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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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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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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 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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