964 Cynics – Get Real!

964 Cynics, Get Real!

A personal Review of the 964

It?s about time the 964 model 911?s record was set straight. Too often we
read cynical comments about this outstanding iteration of the everlasting type
911, which like all 911s before and after it, has a special place in Porsche?s
remarkable history.

First and foremost, the 964 is not necessarily any less or more reliable than
any other 911. It is certainly much more complex than all before it and
therefore, requires knowledgeable maintenance and careful evaluation when
buying. These areas of careful attention relate to some of its new features and
benefits, of which some involved later factory enhancements.

Hock the House

To put the 964 into perspective you need only quote Car and Driver?s preview
test drive (Jan. 1990) when it first appeared in its C2 guise: ?Enthusiasts
rejoice: the 2 means twice the fun?. Bissoon-Dath also wrote: ?Not only does it
build on the traditional appeal of the 911, but it is faster, gutsier, more
stable and more satisfying?. ?The Carrera 2 can be driven at the limit with none
of the sweaty-palms theatrics required by older 911s?.

He closed his review with: ?Porsche?s prices may see astronomical, but if you
ever have a chance to drive a Carrera 2, you?ll probably want to hock the house,
the dog and your favourite aunt to buy one. So unless you have an appropriately
large bank account ? or you like to torture yourself – stay away from this
automobile. Otherwise the house is history?.

Of course, any evaluation of the 964 today (as with all other 911 iterations),
needs not only to look back at how the car was received, but also forward to the
vehicle?s longevity and maintenance and repair issues. But we should be careful
not to fall into the trap of expecting of it what we might expect of later
iterations. Sure, the 993 has improvements over the 964, but so it should ? for
the extra money, and simply because it came later.

But the 964 has a special place in the ongoing development of the 911. It was
the most modern expression of the concept until the 996. It was about 85%
different ? yet retained the classical 911 envelop that started to become
overdone in the 3.2 before it. Porsche resisted the temptation to over-cater for
the North American market!

Within minutes of first driving the 964 a number of things build your
enthusiasm: the ultra sharp front end and its point-and-shoot dynamics ? the 911
now had full coil front suspension and power steering; effortless gear changes ?
the 911 now had a truly modern gearbox; rear end stability and driver
controllable rear-end-steer ? an enhanced rear end; unbelievable torque that
rushes from as low as 1,500 rpm ? the 911 now had state-of-the-art DME matched
to great engine design; mind-blowing breaks ? could they get any better?; modern
climate control ? finally the 911 had air-conditioning that worked!; and the
list goes on.

It?s inside the brilliant 3.6 litre engine where the real joy begins. It?s a
redesign and enlargement overt the 3.2 before it, which included leading
technology enhancements: new throttle-valve assembly; twin-spark technology: new
idle-speed stabiliser; better piston cooling; increased oil flow rate; the use
of new materials such as Aeterna and improved cooling fan performance

But of course today we now have the benefit of hindsight and yes it had some
weaknesses that added to the 911?s running costs, but not necessarily detracting
from its overall reliability.

The Best 911 to Date

10 years after the 964 hit the road, Peter Zimmermann with nearly 50 years
experience (owner of arguably the USA?s most respected specialist Porsche repair
and service centre for models from the 356 to the 993) wrote in his excellent
guide to used 911 Porsches -The Used 911 Story: ?The C2/C4 line of cars, even
with their problems, are arguably the best 911s to date.?

Zimmermann introduces the C2/C4 as: ?probably one of the most spectacular
road/performance vehicles ever built to date?.. it looked like a 911?. Changes
were numerous ?. Fitted with a 3.6 litre engine that is an absolute marvel?.
Power and torque allow this car to accelerate all the way through the rev range
in a way never seen before in a production 911. These cars are sensational to
drive, and just might have the best brakes known to man.?

Yes, the 964 had issues ranging from trivial to very expensive, which may
indicate an overly ambitious release date or a poor testing program. Whatever,
most cars owned from new by responsible owners with sufficient liquidity to
remain faithful to their authorised service centre, will likely have the
weaknesses behind them by now. These weaknesses included: cylinder head sealing
design; materials used in engine seals and o-rings; oil line connections; an
alternative longer life dual-mass flywheel and adding a breather kit to extract
moisture from the distributor belt housing. Such parts redesign/updates are not
uncommon in any model as seen in the 3 litre?s clutch rubber damper and 944 cam
belts.

Sure, the self opening ashtray and the crack-happy tail light lenses were issues
not consistent with a frightfully expensive (in 1990 real dollar terms) German
sports car. More seriously, the head gasket-less engine oil leaks were even more
disappointing, but, were in most cases rectified under warranty. It was the
other longer term oil leak issues discovered from the crankcase, chain box
covers and oil lines that became expensive items to rectify.

Most, if not all of the engine oil leak weaknesses have been fully addressed by
new seal kits, gaskets and cylinder refinements. So if a car?s history is
unknown and there are some telltale signs, or the mileage / engine performance
indicators point to the need for major work ? take a burger with the lot and
have the whole job done in one go. The rewards far outweigh the cost.

The new dual-mass flywheel that so effectively dampened gearbox noise and added
refinement to the 964 also became an issue ? of cost rather than reliability.
So, most owners ultimately replace it with the lighter weight RS version when
replacing a worn clutch ? a 50% lower cost option.

However, these cars are significantly more complex than their predecessors and
therefore, necessarily have a higher cost per kilometre to maintain. It?s simply
a matter of checking before you buy; using experienced and knowledgeable
repairers and investing in preventative steps such as obtaining the updated
breather kit for the distributor belt housing if not already fitted. The reward
is to own a stunning, high involvement and thoroughly modern 911.

So where does the 964 sit? For a little more money you get a much more drivable
and higher performance car than its 3.2 predecessor. But, for a lot more money
you could take a 993. In the Australian market and on a like for like comparison
basis, a late 3.2 in top condition will cost you AU$65,000 on average. An
excellent early 993 example will set you back about AU$105,000. But an excellent
964 with all its issues fully addressed can be bought for about AU$75,000.

About my own experience. I have had my 964 (1991) for about 3 years. The only
failure I have suffered has been to replace headlight globes! I wanted the
latest model in top condition I could afford (but even if I could afford a 996 ?
no way will I have water in my engine, a plastic dashboard, or conventional
pedals!!). The 964 offered modernity not found in the 3.2 and affordability not
available in the 993 at the time. The deal included full engine resealing (which
was first done early in its life) with the new kits and a top end rebuild to be
sure. The whole clutch kit was replaced with the flywheel which showed signs of
wear. I opted for the RS flywheel for its weight savings and potential
durability, but am unconvinced that was a good idea. My ashtray didn?t come with
auto-open mode, nor did my rear tail-light lenses come with cracks, so no
changes were needed.

Going to a light weight flywheel has the disadvantage of adding gearbox noise to
the cabin (who really cares) and a tendency to stall on deceleration (more
common if the climate control is running). It seems the stalling is due to the
lack of mass (weight) and that the factory ?hammer settings? don?t allow higher
idle speed settings to counteract that occasional stalling. You learn to live
with that, although I am told that fitting a programmable chip can deal with it
(comments by 964RS owners would be helpful).

My C2

My C2 has covered 130,000 kilometres of which 40,000 have been
since the engine re-seal and top end work. Alas, never a drip of oil and an
engine bay to be proud of. Computer analysis shows the engine performance is
virtually as per new car spec. Oil pressure when cold is 4.5 to 5 bar. When hot
it?s always at 5 bar and pushing above the scale. At idle the needle sits
between 3 and 4 bar! It fires up hot or cold in an instant. Not a rattle or
creak can be heard even on the worst of our under-funded Australian roads.
Because of our generally warm climate I had the sheet metal removed from under
the engine. It ensures longer engine seal life through less radiated heat (and
you can always be sure to notice an oil leak before it becomes too advanced).

The climate control system is excellent on heating and cooling cycles. But like
(it seems) all Porsches the air-conditioning needs a rebuild after about 8 years
and that is expensive. Mine was done the year before I bought the car.

Modifications I have made are simple: lowering springs (it now steers like a
go-kart and looks brilliant); 17? Cup 1 wheels (perfect with the lowering
springs); 964 RS full leather steering wheel (a joy to use); replaced the rear
deck with the 3.6 bi-plane version, which I think adds to the flowing lines of
the car without overdoing it; added a relay and installed higher output
headlights (I think the originals came from a 1953 VW Beetle parts bin!); a
sports exhaust has made the stereo system totally redundant! I am considering
having a programmable chip fitted but am yet to be convinced of its benefits,
but other than that I see no need for any other enhancements.

Finally, the fewer numbers of 964s constructed in comparison to the 3.2 and 993
is no reflection on the car?s desirability. It simply reflected the severity of
the global recession from the late 1980s to the mid 1990s. Porsche was hit hard
in all markets and worst of all in North America ? the 964 was fiercely
expensive and there were few buyers around. It was also under a lot of pressure
to bring the 911 into the modern era. At that time Porsche knew the 928 was not
accepted as a viable replacement for the 911 and so the 964 became the bridge
between an icon and the thoroughly modern 993. For many buyers today, the 964
was the last truly classic 911.

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