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996 40th anniversary: coming of age

Forty: one of the big ones, passing into the fourth decade tends to be a significant generational marker. To celebrate or commiserate, though? Porsche obviously decided to do the former – after all, producing a sports car for 40 years is an undeniably notable achievement.

It was a while ago now, too. It’s incredible to think that with the 992 we’ll see the 911 tick over to 60. That’s in just four years time, so it’s been nearly two whole decades since this Anniversary model was introduced.

Back then the 911 was the 996. Old enough to be in its second generation, Porsche’s awkward transitional 911 benefitting from the revised headlights that were introduced with the Turbo. As we all know, the 996 brought water-cooling to the 911, it igniting a debate that still resonates to this day, the 996 arguably the most divisive 911 in our favourite sports car’s now 56 years. Time heals, or at least softens resolve, and the 996 has found favour in its advancing years, the Turbo, GT3, GT3 RS and 4S all generating justifiable praise.

The Anniversary should be included among them as, unlike Porsche’s ill-considered Millennium Edition of 2000, the ‘40 Jahre’ car’s specification verges on perfection. Visually it is a demonstration of dignified restraint, perhaps with the exception of the shot-blasted and polished 18-inch Carrera II lightweight wheels. With the finish of those wheels prone to damage, many Anniversary cars have had their alloys refurbished with a more conventional painted finish. That might rob them of their originality, but does arguably improve the looks.

Elsewhere the Anniversary follows a proven Porsche formula that defines a special model. It does so without dropping any weight; as any 40-year old will testify, shifting bulk is tricky. The 996 is fairly light as standard though: the Anniversary’s kerb weight of 1,370kg matches that of the standard Gen2 Carrera. Instead of losing mass, Porsche focused on other facets to improve the offering with the Anniversary, particularly relating to how it drives.

Key to the Anniversary’s spec is the addition of an X51 Powerkit. It’s an option that would have added around £9,000 to a standard Carrera should you have asked for it back in the early 2000s. The X51 sees the power rise to 345bhp. Admittedly it’s not a significant gain over the 320bhp Carrera, but writing off the X51’s revisions on the modest bhp gain alone is to do the not-insubstantial revisions it brings a serious disservice.

The Powerkit adds cast-aluminium intake manifolds with a modified cross section, the exhaust ducts too benefiting by being larger in their width and being flow optimised thanks to machining and polishing. The valvetrain differs too: the valves and their springs, caps, guides and seats are changed over the standard car, allowing increased movement to benefit the X51 camshaft’s greater inlet valve stroke and modified inlet and exhaust timing.

The lubrication system is improved with a different dual-chamber suction pump for cylinder bank four to six, new oil lines and the oil pan coming with bulkhead baffles to help prevent high g-force oil surge. The changes via the X51 are anecdotally said to improve the durability of the 3.6-litre flat six because it counters the under-lubrication of cylinder six, with the benefit of helping prevent overheating and premature wear.

Controlling all that is a modified engine map which, like all the X51 Powerkit’s development, was apparently the work of the Motorsport department. That arguably makes X51-equipped cars ‘under-the-counter’ GT machines, and worth seeking out.

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Rare Porsche 911 Cabriolets

Porsche isn’t one to miss a good marketing opportunity. Throughout the 54 years of 911 production, in which over a million examples of this iconic sports car have rolled out of Zuffenhausen, the company has bestowed worldwide customers with a whole host of special editions to celebrate anniversaries, milestones and notable racing achievements.

The latest addition is Motorsport’s new 935, a track-only car based mechanically on the 991 GT2 RS but styled on the revered Moby Dick of 1978. More interestingly though, there’s also a new Speedster. However, the fact it’s being built to commemorate 70 years of Porsche isn’t particularly significant, and neither is the numbered production run of just 1,948 examples. No, it’s a special-edition, open-topped Porsche.

Think about it, most special-edition Porsche 911s are Coupes. From the 930 S to the 991 Turbo S Exclusive Edition, via the 993 GT2, 996 Anniversary and 997 Sport Classic, these limited cars, often built on a numbered production run, are tin-top. There appears no specific reason for this: all body styles hail from the same production line at Werk II, and it’s not like an open-topped 911 is unpopular – in fact, widespread endearment to both the Cabriolet and Targa is such that Porsche has kept both models running concurrently since 1983. And while it’s true 911 Coupes will always enjoy a certain cache over their open-topped stablemates, what’s not to like about a special-edition Cabriolet?

To find out we’ve come to Long Beach in southern California to sample two stellar open-topped examples of rare Porsche in the 3.2 Commemorative Cabriolet and 964 America Roadster. Owned by serial Porsche owner and Total 911 subscriber Bruce Brown, these cars are used as they were intended, cruising the boulevards and carving through the inland canyons, roof down, revelling under the year-round Californian sunshine.

The cars arrive at the beach just after us, pulling off the highway and driving onto a slipway down to the Pacific Ocean, the 964’s almost V8-like thrum a striking note against the 3.2 Carrera’s more agricultural resonance. Bruce, in the 3.2, and his friend Simon Birch, piloting the 964, kill the cars and jump out, which gives us a chance to absorb both 911s as they cool off in the brisk sea wind.

First, the Commemorative 3.2. Built to honour 250,000 911s having been built, it’s sometimes referred to as the 25th Anniversary – this at a time before Porsche thought of the 30, 40 and 50 Jahre Anniversary models in the ensuing years. The 3.2 Commemorative Edition was available in either Coupe, Cabriolet or Targa body styles.

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Our 24-hour 997.2 Carrera S roadtrip

It is ironic that in the same weekend Porsche Motorsport’s 991 RSRs are to spend 24 hours charging around a 13-kilometre track in northern France, Total 911 would be taking part in a European dash of its own.

The call came a couple of days previously; RPM Technik’s commercial director Darren Anderson enquiring as to our whereabouts over the upcoming weekend. Le Mans was of course on the agenda, but rather than travelling to Circuit de la Sarthe, the action was to be watched from the comfort of home via Eurosport. Cue the curve ball: “How would you like to collect a 911 for me?” Darren asked.

The 911 in question was to be a 997.2 C2S, it being no ordinary beast though. Serving purpose as a mule for the company’s critically acclaimed CSR programme, which modifies 996 and 997s in line with its ‘engineering exhilaration’ slogan, the latest phase of development has seen RPM Technik partner with KW suspension. The latter’s trademark yellow springs are a permanent feature under the arches of cars dominating competition on the Nordschleife.

Via Richard Good, director at KW UK, a close working relationship has been formed with the KW factory in Fichtenberg, Germany, to develop a set-up which RPM Technik believes ideally suits its burgeoning line-up of CSR 911s. “We’ve previously used other brands of high-end suspension without issue, but we felt KW offered the greatest diversity of products and those products provide more opportunity for adjustability to cover a wide variety of driving situations. A great set-up for the track doesn’t necessarily correlate to the ideal configuration for fast road driving, for example,” Darren explains. “With KW we can ensure our cars have precise focus and adjustability without compromising ride quality, and that’s across a range of driving scenarios our customers can find themselves in.”

There’s clear intelligence behind RPM Technik’s thesis here. As we’ve seen ourselves, the rush to deliver better and better performance in the aftermarket sector often brings huge caveats in regards to comfort, particularly for examples used everyday, as the 911 is intended. Our interest suitably piqued, we accept the offer to repatriate RPM’s mule, fitted with a freshly developed set of CSR-tuned DDC Plug and Play coilovers.

Arriving at KW’s sprawling Fichtenberg factory, situated an hour east of Porsche’s own Zuffenhausen base, we meet Oliver Scherbaum, who offers to show us around this impressive facility.

Essentially a complete walk-through of how each individual coilover is made, KW’s Ollie is extensive with his divulgence of information, yet engaging in his delivery. We learn the precise methods for building each damper, the exhaustive quality control present at every step of the process, plus the science and technology which goes into making a KW coilover – not to mention the sheer number of components involved (it is quite literally hundreds). All this helps paint a very vivid picture of the technology newly installed under the arches of RPM Technik’s GB-plated car out front. Time is ticking, so we’d better get on with the drive.

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the ‘other’ 2.7 Carrera

Nobody likes a killjoy, especially an automotive one. If you were a Porsche 911 driver in the mid-1970s, it must have felt as if everyone was wanting to take all of your toys away and spoil all of your fun. A combination of a global fuel crisis, soaring pump prices for petrol and oil embargoes all combined with a sudden attack of conscience as the world woke up to environmental damage and vehicle accident safety. This ended up having a significant impact on the Porsche 911 that everyone loved.

Gone were the beautiful chromed bumpers, replaced with what many saw as ugly ‘Federal spec’ Impact Bumpers. Even the traditional Porsche whaletail wasn’t spared, the German TÜV authorities deciding that the trailing edge was potentially dangerous, leading Porsche to introduce the soft-rubber edging that we know so well today.

In Europe, drivers were spared many of the engine modifications needed for Porsche to continue to sell the 911 in the US. We remained safely enjoying our mechanical fuel injection throttle response and looked smugly across the Atlantic at the Americans and their California law makers, their poor 911 seemingly shackled.

History has not been kind to the US-spec Carrera 2.7. If online forums and hearsay were to be believed, a California-specification Carrera 2.7 would probably have the uphill performance of a Citroën 2CV. Everywhere you could possibly look gives reinforcement of the jaundiced view that the 2.7 Carrera with CIS is to be avoided. Nothing to see here… head over to Europe and seek out a 2.7 MFI.

However, for one man, the chance to own a US-specification 911 proved to be irresistible. “When a friend told me about a 2.7 US Carrera he’d seen for sale, I wasn’t inspired. Like everyone else it was some way down my list of Porsche I’d like to own. However, my friend then said, ‘It’s a non-sunroof Coupe’,” Robin Titterington says.

“That got me interested. After all, I could always swap out the engine, hot rod it, remove the emissions gear. So I bought it with the expectation to change it, tune it, improve it.” “But as I began to put some miles on the car, the entire validity of their tainted reputation came into question. This was a stock engine and I was having fun. Something doesn’t add up here! I’ve driven 1973 Carrera RSs, nearly every year of early 911 T, E, and S models and have owned a hot rod 2.5-litre 1971 911 for years – I’m not easily swayed.”

Robin was actually enjoying driving the US 2.7 just as it was. The performance was certainly different, but a long way from being unacceptable. And compared with other 911s he had owned, it was actually quite comparable. Why should this stock US-spec 2.7 Carrera with all of its alleged shackles and compromises be such fun to drive? Robin tried to
find out more.

“I began doing some quick research, but rather than answer my questions it seemed to turn up lots of conflicting performance data and information. Reviews of the 1974 US Carrera from ‘back in the day’ were overwhelmingly positive, although the performance numbers were all over the map. More recent information and opinion seems predominantly negative. I soon had magazines and books scattered all over my desktop and had to start writing things down to keep it all straight.”

So it appears that all is not as it would seem with the 1974 US 2.7. Robin’s investigations actually posed more questions than answers. “It seems that there were so many different ways to record performance stats in the 1970s. Plus, many automotive magazines didn’t test with the same desire for accuracy that they do today.” Swapping between power outputs measured at the flywheel and then also at the wheels seems to throw many figures hopelessly out of context. Robin’s study of the period data proves to
be very interesting.

He continues, “For instance, Car & Driver’s February 1972 test of the new 2.4-litre Porsche used SAE gross horsepower numbers, giving the 911 S 210bhp, but in its 1974 test of the Carrera they switched to the opposite extreme with SAE net horsepower, giving it only 167hp! No wonder many have come to believe these cars are underpowered. In SAE gross units, the 1974 Carrera US has 195bhp.”

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R v GT3 v Carrera T: Revival of the manual 991s

What a difference a few short months can make. For a time it looked like the 991 generation was threatening the very existence of a manual gearbox in a Porsche 911 altogether. Unwanted alterations to the new stick shift, twinned with the prominence of PDK, lead some to believe the company was at one point shaping up for a future solely dedicated to auto-shifting sports cars, similar to events at some of its rivals.

While this ‘death of the manual’ movement has raged like a fire through the workshops of other automotive manufacturers, nobody really expected the flames to be fanned as far as the doors of Zuffenhausen. After all, a Porsche has always been about style over outright speed – exemplified by the company’s time-honoured tradition of placing the tachometer and not the speedometer in the centre of the 911’s five dials. It’s how you get there, not how fast.

And yet, as is well documented, it was the 991 generation which began to change the 911’s relationship with the manual gearbox from the get-go. Upon launch at the tail end of 2011, enthusiasts found the six-speed stick shift in the 997.2 replaced by an all-new gearbox for the 991.1, which featured an additional seventh ratio. Conceptually something of a modern-day overdrive gear, this seventh ratio was exceedingly tall, intended for cruising on motorways or the Autobahn, all the while keeping engine revs low and thus improving the new 911’s MPG return.

On paper these changes made sense, but in reality enthusiasts struggled to adapt to the feel of the seven-speed shifter, it unnecessarily clunky and lacking a directness through each gate which the 997’s unit had mastered so wonderfully. Somewhere beneath that protracted H-pattern, Porsche’s slick stick shift had seemingly been lost.

Then the arrival of Porsche’s first 991-generation GT car in 2013 gave rise to another revelation. The GT3 was presented for the first time with a PDK-only transmission, Porsche telling Total 911 in issue 99 at the time: “There’s no chance of a manual gearbox in the future.” The PDK-only GT3 RS that followed went some way to hammering home the point, which left many enthusiasts wondering what future lay ahead for the manual gearbox in a Porsche.

Alas, we know how the script developed from there. A wave of appreciation for manual gearboxes (some might even have called it a public outcry) brought about the Carrera S-engined Cayman GT4 in 2015, before the emphatic arrival of the 991 R in 2016 as the 911’s saviour of the stick shift.

The R proved Porsche’s GT department was prepared to listen to its customers, yet the car’s exclusivity (just 991 were produced worldwide)
meant only a few could benefit from this significant U-turn in company policy. Porsche again listened, unveiling the 991.2 GT3 last year with PDK but, crucially, a six-speed manual gearbox was available as a no-cost option.

The company went further still. For those who couldn’t get their hands on this latest prize GT car, Porsche presented the Carrera T: essentially a pared back and driver-honed version of its base Carrera 911. The line-up was thus complete, with stick shift available, at last, throughout the entire contemporary model range.

So, these are the crusaders; reviving the spirit and flair of the manual gearbox, this the crucial ingredient in any sports car that wishes to be associated with any notion of an analogue, purist drive. The big question, of course, is what is the driving experience on offer from all three?

For the full article, including expert buying tips for each 911 Cabriolet model, pick up your copy of Total 911 issue 168 in shops now or get it delivered directly to your door via here. Alternatively you can download the issue to any Apple or Android device. 

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