Keith’s Blog: Help Me Find my Next 911

A truffle hound has nothing on Robb Sass when it comes to spotting overlooked Affordable Classics. When he posted that he had just bought a very nice 911 for under $20k, my “I need one too” alarm sounded.

I sent him a message right away. He replied that very nice 1999 – 2004 911s (996 is their internal Porsche designation) can be found for under $20,000. With a determined search and motivated seller,  $15,000 is the number. These were the first of the water-cooled 911s.

So I’m in the hunt, and asking you to help me find the right 911 at this price point.

These are not rare cars. Between www.autotrader.com and www.cars.com, I found nearly 800 listed.

I’ve known Rob Sass for more than 20 years, and he is an inveterate buyer and seller (aka “bottom feeder” of value-priced sports cars). The author of Ran When Parked: Advice and Adventures from the Affordable Underbelly of Car Collecting, Sass has a knack for zeroing in on models that represent a lot of car for the money — and may even be poised for some appreciation.

Rob was once SCM’s Director of Business Development, and after a stint as editor of Hagerty Magazine, he is now the editor of “Porsche Panorama,” the Porsche club magazine.

Sass said that the 996 models, built from 1999-2004, are out of favor with Porsche fanatics because of their troublesome IMS bearings and an unflattering headlight treatment, referred to as “the pancake” or “fried egg” look.

The Intermediate Shaft Bearings (IMS) in these engines failed prematurely. Repairing a failed bearing requires a total engine rebuild.

911 aficionados dismiss the 996s as a “low-point in modern 911s” as the 1999 – 2001 have only 3.4-liter, 300-hp engines. The 2002-2004 models have 3.6-liter engines and 330 hp.

I’ve recently been driving a 29-hp, 602-cc Mehari, and the engine in my 2-liter Alfa Super “big block” puts out somewhere around 130 hp. I think 300 hp will be plenty.

I checked with Paul Kramer at AutoKennel, a boutique shop that specializes in a highly curated selection of sports cars, with an emphasis on Porsches.

He helped me locate my 2001 Turbo, and has assisted several of my friends as well.

Kramer agreed that the 1999-2004 cars were simply “too cheap.”

“Cabrios are even less expensive,” Kramer said. “For some reason, all open 911s from 1983 to recent used ones sell for at least a 20% discount from a coupe. And stay away from red if you can. 911 buyers just don’t like that color.”

The 2005 model year saw a redesigned front end and interior — and a reworking of the IMS bearing. However, those three things mean a 997 model will cost you at least $10,000 more than a 1999 – 2004 996.

I’ve also heard that the 1999 and early 2000 cars had dual-row IMS bearings and are preferred.

Kramer mentioned that cars without the IMS bearing upgrade were selling for less than the cost of the upgrade ($3,000 to $5,000), and he would prefer to buy one of those and oversee having the upgrade performed, so that he could monitor the quality.

“I’ve even seen 911s with faked receipts for IMS bearing replacement,” he said.

So I’m in the hunt. I’m looking for a no-excuses 996 911 coupe, 6-speed, 1999-2004. I don’t mind miles on the car if it has been properly taken care of. Frankly, I’d prefer one with the IMS bearing done — with receipts from a known shop.

You know the drill: Clean Carfax, stock, no surprises and good ownership history.

My goal is to spend between $15,000 and $20,000. I’d like to fly in and drive the car home.

Email me directly, at keith.martin@sportscarmarket.com, or text 503.970.1070. Look forward to hearing from you.

Keith Martin

Keith Martin has been involved with the collector car hobby for more than 30 years. As a writer, publisher, television commentator and enthusiast, he is constantly on the go, meeting collectors and getting involved in their activities throughout the world. He is the founder and publisher of the monthly Sports Car Market and bi-monthly American Car Collector magazines, has written for the New York Times, Automobile, AutoWeek, Road & Track and other publications, is an emcee for numerous concours, and has his own show, “What’s My Car Worth,” shown on Velocity.

Posted in Keith Martin

4 comments

  1. I’m looking for one two, every since I sold my 1987 Cab. Just looking for a dependable street car. Maybe do an Outlaw.

  2. You can look in Porsche Club of America’s mart at:
    PCA.org/mart-parts For nearly 100 pages of cars and parts.
    In order to respond you must be a PCA member..

  3. I have a 2002, 6-speed, Seal Grey/Red Leather Cab. PSM, PSE, Carbon/Leather Wheel, many other options, new tires, mint condition. 97,000 miles.

  4. As a comparison, I purchased a 2003 996 Targa – for $19k in January this year with 78,000 miles. The original engine had been replaced at 45K miles (after detonation of the IMS, I assume) with a later engine. I replaced clutch and flywheel, inspected IMS, did a suspension rebuild, new water pump, air oil separators, replaced the targa mechanism ($1700 at dealer – ouch!) all added up to another $9k. New tires and wheels trued and painted, $2k. $30K all in for a sorted 911. Fun for the next 5 years – priceless.

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