Restoring an Air-Cooled Porsche

Paradoxically, restoring an air-cooled Porsche 911 can be both easier and more difficult than restoring a more conventional car. Easier because, quite frankly, they’re in some ways simpler—no cooling system with hoses, radiators, and water pumps to worry about. More challenging because they’re unique—things like mechanical fuel injection on some models, the precise way that their finned pistons come apart from the case, threaded studs, and unique cylinder head designs that require care and experience.

Then there is the bodywork. Pre-1976 cars were not galvanized, and the numerous closed spaces provided ideal places for rust to attack, even floor pans—when undercoating aged and cracked, or road debris damaged factory finishes—could rust horrifically. And since these pieces are structural, the results could be terrifying.

The best way to start is with a simple triage of the car. Assess the mechanicals starting with the engine. If leakdown numbers look good (around 10% or less deviation between cylinders), consider yourself lucky. The cost of rebuilding Porsche air-cooled engines has skyrocketed lately. Plan for $25,000 to $35,000 for a comprehensive job on a 3.0-liter.

Next, get the car up on a lift. Fresh undercoating is a red flag that demands you poke around with a screwdriver to see how sound the metal is. Getting off easy here means a suspension pan and or battery box.

Air-cooled Porsches were meticulously crafted cars that used expensive materials, so a ratty interior can be very pricey to put right. A cracked dash means that the windshield will need to come out, to say nothing of the cost of a replacing or repairing the dash itself. Proper carpeting is expensive, and just because your car has a leatherette (rather than leather) interior, don’t assume you’ll get off easy. Proper German vinyl can be nearly as expensive as leather. Missing items like door pockets will be expensive, as will the often overlooked things like the radio. Plan on about $1,000 installed for a period-correct radio. Fortunately, Porsche Classic has upped its game in recent years, making many formerly obsolete parts once again available.

Few things are more rewarding than the feeling of a job well done. And since the values of air-cooled Porsches continue to rise, it makes more and more economic sense to spend what it takes to restore these cars to a good standard, something that frankly wasn’t the case until recently. —article complements of Rob Sass, and restoration photos above and in ad by V. Nguyen, Porsche Club of America. For more information on premier quality collision repair and Porsche restoration, visit Euro Pros Collision Center or call 301-977-7475