About two months ago, I purchased my fourth new-to-me car in as many years — and I still had two of the previous three. Of those three, one was purchased for adventure (a 1977 Porsche 911S that I drove cross-country and back nine days after purchasing it), one because of nostalgia (a Honda S2000, I bought one new and missed it), and the third due to reputation (an Acura NSX, I had never even driven one before buying this one online). Those reasons must be the foundation for some sort of automotive cardinal sins list.
However, I bought the fourth one because it represented such a good value. It was a 1999 Porsche 911 Carrera with about 146,000 miles. It hadn’t had the IMS bearing replaced, but I figured that with such high mileage it probably wouldn’t have an issue. Is this foreshadowing? The seller was a friend who had owned it for about two years but had purchased a mid-eighties 911 Targa recently and didn’t want the ’99 as a daily driver any longer.
Painted a pretty medium blue, the 996 was equipped with a beige interior and GT3 wheels. It drove well and — except for mediocre clearcoat and worn leather, a ‘check engine’ light that appeared intermittently, and a blown speaker — it was a solid performer. I certainly didn’t need the Porsche (nor did I have the space), but at $8,500, how could I go wrong?
Also, I’ve always been of the opinion that anyone who buys a new [insert shitbox automotive appliance here] is an idiot. I read “You Gotta Be Rich to Own a Cheap Car” and agreed with the article.
“Baruth,” I thought to myself, “you nailed it.” But he missed something important, too. I’ll come back to that in a bit.
My friend and I went for a test drive and then we met up on a Sunday morning for coffee at Deus Ex Machina, in Venice, CA. He signed the title and I signed a check. $8,500 for a Porsche 911. Boom. What’s a Toyota Corolla? I just bought Zuffenhausen’s finest.
On Monday, I called my insurance agent to add the Porsche. “Hmmm. It comes up in my system as a Porsche Boxster.” I frowned. “No, it’s a 911,” I replied.
“Maybe the DMV just has it wrong. But it is a convertible, right?” she asked.
“No, it’s a coupe.”
“Could you go outside and compare the windshield VIN with your title, please?”
Now I was nervous. This was cutting into my valuable automotive journalist cereal-eating time. I walked outside under a bright, blue Los Angeles sky and almost dropped my cereal. The VIN on the title and on the car didn’t match. On closer inspection the title also had the wrong license plate number.
“Let me call you back…”
I called my friend immediately and told him what was going on. He told me that he used to have a 1999 Porsche Boxster that was totaled and that he had probably given the shop that bought it the wrong title.
“Let me call you back…”
After a quick phone call to them, he confirmed this was the case. We met again a few days later to switch titles. The Porsche was now insured, but still not registered.
That was a whole other headache because when my friend gave the shop that bought the wrecked Boxster their half of the title, he mailed his half in that stated that this shop now owned it. Except they didn’t. They owned the 911 because he had mixed them up. Now he’d have to write a letter to the DMV explaining the mix-up. He wrote it promptly and sent it over. In the meantime, I drove the Porsche around enjoying its torquey flat-six, thinking, “Yeah, it’s been a bit aggravating, but it’ll work out. And after all, I got an eighty-five hundred dollar 911!”
A couple of days later, I went out to run some mundane errand. I jumped in the car, fired it up and lowered the windows. Except the driver-side window didn’t drop smoothly. Then, when attempting to roll it back up, it jammed and stopped — crooked, half-way up. I opened the door and tried guiding it.
“I’ll just use the air conditioning.”
(Don’t forget: This is Los Angeles. We don’t have real seasons.)
Air-con is on, let’s go! Oh. What’s this? A warning light. The check engine light came on again. I was used to that one by now, but now the airbag light was on too.
“At least the car was cheap,” I nervously muttered as I released the clutch.
Following all the registration issues, my threshold for nonsense was much decreased. I had now owned the car over three weeks, but had only driven it about a hundred miles. I called my friend again. It’s at this point that I began to suspect that he had realized that he’d sold me the car for far less than he could get from some joker in Cleveland. He offered to buy the car back for what I had paid.
I told him that I’d like to have it checked out, see what the airbag issue was, and that I’d let him know how I wanted to proceed. He graciously offered to pay for the repairs as he didn’t want me to be pissed. I took it to the shop and they called back the following morning.
“There’s an issue with the airbag wiring harness and also, ummm, the car needs a new window regulator.”
“OK… how much will that cost?”
“Well, we also put it on the rack and there are a few other issues… the clutch will need to be replaced within the next 5000 miles and the water pump is leaking pretty badly. Also, the tie-rods are damaged and there are a few cosmetic issues inside the cabin. Oh and…”
“Let me call you back…”
My friend and I met up the following Sunday. I handed him the title and he signed a check. In total, I “owned” the 911 for twenty-six days. The IMS bearing didn’t fail during my ownership stint. There were no hard feelings on either side. He’s happy that he can make more money off of it and I’m happy to be rid of the registration issues and mechanical faults.
Which brings me to what Baruth missed. Being rich or privileged isn’t enough to own a cheap car. All those trust-fund enthusiasts — who can’t believe the masses drive around in $10-15K Camrys, Civics, and Altimas — would do well to realize how fortunate they themselves are. Not simply because they can purchase “cheap” performance cars and feel superior to the poor Versa-driving shmucks (“Man, you don’t know what you’re missing! Just get a cheap sports car…”); but because more than the pure financial cost is the amount of time you have to be able to waste attending to issues that invariably pop up.
How much time did I squander between trying to register the Porsche, buying and selling it back, and taking it to the shop? Please don’t tell me. I’m fine spending some money on cars because you can always earn more, sell something, etc… But my time? That is a limited, decreasing asset and, as a car guy, I’d rather spend mine driving.
POSTSCRIPT: You may have noticed that the accompanying photos are not of a medium blue Porsche 996. No, they’re of a GT Silver 40th anniversary 996. That’s because my friend worried that this article might affect his ability to sell the car and hence didn’t allow me to photograph his car (and I didn’t shoot it while I still owned it). But I didn’t want the story to run with one crappy instagram shot so I turned to the forums where a good Samaritan stepped in.
You’ve got to have eye candy, right?
Yoav Gilad is the Principal and Co-Founder of Screen Cartel, a content and production agency. He also has a personal automotive site dedicated to bringing the thrill and romance of cars and travel to the enthusiast, KeepItWideOpen, which has at least two fans: his mom and his wife. His dad doesn’t care for it. He is a car designer by training and was Petrolicious’s managing editor before branching out on his own.