Detective work

Recently, I've seen a number of cars represented as original that were not. To give the benefit of the doubt, I'd say more often than not, the current seller was unaware or prior work.

    What I'm talking about mainly are cars sporting sheetmetal from later cars. Sheetmetal panels from Restoration Design, for instance are sometimes only made in a later configuration -- one presumes from lack of demand for the correct part. Prime examples are the engine lid latch panel, which evolved a couple times, but had a big change in mid-73, when the forward edge contours changed from a single arc to a notched arc, and a raised rectangle appeared on the left side (I still wonder what this was for, since it appears Porsche never put anything there).

   The other readily-identified-replaced panel is the one that carries the right side door striker. Up until 1972, this panel had a flat, raised area at the top (right). In '72, a different
stamping incorporated a "well" to house the oil door release button. And in 73 on-
there was an indentation where the oil door release button had been.
               A car that has had the panel damaged by rust or collision likely got a re-
               placement panel with the indentation (left image).

                       There is nothing wrong with a properly repaired car. They do have
               accidents. But for someone looking for an original paint car, or an original
               sheetmetal car, these two panels can be giveaways on early cars.

                       Note also that the ends of the engine lid latch panel were not finished
               to a high degree by the factory. We are seeing over-restored cars where there
               is extra smoothing This is of course a non issue if the car isn't going to be shown in competition. 


Market softness

For at least the last 5 years, people in the Porsche community have discussed the demise of the 'bubble' in Porsche 911 prices - especially 73 and earlier models.

    I am not on the 'chicken little' bandwagon. The very best cars are selling at unprecedented prices.

    If there is softness in the market valuation, it is at the bottom end. The "project cars" that need a ton of work are going to take many many months to restore. People who are mindful of market value remain concerned that prices will flatten or drop in the future and that their investment will be outside the value envelope when the car is done.

    I would like to suggest that if you are looking for a 911 for the long term, you should ignore the market - instead, look at your relationship with the car. Some of the happiest 911 owners I know have much more in their cars than they could sell them for.  070716

Prices are imploding

Okay, now that I have your attention..

    Some prices have dropped on specific Porsche models over the past 6-9 months. Specifically, the US Carreras of '74-75, European Carreras '74-77, 993s (95-98 911s), 930 Turbos - 76 to 88. 73 Carrera RSs began softening over a year ago, as well.     

    In some cases, prices are off as much as 30%. The hardest hit cars were the ones with "stories." That is, non-original cars. Perhaps in the case of the older cars, they were modified or badly restored. But the top cars seem to have taken a hit as well.

    For several years, the fierce growth in values prompted speculators to buy to flip. In a lot of cases, these speculators came from marques that were seeing price declines (like Ferraris) and they often bought indiscriminately in some cases, they bought cars to restore, hoping to make big profits. But they didn't always choose the right restoration shops, and many poorly restored Porsches came to market over the last couple years. As those new to the Porsche market learned the fine points of restoration (sometimes at great cost), the quality of cars offered crept up and the poorly-done cars failed to bring higher prices - or failed to sell at all in the big auctions.

    It was a double-whammy when both the market softening and poor examples hit. The no-sales or low bids rocked the Porsche market. Speculators who thought they were getting an absolute bargain buying what they thought was a $175K 930 for under $150K at Pebble Beach found out 60 days later that they overpaid. Now we have owners of these cars cutting their losses and dumping the cars on the market.

    But which cars are weak?  In most cases, the models lacked some intrinsic value. Let's look at each in turn: the '74-75 US Carrera was differentiated by a rear spoiler and 9" rear flares. It was otherwise a 911S with 175 HP. So what is that cosmetic differentiation worth vs. the same year 911S? Not 3X. Not 2X. Maybe 1.6X. Rest-of-world (ROW) '74-77 Carreras are distinguished by the 210 HP mechanically-injected engine shared with the '73 Carrera RS. They sold for as much as $300K, plus at one point, but that's a big premium for 45 additional horsepower and US domestic rarity (they, like the 73 Carrera, weren't legal to import as street cars when new). First, the market figured out that "rare in the US" didn't mean rare, period.  Then the market figured out 210 HP is nice, but not fast in any contemporaneous way. The ROW Carreras dropped to 45% of their high values. Early 930 Turbos are exemplary for being the first production street turbocharged cars. And their in-your-face flares and tail were striking at the time of introduction. It's said that auction buyers come to buy the cars they lusted over as adolescents, and who didn't lust after the 930? But in real world terms, the '75-77 930 Turbo is just not as spectacular as you might expect a $250K car to be. They are fun when the boost comes on, but an absolute dog up to that point. The 78 and later intercooled 930s are just better cars to drive. And they never hit the value heights of the non-intercooled early 930s. So market value has dropped only 5-10% on later Turbos while dropping up to 30% on the '76-77s. The 75, because of its rarity, is still commanding high prices. 

    Over the past Summer, we saw 993 ('95-98 911s) drop an average of about 15% across the board, with the wide body versions taking the bigger hit - maybe 20%. The flagship of the production Porsche collector world is the 73 Carrera RS. The highest auction price I saw - and this was in 2014 - was $1.4 million. I suspect that same car today would sell closer to $1 million. This is a case of a car having very high intrinsic value. But there are two things affecting the market: there were a lot made - 1590 -and there were very few that came through life unscathed. These were homologated race cars you could take from the showroom floor to a Le Mans race. Things happen on race tracks. Crashes, mechanical failures, need for expedient on-the-spot repairs... all diminish the value of a collector car. In the case of RSs, racing provenance can be a big plus with collectors. But the cars that are great tend to sit in collections for years; decades. The cars that come to market may have restamped engine cases, or in the case of a notorious 2016 auction RS - "retubbed." I take retubbed to be a nice way to say the car has a replacement chassis. The only thing more crazy than that is that people are paying as much as $250K for RSs with dubious authenticity.

   As always, the top cars tend to trade quietly between enthusiasts. And it's hard to know actual selling prices. That's where the Hagerty Valuation Tool comes in handy. I believe its generated by a combination of observed sales and values stated by insured customers for their cars. Watch the trendlines and note the wide spread based on car condition. No generalized valuation is 100% reliable. A full professional appraisal is the best way to know the current value of a car. Porsche Club of America has professional appraisers listed.

   I hear Porsche owners whining about the discussion of market values. But even if you're not a fan of the rise and fall of Porsche prices, you're foolish not to keep your insurance coverage high enough to prevent catastrophic loss in case of an accident.                                          122316

"The (next auction) is going to tell us where the market really is."

For 5 or 6 years, I've heard this talk around Scottsdale, Monterey, Amelia Island and several other multi-auction locales.

    What I've observed is that there is a contingent of speculators (possibly escapees from Ferrari or other high end car marques) who wanted to catch the wave of 911 appreciation. To do that, they bought cars they thought had potential - often without good intel - and sent them out to be restored. Sometimes they chose good restoration resources; often not. After all, the collector car market is big on 'who you know.'

    So, after these "restorations," I've seen these cars come to market with a long list of bad decisions. SWB cars with 'flares' at the top of the rear wheelwells, incorrect engine lid badges and grilles, right side mirrors installed so far forward on the door as to be useless, later parts used where quality early style repro parts are readily available, etc. And the knowledgeable buyers stay away. Hammer prices on these cars are low, because they need to be re-restored.

   The armchair generals in the market look at the stats and see only "1966 911 coupe sold for $65K" accompanied with a few nice photos, and don't understand the car needs $30K+ in re-restoration. The only real understanding of the market is going to come from comparing apples with apples - or "longitudinal tracking" where the same car crosses the block within a few years. This scenario has repeated itself endlessly over the years and still continues to create misunderstandings.

    There is another factor that propels this false market dynamic - fear. If a speculator believes he is operating in a bubble, then any cleanup or restoration of a car to make money has to happen quickly. If the best resources have backlogs of 6-18 months, and a speculator thinks the market is on the brink of collapse, he will choose faster resources to do the work. Consequently, bad details, short cuts, etc. end up showing on the car at the auction and the perception of market softness perpetuates.

     Only a highly knowledgeable person on site can evaluate an auction car and determine if it was sold at a price appropriate to condition. So when the next auction results are published, be skeptical. Take those numbers as suggestive of not only "the market" but also vehicle condition.                   081216


2017 - what will it bring?

I don't know.

    That's the short answer. Because nobody knows.

    Here's what I suspect: prices on most air cooled 911s bottomed in September - early December 2016. They started coming back before Christmas 2016. I suspect they will continue rising over the spring months of 2017. Especially the 3.2 and 3.0 coupes. 2.7 and earlier cars will come up, as well, IMO, in the 5-10% range. There are a number of factors that draw me to this conclusion, but it's no guarantee every car will participate.

    I've said this a lot and it bears repeating: our air cooled Porsches are not Chevy Caprices. The variations available in the cars new and the huge range of treatments - from restorations to modifications - they have undergone in their 19 to 52 years of existence all affect value. To truly track value, you are not looking at a "market," as much as a history of a very specific car type. A red 1980 911SC coupe will have a value track over time that is somewhat predictable. The resulting value curve may have some relationship to that of a black 1985 Targa, but they are not 100% locked together.  When Porsche introduced the 991 Targa, it had an effect on the air cooled Targas - as expected - but nowhere near what the optimists were hoping for.

    On the other hand, the anniversary of the Turbo Carrera produced a huge bump in values for the 75-77 models. An unsustainably large bump, as it turns out.

    The buyers of these cars (and I include myself) are irrational. Nobody needs a 911. It is an indulgence. And indulgences are driven by emotions. Will people have an emotional lust for a vintage Porsche in 2017? Yes. Will they have the disposable income to indulge that lust? Many will. Remember, our 911s have never been more than a quarter of 1% of the car market. So it doesn't take that many lusty, able enthusiasts to keep prices strong. The recent discovery of vintage 911s by a segment of the population we call "hipsters" has made an impact and revived purchasing that could have tapered off due to an aging base of nostalgic enthusiasts. I'm betting that will continue in 2017. But as they say in the brokerage business: past performance is no guarantee of future returns.                                                                                                                                                      010617

How do you calculate value, Techweenie?

I have shared some of my thoughts here.

A word (or several) about repro trim

When our 911s were cheap, the repro part guys developed “S” trim for bumpers and rockers for LWB cars.
    These trim pieces were not terribly accurate, but were just fine for cars that then traded at $15-25K. today, with our cars at triple those values, the repro trim is not up to par.
    Original S trim on LWB cars had an anodized surface like Fuchs wheels, but a bit ‘rougher.’ The aluminum was not ‘crisp’ on the edges, but slightly rounded. “Base” seals extended 2mm beyond the aluminum trim. Currently available repro parts are extruded aluminum with squared edges. Base seals extend 2-1/2mm or more. The worst aspect of repro trim is how the pieces fit to the bumpers. If you do not want gaps between the trim and the bumper, you will spend some time re-bending the trim to conform. You cannot count on the studs in the trim to conform it. The studs will pull out before bending the trim. Be very careful not to over-torque. You want "snug." For the most part, you can bend the front bumper trim over your knee or in the jaws of a vice with a couple layers of towel over it. On the rear, the midpoint of the trim will not conform to the bumper, either, but that part can also be bent by hand against the closed vice with towel ‘buffer.’ The exception here is the inner ends of the LWB rear bumper trim, which are not curved enough when you get them. To fix this part, I remove the seal and the rubber insert and use a vice (cover the jaws with a towel) to hold the last 3” of the trim while I bend it. Small, incremental, stepped bends will do it. Expect to invest a couple hours to bend repro trim to fit. And if you really want to end up with something more authentic, you can send your conformed trim to a shop for light bead blasting and anodizing.       100816

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Rust check - rear shelf

The 911 rear shelf/firewall sits under the rear glass, It's a single stamped panel. It is angled downward and has stampings that provide rigidity. However, they also provide a trap for moisture.

    The panel is covered on the car's interior by a pressed board panel covered in vinyl. Under that panel is a heavy rubber sound insulation mat. On the engine side, there is usually a sound insulation pad.

    If you are contemplating buying a typical 911, especially a coupe, you should know that it's highly likely the rear window seals are (or once were) toast. When they fail, water gets under the rear upholstery panel and (especially with the 72 and up cars) accumulates in grooves on the panel. And standing water eventually creates rust. Surface rust in our cars is of no concern. Penetrative rust is. And although the rear shelf panel isn't critical to chassis rigidity, it should be patched or even replaced if there are holes big enough to put your hand through(!)

    The only 100% way to check for rust is to remove the rear upholstery panel and the mat underneath it. If you are in a typical buying situation, you do not have the option of doing that. A quick check for a seriously rusted rear shelf can be made without taking the car apart: open the rear lid and press upward with your fingers on the shelf/firewall panel 'outboard' of the lid hinges. A seriously compromised rear shelf panel will sound and feel like cornflakes. And a panel that far gone may indicate rust has progressed into the inner c-pillars and back toward the outer rear corners of the window seal lip and into the back of the outer skin panel in front of the engine lid. This all represents a stepwise escalation of restoration costs. If the rust progresses into the driprail (coupe only, obviously), you may have to seriously consider walking away from the prospect car.

    An excellent rear shelf/firewall panel is made by Restoration Design. Be aware that it's a fairly involved process to install this panel.  

    Also note that the rear seat buckets will likely be rusted before any serious rust appears in the rear shelf/firewall. To check for that, you need 1.) the sellers permission, 2.) to get the car up in the air (safely, please) and 3. a pointed tool to probe the bottom of the seat buckets (you did get the seller's permission, yes?)  Again, excellent stampings are available from Restoration Design to fix seat bucket rust.       070816


The color question

Colors come and go. There are institutions that tell car makers what colors will be popular over the next few years...

In the 70s, Porsche embraced citrus and earth colors. Ironically, in the 80s, these colors fell out of fashion and many of the "period" colors were painted over with black, red or gray. So original oranges, greens, yellows and aubergines are prized.

    Here is a paint swatch array of 911 color options from 1973.


   Because I am the type who enjoys working on cars - maybe more than owning them - I let this one go after a bit over a year of ownership. Did I make money, you ask? Yes. Yes I did. ;-)                  070716                     

Monterey auctions, 2016

Car Week in Monterey is the most significant US auction grouping, although Amelia Island is nudging it for #1 position.

    I did not attend the auctions but now have spoken with several people whose opinions I respect, who either sold there or observed.

    A raw number analysis shows a lot of unsold cars.

    The sky, however, is not falling.

    Let's look at a handful of examples: a 1965 912 prototype was bid to $600K. The reserve was closer to a million. To whom is a 912 prototype worth a million? That person was not in attendance. My view (and sorry to offend any 912 aficionados) is that 912 values hold at approximately 60% of the values of 911s in similar condition/provenance. To me, $600K (plus a 10% buyer's premium) was all the money.

     A show-quality 1975 911S was bid to $100K and did not sell. I believe the reserve was around $130K. Now, this example was superb, by all accounts, but the 1975 S was not a very special model and is not typically on a collector's list - unless at the very bottom. Sorry for the owner who put so much time and energy into preserving/restoring, but if that had been a 1975 US Carrera, it likely would have been bid to $150-160K

    A 1969 911E soft window Targa sold for $135K. This seems low to me. Pre-auction estimates started at only $145K, so this was not a premium car. I have not yet gotten a good explanation from anyone why this car didn't bring at least a $150K hammer price, although it appears to have been color changed to a later silver. This is always a hit on value.   

    There were high hopes in some quarters for a big money sale of a pretty 67 911 coupe in Irish Green. It brought $72K at auction. This was $7K more than my guess, but the auction company's expectation was $100K plus. My on-site observers told me the car was 'not a standout' and although photographing very well (what doesn't?) was sold at a fair price.

    A 1972 911E Targa was published at an expected range of $185-225K, which would be new territory for 2.4 E Targas. It did not reach the bottom number; nevertheless brought $172K hammer price, which post-fees is $189K. This is a big number.

    So, with about 100 Porsches total sold in Monterey this year, what are the general impressions? 356s are down in price. Appears to be -10 to -15%. 993s are off a similar amount. 964s are off as well, though few were offered and I'm not sure I can give a percentage. In the longhood category, I see prices about equal to last year on a car-to-car equivalent comparison. Having said that, interest in weaker cars is down. In order to sell them, dealers and speculators have to discount 20 - 25%. Owners/drivers are holding on to their cars - possibly choosing to market on their own, outside of the superheated auction atmosphere.

    Mecum alone brought 97 Porsches to Monterey - the pundits called their philosophy quantity over quality. And I believe that was the case - weak cars mixed in with some outstanding cars. Mecum had the lowest number of completed sales on the block.

    The auction house that best and most accurately represented the Porsches it brought was Gooding. Gooding also had more rare and special models and delivered in-the-range hammer prices within strong pre-auction estimates on several notable examples.

    There's a quick summary of all the auctions of Porsches with minimal analysis here at Flatsixes blog.



How much rust is too much rust?

The 911 market has been soaring for 6-7 years.

    Cars we once would have thought ready for the crusher are being restored. A 911 with a rust hole in the floor pan would have been unsellable in the 90s. Today there are shops advertising floor pan replacement for $6000.

    But here's the thing: rust (with few exceptions) is a result of environmental conditions, and those are rarely isolated to one area. If a 911 has a hole in the floor pan in one area, it's likely that there are 1000 other areas where rust has gone beyond surface discoloration to actually penetrating into the sheet metal. Porsches do have frames, but they do not have frames in the conventional sense of big bars of steel supporting the chassis. The Porsche frame is ingeniously folded thin sheet metal sections comprised of 2-3 panels welded to comprise a 'box section.' In real-world terms, what that means is that rust enough to penetrate the sheet metal (equivalent to something between 18 and 20ga in "our" measurements on early 911s) has probably made inroads on adjacent sheet metal, and more importantly, in the join areas where the sheets are welded. So, why did I mention this? Because while welding in a new floor pan may be a $6,000 (or $10,000) job, there's usually more to it. What does the floor pan weld to? A flange at the base of the side box section (longitudinal). And it likely has rust incursion. So the shop ends up "chasing" the rust into the next panel in order to find something substantial to weld to. Easy for them to advertise a fixed low price for a floor pan replacement. Hard for you to leave the shop having paid just that price and no more.

    Another place rust happens that is difficult to chase out is in the c-pillars on a coupe. There are inner and outer roof stampings and rear shelf welded to the inner one. It's a 3D puzzle for a shop to develop all the rust-free surfaces to make a long-lasting repair. Once rust gets into the drip rail of a coupe, I tend to write it off. I do have a friend with a beautiful car (now) who started with a Swiss cheese right c-pillar and engine lid opening corner. The rear of the drip rail was tripled in size from rust between the sheet metal layers. He invested in a thorough repair and the welding has held up for 8 years now without any bubbling. so it can be done.

    Because I make recommendations based on probability and real world conditions, not hopes, I would steer a prospect away from a car with that kind of rust.

    Targas have their own vulnerable areas. First and foremost the floor pan. The slightest leak can put moisture in contact with the floor pan for a long time. I've seen many Targas with perforating rust in the floor pan ahead of the rear seat. It tends to be isolated there... for a while. As with the coupes, the rear window seals let in moisture after several decades, so there could be rear shelf/rear seat rust. I don't see it as often as with coupes. Finally, rust bubbles appear at the base of the Targa band. I'm not sure why that is, but it seems relatively easy to mitigate.

    The windshield cowl is a place where rust can get a toehold - especially in the corners. Rust progresses from there into the corners of the dashboard armature and eventually into the base of the a-pillar. Like the c-pillar rust, it takes a very high degree of skill to defeat permanently. And a major rust incursion into the a-pillar is a threat to the car's structural integrity and ability to protect you and passengers.

    The front pan, as I've mentioned in other entries, is vulnerable in early cars up to 77 when they were fully galvanized, and I've seen more than a few after 77 that still had pan rot. It's from a different source - battery acid - but it's still just rust which needs to be "chased" out and compromised sheet metal replaced. I would not reject a car needing a front pan. I would not reject a car needing a rear shelf/firewall and/or rear seat buckets. Serious rust in the longitudinals would incline me toward rejecting the car, as would major floor pan rust.

    Exceptions abound (in the early Porsche world, there are hundreds of exceptions). Famous owner, racing provenance, rare model or very early model - all are reasons to consider a very rusty car.

    If you are looking at cars with significant rust, you need to identify a shop with the equipment, skills and 911-specific experience and consult before you buy.

    A lot of shops can fix a 911 mechanically. A number can restore an interior. Many can apply paint over a straight, clean body. But there are few that have a high end chassis jig to hold the car while replacing key structural parts. Only a few shops are going to do a repair worthy of a 911.      071216

What is the best investment Porsche right now?
"A rising tide raises all the boats"
    All Porsches, it seems, have been dragged up in value by the pull of the early 911. First it was the "longhoods," 911s from '65-73, then the "G-Models" doubled, and the 3.2 Carrera market revived. The SC market had the shallowest depreciation curve of them all, and is now a $30K+ car at minimum. Bring $35-50K for a great 3.2 Carrera.
     The 964 series (1989-1/2-1994) was in the teens until a company called Singer started making them into supercar works of art. The 200+ cars they bought up bumped the remaining cars on the market +80-100%. And there weren't that many anyway, as those were slow sales years for 911s.  The following model, the 993, is thought by many to be one of the most beautiful cars ever made. They were at a market nadir 5-6 years ago but now have more than doubled in price. And the 964 or 993 Turbo? Priced in the $125-300K range.
    Which brings us to the 996. Cursed with bland styling and an Internet firestorm around Intermediate Shaft bearing failures, the cars are now available in the low teens. Unfairly, IMO. But you can't fight the market. I can't recommend any normally-aspirated 996 as an investment - though there is no more bang-for-buck available anywhere I know of in the Porsche world. Well, maybe the 928 S4 was, but while 4-5 years ago, a late model 928 S4 with 5-speed was the performance bargain on the market, they've since doubled and more.
    And now we get to the car I most recently chose as my long term Porsche: the 996 Turbo. Although "discovered" a couple years ago as the 'most affordable supercar,' it's still a relative bargain in the $35-52K range, with potential to creep up. No IMSb issues (it uses the engine case design by Mezger dating to 1963, but with 38+ years of refinements). Will the 996 Turbo appreciate the way a 72 911 coupe bought in 2011 did? Not in any future I can foresee. But +10% isn't out of the question.
     There are those who will [accurately] say cars are not good investments. And the cost of housing, insuring and maintaining them makes that true for 99.9% of cars. But in this context, when I say "investment," I am referring to maximum retention of value; not making money per se. And the bonus is the joy of owning a driving a Porsche - which you can't put a price on.                                      071216



Are you an owner or caretaker?

I'm guilty of having been a caretaker. I've owned 911s that needed just a bit of work to make them perfect... and then done that work just before selling (making it 'ready to sell'). Meaning that somebody else got the full measure of enjoyment that I could have had.

    From 4 decades of experience, I can tell you that you should make your car as good as it can be while you own it. You just might keep it longer.     070716

Engine testing - compression & leakdown

In the bad old days, the "butt gauge" was used to figure out how good a car was and people relied on it in buying any number of Porsches. But back then, $20K was an expensive 911...
    Now, for some, the pendulum has swung the other way and the PPI (Pre-purchase Inspection) is a vital step in buying a car - especially at a distance. The second most important test to most buyers - after a drive test - is the compression and leakdown test. These are actually 2 different tests. They require the spark plug wires and spark plugs to be removed. For the compression test, a pressure gauge is screwed in to each spark plug hole in turn and the engine is cranked over until 3 or more compression strokes are achieved in each cylinder. Older Porsche engines with 8:1 compression may measure around 100 psi. Newer Porsche engines with 9.3:1 and higher will measure 140 and up. Two things are important: the absolute and the relative numbers. As rings wear, the compression will drop, offset a bit by carbon buildup in the cylinders. A good result in a 69 T or 914-6 engine would be 100-105 psi across 6 cylinders. A good result in a Carrera 3.2 engine would be 145-155 psi across all cylinders. What counts here is the variance between the highest number and the lowest number. engines tend to wear somewhat evenly at first, but the numbers will diverge over time. I look for a maximum variation of 10-12% between the highest and lowest numbers. Compression testing tends to be a good measure of overall wear. An out-of-range measurement indicates the engine will burn oil (the spark plug condition may already show that) and wear tends to accelerate. This is a gray area and you should discuss it with your mechanic (keeping in mind the mechanic benefits when you have him do engine work).
    The leakdown test is even more of a gray area. Following the compression test, with plugs still out, a pressure nozzle is screwed into the spark plug hole and air is pumped in under pressure. The mechanic observes the pressure drop. There will be some loss of pressure even with a newer (or newly rebuilt) engine because of the ring gap. A fresh engine may show 2-3% leak down. It goes up from there. Personally, I like to see leakdown numbers of 6% or less. As the numbers go up, the rate of wear goes up.

    HOWEVER unlike the compression test, the leakdown test is potentially misleading. Remember I mentioned carbon buildup in the second paragraph? Well carbon is crumbly. Many times, extracting a spark plug to begin testing will cause a flake of carbon to drop into the cylinder. No biggie. UNLESS the compression test is done first. When it is, that loose flake of carbon is far more likely to circulate the combustion chamber and end up on a valve seat, preventing it from 100% sealing. When that happens (and it's far more common than you'd think) you can see a leakdown result in the 25% range plus. This could mean something other than a pinned flake of carbon - it could mean imperfect head sealing (likeliest suspect in 2.7, 3.0 and 3.6 engines) or it could mean a burned valve. I expect when there is a cylinder showing 25%+ leakdown that the compression will be lower on that cylinder as well. Those 2 data points in conjunction point to real engine wear. If compression on your suspect cylinder is comparable to other cylinders, I recommend reinstalling the plugs, driving the car vigorously for 1/2 mile or more, and re-testing leakdown on that specific cylinder. If the leakdown is greatly improved, you just flushed out the carbon particle. If not, you have identified an engine issue that is in the 4-figure range to fix. Time to renegotiate the purchase price or walk away.        


I hear a lot of odd talk about leakdown tests discovering all kinds of things, like valve guide wear. Nope. Valve guide wear is not going to reveal itself in a leakdown test. The valve spring holds the valve against the seat securely, no matter if the valve stem has play or not. Unfortunately, the main measure of valve guide wear is oil consumption and that can only be estimated by "reading" the spark plugs and looking at the inside of the tailpipe. Oil combustion product there comes from worn rings and worn valve guides. Good compression results and oiled plugs/exhaust = serious valve guide wear.              121916


The enormous (disproportionate?) popularity of "longhoods" has prompted a lot of people to backdate later cars.

    Let's consider a backdate by reviewing one I did in 2011. I had a 1985 Carrera coupe I bought for under $10K (times were different then). But it was below market for 2011 because 1.) it had 227K miles, 2.) it was Guards Red and 3.) it had gold center BBS wheels (which are correct for BBS, but always seem to be vetoed by Significant Others for esthetic reasons) I immediately sprayed the centers silver. 

    I was able to find a pair of original 1969-73 front fenders. i bought a fiberglass long hood that was configured to use the G-model/Carrera hood release (TRE sells these). I bought a fiberglass S replica front bumper and a fiberglass one piece rear RS style bumper. Assembly was not difficult, but matching faded 26 year-old Guards Red was. It was different shades on the horizontal and vertical panels, so I had to compromise.

    This was the result of my work (all done in my driveway).

Disclaimer: this is not a project for anyone new to 911s, there are some hidden issues like managing vapor canister and windshield washer reservoir that take some ingenuity. 

    As you can see, this is not a complete backdate. Let's call it a "stage 1 backdate." Stage 2 would include backdating the door mirrors and going to "bright" trim around the windows. Stage 3 would be all of the above plus an interior backdate.

So what was the point?

I like the look of the longhoods. I did the conversion because a.) I prefer the look b.) this particular car had minimal market value because of miles c.) there was a weight savings.

    I was actually surprised by the extent of the third point. I knew the car would weigh less (you can see the ride height difference between the before and after) but not only was there a gross weight difference; there was a difference in feel - because the weight came off the extreme front and rear of the car. I could feel a benefit in responsiveness.


Catching up...

I've been remiss in my blogging for a year, for which I apologize. We've seen what I consider an anticipatory dip in pricing -- something based on market rumor over the past year, and I think we're over that. Prices for #1 and #2 911s are stronger than ever.

     The pundits were wrong.

     But maybe not entirely. There has now been a multi-year weakness in "project" cars. 911s needing significant work have just not been selling. Initially it appeared that fear of a softening market dissuaded people from investing the cost and time involved in restoration. This affected mostly speculators, but also some people who could not afford to potentially lose money on what to them was a major investment.

    However, it appears the "project" cars are starting to get attention. The usual caveats apply: too much chassis rust or poorly repaired prior accidents are deal breakers. But more people seem interested in imperfect cars they can drive and enjoy without fear. Best place to observe that phenomenon is where some really rough cars and major projects have brought strong prices.

    At the top of the market, we've seen new highs - a Viper Green 73.5 T Targa with 3,400 miles bringing $313,500 is something I never could have predicted. But it happened. 

    Some of these colors (and others which were rarer optional colors) add value to our cars. Some add enormous value. My guess is that Gulf Blue adds 30-35% to a 73 911, while (at the moment) Sepia and Bahia Red subtract 10% or so. Color is of course, subjective, and we are talking about individual cars and individual owners, not "markets." But I have clients who want specific colors and understand that in order to buy - as and if I find the car - they will have to pay a significant premium. This is largely thanks to the Internet giving voice to every armchair Porsche marketer (like me!).  070716


Horn grilles - a rant and an attaboy

For decades, the pot metal 69-72 horn grilles on 900 series Porsches were a major source of pain.
    The originals pitted. The only replacement grilles on the market were about 5mm too narrow, so could not be made to align with both the turn signal lens and hood line. Many people answered this challenge by putting the black plastic 73 grilles on. Others just retained their pimply originals, hoping they would eventually have an alternative.
    Sure, some people opted to rechrome, but the cost of rechroming was $200 to $400 per grille. And the nature of corroded pot metal is that no matter how good the prep, the pits can “re-erupt” in months or even weeks.
    The common replacement grilles were made by TMP - Tasker Metal Products (sold even by Porsche Classic as OE) as mentioned, were too narrow and Tasker had no interest in redoing a hot selling item.

AFS to the rescue
Eric Linden’s Auto Foreign Services first made replacements for the chrome cutout grilles used in through-the-grille light installations and eventually was persuaded to make perfect replicas of the original chrome horn grilles. His product is, in my opinion, superior to the ones installed as original equipment by Porsche. They are quadruple chrome plated, and more important, they are the exact dimensions of the originals - light years better than the cheaper ones still sold by some vendors. Bravo, AFS.    070816


The flanges and the gaps - and how to read them

Unit body cars like Porsches do not have a “frame.” The entire chassis is folded and welded sheet metal. It gets its strength from  joints where panels are welded perpendicularly together and where panels are doubled up. There are also sections where a fully enclosed “box” exists - on the 911, this is the rocker area.

With all of this sheet metal (typically around 1mm thick) connected throughout the car, it’s easy to visualize how a collision could have more than a localized effect on the chassis.

If you are looking to buy a Porsche, it behooves you to look at a few cars that have not had damage. You can see where the floor pan smoothly ends in a flange on its periphery and where the outer rocker flange has little drain stampings. Most of all, you will notice the regularity of the welds in these structural flanges. It is not uncommon for older 911s (especially pre-galvanized cars [<1977])  to have a replaced front pan. This is the section that carries the front attachments of the suspension below and the battery above. Look for the flanges to join smoothly, with matching lower edges, and consistent undercoating. The replacement panels typically have seams on the rear edge 10” or so behind the front suspension attachment. These are rarely fully concealed on a replacement pan. This likely means the battery acid has eaten through the original panel. But sometimes, it can indicate a prior accident.

Moving to the top side of the car, you should next look at the “frunk.” Open the front hood and expose the sheet metal in the right and left inner ‘nose’ (often concealed behind snap-on carpeting.) On a car that has either not been hit, or has been repaired to a high standard, the flange that holds the hood seal is a smooth curve. The sheet metal below it is not wrinkled and doesn’t show signs of being “worked” with a hammer. 911s have a metal tube on the driver’s side on LHD cars that carries the cable to release the front hood. This tube is often tack welded to the inner panel, but should have a smooth arc forward of that. If not, the car has likely been hit. This is a part that is rarely fully repaired.

Of course cars don’t always hit things with their noses. They can be t-boned or hit from the rear. Your best indication of these other impacts is visible in the gaps.

Gaps on a unit body car can be adjusted, but only a bit. Maybe 1-1/2 to 2mm per gap.

Let’s look at this from the standpoint of a body repair person:

If you were working with a disassembled 911, for instance, you would work forward. That means you would hang the door and set the rear gap first. Doors are adjusted with small shims under the hinges. Of course the door is a fixed component in terms of overall “squareness.” So if a chassis is ’tweaked,’ it may be necessary to have a different number of shims in the upper and lower hinges. This isn’t cause for panic. With the door hung for a proper 3-1/2mm rear gap, the door also should align at the top edge with the top of the quarter panel. That being done, you would look for a uniform gap from the rear edge of the door all along the bottom gap to the rocker area. Those gaps being adjusted, you would move on to mounting the fenders. [a word here about the lateral alignment — the door surface should be flush with the quarter panel and rocker all along the opening. A door can be “canted” in or out at the hinges, but moving the upper front in moves the lower rear ‘out.’ There isn’t a lot of adjustment here and you will learn to easily spot whether that kind of adjustment will match the door to the surrounding panels.]

Fenders on a 911 should be thought of as big springs. They are extremely sensitive to how they are mounted and a good fender on a good car can be put on in such a way that it looks terrible. In assembling a fender to a chassis, you start with a couple bolts through the inner panel flange to the top edge of the door. The bolt diameter is slightly smaller than the hole diameter, so you have the ability to move the fender a bit. You want the top rear of the fender to be at the same height as the cowl. You want the point of the fender to match the inner edge of the a-pillar. With a couple bolts in place, tightened with the fender aligned at the rear, check the gap to the front edge of the door. It should be consistent, but not necessarily the ideal 3-1/2mm gap. You would loosen the couple bolts holding the fender in place and position the fender to an ideal gap. Then tighten the bolts moderately tight, add the remaining bolts on the upper inner flange and under the rear fender ‘points,’ and check the front door gap. its not unusual for it to change, so you may have to loosen bolts and adjust again. Finally, when everything is looking correct, you would install the bolts on the inner rear vertical flange of the fender.

Next, you would install the hood. There are big adjustments possible with the rear hood hinges, so you need to watch carefully to keep edges from touching when you first test-assemble and approach closing the hood. Err on the side of a larger gap. It may take many small adjustments to get the gap from the rear edge of the hood to the cowl correct. And it may be that the hood is sitting too high or too low on one corner or both. Washers or shims solve that. Now for the big reveal. Close the hood — without the hood release plunger in place (Important!). Now you can see if the gaps are consistent from side to side. Adjusting the hood from side to side takes a lot of patience. But once you have it centered, you want to look for gap consistency. It should be the same at the rear, middle and front. If not, the car may have had an unprepared front end collision. Shims in the fender flanges can fix a too-tight gap. Too large a gap is a problem that may require a ‘bench’ like a Celette frame machine. For frame work, all the removable panels have to come back off. so if a car is known to have been hit, you probably want to start out on the frame machine.

Let’s say the gaps are all good around the hood (yay). We’re now moving back to the a-pillar to check the front gap against the vent window frame. This gap should be consistent top to bottom. Often it is not. The adjustment isn’t in the door frame. It’s in the a-pillar. I have found this to be adjustable without putting the car on a frame machine, But it’s not for the faint-hearted. I can advise you if you’re facing this issue.

The engine lid, like the hood, is a telltale part. It is unlikely to be tweaked very far from the original trapezoidal shape. Like the front hood, you start by aligning the lateral gap. Now look at the consistency of the side gaps. Typically, they will be the opposite of each other - e.g., the top on one side will be larger and the lower part of the other side will be larger. This would indicate the car having been hit on one side of the rear. Sometimes there will be larger gaps to the rear on both sides. This would indicate the car was hit rear center and spread the quarter panels apart a bit. Any rear gap inconsistency is not readily adjustable without a bench or cutting and welding. (I have seen people attempt to conceal this type of damage with a fiberglass spoiler that has been shaved and filled to make the gaps consistent, but this is very very rare.)

I have approached the gap discussion from the standpoint of repair because in many cases, we are having to choose cars with prior trauma, and knowing the extent of repair techniques can help eliminate cars from consideration or give an idea of what it will take to make them right.


Is it a bubble?

Best description I've heard of the current market for aircooled Porsches is not exactly pleasant, but dead-on IMO:

    "It's not a bubble, it's a zit. As it pops it expels the bad stuff."

As we've seen, the best air-cooled Porsches are selling in new price territory. But the bulk of what comes to market - especially at the auctions - is weak examples and hastily-flipped pigs.  092316