It all started with an innocent enough question, but one familiar to all car nuts. “I want you to help me find a special used car,” said my friend. And so the quest began, leading us on a roller coaster of highs and lows — until finally we were presented not only with that Goldilocks machine but also an owner who wasn’t so much looking just add cash to his bank account but was eager to find the right person to carry on the stewardship of his prized baby.
In other words, that used-car search unicorn: the fanatic seller.
Ever since third grade, Jason Deitch wanted to own a Porsche 911. “I had to write an essay that year in school, and that as my topic,” says Deitch, 45, a San Francisco Bay Area social media entrepreneur. “It’s always been my dream car.”
For a range of personal reasons, the timing was right to finally realize that childhood fantasy. Knowing my own passion for the Zuffenhausen marque, Jason correctly guessed that asking me for assistance in trolling the Internet for that needle in a haystack pre-owned 911 was a bit like asking Lady Gaga if she wanted to put on a weird outfit. He had me at 911.
By incessantly visiting a wide range of sites, we quickly found a host of possibilities matching Jason’s criteria: mid-2000s 996, convertible, four-wheel-drive, modest mileage, silver or grey over black leather. Given the four-wheel-drive component, that narrowed the pool down to Carrera 4 and 4S, as well as the monstrous Turbo.
While a number of cars satisfied those parameters, it didn’t take long to rule most out with a perusal of seller details. Multiple owner cars were fine, but not when the seller had no clue about who came before him. Higher mileage was OK, but not when the seller couldn’t provide a healthy stack of maintenance receipts. Showing signs of use was not a concern, but not when the wear — from horribly worn seat bolsters to scraped up front skirts — tilted too much toward abuse. When you’re looking to spend five-figures on a used car, details matter. One car’s description was fetching until we saw the photos, few in number, often out of focus and shot in what looked like a back alley with neighborhood toughs looking on. Next.
Patient at first, slowly Jason was getting itchy. One particular 2005 Turbo convertible that he’d driven was still for sale for $55,000 at an independent Porsche mechanic in the area. “What about it?” he said hopefully as we sat on folding chairs in his backyard, watching our kids play.
I waved him off, noting that it bugged me that the car hadn’t moved in more than a month.
“You’ve wanted this since third grade, so be patient and wait for something truly special being sold by an absolute nut case, like me,” I said, promptly hopping on my iPhone to yet again scour a few sites. “They’re out there, trust me.”
A few minutes later, I’d stumbled across something intriguing. I held up the phone to Jason’s face, and watched his eyebrow arch. Now that, I said, was truly something special.
It was a 2005 Porsche Turbo S Cabriolet in Carrera GT silver over black leather with 26,000 miles going for $66,000. The seller’s blurb mentioned the car’s rarity — one of only a few hundred imported that year — and seemed to have been written by someone who cared. In the small smartphone’s screen, the car beamed. Jason exhaled: “Call him.”
I’m not sure exactly when it hit me, but probably about 10 minutes into John Hamblin’s 20 impassioned discourse on the minutiae of his Turbo S, I silently mouthed to Jason: “This. Is. Your. Car.” To Jason’s credit, he took the baton and ran with it, closing the deal - contingent on a pre-purchase inspection chat with the mechanic who cared for the car near Hamblin’s Portland, Ore., home — for an even $65,000. When new, this was a $160,000 show pony.
By acting fast, Jason trumped a doctor in Seattle who had been trying to make time to drive south and a buyer from California who had failed to sell a few assets in time to nab this beauty. And a beauty it seemed to be, driven just enough to keep the Turbo S’s 444-hp engine happy since its birth but not so much as to make it prone to imminent repair. Just how nice the car truly was we were about to see.
A week later, Jason and I flew up to Portland in the morning and planned to spend the next 11 hours on I-5 driving back to the Bay Area. Hamblin, 62, picked us up at the airport, and regaled us with stories from many decades as a new and used car salesman. But when it came to Porsches, his tale didn’t sound too different from Jason’s.
“I remember where I was standing when I first saw and heard a 911,” Hamblin said. “I was 13 and growing up in Ashland, Ore., guys used to cruise up and down the main road all night long. Mostly hot rods and muscle cars. I’d never seen anything like it, this small sports car making all this noise. I was immediately intrigued.”
Hamblin went to Vietnam, came back to Ashland for college and fell into a life surrounded by cars, many of them Porsches, a 1969 911S, 1982 911SC and various 964 and 993s. About three years ago, he decided “to buy a really great car,” and hunted forever until he found the Turbo S, “which had been pampered by a dentist in Seattle who had been having a tough time of things. I knew I had to have it.”
Why? The question gives Hamblin pause. Then he chuckles: “I just like knowing that I can outdo anyone who pulls up to a light next to me. It’s horrible I know. But I love it.”
In matters of love, automotive or otherwise, luck plays a huge role.
Pulling up to Hamblin’s home on five acres, we still weren’t sure whether the Turbo S would impress in person as much as she did on a smartphone screen. But when we saw it sitting there all alone in one of Hamblin’s many garage bays — with a separate room dedicated to the factory hardtop — we instantly knew the used-car gods had smiled.
Every surface was immaculate, from the car’s high-end carbon ceramic rotors to the supple black leather interior. The engine bay - stuffed as it is with an engine uniquely derived from Porsche’s GT1 program, as opposed to the standard Turbo’s powerplant — looked as if it had just been sealed off at the factory. There was one blemish on the car, a dime-sized divot in the lower driver-side rocker; Hamblin fessed up to having dropped a tool, and his honesty was just another sign that the automotive stars had aligned.
I tried to engage Jason in conversation, but he just looked dazed.
Hamblin took his Turbo S’s new owner for a spin around the winding country roads that encircled his home, terrifying and exciting Jason at the same time. Finally it was time to say our goodbyes and hit the highway, the car’s twin built-in radar detectors at the ready. The drive was, admittedly, pure torture. Interstates are never the most exciting roads, especially at night, but doubly so when you’re driving a machine that can instantly hit airplane take-off speeds and cut hours off a trip. We resisted the temptation, and instead revelled in the short and calculated bursts of insane speed — typically from 70 to 130 and back down to 70 in two blinks of an eye — that came from the slightest pressure on the drilled aluminum gas pedal.
Once home, Jason immediately shared the 911 Turbo S with his three young boys, stuffing them into the available seats and comically turning one of the nastiest sports cars on earth into a grocery-toting family car. He thanked me repeatedly for finding Hamblin, but I waved him off. In matters of love, automotive or otherwise, luck plays a huge role. His taking over the care of this eight-year-old supercar was simply fated.
Hamblin had the last and perfect word on the matter. Jason had texted him saying that he almost felt guilty now that he had the car of his dreams, and such a perfect one at that.
Hamblin texted back: “There are some things in life that don’t measure up to the joy of family, but they do represent excellence in what man can do. How can it be an indulgence when it makes you so happy? Let’s stay in touch ...I enjoyed knowing that a person like you took over the watching of the wonder!”
This 2005 911 Turbo S Cab’s custom license plate is busy writing itself: THE WNDR
- John Hamblin