Guest contributor: David R. on his 1984 Porsche 911 Carrera 3.2
If you had to put pen to paper and compose thoughts into words, what would you say makes an aircooled Porsche 911 so desirable? Over the course of the following interview, David R., the owner of the 1984 Porsche 911 Carrera 3.2 you see above, puts forth about as compelling a case for one of these cars as any we’ve ever heard. If you read on, you may find yourself wanting one more than ever. You’ve been warned.
MCB: Why the 911?
DR: It’s an iconic shape, an unforgettable driving experience, and is beautifully made. I also wanted to learn how to drive a rear-engine car properly.
MCB: Were you looking for a Carrera 3.2 specifically or had you also considered other 911s?
DR: I wanted the raw feel of an older 911 in a car I could use frequently. In practice that meant something with good rustproofing (post-’76 cars are galvanized), that was reliable, and without a sunroof for enough headroom. My 911 is a European-spec 3.2, with a higher compression motor, chip, and a nice open headers/muffler set mounted by the previous owner.
MCB: What’s it like to own?
DR: It’s beautifully made. The doors shut precisely, and the gauges are classic and clear.
It starts every time, is fairly simple to work on, and as you might expect, there’s a huge body of knowledge around it. I haven’t run into very many problems, but anytime I do, the answer and/or part is readily available. I’m also lucky to live two blocks from Akers Porsche, one of the best shops for air-cooled cars in the Pacific Northwest.
For a car of fairly compact dimensions, the 911 imparts a feeling of solidity that is hard to describe, but makes it easy to feel good about as an object in your life.
MCB: What’s it like to drive?
DR: Direct and mechanical. There’s abundant torque, and a low center of gravity. What little weight there is (2550 lbs/1160kg) is of course hung out over the rear axle. Manual steering. Porsche designed their own gearbox for these cars, and though it’s functional, throws are quite long, and it operates on its own schedule. At 8/10ths on a fast, sweeping back road, it’s in its element. Steering is perfectly weighted. On turn-in there’s a little float; but get on the throttle early, and the traction and torque feel infinite. Just don’t lift off abruptly!
At lower speeds, such as the winding 25 mph switchbacks on the northern stretches of Highway 101 in California, everything that’s light and precise at 55-70 mph becomes laborious and physical. It’s a lot of work to muscle it around the corners.
Above 8/10s, you really have to retrain your instincts to work with the car. The solution to most mid-corner issues is often more throttle.
On the highway, it settles into a nice steady drone, and you can drive it all day at 25-26 mpg.
The main controls on the dash are well-organized, the rest is famously bad. By the early eighties the 911 accumulated more equipment and controls like headlight washers that weren’t really part of the original vision. Jeremy Clarkson once quipped that he could arranged the controls more logically by sneezing them all out, and it’s sort of true.
Late-eighties 911s have much better ventilation than my car.
MCB: What makes you love this car?
DR: The gestalt. Nothing else I’ve experienced is like it.
MCB: You don’t shy away from taking it out in wintry conditions (and we salute you for it), which perhaps not every classic 911 owner would do. Was that an easy decision to make?
DR: It actually was. As mentioned earlier, post-1976 cars are galvanized and have pretty good protection from rust. And the roads in western Washington where I live are pretty free from salt and de-icing chemicals. Beyond that, the 911 is a pretty robust machine, and I believe they really only come alive when you use them.
Last year, I took it on the Thunderbird Rally, a snowy TSD rally on logging roads in British Columbia. With all the weight over the driving wheels, it has incredible traction in the snow, and is surprisingly easy to drive and catch.
I certainly do my part to preserve it — keep the undercarriage washed, etc. — but the spit-and-polish scene isn’t really for me, and we’re not dealing with a $200k 1973 911 Carrera RS.
MCB: It looks like you removed the ‘whale tail’ at some point. Is that a permanent change?
DR: Not necessarily. I bought a separate lid, so it’s pretty easy to swap back. I did it because I like the clean look of the wingless lid for normal use. The wing is functional, though, and I’d re-mount it for going to the track.
MCB: This isn’t your first 911, as earlier you had owned an SC. Describe the circumstances that led you to leave, then come back to, 911 ownership.
DR: My first SC was a lovely car, but needed more sorting than I had time for at that point. It went on to a nice guy in Montreal who swapped in a 3.6l motor from an early nineties 911 and took it to the track.
MCB: Having now owned a couple of these, you are obviously no stranger to buying these cars. What should a person look out for when buying one?
DR: Find a car whose condition is aligned with your personality and psychology. If you need a museum piece, buy one. If you want a project, buy a project. If you want a driver-quality car… etc. The main thing for a hobby car is that if it’s going to take your time, make sure most of it is time you want to be spending.
Then once you’ve figured that out, take it to a good mechanic who can make sure the car you’ve found fits. There are quirks specific to the 911; certain places on the body to look for rust, and the SC has a number of needed updates; but at this point those will all have been done on any decent car long ago.
MCB: Among other interesting cars, you have been fortunate to own a couple of E30 M3s. That model M3, of course, is a perennial contender in any “best driver’s car” discussion. Describe how it differs (to drive, to own) from the 911.
DR: They’re quite different. The M3 can feel quite underwhelming when you first get behind the wheel, and reveals its genius only when you’re exploring its outer limits — which I suppose explains why mine has a rollcage (David is also a BMW CCA instructor and club racer —Ed.). It feels considerably less muscular, with a 200 pound weight penalty and much less torque than the 911.
The M3’s S14 engine makes a buzzy, angry and purposeful sound that doesn’t really wake up until you’re winding it out. The big difference, though, is clearly the handling. The M3’s balance and neutrality makes it a very easy and predictable car to learn on and explore the limits — especially when it comes to learning to carry speed through corners. It reacts to mid-corner throttle adjustments mildly and gracefully. When it steps out, it’s very easy to catch and control.
The 911 feels faster and more glorious at 8/10ths, but approaching 10/10ths takes longer. Gobs of torque, a balkier gearbox, and handling that you really have to be ahead of to catch. It will penalize missteps in a way the M3 won’t.
As an ownership proposition, they’re not too different. Both require regular maintenance and specialized knowledge, but when those are present, are quite robust and hold their value nicely. My first E30 M3 had 135k on the clock when I bought it. I sold it for what I paid for it, 30k miles and 50 track days later to a friend and even then left money on the table.
MCB: What else have you owned? And what would you like to own in the future?
DR: I’ve been lucky enough to own a variety of fun machinery. The 911 replaced a European BMW E28 520i, a poverty-spec model with manual windows + locks, and a tall, tippy suspension. My first car was a 1989 Honda CRX Si, which went 400 miles on $10 in gas. A 1988 BMW 325is was the car that opened my eyes to the race track and performance driving. A 1964 Dodge Dart, picked up for free on Boston’s Craigslist and driven to New Orleans in a banger rally. A 1991 Mazda Miata. And a 1990 Audi Coupe Quattro: lovely car, but a little remote for my taste.
My options in the future are a little limited by what I can fit in. Thanks to a long torso, some cars are simply not an option due to lack of headroom. I checked out a Lancia Fulvia Zagato last year that pushed all my experiential buttons, but had to face the reality that there was no way I would ever be comfortable in it.
To drive, I would love to own an early Lotus Elan, a Subaru BRZ, even an old Datsun roadster. I’ve also been into angular late-seventies design, and could totally see owning a Citroën CX or BX, or even a GT car like a DeTomaso Longchamp, Ferrari 400i, or in a more realistic range, even a Volvo 780. Or a Peugeot 504 coupe.
MCB: Do you see yourself keeping this car for awhile?
DR: Ideally, yes. It’s in great shape; with 54k on the clock, there’s a lot of life left in the motor.
MCB: What’s your ideal drive — the track or a twisty mountain road?
DR: I love both, for different reasons. On the track, you’re calculating, anticipating, in the flow and refining each lap incrementally. You get to the point where you’re extracting every last bit the car has to give.
Mountain roads are just as much fun, but in a different and more reactive way. You don’t really know what’s coming, so you naturally leave a lot more on the table in case of unknowns — animals, debris on the road, corners that surprise you with a decreasing radius.
In the real world, the 911 is probably faster on an unknown road than the M3, for the simple reason that it encourages you to slow down on entry, and rewards you with the power once you see the exit.
MCB: Favorite drives in your area?
DR: Highway 410 around Mount Rainier; some of the back roads around the Columbia River just west of Hood River, Oregon; the rolling grasslands of central Oregon and eastern Washington. British Columbia also has a lot to offer; for the past two years, I’ve done the Spring Thaw rally in BC, which is a great way to explore that area.
MCB: Any concluding thoughts?
DR: Love your site! Thanks for the chat.
Images © David R.
You can follow David’s blog, cars.g93.net, here.