I just bought the cheapest Porsche 911 I could find, a manual 1999 Carrera with 243,000 miles. But naturally I had to know how much power it puts down, and that meant taking it to the absolute limit on the dyno. My inaugural test of this car starts with a bang, a roar, and some really odd facial expressions.
Since 243,000 miles is slightly farther than the distance to the moon, I named the car Apollo 911. I flew from Kansas to California to purchase Apollo 911, which came with zero paper service records, and trusted the word of a used car dealer that it would be reliable for my two-week long business trip.
Despite doing all the things you shouldn’t when buying an old European sports car, everything turned out fantastic. The car performed flawlessly and the interstellar-mileage drivetrain felt like it was performing like new.
Several people from the Jalopnik peanut gallery were trying to rain on my parade, insulting poor Apollo 911 was a tired old car on its last legs. Other than my seat of the pants feeling, I had no data to defend the health of my new purchase—until now.
Inspired by the old Top Gear cheap car challenges, I decided to take Apollo 911 to the dyno to see how many horses have escaped the engine after 16 years and 243,000 miles.
In the Top Gear challenge with budget mid-engine Italian supercars, the trio famously averaged a 91 horsepower loss between their aged Ferrari, Lamborghini, and Maserati. If you recall the episode, the engine in Jeremy Clarkson’s Maserati Merak grenaded shortly after the dyno run, throwing engine parts all over the motorway.
Their power loss was dramatic, but exaggerated, as they were not accounting the difference between horsepower at the engine versus horsepower at the wheels.
The engine in Apollo 911 was rated new at 296 horsepower. The dyno measures horsepower through the wheels, which, due to the power loss from energy being transferred through the drivetrain and out to the wheels, is lower than the widely reported horsepower figures at the engine.
A good drivetrain averages about a 15 to 20 percent power loss from the engine to the wheels, with the 911 falling within that range. Owners with fresh motors are reporting 240-ish horsepower at the wheels, about 19 percent off from the 296 horsepower at the engine.
The terrifying part of this experiment is Porsche spec states the engine achieves maximum horsepower at 6,800 RPM. The redline on Apollo 911’s tachometer is a tad over 7,000 RPM. So in order to get highest dyno reading possible, this 243,000 mile motor had to be held at an RPM near the limit.
For obvious safety reasons, the dyno shop would not let me pilot Apollo 911 for its dangerous mission. The job was given to their experienced and affable mechanic named Alex, who reassuringly told me he hasn’t had any engines blow up on him recently.
After securing Apollo 911 with 4 ratchet straps, hooking up the necessary instruments and pointing a big fan at the front to simulate airflow, we were ready for launch.
Alex asked how high in the rev band he should take the engine, and I told him 6,800 RPM, where Porsche spec stated peak horsepower is achieved. As you can see in the video, my nervousness was obvious.
Alex shifted the car through the gears with the rolling road beginning to roar under the rear tires as he shifted into fourth, where Apollo 911 would launch its run. With my ass-cheeks clenched in terror, I acted as mission control, narrating what was showing on the instrument cluster. The motor wound up with a fantastic, almost musical crescendo like it was being played by a demonic organist.
At 6800 RPM, with the speedometer reading over 120 mph, Alex lifted off the throttle. Apollo 911 coasted down the rolling road and, much to my relief, survived its run.
The dyno computer reported back 235 horsepower. This was a respectable number given the engine has traveled the distance to the moon, but Alex said Apollo 911 could do more. At 6,800 RPM, the dyno computer was showing horsepower was still building. If I allowed him to take the car all the way to redline for another run, we could see the maximum this engine is capable of.
Many of you would probably say 235 horsepower was good enough and call it a day, but I’m an idiot. Despite the horror of risking it all again, I agreed to another run taking Apollo 911 to the absolute limit.
Again, Alex rowed the car through the gears and again the demon inside my engine played his deafening tune. At 7,000 RPM, Alex lifted. My glorious car had survived another run.
This time, the power peaked at 239.7 horsepower. The risk had paid off. My Porsche just showed itself to be as robust as new, making all of those Jalop naysayers eat their words. Apollo 911 continued to perform perfectly for the rest of the week, totaling over 500 miles for my trip.
The time has come for the two of us to return to Kansas. With Apollo 911 being a lifelong Southern California car, it will be in for a shock enduring a harsh winter on the Great Plains. Some people buy a keychain or a postcard to remember their trips, I’m bringing home a whole damn car.
You stay classy, San Diego.