1985 Porsche 911 Long-Term Road Test

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What We Got
The whole point of buying a cool used sports car is the chance to drive something unique, something terrific, something that speaks to anyone who loves driving. It's no wonder that we went looking for a Porsche 911, a car that holds out the promise of extreme performance at a practical price.

Scott Oldham's visit to Cars and Coffee in Irvine, California, very early on a Saturday morning led us to a unique example, a 1985 Porsche 911 Carrera "Turbo Look." Introduced at a time when the 911 Turbo wasn't certified for sale in the U.S., the "Turbo Look" M491 option package for the 911 matched all the special equipment of the Turbo with the conventional 911 Carrera's normally aspirated 200-horsepower 3.2-liter engine. Even better, this car combines the original 911 chassis, the most reliable version of the original 911 engine, and an oh-so-1980s style.

As might be expected from a 25-year-old performance car from the go-go '80s, this 1985 Porsche 911 Carrera had led a hard life, and it had been rumpled at the left-front corner in 1998 and then subsequently acquired a salvage title. Nevertheless, our conversations with the Porsche guy who owned the car revealed that the engine and transmission were relatively fresh. Since we were more interested in driving than styling, a bargain price for a sound, totally drivable Porsche 911 clinched the deal. Below are our impressions from 594 gallons of gas and 272 blog posts.

Our Impressions
"Shifting the 911? Let's look at the map. First gear is in Beverly Hills. Nice place. Second is in Rolling Hills Estates. It's a nice place, too, but it's going to take a while to get there — just be patient. Third is all the way the hell back up in Hollywood. Fourth — fourth is in San Pedro, but if you're not careful, you're going to wind up back in Rolling Hills Estates and you're gonna have a problem. Now for fifth. Fifth is in Upland. It's a hell of a long way to go. Much like Upland, the first time you go there, you start to wonder if you've gone too far, only to wind up there after you thought you couldn't possibly go any farther east. A little blip of the throttle ensures you drop it into gear without a second thought." — Kurt Niebuhr

"But on my way to a coffeehouse (which has amazing pour-over coffee by the way), I realized that our Porsche doesn't have a cupholder. Not even one. I asked Michael Jordan why our '85 Porsche didn't have a cupholder and he replied, 'Caroline, you may find it hard to believe, but there was a time before cupholders.'" — Caroline Pardilla

"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." — Michael Jordan

"It is a real physical challenge to drive this car, not to mention a challenge to do what's required to drive it well and a challenge to bring it back in one piece. Once I got back, it was kind of like that moment when you run the football into the end zone. I almost spiked the car keys on the pavement." — Kurt Niebuhr

"Last week we finally got the speedometer fixed, along with a few other things, and the Porsche feels great. But it hasn't exactly been cheap getting it there. A full list of all of the 911's repairs and a tally of what we've spent to date is coming soon. Honestly, I don't think I want to see it." — Scott Oldham

"It's no secret that I'm infatuated with our long-term Porsche. What you might not know about is my affinity for certain movie clips that have to do with cars going fast. On my short list of favorites is Rendezvous by Claude LeLouche, who also put together Mark Takahashi

"It's no secret why our '85 911 looks so good. With fenders like this, how could it not?" — Ed Hellwig

"Later in the evening, I was seated in the parked 911 on the street, engine off, parking brake on, key out of ignition, finishing a phone call, and I noticed a man standing by a rental Sebring staring hard in the direction of the Porsche and me. He looked away, then looked back. 'Something wrong?' I asked. 'Oh, I used to own a 911, and I was jealous,' he said." — Erin Riches

"Here's the thing I like most about our 911: I feel like I can trust it. By this, I mean I have faith that when I get in it, it will start, and I will get to where I'm going. This car won't let me down. Our Brent Romans

"For a car that is so unapologetically mechanical, it's not cold. It's quite the opposite. There is joy lurking in the facets of its operation, all the way down to the clack of the door latch. It requires you to pay attention when you drive it. The steering demands both hands; the gearchange wants finesse. I'm not totally won over by the 911's suspension in its current state of tune, but neither is it offensive." — Jason Kavanagh

"I woke up to the sound of falling rain this morning, an uncommon occurrence in Los Angeles. As I lay awake in bed, I pondered what my drive into work would entail. Heavy traffic is a given, but since I had our long-term Porsche in my driveway, I also knew it would include a soggy shoulder." — Mark Takahashi

"For many people, a salvage title is an automatic red flag that would send them running in the opposite direction. But for those who ask the right questions and are willing to take some risk, salvage-title vehicles can be a smart, inexpensive option." — Ron Montoya

"I love Brent, but his love of cars is ridiculous. The other day I saw him wash this black car and blow it dry with a leaf blower. Then he wiped it with a diaper. I just don't get it. But to help him out, I agreed to drive this "nine-one-one" because he said it's an icon. First of all, 1985? I left my acid-washed jeans in the '80s, and that's where they should stay. Shouldn't it be the same with cars? Same as Footloose? I can't believe you guys think this is cool. Dumbest. Car. Ever. — Brent's Wife

"Pictures from our purchase of tires, in no particular order: 1) We eagerly loaded the 911 with tires; 2) The tire shop was closed, so we figured access to 1st and 2nd gear would be plenty; 3) Then we remembered reverse, so Rex got a workout; 4) Unsure as to whether the fronts would fit with the aggressive alignment, we checked full lock; 5) We measured tire clearance at full lock with a specialized smudging tool; 6) Even the mighty Hunter could not balance these tires, 'cause all four wheels are bent to some degree; 7) And when all was said and done, we paid $129 for our troubles." — Mike Schmidt

"Since I've never driven our 911 at speeds over 120 mph, I've never seen the point of the Turbo spoiler on a non-Turbo car until now. Brilliant." — Kurt Niebuhr

"Because the sale of our 1985 Porsche 911 is pending we haven't been driving it. After a complete detail job it has been sitting in our parking garage waiting for the embrace of its new owner. But I couldn't resist one last drive in what has become one of my favorite long-term cars of all time. For those of us who understand that a car is more than a 0-60 time and that a car's flaws are a big part of its character, our 1985 Porsche 911 M491 will be missed." — Scott Oldham

Maintenance & Repairs

Regular Maintenance: Sadly, the factory warranty for our 25-year-old Porsche 911 had mysteriously lapsed long ago, so our service responsibilities were somewhat open-ended. The car had a sump of fresh oil when it came into our hands at 114,865 miles, and we commissioned a $150 oil change after 6,000 miles and another after we completed our term with the car at 127,425 miles. We also went through a $78 case of Brad Penn 20W-50 mineral oil during this term, reflecting a usage of about 1 quart every 1,000 miles, which is what these air-cooled engines customarily require.

Repairs: As with old Porsche 911s everywhere, we commissioned a lengthy list of repairs that totaled $3,703. None of these repairs were due to the 911 leaving us stranded in any way, however. Instead we fixed things that made the driving experience better, including the installation of a new steering wheel ($338), some audio work ($250) and spacers for the rear wheels ($221). Our largest expense came from the purchase of new tires ($588), their installation ($129) and their subsequent alignment ($245). The largest remaining expenses were wiring repair ($300), clutch pedal bushings ($314) and speedometer repair ($275). One of our smallest expenses was a Montecristo #4 - Habano ($25) smoked by editor Mark Takahashi while detailing the car in his driveway.

Service Campaigns: The Porsche factory took no notice of our car and neither did Porsche Cars North America. That is, aside from enthusiastic remarks of approval and encouragement from key executives throughout both companies, of course.

Fuel Economy and Resale Value

Observed Fuel Economy: After 13 months and 12,565 miles during which we filled the car with 594.3 gallons of 91-octane gasoline, we had recorded an average of 20.7 mpg. Our best single tank was 27.8 mpg and covered 501.7 miles. At the other end of the spectrum, we recorded 14.1 mpg, which is better than the worst mpg recorded by the 2011 Honda Odyssey we recently tested.

Resale and Depreciation: After purchasing this 1985 Porsche 911 Carrera M491 "Turbo Look" for $16,500, we sold it a year later for $17,501. We hoped for more, as the value of this model ranges between a low of $21,800 and a high of $29,000, according to Porsche guru Bruce Anderson in Excellence. Moreover, listings for this limited-production model in the used-car section of PCA's Panorama declined to less than a handful during our year of ownership, suggesting this model is in demand. Nevertheless, we couldn't wait to find just the right buyer so we let the car go to a good home in France.

Summing Up

Pros: Unique driving experience; classic styling; great cruising range; extensive parts and service support; eligible for a wide range of automotive events.

Cons: High-effort driving experience, especially steering and shifting; challenging vehicle dynamics; clumsy cargo access.

Bottom Line: The 1985 Porsche 911 Carrera earns criticism from some because it is a sports car, not an errands car, but it delivers the pure-bred driving experience of an exotic car with a measure of modern reliability and practicality.

Total Body Repair Costs: $267 (H5 headlight lens and bulb)
Total Routine Maintenance Costs: $392 (oil and oil changes)
Additional Maintenance Costs: None
Warranty Repairs: None
Non-Warranty Repairs: $3,703 (see text)
Scheduled Dealer Visits: 7
Unscheduled Dealer Visits: None
Days Out of Service: 3
Breakdowns Stranding Driver: None
Best Fuel Economy: 27.8 mpg
Worst Fuel Economy: 14.1 mpg
Average Fuel Economy: 20.7 mpg
True Market Value at service end: Not applicable
What it sold for: $17,501
Depreciation: None
Final Odometer Reading: 127,425 miles

Edmunds purchased this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.