Car profiles

Letting your classic car sit is a recipe for disaster. I got lucky.

by Conner Golden
11 October 2022 6 min read
Image

If you delve into the comment section on an episode of Tom Cotter’s Barn Find Hunter series on Hagerty’s YouTube Channel, you’ll find some enthusiasts view the dusty, moldering expanses of Mopars and Mercurys less as an exciting archeological survey of unearthed automotive riches, and more as a cautionary tale to drive and enjoy your cars lest they rot.

A noble sentiment. But not all enthusiasts have space, storage, cash, a reliable shop, or a combination of all these factors. Some cars are one big bill away from being parked for decades. Or, maybe not so big; life has a way of pouring coolant in our oil from time to time.

Ask me how I know. Or maybe ask my 2002 Porsche 996 Carrera that, until two weeks ago, was an inoperable and very dirty albatross around my neck.

Conner Golden

The more a car sits, the more the problems, bills, and guilt compounds. Prior to its recent resuscitation, I fed and nurtured an unbreakable loop of “I’ll get around to it when [X].” The variable input here is a rotation of [more money], [time], and/or [not lazy]. It sat for a little more than a full year before I decided to solve for [X].

Even six months in, I was sure I was screwed. I knew—I knew—the car would exit its dusty carport with rodent-gnawed wiring, congealed oil, locked brakes, varnished fuel, and a moldy interior. It wasn’t until over a full year in when I got a grim telehealth prognosis that lit a fire under my ass.

“What’s the worst thing you can do to a 996?”

I already knew the answer, but I had to ask. I’m a supplicant to my neuroses, and there was no way, no how I would finish my visit earlier this year to Flat Six Innovations without inducing a low-grade anxiety spiral. Jake Raby’s rural Georgia workshop is sanctum sanctorum for anyone emotionally involved with a Porsche 996, with Raby himself as the ultra-maestro behind what are inarguably the best M96 and M97 engine builds this side of Neptune. On the subject of 911 engines, his word is gospel.

“The worst thing you can do to a 996 is let it sit,” Raby said bluntly.

2,300 miles away, my 996 sat. “What year is your car?” Raby asked after I fessed to this neglect. I told him it was a 2002 Carrera. “3.6? Ah, so that’s the worst one too, at least from a mechanical standpoint,” he explained as my life expectancy visibly wicked away. “Those engines have a higher amount of fail points than any other variant of M96.” My gut felt as though I swallowed a brake caliper.

Pictured: a 996 not sitting. | Matt Tierney

It’s not like I planned on mothballing the 996 for so long. Heck, I parked the Carrera sometime in late 2020—maybe early 2021—as a healthy, running car. There were a few things on my checklist to fix, all non-critical. The fluids were fresh, the notorious IMS bearing was recently sorted, and the tires new. It ran and roared with alacrity unbecoming of its six-fig odo readout and its unshakable reputation as an intricately engineered German hand grenade.

Much of the motivation behind this hibernation arrived as a side-effect of my career. My previous post was at an in-market car magazine, cycling me through a ceaseless fleet of press cars that ranged from the basest Corolla to the latest ballistic from McLaren. It’s easier to navigate the broken and brutal roadways of Los Angeles in something soft and boring than sharp and thrilling, so mundane commutes were dispatched in a CR-V or BMW X7 or Acura MDX or whatever.

The 996 sat.

Supercars, Hellcats, M3s, and plenty of Porsches filled the gaps in my schedule like a light dusting of meth.

The 996 sat.

Here’s where I shift some blame unto the car itself. As is the case with most early 2000s German cars—or German cars of any vintage, really—the name of the game is excessive engineering and complication for the sake of complication.

Conner Golden

Consider the location of my car’s battery. Porsche slotted it against the front firewall and just above the front trunk storage space. In the transition from the 996.1 (1999-2001) to the 996.2 (2002-2004), some genius decided the 996.1’s cable-operated frunk release lever to be too rustic, too agricultural. No, it’s most logical to lock the 996.2’s battery behind an electric frunk switch on the interior.

If your battery gets too low, you cannot pop the frunk lid to access said dead battery with the interior switch. Naturally, Porsche engineered an analog failsafe for just this occasion in the form of a braided-steel frunk release cable, only, it’s located in the passenger-side front wheel-well, behind the liner, and is usually only accessible if you remove a wheel and reach in with a coat hanger hook. German engineering!

Prior to the long sleep, I kept track of how long it had been since my last weekend drive and removed the almost-dead battery before it crossed the threshold of not being able to pop the frunk. With no outlets available in the parking area, I’d charge the battery inside my apartment before reinstalling it for a short drive. Of course, that workaround works only if you don’t have any longer-than-expected absences, which, inevitably I did. The battery died in the car.

The 996 sat.

I dreaded the resurrection ritual ahead of me. The battery was old, and way beyond jumping—an arcane and very sketchy process on the 996 that involves a tiny retractable jump post in the driver’s footwell—so a tow was required. Its tomb née carport is in an alarmingly narrow alleyway that runs alongside the apartment building, so getting a towtruck larger than one based on a standard HD chassis is impossible. Oh, and the building is constructed into the side of a slope, so the entrance ramp is far too steep to push the dead car up with only manpower.

Conner Golden

This reckoning arrived after a year and a half, when I finally decided to take the first step in heeding Raby’s advice. The first tow truck from Hagerty Roadside Assistance couldn’t fit. The second truck made it down with only a picometer of clearance, but skedaddled when I sheepishly admitted I didn’t have the screw-in tow loop that slots in the front bumper. It was either find a tow hook, or risk ripping the front bumper off.

I sourced the requisite tow loop from the appointed shop. Not wanting to play tow-truck roulette, I called a few tow companies and shopped around my predicament. $250 got my car expertly extracted from its cavern and delivered for its health check.

This was the first time this specialty Porsche/BMW workshop had seen and serviced my car, and I gave them plenty heads-up on what to expect. I pre-approved a new battery, a full fluid change, and a fuel tank flush, alongside a paid walkthrough inspection with a master tech to see what’s gone to hell as a result of my neglect and what might need replacing in the future.

The tech gave it to me straight. The oil was…clean? The brake fluid had some water in it but that wasn’t a problem. Are you sure? He was. It was time to swap transmission fluid but the old stuff came out without shavings or glitter. I told him to check again.

Salvation | Conner Golden

It just got better and better. If you haven’t gleaned from this treatise or my prior dissertation on the wonders and woes of owning a fun car in LA, I’m nuts. I’m obsessed with classic cars, but driving them in LA traffic and around our awful infrastructure makes my teeth fall out from maintenance anxiety. I need to chase problems on an old(er) Porsche like I need a case of the mumps.

So, when the tech said, “I can’t imagine ever finding a mechanically cleaner 996 with this mileage,” my knees almost buckled. I bought this car from a dear friend who maintained it to an exacting degree, but I expected my 5,000 miles of driving and a year in the shadows to have unraveled all his good work.

I’ve put 78 miles on the 996 since it came back from the shop two weeks ago. It runs great. It runs like it was never parked in the first place. There are no electrical issues, no sagging body panels, no rust, no leaks. No smoke on startup, and no suspect sounds. The overrev counter was unremarkable, the camshaft deviation is essentially nil. My god, I lucked out.

A different (more powerful) 996 | Matt Tierney

Never again. You hear me? Never. Again. With less travel and other cars distracting me, this wonderful car is going to see substantially more seat time than it did before. There are things I’d like to fix, including the old wrap—long story—and shifting the aesthetics from faux-GT3 to that of a 996 GTS from an alternate timeline. But, that can wait.

Maybe this is your notice to yank off that car cover. Drop your ride down from those jackstands, and take it off the tender. There’s very little that can’t be fixed, and you never know—it could be a whole lot less catastrophic than you expected.

A story about

Comments

  • Brian Newman says:

    Sadly people want low mileage cars..better a used properly serviced car anyway.. but dealers continue to promote low mileage

  • Greg says:

    2002 isn’t a classic. Classic is defined as 25 years old or older. But good try.

    • Bill says:

      I think Greg above does not realize the ‘2002’ is a BMW model from round about the 70’s and not a year of manufacture. Perhaps I am guilty of letting cars set for some time… my 2002 is still in parts after my last move 34 years ago.

  • Alan H. says:

    Enjoyed the article! I have a 2003 Cabriolet. I love that car. The six speed is perfection. What did you choose to do about the IMS bearing?

  • Mercury Man says:

    Still trying to figure out what a “frunk” is……….

  • Ben says:

    I had the exact same experience with the battery – and wondered if German engineering was not so brilliant after all. Talk about a ridiculous system to pop the hood !! The experiences gave me pause: should I keep the hood open – but latched – all the time??

  • Paul Cully says:

    Thanks for all the cautionary words. I’m glad it turned out well for you. I’m the caretaker of Five beautiful Porsche’s. One belongs to a family member but still gets out. As the very talented friend and genius mechanic Andy Smith says, “Still Kills”

  • hyperv6 says:

    You know sitting is not great but it hurts some cars more than others.

    We just resurrected a car with 25 years of being parked. One gas tank and pump, brakes and a set of fuel injectors and it is back as the 30k miles car it is.

    Many Euro cars tend to be works of art but at the expense of complexity that create issues.
    They can be a Rolex while an American car can be the Timex but in the end the simple and easy to fix Timex still tells the same time and is just as durable.

    This is kind of why so many are going for the air cooled 911 today as they are more basic and simple.

    There is no right or wrong just acceptance for what you have and the price of ownership.

    I tend to try to keep to the more basic on the collectors end just for my own wallet and nerves.

  • Joe says:

    Put some miles on that thing, Mr. Golden.

  • James Whitaker says:

    I don’t know if your 2002 is the same, but my 2004 has a jump-point built into the fuse block for being able to pop the frunk with a set of jumper cables (when the battery is dead). I’ve had the battery go completely dead a couple times, and I’ve never had to take wheels off to go looking for the cable release. You just pull a big red terminal out of the fuse block, hook the positive cable to that, and ground the negative cable… hit the frunk release switch and you’re in. No need for any major effort or tools.

  • MikeB says:

    I didn’t realize black wheels were trendy back in 2002.

    • Gerald Hajny says:

      Great story! I have a 1977 Maserati Bora with 15K miles on it. I loved driving it in Colorado and Nevada while I was in the Air Force, sometimes even driving it to work on base. Then I got an assignment to Italy and I put the car in storage in Las Vegas hoping the dry climate would help. From Italy I had to go to Panama so the car remained in storage. Finally, I retired and moved to Florida but I left the car in Nevada because I was worried about the humid climate. I eventually go a climate control garage in my house and brought the car to Florida but it has been in storage for about 25 years! Now I am having a big problem finding a knowledgeable and trustworthy shop that can get this car running. I have huge trust issues with mechanic shops after one shop in St Petersburg blew the engine of my 1972 Trans Am 455 HO when they took it racing and in Colorado Springs another shop stole my jack and tool kit (now selling on EBay for about $5000 each!)
      If any one out there knows of a good reputable mechanic in the Tampa Bay area who could help out an Air Force retiree, I would appreciate suggestions.

  • Greg says:

    If the fluids were fresh in late 2020 / early 2021, why do a fluid change and fuel flush? What a waste of money. Everything is fine. Nothing degrades that fast, not even German cars.

    Re-write the article to “my battery died so I did a bunch of towing and spent money on unneeded things and the experts changed the battery and the car was fine.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

More on this topic

Hagerty Insider Newsletter

Your weekly dose of auction reports, market analysis, and more.

Thank You!
Your request will be handled as soon as possible
Hagerty Insider Newsletter
Your weekly dose of auction reports, market analysis, and more.
Share