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930 v 964 v 993: air-cooled Turbos

This is the story of an action hero: one who starts as a trigger-happy maverick, becomes all-powerful, then ends up going straight. Well, that’s the Hollywood version at least.

The truth about the air-cooled 911 Turbo – from 930 to 964 and 993 – is harder to sum up in a sound bite. So dim the lights, grab some popcorn and settle in for a saga of sequels without equal.

Posing outside the Paul Stephens showroom in Essex, our Turbo trilogy makes for a great movie poster. They’re The Expendables in four-wheeled form: brimful of testosterone and bulging in all the right places.

The 964 Turbo 3.6 has the most visual clout, crouched like a coiled spring on dished Speedline split-rims. It’s one of the most aesthetically aggressive 911s, on par with the 993 GT2 and 991.2 GT2 RS.

The 930 isn’t far behind, its fulsome hips and signature spoiler immortalised on a million bedroom walls. And the 993 Turbo is equally iconic, albeit smoother and more urbane.

The 964, built in 3.6-litre guise for the final year of production only, is also our A-lister in terms of price. At the time of writing it was offered at £224,995 – enough to buy both the 930 and 993.

Is it the big-budget blockbuster those looks suggest, or does the sweet-spot of this air-cooled 911 line-up lie elsewhere? I’m childishly excited to find out.

I start with the 930. ‘The Widowmaker’ shares its epithet with a movie about a nuclear submarine, and its presence feels equally forbidding. However, it could have been much wilder.

Inspired by the on-track success of the turbocharged 917/30, the prototype 930 was a back-to-basics road racer – effectively a Carrera 3.0 RS with forced induction – and just 200 cars were planned. Porsche’s sales and marketing department had other ideas, though, envisioning the 911 Turbo as a luxurious super-GT.

In the end profit triumphed over purity, and the Turbo debuted in 1975 with air conditioning, electric windows, a rear wiper and a four-speaker stereo. Climbing aboard, this flagship 1987 911 still feels well-appointed today.

There’s supple leather, deep-pile carpet and even heated seats. Only the boost gauge, nestled within the rev counter, offers a clue to its added oomph. Well, that and the four ratios etched atop the gear lever – the SC had switched to five-speed back in 1978.

The original 3.0-litre 930 served up 260hp: a modest 63hp more than a contemporary Carrera 3.0, and Golf GTI power today. Even so, edgy handling and all-or-nothing power delivery made it a challenging steer.

Le Mans-winning Porsche racer Tony Dron said: “Frankly, it demanded too much skill, even from an experienced driver, and that made serious driving hard work… I was far from convinced that selling them to the public was a good idea.” An upgrade to 3.3-litres and 300hp in 1978 also included beefier 917 brakes and a more stable chassis. This had “better handling, but was still something of a monster when driven really fast”, noted Dron.

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Porsche: the 996 story

The 996 was a revamp in the evolution of the 911 as suddenly, by 1997, Porsche’s icon was thrust headlong into the 21st century. Improvements were introduced, while much-loved quirks were expunged. Enthusiasts found it instantly familiar yet disconcertingly different. It still divides opinion today.

This guide details the evolution of the 996, from replacing the 993 in 1997 to being phased out by the 997 in 2004/2005. It includes the Cabriolet, Targa and Turbo, with the preceding feature having documented the GT cars. We’ll cover updates, specification changes and options added during the model’s lifetime, along with what to look for when buying one.

Our story starts in the mid-1990s. Porsche was in dire straits, haemorrhaging money with the threat of takeover looming (GM, Mercedes-Benz and Toyota were all interested, according to rumour). Times were tough, as 996 designer Pinky Lai told us in 2015: “The pressure and burden on my shoulders was bigger than the fate of the company: I had to deal with the fate of the 911!” A radical rethink was needed – and delivered.

Porsche flew in consultants from Japan to streamline its Zuffenhausen factory. The 911 would no longer be hand-built, but mass produced – it also merged design and development of the 996 with the new entry-level 986 Boxster, allowing both cars to share components. Cost savings of 30 per cent versus the outgoing 993 were quoted, a figure almost unheard of in the industry.

The 996 Carrera Coupe made its world debut at the 1997 Frankfurt Motor Show. Controversially, it bore more than a passing resemblance to the cheaper Boxster, being almost identical ahead of the A-pillar. Lai had spent many hours in a wind tunnel refining the car’s slippery shape and a Cd of just 0.30 was the result, down from 0.33 for the 993. An electric rear spoiler extends at 75mph, then retracts again at 37mph – Mr Lai recalls how he had to fight for the inclusion of the electrically operated rear spoiler to better manage downforce at high speeds, despite the company arguing there wasn’t enough money in the pot for this to be included. Thankfully Lai won through, and the active spoiler was included as standard in the final production specification.

More controversy lurked beneath the engine lid, though. Despite the protestations of purists, Porsche claimed the introduction of water cooling was vital to meet emissions and noise regulations. However, as 996 development chief Horst Marchart later acknowledged, cost was also a factor: “Nobody in the world had air-cooled engines except us… it took a lot of money to make special systems since we could not share technology with anyone else.”

At least the M96 motor was still a rear-mounted flat six. It displaced 3,387cc and produced 304hp at 6,800rpm, with 350Nm of torque at 4,600rpm. Four valves per cylinder featured for the first time in a mainstream 911, along with Porsche’s new Variocam adjustable camshaft timing to boost response. Headline stats were 0-62mph in 5.2 seconds and 174mph flat out. Buyers could choose a six-speed manual gearbox from Getrag or a five-speed Tiptronic auto from ZF, the latter offering clutchless manual shifts.

The 996 was 185mm longer and 30mm wider than its predecessor, with a 45 per cent stiffer chassis formed of high-strength steel. Impressively, it was 50kg lighter than a 993, too, despite the additional radiators, pumps and 20 litres of cooling water.

For the full feature on the evolution of the 996, pick up your copy of Total 911 issue 167 in shops now or get it delivered to your door. You can also download the issue to any Apple or Android device. Don’t forget you can also subscribe to ensure you never miss and issue. 

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Porsche 996: GT3 Genesis

GT3: the most evocative, desirable collection of letters and numbers as you can ask for to be tacked to the rump of a 911. Add RS into the mix and that’s even more so. The GT3, as its name and subsequent RS spin-off highlights, has its tyres firmly rooted in Porsche’s racing activities. It’s enough to elevate all the cars here above the usual rhetoric spewed about the once ‘undesirable’ 996, the GT3 badge signifying something very special indeed.

There are three GT3s in the 996 generation, the Gen1 available from 1998-2001, the Gen2 coming in 2003 until 2005, with the RS spun off that between 2004 and 2005. That Gen1 car is unique among GT3s, largely because it’s the only GT3 not to have a same-generation RS model based on it, the Gen1 being Porsche’s GT3 genesis.

It’s inconceivable that you’re reading this and don’t know at least the basics surrounding the GT3. Lighter, more engaging, its creation allowing homologation of parts to allow Porsche to race the 911 to great success around the world. Actually, with the original GT3 that lighter element is a misnomer, as put the Gen1 car on the scales and it’s carrying around 30kg more mass than its base 996 Carrera relation.

Blame that on the marginally heavier G96/90 gearbox and M96/76 engine, as well as an additional engine radiator. Porsche didn’t elect to go down the lightweight panels, thinner glass route with its first GT3 model, though it did bin the rear seats in a small – 8kg – concession to mass reduction, while Sport bucket seats removed around 20kg over the standard Carrera’s pews. As a means of recompense for the weight gain, the M96/76 engine, more commonly referred to in reverential tones as ‘the Mezger’, was fitted, its specification being pure motorsport, with lightened, stronger internals to cope with the stresses of winning competition.

And what compensation, the Le Mans-winning GT1-derived, naturally aspirated 3.6-litre flat six unit was rated at 360bhp at 7,200rpm – redlining at 7,800rpm – with peak torque of 370Nm. It’s a glorious engine with enough power to allow the GT3 to reach 62mph in 4.8 seconds, 100mph in 10.2 seconds and a quoted top speed of 187mph. But it isn’t the numbers that matter, really, rather how it delivers its performance. In Walter Röhrl’s hands the first GT3 lapped the Nürburgring in 7 minutes 56 seconds – isn’t it ridiculous to think how far things have come in under 20 years? Stopping all that are 330mm cross-drilled, inner-vented discs of 330mm in diameter, grabbed by four-piston monoblock callipers.

Getting into James Samuel’s yellow Gen1 car today demonstrates exactly what Porsche intended its customers to do with their GT3s: track them. Why else would Porsche include adjustable suspension with extended-axle geometry sitting 30mm lower than standard, an adjustable rear wing and the possibility to quickly (relatively speaking here, and if you’re a race mechanic) swap out gear ratios to suit differing tracks, as well as the synchro rings? To that Porsche added differing hubs, with 10mm larger bearings over the Carrera’s 70mm ones for the greater forces racing tyres would exert. Spherical top joints more rigidly position the front suspension, the same possible at the rear if you’re off racing, the GT department adding five alternative mountings at the back for the adjustable tubular anti-roll bars.

For the full feature, pick up your copy of Total 911 issue 167 in shops now or get it delivered to your door. You can also download a digital copy, featuring a bonus gallery, to your chosen Apple or Android device. 

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Porsche 996.1 GT3: complete buyer’s guide

HISTORY & SPEC

The car you see here was introduced for just one reason: so Porsche could go racing in the GT3 endurance category. However, even as a road car it was a hugely tempting – not to mention rare – confection. And it’s also unusual, it being the only GT3 model not to have a more focused RS variant sitting above it, further adding to the unique appeal.

At its heart was the 3.6-litre, M96/79 Mezger engine that pumped out 360hp at a tantalising 7,200rpm. Dry sumped and featuring a raft of lightweight parts that included titanium connecting rods, it was impressively rapid, with the 62mph and 100mph benchmarks dismissed in 4.8 and 10.2 seconds. Flat out you’d have been knocking on the door of 190mph, and only the Turbo that arrived three years later offered anything of a similar pace. Power was sent to the rear wheels only via a six-speed manual gearbox that benefitted from a shorter throw linkage and ratios that could be replaced for track work.

The rest of the mechanical specification was just as tasty, the suspension a mix of MacPherson struts at the front and a multi-link arrangement aft, both of which were adjustable for height, camber and toe angle. Brakes were uprated for the new application, too, with four-piston mono-block aluminium calipers and 330mm discs. Externally the hunkered-down stance was bolstered by aerodynamic addenda that included an adjustable rear wing, and the look was finished off with a gorgeous set of multi-spoke rims.

At the car’s UK launch in 1998 Porsche asked buyers to part with £76,500. Of the 1,858 built just over one hundred examples made it to these shores, with less than 30 of those in circuit-ready Clubsport trim. Opting for the latter bought a half roll cage, six-point harnesses, a fire extinguisher and battery cut-off switch and a single-mass flywheel for even quicker response. One thing that did surprise, though, was that Porsche didn’t take the lightweight route with its new model, eschewing the likes of thinner panels and glass and equipping Comfort-spec cars with leather bucket seats and
air conditioning among the luxuries. The GT3 actually weighed an additional 30kg compared to the Carrera 2. Production ended in 2000 and it would be another three years before the Gen2 model arrived.

THE VALUES STORY

Despite their rarity and the reverence afforded to them when new, the GT3 wasn’t immune from the normal effects of depreciation. Ten to fifteen years after the launch it was still possible to pick up a good example for somewhere in the region of £40-45k, and that would have represented cracking value given this was a nigh-on £80,000 car when new in 1998. By 2016, fortunes of the car began to dramatically change, however, with values making a notable upturn according to Greig Daly from RPM Technik and Paragon’s Jamie Tyler. Those same examples were now attracting prices closer to £60,000, perhaps a little more. It’s a pattern that’s continued, with a good example with sensible mileage worth upwards of £70,000 today. We shouldn’t be surprised, given the rarity and deliciously analogue appeal and, as both of our experts point out, these were never difficult cars to sell.

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Lee’s 996 Carrera diary: Road trips and track days

British summer time: the cynical may define this as roughly a two-week window of high temperatures and peak sunshine amid a perpetual rainy season, but for driving enthusiasts like you and I it defines six months of prolonged daylight and dry(ish) roads, perfect for digging the Porsche out of its winter slumber in search of glorious, sweeping roads and high-octane track days. British summer time is awesome.

You’ll already know from previous online diary entries that so far for the 2016 season I’ve completed one track day at Castle Combe and been on a driving tour of Scotland, but that’s hardly enough flat six action for your discerning Total 911 Editor. Good job, then, that I’m just back from a Porsche Club GB track day at Brands Hatch, with a weekend driving through Wales with the magazine’s fellow ‘Living the Legend’ 911-owning contributors to follow.

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Before any of that though, I needed new tyres after the Continentals perished at my last track day. I sought new performance rubber that would ably complement the 996’s brief under my ownership of fast road and occasional track use all year round, in a variety of conditions. I decided to try P Zero Rossos from Pirelli, after the Italian brand relaunched its range of new N-rated tyres for classic cars (as many will know, the 996 is bizarrely now classified as ‘classic’ by Porsche). A relaunch it may be, but the blurb is the technology underneath that sticky rubber surface is all-new, with Porsche-specific testing carried out by none other than Walter Röhrl.

I had the tyres fitted at Protyre in Poole, which is my nearest Pirelli Performance Centre (before you ask, it’s a scheme that rewards excellence for dealers using Pirelli in the UK. Dubbed PPC for short, the key objective is to provide a network of dealers with high technical details and commitment to service. These businesses have to pass a 130-point technical audit twice a year, so awarding and renewal of PPC status is no mean feat). I then covered around 400 miles on the road before my track day, where I discovered the P Zero Rossos need little heat in them to come to life, offering very good grip levels near enough immediately. I found this to be most impressive. I was also very happy with the levels of rolling tyre noise, which is reduced compared to other N-rated variants I’ve experienced.

Picture courtesy of Porsche Club GB

Picture courtesy of Porsche Club GB

For the acid test on track, I booked myself and my brother, Jack, into an evening session with the Porsche Club GB on the Indy Circuit at Brands Hatch. Save for a passenger ride in a 997 Cup car with Total 911 columnist Ben Barker in 2012, I had no previous on-track experience at Brands and, with the standard of driving at PCGB events usually reasonably high, it wasn’t just the new tyres under scrutiny! To add further spice to the evening, monsoon-like rain descended upon us during the first group’s initial sighting laps, leaving a completely sodden track in our wake. Perhaps those summer time cynics are right after all?

Regardless, this meant the first half of the evening was largely processional as all cars attempted to skate through the elements, meanwhile contending with severely limited vision thanks to the spray from cars in front. However, I felt the Pirelli tyres held their own in truly adverse conditions, communicating nicely to me when grip was in short supply (and, on one occasion skirting around Clearways, completely gone!).

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As the track started to dry out for the second half of the session, my brother and I could push the car a bit harder. The P Zeros again performed well as we rode the tyres on their shoulders through the infamous Paddock Hill bend and on to Druids, their progressive feedback communicating fluidly where we could push more or ease off. For a do-it-all performance tyre, the P Zeros have wasted little time in winning me over. They’d already proved themselves an astute purchase as we left Brands in one piece despite the slippery conditions.

It was great, too, to share track space with like-minded owners through the Porsche Club GB and I’m already eyeing up another session on the calendar before this year’s out, but before that I need to look at a serious understeer problem that dogged the 996 at Brands. That’ll involve starting again with the car’s geometry, but the problem likely stems from the fact a lot of different people have tinkered with the adjustment underneath the 996 in the last few months in between the fitting of new suspension, brakes and then tyres. I’ve precisely three weeks to get this sorted, as the car and I have a 300-mile road trip along eight of Wales’ very best driving roads to contend with before autumn approaches, and with it… more bloody rain!

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