Varmint: Buying a Porsche 911 in the USA

Our recent features trip to the US was the out-and-out scene on many levels, but one huge plus was the success of my first US-bought 911: the Varmint SC.

Varmint by Little House on the Prairie

Buying a Porsche 911 in the USA

Varmint is an 1980 911 SC Coupe that I spotted on Craigslist in Berkeley, California. The same guy had owned it 20 years, commuted in it for a long time, so cranked up some huge miles (2ooK or so) and rebuilt the engine with euro pistons and cylinders a few years back but then not used it much afterwards. We’d eventually come to an agreement on price, I’d sent the cash and he’d dropped the 911 down to a buddy’s place near where he was.

If you’re not a 911 guy, then there is nothing special about this car. Even if you are a 911 guy, you might still look at it and think I’m nuts for buying it. Most of my buddies did, and maybe still do. But, when you see what you’d pay for a rusty, right hand-drive 180bhp SC in this country, versus what the Varmint will owe me landed and registered in the UK, you have to ask: who is the bigger nutter? Me buying the well-worn but comfortable old bus that goes like stink but hasn’t an inch of rot on board, or the guy who buys his supposedly cheap UK car and then is landed with at least the same again in bodywork bills? I think I’ve done OK.

Sunset over Santa Barbara

Using Varmint in the States was brilliant. Before we got there, I spent $900 with John Holleran Porsche in Pinole, having it fitted with new turbo tie rods and then 4 wheel-aligned, some clutch cable/arm clearance issues addressed and an attempt made to seal the weepy nose bearing (was successful for 100 miles or so but then failed), as well as a few leaking exhaust gaskets and oil seals (crank seal & inter shaft seal).

The clutch action is still jerky with a high bite point, first gear synchro is a little worn and the shift could be smother (just needs stripping and sorting) but you are used to all this after a few miles so no big deal, though that clutch does kill any chance of spinning the wheels on take-off. It also has a sticky brake caliper on the right rear.

California Road and Porsche 911 SC

As the miles went on, it did start to suffer from what felt like a timing problem but I eventually traced it to blocked fuel tank breathers and sorted it temporarily – I’ll fix it properly when it gets home. I’ll also have to do some wiring, as there was a lot of melted stuff headed to the clock and elsewhere behind the dash too. Pulled it all out but I need to look in more detail. I tidied up what I could get to and also rewired some of the fusebox while we were there. The fuel pump wiring was hilarious – NOT.

Fixing up my Porsche 911 SC

The interior has had its day: ain’t no beauty contest prizes coming here. It’s all still perfectly functional; the thick-rimmed wheel feels great, still has the proper shift knob and the dash is in great condition, sunroof and windows work, radio works and so on. It’s just worn: sand-blasted windscreen, missing door pocket on driver’s side (just missed one on eBay – grrrr), no rear seat backs, oddball centre console stuff and slightly mangy carpets. Neither did it come with a jack, toolkit or any service history at all. The backdated heat is disconnected, few bulbs out, old-ish tyres, no front compartment carpet either. Plus – I forgot about the bodywork – the paint is shot. But I’m not bothered by any of this.

One last look before it gets shipped (Porsche 911 SC)

What mattered to me from a buying point of view is that it was reliable, ran hard and was rot free. As far as those criteria go, I reckon I scored three out of three.  At the price I paid, with the fun I have already had out of this car, and with the happiness it has yet to offer, you can’t say fairer than that.

Varmint’s ETA in the UK is at the end of November. More news as it happens!

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