By the time you read this, I should have test-driven my 1975 Porsche 911 S for the first time.
It’s been seven months since I bought it. Bringing old cars back to life takes time. The cars determine the rhythm of restoration, not you.
I first learned about this car, a 2.7-L Sportomatic (s/n 9115201489, engine 6459078) via a text from an SCMer on Thursday, Oct 6, 2022. The car had just arrived at the Car Corral at the Hershey Swap meet in Pennsylvania.
Asking price was $47,900 and the seller was also an SCMer. I called him and he told me he had owned the car for a decade, used it rarely, and had documents showing its original 47,187 miles. He had driven it 60 miles to Hershey.
It had originally been sold by Al Holbert Porsche in Warrington, PA. We made a deal at $46k, subject to a walk-around inspection by SCM Contributor Lowell Paddock, who was at the swap meet.
Lowell liked the car. I wired the funds on Friday (the money from the sale of my Citroën DS 21 had just arrived, so I was temporarily flush). That Sunday, after the RM Sotheby’s auction, the 911 (now my 911!) was loaded on to a Reliable Carrier truck for the long-haul to Portland.
In the meantime, Bonhams’ Rupert Banner and RM Sotheby’s Brad Phillips walked by the car. They both commented on how straight it looked and liked the original and unusual cloth interior.
If only they had a magic device that detected broken head studs from a distance…
In mid-November the Sporto arrived at Matt Crandall’s Avant-Garde Collection for dry-ice cleaning.
I’ve had Matt clean all my cars that way, starting with the ones that are filthy and going in for service. The appreciation I get from my technicians for having a clean car to work on more than offsets the cost.
Then the Sporto moved on to a familiar shop in Portland, A & P Specialties, owned by Al Blanchard. Al has been taking care of my Porsches for nearly 40 years, including my 911 L, SC, Boxster S, 996 Carrera and 996 Twin Turbo.
Air-cooled mid-year Porsches are no mystery to him and his team.
He found the car to be delightfully free of rust and very original.
He knows my goal is to have a reliable car I can take on the SCM 1000.
As with most mid-year cars, it has some broken head studs. However, the leakdown and compression were excellent. In Al’s opinion and that of SCM Contributor Jim Schrager, if I drive the car in relaxed “Sportomatic fashion” it might last thousands of miles. Both said that if I started hearing a “pop-pop-pop” sound, that indicates the head gaskets were starting to leak and it would be time to rethink my situation.
This is not a casual decision. To split the cases to put in “case-hardener” inserts costs almost as much as a rebuild, circa $25k. It’s the old “while you are in there” syndrome.
I also had the OEM A/C compressor removed, along with the not-necessary-in-Oregon smog pump. Yes, I have carefully stored them away, for no good reason but out of habit. If I ever wanted to upgrade the a/c to a modern system, that’s another $10k.
With the latest round of repairs, I am now in the car for $60k. From sitting so long, the car had a host of issues that had to be addressed, from replacing the airbox to installing a new brake master cylinder to rebuilding wheel cylinders to replacing the vacuum hoses going to the Sporto servo to finding a used gas gauge to replace the defective one in the car. It also needed new tires.
I haven’t yet driven it, so I can’t tell you if I like it. For those of us with particular tastes in our motoring experiences, seat time is the only thing that will answer our questions. I wasn’t fond of our 928, it was too dark and heavy, so away it went. The Volvo 122S just didn’t have enough power with the autobox. The Citroën DS 21 was a delight, but after a year and 1,500 miles the bloom was off, and I was restless.
Possibly, I could have a delightful mid-year for $60k and look forward to miles of air-cooled joy.
Some of my Porsche friends have said I made a serious mistake by buying a mid-year in the first place, with their known and expensive issues. They counseled I should have waited for a better Sporto and paid more.
However, I have only seen two Sportos for sale in five years. When will the next one come along, and will it be as rust-free and original as this one? I do not want a Tiptronic or PDK, so please don’t suggest that. I’ve had both and they don’t interest me.
If things go the wrong way and I have to do a motor and upgrade the A/C, I’ll be in the car nearly $100k. I think that’s stretching the market for a 2.7-L Sporto. I will have to like it a lot to go down that path.
With the beauty of hindsight, what is my most prudent course of action now? Drive it and hope for the best? Do the motor and A/C? Or just sell it as-is with full disclosure?
I look forward to your comments. Please post them below.
How can you even consider getting rid of the car at this point? At least drive it for 6 months!
You’ve owned 911s before, so it won’t be any amazing revelation when you drive it. If you like air cooled 911s, you’ll probably like it. If you don’t like them, well, why did you buy it in the first place?
Anyway, give it 6 months at least!
I agree. Give it at least several weeks of driving it. A decent trial of time and driving is not only fair to the car, and what you’ve invested so far, it’s fair to you.
You mentioned that you don’t want a Tiptronic or PDK. Evidently, those are not the same as a Sportomatic. Is a Sportomatic a manual transmission with the clutch mechanisms activated by moving the shift lever? I’m curious about the differences between the three types of transmissions.
You have been searching for or just this car for quite a while, especially since your stroke. Trust me, this car will bring you back the thrills and joy of driving as close to what you have enjoyed in the past with less effort and more smiles per mile than you have had in a while behind the wheel. It’s all about the experience. That’s all we have. Enjoy yourself and enjoy this 911 S for as long as you can have that thrill of being behind the wheel! Call it therapy.
It seems everyone is saying the same thing and you answered your own question. You need some seat time before making the decision to keep or to sell.
I’ve had a 69 911E with Sportmatic,and enjoyed it, also had a 86 911 with tiptronick,and enjoyed it also,.Now I have a 2011,911 Cab with P D K..I loved them all, but nothing beats the modern P D K..Just my feelings.
Jim R., here is a Car and Driver article describing the three different transmissions you asked about:
You owe it to yourself to keep it for a bit, drive and scratch the sportomatic itch you have. Don’t put another cent in to it other than the gas tank and drive it till mid-summer. Then decide if it stays for a while, or unload it while the sun is still shinning here in the PNW. Good luck and good driving!
Wouldn’t bother with the head studs until you put 500 miles on it, to see if you like it. Doesn’t sound urgent if you drive it respectfully, and don’t let any hotdogs take it for a test drive. I have always found somehow things break when someone else drives my car.
It’s settled! Drive the car! Do the engine repairs over the winter down time. Enjoy the car this Summer!
Leakdown and compression are excellent. In addition, two experts say that the failure of headgasket is preceded by clear indicator, “pop pop.” So drive it until pop pop happens. Enjoy your car.
Keep and drive! Echo comment here 🙂 And I’m continually amazed at the values of old 911s. I bet a $100K+ Sportomatic that has been thoroughly improved by you will have no trouble in the marketplace. Enjoy!
Well, Keith, I enjoy driving my ‘98 Boxster more than driving my ‘65 911. Although over 30+ years of ownership, I drove the 911 to Alaska and back and to the east coast and back before selling it.
Do put some miles on the 911S. If the engine pops, fix it. And it the car doesn’t work for you, sell it. But at least finish the experience with the car and give it a chance.
To find a two-pedal S this clean, rust free and straight with great colors and relatively low miles is as rare an E-Type that doesn’t drip oil. Keep it, drive it, fix the head bolts and enjoy.
Agreed. We all know that there’s always another $10 to $20K of work to do on any vintage car we’ve purchased. So drive, enjoy, and then, if the bloom has come off the rose, you can always sell, no harm no foul.
I appreciate the way you tell the story from purchase thru almost driving.
A while back we had a chat about my grandson who graduated from Reed and is now about to come out of Loyola Marymout law school. He is coming to visit after graduation. He is 6′ 8″ tall. Any suggestions on cars that might be fun for him and that will accomodate his height?
Now you know why these Porsche years are do not buy unless you are a Porsche mechanic and have lots of money. The most important thing is buying it right $.
Hi Keith having owned both a 2.7 for 5 years and a 911T Sporto for 15 I can assure you that the combination that you have is a great one. Hang in there mate!
You are a swinging bachelor with cars. You can’t make a commitment. My hero!
Do both. Drive it through the fall. If it is a keeper, and the gurus at SCM determine it is a $100k car, make it a $100k car. If you think you can get another year out of it before deciding, do that.
Or, if you decide it was good for a “one year stand,” move on.
It’s only money, and you have the best platform to find its next caretaker.
Play the gambler – drive carefully and get some money’s worth. At $100,000 I would start sleeping in the car. We know you wouldn’t not disclose, given all us witnesses…
I would drive it a few times, enjoy it and then get out of it with full disclosure. I can’t believe it would be worth $100,000 when done with the many expen$ive repairs, so unless you can’t live without it, get out before the roof falls in. Remember what Dad told me years ago: Never love anything that can’t love you back!
“Some of my Porsche friends have said I made a serious mistake by buying a mid-year in the first place, with their known and expensive issues. They counseled I should have waited for a better Sporto and paid more.”
Well meaning as it may be, free advice is usually worth just that. We all do things for our own reasons. You made the right choice, all things considered. Enjoy your very cool Sporto 911S!
Hi Keith, I’m the SCMer who contacted you after reading your column about you looking for just such a car. I’m sorry to hear about the head studs.
The upside is that if you drive it for a while and love the car, a rebuild down the road will allow you to improve the power and performance ‘while you’re in there’.
A Sportomatic is as close an experience as you can possibly get to shifting if you’re not physically able to do so again. I find it hard to imagine that after a lifetime of rowing through gears you’ll be so quick to sell the car and never enjoy that activity again.
Just because the car may cost more in money than it can be resold for does not mean that it isn’t worth what you put into it if it brings you joy. Sound familiar? 😉