1991 Porsche 911 C2
1991 Porsche 911 C2. Click image to enlarge

Story and photos by Michael La Fave

Photo Gallery: 1991 Porsche 911 C2

I guess you could say this process started 17 years ago. I remember the day as clearly as if it were yesterday – in fact I remember it far more clearly than yesterday or even this morning. That’s less a reflection on how significant a day it was than my incredibly poor memory, but I digress – I was 13 or 14 and I was at some forsaken summer camp in cottage country. Every couple of weeks campers’ parents would visit – not my parents mind you but the parents of other campers. One such camper, whose name has long been replaced by some useless trivia in my memory banks, had a particularly fetching mother. Not so much a Mrs Robinson but fetching nonetheless and it was in no small part due to her ride – a 1989 Porsche 911 C4 in Carrera White.

I remember walking up from behind and being mesmerized by her curving hips, tapered waist and bulging front end – the guy’s mom wasn’t bad either but it was the shape of the 911 that really caught my eye. Strangely I’d almost all but forgotten about this interlude until I started looking to buy a 911, or a weekend toy. In fact, when I set out almost a year ago to find a car I looked at 1999-2000 996s as well as 993s as they were the last of the air-cooled Porsches. Incidentally you’ll pay quite a bit more for a nice 993, especially if it’s a C2S or C4S, than any number of 996s.

1991 Porsche 911 C2
1991 Porsche 911 C2. Click image to enlarge

Having spent more time behind the wheel of a 996 than most actual owners I was immediately more attracted to the prospect of having a 993 – a car I’d never driven. I got behind the wheel of a 1995 C2S at Downtown Fine Cars, Toronto’s Authorized Porsche store, figuring it would get the whole ridiculous notion of buying a used Porsche out of my head. It stands to reason that a 12 year-old car with 93,000 kilometres on it won’t drive as well as any number of high-spec test cars that I keep myself wheeling around in. I’ll drive it, it will suck, I’ll save a bunch of cash and that will be that.

That was the plan anyway.

Turns out that even a 12 year-old 911 drives better than, well, just about anything else on the road. The 3.6-litre flat six pumps out 272-hp in the 1995. It sounds amazing with a throaty bottom-end that only an air-cooled Porsche has, but with a howling top-end that is very V6 VTEC if you ask me. The brakes are astonishing and the steering is light and alive. The driving position is a bit skewed to the right and the steering wheel doesn’t tilt. At least there’s nothing in the way of my knees.

1991 Porsche 911 C2
1991 Porsche 911 C2. Click image to enlarge

I was smitten and itching to pull the trigger. The only problem is that the fiscal gun wasn’t loaded with a $63,800 bullet (the ad listed the car at $36,800, an obvious typo). I hemmed and hawed and a few days later they sold it right out from under my imaginary budget.

I looked at another 993 but I was quickly becoming more and more interested in the 964. The 964 was produced from 1989-1994 and relatively few were made as these were very dark years for Porsche. As much as I like the styling of the 993 the 964 is the classic Porsche shape but updated with integrated bumpers – it’s like a vintage 911 designed by Apple. Once I started looking into the 964 the memory of that white ’89 from my early teens came flooding back and the deal was done – I was only interested in a 964 from that moment on.

This was good news for the budget and an integral component of the spousal approval process. Value guides are pretty much useless for this type of car – only the market truly determines the price. Expect to pay anywhere from $30,000-$45,000 for a very clean problem-free 964. Turbos run anywhere from $55,000-$90,000 for the rare and desirable 3.6 Turbo. Aside from the budget the Turbo scared me from a maintenance perspective but it does have those incredibly sexy flared fenders.

1991 Porsche 911 C2
1991 Porsche 911 C2. Click image to enlarge

Now the question was what year and which model. The model was easy – I was only interested in the coupe. There are also convertible, Targa and Speedster variants but the majority of the car’s appeal for me is the styling so only a coupe would do. 1989s were only available as C4s (AWD) and they have a reputation for dogged and uninspiring understeer. Early 964s also had a dual-mass flywheel that was problematic but everything else is pretty solid. One helpful Porsche owner told me that “911 don’t break they just get sick and then cost you a lot of money” which didn’t instill much confidence, but with the car at the bottom of its depreciation curve and even starting to climb I figured this was a low-risk proposition.

So ’89s and ’90s were off the list – which really only left ’91s, ’92s and maybe ’93s as very few ’94s were built. The only real reason to source a post-’92 is if you like the aero mirros instead of the ‘flag’ mirrors of the ’89-’91. There were also a few interesting variations that I considered, such as the ’93-’94 RS America and the ’94 Speedster. The later two are priced way too high if you can even find one in Canada and despite doing a lot of searching in the U.S. I decided against bringing a yank car across the border.

If you are interested in bringing a US car up it isn’t terribly difficult. There’s the obvious currency difference which isn’t much of anything anymore. You will need to pay a 6% import duty and 6% GST at the border. If you are an Ontario resident you need to pay sales tax of 8% on the purchase price when you register the car. Add it all up and you will probably be able to find a Canadian example for similar coin and the good news is Canuck cars tend to have been used as leisure vehicles and thus typically have lower mileage.

1991 Porsche 911 C2
1991 Porsche 911 C2. Click image to enlarge

So the hunt was on. I visited any number of online automotive classified websites almost daily for months. After a bit I’d narrowed it down to two cars; a 1991 in Calgary and a1992 in Vancouver. Both were silver which was fine with me although part of me would have preferred the Carrera White of my near forgotten teenage love. I think that I ended up focusing on the Calgary car because it was just that much closer to Toronto even though the seller was asking $4000 more than for the BC car. I had a notion at some point that I’d drive the car back from Calgary but I was just too busy and spending a week in an unproven and unfamiliar vehicle hardly seemed like a good idea.

Weeks worth of haggling ensued and culminated with the car receiving $4000 in work from the local Authorized Porsche dealer – a laundry list of gaskets, screws, bulbs, clamps and other minutia but also new rear brake discs and pads. I flew out, saw the car, spoke to the tech that did the pre-purchase inspection, paid the seller and flew home two hours later having never driven the car.

I’d never driven any 964 in fact! There you go, professional road test writer buys a car without even driving it without even driving one like it. I must have been insane. The car did look almost new inside and out and though there was some minor collision repair at some point the tech said it was repaired properly and nothing to worry about.

1991 Porsche 911 C2
1991 Porsche 911 C2. Click image to enlarge

I figured the car couldn’t drive that much differently than the 993s I’d tried and, well, I was wrong on that count. A month or so after paying $36,000 for the car it arrived at the train yard just north-east of Toronto. The shipping company would have brought the car door to door but I scurried up to snag it myself. The seller, Royalty Auto Leasing, had kindly included his dealer plate so I could drive the car to have it safetied and certified. I’m not 100% sure that a Calgary dealer plate is Kosher in Ontario but what the heck.

Getting in for the first time I was relieved that my impressions of the car’s condition weren’t through rose goggles. The interior looked almost as new and the aggressively bolstered sport seats (a highly sought after item) were comfortable and supportive. I let the car warm up a bit and immediately stretched its legs on the highway. Wow, this old horse was as solid and smooth at 120 km/h as any car I’ve ever driven.

1991 Porsche 911 C2
1991 Porsche 911 C2. Click image to enlarge

The biggest surprise was the steering: 964s were the last Porsche to forsake complete power steering and as such it has a meaty, connected feel unlike any other car. The brakes are powerful and the car has remarkable poise under hard stopping. Turn-in is a bit sluggish but I’m going to try to fix that with a more aggressive alignment in the spring. Ride comfort is surprisingly good and the whole package is as solid as Ayers rock. These cars were built to last and you can tell by the modicum of wear it’s near 90,000 kms have brought.

It’s been almost a year now since my search began and the 911 still looks beautiful and still drives as new. It’s a solid machine with classic lines and an enduring grace that even new 911s cannot match. The thing about driving an older Porsche is that people regard you as a connoisseur and not, well, a prick. That being said I’m considering trading it in on a second generation Dodge Viper GTS. Such is life.

Update: A few months later, $10,000 in engine work required

I wrote this tale of lust and metal several months ago and, well, things have changed slightly. In pursuit of even more expensive Toronto real estate I decided to sell the car. I figured this was going to be a cinch. Mint car, expertly checked over, saftied, emissions tested, etc…a prize
for any prospective buyer. No doubt I received a few calls and one gentleman, from out West no less, thought it was exactly what he was looking for.

Educated buyer that he was, he requested a PPI and a leak-down test. No problem, I figured, and hurried the car over to the dealer. I even told the service manager that I didn’t want to hear any BS about there being a problem as the car had been checked, re-checked and was running like a top. He didn’t seem impressed but who could blame him.

A few hours later and my mint 911 needed a minimum of $1000 work for a valve job
or maybe $10,000 in new valve guides. Um, excuse me!?! A grand or maybe ten!

Second opinion time. Turns out I was right…it didn’t need $1000 worth of work…it needed the $10,000.

This is where the classic chide ‘what does assuming do?’ comes into play. I didn’t request a leak-down test in Calgary – I had assumed that if it was something so critical that it could cost you ten Gs then it would be included in the PPI. Well, it wasn’t.

Lucky for me, the gent out west was still interested, albeit at a somewhat, um, renegotiated rate.
I don’t regret getting the car – I even considered repairing it and keeping it, but it’s just not the right time in my life for a hobby vehicle.

Make sure you have plenty of extra cash and be prepared to spend it. If you go in willing to do what it takes to maintain and enjoy the car you won’t be disappointed.

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