My work on court and legal valuations for classic cars and motorcycles has been busy all through the UK coronavirus lockdown and I’ve added more miles to the Honda Civic Tourer. Now that conditions have eased a bit, it’s easier to get out and about for private clients. I did my first private job of the month last weekend: an inspection on a 1988 Porsche 911 3.2 Carrera for sale.
The car was for sale down near Reading. Under the care of the present owner for almost ten years and showing pretty high mileage for one of these cars, the ad was not the most flattering I have seen. I was expecting a cheap car run on a budget and a fairly quick inspection fail.
I met the prospective buyer on site and things began to warm up as we entered the property. The location was a dream when buying privately: an immaculate house in an affluent area and unlikely that this car had been run on a budget. The seller was friendly and amenable and let us get on with it.
Classic Car Market and Coronavirus
There is a much chatter right now about about how the market is depressed and prices are about to crash. This does not tally with my view of things in recent weeks. Most people who have money tied up in cars are old enough to realise that all crises create opportunities. If a close brush with coronavirus means a shift in life goals and long-term plans for a classic Porsche owner and results in a car being offered to market, this increases opportunities to buy, but that potential effect has not yet kicked in. For now, impact bumper cars remain in short supply with no shortage of buyers.
The notion of a slow market has a knock-on effect for those wishing to upgrade. The seller of this 3.2 had his eye on a 996 GT3, as that is closer in character to the cars in his regular touring group. Lockdown meant that he had more time to throw at the search, but wanted to be sure of a sale on the 3.2 before starting looking in earnest.
This created opportunities on both sides: seller already checked out of the 3.2 and mindful of the opportunity that cash in his wallet would create for his next purchase and a buyer who had been to see several 3.2s but missed them by hours as the busy market around these cars outpaced him. If my inspection went well, we were in very good shape for a deal.
How to inspect an Impact-Bumper Porsche 911
I only carry out inspections on Impact Bumper 911s. I know these cars very well and enough of them change hands in the UK to keep me as busy as I want to be. There is a very simple procedure to follow to get a good idea of condition pretty quickly. Make a list of any areas to follow up as you go along, so you don’t forget later.
While the mechanical side of any purchase is important, and of course we want to check that the car is not two cars welded together, rust is the main concern, so that is what to focus on looking for. I always bring a small magnet along to help me with this job, as magnets do not stick to body filler.
Looking for rust
Starting with a quick walk around the car, check for obvious rust in the front wings, scuttle panel and windscreen corners. Doors do not usually rust on later impact-bumper 911s, but check them for signs of paint or repairs. If the doors are open, check the latch panels with your eyes and your magnet. Note the smell when you open the doors (see below).
This is a critical area on these cars: the intersection of the latch panel by lower rear corner of the door and the rear quarter panel. All impact bumper 911s rust here and it is unusual to find no repairs in the kidney bowl/sill area at this stage of a car’s life. Any rust here – however small – can signify a sizeable incoming repair bill.
Moving on from the kidney bowls, check the rear wings under the windows, looking for filler here in front of the rear wheel, look around the rear lights as this is often filled on a very rusty car. Check the tail is secure and check the rear panels for any damage. Check for corroded bumper ends as the aluminium bumpers need special treatment and new paint to correct this.
With the car open, pull the bonnet and prop the front lid open if the bonnet struts don’t work – does the owner have a pole under the front for this purpose? Check the chassis number against the log book – it should of course be unmessed with.
Set a rug or blanket on the ground and pull everything out: carpets, tools and spare wheel. Check for rust slowly and carefully. Fuel tanks rust along the seams, inner wings rust along the tops by the front wing mounting bolts, bumper mounts rust in the front lower corners, battery trays can show some signs of rust, front pans/tank supports rust also. Also be mindful of crash repairs.
Check the wiring here – pull the fusebox cover and check for any new fuses. Note what circuit/s they are on, as you will tie this back into service history later. Finish up front and move to the cabin.
Open the door and immediately notice the smell – is it damp? Musty? Or does it smell like an old Porsche? If you don’t know what an old Porsche smells like, put your head in the door pockets and breathe in. They do not tend to get damp, so keep the right smell for years.
What you are looking for is the tell-tale smell of a car that has lived outdoors or been used in all weathers and been damp for a while as a result. Window seals shrink and allow water in over time and this finds its way into the thick carpet underfelts, causing all sorts of issue with trim. A car that has been damp inside for years needs extra attention. This car was fresh inside so we could get on with it.
Next, fold down the rear seat backs. This usually shows the original colour of the carpets (how faded are they? Will you change them?) and also points at how the car has been used. You can also see whether the car has three-point rear belts (desirable and only on later 3.2s). Check the condition here – again look for damp and mould. Check the heated rear screen elements are not damaged. Check the rear parcel shelf is not warped due to damp. Check rear speaker cones are not falling apart due to damp.
You are not looking for speaker condition here: you are looking for signs of water and damp that has been sitting on the rear parcel shelf and possibly causing rust in the firewall. This is particularly important on SCs and earlier.
Finish in the back and move to the front of the cabin. Check the seats – seat cushion splits are common on impact-bumper cars as the material dries out. Some materials are no longer available. Bolster repairs to cloth, vinyl and leather seats are expensive and particularly so on high mileage cars with body-colour piping like this 3.2, which had quite a bit of wear to the linen leather on the driver’s seat.
On electric seats, check the buttons are all there and that the motors all work. Check heated seats work. Sit into the car, check a leather dash for any damage (expensive to fix), note if it is a plastic dash. Check the wheel for splits, current or impending, or any loose stitching. Check condition of the gear lever – is it original? Note the radio – is it old/new? Does it have an aux input? Will you keep it or sell it? Add it to notes on potential spend.
Kneel by the driver’s seat and look up under the dash: how tidy is the wiring? Anything jammed in and secured with lots of tape? Check the pedals: any side-to-side play? Does the carpet show signs of the throttle pedal regularly being pushed hard into it? You are checking several things here – potential for wear in throttle bushes and swivels (common on SC and earlier), saggy carpets hampering performance and of course a driver who likes to drive a car hard.
Swap sides and check the glovebox. Pull out any CDs and note what is left. Check for fuses – any new ones here same as new ones in the fusebox? Is there a spare DME relay for 3.2s? Any notes for breakdown companies or bits of paper for European recovery? You would be amazed at the things I have found in gloveboxes over the years that have later saved thousands of pounds in negotiations.
There is normally no need to check floors on later IBs but do check early cars. The floor carpets should lift out easily. If they are glued down, then ring some big warning bells in your head and stop there. You need to look at this car a lot closer and preferably on a ramp.
Assuming we are still good, pull the engine cover release and move to the rear. Lift any rear wiper off the glass (rear wiper is desirable in UK) and lift the engine cover. Look for rust around the edges and underside. Look for damage to the rear panel. Look for damage to the rear reflector.
Now the engine. First job is to check that the engine number matches the paperwork and that it has not been tampered with. Now look for evidence of rodents – droppings, bits of paper being dragged into the bay, damage to the engine bay sound pad etc. Rodents love to hibernate under engine shrounds of 911s that have slept in garages from October to March and their nests can block cylinder fins. It can be a serious issue, not just in the UK.
Using a torch, look all over the top of the engine for damage, fluid leaks, obvious signs of recent wiping. Is it hot or cold? Has the owner started it before you arrived? This car was warm but not hot. The engine bay was in good condition as the car had a top end rebuild within the last 5k miles. Although the engine had been out, the sound pad had not been replaced while space allowed and the bay had not seemingly been steam cleaned – that was a bit disappointing.
Check for damage to the chassis rails in the engine bay. What oil filter is used? The red Porsche filter is OK, but the Knecht OC54 filter is perhaps the best one and a specialist mechanic would know this.
Now we have been through what can easily be seen, it is time to check underneath. Ideally you will jack the car up and support it on stands, but an owner may not permit it. Call this another flag but be mindful of how you would feel if it was your car. Either way, it is an idea to have some bits of wood that the car can be driven up on to allow you to slide underneath.
There is a lot to look at under a 911, but some important areas to check include front pan, leading edges of floors, jacking points (3.2), rear anti-roll bar mounts (most cars) and floors around jacking point (all cars). Put your hands into the rear arches and check the fronts of the kidney bowls, full door latch panel, rear of carbon canister (3.2), underside of window edges and all along the rear seam to engine bay. Dig into any waxoyl to try to find flaky bits. Put your hands into the front arches and check for rust along the top seam to front wings (all cars).
When you are done with the rust check, check the oil system. Any kinks in oil lines? Are the lines secure front to rear? Has the thermostat been messed with? Is it secure? Now leaks – check for leaks or suspiciously clean sections of oil lines. Look for rust in the lines and connectors.
Now the engine underside. Here we check for black spots on heat exchangers and exhaust joins denoting leaks. Check around the base of cylinders for oil leaks. Check rocker covers for leaks: early mag covers can warp. Check the heater flapper boxes fully open and close – these love to rust and are a pig to change. Check condition of all hoses. Really just be slow and methodical and check everything you can see. Rusty tinware is a big deal – these parts are also pricey.
If you can jack it up and get the wheels off the ground, chock the car and release the handbrake. Spin each wheel to see if the calipers stick. Note the condition of the tyres and their dates, note the condition of the wheels – Fuchs should retain their original anodising. Repairing damaged wheels is very expensive. Good tyres are a must. Check for lips on brake disc edges. Check driveshaft gaiters and other rubber parts front and rear.
Now we’re getting to engine start time. Sit in driver’s seat, push the clutch down and hold it (is the pedal stiff or heavy?). Turn the key to the ignition position – any noises? All lights on? Engage the starter and listen for noises – the engine should fire first turn. Note any immobiliser procedures here. You may want to delete the immobiliser after you buy a car.
After the engine fires up, slowly release the clutch. Some drivetrain noise is normal – especially on early cars – but it should not be very loud. Look at the oil pressure gauge – what does it read and is it steady? Allow the warmup to continue and step out of the car and look and listen in the engine bay.
Here we are looking for leaks, smoke, smelling for burning and listening for unhappy mechanical noises. Work the throttle a little – does it rev quickly and settle back down to the same happy idle? Or is it a bit lumpy? Slow to settle? On an SC or earlier, what do the throttle swivel bushes feel like? Sign of good maintenance by someone who knows air-cooled 911s. Not all service history is the same.
We’re getting close to test drive time, but there are still a few more things we can check. Work the clutch a little more and select the gears one by one. They should all be found fairly easily. Check the gauges are moving – we’re ignoring the oil level gauge for the minute. Turn the sidelights on – they should all work including the numberplate lights. Check the indicators all work. Check the mirrors adjust. Check the sunroof works. Check the windows work. Check the wipers and washers (including the rear wiper if fitted).
Turn the heater fan on to max, set the levers to demist and check there is heat coming to the front windscreen at a reasonable rate. 911s have a lousy air blower, but you should still feel the heat here. Now turn the heat off and the air should quickly cool down and be no warmer than ambient. We want to check the heater boxes are coming on and off. Anything other than heat/no heat in the right places needs checking out as this system is pricey to repair if blowers or heat boxes are an issue. Check the A/C if fitted.
On the test drive
Now we drive. Check the seat belts for no fraying and an easy action to the inertia reel. Set your mirrors to suit. Engage first gear and pull off. Once you’re out on the road, you’re checking steering feel and listening for any noises/clunks from suspension. Ask a chatty seller to stop talking while you concentrate. Gears should all work well – go up and down through 1-2-3. Synchros are important to check on 915 cars.
We may have already checked brakes not binding but what do they feel like on the move? There should be good braking from cold. The front should pull up in a straight line, no pulling one way or another. The car should roll to a halt – not a sudden sticky ‘jerk’ at the end to denote a seized caliper. The tyres may be flat spotted if the car has sat in storage for a while – factor that into your post-purchase budget.
The drive can all be in the lower three gears; one does not need to drive far or fast. Try engaging fourth and fith just to check them. On returning back to base, leave the engine running and check the oil. Remove the oil filler cap and the revs should fall a bit. Take the dipstick out and give it a wipe. Put it back in, remove it and read the back – the marks are clearly shown. 2/3rds is the ideal level for a 911 and the oil should be clean. An oil change will take at least 11 litres on a 3.2 and the oil alone will cost £100 if bought from a specialist.
Again check for smoke, leaks, put your hand on the centre of each wheel and feel if one is warmer than others (brake issues). Have a look around the car again before switching off the engine. Assuming things are still all good, it is now time to check the paperwork and look back at your notes before considering an offer and starting negotiations.
After the drive and doing a deal
This car checked out very well. It had an excellent service history with two very good specialists, plenty of bills from recommended parts sources such as Type 911 and the relative positions of buyer and seller were very encouraging. I found a few spots of corrosion and several other minor issues which I advised the buyer on resolving but the car was a solid example overall. The main thing was the car was honest, from an apparently good home with excellent history and with nothing untoward for the year and mileage.
I was happy to help a little with negotiation before leaving the final settlement to both parties. The net result was a deal done on the day, car paid for and driven home by a delighted new owner. That is definitely how to do it at the minute – low supply of honest RHD examples with proper history mean that buyers should not hang around when a nice car presents itself.