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Total 911

Total 911

The magazine for Porsche 911 enthusiasts

20 years of GT3: every generation tested

Mention ‘GT3’ and Porsche’s now-legendary moniker conjures a host of vivid adjectives: Loud. Unrestrained. Pure. Mechanical. Fast.

Porsche’s GT3 is already considered an icon – an exemplary feat given it’s only just turning 20 years old. Launched just before the turn of the millennium, Porsche’s new 911 model line had already positively asserted itself by breaking the Nürburgring lap record for production vehicles with a time of seven minutes and 56 seconds, thereby firing its way straight into the hearts of admiring enthusiasts.

Built to homologate Porsche’s FIA race cars, the GT3 was originally built for the UK and mainland Europe only, yet the line-up has since flourished into a worldwide motoring phenomenon, each new model a highlight within its generation of 911. 

Total 911 has gathered all six generations of GT3 for a special test, as we relive two decades of a special sports car perennially at the peak of its class. Beginning, of course, with the 996 of 1999…

For the full group test of every generation GT3, pick up your copy of Total 911 issue 178 in shops now or get it delivered to your door via here. You can also download a digital copy with high definition bonus galleries to any Apple or Android device.

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Classic Porsche test: story of the Carrera 3.0

In many Porsche 911 books the Carrera 3.0 hardly merits a mention. Sandwiched between the revered Carrera 2.7 and all-conquering SC, it’s a mere footnote in a 56-year story. Has history judged it too harshly? Is the ‘Carrera 3’ underrated or simply underwhelming? Only driving one will tell us for sure.

The odds seem stacked against the 3.0 from the start. First, Porsche broke an unwritten rule by launching a new car with less power than its predecessor. And while a 13hp shortfall mattered more on paper than the road, the outgoing Carrera 2.7 also boasted perfect pedigree, being mechanically identical to the 1973 RS 2.7, barring the US model. The new 3.0, conversely, was defined by what it lacked. It was, in essence, ‘a Turbo without the turbo’.

On sale for just two years between 1976 and 1977, the Carrera 3.0 was the middle rung of a revised 911 range. The base model – called 911 Lux in some markets – retained a 165hp version of the 2.7-litre engine. The 3.0, meanwhile, adopted the 2,994cc lump from the flagship 930. This development of the 1974 3.0 RS engine would serve the 911 in various guises until 1984. In naturally aspirated form quoted power was 197hp at 6,000rpm, this versus 260hp at 5,500rpm for the top-dog Turbo. Fuel economy was improved, albeit not sufficiently for US emissions legislation. The 3.0 was never sold Stateside as a result.

Transforming a 930 into a Carrera 3 wasn’t merely a case of unbolting the blower. The N/A engine also had larger inlet ports, while compression ratio increased from 6.5:1 to 8.5:1. Further fettling for the 1976 model year included a die-cast aluminium crankcase, Nikasil cylinder liners, a five-blade cooling fan and Bosch K-Jetronic fuel injection, replacing the plunger-type system. The use of K-Jetronic, which endured until the 1994 964 Turbo 3.6, also meant the demise of the hand throttle, supplanted by a vacuum-operated warm-up regulator. Most buyers chose the five-speed manual transmission, but Porsche also offered the four-speed ‘box from the Turbo and the clutchless Sportomatic – the latter now reduced to just three ratios.

What the 3.0 lacked in peak power it made up for in mid-range muscle. Maximum torque of 255Nm matches the outgoing Carrera 2.7 and is developed 900rpm lower in the rev range, meaning it equals the older car’s 6.3-second sprint to 60mph. Top speed is an Autobahn-friendly 145mph. The 3.0 is a relatively light 911, too. At 1,093kg it weighs 67kg – or a typical adult passenger – less than a 1978 SC.

At first glance the Carrera 3 looks little different to other impact-bumper 911s. ATS ‘Cookie Cutter’ alloys in 6×15- and 7×15-inch sizes were standard, with wider Turbo-spec Fuchs for the Sport pack. The latter included a Whaletail spoiler and optional ‘Carrera’ side script, plus Bilstein dampers replacing the standard Koni or Boge set-up. A Comfort pack was also added for 1977 with 14-inch wheels and softer Bilsteins. Coupe versions of the 3.0 outsold Targas by a factor of two to one.

The most significant cosmetic update, however, is hidden from view. 1976 saw Porsche introduce hot-dip zinc coating for all panels, vastly improving the 911’s traditionally rather feeble resistance to rust. Stuttgart then put its Deutschmarks on the line with an industry-leading six-year corrosion warranty, which boosted resale values and reinforced a growing reputation for quality. Sadly the zinc protection is rarely so effective in the longer term; even slight damage exposes the steel underneath, allowing rust to take hold.

Inside, the Carrera 3 made a significant step towards curing another of the 911’s age-old issues: inadequate heating. Until this point regulating cabin temperature had been a hit-and-miss affair, using levers between the seats to mix air heated by the exhaust with fresh air from outside. The new system, standard on the 3.0 and Turbo, used two thermostats and a rotary controller to manage this process automatically. Separate fan and heater sliders were also introduced for 1977 along with face-level air vents, albeit only on the passenger side.

Further improvements to comfort came from extra sound deadening and a plusher interior, including carpeting on the lower doors from 1977. A larger driver’s door mirror was fitted, now electrically operated and heated, and cruise control – called Tempostat in Europe or Automatic Speed Control in the US – was an option for the first time. Porsche even changed the design of the locks to improve security. Now, instead of pop-up buttons that could be hooked with a coat hanger, the 911 had round knobs on the door panels. The Targa’s opening quarterlights were discontinued to deter smash-and-grab opportunists, too.

We could go on, of course. But there are only so many facts about thermostats or carpeted doors even the most committed enthusiast needs. What matters more is how the Carrera 3.0 drives and, ultimately, its place in the air-cooled 911 hierarchy. To find out we visited Classic Motor Hub, a huge multi-marque showroom that at the time of writing has the car pictured for sale at £87,500. CMH is also nestled among some of the Cotswolds’ prettiest villages
and finest driving roads. If the Carrera 3.0 can’t impress here…

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996.2 v 997.1 GT3

Passers-by seem impressed, if a little nonplussed as to why we’re photographing two seemingly identical 911 GT3s. But to Porsche aficionados the 996 and 997 generations actually represent two very different flavours of GT3, and spark lively debate. Today we’re comparing the last of the 996 GT3s with the first of the 997, putting the GT3’s first generational shift under the microscope and declaring a winner.

It’s now 20 years since Porsche released its first 911 GT3, a road car that was produced to homologate the racers. The arrival of Andreas Preuninger soon after saw ‘Mr GT3’ put his stamp on the 996 generation with the revised 996.2 GT3 of 2003. He had to wait for the subsequent 997 GT3 of 2006 to take ownership of a GT3 generation from the start. That car is now identified as a 997.1, differentiating it from the later 997.2 GT3.

Both 996.2 and 997.1 Porsche GT3s remain highly coveted sports cars today, and overlap in pricing – the bulk of 996.2 GT3s span £60,000 to £80,000, with 997.1 GT3s grabbing the baton at £70,000 and accelerating off to £90,000.

We’ve come to Porsche specialists Paragon in East Sussex to explore two excellent examples currently residing in stock. Paragon’s 996 has covered 37,000 miles and is up at £74,995. The 997, meanwhile, is yours for £84,995. Both have undergone significant prep work to lift them to Paragon’s standards.

Both are as road-spec as they come in Comfort trim – no roll cage, fire extinguisher or buckets – featuring stock six-piston brakes with no carbon-ceramics, and factory suspension specs including camber settings. You’re unlikely to find two fitter, more representative, more comparable examples.

I jump into the 996 for the 20-mile trip to our Beachy Head photo location for two reasons: I’ve had good seat time in 997 GT3s, but have only once driven a 996 GT3, and pretty briefly on track – this is the car I really need to get my head around. I’m also curious to see how different it is from my own 996 3.4 Carrera.

The GT3’s headline changes versus the Carrera included lower, stiffer suspension; deletion of the rear seats; slightly wider 18-inch alloys; uprated six-piston front brakes (four rear) and, most importantly, the completely different Mezger 3.6-litre flat six, here rated at 380bhp and 385Nm.

I’d expected a significantly more aggressive temperament than my own car, but that’s just not true. Yes, it bobbles a bit when driven slowly over imperfect urban tarmac, and you notice the more responsive front end, a little extra weight to the steering on initial turn-in and reduced body roll even at more moderate speeds, but it actually rides with generous compliance, and there’s no huge penalty in terms of road noise. More aggressive than a Carrera, of course, but potter about and I don’t think there’s a huge trade-off here.

Driven harder on the twists that course down to the coast from the top of Beachy Head, the 996 is sublime. The steering immediately loads up with weight to contextualise lateral forces loading through the suspension; its intimidating detail encourages you to hold the wheel gently to better let it breathe and communicate through your fingertips. 15 years on its ratio still feels perfectly quick enough, and the way the front end arcs into corners without delay remains strikingly immediate – there’s very little roll and waiting for mass to settle, no slack to work through to get the steering working.

For the full 996.2 v 997.1 GT3 head-to-head test, pick up your copy of Total 911 issue 177 in shops now or get it delivered to your door via here. You can also download a digital copy with high definition bonus galleries to any Apple or Android device.

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Cars to buy in 2019

The winter road salt is beginning to recede, and the days are getting longer and warmer. Summer is on its way, and with it, the promise of another season of driving excellence at the wheel of your favourite Porsche 911. But which 911? If you’re thinking of a change to your stable or have your eye on something new for 2019, then look no further than Total 911’s annual and ever-popular ‘cars to buy’ guide to help steer you in the right direction.

There remain bargains to be had when comparing 911s with other models in the same price point, while many other models still represent guaranteed investment-grade quality, providing you’re prepared to play the long game. There’s also a host of 911s ready and willing to provide you with oodles of fun – more fun than any amount of cash in the bank can offer. So wether you’re looking for road or track-based frolics, a great value 911 or a decent investment proposition, we’ve got the answers readily compiled for you over the next 12 pages.

And don’t just take our word for it. Once again we’ve sought the opinions of experts from around the industry, those who work within the Porsche marketplace on a daily basis, and whom in the ensuing years have seen values of cars peak and dive, and trends come and go, building a healthy resistance against market naivety as a result – and their knowledge and insight is hereby being passed exclusively to you. We’ve asked more specialists than ever, our panel this year offering wisdom from a combined 101-years of experience selling fine Porsche. As a result, no other resource will offer such a compelling insight as to what 911 models you should be focussing on for 2019.

This year, to reflect the breadth of 911s on offer, we’ve split the experts’ choices into three categories: best value, long term investment, and outright fun, all of which provide compelling options for a variety of budgets. It makes for a tantalising read: have your wallets at the ready as we present the 911s to buy for 2019…

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Herbert Ampferer: tales from Weissach

Herbert Ampferer is Austrian, and as soon as he finished his engineering studies at Steyr, his only thought was to get away to avoid military service which, 25 years after the war, had become extraordinarily unpopular. “I went to Sweden – thought I might find engineering work there. One evening I met a fellow Austrian in a bar in Stockholm, and over a beer I said to him I had two priorities: a girlfriend and a job.

“He thought he could help with the second and suggested that a sports car company in Stuttgart where he worked could probably find a place for me. It was called Porsche. I had never heard of it, but within a few weeks I had swapped Stockholm for Stuttgart and found myself employed at Zuffenhausen. I went straight into the engine department. I liked it immediately because of its ‘Austrian’ atmosphere.”

This was just as well because his first task was Entwicklungsauftrag EA 266, the project to build a small VW with an air-cooled engine beneath the rear seat: “It was horribly complicated,” recalls Ampferer. “Bent drives, drives running round corners… unbelievably complex.” It was a relief to move to the 924 project, intended as a joint venture with Audi which Porsche ended up taking over. In doing so it inherited the VW water-cooled four-cylinder engine: “It was a high-compression OHC unit with a long stroke that gave good mpg. But the cast-iron block was heavy. It was the beginning of Porsche’s learning curve with in-line water-cooled engines.”

It was the beginning of Ampferer’s learning curve too; the Audi unit would be reworked: “We put in a forged-steel crankshaft and extra-large main bearings, and we used screws for valve adjustment rather than Audi’s shims; we cut recesses into the pistons to avoid damage if the cam belt broke. We also had to redesign the manifold to fit the 924’s limited space. A deep sump kept the engine height low, and I finned it, which saved fitting an oil cooler.”

As well as working on all versions of the 924, including the GT, he would go on to develop the 2.5 for the 944: “A very interesting project that was much more than just half a 928 engine. We had to design the 2.5 to fit the front suspension. The inspiration for the balancer shafts came from Mitsubishi; they added 12kg, but there was negligible additional friction. We built a prototype 924 engine with balancer shafts – you’ll find my signature on the first drawings of them!”

Chief of the engine department was Robert Binder; he recognised the young Ampferer’s raw talent early and put him to work on turbocharging. At that stage in early 1973 Porsche was studying the use of turbochargers – proving so successful in the Can-Am 917 racers – in road cars. “Valentin Schäffer had already done most of the development on the racing turbo. My job was to draw the concept for the road cars. The main difference is packaging: racing cars are open everywhere, so heat dissipation isn’t difficult, but acceptable styling for road cars meant we had to find ways of defusing this heat. There was also the problem of drivability – a racing car has the throttle either wide open or closed, but for road use you need part throttle openings. The turbochargers we had then were basically made for diesel engines, and they were not readily mappable to the requirements of petrol. When we had gone as far as we could with that, we then had to design the wastegate to retain exhaust pressure within the system so that when the throttle was released, the turbo did not stop turning.”

For the full interview with engineer Herbert Ampferer on Weissach’s secrets, pick up your copy of Total 911 issue 176 in shops now or get it delivered to your door via here. You can also download a digital copy with high definition bonus galleries to any Apple or Android device.

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