Buying a Porsche 944 is never simple (#firstworldproblems)

This is the second Porsche 944 I’ve looked into buying. I could tell enough about the first one (5 years ago) to know that it wasn’t a good car for me. It was a 1983 model. It looked great, but that’s where the good news finished. The interior was horrible and the car felt like it was about to fall to bits.

I had much higher hopes for the car I had tested today (Friday). It’s a 1990 model Porsche 944 S2. Much better model with more power, better mechanical technology, much better interior and it even looks more contemporary thanks to the body changes that first saw light on the Turbo from 1986.

The photos looked good. The buyer seems like a really responsible guy and the car has a complete history from its Australian delivery to present day. Promising, no?

The mechanic looked over the car today and I think I can summarise the occasion with his words, stating that this could well be one of the best S2’s on the road…… eventually.

First, the good bits. The paint is quite good. There’s some evidence that parts of the car (at least) have been repainted but there’s no lasting damage and the resulting paintwork is very presentable. The interior is one of the best the mechanic’s seen without a full restoration. He was amazed at the condition of the dashboard and the seats had been retrimmed in leather in the last few years. He took the cam cover off the engine to inspect the cam lobes, an easy tell-tale that inadequate oil has been used, but it was all good there, too.

So…. body OK. Interior OK. Engine internals OK.

Then we get to the list of stuff that needs attention. It’s a reasonably long and expensive list.

A lot of people desire originality in their cars and that’s fair enough. Unfortunately, this car seems to be too original. All original pipes, hoses, gaskets, seals, bushes, mounts, etc. That is, barely anything has been replaced and given the current condition of most of them, that’s a shame.

Put short (and again, in the mechanic’s words), this is car that could soak up $10K or more on top of the purchase price very, very easily.

The must-do list:

Sump gasket
Engine mounts
Hall effect sensor
Rear main seal
Accelerator cable
Rear brake discs
All brake hoses
All dampers
All tyres
Cam cover resurfacing (yes, a must-do)
Radiator fan motors (x2)
Fuel lines to fuel rail
Various cooling hoses

Yes, they’re the considered to be the must-do items. All are essentially the original items that were fitted to the car when it was built in late 1989. Many are on their absolute last legs and others might default to the near-term list (with the radiator header tank, a/c compressor, steering rack and other bits).

Now, there is a caveat in here. The mechanic who inspected the car is extremely finicky. It’s better to be fussy than lazy, but in talking to him I get the impression that anything that isn’t in concours condition is due for heavy criticism. But even if I could live with half of these items being done six months or a year from now, that’s still around $5K or so worth of remedial work that needs doing straight away.

That would push the price into the mid-upper $20K range. Fixing everything that needs doing (along with a few cautionary items that are recommended while you’re working nearby) means there may not be much change from $30K or more.

And at that price you’re into 968 territory. See, it’s never easy.

I’m yet to fully digest the report and go over the major points with the seller. I doubt he’s going to come down to a price that would justify the purchase for me.

We’ll see what happens. I’m not looking for one, but today’s experience just reinforces the fact that there’s no such thing as a cheap Porsche.

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17 Comments

  1. As tantalizing as this car would be to drive, you are wise to consider whether it would be worth owning. I often see 944s in Ohio for great prices but the maintenance of the car is what really gets you. Take it from one who knows what its like to own an expensive car.

  2. Where is the car? NSW or Tas? Didn’t the owner drive the car? Any decent mechanic would have replaced those items in twenty three years of regular service.

  3. Swade sorry that car was not that good. I have not owned a 944 but my impression is that they need to be well maintained during the life of the car and they do need a lot of maintenance. You have to find one that was owned by a conscientious owner who stayed ahead of the power curve on maintenance. That is pretty obvious statement I guess.

    For me the other end of this is that it will take some time for appreciation to take place on this model.

    I know the feeling of having a car you are hunting to be much less than you expected. My son Jon and I searched for 7 months for a Saab 95 Aero wagon.

    There was the beautiful red one in Florida with great cosmetics and a CEL that the owner would not even tell me the codes. I had my expert check out the cosmetics and it was wonderful, but the seller was hiding something I thought.

    Then the car in Colorado, that looked great in photos, but when inspected had a cracked windshield, and a big dent in the corner that was NEVER in photos.

    Then there was the 2004 Aero wagon with 30K miles that was so perfect!! The seller was nuts…..he had removed the lower back seat cushions so no one could ride back there and “put their feet on the back of the front seats”. The front spoiler had duct tape on it so it would not get scratched. He would not even let us test drive it because only he had ever driven it! We offered a high price with right of first refusal and then he sold it out from under us for $11,000! [reportedly]…..Which was double the market price.

    The dealer car in Palo Alto that on inspection had really serious problems but looked beautiful……

    THEN we found a 2001 Aero with BBS wheels out in a desert town that was perfect. Only 66,000 miles on a car built in 2000. Always garaged, the husband and wife had 3 pickup trucks they drove and this car as their Sunday drive car. They loved it, but had to drive 100 miles to the dealer in Pasadena, and leave it there for a couple days and rent a car. All service records with there, one owner car. They had no local indy and the dealer was ripping them off for many repairs. Saab’s demise was the last straw…..

    the car was not cheap, but was a great value because of all the work that does NOT have to be done. So far we have replaced a heater by pass valve and bought 2 new tires and a front end align. For good measure we put Bilsteins on the rear with some spacers to get the ride height up to where it should be. Most wagons have sagging rear springs.

    The chase to buy this car was fun, but a bit expensive in CarFax fees and PPI costs all over the country 4 in all.

  4. Hey Swade, hope youre going well in Taswegia.

    What I’m going to do here is over simplify…. Dont be offended. Here’s reality from my point of view.

    Cars break. All cars. Eventually. You can’t predict the future. Stuff wears out. Then you replace stuff. Then it’s all good again and you continue driving. You still love the car.

    Therein lies a summary of my last 15 years of 1988 Saab 900 Aero ownership.

    If you’d like a maintenance free vehicle, purchase any one of the myriad of brand new trouble free tech filled marvelous hatches in the market. You’ll be fine for a long time.

    My partner recently bought a Hyundai i30, and I can assure you it is brilliant. It’s new, auto gearbox, has a warranty, fixed servicing. Easy. Highly recommended and I rate it 10/10 for what it is.

    I like it a lot, but it is not a bucket list car.

    No bucket list car of mine will ever be brand new again because I love the classics and cult cars of prior years and decades, that’s my reality.

    So there’s your choice Swade, and its simple and realistic.

    You can have a new, standard hassle free modern car. Or you can have a bucket list classic that will need work as things wear out.

    I’m in favour if the bucket list option. There’s a lot of positive in what you’ve said about that 944.

    You don’t NEED to turn it into a concourse car. Just enjoy it for a while, tick it off your list, replace any BROKEN items, and postpone the ones that seem to have been fine left unreplaced on the car up to this point. You may drive it for years without any problems for all you know.

    I think the previous owner has had the right approach to be honest. And visually and mechanically the car sounds like the best you’ll find.

    Happy hunting.

  5. i think you should get booked in for some automotive engine education at the nearest tafe asap [when your finished celebrating carlton sneaking into the finals].

  6. Swade,

    The Porsche market favours cars that are in as-new shape. There’s two reasons for this: “because they can,” and “because there’s nothing more expensive than a cheap Porsche.”

    Porsche keeps spares available for cars going back several decades, so there’s no excuse not to fix something. When shopping for a Porsche, the common assumption is that any car that’s not 100% perfect has been neglected and will need a full mechanical restoration. The drop-off in value between the two types of Porsches can be astonishing. I could buy any number of running 944s locally for under $4,000. The good ones are closer to $16,000. The difference between them is regular maintenance using original parts.

    The good news is that you found an almost-good 944. The bad news is that the seller is asking “good 944” money. You need to start negotiating.

  7. Asked my mechanic. He’s got extensive 944 experience going back to the 1980s, and he just completed a clutch job on an S2.

    All of the items listed are normal on a 944. The cam cover refinish is because of an oil leak, and it’s a job with a high probability of come-backs.
    The two other things to worry about on those cars are the short camshaft chain under the cam cover, and the timing belt/tensioner/water pump. He would do both of those jobs on any 944 unless there’s documented evidence that they’ve been done recently by a reputable shop.
    You should also do the clutch at the same time as the oil pan (which is an engine-out job).

    He says that you should look at 968s, the ultimate development of that platform. He also says that the 2001-06 M3 is by far a better car (and probably the best BMW ever). Now is the time to get a good one on the “cheap.”

  8. M3 !!! Someone may see you driving it!!! It may be a great car but it is sure ugly!!!

    Swade just get a long hood 911 and put money in it and you will get it all back in spades!

    If you are going to put money in a car put it in something that will appreciate faster than the rest.

  9. BMW also have parts going back decades in their system. But you certainly pay for that privelage when you line up to buy a mirror surround for a 1970 model coupe. Porsche take things to a higher level, and then some. Exotic everyday sports road cars for enthusiasts, with fat wallets. It has always been that way.
    In fact anything from Germany has always been on the expensive side of things, but BMWs end up being quite decent to own and run. But you need to keep on them regularly.
    I had two 3 Series cars for a long time. Did all my own mechanicals, and every month there was something that needed attention. Some of it easy and some complicated, from door locks to blown head gaskets, water pumps to heater cores. All of it. I could always get the part I needed. But a fair slice of my pay packet went into those cars.
    So now I drive two Saabs. Many say they are unreliable and fall apart. No, they don’t, not by a long shot. They are cheaper to keep on the road than any BM. Parts are cheaper. And they are faster by a long way. Turbo technology is just THE best thing for so many reasons. And sure, in the 80s and early nineties, SAAB tech was not all that reliable at times. But then neither were most BMW’s to be frank. Owners would not cry foul as it would be embarrassing. Silent acknowledgment of failure.
    No car is perfectly reliable, every car needs things replaced. All the time. It is called maintenance. But when does it become restoration? And it is highly connected with your own personal standards of mechanical satisfaction. Some of us need everything ‘just so’ and some of us just want everything ‘ok’.
    Owning a ‘special’ needs a different perspective I think, and bying a ‘classic car’ has its own dilemma, where you need an evocative and frustrating mix of emotion and mechanical sympathy. You need to be prepared to pull the thing apart, or pay someone elso to do it, just to get it right.
    Buying a car that someone else has ‘done’ will not always work, as your standard and theirs will differ at some point. It might look great when you buy the car but months later when it needs some TLC you will find things you never expected to be ‘off’ given the price you paid. That’s the rub, right there.
    Do you pay top dollar for a car that is already sorted and is really nice, or buy one that needs lots of work and enjoy the journey doing it up?
    I know which path I enjoy more. The one where I leave my stamp on the car, the way I want it.
    Both paths cost the same in the end though.
    The car itself is not important, the brand isn’t, the passion you have for it is.

    1. Andrew

      Very well put. I love your description of BMW….the fact that they are not that reliable is a carefully kept secret.

      As an enthusiast who is maintaining an old 1973 911 and a fleet of Saab 95s I endorse your comments. You expressed the passion very well.

  10. The 944 list makes it very clear why for me, an OG 9-3 is “exotic” enough.

    No claim of economic smarts here though. I own a sailboat. I’d never admit, much less publish what I spend…

    1. I think you could come up with a similar list for the 9-3. The 9-3 list would include fewer internal engine bits (although you could argue that dropping the oil pan to check for sludge is essential), but it would have more suspension components:control arms, bushings, strut mounts, spring spacers.

    1. Eggs…..it is well built. Intermediate shaft bearing is a problem in some years, but it is a very good buy and a great car. Much new tech in it too!!

  11. This article resonated with me Andrew as I have just purchased a 1990 944S2 in need of “some work”.
    I purchased the car without laying eyes on it (though an acquaintance that knows Porsche inspected it) in Sydney. The previous owner & the 2 before he basically deferred any & all maintenance that the car ever required. The Porsche independent mechanic I took it to said that everything on the car was original. Virtually nothing had been replaced in 26 years. I was in for a lot of make good replacements.
    My estimated ‘vital’repairs of somewhere between 6 -8k quickly blew out to around 12k. Add that to my 10k purchase price & things are getting pricey. Whilst I wont yet have overcapitalized it is probably getting close. I better bloody love this car!! Given that I haven’t started on interior restoration or giving the body any love it would appear that I am in for the long haul.
    Anyway great article, made me wish i’d read it before I read the Porsche For Sale adverts!

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