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911 Carrera 3.6 – 320 ch [2002 à 2004]

993 Carrera v 996.1 Carrera: which is the better driver’s 911?

Manchester Free Trade Hall, May 1966: Bob Dylan casts aside his acoustic guitar and plugs in an electric Fender Stratocaster. The folk faithful look nonplussed. There are boos, and one heckler famously shouts “Judas!” as the feedback fades. 

Porsche had its own ‘Judas’ moment in 1998, when it replaced the 993 with the 996. In doing so, it called time on 35 years of the air-cooled flat six. This was progress but it felt like a revolution and, like those diehard Dylan fans, many 911 aficionados saw it as a retrograde step.

Fast-forward two decades and the 996 is viewed as an emerging classic: the start of something new, rather than the death of everything we held dear. Prices are edging upwards, yet the first water-cooled 911 remains a poor relation to its forebear in terms of values. Typically, you’ll pay twice as much for a 993 Carrera as an equivalent 996.1.

Myth-busting time, then. Is the 993 really a better car? Objectively, no: the 996 is faster, stiffer, safer and more efficient. Surprisingly, it’s actually lighter too. However, sports cars are subjective; a Porsche should feed the senses and stir the soul. So forget worn valve guides or failed IMS bearings, this latest Total 911 comparison is purely about driving.

The cars lined up are a 1996 993 Carrera and a 1998 996.1 Carrera, owned by Hugh Harvey and James Hunter respectively, and kindly supplied by RPM Technik. I’ll drive them back-to-back on some of Hertfordshire’s best A- and B-roads to distil the differences and pick a winner, straight up. Air or heir? This could get controversial…

It seems sensible to start with the 993 and it’s the car I’m more excited about driving – such is the mystique of the air-cooled 911. It’s smaller than its successor, but not to the degree you might think: overall width and height are almost identical. Even so, a narrower body (the extra width comes from those curvaceous wheel arches, which stylist Tony Hatter likened to bulging muscles) means its cabin feels ‘cosy’ if I’m being kind, ‘cramped’ if I’m not.

The 993’s dashboard is hardly an object lesson in ergonomics either. The steering wheel rim obscures the outer gauges and heater controls, and there’s precious little stowage space. My main issue, though, is with the pedals, which are skewed awkwardly towards the centre of the car. They’re floor-hinged (an original 911 design quirk expunged in the 996), and their height and spacing are perfect for heel-and-toe work. However, their alignment – or lack of – makes it all too easy to push the throttle instead of the brake in those first few miles.

To read the full feature of our comprehensive 993 v 996.1 Carrera test, pick up your copy of Total 911 issue 160 here or at any good booksellers. You can also download the digital edition to any device via Apple or Google newsstands. 

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Lee’s 996 Carrera diary: 4000 miles, one engine scare

A lot has happened since my last diary entry, where I reflected on my first six months of Porsche 911 ownership. My 996.2 Carrera 4 and I have visited six countries (more on that very soon), amassing over 4,000 miles in the process, and by and large the Porsche has been faultless – except for one potentially catastrophic incident.

Driving back south from a meeting one afternoon, my dashboard illuminated with the sort of warning sign that could elicit instant heart failure for a discerning 996 owner. I’m pretty sure that for a second on the M27 motorway that day, I came close to such a fate.

The electronic display showed a picture of an oil can followed by the dreaded words ‘failure indicator’. Bollocks. Blood pumping fast, I switched the radio off and listened intently for any foreign noises emanating from the back of the car, but could only hear the conventional thrum of an M96 engine chugging car and driver along at motorway cruising speed.

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Bravely (or naively, I’ll let you decide), I drove gingerly back to base, the radio remaining muted while my ears pressed to pick up unusual sounds and my eyes scanned the road ahead as well as, every half a minute or so, the dashboard for any new info. Bizarrely, save for that failure indicator message, nothing else happened, adding to the unwanted mystery that had unfurled on an otherwise nondescript journey.

A quick Google at home revealed the likely cause of the problem which, I’m told, is common for Porsche 996s. It’s a relatively easy fix and, most importantly, nowhere near as catastrophic as that on-board warning message will have you believe.

The culprit is the oil pressure sender unit, located above bank two (on the right-hand-side when looking at the engine through a raised decklid). The connection points can deteriorate or come loose altogether, meaning the oil pressure gauge in the cockpit becomes erratic, perhaps momentarily dropping to zero when driving under load. Giving the connections a wiggle could help but a replacement unit, for the avoidance of doubt, is less than £50 from Design911.

Thanks to Jim Gaisford for the above picture.

Thanks to Jim Gaisford for the picture.

 

Relieved at the prognosis, I dropped the 996 up to Ollie at RPM Technik, where it was booked in for some geo work anyway. A short time later I got the car back, oil pressure sender problem gone, and with much better handling too. I’ve previously mentioned the C4 suffered from serious understeer all summer but thanks to a stiffer rear and more negative camber on the front (as well as some replaced bushes), a lot of it has thankfully been dialled out.

So much so, in fact, that I managed to sneak onto one of the last track days on the Porsche Club GB’s 2016 calendar, which took place at Castle Combe. I’m a real advocate for track days with PCGB; the standard of driving seems to be pretty good and best of all you’re sharing track space with similarly powered cars. This means you’re not likely to go barrelling round Druids at Brands Hatch, for example, in a 991 GT3 RS, only to be met on the apex by a comparatively crawling mk1 Mazda MX5 (not that there’s anything wrong with those, as a former Eunos owner). Gawping exclusively at Porsche metal in the paddock during breaks and chatting with like-minded enthusiasts provides added appeal for any Porschephile at these events, too.

The 996 kept good company on track at PCGB's Castle Combe track day.

The 996 kept good company on track at PCGB’s Castle Combe track day.

 

Completion of the track day and subsequent drive home ticked the car over 6,000 miles since the last oil change, so the 996 will get new oil imminently before a renewed campaign of driving through the winter season… so long as there’s no more oil warning lights on the dashboard!

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Lee’s 996 Carrera diary: OPC v independent specialists

It’s the age-old debate for Porsche owners the world over: do I take my 911 to my local Porsche Centre or an independent specialist for servicing? In years gone by Porsche Centres have seen a phenomenal customer base drop out of the network once their cars are out of warranty (which is two years, unless an optional third year is purchased as an extra at the point of sale). This clientele has willingly been picked up by a healthy array of independent businesses renowned for their Porsche specialism. However, Porsche Centres have fought back, lowering labour costs and introducing specially-appointed ‘Classic Centres’ to fashion a very competitive servicing and maintenance marketplace. This is great news for owners of non-new 911s.

So which is best? Well, the answer will often come down to personal preference – and as a newcomer to Porsche ownership, I’m excited to decide for myself. As you may recall, last month I purchased a second-generation Carrera 4 as my own ‘project 996’ from independent specialists RPM Technik, who had taken one in as part exchange and gave me a trade deal in light of the fact the car needed some attention in order to be considered ‘ready to retail’. Before collecting the 996, I was given a printout of RPM’s pre-purchase inspection, which resembles the 110-point check undertaken at an OPC (a common practise among reputable specialists).

The 996 gets a CSR lightweight flywheel before its PPI and collection.

The 996 gets a CSR lightweight flywheel before its PPI and collection.

In RPM’s report I found nothing of immediate mechanical concern, with just the following points of contention: the power steering pipe crimping is starting to split (a common problem, 996 owners), front and rear lower arm bushes are delaminating, and my A/C condensers are in need of replacement. The report showed I’d bought a good car, however the inevitable question soon surfaced at the forefront of my mind: would Porsche themselves view my 996 in the same way? I was eager to find out.

At the start of the month I visited my local OPC, Porsche Centre Bournemouth, where Senior Service Advisor, Richard Pearce, booked my car in for a complimentary health check. I returned to the Centre just days later, dropping off my C4 and collecting a 981 Cayman loan car in return. The inevitable ‘sweetener’ before a financial hammer blow when said health check was complete, perhaps? I was fearful.

However, I need not have worried. Around four hours into temporary Cayman possession, I received a concise email from Richard containing a first-person video assessment of the 996. You can see the video for yourself here: Senior Technician, Nick Perry (who incidentally has more than 25 years of experience at Porsche Centre Bournemouth) provided a comprehensive breakdown of the car in just three minutes, picking up on the same points made in the PPI from RPM Technik. Three notes to consider from the video: I do indeed have a CSR lightweight flywheel fitted to the car, I covered 1,700 miles between the PPI and health check, which is when the tyre gash likely occurred, and Porsche Bournemouth were not aware of my 996’s PPI at the time of the health check being conducted.

Porsche Centre Bournemouth carried out a complimentary health check on the 996 one month into Lee's ownership of the car.

Porsche Centre Bournemouth carried out a complimentary health check on the 996 one month into Lee’s ownership of the car.

After collecting my 996 from the Porsche Centre, I was happy, relieved and suitably impressed, the latter thanks to two key points of the health check. First was the video link which, though commonplace today at many manufacturer service centres, elucidates transparency. Unedited video evidence is unequivocal: I can see for myself what niggles Nick had found, giving me confidence that I’m not being fleeced. Second was Nick’s mechanical sympathy. Rather than just proffer that I replace anything remotely worn – a stigma often associated with a Porsche Centre in general – I was told, for example, that my exhaust nuts have one year left and that the lower arm bushes are perishing but useable. I appreciated that greatly.

What have I learned? For starters, RPM Technik are excellent. Their PPI was meticulous, easy to understand and, above all, accurate. My Porsche Centre experience was also exceedingly pleasant: I felt as welcome in my 996 as the rather more fortunate chap next to me collecting his 991.2 C4S, and was bouyed by the knowledge of the technicians and Senior Service Advisor, Richard Pearce, who knew his way around my 996 far better than even I did. Both businesses have therefore given me complete confidence in them caring for and maintaining my 996 going forward. Of course, the real battle will commence when parts need to be ordered – more on that soon…

Got any thoughts on the OPC vs independent specialist debate? Share your comments with us below.

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Essai Classic : Porsche 911 Carrera 2 3.6L (996) 2002

C’est souvent lorsqu’on a les choses devant notre nez…

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In praise of the Porsche 996 Carrera

‘Thank goodness for the 996’. Granted, it’s not a sentence you’re likely to hear too often from a Porsche enthusiast, if ever at all. In fact, you only need take in a brief observation of the internet to stumble across a plethora of forum threads and articles dedicated to defaming the virtues of Porsche’s first water-cooled 911. So is the 996-generation of 911 really that bad a catastrophe for Porsche? The answer, emphatically, is no.

996 Carrera: the very reason for the 911s existence today.

History tells us the 911 has had a few close shaves with mortality. In the Seventies, impact bumpers had to be incorporated for the G-series cars in order to comply with US road safety laws, and engine adjustments in the 911 range were necessary to meet stringent Stateside emissions tests – all undertaken by Porsche to help safeguard a huge export market for the model. Then there was that oh-so famous meeting between incoming CEO Peter Schutz and lead developer Helmut Bott in the latter’s office at the time of the flagging SC. After ingesting the wall-mounted production timeline of the 911 that stopped abruptly the following year, Schutz promptly picked up a pen and continued the line not only to the end of the graph, but all along the wall and even around the corner. Thanks to Schutz, the 3.2 Carrera was hastily introduced shortly after, and the 911 lived on once more.

However, if the 3.2 Carrera can lay claim to being the model that saved the 911 (see our 16-page celebration in the current issue of the magazine for more) then the 996 can take the credit for being the car that saved Porsche.

By the turn of the Nineties, Porsche were widely reported to be in a near-perilous financial state. Great sportscars were still leaving the factory floor (read ‘the 993’), but profit margins were strained. Something needed to be done.

The 996 Carrera is the very reason the 911 has kept on motoring today.

Step forward the 996: a new-era 911 designed by Pinky Lai, complete with an engine cooled by water and built in tandem with the new 986 Boxster platform. Many parts were shared, keeping labour and outsourcing to a minimum while, crucially, maximising profits. Sales of both cars were healthy (nearly 79,000 996 Gen1 Carreras were sold compared to 38,000 993 Carreras before it) and the company, as we well know, duly turned a corner. A facelifted 996 was released to satisfy those who lamented those admittedly divisive front headlamps, and Zuffenhausen’s premier sportscar has since evolved further and still lives on today (so too does the Boxster).

It’s sad then that Porsche’s saviour 911 has to put up with an unfair legacy full of hyperbolic scored bores and failed IMS bearings alike.

For sure, a small proportion of 996s have suffered here, but nothing like the scale that forums will have you believe. Contrary to that, most run fine: we’ve even taken a drive in a 173,000-mile 996 Carrera for a recent feature and reveled in its ability to still delight – without any form of engine rebuild in sight (Total 911 issue 113).

Think a 996 Carrera won't last? Think again, as we showed you in issue 113.

Better still, the 996 Carrera now makes for a phenomenal entry-level foray into 911 ownership, with examples readily available for as little as £10,000. There’s not much else in the contemporary market that can offer such rewarding performance for so little cash.

So, next time you come across undue slander against the 996, remember there’s an awful lot about that particular 911 that we Porsche enthusiasts must be forever thankful for.

Do you agree? Comment below or tweet us @Total911 with your thoughts.
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