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Owner Story: A Porsche 911 Turbo “barn find”

“Buying a second hand Porsche (or any car for that matter) is always a risk, but sometimes taking it means you’ll end up with something really wonderful. This is one of those times.”

© Margus Holland

A Porsche 911 Turbo “Barn Find”

Having first driven a naturally aspirated 944 for seven years and then spending another five behind the wheel of a turbocharged version of the same water-cooled transaxle Porsche family member, it was finally time to get personally acquainted with the best known of them all – the 911. I sold my 951 and now had the finances to start choosing the correct model from the vast list of possible versions produced since 1963. My two main criteria were (and still are) that it must be mechanically bulletproof enough to be able to be used as a daily driver and it has to be modern enough for financing by a leasing company. The fact that it has to have a manual gearbox is a given for a serious Porsche nut like me and of course having the right price goes without saying. In extras-wise I wasn’t really looking for anything special, maybe cruise control and heated seats would have been really nice, but if the car was perfect in every other area, I could easily live without them.

Unfortunately all the very early models were immediately out due to the first two reasons stated. From more modern generations, the ideal candidate would have been a 911 Carrera 2 (964) set in Guards red with Cup wheels, but it would be a bit too “old” for the insurance companies, if an insurance bill that’s not completely insane is to be expected. Maybe a 993 could have also managed to fit to the criteria, but the price of the air-cooled cars had already started to rise and it was simply put, out of my league.

A regular 911 Carrera or Carrera 4/4S (996) on the other hand has many of the right boxes ticked, apart from the bulletproof part in the engine department. While it is quite possible to fix all the too well known issues on these cars, the amount of money one has to spend will come close to the price of the Turbo, so why not get a Turbo from the get go? So it was decided, a 911 Turbo of the 996 generation it shall be. If the X50 option would present itself (who wouldn’t like extra 30 ponies), that would be a strong plus, but not really something I had to have. Goes without saying that a 997 Turbo would have been much more appealing, but the price tag changes quite a bit.

Then came the tedious process of actually finding one that has the right price, list of equipment and maintenance history. There were none available in Estonia of course, so I had to set my sights on Europe (or possibly the States, but I wasn’t really considering it a viable option because of the leasing requirement mentioned before). Germany was the place I was most interested in – the cars are usually in very good shape and as the mandatory technical inspection (TÜV, short from Technischer Überwachungsverein) is well known to be very strict there, it’s the perfect place to buy Porsches from. It also helped that both my previous 944’s had been from Germany. Although cars from Italy have much lower prices, experts advised me to steer clear of them – for some reason, the maintenance is very much lacking.

Having gone through months of mental pain of “I’ll never find one that is perfect” I finally stumbled upon a really nice black one, with black full leather interior and Porsche crests on the wheel center caps. The list of equipment was just right and I remember thinking that the original buyer must have been thinking of me when configuring the car in 2001. All the photos showed the condition to be perfect considering the age of the car and there didn’t seem to be any modifications done. It is quite important to me to keep the cars as close to factory specification as possible – it helps with maintenance, reliablity and also resale value.

The mileage on this Turbo was 77 200 km or about 48 thousand miles for readers preferring the imperial units of measure. I was however amazed how low the price was for it and I already started picturing it sitting on my driveway, waiting to go for a drive. Buying cars based on photos alone (and without a PPI (pre-purchase inspection)) is not the smartest way to go about this process, but I’ve never been too patient in that area, so I made up my mind to go for it.

I contacted a local company that transports cars from Europe and had a weeks worth of back-and-forth emails with them. They did a lot of the legwork that I would have been forced to do myself: communicate with the seller, get all the documentation in order, transport the car from Germany to Estonia and get it registered. After signing lots of documents and waiting, I was finally given confirmation that the car is actually on a trailer and headed in my direction. One nice thing about this service was that while I was paying a bit more compared to the actual seller price, I’m also getting guarantees: if something happens to the car while it’s transported, it will be taken care of and I won’t lose a dime. The same also goes if the car is actually not what it was originally advertised as, e.g. the seller has falsified the records or changed the odometer reading. I can just tell them to send it back and it will be done – very handy, especially for supercars that are worth quite a lot of money.

“Buying a second hand Porsche (or any car for that matter) is always a risk, but sometimes taking it means you’ll end up with something really wonderful. This is one of those times.”

When I received all the documentation about the car before making the final order, I did go over everything with a fine tooth comb and there was something that was really sticking out: in its early days it had been serviced regularly as the manual states. But at some point the maintenance stopped. On the other hand, also did the mileage. It is a 2002 MY car, first registered in 2001 and the latest service was done in 2004 at 71 728 km. As I mentioned earlier, the mileage on the car was at 77 200 km in 2013 when I bought it, so what had actually had happened during the 9 years? Was the car just standing somewhere? Was the odometer falsified? While all of this had me worried, I was more eager to get the car and deal with all this later. And of course I had the guarantee safety net. One thing that also made it easier to live with my decision, was a document from an independent car service in Germany showing the ECU readout and confirming the actual mileage to be as stated.

The day finally arrived when I got to see my new car for the first time in the flesh so to speak. It had just gotten off a trailer and was waiting for thorough cleaning. I had a quick preliminary examination right there and after that I had to wait for another 24 hours before it was cleaned and registered in the local registry. I have to say, that has been probably the longest 24 hours in my life, I don’t think I actually slept too much that night and concentrating on work the next day was equally excruciating. In the end of the next business day, I finally got the call that all the paperwork was finished and I can come and claim my prize. I was completely ecstatic and could not wait to get to the garage that was currently pampering my beauty.

After some final paperwork and handshaking, I was handed the keys and I got to start it up for the first time. First thing I noticed was the stiffness of the clutch. Having done my homework before, I knew this to be a pretty common problem with the 996 Turbos and the fix was just a replacement away, nothing big to be worried about. I then took it for the first drive and was actually somewhat surprised how stiff the suspension was compared to my 951. I had always been under the impression that my old car was “hard on my teeth“ when driving in Tallinn, but now the 996 was even worse. Fortunately this feeling was well forgotten just a few seconds later, when I put my foot down and felt the 420 horses running wild. The only car I had ever driven before with similar power output was the 911 Carrera S (991) and I was very-very happy how my 996 felt compared to it.

As always, with unknown second hand cars a service should be carried out as soon as possible to replace all the fluids and check the status of the car. So I headed over to my friendly independent Porsche workshop to get the engine and mechanical bits and pieces checked out. A full service including the spark plug replacement aka the “big service” was in order. They checked everything they could without actually removing the engine from the car and pulling it apart. The car came back with a clean bill of health and while I was in the garage, the trouble with the clutch was sorted out as well.

One thing I did however forgot to check when receiving the car, were the tires. I knew they weren’t probably in top shape, but nothing really prepared me for the visual I saw when I had them replaced with new Michelin’s some days later. The original tires had plenty of tread left, but the sidewalls were completely cracked. It’s a small miracle they actually were able to keep any air in. The manufacturing date on them confirmed my previous suspicions – the car had only been driven 6000 km in 9 years as the tires were from 2003.

While putting on the new tires, one or the rear wheels started acting up – the guys just could not get it balanced. Whenever they turned the wheel, the weight somehow shifted and they had to start over again. They removed the tire once more, fearing something was accidentally left inside the tire, but still the same problem. So they took tire off again and tried with only the wheel in the machine. Bingo – something was loose inside the wheel itself. Now, the Turbo has hollow-spoke wheels and they feared that some piece of metal left over from the original manufacturing process might had come loose and was now creating a mess. They offered to drill the wheel and get it out, but I wasn’t really happy with that idea and just asked them to put on the tire and I would sort the balancing out the next day when I was going to the independent Porsche garage again. Turns out, it was a good decision.

We took the tire off again, unscrewed the valve and out came a nice pile of black sand. The kind that is used when sand blasting something. I guess the rear wheel was repainted at some point in the past and the people doing the blasting screwed up sealing the valve hole. After that, the balancing act was a breeze and I was back on the road.

When people talk about barn finds, they usually mean a really old car (or many of them), buried under a mountain of junk, finally being liberated and brought back to life or sold at an auction for amounts suitable for space travel. But one must admit, my introduction to the world of 911’s has a similar ring to it – and I’m really pleased how the story unfolded. It turned to be an amazing car.

P.S. Later I went through the stack of manuals and papers in the glove compartment and found out that the user manual had been replaced with an Italian version. So I guess the experts mentioned before were completely right, the maintenance part is lacking. Though I don’t know if the car had actually been in Italy as the trail of owners is unknown.

Margus Holland