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…To Buy or Not To Buy. That is the Question…

In our continuing series of articles to help potential buyers and sellers, we turn our attention to the evaluation of a “rescue” or “project” car.  Here we will detail what to look for and how to best evaluate your potential purchase and avoid making a big mistake – or help getting a great deal!

Here at 924S944.com we are always looking for cars that we can “rescue” and keep from becoming a source for someone else’s project – a parts car.  But finding that proper “rescue puppy” that will make a nice driving car without breaking the bank is less science and more into the realm of supposition and voodoo.  Unfortunately, there isn’t a checklist that you can follow.  Instead, you have to put on your “CSI” hat and look for clues and indications that may end up providing you with enough information to finally make the right decision.

There are a couple of things that you have to determine before you take the jump.  First and foremost, what is your goal?  Are you looking for a family project?  Something that you can drive on weekends, or even commute in?  A potential track car or autocross car?  Or a car that you can fix and maybe even sell at a small profit?  Whatever your goal, knowing what you want to do is vital.  Second, you need to have an idea of what the finished project will be worth in the current market when you’re done.  While car valuation tools like Hagerty and KBB might give you a good indication, be realistic.  Also, Ebay, Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace will show you asking price, not sale price. Be realistic and hedge your bets to the low side.

With that said, let’s assume that you have decided to take on a 944-esque project.  You want to spend a little now, put in the sweat, and come out with a nice car.  It is possible, but remember that if you are going to pay a shop to put in the work, that work is billed out around $100 an hour.  Parts are retail, not wholesale, and the whole thing can get expensive really quick.  Again, be realistic.

The best way that we can talk about an evaluation is to look at a car that we acquired a few days ago – a 1987 924S.  It was for sale online for a while, and the price kept creeping down – a sign that the price was headed for a more realistic level.  So before we went to take a look, we had to look at what we already knew.

  1. The 924S is not as desirable in the marketplace as a 944.
  2. This is a 1987 924S, which is not as desirable as the more rare and more powerful 1988 924S.
  3. This particular 924S is equipped with the dreaded 3-speed automatic transaxle.

Okay – ten years ago, or even five years ago, #3 would have stopped me in my tracks.  But consider this – a U.S. News and World Report article from 2016 says that only 18 per cent of U.S. drivers know how to operate a stick shift – way down from a decade ago.  Regardless of the reasons, people just cannot work three pedals any more.  So an automatic 924S may have some popularity, especially when considering that a 30+-year-old Porsche may still be an entry-level car for a new Porsche enthusiast.

So going to evaluate this particular car, we had to keep a couple of things in mind.  1) Automatic cars are normally driven fewer miles, and 2) Automatic cars are normally not abused quite as much. So let’s start looking at the clues.

This car had been left at a transmission shop after the shop had done repair on the transaxle.  Abandoned by its owner, it was a prime candidate to become a “rescue puppy.  The white and linen automatic showed 67,000 miles, and the trip odometer read 1.9 miles.  This is significant – if the odometer was broken, the trip odometer normally reads 0.0 – reset and broken.  The fact that it had a reading at all boosted confidence that the mileage was somewhat accurate.

The body was straight but dirty with biological/environmental contamination on it – mold and mildew.  The car also had a tag that expired in August of 2017 – an indication that it had not moved much in a couple of years.  While the shop owner was adamant that the car “ran when parked,” it was not in running condition at that point.  Take points off (value) for a non-running car.  But there were no leaks at the doors, the sunroof, the rear hatch and most importantly, the battery box.  Closing the doors showed me that the car was solid – a big plus.  Somewhere along the way, the car had been resprayed, and I really would have liked to have seen them use some masking tape in places – overspray everywhere, rubber parts painted – even the black grille under the front bumper was white.  And the paint was chipping and pealing in placed – another demerit there.  But a solid, straight body was something to work with.

There was one and only one key for the car, but it worked all of the locks and the ignition – more testimony towards it actually being a 67K mile car.  The wheels looked like they had the original silver finish with original-spec Firestone 195/65-15 tires, which was also encouraging.  Under the hood was pretty dirty, and the headlights were in the “up” position with the motor unplugged.  I later discovered that the right headlight pod was misaligned and would not go down all the way without hitting the fender.  The engine and its components looked to be complete with no weird modifications, which is a plus.

Inside, the seats were covered in sheepskins, covering the torn-up driver’s seat.  The rear seat showed no signs of hatch drippings, which was good.  The dash is cracked, covered with a carpet overlay.  The hatch carpet is missing and the rest of the white-esque carpet is worn and dirty.  There are two extra buttons on the console, and another one next to the light switch.  No idea what these control, but a peek under the dash to the fuse box showed some aftermarket wiring.

Back to the engine – the high-pressure side fuel line was “repaired” with a hardware store fitting and a hose clamp.  A fire waiting to happen.  The car will not be started until these lines are replaced.

So I bought the car with a clear Florida title, loaded it on my trailer and brought it back to the 924S944.com headquarters.  After taking some photos, I brought out the 924S944.com Official Washing Equipment Bundle – a bucket with brushes, sponges and cheap dishwashing soap. In about thirty minutes I had the bulk of the mold and mildew removed and could actually see what I had.

Why did I make this purchase?  Well, the automatic is a problem as there may not be a market for it once I have rescued it.  However, I am hopeful.  A seat for every butt, they say.  The paint is pretty sorry, so it may need to be properly stripped and repainted. It will need upholstery, carpets, new body seals, and a lot of cleaning.  All mechanical systems will need attention, and I can see that the air conditioning will need almost everything.  However, the car has great bones, and with expertise and a shop full of parts, I am confident that I can bring this poor puppy back to life.

This is also a “back room” project that will fill the time between other projects – a little at a time.  When will it be done?  Year or so?  Who knows.

Of course the purchase price is something that we have not discussed, and I will not disclose here.  However, no car that is not running is worth more than a grand, regardless.  This car will need a cheap $2K paint job, $1K in interior work, and at least that in replacement parts.  And I don’t know if the engine is in good running condition.  It’s a gamble.

So stay tuned for updates on the Automatic Gamble…yea, that’s what I’ll call it.  Take a look at the photos and say a prayer for me…AG and I will need it!

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Kevin Duffy, Author and Chief Geek View All

Kevin Duffy is an Associate Professor of Criminal Justice at Daytona State College in Florida and a dedicated car guy. He divides his time between teaching criminal justice topics in the online environment and working on/driving cars, particularly Porsches. Kevin is one of the principals in InspiringLifeOver50.com.

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