1985 Porsche 911 Long-Term Road Test - Maintenance

1985 Porsche 911 Long-Term Road Test - Maintenance

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1985 Porsche 911: It Takes a Very Steady Hand

April 16, 2012


I've checked the oil on our long-term Porsche 911 countless times. With the dipstick tube placed inside the oil filler neck, the specter of accidentally dropping the dipstick down the filler has always haunted me.

Scott Oldham stopped by my desk to ask me if the Porsche's oil was topped off. He was planning on driving it into Orange County this afternoon. It had been a few weeks since I drove it, so I offered o check it before he took off.

The oil level was just a bit above the low mark, so I poured in about a quart-and-a-half of full synthetic. Then it happened. The dipstick dropped into the filler neck. I rushed to shut down the engine just in case it drops into the block. I was hoping that I'd be able to fish it out with a finger, but no dice, it was too far down there.


In the diagram above, the gray lines represent the oil filler, the black lines are for the dipstick tube and the red is the errant dipstick. Yeah, that's right, I made a diagram.

Just as I stood there scratching my head, up walks Oldham with his briefcase in hand, ready to head south on the 405.

WireHanger.jpg I told him the good news: The Porsche's got enough oil now. And the bad news: Ummmm, I lost the dipstick in the tube. I rushed back up to our offices to try and track down a wire hanger and an alternate set of car keys. Thankfully, Riswick just happened to have a hanger under his desk.

I dashed back to the Porsche and Oldham let me know that he could see the dipstick. By the light of his iPhone, I hooked that sucker on the first try. Crisis averted. I suppose it would be a good idea to keep that wire hanger in the Porsche from now on.

Mark Takahashi, Automotive Editor @ 126,500 miles

1985 Porsche 911: Ride Height Versus Windshield Washers

January 31, 2012


Open the gas door on our 1985 Porsche 911 and you'll see two fillers: one for gasoline and another for windshield washer fluid.

As far as I can tell, the windshield washers have never worked since we bought the car, though few staffers I asked could remember if they ever tried to use them or not. Whatever the case, a recent inspection on our Rotary Lift revealed the reason why. Turns out you can see a lot more with the wheels off at eye level, even if you're not looking for it.


As you can see, the fill hose is worn clean through before it ever gets to the tank. It looks like the previous owner's autocross wheel alignment and its low ride height setting brought tire and hose into close proximity. And the tires he fitted were 215 mm wide instead of 205 mm wide.

Also, it appears this car's front end crash damage (yes, that's what those wrinkles are) wasn't quite pulled out all the way in this area, so the fill hose might be running a bit farther outboard than it did when everything was new and straight.

At least the suspension pickup points appear to have escaped crash damage.

I should be able to fix this now that our car's front tire size is back at the OE spec and its ride height (24.5 inches at the fender lip) is much closer to the 25.0-inch factory setting than it was before we brought it to our alignment wizard.

Of course that's just the hose. I still need to check and see if the pump still works.

Dan Edmunds, Director of Vehicle Testing

1985 Porsche 911 Carrera: The Alignment Wizard

January 16, 2012


Steve Alarcon's hair is silver, which is probably appropriate since he's a kind of wizard. Of course, his magical powers aren't quite what you expect, since they involve the mysteries of suspension alignment and the Porsche 911.

There are two people in Los Angeles to whom you take your Porsche 911 for an alignment, Alarcon at Johnson's Alignment Service in Torrance or Darin Nishimura (who learned the trade from Alarcon) at West End Alignment in Gardena. When we put new tires on the Black Plague, we signed up for an appointment with Alarcon.

When it comes to owning a 911, lots of people want to skip over the issues of suspension alignment, but ask yourself, if you had a car with a wheelbase shorter than that of a Miata with the majority of its weight packaged at the wrong end of the car, wouldn't you want to do your best to ensure that the thing would go down the road straight?


Alarcon is a little bit of a legend in Porsche circles. Over the years, he's laid hands on a lot of Porsches in his family-owned business (his 80-year-old father still comes to the shop every day), and he even does all the Porsches in actor Jerry Seinfeld's collection. Alarcon has also been a racer with the Porsche Owner's Club and IMSA since 1985.

For all this, Alarcon says there is really no magic in the approach he takes to a 911 alignment. "It really starts with just getting the corner weights right," he says. "Porsche's specs call for as little as a 20 pound difference side to side, and if you're off one click on the torsion bar setting, you can jack as much as a 100 pounds into the cross weight. No one can make a 911 handle right if they're trying to align a car with that kind of cross-weight issue. We've even seen a brand-new 911 GT3 RSR with 16 miles on the odometer come in here with the corner weights out of spec, so it shows you that even a car fresh from the assembly line should be checked.

"We also set the corner weights with the weight of the driver behind the steering wheel. That's the way the car is actually going to be driven, so that's the place where the alignment should begin. Again, you want to make sure you start your alignment in the right place."

Alarcon took the Black Plague for a quick test drive before the corner weights were set. While the car was on the scales, he looked at it in profile with the practiced eye of a man checking the conformity of a thoroughbred race horse and said the car looked a little low at the left front corner, as if it had settled a bit. The corner weights bore this out, as they were just a fraction out. (Darin Nishimura at West End Alignment had done the alignment for the car's previous owner, so we knew we were starting from a top-quality basis.)

Next we had a frank conversation with Alarcon about the kind of usage the 911 was getting and what we anticipated for the future. "There are lots of ways to set up a 911," he says, "and it makes no sense to set one up for the race track if you're driving it on the freeway every day. If we set up the car for the way you really drive, you'll have a much more enjoyable experience with your Porsche."


We knew that our Porsche had been set up for autocross by its previous owner, as its low ride height indicated. The Johnson's Alignment technician found more than 2.0 degrees of static negative camber in the rear tires, which is what you would expect, and Alarcon's test drive had led him to believe that the front end had been set with a measure of added caster, which made the steering effort a bit heavy even as it added straight-line stability.

We settled on a little less static camber front and rear, negative 1.75 degrees. The caster is now at positive 6.5 degrees and there's just a tiny bit of toe-in for stability, 0.06 inches in front and 0.12 inches in the rear. We also dispensed with our strut tower bar, as Alarcon noted its old-school design was actually causing the top of the dampers to bind in their mounts, which could lead to a broken damping rod. The technician also discovered an inverted toe link in the front suspension and set it to rights. Alarcon also said that if we wanted to help the car come alive in the handling department, a set of anti-roll bars from a 1986 Porsche Turbo would transform the driving experience.

Alarcon took a more extensive test drive at the end of the two hours it took to complete the work and gave the car his blessing. In a way this is a big part of what you're paying for, since Alarcon's experience gives him insight into whether a Porsche 911 feels right, which is something that is very hard to describe, no matter how elaborate your vocabulary might be. Naturally we came away with an elaborate racing-type setup sheet for the car with its corner weights, caster settings, camber settings, toe specifications and fender heights.


To us, the Black Plague still feels low and settled on the road, but it's more resilient and lighter on its feet, and the steering is notably lighter in effort without any loss in communication. The alignment of the steering wheel has been trued up with the suspension changes, too.

For all our attempts to make Alarcon a wizard, it was a surprise to learn that he is just a simple enthusiast like us. He had a silver Porsche 914 four-cylinder in high school and eventually put it back together as a kind of hobby car (now in white) in 1985. Then he happened to align a racing Porsche 911 for Bill Follmer, son of Porsche racing legend George Follmer, and Bill invited him to run a few laps on the race track with his 914.

Predictably Alarcon was hooked by racing almost instantly, and has raced ever since then in a succession of 911SCs converted to winged hot rods plus a rare Porsche Cup version of the 993-type 911 that he's now restoring to its original specification and graphics. As Alarcon explained, he's just another hobbyist, spending too much money on his 911s just like all of us.

Michael Jordan, Executive Editor, Edmunds.com

1985 Porsche 911: New Tires, Behind the Scenes

January 12, 2012

911_lift_service_1600.jpg 911_lift_1600.jpg 911_tires_rear_1600.jpg 911_tires_pass_1600.jpg 911_2ndgear_nohand_1600.jpg 911_full_lock_1600.jpg 911_gap_measuring_tool_1600.jpg 911_push_1600.jpg 911_hunter_1600.jpg

You read that we installed new tires on our 1985 Porsche 911. But that didn't even give you half the story. Here is a little taste of the installation process...

In no particular order. Reader's Digest style:

- We eagerly loaded the 911 with tires.

- The tire shop was close. We figured access to 1st and 2nd gear would be plenty.

- Then we remembered reverse, so Rex got a workout.

- Unsure as to whether the fronts would fit with the aggressive alignment, we checked full lock.

- We measured tire clearance at full lock with a specialized smudging tool.

- Even the mighty Hunter could not balance these tires, cause all 4 wheels are bent to some degree.

- And when all was said and done, we paid $129 for our troubles.

Mike Schmidt, Vehicle Testing Manager @ 123,600 miles

1985 Porsche 911 Carrera: Round and Black

January 10, 2012


You would think that getting tires for a slightly weathered Porsche would be the work of a moment. After all, tires are all round and black, aren't they?

But when the ancient Bridgestones on the Black Plague finally had given their all after a summer of sliding through the canyons, it took serious detective work to locate some tires in the correct size.

We'd scoped out the situation clear back last spring, and while it was apparent that the selection of 16-inch tires for Porsche 911s was rapidly becoming smaller, there were choices available. But when we looked again last month, it appeared that every last 245/45R-16 tire on the planet had been kidnapped by aliens.


This is a fairly rare size, of course. Most of the American-specification 911SCs and 911 Carrera 3.2s of the 1980s carry 16-inch wheels with 7.0-inch rims in the front and 8.0-inch rims in the back. A 225/50R-16 is the preferred size for rear tires, and you can still find a good selection of modern tires in this size from first-class tire manufacturers.

Meanwhile, the Turbo (and "Turbo Look") variants of these 1980s 911s have 16-inch wheels with 9.0-inch rims meant to carry 245/45R-16s, and naturally the market isn't very large for these tires. We found that Nexen made a tire in this size (a friend of ours at Honda put them on his 911 Carrera 3.2 and seems to like these Korean-made tires well enough), but we were hoping for something a little more high tech for the Black Plague than just "round and black."

The Porsche forums have been noting the scarcity of Turbo-size rear tires for 1980s 911s in recent months. There were choices to be made if you chose an almost treadless R-compound tire from BF Goodrich, Hankook, Hoosier, Kuhmo, or Toyo, but nothing in a street tire. Then we discovered that the Fuzion ZRi came in the right size, and it turns out that the company has links to Bridgestone and indeed seems to incorporate past Bridgestone technology in its tires. Tire Rack seemed to evaluate this Z-rated summer performance tire very favorably. The trouble was, the only examples we could find being marketed on the Internet seemed to be leftovers in faraway Florida tire emporiums.

Then by a fluke we tried Automotion, a long-time specialist in Porsche parts and accessories with a large presence in Porsche specialist magazines. It has a nice thick catalog that you can download (Automotion will even mail it to you for free), and a few seconds work with the Web site located the set of Fuzion ZRis we needed and a $588.41 click of the mouse dispatched them to us by UPS. Of course, we're a little afraid to read the sidewall code and find out exactly when the tires were manufactured, but among our options in the round and black department, we feel good about our purchase. The truth is, the Dunlop SP Sport D40 tires that we recall as original fitment for the 1986 Porsche 911 Turbo in the U.S. might have been great at the time, but perhaps not so high-tech in retrospect.

There are two lessons here. First, it will be a long time before you discover that parts for an old Porsche 911 are unavailable (New Old Stock, reproductions and junkyard pieces fill the gap), but tires might be another matter, because technology has changed so rapidly over the last 40 years (heck, the last 10 years). There are tire companies that specialize in tires of the distant past, but fitments for the Porsche 911 are not yet on their radar.

The second lesson is, the Porsche aftermarket is vast and healthy. In the old days, you had to find parts with late night phone calls to strangers in foreign lands, but now companies like Automotion make it as easy to own an old Porsche as it is to own an old Chevy.

Of course, sometimes you will have to settle for round and black.

Michael Jordan, Executive Editor, Edmunds.com

1985 Porsche 911: A Look Underneath

January 02, 2012


That's our old 911 on our new 2-post Rotary Lift. Two of my favorite things. Hit the jump and check out the photos of the Black Plague's underbelly. Pretty nice under there. And wait until you see the Porsche's crazy exhaust.







Scott Oldham, Editor in Chief

1985 Porsche 911: And Another Thing

December 12, 2011


I realized this weekend that the 911's rear tires are done. It's possible I realized this because I actually tried to drive the car like a Porsche should be driven. That was a regretable mistake.

But not as regretable as trying to drive it to work this morning in the rain. The evil machine tried to kill me no fewer than three times. The problem was particularly bad when immersed in the jetwash of a tractor trailer which would occassionaly obscure the road surface.

Not. Fun.


Time for new rubber. Or to dump the 911.


1985 Porsche 911: No Rear Defrost

November 28, 2011


Last week I discovered that our Porsche's rear defroster does not work. Pretty sure we'll leave that fix to the 911's next keeper.

That is all.

Scott Oldham, Editor in Chief

1985 Porsche 911: A Little More Oil

November 14, 2011


This morning I checked the Porsche's oil. It was down a quart, so I poured one in. That brings our 911's total oil use to one quart shy of an entire case since we bought it back in February. How do I know? Simple, we only have one quart left from the case of Brad Penn we picked up a few weeks after we bought the car.


Since Feb. we've driven the 911 about 12,000 miles. We're not exactly sure because its speedometer and odometer weren't working for the first few months we owned the car.

But we do know this. We bought the car with 113,800 miles on the its odometer and now it's about the break 123,000.

Scott Oldham, Editor in Chief

1985 Porsche 911: It Does Leak A Little

November 09, 2011

porsche_911_oil.JPG But not too much. This was after about a week and a half of being parked in my garage. The drop locations are from me parking differently, so it's likely leaking from the same place.

Brent Romans, Senior Automotive Editor

1985 Porsche 911 Carrera: Zenmaster Tip #4

November 08, 2011


Tip #4:

Got Chain Tensioners?

Nothing gets critics of the 911 engine going like the long-running story of its chain tensioners. If you have a pre-1984 Porsche 911, you know all about it. You can even see videos on YouTube!

Happily the Black Plague isn't affected. But if you're looking to buy a used 911, this is something you need to know about.

When the Porsche flat-6 engine was designed by Hans Mezger, an overhead-cam cylinder head was then a new thing for Porsche, and the packaging of such a potentially wide design in a flat engine was an issue. Engines of the early 1960s adopted duplex timing chains to spin the camshafts and Mezger did the same. This design was a dramatic improvement over the complicated shaft and bevel drive featured in Porsche's overhead cam engines of the 1950s. Rubber belts were investigated by Mezger, but this technology didn't become reliable until the 1970s.

Then as now, metal timing chains themselves were spectacularly reliable. That's why they have replaced the quieter rubber belts as U.S. air emissions laws changed to require 100,000-mile durability. But in the 1960s, the ability to keep the chains running to the proper tension wasn't easy. High-mileage engines (or engines that saw a lot of running at peak rpm) were prone to issues.

It was discovered that a cost-cutting measure in the early 1970s within the 911's flat-6 had changed the design of the idler support for the timing chain. It had to make do without its former bronze bushing, and the use of a design that had a steel-to-steel interface caused galling and ultimately binding in the tensioner, so it didn't control the timing chain at all. As a result, the slack chain wore rapidly, started whipping around (it's a long chain with long, unsupported runs), and eventually would jump a tooth on the valve-timing gear. The result was broken rocker arms, bent valves, broken pistons, and worse!

Finally the issue was solved in 1984 with special hardened contact arms for the idler support, plus each support has two bronze bushings with a spring plus a small oil reservoir between them to keep them in place. It's commonplace to retrofit this hardware to 911 engines to ensure the timing chain doesn't cause any problems. When you look at pre-1984 911s, you should always look for this modification.

Finally the last version of the Mezger engine in the 964- and 993-type cars adopted a new curved ramp design and feature twin external tensioners, which finally solved tensioner issue and also make the cam chain quieter at last.

You would think that such design eccentricities were a thing of the past at Porsche, but then we could start talking about the seal for the intermediate shaft in the new water-cooled 911 and Boxster engines!

Lee Rice, Rice's Performance Porsches

1985 Porsche 911 Carrera: Zenmaster Tip #3

November 04, 2011


Tip #3:

Post-1984 Sparkplug Ignition Leads Work Best!

So you've got a funny low-rpm ignition miss? Or occasional misfires? Or hard starting in rainy conditions? Install the right kind of ignition cables!

In order to solve backfire problems during the start up of 1977 – 1983 Porsche 911 engines, the factory installed braided-metal high-tension ignition cables.

The factory engineers feared that stray ignition leaks (sparks) were igniting fuel during the start sequence of lean-running, post-1976 engines, causing backfires that were constantly reported, especially in changing weather conditions. Because the plastic airbox didn't have a vent, it would split as if exploded by a cherry bomb, and replacement proved expensive. (Flapper valves for the airbox were soon developed by the aftermarket.)

It was thought by the Porsche engineers that the braided ignition leads would serve to ground any stray electrical pulses. But as the insulation for these cables aged and dried, their insulation properties soon were compromised. The result would be a little loss in spark energy for one cylinder or another, a low-speed ignition miss and sometimes a failed smog check!

Some owners replaced the stock braided-steel leads with trick aftermarket items, but I have found as many problems with these (even new ones) as in old braided-steel leads.

The best answer is the BERU high-tension ignition cables that have been used as stock items by Porsche since 1984. They are double- or triple-layer silicon-insulated and epoxy-sealed cables with spark-plug connectors and distributor connectors. They have proven reliable for the super-lean running conditions of engines controlled by digital control boxes, like that of the Porsche 911 Carrera 3.2.

Solving electronic problems is time-consuming and expensive. If you have intermittent ignition issues in an early air-cooled 911 engine, start by installing the BERU cables.

Lee Rice, Rice's Performance Porsches

1985 Porsche 911 Carrera: Zenmaster Tip #2

November 02, 2011


Tip #2:

Check Your Transaxle Oil Level!

The Type 915 transmission has its challenges, but it can be made to work very well. Remember, this transmission began with a racing-spec gearbox and then was used extensively by Porsche racing cars in the 1970s, when the 911 3.0 RSR dominated IMSA sports car racing in the hands of Peter Gregg and others.

But there's one thing you must do for 911s equipped with the 915 transmission (1972 – 1986) and that is to check the oil level. Fifth gear was added to the original four-speed racing gearbox, so it's probably no surprise that it is positioned the farthest away from the oil within the transaxle case. When the oil level is low, fifth gear often runs dry even at cruising speed. During transaxle repairs, I've often found that fifth gear has turned blue from lack of lubrication – and it is junk!

Always check your transaxle oil level at every oil change!

Lee Rice, Rice's Performance Porsches

1985 Porsche 911 Carrera: Zenmaster Tip #1

November 01, 2011


Tip #1: Watch Your Fingers!

Early 911 engines require the ignition timing to be checked at 6,000 rpm, while the 930 911 Turbo and 911 with CIS are to be checked at 4,000 rpm. Plus you check oil level with the engine running as well.

At 6,000 rpm, the engine cooling fan is actually turning 9,600 rpm. This can eat fingers. Also never work on a 911 engine with anything in your shirt pocket, because it can fall out and spill into the fan.

And never look into the engine compartment with a necktie on. My brother learned the necktie lesson in the first 365 days of owning a Porsche. He got off lucky when his tie shredded before it sucked his face into the fan.

He now wears thick gloves when he's working with the engine running, and he's glad he does. One day while adjusting the timing on his 930 Turbo he touched the sheetmetal that shields the turbocharger. The super-hot metal made him jerk his hand away and right into the fan! The result wasn't pretty, but the glove saved his badly broken finger from being completely mangled.

So watch your fingers. I've learned that this is nothing to take lightly.

Lee Rice, Rice's Performance Porsches

1985 Porsche 911: Bringing Down the Lights

October 25, 2011


When digital sniper Kurt Niebuhr returned from Rennsport (if you haven't seen the gallery, do it now), he mentioned that I may have aimed our long-term 911's headlights just a bit too high. He said he felt bad for the people he blinded as he crept up on the highway. I decided to remedy the high aiming this morning when I got into our office. Figuring that boss-man Brent Romans is taking it up to his remote office up north for a week or so, I thought it'd be a good thing.

PorscheLightAdj.jpg In the animated image above you can see the before and after. Adjusting the lights is a simple process after doing it once already. Just one Philips head screwdriver was all I needed. It actually took more time to set up the camera on the tripod and shoot these pics than it did to adjust the lights. Hopefully this will do the trick. If not, I'm sure Brent can adjust them as he sees fit.

Mark Takahashi, Automotive Editor

1985 Porsche 911: Down(ing) a Quart

September 26, 2011

911 oil fill.jpg Before the GF and I took a coastal ride up PCH (from Santa Monica to Santa Barbara), I checked the 911's oil. The dipstick, which is located and easily accessed within the oil filler's neck, showed that the oil level was down a bit. Adding oil is easy in this car, as there's no need for a funnel thanks to the ideal size and angle of the filler neck. The Turbo Look took a quart to put the reading midway between the low and high marks on the stick.

A few random observations after the jump...

-- I prefer cars with sport-tuned suspensions and as such am pretty forgiving of a firm ride. But this thing might as well have its wheels bolted straight to the body, so unyielding is the ride. Of course it's not a big deal on smooth pavement, but run over a dime and a quarter and your butt will be able to distinguish between the two . Ed griped about it too but as with him, it's not a deal breaker because I thoroughly enjoy driving it.

-- I love the unassisted steering, as it provides one of the most communicative relationships between my hands and the road that I've ever felt. The 911's lightly-loaded front end (as you know 911s are seriously rearward weight-biased) also helps you feel what the tires are doing.

-- As others have pointed out, the aggressively-bolstered sport seats do a fantastic job of providing long-trip comfort on an interstate slog and hug-you-in-place support on the curves.

John DiPietro, Automotive Editor @ ~ 120,450 miles

1985 Porsche 911: Tea Tray Spoiler Is On #2

September 14, 2011


Our boys had some adventures with hand tools when they decided to swap the Black Plague's traditional-style rear deck for the Turbo-type rear wing that originally came with the M491 Turbo Look.

We're just switching things up with the way the car looks. And there's some science involved with the wing that we'll talk about later.

But imagine our boys' disappointment at the end of the transplant when they couldn't get the rear deck to open. When they pulled the T-handle for the release cable that's located on the B-pillar, the lid would pop ajar, but the latch hung up and the lid wouldn't open.

This is why it's good to have the Porsche Zenmaster on speed dial.


As Lee Rice at Rice's Performance Porsches quickly reassured us, this sort of thing happens all the time with an old 911. The latch's locating pin gets misaligned from abuse over time, and the weight of the wing just made the situation worse for our car.

Rice released the tension on the cable at the T-handle, then crawled under the rear bumper and used a flashlight and a pick to jimmy open the latch pin. (We had tried much the same thing, but without success.) The rear deck wouldn't stay open, so clearly one of the hydraulic struts had gone bad. Rice found the bad strut, then replaced it with a used one that was swimming around in his toolbox. And while he was at it, he re-shimmed the lid on its locating struts so it fit better (which was part of the problem to begin with).

Rice says, "Want a perfect fit? I've watched restoration guys do it. You get two guys holding one side of the wing and two guys on the other, and they hold the wing in place without touching the paint. And then another guy shims the fit and fastens the bolts. It's a little more than you and a neighbor can handle."

Properly aligning the latch isn't the work of a moment, either. The alignment sleeve for the locking pin itself is just zinc-plated pot metal, so it gets torn up over time and makes the alignment process more critical than you'd think. First you position the latch with the locating bolts, then you adjust the reach of the latch pin to ensure a tight closure, and finally you make sure the spring has the proper tension so the lid will pop loose when you pull the cable release.

As you might guess, the number of variables here means you have to do this a couple three times plus hold your mouth just right in order for everything to come together.


As Rice says, "When you do bodywork on an old American car, all the clearances are large. Nothing fits very well but you can put it together really fast, which is how they can build them so cheap. The bigger the hammer you use, the better. That's why people who work on cheap cars think bodywork is easy. When you're fiddling with the bodywork on a Porsche, all the clearances are tight. It gives you good quality, but it can take forever to get things just right.

"When you work on an old American car, you feel like a tractor mechanic. When you work on an old Porsche, you feel like a watchmaker."

When we were looking at the worn alignment sleeve on the latch pin, we thought about just replacing the whole latch assembly. After all, how expensive could it be? But a call to PartsHeaven, Rice's preferred Porsche dismantling operation, which ships nationally from its location in Hayward, California, revealed that a used one is $163.07.

So we spent $128.49, not including breakfast beforehand where Rice told us the long, long story of spoilers and wings at Porsche. It was a reminder that these things didn't find their way to 911s by accident. As Rice told us, "Back when my car didn't have a spoiler or wing, I used to drive up the freeway in the rain and you could get wheelspin at 100 mph."

About which, more later.

Michael Jordan, Executive Editor, Edmunds.com @ 119,078 miles

1985 Porsche 911: Tea Tray Spoiler is On

September 08, 2011


Yesterday Ed Hellwig and I installed the huge Tea Tray spoiler on our long-term 1985 Porsche 911. First we bolted the spoiler to the car's original hood, then we swapped hoods. Took about an hour. It was an easy operation, but...





...now the hood won't open. Yes, Ed and I are questionable mechanics, we even screwed this up. Hopefully our 911 guru can fix it in the morning.

Aside from the not opening problem I think it looks pretty good. What do you think?

Scott Oldham, Editor in Chief

1985 Porsche 911 Carrera: Accounting Update

September 06, 2011


It's time for an accounting update of the money we've spent so far on the 1985 Porsche 911 Carrera M491.

How you feel about it probably depends on your thinking about used cars versus real estate.

When you buy a used car, you're generally hoping to duck the initial cost of depreciation, squeeze as much useful life out of the machinery before the inevitable maintenance costs begin to mount up, then dump it and move on to something else. It's a kind of slash-and-burn strategy from the pioneer days, where you'd clear the forest, raise a bunch of corn until the land became exhausted, then move on to somewhere else.

When you're looking at a really old car, the real estate idea applies. When you're buying a used house, you look for the most undervalued property in a good neighborhood, improve it with sweat equity and strategic upgrades, then sell out at a profit and begin again in an even better neighborhood. Those of us who have grown up in California, which has been a kind of ongoing land swindle since 1888, are used to this way of thinking.

So around here we tend to think of genuinely old cars as real estate. There is usually a bunch of deferred maintenance to address and the costs can be discouraging. But the value of collectible-style cars on the auction circuit is alluring (if not always a realistic goal), and the market for a semi-collectible car is always stronger than that for a tired old used car.

In any case, our initial cost amounted to $16,000. As of June 16, 2011, we had spent $2,546 for assorted repairs and improvements as described in this post.

Since that time, we have spent $399.44 for:

1) Rearview mirror repair, $4
2) Wheel cap repair, $5
3) Turtle Wax Black Box self-detail, $21.99 (not including $25 for Montecristo #4 - Habano)
4) H5 headlight bulb replacement, $54.36
5) Bushing replacement for clutch pedal, $314

The value of a 1985 Porsche 911 Turbo Look ranges between a low of $21,800 and a high of $29,000 (down $2,200 overall since 2008), according to Porsche guru Bruce Anderson in Excellence. The 2011 pricing guide of Keith Martin's Sports Car Market reports that recent sales indicate the M491's price ranges between a low of $21,000 and a high of $23,000.

Meanwhile, we only have seen two M491s advertised for sale in PCA's Porsche Panorama (which attracts only cars that have been well cared for by PCA members) over the course of the summer, one priced at $36,900 and another at $32,600. We've also seen a nice white one on the Pelican Parts forum for $22,500. And every time we venture into public with the Black Plague, someone pulls out a fistful of cash and offers us money for it.

Did we do the right thing? You make the call. (Remember, our car has a fresh engine and fresh transmission.)

Michael Jordan, Executive Editor, Edmunds.com

1985 Porsche 911 Carrera: Clutch Player #3

August 31, 2011

Porsche 911 Pedals.jpg

Our Porsche guy Lee Rice replaced the bushings in the Black Plague's clutch pedal, though he spent a couple hours upside down in the footwell and got sunburn in a particularly unpleasant area to do it. It was a lot of trouble for $14 worth of plastic parts.

Afterwards Rice sent us a little note about the whole issue. It's interesting in its own right, but also it's a lesson that there's a lot more that goes into the way cars are built and subsequently evolve than we realize -- something that's especially true about the 911, which remained almost unchanged between 1964 and 1989. It's always amazing to discover what you think you know but don't. His report follows:

Anyway, having repaired your Carrera pedal bushings and reviewing my records as well as two articles I wrote on this very subject for my Orange County chapter of the PCA, I do know that the "creak-groan" sound that you reported in the clutch pedal action was mostly caused by a nylon bushing rubbing against the outer nylon spacer. The bushings were all a bit worn, but the locking pin was really scored. It comes from all that dirt and flaked water-damaged rust that's been floating around under the floor board in the pedal area after 30 years.

I replaced your bushings with original (though later improved material) plastic bushings, as the bronze bushings actually wear faster, then click and clack in the pedal box frame and actually make a loose feel in the pedal action. I wore out two sets of bronze bushings on my 911 discovering this, so now I use plastic for my car and most customer 911s. I don't agree with everything that PCA techical guru Bruce Anderson says about maintaining 911s, but on the issue of the pedal bushings we agree.

The pedal box — the stamped-steel frame that contains the clutch pedal, brake pedal and throttle bell-crank — is actually the same size as it was in 1964 when the 911 was introduced. Those early 911s had a little 2.0 engine with a 215mm clutch, so you could push down the clutch pedal with your index finger. The side loads on the clutch pedal were minimal at most. Over the years engine power went up dramatically and Porsche adapted the car to stronger clutches. (The racing clutches for the 3.0 RSR were extremely strong!) These stronger clutches wrecked havoc with bushings, shafts, cables, and pivot arms. Even the mountings on the bell housing sometimes tore out!

To make way for the bracing required for the brake pedal when vacuum-assisted brakes were introduced (and then later the clutch-pedal starter interlock), the pedal box got longer shafts to move the clutch cable over in the center of the tunnel down the middle of the platform. So when you actuate the clutch pedal in your Carrera 3.2, the clutch cross-shaft moves slightly downward on the pedal side and upward on the cable side. And the longer clutch cross-shaft introduced for the Carrera 3.2 makes the side-to-side play in the pedal and the friction in the pedal movement even more noticeable.

Even if you install a brand new pedal box, you'll always notice the same thing. There's always some looseness in the action and when you uncover the linkage you can observe the pedal arm, cross-shaft and cable end move around a bit. It looks so imprecise and kind of un-Porsche like, but it does work pretty well.

Since the original pedal box is exactly the same size as it was in 1964, the stamped steel frame is under-strength to say the least, so you just have to live with the compromise. I could tell you a lot more about just this issue, but this has probably already put you to sleep!

Lee Rice, Rice's Performance Porsches, Garden Grove, CA

Michael Jordan, Executive Editor, Edmunds.com @ 117,538 miles

1985 Porsche 911: Flash Plug-in Missing

August 26, 2011


I communicate with some of L.A.'s "talented" drivers in a variety of ways. The horn, a tirade laced with obscenities, a friendly wave and sometimes a thumbs up. Flashing the headlights is another, and I seem to use this as if to say, "pardon me." The horn, on the other hand, is more akin to shouting, "hey, are you blind?"

But my (our) Porsche won't flash.

It hasn't had this capability since we acquired it. It might have something to do with the spaghetti of wires I found when I replaced the headlight bulbs. But I'm not about to figure that one out. Electricity and I do not play well together. I once tried to replace the horn on my 1982 Corolla and ended up causing $300 worth of damage. True story.

Instead, I've taken to actually turning the headlights on and off by pulling and pushing on the switch. It's not very graceful or convenient, but it works. Maybe one of my colleagues who have some level of electrical acumen will be able to fix this.

Mark Takahashi, Automotive Editor

1985 Porsche 911: Let There Be Licht

August 15, 2011


The story, as it's been relayed to me, is that Herr Oldham was driving my 911 (I figure if I keep calling it "my" 911, perhaps I'll end up inheriting it) behind a pickup truck and noticed that one headlight was dim. Odds are, it was the difference in color, as chronicled in one of Erin's posts. As the unofficial Porsche tinkerer, I was charged with swapping out the bulbs this weekend.

The process itself was a piece of cake, needing only a phillip's head screwdriver.


Step 1: remove the headlight trim ring. It was only one screw at the six-o' clock position.


Step 2: remove the headlight assembly. I screwed-up on the driver's side and took apart the whole assembly when I loosened the aiming screws. I could have just removed two screws at the 10- and 5- o'clock position (the screw at the 8-o'clock tab was missing on both sides).


Here is the passenger-side assembly removed as a single unit. That wiring looks a little iffy to me, but electricity and I go together like orange juice and toothpaste. I knew better than to fix that.


I also noticed that the retaining tab on the passenger side socket was broken. The socket was tight enough to provide a snug fit, though.


Step 4: Pull the old bulbs and drop in the new. Here are the old bulbs. No wonder why the color was mis-matched. Oh, and it's imperative to keep your fingers from touching the new bulbs. I was careful not to touch them and wore rubber gloves just in case.


The three non-symmetrical tabs ensure that the new bulbs will be correctly oriented.


Then a rotating collar cinches the bulb into the housing.


After that it was just a matter of reassembling everything. The trim ring is held in place by that tiny tab with the v-cut in it. The screw under it adjusts the vertical aiming.


Here is the light pattern on my shed. As it turns out, the color temperatures are still off. I'm guessing that the lenses and reflectors are from a different batch. The black tape marks on the shed were to reference the numerous headlight swaps I performed on my Elise. Driving it later that night, I thought they were aimed too low, so I raised them slightly when I pulled into the office this morning.

That's it. Easy stuff.

Mark Takahashi, Automotive Editor @ 117,774 miles

1985 Porsche 911: Breakfast With the Zenmaster

August 12, 2011


Everyone who owns a Porsche has a Porsche guy that he takes it to. It's like a rule.

The Porsche guy is your mechanic, but he's also a guide to all things Porsche. It's about maintenance schedules and that sort of thing, but it's also about the proper way to do things (shift the transmission; order a part), a guide to other people in the hobby (famous guys; famously dumb guys), and the whole business of learning to be a Porsche guy yourself.

Lee Rice is our Porsche guy. He's like our own Zuffenhausen-style Yoda; that is, if Yoda had been transformed into a six-foot-two former aircraft maintenance superintendent in Garden Grove, California. And the best thing about taking the Black Plague 911 to Rice for some reason or other is the opportunity to trick him into having breakfast with us first.


The Porsche guy thing is just like the hot-rod guy thing, a leftover artifact of a time when people — not computerized databases — were the repositories of automotive knowledge. Rice is everything you want in a Porsche guy. He's worked on the cars for a long time (since 1968, really), knows them as only someone who has turned a wrench himself on literally every component can know them, and has met all the principals on the Porsche scene in L.A. over the past 30 years, from Andial's Alwin Springer to Ruf's Alois Ruf.

When Porsche first began to sell cars in the U.S., it trained mechanics in the formal European way and then dispatched them to central points all across America. They were missionaries sent to teach the Porsche Way. Lee Rice is like a second-generation version of these Porsche guys, someone who learned it from those who originally created it in the first place. Who would not want to have breakfast with such a guy?

Rice still remembers the time when he became a Porsche enthusiast. He had driven his fuel-injected '63 Corvette Stingray to Nepenthe, right there on California Highway 1 below Big Sur, so he could eat breakfast with his brother, who brought his '56 Porsche 356 Speedster with a racing-spec '61 S engine. They got to wrangling about cars, as only close-knit brothers (ex-Air Force brats) can, and Lee Rice challenged his brother to a race back up Highway 1 to Monterey.

"He made me give him a head start so he could at least get into second gear, and then we set off," Rice remembers. At the first big corner, Rice got on the Corvette's racing-spec drum brakes with semi-metallic linings and downshifted its close-ratio four-speed gearbox, but then he noticed that his brother was actually shifting his Porsche up into a taller gear.

"That was the last I saw of him," Rice says. "For a while I could hear his twin exhaust buzzing in the curves ahead of me, but pretty soon – nothing." He actually thought his brother might have crashed off the road someplace until he finally came to the long straight near the Coast Guard station and found him parked next to the road, stretched out as if taking a nap during the wait for the Corvette to catch up. The next day they both watched the sports car races at Laguna Seca as Alan Johnson and Richie Ginther lapped all the small-block Corvettes with their Porsche 911s.


Soon after, Rice went out and bought a new 1968 Porsche 911T, a car that he still has today, except that the only original parts which remain are the body shell and the dashboard. He recalls, "I remember opening the lid and seeing the engine laid out there in front of you and thinking how easy it would be to work on, with everything right out in the open and only a couple bolts to loosen to drop the engine right out of the car."

For all this, the thing that matters most to us about Rice is the way he works on our old 911 (which he seems to love even more than us, if that's possible). He came to the Porsche business after half a lifetime working on airplanes, first as an aircrewman on a Lockheed SP-2E Neptune in the U.S. Air Force, then as a maintenance superintendent for a fleet of DeHavilland DH6 Twin Otters, and finally as a light aircraft specialist at North American Rockwell.

All this has given Lee Rice a very particular aircraft-style way of doing things, which is what you want when your mechanic leans in the window as you roll up and asks what's up. Rice deals only with the air-cooled, pre-993 Porsche 911s, and since his overhead is low, he works on only one car at a time. He's a professional, but works on a friendly hobbyist scale. If he needs the equipment in a big shop, he knows the right guy to visit. More important, he uses proper procedures and fills out a repair report with the same care that he would an FAA airworthiness certificate, so there are no short-cuts allowed.

There will always be someone to tell us that we're overthinking and overspending the whole process of maintaining our 911, but experience has shown that such criticism usually comes from a guy who thinks the whole car maintenance thing is a game in which the object is to spend the least amount of money possible, which he attempts to prove by driving what is usually a dusty old Datsun B210 with a back bumper plastered in assorted wacky political slogans.

For us, the car maintenance game is about performance. You do your best, both with the way you drive and the way you spend money on your car. Be smart, not dumb. Don't spend foolishly, but don't be cheap foolishly. For us, Lee Rice isn't just making the car run better; he's making us care that the car runs better. Maybe that's what this whole Porsche guy thing is about.

Michael Jordan, Executive Editor, Edmunds.com @ 117,500 miles

1985 Porsche 911 Carrera: Clutch Player #2

August 11, 2011

Porsche 911 Pedals.jpgThe clutch! The clutch! There was panic on the floor of Edmunds.com's world headquarters as the rumor of clutch problems with the Black Plague 911 swept through the editorial staff.

To own a Porsche 911 is to live in fear of fear of the clutch. This is an old-fashioned cable-actuated clutch, not one of those wimpy hydraulically actuated items. The effort level isn't exactly like an old school bus, but everyone still worries whether they have to right kind of stuff to muscle the heavy action during commute hour. And apparently it's not a skill that comes to everyone, as conventional wisdom has it that some time soon (sooner than you think) you're going to have to yank out the engine and replace the clutch.

So you can imagine the panic when news went out that the voodoo god which lives in every Porsche 911's clutch seemed to be unhappy. What should we do, sacrifice a goat?

Turns out Mark Takahashi twice had experienced a pretty fraught commute with erratic action in the clutch pedal, as if the clutch itself might be slipping and then abruptly engaging. We sent out Scott Oldham to check out the problem, but he came back reporting no problem found (NPF). Of course, if the engine runs, Oldham usually figures that he's way ahead of the game. (Did we mention he's from New Jersey?) Then I took out the car and came back convinced that it was just some static friction (stiction) in the action of the clutch pedal itself, really only slightly different from what the clutch action has been all along.

So we took it along to our Porsche guy, Lee Rice of Rice's Performance Porsches, to see what he thought. He drove the car hard enough to decide that the clutch itself was in good shape. (It's a lightweight clutch, he reckons, which accounts for the willingness of the Black Plague's engine to spool up so quickly.)

Back at his shop, he dove into the footwell and pulled out the crappy floor mat and the wooden floorboard (yes, actual wood in a Porsche!) to reveal the clutch assembly. Just getting at the pedal and moving it by hand confirmed that indeed there was some erratic friction in the pedal assembly.

Like every Turbo chassis, our M491 Turbo Look car has a little helper spring on the clutch pedal assembly to reduce the effort of the pedal action, and this is the source of the spring noise that a couple people had reported. But the culprit in our stiction issue proved to be the plastic bushing at the pivot point of the clutch pedal. Worn by time, it was binding up. Rice had seen this sort of thing before (he's seen everything before), and he tried to flush out the grit in the pivot with some silicon lubricant but couldn't improve things very much.

If this car were driven by just one person, we'd probably leave the bushing as is, since you can adapt to the pedal action. But since so many different people are driving this car -- and so many are intimidated by the idea of a Porsche 911 clutch in the first place -- we're going to ask Rice to replace it. The plastic bushing itself is cheap (some people replace it with a metal bushing, although this might make the pedal action heavier than it should be), but you have to pull out the pedal assembly to get at it, so a couple hours of labor are required, plus fiddling with the clutch cable to reset the clutch engagement point.

Ah well, at least we won't have to sacrifice a goat.

Michael Jordan, Executive Editor, Edmunds.com @ 117,400 miles

1985 Porsche 911: Rut-row

June 28, 2011

porsche_ruttrow.jpg I ran a quick errand this afternoon in our Porsche 911. When I stepped out of the car at my destination I noticed something that made my heart skip a beat. Right there on the hood was the clear sign of rust underneath the paint.

When I got back to the office, I consulted Executive Editor and in-house classic Porsche guru Michael Jordan. What I thought might be a news flash was a known issue. He Scooby Doo'd a little history and found that before the '76 911, all Porsche's were noted for rusting away just like all other cars. The '76 was the first Porsche with galvanized steel and indeed before almost all other brands. According to Leffingwell's buyer's guide, the practice of dipping in a hot zinc bath began mid-'75 calendar year and added $100 to the manufacturing cost per car.

All well and good professor, but this spot of rust still sucks. Though it seems minor now, would you immediately get this remedied, or would you wait on this? Would you even concern yourself at all at this spot we have?

Scott Jacobs, Sr. Mgr, Photography

1985 Porsche 911 Carrera: What We've Fixed

June 16, 2011


So a guy tells me that he's found the perfect Porsche mechanic. He says, "He only spends money on the stuff that really needs fixing." It seems like a reasonable sort of thing to say, but what it really tells me is that I wouldn't want to be the next owner of his older 911.

When a guy thinks that most important thing about a Porsche is the financial calculus, you can pretty much guarantee that the car will be allow to fall into ruin. He won't spend money on a thing as long as the engine starts up, and by the time he gets after the car's needs, the deferred maintenance and repair costs will exceed the value of the car.

We've been lucky with our M491. When you consider that an engine rebuild is about $10,000 and a transmission rebuild is about $4,000, our reasonably fresh drivetrain basically covers our purchase price of $16,000. It's like getting the rest of the car for free.


But as we learned yet again with our 1985 Porsche 911 Carrera, there's nothing free about an old car, especially an old Porsche. It has been taken apart and put back together, so there have been plenty of problem areas in the little things, as you'll see from our list below.

The most expensive of these problems have been electrical, largely because the process of troubleshooting and solving electric problems is always time-consuming, so labor is the largest component. This is especially true with this car, because the M491 Turbo Look 911 apparently is wired like a European car, not a U.S. car. In addition, it also suffered from a low-tech aftermarket audio installation that played havoc with the overall electrical system, notably the ventilation controls and blowers.

Luckily our Porsche mechanic is Lee Rice of Rice's Performance Turbos (riceturbos@sbcglobal.net in Garden Grove, California, a long-time expert in the air-cooled 911 who is very well known on the Porsche scene in Southern California. We'll tell Rice's story in a later post, but we came to him because he knows these cars right down to the last nut and bolt, has been trained as an aircraft mechanic (there are no short-cuts in his work), and deals with just one car at a time.

Surely there will be more repairs to come, but the 911 no longer has any outstanding needs. When problems arise, we'll address them. We're not looking to restore this 911 to as-new condition, but we do want it to deliver the best driving experience that it can.

Here's where we are (item cost includes parts and labor):

Replace steering wheel and horn ring

$ 338

Repair/replace wiring to ventilation controls and blowers


Replace transmission drive to speedometer (Aase Motors)


Remove aftermarket audio amp, replace missing wiring


Add rear wheel spacers (Wheel Enhancement, Inc.)


Replace H5 headlight lens


Repair/rewire turn signals


Replace clutch cable


Repair R door; repair central door-locking system


Replace trunk struts


Replace main engine oil line to sump


Repair clutch spring action


Replace R seatbelt hardware


Replace 20 worn, corroded fuses


Replace shift linkage shift ball, adjust linkage


Repair/rewire oil pressure/oil level gauges


Replace driver-side seat adjuster




Michael Jordan, Executive Editor, Edmunds.com

1985 Porsche 911: Portability

June 07, 2011


About a week ago and a little after 10pm, the shift knob in our 911 went all portable on me. Now I can think of a few things that have benefited from portability; computers and water come to mind. Shift knobs, not so much.

And wow did I swear.

I was on a dark stretch of freeway, and with the interior of our 911 being very dark I was at a loss to understand what, exactly had happened. I must have spent a good five seconds in neutral (an eternity at 70 mph) before I tossed the shift knob on to the floor, found the shift lever and put it back in gear.

As it turns out, our Momo knob is not threaded but instead uses set screws to hold itself to the shift lever. Those set screws come lose over time and grant the knob new found portability. It's a bad design. Anyway, it seems this has happened before because in the glove box was an allen key that fit the set screws perfectly. How convenient.

On a related note, I'd like a new shift lever - one that accepts a threaded shift knob.

Hit the jump to see some details of the offending set screws.


Kurt Niebuhr, Photo Editor

1985 Porsche 911: Window Switch is Broken

May 27, 2011


I drove our 1985 Porsche 911 earlier this week. Somewhere between rush hour traffic on the 405 freeway and gridlock on the 110 freeway, I looked down to find the window switch was broken...


Now it is fixed. I just pushed the switch back into place.

There is one thing I like about older cars above all else. Something is always wrong. These cars require some commitment and some forgiveness. Only the owner really knows every little quirk.

Oftentimes these oddities are common to the brand. And the resulting camaraderie between owners isn't far behind. This is why Porsche-guys or enter-name-here-guys get along like they do. "Oh yeah, the window switch... my '83 did the same thing. I fixed it with gorilla glue. Does your A/C still work? I used a wire coat hanger..." To me, this is still what the older car ownership experience is all about.

Mike Schmidt, Vehicle Testing Manager

1985 Porsche 911: Porsches for Dummies

May 13, 2011


Checking the oil on a Porsche 911 of this vintage is quite a bit more involved than, say, anything else I've come across.

First, the engine has to be at operating temperature, which is to say, hot. Secondly, the engine has to be running and should have been idling for at least a minute before checking the levels (to let the oil settle).

There's no conventional dipstick, prominently flagged in yellow. Instead, it's located inside the oil fill tube. The dipstick itself is quite short. When I checked it this morning, the level was about 25 percent between the low and high marks. The distance in between constitutes about two quarts. The oil on it smelled fresh, no sulphur smell and golden in color.


I added one quart of Brad Penn 20W-50 partial synthetic oil. This stuff, according to Michael Jordan is preferred by some Porschephiles, as it promises better protection for air-cooled 911s. He explained it to me, but I got lost. What was that middle part? After adding it, the level read about 80 percent between low and high. Added bonus: the filler neck is at such an angle that a funnel is not necessary -- not a drop was spilled.


The whole affair might scare off some, with the spinning fan and belt right there and the heat pouring forth, but I'm used to environments like this (code for: I've learned from past mistakes). Your fingers will get a little greasy from handling the cap and dipstick, but I managed to walk away with not so much as a blemish on my French-cuffed dress shirt. Move slowly and deliberately and any newbie should be fine.

Mark Takahashi, Associate Editor

1985 Porsche 911 Carrera: Radiant

April 28, 2011


Behold, a freshly hand-washed 1985 Porsche 911 and the main reason I wanted to fuss with the headlight bulbs in the first place -- I just should have done my homework first.

Erin Riches, Senior Editor



1985 Porsche 911: New Headlights Coming

April 27, 2011


Maybe you've noticed that the right headlight on our 1985 Porsche 911 is cracked. We've been meaning to replace that. Also, the headlight bulbs are mismatched; the right one puts out a bluish stream of light. Eewww.

Yesterday, with our Editor in Chief's blessing, I ordered two new headlights -- sensible and unassuming Sylvania Xtravisions (H6024) for $15.99 apiece plus tax -- and today at lunchtime (hence, the harsh high noon lighting here), I did the in-store pick-up.

I'm going to try the headlight removal/install tonight, and I'll let you know tomorrow if I was smart/handy enough to complete the DIY assignment. Father Edmunds is out of the office right now, so I won't be able to run to him if something goes awry.

Anyone here replaced headlights on a 930-generation 911 before? Any tips and/or potential pitfalls to avoid?

By the way, driving our 911 around town is an experience in its own right. Today was our first really warm day of the year, so it got a little stuffy in the non-A/C cabin, but between the direct steering, the engine sounds (so unique... no other car could make these sounds) and the Dodgers game on the radio (finally, a win), it was a good lunch hour.

Erin Riches, Senior Editor


1985 Porsche 911: Fixing More Stuff

April 25, 2011


Now that its sound system is operational (thank you Mr. Magrath) I decided to fix up the Porsche's trunk. With the big boom box finally removed (see photo after the jump) this weekend I took a few minutes and reinstalled the 911's factory trunkmat. As you can see, it's in excellent shape and it snaped into place just as it should.

By the way, that boom box not only took up most of the car's trunk, it also weighs about 30 lbs. We won't miss it.


With that done, the only things left to fix on our 1985 Porsche 911 are a sticking door lock and the speedometer.

This is turning out to be fun, and the car is running perfectly.

Scott Oldham, Editor in Chief

1985 Porsche 911: It's Alive!

April 25, 2011


Okay, so it wasn't really an install as everything was there except for the wires, but we'll go with that term.

You'll remember that I dropped our 1985 Porsche 911 off at Al and Eds (which some of you thought was a mistake, but I liked the guy so I was pretty cool with it) with the mandate that I want the Eclipse CD8445 to power up and make sound with the speakers it has and the in-unit amp. That was it.

Five hours later I got the call that the car was ready. Our Porsche had new wires all around (even the power wire was gone) even to the right rear speaker which is blown (that cable has since been disconnected.)

Total cost: $217.64. $200 in labor and $17 in parts. Compared to the majority of one of my days, that's a no-brainer to pay for.

(Sorry for the late post, the NYAS stole most of my time.)

Mike Magrath, Associate Editor @ 114,149 miles

1985 Porsche 911: New Steering Wheel

April 12, 2011


We've made a couple of improvements to our 911 already. As you can see we've replaced the steering wheel with one that's in better condition. No more big tear in the leather. We bought the wheel at a the 28th annual LA Literature and Toy Show, which is a huge Porsche and VW vintage parts swap meet, held each year in ballrooms at the Los Angeles Airport Hilton Hotel.

Price was $300.

And while we had the tools out we righted the Porsche's speedometer and tach, which you'll remember were laid over so redline and 100 mph were straight up.


In this before picture you can see the tear in the steering wheel leather and the cockeyed gauges.


Bad camera phone pic of me negotiating for that steering wheel on the table. Guy wanted $350. I offered $250. Then I bought it for $300. Michael Jordan was there making sure I overpaid.


As if my screaming chicken t-shirt isn't stupid enough, now I'm walking around a hotel with a 25 year old steering wheel I just paid $300 for. Hey you, how much for that doohickey?

Scott Oldham, Editor in Chief

1985 Porsche 911 Carrera: What We Got

April 08, 2011


If you're looking for an old Porsche, the 911 Carrera is what you want.

It cuts through all the model variations since 1965 and puts you in touch with the real 911, the source of all the stories. And yet it's also drivable in the 21st century, modern enough that you don't wonder how many free tows you have left on your AAA membership every time you twist the ignition key.

Here's what makes this car the used 911 we wanted to own.

What we've got here is a 1985 Porsche 911 Carrera 3.2 M491 "Turbo Look."

The Porsche 911 was supposed to die in 1982, a victim of U.S. noise and emissions regulations. The Porsche 928 and 944 were meant to replace it. But elements within the company rebelled and the car was revitalized as the Carrera 3.2, which was built between 1984 and 1989.

Although there are a few minor changes, this is essentially the same 911 body introduced to the U.S. in 1965, although it's sitting on the 89.3-inch wheelbase introduced in 1969. It looks just like the car Butzi Porsche designed in the early 1960s, only with the 5-mph bumpers gracefully adapted by Tony Lapine in 1974.

This generation of the 911 has all the little eccentricities the first 911 inherited from the Porsche 356 and the Volkswagen Beetle before that, notably trailing-arm rear suspension with torsion bars. When you take a seat behind the steering wheel, you're totally in the Beetle wayback zone, with the broad windshield right in front of your face, the steering wheel close against the dashboard, the shift lever buried beneath the dash and the pedals hinged on the floor.

What makes the Carrera 3.2 unique is its engine, although it's still plainly the same, air-cooled, horizontally opposed six-cylinder designed and developed by Hans Mezger and Ferdinand Piech for the first 911. This 12-valve SOHC 3.2-liter six combines the all-aluminum construction of the Type 930 engine (developed for the first 1976 911 Turbo and then adapted for the 911SC) with the 95mm bore of 911SC engine and 74.4mm stroke of the 3.3-liter Turbo crankshaft, plus the Bosch Motronic 2 DME (Digital Motor Electronics) control unit. What you get is oil-tight construction, 200 horsepower SAE net, and set-it-and-forget-it reliability.

This car carries the Type 915 transmission, the one with Porsche synchromesh, the floppy shift linkage and widely spaced gates. A short-shift linkage was incorporated in 1985, so the transmission in this car is about as good as the 915 transmission gets, although what you really want is the Getrag-built G50 five-speed with Borg-Warner synchromesh that was introduced for 1987.

This car represents the M491 option, the "Turbo Look." Though Porsche had to discontinue sales of the 911 Turbo in the U.S. between 1980 and 1985 because of emissions issues, aftermarket suppliers found serious success in reproducing Turbo-style bodywork for U.S. customers. To get in on the action, Porsche introduced the M491 option in 1984, which featured the Turbo's rear wing, wider fenders, stronger hubs, stronger and stiffer suspension, and upgraded brakes with cross-drilled rotors. We've left the Turbo Look rear wing in the garage, and the car rides on the 911's traditional Fuchs forged wheels, though they're we understand they're from a 944 Turbo, as thee car had been wearing the so-called telephone-dial wheels that were characteristic of the post-1989 911.

Early pre-1974 911s are light and lively, though they drive like little cars. The cars of the mid-1970s were disdained at the time but seem pretty good now, although build quality wasn't great and engine response was soggy. The 1978-1983 911SC made its name with its reliability (despite failure-prone cam-chain tensioners and an exploding airbox), but seems kind of generic now with its 172 hp engine. But once you get to the Carrera 3.2, the 911 finally feels like a proper performance car.

What we have here in this 1985 Carrera is a lot of 911 for not much money. The engine is astonishingly clean, never even smokes on start up, and runs sharp. Usually the 3.2 engine requires a valve job at 110,000 miles, but this engine clearly does not need one and we think it's been recently rebuilt. The transmission has also been rebuilt in the last 4,000 miles. Meanwhile, the suspension and undercarriage are spotless. We understand this car was taken apart and put back together, and its condition seems to confirm it. It has also recently had a suspension alignment by a highly reputable shop. Some comfort and convenience issues need to be resolved, but none are deal-breakers.

In short, this is the right model of Porsche 911 for us. Its apparent mechanical integrity makes it a real driver, which is far more important to us than whatever value might be compromised by its salvage title.

If you like your Porsche 911 impeccably presented just as it left Stuttgart, you'll hate our black Carrera. But if you're the kind of person who has liked the 911 because it's a kind of hot rod, a platform for making a personal statement of style and speed, you'll totally get what this car is about.

Michael Jordan, Executive Editor, Edmunds.com

1985 Porsche 911: First Warning Light

April 06, 2011


I hadn't been driving our 1985 Porsche 911 very long before this light illuminated. Of course, this light is supposed to be on whenever the parking brake is set. But over the weekend, it start coming on intermittently whenever there was any kind of weight transfer event -- braking, cornering. So it was time to investigate.


The brake fluid reservoir is up front in our 911. There was no evidence of leaks, so we had to point the finger at the fluid level -- it was half down from the max mark. We expect that as with our departed Suzuki SX4, the fluid level has dropped due to brake pad wear. But we won't know for sure until we get the wheels off.

The 911's owners manual says you can use DOT3 or DOT4 fluid. Of course, we don't know exactly what the previous owner was using, although the existing fluid was blue, suggesting he ponied up for some good high-temp fluid. Autozone didn't have anything more exotic than plain old Prestone DOT4, so I bought it and hoped for the best.

The brake fluid cap apparently hadn't been removed in years, as neither I nor my friend was able to remove it with our bare hands. Fortunately, a black, turbo-look 911 draws the interest of any car guy within a 1-mile radius, and the owner of the Blazer parked next to us at Autozone offered up a large set of pliers. Those did the trick, though I exercised care when using them so as not to damage the sensor wires. Then, it was just a matter of pouring in the fluid.

Alas, I didn't have the presence of mind not to fill the reservoir to the max line, meaning whoever changes out the brake pads will have to siphon off some of the fluid before starting or the reservoir will overflow. Sorry, Dan.

On the upside, the warning light hasn't come back on since I added the fluid, and the brakes still feel good (the pedal feels firm and responsive) with no telltale screech of a pad wear indicator.

Erin Riches, Senior Editor @ 114,250 miles



And here's a closer look at the brake fluid in our 911; the new stuff is clear, but the existing fluid was blue:


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