Why air-cooled 911s continue to skyrocket, and the best Porsches to snatch while they're still cheap

July 25, 2014

Porsche’s now-iconic 911 will be one of the star models at a variety of auctions unfolding during Pebble Beach’s annual Concours d’Elegance week, Aug. 13-17. A glance at Mecum’s catalog alone reveals glossy photos of candy-colored gems from the early ‘70s, including two Carrera RS Tourings and a few late ‘70s 935 IMSA standouts.
Expect the bidding to be fierce and healthy six-figures high, reflecting this air-cooled car’s growing status as a must-have collectible.
“These cars have been undervalued for decades,” says Bruce Canepa, an ex-Porsche racer whose eponymous restoration and sales shop in Scotts Valley, Calif., traffics heavily in pristine air-cooled Porsches. “Even a few years back, you’d show up with a 911 race car at auctions and things might take a bit to heat up. But now it’s Katie-bar-the door time.”
Canepa has a few explanations for the uptick in 911 values, which extend even to the latest air-cooled iteration of the model, the 1995-1998 993. “Many of them were driven hard and used up, so now if you see one that has modest miles, it’s worth quite a bit,” he says, noting that rarer models such as 993 Turbos, early ‘90s RS Americas and now-legendary late ‘60s 911S are particularly sought after by collectors.
“I recently sold an RS America for $145,000,” says Canepa, astonishment seeping into his voice. No kidding, considering that the same car could have been snapped up a decade back for considerably less than half that amount. “What’s the appeal? Well, Ferraris still live on another planet. But I like to say that 911s are still the best driving real sports cars on the planet.”
Longtime Porsche magazine editor and enthusiast Pete Stout recently declared himself “astonished” at the creep in 911 prices, pointing out not just how early 911s - which leaped to life out of Porsche’s groundbreaking 356 in 1964 - with the right pedigree have gone up tenfold in value in recent years, but specifically how a 1973 Carrera RS 2.7 fetched $1.4 million at Gooding & Company’s Amelia Island auction this year.
“Are these 911s worth more than a million dollars?” Stout wrote in his editor’s note in the May issue of Panorama, the magazine of the Porsche Club of America. “Is this the sign of a bubble about to burst? While the early 911 market feels like a bubble to me, it has felt like one for years. Yet prices keep climbing.”
Stout goes on to say that he is “shocked by 911 and 964 Speedsters priced at $200,000, (and) clean 930 Turbos selling for $35,000 to $50,000 a year or two ago are moving toward and exceeding six figures.”
Keith Martin, longtime publisher of Portland, Ore.-based Sports Car Market newsletter, counsels collectors with a yen and wallet for an early air-cooled car to “skip the early S model, and look for a 911 (E or T) from 1969 to 1973, which will be half the price (of a $200,000 S) but offer 95% of the driving pleasure.”

Martin is particularly keen on the early and mid-’80s 911 SC, which represented Porsche “becoming a real car; they were comfortable, lasted forever and can still be had for $20,000 to $35,000. After that, the 911 started getting very complicated, with all-wheel-drive and turbos. Those are magnificent cars, but what they can do completely outstrips what you can do with them on the street.”
Martin’s view of the continuing air-cooled 911 frenzy is that “it is good for the marque, because more people will restore these cars, so there will be more mechanics dedicated to them and more parts. But it’ll be bad for most enthusiasts, because they just won’t be able to afford many of the cars the way they used to.”
Canepa echoes that dual sentiment. “I think it’s great these cars are being appreciated,” he says, pausing. “But, honestly, some days I wish it wasn’t happening. They’re amazing cars, and I’d hate to see them just turn into show queens.” Editor Stout laments the possibility that “fewer (911s) will be exercised as intended, and many will disappear into collections.”
Ultimately, Stout’s advice for admirers of the marque is to take a harder look at the company’s more recent water-cooled models, which can offer plenty of fun without the now-exclusive pricing of air-cooled 911s. “Early Boxsters go for as little as $8,000,” he says. “As early 911 prices continue to rise, Porsche’s water-cooled sports cars look even better than ever.”