By on June 27, 2006

Wilkinsonporker.jpgI drive an iconic, high-performance European luxury car.  Well, let me modify that a bit.  I drive an iconic, high-performance European luxury car made in 1983.  And so could you, for the cost of a new Kia.  It’s a Porsche 911SC coupe— a car that’s no longer rare, collectible, fast, luxurious or particularly desirable.  But it is revealing.  A hundred and eighty horsepower!  A  pair of 225/50-16 tires in the rear!  A top speed of 135 mph!  Look out Kia, here I come!  My 25-year-old Porker highlights just how far automobiles have advanced since the time when Koreans were best known for their canine cuisine.       

My SC’s 3.0-liter flat-six originally came with a fuel-injection kludge (before I converted it to carburetors, just to rub in the antiquity).  It boasted an air intake system so convoluted the oxygen entered through the front door, walked upstairs to the guest bedroom, climbed out the window, crawled back in through the kitchen window and then went down to the basement to find the combustion chambers.  The less said about the tangled exhaust and constricted catalytic converters the better.  But hey, it had dual-zone climate control!  

We’re talking two levers that resemble lawnmower throttles, one left and one right.  The levers pull rusty cables that close trapdoors in the exhaust system.  (It’s a favorite path for mice seeking to occupy occasionally-driven Porsches.)  The movement forces air to circulate around the exhaust pipes before entering the cabin.  Bonus!  Any oil that leaks out of the lower cam covers (which seal about as well as a re-corked bottle of Argentinean Merlot) instantly vaporizes and blends with the hot air warming the cabin.  And if the exhaust springs a leak, you die of carbon monoxide poisoning.

The rest of a vintage 911’s cooling/fan/defrost controls remain a mystery– even to people who have owned these cars for decades.  Some levers go left, some right.  I carry a six-inch length of dowel to jam into the fan lever at full displacement, which sometimes seems to bring the windshield defogger to life.  The air conditioning never worked well, and you had to remove and bench-press the crappy compressor to do any minor engine work.  The Germans apparently did their hot-weather testing in Provence.   

And speaking of engine work, every 12,000 miles you had to gap the valves (Stuttgart had yet to discover hydraulic lifters).  If you didn’t, bad things happened.  My friend John Phillips III (Car and Driver scribe par excellence) admitted in a recent e-mail, “I had a 1974 911S whose valves I failed to adjust at the proper interval.  This resulted in a catastrophic engine event in Maumee, Ohio.  I had to leave the car at a gas station, call a cab, ride to the Toledo Airport, rent a car, drive to Columbus, rent a truck and trailer, go pick up the car, drop it at Midwestern Porsche-Audi, and leave it there for two months.”   Amor vincit omnia.

[A Porsche dealer charged the equivalent of changing your Toyota’s timing belt every 12k miles for this trickery.  These days, amid shrieked curses, slowly spreading pools of oil and dripping knuckle-blood, I perform the job myself.  I use a feeler gauge that looks like a laparoscope tool for a prostatectomy.  It beats working for a living.]

The 911 SC’s cruise control consisted of a soup can-size pneumatic cylinder and a Bourdon cable, most likely interchangeable with the one used for the “climate control.”  I threw all that away along with the a/c, so I have no idea how it works.  But I don’t think any electrons are involved.  Did I mention the SC’s road manners?  Probably not, since I spun the car so hard at Lime Rock last month I popped the windshield loose.  People who are serious about making older 911s handle put rods, bars, tubes, straps and welds all over the place in an often vain attempt to make both sides of the car fly in formation.

Had I purchased my SC back in the fall of ’82, it would have set me back about $35k moderately optioned: sunroof, a/c, manual leather seats, lousy Bosch fog lights, an even worse AM/FM Blaupunkt and some other stuff (all of which I’ve sacrificed to the Great God of Lightness).  That’s the equivalent of almost $73,500 in today’s money, or enough cash to buy a brand new, 325hp Porsche 911S (with no options whatsoever).

But what the hell.  Old 911’s respond to tweaking as well as a ’36 Ford flathead.  My heavily-breathed upon example puts out a dynoed 287 hp, and I love it when people ask me if it’s new.  Of course, just about any new car you can name would be faster, safer, more comfortable, more reliable, handle with greater assurance and stop quicker than a stock '83 911SC.  But it wouldn’t be better.

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16 Comments on “Olde School Porker...”

  • avatar
    Sajeev Mehta

    That’s right, it wouldn’t be better. That’s the anthem for vintage car owners, or at least the reason for their insanity. (myself included) Well said!

  • avatar

    My mother’s 1972 SL has a similar HVAC control setup. I’ve never figured out how to operate it.

  • avatar

    That car is still better looking than most of the other bars of soap on wheels out there.

  • avatar
    Stephan Wilkinson

    For anybody interested in how I got a reliable, never-misses-a-beat 287 hp out of a 180-hp SC engine, here are the particulars, all done with the advice and consent of Steve Weiner of Rennsport Sytems. in Portland, Oregon (who happens to be a faithful TTAC reader):

    Bored–i.e. new, bigger cylinder barrels–from 3.0 to nearly 3.4 liters.
    Twin-plugged heads.
    S cams.
    PMO carburetors.
    MSD dual ignition.
    Titanium valve-spring keepers.
    Redline moved from 6,500 to 7,500.
    Headers and Fabspeed “muffler.”
    Billy Boat oil cooler and ducting inside an IROC front air dam/pseudo-bumper.
    And…I forget.

    I probably shouldn’t have said “just about any new car…would be faster…and stop quicker.” My top speed now is 165, and hand-of-God Turbo brakes squeal like, well, a Porker but stop just fine.

    Stephan Wilkinson

  • avatar

    The last sentence implies that any new car would be better than a STOCK 1983 911 SC. OK, back to work everyone.

  • avatar

    Every once in a while I find myself browsing the online classifieds looking at old 944s, and I always think, “Man . . . those prices are pretty low.” Then I remember that I barely know which end of a wrench to scratch myself with.

  • avatar
    Stephan Wilkinson

    Read my book “The Gold-Plated Porsche: How I Spent a Small Fortune on a Used Car, and Other Misadventures” ( and you’ll be heartened to learn that there’s at least one other Porsche rebuilder out there who answers to the same description.

    Stephan Wilkinson

  • avatar
    C. Alan

    Reminds me a bit of my first car: A 1973 Opel Manta.

    I got my drivers permit in the spring of 1989, and my father gave me his 1973 Opel. By that time, Opel had been out of the American market for nearly 10 years, and parts were hard to come by. Lucky for me, my dad was a bit of a car enthusest, and he kept a pair of parts cars tucked away in the back yard.

    As a teenager, I spent may hours teaking that old car. The old ignition system was replaced with an aftermarket mallary system. A dual bore webber carb went on top of the bullet-proof 1.9 liter engine, and a set of rim from a 1980’s vintage firebird topped the car off.

    I did have its problems though. The car was a 4 speed manual, and I learned how to pull an engine to change the through-out bearing, and then learned a lesson about changing ALL the clutch components when you have the bell housing off. Three months later I had to do it all over again when the pressure plates in the clutch failed.

    Looking back, I think my dad knew what he was doing when he gave me the car. I learned to wrench, and I never got a speeding ticket in that car. This was mainly because I was afraid that if I did a lot of speeding, I might break something, and have to spend the week end fixing it.

  • avatar

    I’ll bet the Porsche is quite a bit lighter than a Kia.

    Bob Beamesderfer

  • avatar


    I really enjoyed your book and am happy to read that you’re still enjoying your car. I own a lovely ’86 944 and am currently rebuilding the engine (after a rather nasty failure that involved a hole in a piston).

    Every time I’m feeling a bit down about my project I pick up your book and realize that, for the love of the car, every enthusiast has good days and bad days. The bad, knuckle-busting days make the good, wind-in-the-hair ones even better.

  • avatar

    I gave my wife a copy of your book to read right after I bought my 1981 911SC. She nearly cried!!!

  • avatar

    After I got my real first job in 1997, I bought myself a 74 TR6. A fun little car that had a lot of easy wrenching. (I rebuilt the carbs and the softop…plus the little things that always go wrong.) But I didn’t drive it much because I was always worried about it breaking down, so I sold it a year later to buy an engagement ring.

    The next serious car I bought two years ago: a 91 M5. what a world of difference. The car was built in 01/90 (yes, it’s a 91 MY), making it 16 years old now. But unlike the 911 SC (a car I nearly bought a few years earlier) this thing is plenty modern. 310 hp (335 with a chip) from 3.6l w 7000 RPM redline and it screams over 4k. classic german good looks, albeit very sleeper. interior a bit dated, but driver oriented. only ~1600 were sold in the US, so not nearly as well known as the E39 M5 (10k sold). The best thing about this car is the price: great examples can be had for $15k. that’s bare bones Civic money. 55% are black (like mine) and I think they wear their age the best. Some Euros have been imported with the 3.8l 340 hp engine, but they’re about $7-10k more. The worst part is probably the heavy duty 5 speed which belongs on a Farm-all. Oh, that and $10-15k engine rebuilds, so find one with less than 130k miles and well maintained and with good compression! plenty of enthusiast owned examples on the market, so be picky and you’ll never regret it. can be daily driven, but not a great idea. can be a halfway decent track car (3800 lb).

  • avatar

    “…Koreans were best known for their canine cuisine.”

    Aw c’mon, can’t we avoid the ethnic comments? Professionalism, gentlemen!

  • avatar

    As anachronistic as they are, I cannot think of another car that brings as much motoring pleasure as an old (’69-’89) 911 once you get the hang of driving it. Further, these are one of THE most rugged, durable cars ever produced and if properly built & maintained, are very reasonable to own.

    Now then, when one installs a larger motor in these relatively light cars, you wind up with a power-to-weight ratio that guarantees big “smiles-per-miles”.

    After some modest, well-chosen upgrades, these become a rolling amusement park,..:)

    BTW, Stefan’s 287 HP was measured at the rear wheels,……..

  • avatar

    I see your ’69-’89 911 and call you with a 1970 to 1972 Datsun 240z. Same principles: bullet proof engines, transmissions, and differentials, easy(ier) to work on, light weight, etc.

    Ok, so I am biased (owning a 1972 240z), but I truly appreciate the message.

    My father owned a 1972 911 Targa while we lived in Germany. I can tell you that I never missed an opportunity to drive it when allowed. Steve@Rennsport said it best, “….once you get the hang of driving it.” Yep, once you get familiar with the point at which the tail end wants to become the front end, you really enjoy the basic driving rawness of the car.

  • avatar
    Terry Parkhurst

    The last time I drove an air-cooled Porsche 911 in December of 1994 – internally code-named a 933 – it was more fun than the 1977 model I had driven, without a doubt. But still, the dash and instrument panel was highly reminiscent of both the 1965 and ’66 Volkswagen Beetles I had, as was the sound of that air-cooled engine, when I kicked it to life. The best thing about the ’95 Porsche 993 I drove was it was much less scarey to drive – yes, I know, guys aren’t supposed to admit fear. But having seen Alan Johnson’s wife – he was a four times SCCA winning driver and Porsche dealer in the 1970s – go through a turn at the track outside Holtville, CA; and hit the brakes too hard, with the result of having the tail come completely around and punt an oil barrel into the air, and onto the hood of someone’s car in the pits (no person was hurt), I’ll certainly admit to a healthy respect for the oversteer possibilities of a vintage 911.
    Porsche began to lose my interest, not only when their Public Relations department became much too difficult to work with – getting cars was akin to gleaning the proverbial hen’s teeth – but also when they wanted to be “a luxury sports car” rather than just a sports car. When I first became interested in Porsche, while in high school (circa 1964 through 1968, the Jesuits ran four year schools), Porsches competed with Lotus and MG. By the end of the 1980s, they were running full tilt against the Lamborghini and Ferrari, having exceeded the tired joke that Maserati had become. The Boxster’s appearance in the late 1990s, was a welcome ray of sunshine. Thanks Stephan, for the memories.

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