Thought of the day: are today’s Porsches built to last?

For a car with the lift-off volatility of a NASA rocket and a predilection for turning orange matched only by the brides of My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding, the early 911 has survived in impressive numbers. Now that prices of pre-impact bumper cars in particular have completely lost the plot, investing large sums to keep one on the road makes solid sense. The upshot? Those cars that are still with us are likely to stay with us.

But what does the future hold for Porsches from the modern era? 40 years from now, when we’re flicking through the holographic version of Total 911, will we be drooling over a classified section stuffed full of 996, 997 and 991 Porsches? Or will we still be fixated on that infernal ’73 RS?

There’s no doubt that Porsche is on top of its game right now. The 997 was a brilliant bit of kit, and the 991 more than a match for anything else on the market, bar steering that’s as verbose as Clint Eastwood in full western garb. As quick round the Nordschleife as the previous GT3, and nearly half as economical again as the original 997, the 991 is a testament to Porsche’s engineering excellence.

But could that technical complexity be the 911’s undoing when it comes to longevity? Step back just over two decades, and the 911 Carreras and Turbos leaving showrooms had neither ABS or power steering, despite both having been common on other premium cars for years. Is the relative simplicity of the older cars the key to their continued existence?

Autofarm’s Josh Sadler thinks it is. He’s been fiddling with Porsches since 1971, so he knows his way around classic 911s. But he’s versed in the ways of the newer ones, too, becoming the man to see about the cylinder liner issues and intermediate shaft problems that afflict certain
996 engines. Every generation of 911 has had its foibles, of course – from rust in the early cars to synchro wear in the 915 boxes, top-end bills
on the 3.2, dual-mass flywheel headaches and oil leaks on the 964, the list goes on. But the 996-on cars do seem to have gained a rather unfavourable reputation.

“I think there’s an awareness that these cars aren’t as bulletproof as their predecessors,” says Sadler. “Even though Porsche has improved its quality, that reputation could take ten years to shake off.”

What does the future hold for modern Porsches? Will they have that same 'cool' factor?

The 997 was supposed to be much more reliable, but stories of engine troubles are not unheard of. And these were still relatively simple cars. With their high-pressure direct injection fuel systems and PDK dual clutch gearboxes, the later 997s were even more complicated.

I’m not trying to come across as some kind of luddite, advocating we go around smashing diagnostic machines and campaigning for a return to triple webers. The technology on these new cars is a big contributor to their brilliance. But the complexity of these systems, and the cost of putting them right when they fail (what Sadler refers to as a ‘lifing’ problem) will only shorten the odds of many of these cars being around in 40 years time.

It’s a vicious circle. Even if some of their mechanical woes are over-reported, uncertainty (and chronic over-supply) drives prices down, ultimately to the point where cars with seemingly minor ailments become uneconomical to repair. In the case of a 911, the value of its constituent parts means that point can be reached when the car is still worth thousands of pounds.

Moreover, for Brits there’s the small matter of the Government’s rather muddled system for taxing cars. Pre-’73 cars fall under the VED exemption for historic cars, and everything registered before 2006 currently
costs no more than a bearable £260 to tax. The very latest 991’s eco-credentials mean its disc will actually be cheaper – ignoring the horrendous first year cost – but in between there’s a whole slew of 911s whose right to roam the UK’s roads could cost you £460 every year. A bill like that probably isn’t going to trouble someone looking to buy an 18-month old 911 GTS, but it might make you think twice about buying that same car for £15k a decade from now, particularly if you’re only planning on using the thing infrequently.

But there’s something else to consider. Quite apart from whether the current Porsches are engineered well enough to last 40 years, there’s the matter of whether we’ll want them to last. Without the Steve McQueen connection or a Targa Florio win to their name, do they have that same cool factor as the oldies?

The relative prices of the 993 and 996 suggest that the Porsche-buying population has decided which one is worth saving. Will the latest 991’s more cultured driving experience prevent it, too, from attaining classic status?

“I can’t see values of cars like the ordinary 996 climbing,” says Sadler, acknowledging that the story for special models like the GT3 is a different matter.

Meanwhile, the 997 is already going the same way. This is great news for those of us looking for a brilliant bargain Porsche today, but not so great if future generations are to see what the fuss was about.

There are reasons, however, why many modern Porsches will last. First, because the explosion in reputable specialists over the last 20 years, together with a thriving web community, has made it more affordable than ever to keep a used 911 on the road. Second, because Porsche built so many more of them in the first place, churning out 33,000 of them in 2002, nearly three times the number for 1972. And third, because people like you will always be around to keep the cars alive. But I’d put money on the simplest, purest 911s – manual Coupes on steel brakes, together with cars like the GT3 and RS – being the ones that last the distance.

Thanks to Chris Chilton for his Thought Of The Day

Comments (1)

  • PoGOOD

    For me the complexity of most new cars make them a “transport solution” rather than desire object. I am a fleet manager now and an experienced luxury car salesman with 15 years of experience (BMW, Volvo, Mercedes, own business in high class used cars) and I stopped buying cars for my group of companies. I only lease them and NEVER buy them from the leasing company.
    After 3 years and mileages of 120-180’000 km (70-100K miles) I would not risk their maintenance costs, as they are completely unpredictable.
    That’s why I exchanged a fleet of 18 BMW’s to other brands (mostly Audi) and do not plan to keep them any longer than the leasing deal states. I also buy additional warranty for all of them as I painfully learned how much is it worth in the 3rd or 4th year of service.

    To me the 991’s and last 997’s are same sort of products. Very comfortable, very refined and extremally well sorted, but complicated enough to make even an authorized service mechanics shaking their haeds with words like “we are still searching for the fault sir”…

    Those machines are great when new and during warranty period. Later – they could become undriveable and “unrepairable”. Especially for the tighter budget…