Home » You Can Still Buy A Porsche 911 For The Price Of A New Toyota Corolla, But It’ll Come With A Catch

You Can Still Buy A Porsche 911 For The Price Of A New Toyota Corolla, But It’ll Come With A Catch

Porsche 911 996 Gg Topshot
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The Porsche 911 is an icon for a reason. Not only is it the textbook definition of an evolutionary sports car, it’s been embraced by everyone from yuppies to professional drivers, making it onto every sports car racing grid and every “justification for higher education” poster over the past few decades. Perhaps as a result, prices of second-hand ones have certainly risen over the past 20 years.

For those of reasonable means, air-cooled examples are practically unobtanium. Many 993 911 coupes from the 1990s are six-figure cars, and even the more common impact bumper cars are worth new luxury car money. However, if your heart’s still set on owning a Porsche 911, don’t fear. Options still exist.

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Granted, these options might not look quite like what you’ve had in your head all these years. Some sacrifices will need to be made to get a decent Porsche 911 on a modest budget, but those sacrifices aren’t all that bad. Let me explain.

What Are We Looking At?

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With enduring popularity and a lineage that stretches back to 1964, the Porsche 911 is one of the most recognizable sports cars in the world. It’s also one of the most desirable, with 911 GT3s being some of the hottest machines on the road, often carrying more cachet than certain models of Ferrari and Lamborghini.

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However, as we’re talking about cheap 911s, we need to understand the used Porsche 911 hierarchy. Air-cooled models have gone to the moon, as have special cars like GT3s. At the bottom of the generational barrel sits the 996 Carrera, sold from models years 1999 to 2004, the controversial fried egg headlight 911. Sure, you might have to replace the IMS bearing soon, but overall, that sounds easy enough to keep track of, right?

2001 Porsche 911 Carrera Cabriolet Img 1952 14043 Copy

Well, hold your horses. Manual 996 coupes are worth money now, and to get a Porsche 911 for base new Corolla money, you might not end up with the 996 you want. Keep in mind, Tiptronic automatic cars, cabriolets, and all-wheel-drive models that aren’t the vaunted Carrera 4S carry a discount over the base manual Carrera coupe, so all the properly cheap 996s will feature one, if not more of those features.

1999 Porsche 911 Carrera 4 Cabriolet 1999 Porsche 911 Carrera 4 Cabriolet 28dcc606 8a3c 4250 991b 1e884b707093 Csj9gz 62594 62595 Scaled Copy

Regardless, a 911 cabriolet is still a 911, which means it’s still a riot to drive, with all of the classic Porsche 911 dynamic quirks and all of the specialness everyday. It’s even just as quick as the coupe, as Car And Driver attested:

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The new Porsche 911 droptop is quite attractive because its acceleration is so close to the coupe’s that the difference is moot. Our test convert­ible turned exactly the same 0-to-60 and quarter-mile times as a recent 911 coupe we tested (May 1998): 4.9 and 13.5 sec­onds, respectively. Engine response from the 3.4-liter engine’s variable-plenum intake and VarioCam valve timing is instant and linear. Top speed in the cabrio is 165 mph (the coupe goes 169). Both deliver no-excuses, adrenaline-overdose performance.

Zero-to-60 mph in 4.9 seconds is quick even today, plus if you want to modernize things a bit, Porsche sells a very factory-looking Apple CarPlay-enabled infotainment unit. However, provided you’re willing to compromise on spec, you won’t have to pay anything near new or even certified pre-owned Porsche money to get into a decent 911.

How Much Are We Talking?

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When I wrote that you can still buy a Porsche 911 for new Toyota Corolla money, I wasn’t playing any games. A brand new base-model Corolla stickers for $23,145 including freight, but you won’t have to pay that much to get into an iconic German sports car. Take this Speed Yellow 2003 Carrera, for example. Not only is it a coupe, it’s in a desirable color, features a six-speed manual transmission, and it recently hammered on Cars & Bids for a mere $21,000. So, why did it go so cheap? Well, in addition to having 115,900 miles on the clock, it’s also modified with add-ons like a Turbo-look front bumper, OZ wheels, and slightly dubious taillight tint. Those are definitely minor compromises, but they mean someone got into a sweet-looking 911 for less than base Corolla money.

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Alright, let’s say you’re looking for something with lower mileage and a stock appearance, but are still sticking within budget. Well, this 2001 Porsche 911 Carrera Cabriolet is a six-speed rear-wheel-drive car with 84,000 miles on the clock, but because it’s a cabriolet, it recently sold on Bring A Trailer for $22,500. It’s even in an interesting color combo, it’s just a cabriolet, and that’s why it’s cheap.

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1999 Porsche 911 Carrera 4 Cabriolet 1999 Porsche 911 Carrera 4 Cabriolet 1691116f 1362 421c B284 660dd5e6ea7c Uanu1r 62670 62671 Scaled Copy

Want an example of how extreme this used 911 hierarchy can go? Here’s a 1999 Carrera 4 Cabriolet that recently sold on Bring A Trailer for a mere $17,750. It has a mere 33,000 miles on the clock, but because it’s an all-wheel-drive automatic cabriolet, it went for cheap. For the right buyer, that was one serious steal.

What Could Possibly Go Wrong On A 996 Porsche 911?

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We can’t talk about the 996 Porsche 911 without addressing the dreaded IMS bearing. For 1999, Porsche used a dual-row bearing for this important timing system component, and it was sturdy enough for the most part. However, at some point during model year 2000, Porsche then went to a single-row bearing, and those had rather high failure rates, with catastrophic engine failure as a side effect. Needless to say, sourcing a replacement M96 engine is expensive, but fear not — most cheap 996s are in the mileage bracket to need a clutch soon, and bundling IMS bearing replacement with clutch replacement will save serious money on labor costs since the clutch needs to come out to access the bearing.

Another threat with these larger displacement M96 engines is bore scoring, where the piston rings wear grooves in the cylinder walls, exacerbating blow-by and potentially leading to premature engine failure if not dealt with via a rebuild. It’s not an issue in the small-bore Boxsters as they used different piston compositions and rings, but it’s definitely something to worry about on the 3.4-liter and especially the 3.6-liter 911 models. A good independent Porsche shop can do a borescope inspection of the cylinder walls to check for striations, and that should be an essential part of a pre-purchase inspection. Fortunately, risk of bore scoring can be substantially mitigated in the future by running good oil, changing it often, and minimizing the number of cold starts. Easy enough, right?

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Oh, and there’s one more thing you might want to worry about — VarioCam wear pads. Basically, the variable cam timing system features its own set of guides that contact the timing chains. Those guides are made of plastic and can wear down over time, becoming brittle. You can typically catch this by cutting apart your oil filter or checking for camshaft deviation in good diagnostic software like Durametric.

It’s worth keeping in mind that many 996 Porsche 911 examples won’t suffer from any of these issues, and the number that suffer from more than one is incredibly small. Outside of these slight chances, the real issues you’ll see are all typical old car stuff — plastic coolant expansion tanks get brittle, suspension bushings wear out, that sort of stuff.

Should You Buy A 996 Porsche 911?

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Over a Corolla? Absolutely not. However, almost nobody looking at these old sports cars is cross-shopping them against a new compact sedan. You buy a Porsche 911 because you’ve always wanted one, and even if you have to make a few sacrifices on spec, they’re still wonderful, usable everyday sports cars. If you’re a level-headed enthusiast with a budget for maintenance, I say go for it. These cars aren’t as scary as the internet would have you believe, and there’s a certain joy in a cheap Porsche 911.

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(Photo credits: Bring A Trailer, Cars & Bids)

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Logan King
Logan King
9 days ago

High mileage 996s are realistically the ones you probably want. Not only are they usually far cheaper; but that means that they either aren’t going to self-destruct, they already have and have been fixed or preventive maintenance has been done to keep them from doing so. I still wouldn’t take a 996.1 or any Tiptronic car, but I probably would have been happier with a cheaper 996 than I was with the pristine highly optioned expensive one I did buy.

Ca Hu
Ca Hu
10 days ago

The green over tan cabrio is why I am not allowed to look at auction sites so I don’t end up with a cheap porsche and a pissed wife.

MP0W3RD
MP0W3RD
10 days ago

The 996 Turbo with the unkillable Mezger engine (No IMS, true dry sump) is still the performance of bargain to get right now. Worth the premium over the regular 996. When these have caught on and climb in value, people are going to be astonished at what they traded for in 2024…

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