Allow me to introduce myself as the dumbest Porsche enthusiast in the world. I’m the guy who sold a nice 1966 912 for $9,000 a few years back, only to watch it triple in value. The same goes for a 99,000-mile 944 Turbo that I parted with for a pathetic $4,500. That one jumped in value practically the moment I sold it, too.
It never takes long after selling a Porsche for me to get withdrawals, though. My most recent search introduced me to a harsh new reality: The days of cheap classic Porsches are virtually gone! If I wanted to scratch my itch cheaply again, I had to go modern. After months of tire kicking, I took the plunge and bought the cheapest running 911 coupe with a manual transmission I could find for sale in these United States.
To further prove myself as the dumbest Porsche enthusiast in the world, let me detail the reckless abandon I had for my wallet when making this purchase. I found a 1999 911 (996) Carrera with 243,000 miles for $9,500. The car was offered with absolutely no paper service records. While the Carfax report showed it as a one-owner car, there was nothing else to note. Being a cheap idiot and ignoring the old adage “there’s nothing more expensive than a cheap Porsche” I took a used car dealer at his word that the car was in great mechanical condition and sent a deposit sight unseen.
I then flew 1,500 miles to complete the purchase and decided I was qualified enough to do a mechanical inspection myself…despite never having owned a modern 911. Any other Porsche enthusiast would think I am out of my mind.
We’re Not in Kansas Anymore
The car was located in Southern California, which coincided with a business trip I had in the area. I flew from my hometown of Wichita, Kansas to Orange County, California and was picked up by the selling dealer. After a short test drive, my amateur inspection in the dark, and some paperwork, I set off for my two-week-long road trip. At 243,000 miles on the odometer, my Porsche had traveled farther than the distance to the Moon (it’s about 238,900 miles from where you’re at right now to the Earth’s natural satellite, for those of you keeping score at home), so a name for it came easily to me: Apollo 911 (after NASA’s 1969 Apollo 11 manned moon landing).
Despite the lunacy of my purchase, the car turned out to be fantastic to drive! The drivetrain felt strong, the suspension felt tight, and every electronic gadget and gizmo worked. For the first week of my trip, the car performed flawlessly. I was so proud that I announced my purchase to fellow enthusiasts on the internet. The problem was, they all collectively pointed and laughed.
While classic air-cooled 911s are generally known for their longevity, the water-cooled 996-generation 911s do not have a particularly good reputation. The lunar mileage on my car was practically unheard of for a 996, and my fellow enthusiasts thought I had drastically overpaid for a car that (they thought) had to be near death. Other than my own seat-of-the-pants feel, I had no solid data to back my claim that the car was sound. I took it as a challenge to prove them wrong.
My first test to defend the honor of Apollo 911 was a run on a chassis dynamometer to see how much power it’s making. Originally, the car’s 3.4-liter flat six came from the factory with 296 horsepower at the crankshaft. The dyno reading would be lower, however, since it measured horsepower at the wheels. As the power is transferred through the drivetrain, some loss due to friction is normal. While I couldn’t find any hard figures on exact wheel horsepower readings, owners with fresh engines in these cars were reporting around 240 horsepower at the wheels.
Porsche’s specifications state that the engine creates peak horsepower at 6,800 rpm. The redline on the car shows somewhere just north of 7,000 rpm. So in order to get the highest reading possible, I needed to really wind out the engine. This was a terrifying prospect considering the car was essentially still a stranger to me.
The dyno shop I used would not allow me to pilot Apollo 911 for this dangerous mission. Instead, the job was given to one of their mechanics and I was permitted to watch from the passenger seat. I gave specific instructions to run the car up to 6,800 rpm. Since Porsche said that’s where peak power was achieved, there was no reason to hold the car any closer to the redline than necessary.
The mechanic acknowledged my instructions, hooked the car up to the dyno machine, and we started our first run. He ran the car through the gears and the rolling road began to whine under the tires as he shifted into fourth gear. With my butt clenched in terror, he hammered the throttle and Apollo 911 roared its way to 6,800 rpm. With the speedometer reading over 120 miles per hour, the mechanic lifted off the throttle and the car coasted to a stop. Apollo 911 survived!
The result was a respectable 235 horsepower. Considering 240 horsepower was reported with fresh engines, only losing 5 horsepower after 243,000 miles was a very respectable result. But the mechanic said Apollo 911 could do more. At 6,800 rpm, the engine was still building power! If I allowed him to take it all the way to redline, I could see the car’s true potential.
Smarter people than myself would probably accept the result from the initial test, but remember, I am the dumbest Porsche enthusiast in the world. I had to see what this interstellar-mile engine was capable of. Again, I took the co-pilot seat and witnessed with an even more tightly clenched butt as the engine screamed to redline. This time the computer reported back 239.7 horsepower. I was thrilled!
Having proven some internet naysayers wrong, with no ill effect to my car, I finished my business trip in California and returned to Kansas. The next challenge came at my hometown mechanic’s shop.
PPI: Post-Purchase Inspection?
My mechanic is a very particular man who really knows his Porsches, and…he was quick to laugh in my face when I told him about my purchase.
I brought the car in for a service and thorough inspection, including a compression test. The inspection proved to be astounding. Other than a slight lip on the brake rotors, and front shocks that need replacing sooner than later, everything else looked virtually as good as new. He remarked the car was in better condition than a 996 with 30,000 miles he was wrenching on last week. There was not a hint of anything leaking and everything was up to spec right down to a clean air filter.
The compression test was done cold, and with a drained battery. This probably led to the lower readings of around 135 psi, but all the cylinders read within 10 percent of each other. My mechanic said this was a good result overall. But my car’s clean bill of health left me curious. Is it possible the engine had been rebuilt at some point? I had zero service records to know, but I had a few clues.
The first clue was Apollo 911’s title, which showed that it’s a real-deal one-owner car. It was delivered in the fall of 1998, meaning it was a very early production car. Through some online searching, I discovered these early production cars got a dual-row intermediate shaft (IMS) bearing. The IMS bearing is probably the main issue that gives 911s from this era such a horrible reputation. At any moment, with little warning, this bearing can fail and turn the engine into a very expensive boat anchor.
But the dual-row bearing IMS in the 1999 996’s engine has a reputation for having a lower failure rate (2000-2005 996 engines got reputedly less reliable single-row IMS bearings). That being said, I found a sticker in the owner’s manual pouch that indicated that my car got a replacement IMS bearing at some point. When I dug a little deeper, I found another IMS replacement sticker.
The Carfax report did not show many service records over the last decade, meaning the car was serviced at an independent shop. But the car did have a license plate frame from a garage in Manhattan Beach, California. With my curiosity piqued, I called the shop hoping to get the full story.
The owner of the shop was a very affable man and knew the car well. He had wrenched on the car for over a decade. They had indeed done the IMS bearing… twice. It was replaced once around 100,000 miles and again somewhere above 200,000 miles. Since they were doing a clutch job, the thought was: Why not do it again? He described the car as “a cockroach that would never die,” and he ate his own words when he recommended that the original owner should sell it before it gets worn out over 100,000 miles ago. I was told that a need for a more spacious back seat was the primary motivation before trading the car in for an Audi.
Feeling even more validated, I decided to do one last challenge to prove Apollo 911’s vitality.
The drag strip was another easy way to see how this car stacked up to its original performance numbers. The quarter-mile time reported back when the car was new was 13.2 seconds. There was one challenge reaching this number, and it had nothing to do with the car. Rather, it was the idiot driver. I had only done passes down a drag strip once before, and that was in a Pontiac Trans Am…with an automatic transmission.
At the track with the Porsche, I knew just enough to not look like a complete moron, but I was still totally clueless. Surrounded by muscle cars with deafening exhausts, I went along with what the others were doing. But I still wasn’t sure of what I was doing. Did I need a helmet? Should I be checking something like my tire pressures? Should I do a burnout before to warm up the tires like the rest of them? I had no idea.
When the time came for my first run in the 996, I was rusty on the “Christmas tree” light system telling you when to go. I completely missed the launch, watching as the muscle car in the other lane sped away. They were kind enough to reset the lights for me, and the operator gave me a wave this time when I was supposed to go.
With no fear of failure, I wound the 996’s engine out to the redline in each gear and shifted as hard as I could. I crossed the finish line in third gear, with the engine screaming near redline, at a speed of over 100 miles per hour. After the run, I couldn’t help but apologize to my poor car. It had probably never taken a beating quite like that before.
For my second run, I chugged the launch, and the third run, I savagely bounced the engine off the rev limiter. Pilot error was the theme of the day. Apollo 911 took its lumps and desperately wanted to prove itself, but I was the weakest link.
After three runs, and my nerves shot, I decided to call it a day. My first run, when I was not overthinking things, turned out to be the best. Although my reaction time was a pathetic one second, once I got moving, I managed a 14.0-second quarter mile at 101 mph. Being less than a second off of what was reported when the car was fresh off the assembly line, I was still pleased with the result. Without the dumbest Porsche enthusiast in the world behind the wheel, I bet at least half a second could be shaved off.
Overall, I was pretty lucky with this purchase. Since I took the plunge, I haven’t encountered any real problems. In fact, I’ve actually developed a deep bond with this car. As such, I have no plans to turn this one loose. But if history repeats itself and I do sell, 996 owners will rejoice as their cars instantly triple in value!
For the moment, these cars remain the best value in Porsche 911 ownership out there. Based on my experience, they certainly don’t deserve the maligned reputation, and can still bring you the same smiles and thrills as the classics, but at a small fraction of the price.