A few days ago I breathlessly described the highlights of old Porsche ownership – the immersive driving experience, the camaraderie among like-minded enthusiasts, and the opportunity to meet people through sharing the fun with others. In a cliffhanger, I also hinted that there were some downsides to driving that type of car everyday… of course it’s not always halcyon days of empty roads and spirited drives. I made that intimation for two reasons: Sometimes the car can grate on the nerves of even its biggest apologist, whereas the remainder of the time it’s broken, with that same apologist’s wallet in peril.
Aficionados of schadenfreude, tune in now for The Lows:
On any trip of more than an hour or so, I begin to reconsider some of the performance-related modifications I’ve enacted with the intention of enhancing the driving experience. The ridiculously loud exhaust makes it difficult to hear the primitive stereo or conduct phone calls, especially in concert with the drilled airbox and deletion of the engine sound-deadening pad. In addition to the amplified noise, the nearly solid engine mounts transmit more vibration and harshness back to the controls, as do the short shifter and shift rod that mimic the hardware in the RennSport version of the 993, a car which was not offered for American consumption. The suspension manages to transmit every surface imperfection to the passengers, prompting concern from companions when passing over something as innocuous as a cat’s eye. Emerging from the car with hearing damage and pummeled kidneys isn’t necessarily desirable, I’ll assure you. Fortunately I’ve been able to amortize the $2,000 or so outlay for these mods over many miles of grimaces.
I had an independent, air-cooled specialist wrench perform a pre-purchase inspection before I bought the car in February 2012, and he uncovered the typical niggles that are to be expected on nearly 20-year old Porsches. Having already made up my mind to buy the car unless the PPI uncovered something severe, I bought it and assumed that the previous owner’s deferred maintenance, as well as the inevitable exciting surprises to come, would be manageable.
One of the car’s “charming” traits stems from the operation of its three oil gauges, which require constant observational vigilance. As a consequence of the dry sump system, the oil level gauge only provides meaningful information when the car is fully warmed-up and idling for a period of time on level ground. The first weekend I had the car I noticed that the oil gauge wasn’t responding even after performing the necessary séance, so I added a quart of Mobil 1 after overcoming heart palpitations. Unbeknownst to me, sometime in the car’s prior life the original oil filler cap had been replaced with one that didn’t fit very well, so I failed to secure it after adding the lubricating elixir. After a few miles it was obvious that I was going straight to the mechanic – do not pass GO, but do give up $500 to clean oil out of the intake.
Shortly thereafter I was driving to the IndyCar race at Barber Motorsports Park in early April with my dad, when we realized that the cabin had gotten pretty stifling. It wasn’t just our hot air – the air conditioning had given up the ghost, and it wasn’t even summer yet. I had the unit “recharged” for a bargain $300, and I was once more able to arrive at work without my suit superglued to my back by perspiration.
Less than six months later the original clutch was on its last legs at around 94,000 miles, a trivial fact that apparently didn’t warrant a mention during the PPI. The drivetrain layout of the car necessitates invasive surgery to perform otherwise routine maintenance, so out came the engine and the transmission to install the new clutch, pressure plate, and flywheel, as well as to remedy some “while you’re in there” items. I chose to splurge for the lightweight assembly from the forbidden fruit basket of the RS, which facilitates easier rev-matching at the expense of even more noise, vibration, and harshness at idle and low revs. Only two weeks and $3,500 later I was back on the road. And it was a good thing I was back on the road, since I needed to go straight to the tire shop. The previous owner had favored cheap tires that howled and rode like hell, but I insisted on some of the finest Michelins money could buy. For only $1,500 I had four new Pilot Super Sports and an “aggressive” alignment.
Not long after that I noticed that the air conditioning had once again shirked its duties, and I had the pleasure of paying about $600 dollars to replace the mixing flaps that control the primitive HVAC system’s operation. I could deal with the absence of cool air during autumn and winter, but the mixing flaps had failed in a position that forced hotter than ambient air from the engine into the cabin, even with all vents closed off, so that had to be rectified posthaste.
At age 23 I thought I’d outgrown Christmas surprises, but I walked outside my parents’ house one morning during that hazy gloaming between Christmas and New Year’s to discover a flat rear tire, courtesy of some roadside debris. I had to get two new rear tires right away in order to participate in the NYE 993 mountain run. It must have been a Christmas miracle, as they only cost me $750. The mountain run itself was not without calamity, as we passed over a few relatively high altitude “gaps” (Appalachian-speak for “pass”) that Georgia’s helpful DOT had littered with gravel to alleviate freezing, and nearly all of our Porsches managed to pick up paint and windshield chips. Apparently they call that “patina.”
The next month I was headed back to Atlanta after completing a solo loop of some mountain roads. I returned to my car after pumping some gas, but when I turned the key … nothing. I had a broken drive belt, but felt fortunate to be less than a mile away from one of the two Atlanta-area Porsche dealers, so I called the service department. It was just before noon on a Saturday, but they couldn’t get around to helping me until sometime the next week. I had the car transported to their competitor, whose service department was far more accommodating. Only $350 later, I was once more behind the wheel of my car.
One afternoon this April I was out for a drive around Atlanta when I noticed the car’s rear end squirming quite a bit. I stopped to check the tire pressures and noticed that I had a flat rear tire. I called my unemployed writer friend Doug DeMuro to see about hitching a lift; he helpfully replied, “I thought I saw your car in Midtown, yeah your rear tire looked low. Good luck!” Cue four more Michelins and another $1,500 vaporized, as the front tires were pretty bald by that point. That’s not the end of the tire saga – I was leaving work recently and drove through a massive pothole in my office’s entryway, which damaged a rim and forced me to purchase a new rear tire, a snip at only $950.
To bring this tale of financial woe up to date, my car recently received new front brakes, which cost me about $1,100. These aren’t the only expenses incurred during my ownership, as the car costs a fortune to insure, and the gas mileage is abysmal.
While my Porsche slumbered at the dealership a few miles away, I was driving a Dodge Avenger from the Enterprise fleet. Although 993 maintenance has been somewhat, uh, spendy I swear that I will never again complain about the staggering expenses outlined above as long as I’m assured that I won’t have to sit inside a Dodge Avenger again.
David Walton grew up in the North Georgia mountains before moving to Virginia to study Economics, Classics, and Natural Light at Washington and Lee University. Post-graduation, he returned to his home state to work in the financial services industry in Atlanta. A lifelong automotive enthusiast, particular interests include (old) Porsches and sports car racing.