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Ask Jack: Opening An Account In the Caymans?

I sure have enjoyed my European adventure, although as usual when I’m overseas, much of what I see makes no sense to my adopted-Midwesterner eyes. Here’s an example: Why is it that I see more Porsches out and about in my home town of Powell, Ohio, than I do when I’m visiting Germany? If I am on an Ohio freeway for 20 minutes, I will see a Porsche; if I am on an Ohio freeway for an hour and it is not snowing, chances are that I will see a real Porsche, meaning something with just two doors and an engine behind the driver. There are a half-dozen 911s garaged within a mile of my house of which I am aware, which means that there are probably a lot more of which I am not aware, because general awareness is not my finest personal quality.

You would think the place where they actually build Porsches (some of them anyway) would have a lot more of them than Ohio does, the same way that Ohio has a lot more Honda Accords per capita than you’d find in, say, New Mexico. It is not so. Unless you are in the immediate vicinity of the Nurburgring, Porsches are virtually non-existent on the roads of the Fatherland. Maybe they know something we don’t, or maybe they’re just not buying Caymans and Cayennes at the moment because they are spending all their money on subsidizing all those nice young fellows arriving from parts unknown.

Speaking of Porsches, it’s time for Part Two (Electric Boogaloo!) of Ask Jack: Stuttgart Edition.

Chris writes:

I currently have a 1999 Mercedes-Benz SLK as a third car, which I drive occasionally about 5,000 miles/year. However, with a new paint job looming, I’m thinking about giving it to a relative and replacing it with something newer.

I’ve toyed with owning a Cayman for many years but have always been scared off by the spectre of IMS bearing failure (or any failure where the repair requires the cash equivalent of a new economy car). I have a garage full of tools, and the time to fix many things on my own, but it’s that $15,000 new engine risk that’s scared me off up ’til now.

I’d like to spend $30,000-something, with an absolute limit of $40,000.

What would be a good model year range? Is the S worth that much more over the basic Cayman? The car will never see a racetrack, just southern California driving. Where is a good forum to find a car? I’m leaning towards AutoTrader because the cost of listing means only the nicer cars are listed.

Chris, I have to admit I initially read your first paragraph to mean that you have a new job in the painting industry — but then I remembered that old Benzes really do enjoy a spot of the ol’ ultra-delamination. Something that you do not mention is whether you’ve been using the retractable hardtop on that SLK of yours. I’m thinking the answer is “no” because you’re in the market for a Cayman and not a Boxster. In my experience, cars with power hardtops rarely have those hardtops in any position besides “up,” whether we’re talking about that crazy old Ford from the ’50s or the modern 4 Series “convertible.”

If, on the other hand, you’re thinking you want a Cayman and not a Boxster because of some nonsense about “superior chassis rigidity” or “on the limit handling,” then be like Princess Elsa and let it go, brother. (It was Elsa, right? I didn’t actually watch the movie, because I’m a grown man.) The difference in the racetrack prowess of a similarly equipped Boxster and Cayman is about nothing. On the street, where you’ll be, it is nothing.

Is long-term resale value important to you? In that case, don’t fail to get the “S” model, even if you have to get a slightly older or higher-mileage car to do it. But if you just want the best Cayman possible for the money, then the recommendation is easy. You can find a 2011-2012 Cayman 2.9-liter for $30,000 or less. They come with a six-speed manual transmission if you like and they do not come with an IMS bearing problem. Although some people think that problems with the direct-injection systems on these newer Porkers will end up being the “IMS bearing” of this generation, the 2.9-liter cars don’t have direct injection. It’s the most trouble-free choice.

As far as where to find the car, I suggest that you join the Porsche Club of America — you’ll end up doing it anyway once you have the car — at which point you can make full use of their excellent classifieds section. Typically, PCA listings are priced a bit high, but most of the owners are willing to deal down to non-club levels. And although nothing in life is utterly certain, I’d take an enthusiastic PCA member’s car over an auction rat from your local “affordable exotic” dealer.

Last but not least, make sure you find a reputable independent dealer to do a pre-purchase inspection. These cars can hide plenty of very expensive problems. The PPI for my Boxster revealed about $1,900 worth of suggested repairs. I split the tab with the new owner. She’s happy to have a sorted-out car and I’m happy to be entirely out of the watercooled-Porsche lifestyle. Not that you should let my diffidence regarding those cars deter you. John Mayer said it best:

And airports
See it all the time
Where someone’s last goodbye
Blends in with someone’s sigh
‘Cause someone’s coming home
In hand a single rose
And that’s the way this wheel keeps working now
That’s the way this wheel keeps working now
And I won’t be the last
No I won’t be the last,
To love her

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