We all know there's no such thing as a cheap Porsche 911, no matter how attractive the price in the window is. That lesson has been expensively learned by generations of optimists, enticed by the siren call of compellingly inexpensive examples as different generations of the ass-engined sports car reached the lowest ebb of their depreciation curves. Buying is just when the spending starts on a less-loved example - it doesn't take long for the combined total of bills on a grotty one to reach the cost of a minty fresh example.
Yet there's never any shortage of keen gamblers willing to roll dice as values fall - nor cars that look like good bets. As earliest examples of the 997 have dropped below £20k so an increasing number of wallets have begun twitching, especially when it comes to examples that look as compelling as this week's Brave Pill.
Let's start with the pluses, of which there are many. Our Pill is an early 2004 example featuring the desirable combination of coupe bodyshell and a manual gearbox. It's in a decent colour - dark grey rather than the Resale Silver that so many of its contemporaries wear - and although it's a basic rear-drive Carrera, it was ordered with a good selection of well-chosen options including extended leather, sports seats and the sat-nav that would have been an expensive extra tick in those days. The selling dealer also reports a full service history.
The list on the other side of the ledger is shorter but scarier, certainly for those with limited courage or a surfeit of imagination. The obvious one is a 160,000 odometer reading which would be regarded as leggy in most cars, but which makes this 911 the equivalent of a decade-old airport run minicab. It's nearly as high as the 171k covered by the 993 Carrera that got Pill'd back in October, but the air-cooled car had another ten years to rack up its score.
A word that segues us with the buttery smoothness of a 1980s regional newsreader straight to the other issue: the early 997's reputation for some of the same bitey and expensive engine problems that plagued the 996. These most famously including intermediate shaft bearing failure and - wait for it, wait for it - a proven tendency to score its cylinder bores.
Not that the early 997 has ever been the fizzing grenade of popular legend. Engine problems do happen, and there are plenty of owners who have been forced to swallow substantial bills to put them right. But not all cars fall victim and specialists say the 997 is markedly less prone than the 996. The fact our Pill has managed to rack up such an impressive mileage is proof it has never encountered a terminal problem, and getting to this point will have required plenty of care over the years.
The steady evolution of 911s means that, for anyone coming from later cars, the early 997 now feels different to how it did when new. I attended the original press launch back in 2004 and was amazed by the car's effortless ability to carry speed and its forgiving nature, indulging the sort of liberties its predecessors would have punished with either a slap, a spin, or a smash. This was a 911 that managed to feel rear-engined without being scary, even on wet and slippery roads.
But because motoring journalists tend to live their automotive lives in the newest and shiniest things, my exposure to base 997s was pretty limited from that point onwards. Until two years ago that is, when I had one with a very similar spec to our Pill from as a loaner from a dealer for a week - and was surprised how different it was to my memories. All 911s have grown much harder and more aggressive since the 991 launched, especially with the rise of switchable dynamic modes. So while the Carrera 2's 3.6-litre flat-six was as sonorous as I remembered, the chassis felt much softer and eight-tenths performance subjectively slower. Yet I also soon realised that the laid-back vibe is generally better suited to crowded, bumpy Britain than its firmer, angrier successors.
Despite obscured plates we've managed to have a peek at our Pill's MOT history, which is pretty much as you'd expect for a car given the age and mileage. There have been several outbreaks of red over the years, most often for worn tyres, ineffective lights and tired suspension components. But the most recent test in July cleared the balance - leaving just advisories for a deteriorated front registration plate and a broken headlight level sensor. On the plus side, the record also suggests continuous use without any obvious periods off the road.
The fact the car is now wearing matching Continental tyres is a reassuring sign of recent attention. The comprehensive set of pictures show what appears to be a small indentation in the top of the rear bumper - a good candidate for a possible hairdryer 'pop' repair. There is also, unsurprisingly, visible wear on interior trim and to the rubberized coating of much of the switchgear - something that afflicts almost all Porsches of this period. It's fair to say these niggles are reflected in the price; for £18,925 this is the cheapest 997 in the classifieds, and one of the least expensive in the country not to be wearing an insurance marker or Stevie Wonder spec.
Is it a good bet? That's going to depend strongly on your personal attitude to risk - it would certainly be possible to spend considerably more on a less used example without any guarantee of better underlying condition. Like many, I suspect history is going to be kind to the 997 - certainly more so than the perennial underdog that is the 996. Now cheaper examples of the later car are getting very close to the level of barely-better versions of its predecessor, it's starting to look like great value. This is about where 993 and 964 prices bottomed out, remember - look where they are now.
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