Buying a secondhand 911 is a rite of passage for many enthusiasts – and there's one for every budget
By PH Staff / Friday, February 12, 2021 / Loading comments
There's seldom a conversation that occurs on PH, be that virtually or in real life, that doesn't mention the Porsche 911 at some point. There's simply too many of them and too much history to avoid it. There's a 911 for seemingly any buying scenario: cheap first sports car, automatic 2+2 GT, track day starlet or bonafide classic – whatever the budget and whatever your intentions, there's a Porsche that fits the bill. It's not an original choice, sure – but there's a very good reason for its omnipresence. Otherwise Porsche wouldn't have sold so many in the first place…
With a new 992 GT3 imminent, now seemed like the ideal time to run through the best 911 purchases for 2021. Now, we all know that acquiring certain old Porsches has become a rather more expensive endeavour in recent years, hence the focus here on recent history. But there are one or two old timers in there as well, because there had to be. You can point out what else is missing in the usual spot. But here's our top ten…
Up to £15,000…
- 911 Carrera (996)
No prizes for guessing this one. The 996 looks set to continue as the most affordable route into 911 ownership, for all the reasons that you've heard: the looks aren't universally popular, the engines have their issues and its 997 replacement is generally considered more desirable.
But that ignores what the 996 did well. Not only was it a more spacious and usable 911, it was also one that improved on the air-cooled 993 as a driving device. "You'd have to be perverse to declare the old car better", read one review at the time, praising the additional performance and handling finesse. The 996 Carrera was a great sports car and a great 911 – it just represented a different direction, and we all know what happens when manufacturers attempt something new…
As the 996's reputation gradually improves, and as new upgrades are introduced and fixes created for the IMS and RMS issues, so values have climbed as well. Once upon a time just £10k might have got you into a presentable Carrera, but no longer. Though the odd high mileage coupe or automatic cabrio might come in lower, in 2021 you're realistically looking at £15k for a good 996. Which, given everything, still doesn't seem much – this Carrera 4 has tonnes of history and some recent engine work. And we're just getting started.
Up to £25,000…
- 911 Carrera (997)
It's always a risk putting the phrase 'good value' next to '911' in the same sentence, but the 997 really does appear to offer an awful lot for relatively little money. Launched to even greater acclaim than the 996 – because it further improved that car, while returning to a more traditional look – the first new 911 of the 21st century just kept right on collecting fans.
And as the car grew bigger and more sophisticated in subsequent generations, so the 997 became to be seen as a sweet spot – modern enough to be usable; traditional enough in terms of size and drive to feel authentic. That so many were produced has ensured a healthy supply of secondhand cars, too.
For less than £25k in 2021, there's a rich choice of Carreras out there. Whether they will reach quite the lows of 996 values remains to be seen, but it seems unlikely any of them will drop significantly below £20k. The smaller 3.6 cars are believed to be less prone to the bore scoring issues than the Carrera S 3.8, but many have now had fixes applied or come from slightly later in the first generation production run when the IMS issue was less prominent. This 2006 Carrera is one of those a manual for sale at £22,980 with fewer than 60,000 miles. There are cars available for even less than that, too.
Up to £35,000…
- 911 Turbo (996)
Where once the Turbo had been a wild and wayward 911 flagship, the 996 Turbo was arguably the first properly modern incarnation of the breed. Specifically, it combined the traditional 911 sports car feel with four-wheel drive security; an amalgamation that buyers quickly realised was to their benefit in the real world.
Using the Mezger flat-six, the 996 Turbo also avoided the engine maladies that afflicted some of the Carreras. Alongside the model's eminent usability – and the fact that the cars are now 20 years old – chunky mileages on the 996 aren't unfamiliar. Which isn't to say they can be treated like any high mile hack – fast, turbocharged, complex 911s should always have specialist attention – but it's likely going to prove far more realistic in terms of running costs than something like the Ferrari 360 Modena it competed with in period.
This one is the perfect example of the value offered by the 996 Turbo: the spec might not be to all tastes (unless you really like tan), but a smidge over £35k seems hard to grumble with given the apparent condition. A GT2 of the same era would be three times as much…
Up to £50,000…
- 911 Carrera (991)
Remember the furore around the 991 Carrera? A decade ago, the 911 community was up in arms (or so it seemed) about electric steering, a seven-speed manual and ever increasing dimensions. How times change; if not yet a true classic, for less than £50k the 991 does now offer a prodigious amount of 911 talent for new Boxster money.
A lot of that appeal is attached to the engines, the time before the 991 facelift (and the introduction of turbo Carreras) likely to prove desirable in the coming years. Both Carrera and Carrera S were blessed with exceptional direct fuel injection flat sixes, the 3.4 and 3.8 howling to the high heavens in a fashion that even the very good turbocharged successors couldn't quite replicate.
The lack of torque was potentially problematic when considering the early 991s as everyday sports cars, but as a Porsche for more occasional use it's hard to deny the appeal of almost 8,000rpm in a 911 Carrera. This PDK 3.8-litre version is smartly specced and not due another service until next June – plenty of time to get out and enjoy it, then.
Up to £65,000…
- 911 Carrera GTS (997)
Nowadays, some kind of GTS model can be found throughout the Porsche range, and it's known what they'll offer pretty much before they're even announced. That wasn't the case for the 997 Carrera GTS, as it was the first time out for the 911 – and it immediately proved a hit.
There was nothing revolutionary about the GTS package, but by optimising what was already a great 911 with a tweak here and a fettle there (the Powerkit meant more than 400hp) and you got what was arguably the best non-Motorsport 997. For not an awful lot more than a Carrera S, it was a no-brainer.
A very cleverly timed no brainer, too, arriving towards the end of the 997 production run. Not only was the Carrera GTS much better value than the limited edition Speedster and Sport Classic that arrived at the same time, it delivered a more immersive driving experience than those early 991s. As such, the GTS has become highly prized, commanding more than the equivalent regular Carreras; this Sport Chrono PDK car is £55k. To many, a lot for what seems an old 911 – but if it's a proper Porsche you're after, it's hard to think of a better way to spend a moderately large amount of cash.
Up to £80,000…
- 911 Carrera (993)
It's possible that no 911 has come to define the appeal of the old ways quite like the 993. Small and pretty and wilfully idiosyncratic, it was a sports car to learn and appreciate as much as the new cars are easy and accessible.
Though heavily revised from the 964, the 993 did still share 20 per cent of its parts with its predecessor. So where it might once have seemed a bit old hat, the 993 can now be seen as the peak of the 911's air-cooled evolution, with innovations such as a six-speed manual and the VarioRam inlet technology also on offer. You only have to look at the prices to know how well regarded they are: the very cheapest 993s are still more than £30k, or twice the most affordable 996s – for cars separated by very few years in the same decade. The fascination with air-cooled Porsches isn't going anywhere.
Those cheap 993s are typically cabrios, too, with their rather ungainly roof arrangements; coupes will set you back more than £40k, and currently the cheapest Carrera coupe with that six-speed manual is £55k. Don't say you weren't warned! With the budget on offer here, some of the best regular 993s are available: though an automatic, this widebody Carrera S looks absolutely superb, and has only covered 30,000 miles since 1997.
Up to £100,000…
- 911 GT3 (997.2)
'Classic in its own lifetime' is a hackneyed phrase, but if ever it really could be applied to car, it was appropriate for the 997 GT3. Specifically, the Gen 2, which is available for £100k – and still very much worthy of the valuation. Because it's exceptional.
Even before we knew that the 997 would be the last GT3 to use hydraulic steering, to be powered by the Mezger engine and to have a manual gearbox only, it was a sublime driver's car. Compact and intimate, it had the sort of performance to make most contemporary sports car blush – it really was the best of both worlds. That the car eventually evolved into the seminal 4.0 RS will only have helped its cause, too – though you'll need to multiply the budget several times over for one of those.
Then the 991 happened, with a new engine, PDK only, and with four-wheel steer and electric steering ebbing away that highly prized, traditional 911 feel. And then they caught fire. The 997 was always going to be in demand, but the early 991 years only strengthened its case. Nowadays the early Gen 1 cars from 2006 onwards can be less than £80k; the Gen 2s are seldom, if ever, seen at less than £90,000. But as a car to prove how beautifully the old and new 911 worlds could be amalgamated, it's hard to the think of better.
Up to £150,000…
- 911 GT3 RS (991.1)
So, the 991 era of Motorsport cars was off to a tricky start in 2013, and it seemed that things would get trickier still with the RS of 2015. Because any Renn Sport 911 was infamous for its recalcitrance, requiring a very specific way of driving to get the best from it. Then came the 991, with just the PDK gearbox and more assists than ever.
But be in doubt: the 991 GT3 RS was a fabulous driver's car. Because, yes, it was a more approachable RS than ever before, but those looking for challenge – and the reward of overcoming it – would find both in plentiful supply. Stripping back the 991 revealed a sports car fizzing with feedback, an experience for which the 4.0-litre flat-six was the perfect companion – all 8,800rpm and 500hp of it.
With an update of the first 991 GT3 RS having been with us a for a few years (and a 992 presumably not far off), the initial hype around RS values has died down a little. They'll still cost more than list price, despite being almost half a dozen years old (!), but that's now indicative of how highly regarded they are rather than any desire to turn one around for a quick buck. This right-hand drive car looks superb in Miami Blue, with fewer than 9,000 miles racked up with three owners. Why they've seen fit to move on so quick you'll have to speculate on, but be in doubt the 991 RS: it's well worth holding onto.
Up to £250,000…
- 991 Speedster
It is possible to not like the Speedster. Especially if you're a purist. Because, yes, it's a naturally aspirated, limited-edition 911 that revved to 9,000rpm, only offered with a manual gearbox and which used carbon fibre liberally to keep mass down – but it had a removable roof, an electrically operated one, no less. And roofless Porsches are anathema to the die-hards, unless they're notoriously fiddly to erect. Or unless they're literally roofless Speedsters in the truest sense and fit only for pretending you're James Dean in California.
Undeniably there is more than a hint of show off about the car. But five minutes behind the wheel of the Speedster, head exposed to noise, does a lot to ameliorate any cynicism. Because while it perhaps isn't quite as sharp as a GT3, it's close enough – and more than that, it opens up one of the great modern engines to the elements. With you as the driver controlling it, via three pedals and one perfectly weighted stick. It's as intense and as memorable in the real world as any open-top car you can think of. Which is why the Speedster is on this list. Even if a 991 GT3 Touring is better to look at, and massively cheaper to buy.
It'll cost you a quarter of a million quid for one of the 1,948 Speedsters, a substantial premium over what was already a chunky asking price. This one does without the heritage decals but does get the carbon seats, and is just 100 miles old. Which, for a car as intoxicating as the Speedster, is a travesty. To drive one is to love one, regardless of your prejudices. The history books would suggest the most recent Speedster will remain valuable, too…
Sky's the limit…
- 2.7 MFI
How on earth do you decide the best 911 to buy without a budget constraint? There are so many that narrowing it down is a borderline impossible task. From the modern era cars like the 4.0 RS and 991 GT2 RS stand out, which is before considering various GT2s, the short wheelbase cars and so on. Perhaps the GT1 could be here – or even a 959…
It's the MFI that's been given the nod, though. Because though everyone knows the 2.7 Carrera RS – and that it'll cost £600k to get one – the MFI is a lesser known quantity, despite using the same engine and sharing many other important bits. Like all the best 911s, the MFI is fast (with 210hp moving little more than a tonne), delightful to look at and absorbing to drive.
It's believed that just over 1,000 MFIs were made in the mid-1970s, with only around 10 per cent of those in right-hand drive. They're tough to track down nowadays as a result, which is why this RHD car is more than £250,000. Said to be one of just 21 survivors, the MFI should bring together all the rawness of the RS with a slice of 70s' 911 style as well – if you don't fancy this, how about Bitter Chocolate Brown?
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