The Search: I first spotted this 1985.5 Porsche 944 on Craigslist for $3250, which was over my budget. I had a hand full of cheaper 944s I was looking at, a few BMW 6 Series CSIs, and a VW Corrado. So I saved the internet link to the car for later but had no intentions of going to see it, yet. I went all over New York and New Jersey in search for the right car. A car with a distinguished soul, but a fatigued appearance in need of some TLC.
When you're looking to buy a car make sure you do extensive research and when you think you've done enough, keep going. You may take it lightly, but when it comes to specialized cars the gamble is tenfold. Don't just go out and wing it. Classic cars, or just plain cool cars, will always have online owner forums that are usually free to join and give you great tips that you can't get anywhere else. Type your car's name plus the word forum in a search engine and you'll find plenty of web forums. Read through the posts about troubles, repairs, problems, and parts and you'll soon get a feel for some of the more common problems with the car. This will tell you how easy it is to source parts, get service, and how difficult the car is to work on. Search for repairs that need special care that you might not be able to do on your own. If you feel the need, post your own question about the car possibly asking what to look out for when buying the car and expert owners will most likely be happy to give you advice.
After weeks of research, I decided to go looking. I visited a small dealership in New Jersey to find an '84 944 with tons of engine problems. Then another '84 with less engine trouble but the owner had spray painted the interior red, plus he wanted $2500 for the car and it needed far too many repairs. After seeing a few bad eggs, I kept searching for the right one. I searched everywhere and finally came back to the 944 that was listed for $3250. The owner had reduced the asking price to $3000 even. So I gave him a call and he seemed like a nice guy. He had Porsches from the past and present, including a '97 911 and a Boxster. So I decided to give it a shot.
First Glance: When looking at a car that you're seriously thinking about buying, you need to find your inner detective, especially with older cars. You'll need to get your hands dirty so wear some old clothes! Don't let the owner sway you toward any area of the car. You need to be in control. First, look everywhere for rust. On the body panels, under the fenders, on the pillars, under the car, on the frame, the exhaust, under the driver and passenger carpets, in the trunk under the carpet. These are all places where rust will likely form first. If it's too rotten, walk away. Also, make sure all glass is in good condition, especially on high-end cars or you'll be spending a fortune to replace it.
This Guard's Red '85.5 944 was looking a bit tired when I first approached it. The owner was desperately pumping air into the tires as I walked up to the car. They were dry-rotted and leaking to the point that I almost didn't take it out for a test drive. It had awfully faded paint and had been off the road for some time. The last inspection was 2007 and I could tell...
When I looked closely, there was a crack the size of Germany on the passenger side windshield, and a dent in the front nose panel under the head lamp. It looked as if it was weeping from neglect. It had a bit of rust and a dent by the back wheel well. Around back were some blemishes in the paint that looked like some surface rust forming. This car wasn't looking good, but, it wasn't all bad.
When I opened the driver's door I was surprised by a black leather interior that looked spectacular! For a car that was almost as old as me there was very little wear. And everything inside worked! Well, almost everything. The leather center armrest had a small tear, there was a clip missing for the sun visor and the rear hatch release button was not working, but the key opened it manually so I was hoping it was the switch that was bad and not the release motor. Power sunroof, power windows, power mirrors, power seats....all working. It had a modern CD player and upgraded speakers with a Kenwood amp in the hatch. The dash board had cracks in it which is expected of any '80s 944. But overall, the interior was in good condition.
Other than a few bumps and bruises, the body panels were in good shape and the wheels were perfect phone dials, classic 80's Porsche design. It was impressive how original the car was, from top to bottom. No gaudy 18" chrome rims. No after market wing. No bolted-on body kit. Just a solid, original Porsche.
I opened the hood and the engine compartment was dry and uncleaned, just how I like it. The owner hadn't cleaned under the hood so any leaks or troubled areas would be visible. Good news! There were no leaks, no oil, no fluids, and although it needed a bit of cleaning, it was only a bit of dust.
The finest bit was starting the engine. Suddenly that weeping 4-banger turned into a 2.5 liter sports car that was just asking to be resurrected. The motor sounded healthy and strong but the exhaust was letting it down. It sounded like the muffler had to go.
Test Drive: Apparently the owner had some trust issues because when I asked to take it for a test drive, he wanted to sit in the passenger seat and talk about the car the whole time, which wasn't all that bad. He described the history of the car. How he had bought it years ago, kept it for a while, sold it to a friend, then missed it so much that he bought it back. That was great and all, but I was trying to listen to the engine, transmission, exhaust, suspension and the owner blabbing away at the same time.
I took it for a thorough drive. You want to take a car out for at least 20 minutes to get it to show you its real face. How is the temperature, the oil pressure? Are the clutch and transmission smooth? Can you hear any noises coming from the suspension? How is the steering? Responsive? Loose? How does the engine power feel at different RPMs? Any hesitation? Are the brakes working well? All of these things are "clues" to the things that may need work.
I took it out on the thruway, on back roads, bumpy roads, winding roads, up hills, down hills, slammed the brakes a few times. Everything seemed pretty good, except for that sad exhaust sounded terrible and the rotten tires were misguiding the car all over the place. It became apparent that there was a good car under that aged skin.
If a motor isn't running well, chances are the owner had not taken care of it throughout its life and if that's the case, it will probably never run well. But a car that is this old and is running this well has been properly maintained throughout its 25 years.
I drove the car back to the owner's house, parked it, and took a second look around to catch anything I might have missed. The more you look at the car, the more you'll notice. So I routed around and the owner was being fairly honest about what he thought needed to be done. He mentioned the obvious, new tires, a bit of body work, possibly the idle control valve needed to be cleaned. So after talking with him for a while, and spending some time inside and out of the car, I decided this car might be the best one I could find for the money so I proceeded to make him an offer...
The Purchase: Making an offer on a car can be a slippery slope when it comes to private sellers. Trying to get the best offer possible while still being reasonable is a difficult task, but hey, you give them an offer, if they don't like it, ask how much are they willing to negotiate. An owner is usually happier to take a reasonable price if it means getting the car of their hands. If they aren't willing, then walk away.
My bank account decided that I couldn't pay more than $2500 for the car. I told the owner I really wanted this car but I would have trouble giving him any more than that, plus I needed to research the cost of repair. Usually a proud owner would like to ensure their car is in good hands so he said to me, "If you can't come up with more than $2500, we'll have a deal" After researching parts and repair procedures I bought a Porsche for $2500! It was both an exciting and nerve racking day but I'm hoping it will all be worth it. Next Steps soon to come...
Check out the full slideshow below!