For many the definitive 911, and not as troublesome as you might think – here's how to buy a good one
By Tony Middlehurst / Sunday, November 29, 2020
- Available for £35,000
- 3.6 flat six (3.3 for early Turbos), two- or all-wheel drive
- Non-Turbo cars are only 250hp, but seem a lot more powerful
- Easier to drive fast than you'd think
- Compact, bombproof feel
- Carrera 2s are a great choice
Search for a Porsche 964 here
In the early 1980s, Porsche's then-new CEO Peter Schutz walked into the office of Helmuth Bott, Porsche's head of engineering. It was a difficult time for the German company Porsche was going down a front-engined route at the time, and the rear-engined 911s that dated back to 1963 (or even further if you included the 356s) were beginning to lose credibility.
On the wall of Bott's office Schutz saw a chart outlining the future development of Porsche's three main product lines at the time: the 928, the 944 and the 911. The lines for the first two stretched well into the future, but the one for the 911 came to an abrupt halt at the end of 1981. In what may have been the decade's most significant piece of penmanship, Schutz picked up a felt tip and extended the 911 line right off the end of the chart, at which point he felt he 'heard a silent cheer' from Bott.
The rest, as they say, is history. Schutz's decision to invest in the 911 marked the beginning of its transformation from struggling relic to most successful sports car ever, with more than a million sold. The line that Schutz drew that day didn't just lead to the production of the new 911 Carrera – internal designation 964 – in 1989, it turned out to be crucial in continuing the story of Porsche as a car company. Although the 964 didn't quite match the sales success of the preceding 3.2 Carrera, the last of the so-called 'classic' 911s (and the last G-Series car), it was no mean effort for a car that wasn't supposed to happen.
Schutz went as near to all-in as he could with the 964, recognising that the outgoing G Series cars would have been around for sixteen years by the time the new one came out. The result was a car that was said to be 85 per cent new relative to the 3.2. It featured many significant firsts. The major power and emissions efficiencies of water-cooling wouldn't come into play until the 996 model of 1997, two generations down the line, but the 964's air-cooled M64 flat-six engine was new, its displacement increased to 3.6 litres contributing to a boost in power to 250hp from the old 3.2's 230hp.
Major new options included Tiptronic transmission, an automatic that would allow (within limits) manual selection of gears. There was also all-wheel drive as showcased in the Carrera 4, the first 964 to hit the market in 1989. Tiptronic was made available on the two-wheel drive Carrera 2 only. This rear-wheel drive entry level car came out in 1990, and was joined in the range in that same year by the 964 911 Turbo. That began life with a less laggy 320hp version of the old 3.3 litre 930 engine, followed in October 1992 by a 360hp 3.6 Turbo and then by the somewhat more extreme 380hp RS-bodied Turbo 3.6 S, just under ninety of which were made at the end of the 964's production life in 1994.
A 150kg lighter, 2WD-only Carrera RS model of the 964 was announced in late 1991, going on sale in Europe in 1992. Tipping its hat to the classic 2.7 RS of the early 1970s, the RS was basically a road-legal works racer. It had magnesium wheels, an aluminium bonnet, thinner glass, a light-flywheeled 260hp version of the M64 engine, and lowered, stiffened suspension. A Turbo-bodied 300hp 3.8 RS was also made available in Europe in very small numbers, as was a competition-spec 3.8 RSR.
Chassis-wise, the 964 replaced the original 911's ancient torsion bars with coils and dampers, plus a 'Weissach' rear axle with an element of rear-wheel steering to quell sudden oversteer. Both power steering and anti-lock braking became part of the 911's standard spec for the first time. The integrated bumpers that gave the body a smoother aero performance were aided by an electric rear spoiler that lifted at speeds above 50mph. Inside, revised instrumentation and auto climate control systems brought the 911 into a more modern age.
Both Carrera 2 and 4 were available as coupes, cabrios or targas. For every Targa built there were about three and a half Cabriolets. The ratio of cabrios to coupes depended on whether it was a C2 or a C4. There weren't quite twice as many C2 coupes as C2 cabrios, but C4 coupes outnumbered C4 cabrios by around three to one. A Speedster was released for the 1989 model year but it wasn't a 964-based car. That didn't come along until February 1993.
Celebration Carrera 4s commemorating the 30th anniversary of the 911 were released in March 1993, alongside a Targa Florio SE and a turbo-bodied Carrera RS 3.8 with twin rear spoiler. These '93-on 911s had improved interiors. Production of the C2 and C4 coupes and Targas stopped in August 1994, with the Turbo, Speedster, Cabrio and RS going the same way in January 1996.
SPECIFICATION | PORSCHE 911 964 CARRERA 2 (1989-on)
Engine: 3,600cc flat six SOHC 12v
Transmission: 5-speed manual or 4-speed Tiptronic auto, rear-wheel drive (all-wheel drive in Carrera 4)
Power (hp): [email protected],100rpm
Torque (lb ft): [email protected],800rpm
0-62mph: 5.7 secs
Top speed: 162mph
MPG: 28 (official combined)
Wheels: 6 x 16in (f), 8 x 16in (r)
Tyres: 205/55 (f), 225/50 (r)
On sale: 1989 – 1993
Price new: £41,505
Price now: from £35,000
Note for reference: car weight and power data are hard to pin down with absolute certainty. For consistency, we use the same source for all our guides. We hope the data we use is right more often than it's wrong. Our advice is to treat it as relative rather than definitive.
ENGINE & GEARBOX
One secret to a happy 964 life is to drive it as much as possible. Long periods of storage can promote condensation in the engine, so never accept low annual mileage as an excuse for the oil not being changed every year at least. If the engine undertray seems very clean and dry, that may be because the owner has wiped it prior to your arrival. A little oil seepage from the valve or timing chain covers is to be expected, and can normally be sorted for £500, or less if it's something as straightforward as hardened gaskets or seals, but more significant leaks will need careful thought on your part. Cylinder heads should easily last for 120,000 miles, but the cylinder head studs that were a weakness in this engine may land you with a separate rebuild bill for anything between £5,000 and £10,000. Oil leaks and misfires are your giveaways of stud trouble.
The belt linking the double distributors has been known to snap. A vent pipe mod can stop that happening, and you'll want that to be in place to avoid expensive damage. Half of the spark plugs in the 964's twin-plug heads are not as easy to remove as the other half so will sometimes be left in for an easy life.
Turbo models (which were only available in right-hand drive form from March 1991) have the potential to snap at the unwary, or please those who enjoy that sort of thing. Puffs of blue smoke under power suggest wear to the single KKK turbocharger. Worn valve guides in any 964 will generate smoke on the overrun. Cylinder head sealing was improved on cars from August 1990 on.
Early manuals can suffer from worn dual-mass flywheels, indicated by a clonking noise under power. These were strengthened in cars made after August 1991. A new DMF will be around £1,000, and it makes one kind of sense (if not immediately to your bank account, as it will double your bill) to replace the clutch at the same time in order to avoid doubled labour costs. The normal life of a clutch is 70-80,000 miles.
The Carrera 4's electronically controlled (but fully mechanical) permanent all-wheel drive system normally transmitted 31 percent of torque to the front axle and 69 percent to the rear, those numbers varying according to the conditions.
The Tiptronic transmission added about 100kg to the C2's weight and made the car 0.7sec slower through the 0-62mph dash, but it also made for a civilised sort of drive if you spent most of your time in towns, plus it's got a decent reliability record. That's underselling it, actually: Autocar called the first C2 Cabriolet Tiptronic the best 964 of the lot when they tested it in 1990, praising the operation of the Intelligent Shift Program that successfully inhibited undesirably timed gearchanges. Listen for incorrect noises from the torque converter as these will be warning you of an impending rebuild invoice.
Thanks to the 911's light weight, everyday costs can be remarkably low. The official fuel consumption of a Carrera 2 was 28mpg but you can easily achieve much better figures than that without trying hard. Parts aren't stupidly expensive either and there is a wide choice of specialist support available where an annual service should be between £250 and £400.
Watch a video of an older 911 going along a bumpy road and you might think you're witnessing some weird front-end bobbing. You're not necessarily imagining it: some of them did actually do that. Lowering the front was a popular mod back in the day. This did help the handling, making you wonder why Porsche didn't set it up that way at the factory.
You'll certainly notice a difference between the ride quality of a 2020 911 and that of a 1990 964. If things seem excessively different, or if the car has more than 70,000 miles on it, improvements can be wrought by changing the dampers and/or the bushes. Front lower control arm bushes on a car with over 70,000 miles on the clock will definitely benefit from being replaced.
Poor steering may be a consequence of a leak of power steering fluid from the hose between the power steering pump and the fluid reservoir, rather than a more expensive problem with the pump itself. One area that can land today's 964 owner with a large bill is the ABS that was trumpeted in as a great new standard feature for the model. If the control module has conked out (which it does do) then that will be costly. You might be lucky however and find that it's nothing more expensive or awkward to fix than grubby and/or loosely-wired accelerometers in the transmission tunnel.
Brake fluid needs changing every three years. Brake discs and pipes can rust on 911s just as they do on other cars. A new set of brakes will be between £1,000 and £1,500 including the VAT.
Check the age of the tyres on low mileage cars, too, as the last thing you want is a 911 bowling around a cold, greasy corner on hard old rubber.
In general terms the well-undersealed 964 is much less likely to suffer from rust than previous models, but earlier 964s in particular need careful examination for rot in the inner wings, in the lower seam next to the bumper between the wheelarch and the headlamp, at the backs of the front wings in the areas below the corners of both screens, and on the back wings on either side of the rear wheel. Fixing rotted out rear suspension attachment points is horribly expensive.
Under the bonnet, look for the VIL (Vehicle Identification Label) and the body VIN that's on a tab under the fuel tank. Obviously check hard for evidence of accident damage: besides odd panel gaps, a look under the carpet and emergency tyre in the front luggage compartment should be revealing. There's dirty money to be made from poor restorations on these cars. Check how well the sill trim seals have been fitted, or refitted. 911s are quality vehicles that have been solidly built by the factory for donkey's years, so be healthily suspicious of undue amounts of trim rattle in the cabin.
The paint code for a 964 will be on a label in the nearside section of the front luggage compartment. Solid 911 colours like GP White or Guards Red are susceptible to fading, making localised paint repairs difficult. Porsche was still doing some freaky colours by the time the 964 came around, like this one in Raspberry Red, or Barbie Pink as some uncharitably call it.
If you find a Targa or cabrio that looks nice but that has some wetness or curly carpet crispiness in the footwells, give it a miss unless it's very cheap as you may well be needing a new multi-layer hood (£1,500-£2,000) or at the very least new seals. Not many cabrio buyers bothered to tick the expensive 'hood cover' box so don't be surprised if you rarely find one of these during your searches.
Like the ABS, the climate control was another exciting new 964 feature that has unfortunately since acquired a reputation for going wrong. Unlike the ABS, there's less chance of finding a cheap alternative to replacing the (again costly) control unit. A proper regas with modern refrigerant, if it's not been done already, could be as much as £1,000.
Full leather was a £2000 option so you will quite often find lower-spec cars with cloth upholstery, which is kind of cool in a Porsche 911. The interiors were improved as part of an August 1992 facelift but the speedos were still easy to clock so you're well advised to pump a car's reg number into the MOT checking website to make sure that the mileage stacks up against the MOT reports.
Check that the controls for the windows, seat adjustment, mirrors all work, and obviously the one for the roof if it's a cabrio.
In 1989, when Porsche's new 911 came out, the first GPS satellite was put into orbit, the first edition of Microsoft Office was released, Sky TV started in the UK, and George W Bush became the new US President. Simpler times.
Now, 31 years later, on the basis that old 911s only appreciate in value, buying a 964 looks like a simple decision too as long as you've got the £35,000 minimum wedge that's now required to join the club. That's roughly three times more than you needed to pay for a 964 just seven years ago.
The 964 scores high marks for the clarity of its driving experience, not just relative to its 3.2 Carrera predecessor but also relative to the techier 993 that replaced it. There was an uptick in quality from 1991MY cars so that's worth bearing in mind when you're shopping for one.
The uncomplaining engineering integrity of 911s from this era did lead some owners to stint on maintenance, so make sure that the service history coming with a car you're interested in isn't as holey as a slab of Swiss cheese. Bare-minimum maintenance is better than none, but work done and parts fitted over and above that is evidence of a caring owner who has mentally signed up to the 'temporary custodian' philosophy of Porsche ownership. These are the folk to buy from if at all possible.
Which 964 to get, though? None of them are cheap anymore, and some models are considerably less cheap than others. The good news is that entry-level 911s are often, if not always, the best all-round 911s when you factor value for money into it. The four-wheel drive Carrera 4 offers big grip and is therefore a good choice for nervier first-time 911 owners, but the extra 100kg it carries blunts the handling edge that you can really feel in the lighter-steering, more responsive Carrera 2.
Coupes are more rigid than cabrios. The Targa combines an open-air feel with a welcome degree of security when you have to park it in public. Some folk liked to pretend that their Carreras were actually Turbos or RSs, optioning the turbo-look wide body on their boggo C2 coupes and cabrios, but not everybody sees that as a good look these days. That perception works against you as a seller, but for you as a buyer. Tiptronics tend to be slightly cheaper than manuals, reflecting the slight loss of performance, but they're an easy drive.
The 3.6 Turbo is undoubtedly a very quick car but not everyone will get on with its uncompromising ride or its tyre noise at speed. You may find it easier to forgive these foibles in the Turbo S in exchange for the rabid 380hp performance. The first 964 Turbos with the 3.3 930 motor are relatively affordable within the always expensive 911 Turbo niche, but the key word there is relatively. The Carrera RS is primo Porsche, but good examples are getting on for £200k now and this is the sort of car that could end up sitting in a heated garage not rattling its owner's dentures out.
We talked just now about 964s are no longer cheap 911s. The most affordable cars will be £35,000, and you may well be asked to stomach some pretty serious mileages for that sort of money – like 150,000 or more. To get the miles down from triple to double figures you'll need to find £45,000, and probably a private seller too as dealers won't be so generous. That's nothing though: here's a 61 (sixty-one) mile 964 Turbo Leichtbau for sale in Kent for a few thou short of £1.5 million. Yes, you read that right.
Fortunately, the PH Classifieds are ready to ride to your rescue with a good selection of more attainable 964 options, starting with this 1990 Carrera 2 manual cabrio in Guards Red with piped black leather. It has just under 113,000 miles and a price tag of £37,990.
Six thousand pounds more will get you into this black Carrera 4 coupe with linen leather and 108,000 miles. If it's a Carrera RS or nothing, here's a German-spec '92 75,000-miler, yours for a fiver under £130,000, which is sort of cheap for one of these: there are two more RSs for sale on PH that are £50,000-£70,000 more expensive.
Search for a Porsche 964 here
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