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Porsche 911 history

GT3: A Porsche 911 History

Forget the switch to water-cooling, for Porsche enthusiasts, 1998 was really all about the release of the first Porsche 911 GT3. It marked the beginning of a new Neunelfer model range that has, in just 18 years, worked its way into Zuffenhausen legend.

Based on the Porsche 996 Carrera’s narrow body shell, the original 996 GT3 debuted in Cup car form at the tail end of 1998 before the road going version was launched at the 1999 Geneva Motor Show.

Unlike the standard 996 Carrera, it was bestowed with a dry sump, race-bred engine, the architecture of which could be traced back deep into the air-cooled era. Designed by legendary Porsche engineer, Hans Mezger, the 3.6-litre engine developed 365hp at a heady 7,200rpm.

Tracking shot of a Dark Blue Porsche 996 GT3

Named after the FIA racing class it was designed for, the first 911 GT3 was still very much a road car (despite its motorsport-inspired moniker and drivetrain). As it turned out, this would be the key to the car’s success with 1,858 996.1 GT3s leaving the bespoke production line at Porsche’s Motorsport Department.

In 2003, the GT3 got its first update, bringing with it the 996 Gen2’s sharper front lights, new alloy wheels and a revised aerodynamic package that included a more modern rear wing design. The 3.6-litre ‘Mezger’ engine was also fettled, providing an improved 386hp at 7,400rpm.

While the 996.2 GT3 was no longer made in Weissach, the move to the Zuffenhausen factory allowed Porsche to increase production, with 2,313 Mark II cars being built between 2003 and 2005.

Blue Gen 1 Porsche 997 GT3

Demand was even higher for the first 997 GT3, launched in 2006. Still based on the narrow Carrera body shell, Andreas Preuninger’s department made the 997.1 the first GT3 to weigh less than its Carrera 2 counterpart, while further development of the 3.6-litre flat six yielded an even higher rev limit.

Now producing 412hp, the 997.1 GT3 was also the first to come equipped Porsche Active Stability Management (PASM), allowing less experienced drivers to experience the race-bred road car’s talents with the benefit of an electronic catch net.

In 2009, the GT3 got its biggest revision yet as part of the 997 platform’s Gen2 facelift. Along with refreshed styling, the flat six engine was expanded to 3,797cc and the compression ratio increased to 12.2:1, increasing power to 435hp at 7,900rpm.

Riviera Blue Gen 2 Porsche 997 GT3 driving

Centre-lock wheels (a regular feature on the GT3 Cup cars since their debut in the 1999 race season) were also fitted to the road-going GT3 for the first time too, although 2010 model year cars needed to be recalled to fix a rear hub problem.

The Porsche 991 GT3 – launched at Geneva in 2013 – had even more tricks up its sleeves though. For the first time, the body shell was that of the wider Carrera 4, while the longer wheelbase of the 991 platform led Preuninger’s team to utilise a rear-wheel steering system jointly developed for the GT3 and 911 Turbo.

The drivetrain saw the greatest overhaul however. Gone was the now-legendary Mezger engine, replaced by high-revving version of the Carrera’s 9A1 engine while the manual gearbox was replaced with a PDK shifter (the performance of which was improved considerably to match the GT3’s race car credentials).

991-1-gt3

The move to the dual-clutch gearbox shocked many 911 enthusiasts and, with the 991.2 GT3 in the pipeline, it is expected that Porsche will bring the six-speed manual transmission back to the GT3 line-up as an option).

Due for launch early next year (possibly at Geneva), the Gen2 991 GT3 is also due to get the 4.0-litre powerplant from the current 911 GT3 RS. Complete with a lower 8,800rpm rev limit, the Rennsport’s engine is widely regarded as a more reliable unit that the 991.1 GT3’s engine (which suffered a few hugely publicised failures).

For more historical online features, check out our full selection of ‘Porsche 911 history’ articles now.

Photo by CarPix AB

Photo by CarPix AB

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Suspension: A Porsche 911 history

Replacing the 356, the original Porsche 911’s suspension setup was much more modern than its predecessor. Up front, the 901 utilised a Boge-built MacPherson strut, lower wishbone and 19mm-diameter longitudinal torsion bar, mounted off the back of wishbone’s rear leg.

At the rear, a semi-trailing arm setup was brought in. The inner arm mounted just off the nose of the gearbox, while the outer, pivoting arm connected to the chassis, twisting a 23mm lateral torsion bar on either side.

While the front was given a 13mm anti-roll bar, the rear would not gain such roll control until the introduction of the Porsche 911S in 1966 (a car that also offered adjustable Koni hydraulic dampers).

As part of the 1969 B-Series, the 911’s rear trailing arms were lengthened by 61mm, yielding a near-identical increase in the sports car’s wheelbase (helping to reduce the rearward weight bias). However, this was the most major 911 suspension change until the arrival of the 964 in 1989.

964 rear suspension

The original torsion bar design didn’t leave enough space for the front driveshafts in the 964 C4. Zuffenhausen therefore made the move to coilover MacPherson struts, while the front wheels could move fore and aft slightly, lessening bump steer and steering wheel feedback.

At the rear, the damper strut also featured a coil over spring however, the biggest change was made to the design of the trailing arm assembly that now featured an additional, pivoting link in place of the inner arm.

Combined with a radially elasticated bush in the outer mounting, the ‘Weissach effect’ (pioneered on the 928) helped to reverse the semi-trailing arms naturally tendency to toe out under lateral loads, a trait that created the early car’s fearsome reputation for lift-off oversteer.

The Porsche 993 made use of a similar effect, albeit it via a vastly different construction. The semi-trailing arm design that had evolved from the original 901 finally made its departure while the MacPherson struts remained up front (now lighter thanks to greater use of aluminium).

996 rear suspension

This general layout has survived through the 996 generation right through to the latest Porsche 991, with Zuffenhausen’s engineers focussing predominantly on electronic controls during the water-cooled era.

In 2004, with the launch of the 997, Porsche unveiled the Porsche Active Suspension Management (PASM) variable rate dampers before developing Porsche Dynamic Chassis Control (PDCC), a system to preload the anti-roll bars, for the launch of the 991 generation.

The latest suspension development has been the advent of rear-wheel steering, initially launched on the 991 Turbo, GT3 and GT3 RS models. At speeds under 31mph, the system helps to increase agility while over 50mph the electronically actuated rear toe links help to improve stability.

Such has been the success of rear-axle steering, it has now been offered as an option on Carrera S, Carrera 4S and Targa 4S versions of the latest Porsche 991.2 while PASM is now a standard feature on the new generation of Neunelfer.

991 rear suspension

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Water-cooling: A Porsche 911 history

Everyone knows that the Porsche 911’s water-cooled era started in 1998, don’t they? Well, yes and no. The Porsche 996 Carrera – launched just before the turn of the millennium – may have been the first fully water-cooled production Neunelfer but it wasn’t the first to get the H2O treatment.

For that, you have to look to the track and turn back the clocks to 1978 when Porsche launched the 935/78 racer, affectionately known to most people as ‘Moby Dick’ thanks to its long sweeping tail.

Raced by the factory Martini Porsche squad, the 935/78 featured new cylinder heads featuring four valves per head and, most interestingly, water-cooling (although the block remained traditionally cooled by air).

Launched in 1986, the Porsche 959 featured an air/water-cooled flat six, similar to the unit seen in 'Moby Dick'.

Launched in 1986, the Porsche 959 featured an air/water-cooled flat six, similar to the unit seen in ‘Moby Dick’.

A similar cooling setup would be used in the Porsche 959 – launched 30 years ago this year – the supercar’s 2.85-litre flat six engine a close relative of Moby Dick’s 3.2-litre unit with its water-cooled cylinder heads.

Around the time of the 959’s delayed launch in 1986, Porsche was also readying its first fully water-cooled flat six for the dominant Porsche 962C sports prototype, a car that would win the 24 Hours of Le Mans in both 1986 and 1987 in the hands of the works Rothmans team.

Porsche’s famed engineer, Hans Mezger, penned much of the engine’s design and it would be in another Le Mans-winning car that a derivative of his water-cooled motor would make its Neunelfer debut.

The Porsche 911 GT1 was the first Neunelfer to feature a fully water-cooled flat six engine. It would go on to triumph at Le Mans in 1998.

The Porsche 911 GT1 was the first Neunelfer to feature a fully water-cooled flat six engine. It would go on to triumph at Le Mans in 1998.

While all the production Porsche 993s still retained the classic air-cooled flat six, the 911 GT1 homologation special of 1996 featured a 3.2-litre twin turbocharged motor based on the fully water-cooled engine first seen in the 962.

Fitted to the carbon fibre monocoque Porsche 911 GT1-98, the water-cooled engine would help Weissach to its 16th 24 Hours of Le Mans triumph in the same year that Porsche decided to debut the new 996 Carrera, the first water-cooled production 911.

While the M96 engine of new Carrera was an all-new design, the GT1’s engine would form the basis for the famous ‘Mezger’ engine, first seen in naturally aspirated form in the Porsche 996 GT3, launched for the 1999 model year, with the twin turbocharged version following in 2001 in the back of the 996 Turbo.

For more historical online features, check out our full selection of ‘Porsche 911 history’ articles now.

Derived from the 911 GT1's engine, the famous 'Mezger' flat six would live on in production specification fitted to the 996 GT3 and Turbo.

Derived from the 911 GT1’s engine, the famous ‘Mezger’ flat six would live on in production specification fitted to the 996 GT3 and Turbo.

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The ‘R’ badge: A Porsche 911 History

It seems incredible to consider now (having racked up thousands of wins around the world) but Porsche never intended its new 911 sports car to be used in racing when the 356’s successor was first realised.

However, after a few privateers entered 911Ss modified for competition in the 24 Hours of Le Mans (and the factory dipped its toes into the world of rallying in the 1965 Monte Carlo Rally), Porsche was finally convinced to make a thoroughbred 911 racer in 1967.

Under the guidance of the motorsport department’s new Head of R&D, Ferdinand Piëch, the new car would be badged as the Porsche 911R – the ‘R’ standing for ‘Renn’ (‘Race’ for those unfamiliar with the German language).

Laurens Parsons Photography-11

Piëch’s team put the 911 on a strict diet to get it ready for racing: the door skins, bonnet, decklid, bumpers and front wings were all made in fibreglass, with all windows bar the windscreen manufactured from perspex. The first 911R to roll out of the factory even featured a one-of-a-kind, lightweight aluminium shell.

Inside, the interior was completely stripped out. Just three of the 911’s iconic five dials remained in the dashboard, with the door cards reduced to the very basics (including a simple leather pull strap).

Porsche removed all the soundproofing and the heating system while even the glovebox lid was deleted to save weight. The end result was a car that weighed just a shade over 800kg, making it the lightest Porsche 911 ever built.

Laurens Parsons Photography-24

Propulsion was provided by the 901/20 flat six used in later versions of the Porsche 906 Carrera prototype. The 1,991cc engine turned out an incredible 210bhp, giving the Porsche 911R a barely believable power-to-weight ratio of 258bhp/tonne. In 1967!

Upon driving it, Head of Motorsport, Huschke von Hanstein was immediately smitten, wanting 500 examples built in order to homologate the 911R for international GT competition.

Unfortunately, the sales department didn’t agree, believing it nearly impossible to sell such a large number of hardcore 911s. In the end, just 20 Porsche 911Rs were built (along with four pre-production examples) with the car forced to race against the prototypes thanks to a lack of homologation.

Laurens Parsons Photography-35

Sales were not helped by a DM 45,000 price tag (the standard Porsche 911 sold for around DM 21,900) but the car did have some success on the track, including setting a number of world distance records at Monza in October 1967 in the hands of Jo Siffert and a number of other Swiss racers.

The Porsche 911R’s biggest achievement was undoubtedly the Marathon de la Route, an 84-hour (yes, really) race around the Nürburgring Nordschleife. Driving a Sportomatic-equipped 911R, Hans Hermann, Jochen Neerspach and Vic Elford won by an incredible 1,000km.

Elford drove the car for the entirety of the four seven-and-a-half-hour night stints but had to leave the circuit early due to other racing commitments. This didn’t stop the 911R racing into the record books though and becoming a famous part of Porsche’s motorsport folklore.

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Widebody: A Porsche 911 history

In some ways, the Porsche 911 Carrera 2.7 RS can be considered as the originator of the widebody neunelfer, gaining flared rear arches to enable Porsche to widen the track and improve performance on the road and track.

This would be a trait continued on the 3.0-litre Rennsport developed the following year in 1974. However, the widebody concept didn’t truly come into being until after the introduction of the original 911 Turbo, first in 3.0-litre form (from 1975-77) and then 3.3-litre guise (from 1978-89).

The Porsche 930’s flared-arch look proved so popular that many tuners in the Eighties started welding flared arches onto naturally aspirated neunelfers, with the trend becoming so popular that Porsche itself began offering the SSE (Super Sport Equipment) version of the 911 Carrera 3.2

Porsche 993 Carrera 4S

The Turbo-look 911 had been born, complete with 930-imitating tea tray rear wing and wider rear Fuchs wheels. When the 3.2 Speedster was launched in 1989, the widebody version accounted for 1,932 of the 2,103 sold.

With the introduction of the Porsche 964 at the end of the Eighties, the Turbo-look Porsche 911 took a bit of a back seat with only a handful of widebody 964 Speedster built, though there was a run of nearly 900 Porsche 964 Anniversary models, 174 964 Carrera 4s with factory widebodies and a Turbo-look C2 Cabriolet in 1992.

Widebody popularity was renewed with the introduction of the Porsche 993 generation however, with both the Carrera 4S (using a number of Turbo components, such as suspension and brakes) and the 993 Carrera 2S cementing the Turbo-look 911’s place in people’s minds.

Porsche 997 Carrera GTS

The 996 was the last generation of Porsche 911 where the widebody Carrera 4S model (complete with Turbo front bumper and widened hips) was a special edition with both 997.1 and 997.2 versions of Carrera 4 and Carrera 4S sharing the same width body shell as the Porsche 997 Turbo.

No longer solely imitating Turbos, this marked a turning point for widebody 911s. Today the widebody is used as a differentiator between the narrow-shelled Carrera 2 models and Porsche’s four-wheel drive Carreras (although it has also been used on all Carrera GTS models on both the 997.2 and 991 platforms).

With the 991 Turbo getting an even wider bodyshell than the Carrera 4 models, the Turbo-look neunelfer looks to have finally died out. However, there is still on model that utilises the Turbo’s body (complete with rear arch intake vents): the 991 GT3 RS, bringing the widebody philosophy full circle.

For more historical online features, check out our full selection of ‘Porsche 911 history’ articles now. And you can vote for your favourite widebody Porsche 911 in our latest poll now.

Porsche 991 GT3 RS

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