Obsession, Thy Name is Porsche
Credit: Photograph by Peter Yang
The Porsche to own if you're interested in a classic but still want a few modern amenities, such as comfy seats, a defroster that works, and a rust-resistant galvanized body, is an air-cooled 911 made from 1978 to 1987. They have that great sloped-roof styling that has made them the most recognizable sports car ever produced. Their engines are almost bulletproof. They haul ass. They turn heads. In all regards, they're just about perfect.

This is not the Porsche I decided I wanted. What I wanted was the 911 variant known as the 912E. It was made for only one year, 1976, with only 2,099 of them built, with only 1,156 known to still exist; gets pretty damn good gas mileage for a Porsche, around 30 mpg; has the same sexy sweet body style as the 911 but cost $2,000 less when new ($10,750); was dubbed "the poor man's Porsche"; and is despised and reviled by purists worldwide because it's powered not by a Porsche engine but by a glorified VW-bus motor. "It's a dog," various Porsche experts and mechanics told me. And: "It's crap." "All looks, no balls." "Do yourself a huge favor and fuggedaboutit or else you'll be SOOORRRRYYY!"

I didn't care. There's something about the 912E's unloved-orphan status that hit me hard and bowled me over. What do I need to go fast for anyway? I live in a small Rhode Island beach town, and the only time I ever really speed (I'm lying) is when I'm heading to the ocean to go surfing. And I certainly wasn't going to put surf racks on a Porsche. Only a douche would do that. So for me, it seemed just about perfect. Plus, they're about the cheapest classic Porsche going. I was pretty sure that my $7,000 could get me a real honey.

First thing I did was join the Porsche forums at Pelicanparts.com and Rennlist.com, and then I became a member of the 912E forum at 912bbs.org. I soon realized that I wasn't going to find an E anywhere close to where I lived on the East Coast and that the hotbeds of 912E ownership were all on the other side of the country. That being the case, I was going to have to shop long-distance. I found two mashup sites that allowed me to search Craigslists everywhere, all at once. Then I discovered more sites, lots more – Autotrader.comHemmings.comThesamba.comClassiccars.com, Motorheadtrader.com.

It was exciting. I was on to something new, and it felt big. For one thing, I was learning a whole new cool vocabulary. A PPI is a pre-purchase inspection, which is what you should get before buying any old car. Ducktails and whale tails are all types of 911 rear spoilers and are pretty cool, but, sadly, they were never offered on the 912E. Fuchs are the wheels that most Porsche fans like, though I prefer steel wheels with hubcaps for a more retro look. Swepco is the only oil to use in an old Porsche transmission, and the guys can wax rhapsodic about it, as in, "I really like what Swepco did to my tranny!" and "I love Swepco's color!!!"

I spent the next several weeks – four hours a day, sometimes six, sometimes more, though it pains me now to say how much more, so I won't – perusing ads and marveling at some of the Porsche-selling bozos out there, like the guy who wrote in his Craigslist post, Porsche black whit black top red gut the car is a convert top works great there is no cuts on the top the clucth is find every thing works or more info call this numbr. Yeah, right – hold on, where's my checkbook? But mostly I spent that time jawboning on the phone with sellers, getting excited about what I heard, then dropping $200 to $400 on PPIs, five of them altogether, that invariably led to the discovery of things like deal-killing rust or an engine that wasn't a 912E engine at all.

This one fellow I hired to look at an E in the potato fields of the Pacific Northwest did his inspection with me on the phone but spent most of his time palavering with the seller. At one point he said to me, with the seller snorting in the background, "Hey, didja know that someone in the Netherlands is willing to buy the car sight unseen? Didja know that?" I ended the call and started writing him an e-mail that contained lines like "I've got to say that your inspection and the way you handled it was totally unprofessional and bordering on worthless" and "I could go on, but I won't" and "I'm thoroughly disgusted." I hit send, screamed about two dozen obscenities, stormed upstairs, threw myself on the couch, and began wringing my hands like some kind of fruitcake.