive Horsepower: 201 @ 6,000 RPM Torque: 181-lbs.ft. @ 4,500 RPM Maximum speed: 149 MPH 0-60 mph: 6.1 seconds Curb weight: 2,990 pounds Average price: $16,000-$24,000 Pros: Depreciation has made these cars affordable Cons: Lacks even the 911's tiny back seat

The Reality of Insurance

If the fear of a heart-stopping premium is keeping you from owning one of these cars, relax. Believe it or not, you can combine the words "Porsche" and "insurance" without setting off a chain reaction that will vaporize your savings account. How? By contacting a collector-car insurer. Nearly all collector-car insurance comes with some strings attached--annual mileage limits, garage requirements and prohibitions on using the car to commute to work, for example. But the upside is that their clients are generally pretty good risks, which keeps premiums down. Most of these companies offer "agreed value" coverage--which means that you and they agree on exactly what the car is worth up front, rather than haggling over the value after an accident. The quotes below are from Hagerty Insurance, one of many companies that provide collector-car insurance. They're based on cars in #3 condition, with values taken from the Cars that Matter guide. These rates are for example only; if you're buying a Porsche, it's a good idea to shop around for the coverage that suits you best. CarValuationAnnual Premium1982 911SC$14,300$2821989 Carrera 3.2$19,300$5131991 944$7,100$2461992 968$9,700$3021997 Boxster$15,400$428How do these quotes compare with regular auto insurance? We got a quote of $676 for a 1997 Boxster, with a $500 deductable, from a Massachusetts agency. Premiums vary widely, so be sure to get a quote based on your own particulars. For a list of companies that provide collector-car insurance, check under "Services" in Hemmings Motor News, or online at www.hemmings.com/classifieds/services-offered. -By David LaChance

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