Why you'd want one
After progressively developing the 356 as far as it could go, Porsche unveiled the 901 in 1963 and put it into production as the 911 in ’64.
This brilliant all-rounder began a whole new family and was again gradually improved and uprated as the years went by. Some derided its rear-mounted, air-cooled engine, but Porsche meticulously perfected the layout and tamed the handling by myriad tweaks, from the magnesium crankcase to the 2in wheelbase extension.
The powerful overhead-cam dry-sump flat-six in a light, stiff bodyshell gave tremendous performance in a car that felt as if it would go for ever. They won races and rallies, becoming ever more impressive. Looking just at the first 10 years – from the O- to the ’73 F-series – the changes and options are mind-boggling.
It’s vital to research and learn all the detail before looking for a car to buy, because there are big variations in spec (from 110bhp in the early 911T, to 210bhp in the rare Carrera RS 2.7), with even greater ranges in value. Identifying a genuine RS 2.7, if it does not have full verifiable history, is a minefield even for Porsche experts, let alone an amateur purchaser.
Originality and patina are now the buzzwords for 911 collectors and a well-preserved car is worth significantly more than a similar rebuilt car with no pedigree.
Cars that had been modernised and uprated are being put back to factory spec and, increasingly, restoration is concentrating on preservation. That’s often far more time-consuming and expensive, but soaring values justify that extra attention to detail.
The market is highly volatile at present, but targas are generally worth 10% less than coupés; Sportomatics 20% less than manuals; Ts 20% less than an L/E, which is 20% less than an S. In the UK, left-hookers go for 25% less than RHD cars.
Bodywork (see image above for rot spots)
Body condition is paramount and rust protection in early 911s was limited. In fact, underseal applied on early-’70s examples could trap moisture.
All cars will have had some refurbishment work and on many it will have been extensive (a rebuild costs £20-100,000). Ensure that it has been done properly – panel alignment is often poor, and/or spec wrong – and that problems are not resurfacing.
If you are planning a rebuild, order all of the items that you need six months before starting, because once parts go out of stock, Porsche Classic tends to wait for a level of orders to build up before commissioning fresh manufacture.
Almost all 911 flat-six engines leak oil, but don’t be complacent: a simple strip-down to cure leaks invariably turns into a complete rebuild and more, with a £15-25,000 bill.
Check the history thoroughly, confirm that it’s the right engine with the corresponding ancillaries, has good oil pressure at speed and pulls strongly without smoking.
Fuelling – mechanical injection here – is key to performance and engine life. It must be set up correctly and not fiddled with; an overhaul costs £500-2000.
Steering and brakes
Steering should be light and precise, with superb feel; LHD-RHD swaps are rarely done well. Inspect for tired bushes, corroded tubular arms and correct tyres.
Fuchs alloys are costly to refurbish and wider ones can crack. Check tyre rating and age (from code). The brakes should be effective but seize if little-used.
Listen for worn synchros and bearings. Whining intermediates indicates failing bearings; 1972-on 915 ’ box is stronger. Rebushing worn linkage cures many ills.
The 911s trim was changed often, so replicating the original materials exactly is tough. Check for damp carpets/distorted door trims. A refresh is circa £1500, and a full retrim can be £5-10k.
Pay particular attention to any distortion or splits in the dash top and surrounds. Also make sure that the instruments and switchgear all work, and are correct for the model and spec.
On the road
While performance varies according to specification, any good 911 should fire itself out of roundabouts with sure-footed grip that brings a grin to your face.
Short-wheelbase cars require a little extra finesse to drive well – they are relatively light at the front and more liable to snap oversteer, especially if not set up correctly. Corrosion can also make them more flexible and wayward than they should be.
The 2.2 and 2.4 are the most enjoyable to drive. No 911s of this age have a brake servo, but the all-disc set-up should work well, with impressive response. Once correct, the engine is immensely durable, but, ideally, buy one that has had all the work done already by a reputable specialist, because costs can escalate alarmingly.
Low oil pressure at tickover isn’t necessarily a big issue – it can often be cured by fitting a smaller restrictor in the oil delivery to the camshafts. The car featured has an external oil-filler cap above right of the offside rear wheel – this was unique to 1972 because filling stations kept trying to put petrol in!
Condition of the crankcase, aluminium to mid-’68, then magnesium, is critical: the magnesium units are easily weakened and many have been replaced, but there is now a huge premium on originality. Long periods of disuse can allow rust to build up in the dry-sump oil tank, leading to disastrous engine failure when it is pumped around the system (the filter lies before it).
Unleaded fuel is no problem, though pre-2.4 S engines require Super. Valve guides wear quite rapidly – check for oil smoke on start-up and overrun – and timing chains can get rattly.
What to pay
Typical upkeep prices
Gearbox rebuild £2500-5000
Front control arm £883
Brake master cylinder £218
1963 Sept 901 presented at Frankfurt show
1964 Sept 911 production begins: 130bhp, twin Solex carburettors, wood dash and wheel rim
1965 Right-hand drive available
1966 Feb two triple-choke Webers
1966 Jul 160bhp S: 0-60mph 8 secs, 137mph, Fuchs alloys, rear antiroll bar, vented discs Dec targa version introduced
1967 911T offered: 110bhp, 4-speed; normal becomes L with 5-speed, dual-circuit brakes; Sportomatic 4-speed semi-auto option; rear a-r b
1968 Aug Rear wheels move back 2in, flared arches, magnesium crankcase, twin batteries ahead of front wheels, S and L (now E) get Bosch injection; E gets self-levelling hydropneumatic front struts, 14in rims (optional on others)
1969 Aug 2.2: S 180bhp; E 155bhp; T 125bhp (Zeniths); LSD optional, front strut mounts moved 1970 Aug Limited underbody zinc coating
1971 2.4: 190/165/130bhp (injected 140bhp T in US); non-dogleg ’ box; hydro struts special order
1972 RS 2.7, Nikasil-lined cylinders, 10% lighter steel panels (some GRP), thinner glass, etc
1973 Aug All models replaced by big bumper 2.7
The owner's view
Serial Porsche 911 owner Chris Knowles: “I had a 2.2 E in the 1970s. I sold it because of the cost of parts, but never forgot it. In the past 10 years I’ve had a 3.2, then a 993, and in 2010 began looking for an early-’ 70s S. Autofarm found this one in Ireland and we restored it together.
"We were determined to keep it as original as possible; even the diamond-pattern headlining was painstakingly extracted, stored and refitted. I contacted the first owner’s son, who gave me the dash nameplate – a rare option.
"The engine came out and was tidied, with new cams, shims, injectors and cam covers, but was not rebuilt. It needed three new wings, sills and aluminium engine lid: Autofarm went to great lengths to get the panel gaps just right. It’s such a pleasure to drive: torquey, docile, and great fun!”
Two-seater V6 middie with exquisite handling balance is now a top-rung classic. Most have been fully rebuilt due to rampant rot; completeness of history has a big influence on price.
• Sold/no built 1967-’73/3913 • Mpg 16-23 • 0-60mph 7.5-7.1 secs • Top speed 140-148mph • Price new £6242 (1970) • Price now from £250k
Jaguar E-type 2+2
Aimed at US market with similar-sized rear seats to 911 and auto option. More ‘touring’ than a 911, but a serious straight-line opponent. Great value: rust and neglect are its main enemies.
• Sold/no built 1966-’73/18,222 • Mpg 14-22 • 0-60mph 7.4-6.8 secs • Top speed 139-142mph • Price new £2708 (1970) • Price now from £25,000
Porsche 911 (1964-'73): The Classic & Sports Car verdict
Early 911s are now revered as the genesis of an extraordinarily successful sports car family and prices have soared accordingly.
There are some fabulous examples around, but most have had a hard life, been modified and messed with, and probably not been restored properly. Look for a full and disaster-free history, and have a car extensively checked before purchase.
• Sublime steering, fun handling
• Hewn-from-solid feel
• Great parts availability
• Increasingly iconic status
• All are now expensive: even the scruffiest, least-desirable examples
• Many lack history and originality
• Some need extensive restoration
Sold/number built 1964-’73/89,652
Construction steel monocoque
Engine all-alloy, sohc-per-bank 1991/2195/ 2341/2687cc flat-six, with twin Solex/Zenith/ Weber carbs or Bosch K-Jetronic fuel injection; 110bhp @ 5800rpm-210bhp @ 6300rpm; 116lb ft @ 4200rpm-182lb ft @ 5100rpm
Transmission 4/5sp man or 4sp semi-auto, RWD
Suspension: front MacPherson struts rear torsion bars, semi-trailing arms, telescopics; a-r b f/r
Steering rack and pinion, 2.75-3.1 turns lock-lock
Brakes discs all round: 11.1/11.2in f/r; S: ventilated 9/9.6in f/r; S 2.4 11.1/11.4in f/r
Length 13ft 7in-14ft 1in (4140-4293mm)
Width 5ft 3in-5ft 4in (1600-1625mm)
Height 4ft 31/2 in-4ft 4in (1310-1320mm)
Wheelbase 7ft 31/2 in-7ft 51/2 in (2225-2275mm)
Weight 2285-2442lb (1039-1110kg)
0-60mph 9.8-5.5 secs
Top speed 124-150mph
Price new £3671-5211 (T-S, 1970)
INSURANCE £353.69, for a Londoner, 30, full no-claims, clean licence on a 1971 2.2 S as a garaged second car, value £200k, 5000 ltd miles. RH 01277 206911.
Ones you can buy
We’ve got dozens of 1964-’73 Porsche 911s in our classifieds section. You can view them all here, or check out a few examples below:
Porsche 911T with 2.7-spec engine (1973) – £64,995
This vehicle's been modified fairly extensively, and the relatively low price reflects that. However, if you’re not fussy about originality, it’s probably a bit of a bargain. It looks like it’s been properly put together, and the spec sheet makes it sound like a brilliant driver’s car.
Porsche 911 2.7 RS 2dr Manual (1973) – £555,000
This one is the other end of the scale: a fully restored and recently refreshed example of one of the most desirable air-cooled 911 models. It's rare, too – only 1580 were built and of them a mere 11 were finished in this colour. There's a photographic record of the restoration and it was even previously owned by a celebrity, if that kind of thing is important to you.
Porsche 911S LHD Sportomatic (1973) – £180,000
This car sits somewhere between the two others in terms of both price and desirability. It hasn’t been restored and seems to be in near-original condition – right down to its factory wheels. It's unlikely to be in immaculate condition, but cars are only original once, so that fact alone will add hugely to its appeal.