Thumb through the classifieds or browse the results of the latest auction, and you’ll come to the dreadful realization that instead of buying up fistfuls of Apple and Google stock, you should have invested your Benjamins in the market for the classic Porsche 911. Values for pre-1974 911s have risen as much as 600 percent over the last four years, as indicated by the Hagerty Insurance vehicle-valuation tool.
Want one? Sorry, no bargains remain. But there is one desirable and affordable air-cooled 911 model left, though it’s been long overlooked. Of course we’re talking about the 911SC. There are lots of them for sale because the big-dollar collector crowd has long rejected the 1978-1983 911SC as too slow, too reliable, and too common to be a purist’s car. In fact, it was almost the last-ever 911.
As the now-legendary story goes, it was soon after the arrival of Peter W. Schutz at Porsche in 1981 as CEO that he found himself in the office of engineering chairman Helmuth Bott. On the wall, Bott had a chart depicting the future timeline for the automaker’s products. The plan for the front-engine 928 and 924/944 coupes extended to the end of the chart, but the timeline for the 911 ended abruptly in 1981 because there were concerns about declining sales and ever-stricter regulation of air and noise emissions. As Schutz tells it, he walked over to the chart with a black marker and extended the 911’s timeline to the edge of the board. And then he further extended the timeline onto the wall and finally drew it all the way out of the doorway. When he put the marker back down on Bott’s desk, the two of them were grinning.
From this perspective, you can see the SC as the tipping point toward a better, stronger 911. The SC still has one foot in the past with its short, classic body (about the size of a Mazda Miata) and air-cooled flat-six engine, and yet it also delivers relatively modern reliability and comfort features. Pricewise, the entire SC lineup from 1978 to 1983 is still within reach. And the luxury-oriented Targa is the best way to nab your own set of keys to a 911SC, as it’s more rare than a coupe (only 9,807 Targas were brought to the United States) but more affordable than the 1983-only convertible.
This 1982 SC Targa was originally built to Euro-spec for a German buyer and then brought over to the U.S. by the second owner. When the SC model was introduced to the U.S., tinkering by Porsche with the air-emissions gear led to different ratings for California cars, and then as the SC evolved in the U.S., the 172-hp (SAE net) California engine was used throughout the country. The Euro version started with a roughly comparable 180 hp (DIN), then was wound up to 188 hp (DIN) in 1980, and finally hit 204 hp (DIN) in 1981, which is enough power to really wake up the 2,730-pound Targa. This car’s current owner (its fifth) has had his Euro-spec Targa for 19 years, so I approached this piece of forbidden Swabian Spargel with reverence.
Despite the compression difference between U.S. and Euro engines, both variants of the 3.0-liter Porsche flat-six spin quickly to the 6,250-rpm redline with an instant throttle response unknown in modern engines. Meanwhile, the Type 915 five-speed manual transmission is not a gearbox to be rushed. Shift too quickly, and you will be met with only recalcitrance and grinding. And just like the original Volkswagen Beetle, the SC has floor-mounted pedals, so those accustomed to firewall-mounted pedal boxes have to be ready to adjust.
On the road, the unassisted rack-and-pinion steering is predictably heavy at parking-lot speed but becomes wonderfully light and communicative as you really get rolling. There’s lots of caster and trail dialed into the steering geometry to keep this rear-engine package tracking straight on the highway, so expect some kickback over bumps and ruts. The combination of a short 89.4-inch wheelbase, trailing-arm rear suspension, and rearward weight distribution can deliver heart-pounding lift-throttle oversteer in the corners, just as you’ve heard. The big surprise is the wide powerband and progressive compliance of the torsion-bar suspension make cross-country driving a pleasure.
Don’t for a second listen to the Porsche bores who whine about the Targa’s removable roof. It’s a one-person job to remove and stow the vinyl-covered square in either the “frunk” or across the rear seats once they’re folded down. Just as with the modern 911 Targa, this classic Targa offers you an open-air experience without mussing your hair, and you can also enjoy the unique mechanical symphony of the engine thrumming behind you. And chances are this car will be worth more next year than this, which is perhaps something that cannot be said of a 2016 Targa.
|Engine||3.0L SOHC 12-valve flat-6/172 hp @ 5,900 rpm, 189 lb-ft @ 4,000 rpm|
|Front Suspension||Strut-type, torsion bars|
|Rear Suspension||Semi-trailing arms, torsion bars|
|Original Price||$20,775 (’78)|
As I’ve discovered with my own 911SC Targa, the SC is one of the truly usable and reliable classics. With a few preventive measures (most of which have probably been made already by previous owners), an SC will not be a regular visitor to your friendly Porsche mechanic. Check for a blowoff valve in the airbox, which prevents a nasty cold-weather backfire from cracking your $400 plastic piece. The engine should have been converted to hydraulic cam-chain tensioners from its mechanical ones, as otherwise chaos will eventually ensue. Maintain a strict schedule for oil changes with a zinc-rich oil formula, keep the valves adjusted, and you will be free of any major engine-out services for miles. Over the course of six years and many miles, my Targa still runs strong. The best advice? Pick one up now before it’s too late.