My 1987 Porsche 911
Was It The Best Porsche Ever Made?
The last of our three daughters was about to graduate from college. Educating youngsters is an important, long and costly proposition. We were happy to do it, and we were equally happy that each was able to earn a degree from a good university and find a job immediately in their chosen fields. But, as parents, it was not without considerable personal sacrifice. Now that the last of our daughters was about to leave the nest and the family payroll, what were we to do with our new found freedom and cash flow. With no college tuition to pay, I was about to receive the largest after-tax pay raise of my career!
I’m a car guy and have been since before I was able to drive. I grew up in the 50s when cars had personalities, character and souls. This was back when you could tell one car from the other. I knew every car on the road, and I could tell you the make, model and year of every car that drove by…sometimes by its sound without even looking. I bought my first car at age seventeen in 1958; it was a 1949 Ford Tudor Sedan. It cost $200, which does not sound like a lot of money today. But, I was only making 75 cents an hour as a part-time grocery clerk at the local Piggley Wiggley store. So I scrimped and saved until I had just enough money to buy the 49. I drove that car throughout high school, but on a fateful day toward the end of my senior year in 1959 an accident, that was not my fault, totaled my beloved first car.
My ambition (or lack thereof) following high school was to get a full time job and buy a nice car, hang with my buddies, cruise the drive-ins and chase girls. Not a bad objective for an 18 year old. I got a good job with Caterpillar Tractor Company as a mail boy. The salary was $78 a week…I was rich! My supervisor told me that the current company President started as a mail boy; that was good enough for me. I planned to work for Caterpillar my whole career and perhaps I too would become president someday! So I bought a gently used 1955 Ford 2-door sedan. Life was large!
About that time Chevy came out with their small block overhead valve V-8, and they were beating the pants off the Fords at the stop light drags. So, after driving the Ford for only a year, I traded for a 1957 Chevrolet 210 2-door post sedan. The 55-57 Chevys were the cars of choice for the younger set back in 1960. I had just gotten a promotion at CAT into the Machine Accounting Department as an IBM sorter operator. My high-tech career path looked good…hot times, hot cars and hot chicks, here I come!
But, my first life reality check came in late 1960 as a recession caused CAT to begin layoffs. I survived several waves of layoffs and many of my buddies in the factory lost their production jobs. As a high-tech, near-white collar employee, I thought I was safe. I got the ax in November 1960, and I realized I was not indispensible after all. During my exit interview, my supervisor, Chuck, gave me some good advice. He said: “Jerry, you’ll get called back someday, but this will go on for the next ten years until you get enough seniority to survive. You’re a smart guy; why don’t you go to college, and then you won’t have to worry about being laid off again.”
That was the best advice I received in my life, and I thank Chuck to this day. So, my best buddy and I enrolled at Southern Illinois University in January 1961, a month before my 20th birthday. You are never too old to learn.
Too make a long story short, I graduated from college, got a much better job, got some good breaks along the way and established myself in a good corporate career. However, those intervening years of career, marriage and family got in the way of my passion for cars. I was so far off the track that I even bought a new 1974 Honda Civic at the height of the gasoline crisis. As a real car guy, I’m embarrassed to even tell you this. Nevertheless, I kept up with the hobby. I subscribed to most of the main stream car magazines. I also subscribed to Hemming Motor News, Hotrodder and other esoteric automobile publications. I liked Auto Week, because I could get a car-fix every week and didn’t have to wait for a monthly publication. I knew all about all the latest automobiles and technology. When people were thinking about a new car, they would come to me for advice, and I would readily give it to them.
Now back to the beginning of my story. After years of self-sacrifice, it was time to reward myself. It was time to buy a really cool car. I had a family hauler, a company car, a kids car, but what I really needed, or wanted, was a sports car…yeah baby! I rationalized that for the price of only one more year of private college tuition, I could buy a really nice, pre-owned European sports car…but, what to buy?
I liked English sports cars like MG, Austin Healy, Triumph, Jaguar, Morgan, but their electrical gremlins and rust problems scared me. I also liked those sexy little Italian cars, especially the Alfa Romero Spider and Giulietta. Alfa was owned by FIAT… talk about electrical problems. FIAT = Fix It Again Tony! I did eventually get a 1992 Alfa Romero 164L as a company car, but that’s another long story. I fanaticized about Ferraris, but the entry cost and the cost of maintenance was way beyond my budget.
Through the process of elimination, my research led me to the German cars. Great engineering, solid design, a reputation for high quality, led me to Porsche. I knew nothing about them, except they had some sort of weird air-cooled engine (where’s the radiator?). As I began reading and researching Porsches, I came across a September 1998 article in Road & Track written by Porsche expert Peter Bohr. The title of the article was: “1984-1989 Porsche 911 Carrera…Are these the best all-around 911s ever built?” I devoured the article, several times, and after reading it, I was convinced the 87-89 Porsche 911 was the car for me! The search began.
I became a member of the Porsche Club of America (PCA); I scoured the ads and haunted the Porsche dealer’s used car inventory. I never do anything halfway; I jump in with both feet! I became obsessed with owning a Porsche…it was me! I wasn’t worried about what people say about Porsche drivers: “They have small weenies, they are snobs, they are rich ass holes, etc.” I knew I had the self-confidence to handle the envious criticism, and after all, I was buying a pre-owned Porsche, not a 100 Grand new one.
My determined search didn’t take long. There were a lot of really good 1987-89 Porsches on the market. Porsche owners are meticulous people. It’s usually their 3rd car and most are only driven on sunny weekends. But, you did have to watch out for the track cars. “Drivers Ed” in the PCA community is the fast and furious set who go to the race track every weekend and drive the wheels off their cars. When the ads says; “Two sets of tires and rims”, be careful. When the ad says: “Never raced or tracked” you need to ask, why would they need to say that?
I eventually ended-up nearly owning three Porsches. I found a very nice 87 911 Carerra Targa at a local private specialty car dealer. The car gleamed and looked like new in the florescent lights of the showroom. It had a few paint flaws around the door edges from the buffing wheel of an over aggressive detailer. I put a $1000 deposit on the car, but I asked the dealer to put in writing that if I had buyer’s remorse within 48 hours, he would give me my money back. He agreed. On the way home, wondering if I made an impetuous decision, I spotted two red Porsches sitting in the used car area of the local Land Rover dealer. I pulled in. Both were 1986 models, one was a turbo and the other was normally aspirated. Both were convertible Cabriolets. A red Porsches convertible, how sharp was that! I could see myself styling around town in it! I took the non-turbo out for a test drive, and ran into a major thunder storm. Fortunately the top was up, and I was very impressed how water tight the top was…the thunder storm was a blessing in disguise. I returned to negotiate with the dealer on price, and learned quickly that there was not much negotiating room on these cars. We made a deal, but first I said: “A man would be crazy to buy a car like this without his wife’s approval…would you give me a 48 hour spouse approval agreement in case my wife disagrees with my purchase.” He readily agreed, and I forked over my second $1000 deposit that day.
I can’t remember exactly how I found it, but there was a luxury sports car dealer about 45 miles away that was advertising a 1987 guards red (are all Porsches red?) 911 Carerra Cabriolet. I called and discussed the car with the salesman, and it sounded like a real nice, low mileage cream puff. He said that there was another guy really interested, so I’d better move quickly if I was interested. Sure, how many times have you heard this story from a used car salesman! But, I only had 48 hours to make a decision on the other two cars, so moving quickly fit my schedule. The next day I drove to the dealership full of anxiety and anticipation. I now “owned” two Porsches, why was I looking at a third. Talk about your buyer’s remorse, l laid awake most of the prior night with anxiety attacks about my hasty purchases. Will they really give me my money back? I was having definite second thoughts about the first car. I did not particularly like the lines of the Targa. The roll bar Targa top really interfered with the smooth lines of the car, and the paint imperfections really started to bug me. I forgot to tell you that I’m a perfectionist. The thing that kept eating at me about the Land Rover dealer’s Porsche was that it was an 86. To the novice, there were no distinguishable differences between the 86, 87, 88, or 89. But according to my expert Peter Bohr's article, the big difference was the transmission. The 87-89 had the improved G-50 transmission. It was a much improved and better synchronized transmission and had a hydraulic clutch unlike the cable clutch of its earlier predecessors. These doubts were really gnawing on me as I made the one-hour drive to Morristown, NJ.
Morristown is a pretty ritzy town, and the foreign car dealership was up to the high end standards of the community. In fact it was called High Marques. The cars were all displayed in a large, well lit indoor show room. It was a candy store for car guys: Porsches, Ferraris, Aston Martins, Bugattis, and more. When I saw the Guards Red 1987 911 Carerra Cabriolets sitting in the middle of the show room, I almost peed my pants. It looked perfect and had only 26,000 miles on the clock! During the test drive, I could tell the clutch was superior to the 86. When I returned to the show room, you all know what is about to happen. I bought the car! I was now potentially the proud owner of three Porsches 911s, or at best $2000 poorer. I tried mightily to negotiate a good deal with the High Marques salesman. The car was priced higher than the others, and after I haggled, pleaded and cried, he reduced the price by a whopping $200 so I could say proudly that I have never paid the full sticker price for any car in my life. All along he was reminding me of that other guy who was due any minute to buy the same car. I arranged to pick up the car the next business day.
On the way back home, I stopped at the Land Rover dealer to tell him my sad story. The wife would not let me buy the car! I wanted my deposit back. After much ridicule, like: “We can see who wears the pants in that family”, he agreed to return my deposit by mail. Happily, within 2-3 days a check for $1000 appeared in my mail box. When I got home, I called the first dealer selling the Targa and told him of my unfortunate bout with buyer’s remorse. He was less than sympathetic, but agreed to honor our agreement. Unfortunately, it took six weeks and several heated and threatening phone calls before my $1000 dollars deposit was eventually returned.
All’s well that ends well. By then I was happily driving my “new” 87 Porsche 911 Carerra Cabriolet. A couple months later, I entered my first PCA Regional Concourse event and won my class. For the next several years, I entered many Regional and Zone PCA concourse events and never came away without winning a 1st, 2nd or 3rd place award. The Zone events were particularly competitive since you were putting your car up against Porsches in your class throughout all the Northeastern state Regions. I participated in three Zone 1 events and placed 2nd at Lake Placid, 2nd in Morristown and 3rd in Princeton. At Regional events I would usually take 1st or 2nd. Concourse is a lot of work (a labor of love) but the down side is that you prepare your car so well, that you don’t want to drive it for fear of getting it dirty.
A final story. My wife’s sister lives in the Detroit area. We had not visited there much over the past fifteen years due to family obligations, so we decided to make the trip. The Woodward Dream Cruise is held annually in the middle of August, so we decided it would be fun to take the pristine 911 to Michigan to show those American muscle car guys what a real car looked like. We were living in NJ, so it was a long one day road trip, but driving the Porsche would make the trip more fun and go faster. As we exited the Indiana Tollway toward Toledo, the Porsche coughed, and while I thought that unusual, the car ran well onto West Bloomfield, Michigan and distinguished itself along Woodward Ave. during the Dream Cruise. At least no one threw rocks at us.
On the way home our luck ran out; we made it as far as the Cleveland area on the Ohio Turnpike, and the car coughed again, but this time the motor stalled, but I was able to pull over safely to the wide shoulder of the Ohio Turnpike. One of Ohio’s Finest, pulled up behind us within minutes, and called for a tow to a Porsche dealer in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio. We spent the night in a Quality Inn, and they worked on the Porsche the next day, but by the end of the day they had not yet diagnosed the problem. While the technicians knew the new cars, they were not as skilled with the older air cooled technology. The service manager was the owner’s daughter. She felt bad that we had to spend a second night in a motel, so she kindly offered that we stay at her father’s home (the dealership’s owner) while he was on vacation on an Alaskan Cruise. Would your local Chevrolet dealer do that? Stunned at the offer, we graciously accepted on the condition that we would take her to dinner that evening. She had other dinner plans with a friend, so I offered to buy them both dinner, and we had a delightful evening. The owner’s beautiful home had a swimming pool and a fantastic automobile memorabilia collection in the garage along with a couple antique Porsches an Audis.
After a restful night and a leisurely morning at the owner’s home, we returned to the dealership in our rental car to pick up the Porsche. It was sitting outside ready to go, but the lady service manager warned us that they are not sure they fixed the problem. They made some minor repairs, and the problem did not repeat, and the car was running well. As a safeguard, she gave us the names and numbers of the Porsche dealers all along our route. It was a nice gesture, but not very comforting.
Past Cleveland we left the Ohio Turnpike and headed southeast on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. We had been traveling well over two hours and our confidence was building that the problem must have been solved, and we would arrive home safely without further incident. The only problem was that it was a very hot day and the air conditioner in the old Porsche was not very effective, so we opened the windows to get some fresh air. Somewhere northeast of Pittsburgh, we came upon a construction zone, and on a long uphill grade surrounded by semi trucks, the Porsche coughed again. I barely got out of the shoulder-less construction zone, and as I was moving to the right hand lane, the so called bullet-proof air cooled Porsche engine stopped again. I coasted to the narrow shoulder of the road as the Porsche came to a standstill unable to restart. My first call on the cell phone was to the nice service manager in Cuyahoga Falls, OH. I told her my plight and my approximate location; there we no signs in sight so I didn’t know exactly where we really were. All I could see was a small mileage marker on the guard rail. She said she would call the nearest Porsche dealer for a tow. Meanwhile, it’s steaming hot in the mid-afternoon August sun as semi trucks whizzed by at 80 mile per hour only feet away from our Porsche. We finally decided that we were in a death trap, and we needed to get away from the car. About a hundred yards up the highway was a pullover, so we walked up to where there was safety and some merciful shade. It’s too bad the old Porsche could not have made it another 100 yards. It was an extremely busy section of the Turnpike, and at least four Pennsylvania State Troopers passed us without stopping. The only thing we got were cat calls and honking as red necks passed by laughing about our misfortune. I told you earlier what many people think of Porsche drivers. Finally, an emergency service truck pulled up, and asked if we needed help. With supreme self-control, I told him that we had already called a Porsche authorized tow service, and they were on the way.
An hour and a half later the tow truck driver called and said he was leaving Pittsburgh and it would take him another 1-1/2 hours to reach us, but he knew about where we were located. Meanwhile, we called Enterprise and told them to bring us a rental car to our location on the Turnpike. Amazingly, three hours after we pulled to the side of the road both the tow truck and the Enterprise rental pulled up at the same time. The driver loaded the Porsche on the flatbed and as he headed south for Pittsburg, we headed east to NJ. As the driver exited the Turnpike, I said to my wife, “I wonder if we’ll ever see that car again?” But, after the adventure we had just been through, I really didn’t care. Perhaps the best ending to the story would be that the insurance company would send me a fat check for a stolen car.
A week later, we picked up the repaired car at a very nice Porsche dealership in downtown Pittsburgh, and the problem was an $80 head temperature sensor which the dealer quickly diagnosed. On the return trip to New Jersey the Porsche performed flawlessly. The dealer added some Freon to the air conditioner and even that worked well.
But, following that incident, the wife swore that she would never ride in that car again, and she was true to her word. While the 87 Porsche still looked like a Concourse Queen, and performed flawlessly for the next year or so, it was never the same in our eyes. When you lose confidence in a car it’s time to get rid of it, which I reluctantly did.
By this time we had retired to North Carolina, and to salve my wounds, I bought a new 2006 Porsche Cayman S and consigned the 911 to the dealer to sell. The dealer placed the older 911 regally in the middle of his showroom among the new Porsches, and about 4 weeks later the 911 sold to a man from Virginia for my asking price. As I arrived at the dealership in Hickory to sign the sales papers and collected my check, I watched the new owner smiling as he drove his new Porsche to the freeway toward Virginia. I have never heard from him or the fate of my first Porsche again, and I often wonder if he ever made it back home.
In answer to the title question: Was the 1987 Porsches 911 the best ever made? I believe that question was rhetorical, and I’ll leave that decision to the reader. Some where else I read that you should always buy the newest Porsche that you can afford. That's my advise too. You won't be disappointed...even when they fail you occasionally, you will always be glad that you own a Porsche.
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