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Inconspicuous Dragster: The New Carrera 4S Can Run with Hypercars

It’s often said that Porsche horsepower is a little more potent than other marques’ horsepower. Perhaps having the motor so close to the driven wheels minimizes drivetrain losses, or maybe there’s simply a bit of magic at work between the broad haunches of a Porsche. In any event, it’s not unusual to see a fairly standard 911 hanging with cars which should be out of its league. Such is the case with the 991 C4S.

In terms of price and power, the Porsche is totally outclassed. The 450 horsepower its 3.0-liter flat-six is nothing to sniff at, but when in the company of an Audi R8 Performance, a Nismo GT-R, and a BMW M850i—with 620 horsepower, 600 horsepower, and 520 horsepower, respectively—it seems it’d be hopeless in a drag race. All four cars drive every one of their wheels, and all enjoy the rapid gearshifts offered by modern, paddle-shifted automatics. By minimizing the number of variables present, this test promises to be an intriguing demonstration of power and traction.

Interspersed between boyish enthusiasm and Muttley-esque snickering, we see some moments of brilliance from the underdog. The Porsche is easily the lightest car in the bunch at just a tick over 3,200 pounds. Compared to the others, it’s a featherweight; nearly 1,300 pounds lighter than the portly BMW. The Porsche’s light weight, coupled with its stellar traction, makes it the quickest off the line, only to be reigned in by the heavier, punchier cars towards the end of the quarter-mile drag.

The GT-R, which sports another 150 horsepower but weights ~700 pounds more, just pips it before the line by a mere tenth of a second. Considering the Porsche costs a little more than half as the Audi and Nissan which just outgunned it, it wasn’t too bad a loss.

Though not the swiftest, it is the sexiest of the angular, wing-studded bunch

The results of the rolling race were too predictable, with the more powerful machinery streaking away, but if there’s a consolation prize, the Porsche is the quickest to stop. Give them a race track with corners, and the results might further favor the 911. In terms of real world performance, the Porsche can hang with, and occasionally outperform the supercars. Not too shabby.

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rise of the Porsche 997

The classifieds can be a dangerous place to spend time. It never used to be so easy, either. As a kid I’d scour the Sunday Times, latterly Auto Trader and Top Marques, though the internet’s killed that. I don’t look too often, but writing here it’s an occasional, occupational hazard.
A potentially dangerous one, too. I’ll happily admit I’d missed how much of a bargain the 997 is these days. As a strong advocate of the 996, I’d pretty much ruled its successor out. Not because I’m not a fan – quite the opposite – just that I was under the impression it is still too new to be affordable, at least in my world. Editor Sibley’s call to write this somewhat changed that.

As I type this, on my other screen there’s an advert for a 2005 997 Carrera 2 manual Coupe for a fiver under £22,500. When did that happen? That’s the first one I’ve found, and I’ve not even looked that hard. While I and plenty of others have been banging on about hoovering up 996s while they’re still cheap, the depreciation curve’s turned the 997 game on its head. Want one? I sure as hell do.

Not to take away from the 996, but the 997 moved the game on significantly. The 996’s close association, both visually and technically, with the Boxster did it no favours among many. That it introduced water to the mix only made its task more difficult. The 997 reasserted the 911 as a more distinct offering after the 996 had softened the blow of the manner by which the 911 is cooled (technically by water, but then that water is cooled by air…).

The 996 was a necessity, creating the format from which the 911 line would follow to this day. That the 996, and in particular 996.2s, have been creeping up in value in recent years underlines a growing acceptance, though we’re at a point now where the 996 and 997 prices are converging, and in many cases the 997 is cheaper. It’d be a staunch 996 owner who’d assert their preference over the newer car. On looks alone the 997 has the 996 licked, but underneath it’s a significant step up technologically.

For for full story on why the 997.1 is the best-value 911 you need to buy right now, get your copy of Total 911 issue 171 in shops now, or get it delivered to your door. Alternatively, you can download the issue to any digital device. 

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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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30 years of 4WD: Power to the four

Power to four or two wheels is a debate that’s gone on for 30 years now. That’s 30 years with the 911, anyway, since the 964 arrived in 1988 when ‘Carrera’ accompanied by a ‘4’ entered the lexicon of Porsche speak. Porsche is celebrating that 30 years of four-wheel drive using that 964 C4’s introduction as a useful line in the sand, snow or any other traction-limiting surface of choice to hang an anniversary off.

We all know that Porsche’s four-wheel drive didn’t start with the 964. Indeed, the Lohner-Porsche electric car of 1900 drove all four wheels via hub-mounted electric motors. Then, in 1947, Ferdinand Porsche built the Lohner-Porsche Type 360 Cisitalia Grand Prix racing car, its 12-cylinder supercharged engine able to drive all its wheels via an all-wheel drive system.

It would be motorsport again – specifically the Group B rulebook – which would see Porsche embrace four-wheel drive. The effectively open rules saw Porsche’s CEO Peter Schutz and head of research and development Professor Helmuth Bott throw every available technology and more at its revolutionary 959 hypercar. That it was four-wheel drive is no surprise, with Audi’s Quattro having already demonstrated the effectiveness of four-wheel drive on the world’s rally stages. Porsche’s new super 911 had to feature it.

Prototype testing underlined the effectiveness of driving all four wheels, Porsche developing the 953 for the 1984 Paris-Dakar rally. This heavily modified 911 ran a mechanically controlled 4×4 system and during three weeks and over 13,000km it dominated, René Metge and co-driver Dominique Lemoyne winning the famous race.

That 953 was the evolutionary step to the 959, which was first shown in concept ‘Group B Studie’ form at the 1983 Frankfurt Motor Show. The 959 would take the development of four-wheel drive to another level altogether. It remains a hugely complex and sophisticated system to this day, featuring what’s referred to as PSK (Porsche-Steuer Kupplung – roughly translated as Porsche control coupling) four-wheel drive system. It is unusual as it allows instant torque splits while driving, either automatically through its computer control or manually selected for various conditions.

Using an output shaft from the front of the gearbox, drive was pushed to the front axle via a prop shaft to a front differential via a multi-plate clutch. It is the 959’s multi-clutch arrangement that is unusual, it replacing a more common centre differential. Featuring six pairs of frictional plates, each controlled by hydraulic pressure and managed by the 959’s electronics, the system needed the wheels to run at differing speeds to work in normal conditions. Thus the 959’s front tyres have a rolling radius around one per cent larger than those at the rear. Should slip be detected at the rear wheels, or differing wheel speeds in corners, the clutches would engage accordingly, transmitting torque to the front axle.

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Lee’s 996 Carrera 4S Diary: new brakes and tyres verdict

So that’s how a 996 C4S is supposed to stop! I mentioned last month I had discs and pads replaced all round on my Porsche 911 after the items present when I bought the car were looking very tired. I got the new parts from VW Heritage’s newly-created Heritage Parts Centre and have now had a chance to bed them in. I am so impressed. The C4S now stops with the ability I’d expect from a set of Porsche’s ‘big red’ brakes and has transformed the way I drive the car. In short, I have more confidence in the 911, and can drive it harder as a result – as we all know, the harder you push a Porsche 911, the more you get back from it.

I also replaced the worn Continental tyres for a set of N3-rated Michelin Pilot Sport 2s. A few people have since asked me why I didn’t get a set of the newer PS4s, but the honest answer is there weren’t any available in my size when I needed them, so PS2s it was. Again, I am immensely impressed by my new rubber.

500 miles in, in comparison to the Continental Contact Sports, the Michelins are noticeably quieter, which is great for me as I wrack up a lot of miles, plus the Michelins are simply superb in the wet – I’ve not come across better for a 996. If the PS4’s can build on that, I already know what tyres I’m getting next, though I do note the PS2s have a slightly quieter rating. In the dry, there’s not a lot between the Michelins and Continentals (for fast road driving at least) but I’d love to try a track day to see how they differ at greater speeds and temperatures in them. Any excuse…

I’ve also had the C4S back at Porsche Centre Bournemouth for its annual service, this one being a major/72,000 mile service. We’re lucky that in the UK we have a broad selection of very good independent specialists that in the past I’ve had little hesitation in using, however my current 911 has an immaculate service record at Porsche main dealers and I’ve decided it’s important for me to uphold that for the sake of its value. As ever, the Centre didn’t let me down, even sending me before and after pics of the various parts, consumables and sundries being replaced on the 996.

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