Long Love Affair

By
Updated: October 4, 2019

Anyone who really loves cars should want to own a Porsche 911 at some point in their life, and being a mechanic certainly makes the ownership experience a less costly one.

Except perhaps buying shares in Facebook or Apple 15 years ago, there have been few better investments than air-cooled Porsche 911s. The way these 1964-1997 sports cars have surged in value reflects how desirable such purist rear-engined two -doors are, sought for their design beauty, performance, engineering and driving joy.

Being from an era when electronic driver aids were something for the future, early 911s have a reputation as being somewhat unforgiving, especially if the rear end steps out and the driver runs out of talent in a corner. Ownership costs also means it helps to have deep pockets. In the main they’re well-built and robust cars, but at this age problems inevitably occur, and if you can’t do the work yourself those bills just multiply. Spare parts are readily available – Porsche recognises the ever-growing market for OEM classic genuine parts – and charges customers accordingly.

The earliest 911s could rust horrendously before Porsche decided to galvanise the chassis, while the fabled 2.7-litre six-cylinders of the 1970s sounded glorious, but were prone to expensive failure.

“The Work Is Superb, And It’s Near Impossible To Spot This Car Began Life With The Steering Wheel On The Other Side.”

Generally, the later the air-cooled 911, the more reliable. Even so, it’s no wonder many mechanically-minded people own 911s;

if you aren’t handy on the spanners any money you make in increased value can quickly be swallowed up with expensive repair and maintenance bills.

Graeme Block’s lifetime as a mechanic has ensured his 15 years of owning a classic 911 has been a happy experience. Sure, there’s been plenty of labour involved, including a left- to right-hand-drive conversion, engine rebuild and bare-metal respray, but it’s clear Graeme’s passion for his Porsche remains strong.

His is a USA-specification 1987 3.2 Carrera Coupe with flat-six engine, which was the first year the tough-as-nails Getrag G50 five-speed gearbox with hydraulically operated clutch was introduced, making reliability of such examples more likely.

Power was a modest (by today’s standards) 162kW at 5900rpm for North American cars with their harsher emissions laws, while other markets used the same engine delivering 174kW. The 0-100kmh sprint could be cracked in under six-seconds, which for the era was impressive enough.

The hard-to-miss whale tail rear spoiler above the engine cover was also a factory was made for Autobahns.”

Graeme has changed plenty on this 911 however, and as is typical of any car over 30 years old, it has stories to tell. It was delivered new to the USA, but ended up in Japan before being shipped to Australia by a friend of Graeme’s who ran a car yard.

“When I saw it, I quickly said ‘I’ll have that,’” he explained. “It was the Turbo widebody 930 model that got me into 911s in the mid-1970s, and I’d always wanted one. I thought the time was right.”

Ownership wasn’t daunting for the experienced mechanic. After school he served his apprenticeship with Holden in Ballarat, moved to Ford once qualified, then spent five years as a diesel mechanic on earthmoving equipment. “That was a really valuable experience,” he said. “You were sent out to fix something on your own, and you had no choice but to work it out. Good training.”

Graeme and his wife took over the lease of a Golden Fleece service station, him on the tools in the garage and she serving the petrol. “We were selling petrol at 13c a litre, that’s how long ago it was,” Graeme mentioned.

The couple took over a BP servo next, before establishing a large garage workshop when fuel sales stopped being profitable. Plenty of experience on European cars gave Graeme the confidence to tackle the 911. “It was in pretty good condition, but I didn’t want it to remain left-hand-drive. I planned on keeping it a long time, so was happy to have it re-engineered after I’d begun pulling it apart,” he said. “I bought original new parts through the local Porsche dealership and employed an Austrian expert to do the right-hand-drive work. I’d seen a lot of crappy conversions in my time, and I know it’s a big job so wasn’t tempted to do it myself. Welding’s not for me and it needed engineer certified at the finish.”

The work is superb, and it’s near impossible to spot this car began life with the steering wheel on the other side. A few years ago another major job was a bare-metal respray as the original black paint was getting lots of crows footing due to the old type of paint used. A modern metallic version of the same colour was applied by Graeme’s local auto body experts, and he replaced all the window and door seals at the same time.

The owner’s expertise was called upon, 911 however, and as is typical of any car over 30 years old, it has stories to tell. It was delivered new to the USA, but ended up in Japan before being shipped to Australia by a friend of Graeme’s who ran a car yard.

“When I saw it, I quickly said ‘I’ll have that,’” he explained. “It was the Turbo widebody 930 model that got me into 911s in the mid-1970s, and I’d always wanted one. I thought the time was right.

Ownership wasn’t daunting for the experienced mechanic. After school he served his apprenticeship with Holden in Ballarat, moved to Ford once qualified, then spent five years as a diesel mechanic on earthmoving equipment. “That was a really valuable experience,” he said. “You were sent out to fix something on your own, and you had no choice but to work it out. Good training.

Graeme and his wife took over the lease of a Golden Fleece service station, him on the tools in the garage and she serving the petrol. “We were selling petrol at 13c a litre, that’s how long ago it was,” Graeme mentioned.

“After I Did The Rebuild It Ran So Much Better, And It’s Run Like A Clock Ever Since.”

The couple took over a BP servo next, before establishing a large garage workshop when  somewhat unexpectedly, with an engine rebuild. “The clutch failed on a trip to Melbourne, so a mate gave me some workshop space,” Graeme said. “I ended up there for five weeks, in the middle of a Ballarat winter, as once the engine was out to change the clutch, I investigated why it’d been blowing a bit of smoke. I took the heads off to do the valve guides, did a head recondition and discovered broken head bolts – a common issue – so did the full engine rebuild.”

Porsche rebuilds are no easy thing. It’s a fairly sophisticated motor and parts aren’t cheap. “It’s very expensive if you need someone else to do it,” Graeme added. “After I did the rebuild it ran so much better, and it’s run like a clock ever since.”

He’s added Koni adjustable shock absorbers to improve the day-to-day drive, new carpets went in after the right-hand-drive conversion and he’s replaced the headlining. The original seats had cracks in the leather, so Graeme jumped at the chance to buy re-covered ivory/beige leather full electric replacements out of a Porsche 930 Turbo.

 

The small Momo steering wheel was on the car when he bought it, and Graeme’s tilted the speedo so he can see where 110kmh is through the wheel. He’s added a classy small gear knob – a short shift kit is on the to-do list – while new halogen headlights are a big improvement over the 30-year-old originals.

“It’s my weekend car for club runs and just enjoying,” Graeme said. “It’s easy to live with; I just need to adjust the valves occasionally, and give it the annual fluid changes. The 3.2-litre engine really comes alive over 4000rpm, with the redline at 6500rpm. It’s lovely and lively up there.”

What about the classic 911 reputation in the corners? “It’s better to throw it into a corner, try to get it to start to slide, then power through it,” he said. “I used to race a Porsche 944 and its 50/50 balance made it a totally different and more forgiving driving experience, especially in the corners.

There really is nothing quite like a 911 however, especially these classic air-cooled examples. The engineering, analog drive experience and killer good looks. Graeme and his classic look set for many more years of enjoyment together.