I’ve been a car enthusiast for as long as I can remember. It started with counting antennas on cars from a very young age and has grown exponentially (as virologists love to put it these days) ever since. My interest has always been general in nature, basically as reflected in the content of this blog. I can feel just as passionately about a beautiful oldtimer or an 80’s legend as about a modern supercar. That’s not the case for everyone though. For many, their love of cars is tied to one particular model, one of which they know all there is to know and which follows them through the years. I don’t know which category you fit in, but since a few weeks I know which one my friend Philip belongs to. His category is the one of air-cooled 911 passionistas, and his story is a wonderful one of true passion for the Zuffenhausen legend. We therefore sat down for lunch back in December for me to understand how his life-long interest developed.
Philip lives in Zurich and I’ve known him for many years. Coming from a Swiss-Swedish family, he grew up in Sweden but spent a lot of time in Switzerland around the capital Berne but also in beautiful Ascona in the southern, Italian-speaking part. As newly retired, he today splits his time between Zurich and Ascona, when the weather allows using his tangerine-coloured (blood orange) 1972 911 2.4T. The way there has however been a long one that starts in Philip’s young years in the Swedish town of Uppsala, as Swedish readers (and potentially some others) may know an unspectacular mid-sized Swedish city mostly known for its university and certainly not for its car scene, and even less so back in the 60’s. This stood in stark contrast to Ascona where back in the day, Pilip tells me you regularly saw Lamborghini Miuras and Ferrari 365 (Daytonas) on the streets. It wasn’t one of these that would become the passion of Philip’s life though – it was the 911 2.4T Targa his neighbours in Uppsala had parked outside their house, one of less than a handful 911’s in the whole town. At first it was the sound of the air-cooled engine that captivated him, so different from the Italian beauties. Then there was also the fact that the neighbours drove their car all year around, very much unlike anything you would do with the Italian fullbloods, had they ever seen the Uppsala winter climate.
The 911 2.4 was presented in the German auto magazine Auto, Motor & Sport nr 23/71. It was Philip who told me this, he was 14 years old at the time and the reason he still knows is that he kept that number of the magazine for more than 30 years. His grandmother in Switzerland sent it to him and with at the time a very limited grasp of German, Philip went over it time and time again until he understood it. The seeds had been sown but it would take more than 20 years and a number of other cars for the dream to result in Philip’s first own 911. By now he had moved to Switzerland and met a car dealer outside of Zurich, one of those you would go to when you needed a special car. Of course he knew “just the car” when hearing that Philip wanted a 911, but when Philip heard that “just the car” in the dealer’s view was a 1987 white convertible with a blue top, he wasn’t fully convinced.
In fact the dealer had found not only one but three 911’s and had lined them up in a nice diagonal outside his shop by the time Philip arrived. With the late afternoon sun shedding its mellow light on the street, it was immediately clear to Philip that he white one with the blue top was indeed THE car. it was a 1987 911 3.2 and a US import meaning it was equipped with A/C and an electric top, both quite rare options in Europe. He would enjoy and love every moment of his first 911 for eight years until 2002 but by then, he had his sight set on something else – an original 911 Speedster. This also tells you that Philip didn’t collect cars. Being of a practical nature his line of reasoning is clearly that you can’t drive more than one car at any time. That’s usually a sensible approach but as we’ll see, when it comes to old 911’s, things are a bit different….
Today an original 911 Speedster is beyond most people’s budgets, but you need only to go back 20 years for that to be different. Philip went about finding the Speedster in precisely the right way. He consulted the dealer from eight years earlier who of course knew of exactly the right car and was happy to join Philip on the two-hour drive to check it. When they arrived he told Philip to stay in the car. “I’ll take care of this” is all he said. An hour passed, Philip grew impatient and went up towards the seller’s house but when he was about to knock, the dealer opened the door and said “I’m almost done with him”. Luckily the indicated violence was at most psychological but it did result in a final price of around CHF 90.000, a good price at the time and obviously a bargain today. What will always remain a secret is how much the seller really got and how much the dealer took in between…
If Philip had loved his first 911 deeply, the Speedster wasn’t his thing at all. The car that is a dream to many of us was in his view impractical, extremely loud and with a top that would let water in when it rained. So he went on to sell it a few years later, unfortunately before prices started to climb. He got his money back though and what followed was two far more practical 964’s and also a -94 964 WTL, a 30-year limited 911 series. Philip then switched to a 993 that he kept for eight years and with which he participated in several classic rallies. Other regular participants in those events included 356’s and original 911’s (Urelfer), and it was when seeing one of these that it dawned on him: what he really wanted and subsequently set out to get was the car which had started his love story with the 911 in the first place: an early -72-73′ 190 hp 911 2.4S. This was the most powerful of the three models sold at the time, with the 2.4E (165 hp) and 2.4T (130 hp) being the other two (the T actually put out 140 hp in the US version where like the S and E, it was fuel injected).
I consider myself a relatively experienced used car buyer, and anything else would certainly be pretty disappointing given how many cars have come and gone through the years. And yet, compared to a real expert such as the one Philip called upon when deciding to find the perfect 911 2.4S, I’m not even a beginner. There are people out there who know everything there is to know about a car and by that, I really mean everything. Philip’s expert whom he subsequently travelled around Europe with in search of the perfect 2.4S (and whom he met through the 964 WTL mentioned above) would not only notice residual marks from an engine number having been scraped off, but also that the new stars that had been engraved didn’t have the right number of arms. He would notice very minor chassis imbalances and imperfections and would use a tool to check the thickness of the paint in different places as an indication of potential body repairs. He would use surgical instruments in investigations of rust in every hidden body pocket. He would do it all. And of course, if you do it all, finding the perfect car is a near impossibility. This is what Philip noted as well, as potential candidates came and went over the coming years, none being good enough in the expert’s view.
I think there are a couple of lessons to be learnt here for all those in search of their dream car. Firstly, whilst you should always make sure to buy a fundamentally healthy and non-accidented car, you need to define your tolerance for imperfections, both visual and in documentation. Although there’s certainly nothing wrong with trying to find the perfect car with a complete documentation, that requires not only true expertise but also (lots of) time and money. Not only that, when you finally get your hands on the perfect item, will you still dare to drive it and participate in those oldtimer gatherings and rallies you dreamt about, or will it just sit in your garage? On the other side of this spectrum there are the “rally pros” who don’t care too much about the looks, only being concerned by the mechanics. They certainly rev their engines and drive their cars hard, but the cars don’t necessarily look as they were meant to. In between these extremes is where most classic cars would land. This is where my old Triump TR4 was: a nice car but with visual imperfections, and lots of documents, but not all. An expert would thus have found many faults with it, yet for the use I made of it during close to ten years it was perfect. If you’re able to define your level of tolerance ahead of, or early in the buying process, you’ll be doing yourself a huge favour!
Secondly, although it should be obvious but isn’t always as we humans tend to be social creatures, the seller is not your friend. He won’t be coming to any dinner parties and you won’t meet his wife. His objective is another than yours, namely to get as much money from you as fast as possible. This certainly doesn’t mean that everyone person selling a car is dishonest and deserves to be treated as such, but believing everything a seller says can also be a recipe for disaster. A case in point was one of the 911’s my friend Philip looked at, the one where the old engine number had been removed and a new “matching numbers” one had been engraved, however with incorrectly engraved stars. This car was sold by a well reputed Porsche dealership in Switzerland, not by some back yard dealer. They claimed not being aware of the problem which was maybe true, who knows. The point is obviously that if you pay for matching numbers you should get that, just as you should get whatever else the seller claims to be selling. If you’re unsure, get someone to help you, as you definitely want to be safe rather than sorry.
With each car Philip visited with his expert friend his own knowledge obviously grew as well so that he also started to look at cars on his own, at least for the first round. Doing that and I guess also growing a bit impatient about finding his car and thus increasing his personal tolerance level, he enlargened his search somewhat and also included potential 2.4T’s and 2.4E’s. Doing that he would finally find his dream car, the tangerine 911 2.4T that has been his ever since. It looked perfect to him and once the expert got to see it, even he didn’t find more than some minor imperfections. Today Philip is an active owner and driver, notably participating in classic rallies and a member in the Swiss Porsche Urelfer Club, taking part in their various events. He’s optimized his car somewhat, notably with sports seats (not originals but replicas close enough for anyone but a real expert to be fooled…), and he certainly doesn’t sound like he would be selling the car any time soon.
As we reached the end of our lunch I was thinking to myself that this was perhaps where this long love story with the air-cooled 911 that started on the snowy streets of Uppsala 50 years earlier comes to an end. As I put my pen down, Philip looked at me and said “you have to understand, the 911 is much more than a car to me, it’s a life-long passion”. I was certainly convinced by then, but at the same time this gave me a glimmer of hope. As all of us suffering from the car virus know, Philip may think this is his last 911, but you can never be sure. Before leaving the table, I therefore made sure that if he changes his mind and decides to sell his beautiful 2.4T, he lets me know first!