I had a comment come in via email from my mate ‘Eggs’ overnight. I’ve got his OK to reproduce it here in order to kickstart this post:
I have been impressed by the number of people (including you) who have recently raved about the quality and seeming durability of Porsche cars. I kind of always assumed that the magic was in the drivetrain and suspension.
Indeed, the real magic IS in the drivetrain and suspension. That’s what delivers the driving experience that keeps you coming back again and again. But it’s the durability and quality of the car that keeps it on the road so you can come back again and again. That’s a tangible benefit, which is why Porsche owners talked about it consistently in the research I did before buying my car.
I’ve only recently bought my Porsche, but I’ve been interested in them for a few years. During those preceding years I did a lot of reading about Porsches and I can definitely echo Eggs’ comments about durability being one of the surprising attractions people talked about over and over.
One downside of Porsche ownership is that the parts can be really expensive if something goes wrong. I have a $15,000 rebuild invoice in my car’s history file to prove it.
The silver lining to that cloud is that they’re really well designed and made using quality materials. Result: with only a few exceptions (by reputation), these cars are absolutely loved by their owners and one of the key reasons, aside from the driving experience, is because they’re extremely reliable if you maintain them correctly.
The classic air-cooled boxer engine is remarkably simple, which is one of the reasons 911 purists love it so much. I used to wonder why so many Porsche owners were happy to pay for engine rebuilds. From what I can tell after speaking to a few of them, it’s not usually to repair something that’s gone wrong. Rather, it’s a form of preventative maintenance to ensure another 10 years of addictive peak performance.
I guess you could call that a pretty good testimony as to how compelling these cars can be to drive. Most other dedicated sports car companies survive along the same lines. They make a product so compelling that people will pay what can be crazy prices in order to keep it going in tip-top condition. In some cases, that’s because they have to (i.e. break down). In Porsche’s case, and I’m quite sure it’s not unique to Porsche, it’s because people genuinely want to keep their cars in superb driving order. They feel OK about paying a small fortune for maintenance because it insures against having to pay a large fortune in the event of a catastrophe.
As with any company, there are known weak spots. I don’t know all of them when it comes to Porsche but I learned about a few of them as I did my research.
The early/mid 1970’s 911 had a 2.7 engine that is not regarded as highly as others. US emissions regulations at the time meant that Porsche’s 2.4 engine was going to lose whatever small performance edge it ever had. Porsche enlarged the engine to 2.7 litres and included some internals designed to burn off build up in a way that didn’t result in the emissions coming out the tailpipe. They even gave it the slightly comical and slightly scary name: “thermal reactor”.
Anyway, those changes made the car run far hotter than an air-cooled car is comfortable with. Owners of these cars back when they were new saw a lot of engine failures and not a lot of support from Porsche, who have a reputation for not acknowledging their problems – buyer beware! Even though the 2.7s that survive today have most likely been modified to overcome the deficiency, prices on the second-hand market seem to reflect the model’s reputation.
The early Boxsters and 996-model 911s have a couple of problems that can rear their heads almost seemingly at random. I’ve seen these models for sale online with several hundred thousand kilometers on the odometer with no reported problems. I’ve also heard about others where the engine has blown for no apparent reason. There are a few known issues (porous blocks, head cracks, and others) but the biggest individual potential problem – the one that can cause these sudden failures – is the intermediate shaft bearing. The results are catastrophic if it fails so there’s good incentive to get it checked and updated/replaced. It’s not cheap, but it’s cheaper than an engine replacement.
It’s quite easy to think of Porsche and see $$$$$$, which can lead to an automatic presumption of high level quality/luxury/equipment. I’ll testify positively to ‘quality’ but advise caution when it comes to luxury and equipment on the older cars I’m familiar with.
I’ve only driven a few Porsches over the years – 944, 911 (964), 928 and my own 968. You’ll note that these are all pre-Boxster/996 model cars.
With the exception of the 928, I can’t say that any of these cars were built with luxury in mind. They’re certainly comfortable enough to drive everyday but Porsche’s emphasis in those years was very much on performance. Standard comfort items were pretty much limited to power steering/windows, stereo and air conditioning.
The suspension was set up with performance in mind and anything that could be classed as unnecessary excess weight was relegated to the options list. It’s only been in what I’d refer to as the modern era (Boxster/996 onwards) that Porsches had any real emphasis on delivering a comfortable drive as well as a spirited drive. That’s my theory only, by the way.
What they did seem to have in that pre-modern era (again, my terminology) was a commitment to quality in terms of design, engineering and materials. Porsche is one of the few companies where lines like “design and development through racing” are more than just marketing spin. Their parts were honed through racing, designed to operate in high stress environments and given Porsche’s success in endurance racing, for long periods of time. Things wear out, of course, but they’ll usually take a lot of (ab)use before they do.
I’ve been extremely impressed so far with the build quality of my car. It feels remarkably solid (especially given its age) yet I know from reading the specs that it’s very light. That’s a remarkable achievement but I guess it’s the use of low-weight, high-strength components that makes these cars cost a bit more than your average whip.
Eggs didn’t mention this in his email, but one of the reasons people seem to love their Porsches is that they ARE versatile and durable enough to be used as everyday cars as well as being more-than-just-competitive track cars.
The following video was made by Petrolicious and it highlights the versatility and adaptability of the Porsche 911. This video galvanised my desire to finally take steps towards buying my first Porsche.
I really like this guy’s car, but I think I’m drawn even more by the experiences he’s had because of the car – the garage he’s built (amazing) and the skills he’s learned.
The video is 10 minutes long. I hope you take the time to watch it and understand.