We’ve got a new car in our condo slot. It’s a 1991 Porsche 928 S4. Yes, a “Stuttgart Corvette,” a.k.a. “piggyback” or “the German Pacer.”
I’ll have more to share once we have digested this acquisition, but as the car is still new to me, I am currently basking in the glow of the find and the buy.
It has caused me to wonder if I am more attracted to the process of adding a car to my collection than I am of actually owning the car.
The past few months I have been exploring the world of Gen-X cars, from 1990-2010. Previously of little interest to me, they have popped onto my radar as I began to look for automatics while recovery from my stroke continues.
What I have learned is that there is a 50% price discount for automatics vs. sticks, and the autos have generally lived easier lives.
I’ve also learned that the Gen-X cars are far superior to the cars of the ‘60s and ‘70s I have always owned.
By 1996, when ODB-II was mandated, the computer systems in cars were sophisticated. Error messages were easier to decode, and electrical issues fewer.
Lightly used cars in good condition with low miles are easier to find, as well. Some of my cars have 50,000 original miles. Given that I will probably only drive them 3,000 miles a year, that means I should have five to ten years of use before they need anything besides minor service.
That is most unlike my 50-year-old cars, which have frequently required complete suspension rebuilds just to go around the block.
Formerly completely unknown to me, there are tens of thousands of rabid BMW, Mercedes and Audi enthusiasts watching every relevant Bring A Trailer auction in the same fervent way that I watch for an Alfa Duetto.
The gurus include Dean Laumbach with M-Bs, Alec Cartio for BMWs and Adam Cramer with Audis. Adam is also the founder of the Avants, Drive Everything membership group. You can also toss in the Norcal 928 Facebook group.
They can tell you which are the best years for Mercedes SLs, BMW M-version and Audi S-models.
While I have no interest in the R-109 SLs (a retired doctor’s car) whenever one appears at auction the commenting trolls are glad to share their knowledge with you, whether it is ill-informed or not.
I’ve also enjoyed talking to shop owners who service these cars. One thing they have going for them is the installed base of these cars is huge compared to ‘60s Alfas. Plus they have seen so many that they have an idea about what causes certain types of systemic problems, and what possible solutions are.
There are also a large number of aftermarket parts suppliers that have manufactured failure-prone parts like the hydraulic cylinders on the SL folding hardtop – at a fraction of the cost of the OEM units.
That doesn’t mean that a BMW E36 M3 hustling down a two-lane road offers a better experience than an Alfa GTV or Lotus Elan. Those rides will always be more basic, direct and appealing.
But what the low-mile, well-kept Gen-X cars offer is the opportunity to take advantage of “the unused portion” of the car at a reasonable cost. You will own something with airbags, working a/c, anti-lock brakes and maybe even seat heaters. If luck is on your side and you have bought well, you will be able to avoid any major repair issues. (Although the god of old-car breakdowns is known to have a wicked and dark sense of humor.)
Right now our post-’60s cars include a 1971 Jaguar E-type V12 2+2 (no electronics or computers), the 1991 928 (early versions of computers and electronics that are the car’s most trouble-prone areas) and the 2004 Mercedes SL55 AMG, a fully modern and well-developed car.
I may have spent more time looking for these cars and learning about them that I actually have driving them. But now that they are here in my garage, with each being fettled through road use and trips to specialist shops, their time will come.
And the time I have spent teaching myself about them, meeting and talking with their tribes of supporters have offered me a great deal of pleasure, while feeding my intellectual curiosity about a subset of the automotive enthusiast world I simply knew nothing about.