Thought of the day: 911 running costs

Cost of ownership is a fact of life with any Porsche. Routine service costs on recent 911s may be comparable with, dare we say, more ordinary cars, but as the 911 gets older, additional costs inevitably appear and the owner finds he has to dig deeper into his pocket than perhaps he ever intended.

Of course you have to pay to look after the legend and plenty of us find that is just what we are doing. After all, can you name any other mass-produced 20-year-old car that has clocked up 150,000 miles yet still manages daily use, almost 150mph and acceleration to 100mph in well under 20 seconds?

Nevertheless, I winced recently as I signed the bill for my 993 after a 24,000-mile service. Yet I knew beforehand what I was in for; the (probably original) clutch was well past its replace-by date and that task alone represents a lot of workshop hours. And there’s usually an oil leak somewhere to fix.

In fact, my invoice was pretty trivial compared with a couple of other 911s in for service; a 964 which had not turned a wheel for four years would land its proprietor with a five-figure sum, and a forlorn 993 Turbo awaited two new turbochargers at £2,000 each plus a daunting list of other repairs.

Home again, I sought out the file of invoices my son inherited when he bought his 1989 3.2 Carrera a couple of years ago. An unblemished record of nine years’ OPC service stamps was unfortunately not accompanied by invoices, but in the next decade, the assorted documents showed that a spectacular £34,000 was spent by three owners. In 1998-9, the Carrera’s third keeper paid over £8,000 to Ruf Automobiles GB in Weybridge for little more than routine maintenance and wear-and-tear work. Despite the willingness of this gentleman to open his chequebook, it was evidently not enough to save Ruf’s UK agent, for the next item in the file is a rather sad letter from Ruf GB announcing the closure of the business.

A few years on, owner number five spent £6,000 respraying the body and replacing rusted wings before parting with the car 12 months later for barely twice that sum. These stories are far from being exceptions.

My colleague John Boggiano is happily now reunited with his Guards Red 964 after a trial separation. Always a meticulous owner, he discovered, as he has described, that a comprehensive renewal of bushing, bolts, stays and the other unglamorous underside componentry of a 911 generated a considerable four-figure bill; locating the necessary bits kept his car off the road for a couple of months, too. And that was before his gearbox gave up the ghost…

If, flicking through this magazine, you have ever wondered why there seem to be so many suppliers of Porsche parts it is because the world is full of 911 owners, some of whom are evidently prepared to spend a major part of their income to keep their pride and joy; the £1,200 I have averaged on the 993 over five years is probably not even par for the course.

But if Porsches are unique among mass production cars in that 70 per cent of all those made still exist (with all that entails in terms of running costs), will it continue ad infinitum? Ubiquity has certainly damaged the image of the 996; low pricing is encouraging some enterprising types to upgrade or fundamentally refurbish their 996s for less than their initial outlay on the car. A popular feature in Total 911 a year ago described the rescue of a non-running 996 purchased for £12,000 and transformed into virtually a new Porsche for less than that purchase price.

So if the Porsche parts aftermarket might appear secure as a career path for a while yet, in the long term, nothing is guaranteed. The switch to the 986/996 platform removed a lot of the ‘handbuilt’ charm of the marque in the eyes of many enthusiasts and Porsche has churned out 997s at twice the
build rate of the 993. Will diminished exclusivity mean that fewer of us will want to keep these Porsches on the road in
their third decade?

The market for customising, which has only ever affected a relatively small proportion of 911s, will always be there, but in 15 years’ time, will there be cohorts of us ready to spend a couple of grand a year to keep 3.4-litre 996s on the road? What impact is VW ownership going to have on 911s – will the 997 and its successor be seen as the last cars in the Porsche tradition?

I believe the decisive factor may well be something a lot more mundane. Already the first RS Spyders, which Porsche built to maintain a winning presence on the North American racing scene, are being wheeled into the museum, but they will never race again in historic competition as the 917 does because the electronic componentry they use will be obsolete and irreplaceable in less than a decade. I fear one day this may be the fate of all cars beyond a certain level of sophistication. Of course, the aftermarket may come to the rescue, but software geekery as well as craftsmanship and the ability to remould plastic components will be needed and I wonder whether in 2030 the same numbers of people will still be as interested.

The message for now is completely unoriginal, but still just as valid; keep enjoying your 911 and keep looking after it.

Thanks to Kieron Fennelly for his thought of the day.

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