Jeremy Clarkson once said “you can’t be a true petrolhead until you’ve owned an Alfa Romeo”.
With a few recent exceptions, modern Alfas are just fancy Fiats. And the classics, while bursting with brio, are less dependable than the 07:56 to London Bridge.
No, if there’s one car every enthusiast should aspire to own, it’s a Porsche 911. This quirky, rear-engined coupe has evolved – and occasionally revolved – over more nearly six decades.
Fast, fun and engineered with Teutonic thoroughness, it’s an automotive cult all its own: witness the number of dedicated 911 magazines in newsagents.
And it’s still going strong: the millionth example left Stuttgart in 2017, and spicier versions, such as the GT2 RS, sell out before they even reach showrooms.
Convinced? Now for the bad news. Used 911 prices may have peaked around 2018, but they have risen hugely over the past decade. That said, even if a COVID-19 recession lies ahead, good examples – particularly the earlier, air-cooled cars – should remain sought-after.
If you want the original 911 experience, you need a pre-1989 model – and they don’t come much better than the last-hurrah Carrera 3.2, now available from around £40,000. The lovely 1989 example tested here was kindly supplied by Canford Classics.
The classic Carrera isn’t an easy car to drive, but that’s key to its appeal. You need to engage your brain, exploit its strengths and work around its weaknesses. And learning those takes time.
Despite being shorter and narrower than a new Porsche Cayman, the original 911’s cabin doesn’t feel short on space. Well, not unless you’re squeezed into the toddler-sized rear seats. It’s comically sparse by 2020 standards, though, with controls scattered seemingly at random and floor-hinged pedals skewed towards the centre of the car.
Ergonomic eccentricities are soon forgotten when you fire up that trademark flat-six. It whirrs, rumbles and churns: not musical, but deliciously mechanical. And the howl it makes at high revs reverberates around your ribcage.
The 911’s unassisted steering and spindly gearlever demand measured, deliberate inputs, yet fizz with constant feedback. It feels lively and light-footed, effervescent even. Those characteristic front wings follow the contours of the road, while the all-round disc brakes offer confidence-inspiring bite.
You never forget this is a rear-engined, rear-wheel-drive car – one with no electronic safety aids – but the Porsche is hardly the ‘widowmaker’ of urban legend. It simply requires respect and a certain degree of restraint, especially when it rains. Your friend in his Golf R will be quicker whatever the weather, but you’ll be more involved.
Chris Lowe, lead technician at Canford Classics, is a big fan of the Carrera 3.2: “It has better brakes and a more powerful engine than the 911 SC it replaced, and larger wheels make it more drivable day-to-day,” he explains. “Plus, it’s still air-cooled, so it doesn’t stray too far from the original formula. Overall, they’re just super-cool cars.”
The 3.2 was sold in three body styles: coupe, convertible and Targa. Coupes are generally considered most desirable, although the removable-roof Targa is now back in fashion. A ‘tea tray’ rear wing was optional as part of the Sport pack, along with stiffer dampers and shapelier seats. Alternatively, buyers could go the whole nine yards with the 911 Supersport: a 3.2 with the stretched wheelarches and beefed-up brakes of the 930 Turbo.
Rust is the fatal foe of any classic 911, so Chris advises checking bodywork carefully: the roof pillars and sills are the main trouble-spots.
Take a fine-tooth comb to the paperwork, too. “Originality is key to value,” says Chris, “so ask for the Certificate of Authenticity from Porsche, which details the original specification – including any options fitted.” Also, be prepared to budget for mechanical maintenance: “Many 3.2s are due engine or gearbox rebuilds, and the same goes for suspension. Bushes will usually need to be replaced.”
It’s also worth noting that the post-1987 ‘G50’ gearbox – as fitted here – is slicker and more user-friendly than the original ‘915’ unit. As such, G50-equipped cars tend to be worth more.
Is the Carrera 3.2 the ultimate retro daily-driver? Perhaps, even if the aforementioned rise in values means most owners now reserve their cars for sunny Sundays and special occasions.
In truth, the G-Series 911 felt a little dated by the mid-1980s, yet it has aged remarkably well. To drive, it feels raw, and vital, while its essential robustness stands in marked contrast to the flimsy over-complication of many modern cars.
Three decades hence, when scores of present-day ‘992’ 911s are written off due to software gremlins, one suspects the classic Carrera will still be going strong. It’s a sports car icon: both of its time and timeless. Buy one now while you still can.
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