Used car buying guide: Porsche 911 (993)

1 year ago - 18 May 2023, autocar
Used car buying guide: Porsche 911 (993)
Last of the air-cooled 911s and remains coveted today, but you’ll need to be on your guard when buying

In some cases, the future is clear to see. Few football fans would have been surprised last summer if you had told them Erling Haaland would break the Premier League goal-scoring record in his debut season. 

And nor would you have looked silly if in 1998 you had suggested that the 993-era Porsche 911 would become a desirable classic – and certainly not once confirmation came that it would be the last air-cooled 911.

To purists, that marked the end of this sports car lineage. Not just was the 996 that followed water-cooled, it was much more modern overall. Certainly, in terms of old-school charm, the 993 delivers in spades. Air cooling helps its array of flat-six engines sound distinctive and retro (and can be enjoyed to an even greater degree in a Cabriolet model). 

The basic rear-driven Carrera has a 3.6-litre unit, which initially made 268bhp, then 281bhp from 1996. The Carrera S arrived a year after that power bump. Unlike modern S models, it didn’t get any extra grunt, instead gaining lowered suspension and the Turbo’s bulging bodyshell.

If four-wheel drive is your thing, the Carrera 4 grants that, although it adds 50kg in doing so. The Carrera 4S was brought into the fold in 1996, receiving the same suspension and bodyshell treatment as its RWD counterpart.

Then there was the Carrera RS, whose lightweight measures saved almost 90kg and took it to 296bhp. A pair of turbochargers can be found in the Turbo and Turbo S (which would go without saying if the Taycan Turbo didn’t exist). There’s 395bhp in the Turbo, while the Turbo S gets a mighty 444bhp.

At the top of the 993 tree sits the legendary GT2, a car built to meet homologation requirements for GT2 racing. It has a 0-60mph time of just 3.9sec, making it only 0.3sec slower than Porsche’s than supercar, the 959. A mere 57 examples were built, 13 of them in right-hand drive.

The GT2 is obviously very special to behold and to drive, but how do lesser 993s fare? In classic 911 fashion, you’re always aware of the engine’s weight over the rear axle, meaning the back can swing out when you lift off while turning. Roadholding is still strong, though, so four-wheel drive isn’t a must. The brakes are suitably butch, too.

It lacks some of the steering feel and front-end accuracy of the later 996, but you would be hard-pressed to call it sloppy. And does it really have to be the sharpest tool in the shed, relative to more modern Porsches, when everything about it exudes so much character? From the way the atmo engines purr to its satisfying six-speed manual gearshift (automatics are out there too, if you must), driving the 993 is a truly captivating experience.

Another positive is the compact proportions and great visibility from the driving seat, which incidentally exists within a pleasingly simple cockpit.

You don’t have to pay silly money to obtain all of this, either. Unless the most sought-after 993s are all you’re considering, this remains a relatively accessible classic – for now, but probably not for long. 

What we said then 
6 October 1993: “Perhaps belatedly, Porsche’s engineers have purged the 911 of its flaws and you’re left with the sharpest 911 yet. And the most friendly.”

An expert's view

Robin Simpson, Pearce & Dale: “I spent 10 years at Porsche Silverstone as sales manager and then dealer principal. I used to buy a few 993s for stock, and I’ve carried on doing that at Pearce & Dale. The best description is that they’re built from solid granite. Nobody can afford to make a car like that now, in terms of the level of detail Porsche went to make them as reliable and as well put together as they still are now. The most common problem is corrosion in the windscreen frame, but apart from that and the normal servicing stuff, there aren’t too many issues.”

Things to watch out for 
Transmission: You often see more than 70,000 miles on the original clutch. Many high-mileage cars will have had a replacement one, though, and in such cases check that this job was done by a Porsche specialist.

Suspension: Expect around 40,000 miles out of the bushes and shock absorbers. The cost of replacements varies between standard and higher-grade suspension (based on the variant).

Brakes: Although they are of excellent quality, it’s worth checking how much life the discs and pads have left, because they can be expensive to replace. 

Electrics: The electric windows and seat-height adjuster motors are known to fail. Test all the switches to confirm they work as intended before you buy. 

Engine: Oil consumption can be heavy, so check previous owners have stuck to the recommended oil change regime. Make sure there are no leaks, too. With the atmo engines, the valve guides can wear and clog secondary air injection. And the dual-ignition distributor internal belts can fail.

Body: If you open the door and hear a cracking sound, the straps could have failed. This is a pricey yet fortunately non-essential issue to fix – so long as you take care when opening the door. 

Corrosion: Shoddy exterior repair jobs can lead to corrosion, but the 993 was made of good galvanised steel so resists it generally well. Due to the front and rear screens flexing, water and grit get in under the rubber seals, so check there as well. The headlights can also trap dirt and grit, damaging the metal and leading to corrosion.

Also worth knowing
Porsche never built a 993 GT3, but the Carrera RS is close in concept. A Clubsport version, also known as the RSR, was produced as well, lacking the carpets, power windows, air-con and radio to save even more weight. It also got a larger rear wing and a deeper chin spoiler than the RS. 

In Cabriolet models, the roof’s switch can fail, although in the event can still be used manually. In any case, check the fabric looks clean and watertight and it operates smoothly.

How much to spend

£15,000–£24,999: Early, high-mileage (over 80,000) Carreras in poor condition. One with no engine or gearbox is available if you fancy making a restomod…

£25,000–£39,999: Carrera Cabriolets with a high mileage but in decent condition. 

£40,000–£59,999: Some Carrera 4s and later Carreras. Mileages often remain high, sometimes exceeding 100,000. 

£60,000–£99,99: Pristine Carreras and Carrera 4s with 50,000 miles. A leggy Carrera S.

£100,000-£149,999: Another Carrera S and a couple of Turbos with around 50,000 miles. 

£150,000–£199,999: A Turbo in very good condition.

£200,000 and above: Any Carrera RS or RSR.

One we found

Porsche 911 Carrera, 1994, 78k miles, £59,990: With a respectable mileage and condition, this is what you can expect if your budget will stretch only to a good Carrera. It’s also a manual. The only thing that could put you off is that it’s a left-hand-drive import. 

Support Ukraine