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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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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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Lee’s 996 Carrera 4S diary: the first big spend

It’s been a busy period for my C4S as after five months of ownership, I’ve finally needed to spend out on something other than fuel for it. I’ve previously mentioned the car needed new brakes and tyres all round, and they’ve now been replenished after a trip to Porsche Centre Bournemouth. For the brakes I was happy to stick with an OEM-spec setup as in my view if those Big Reds are good enough for a 996 Turbo they’re good enough for a 996 C4S. I bought the brake discs and pads separately from Heritage Parts Centre last month, which arrived promptly and had been sitting at my house waiting for a gap in my diary to take the car to Porsche.

That day arrived in early September and I whisked the car over to OPC Bournemouth where it’d be under the stewardship of one Scott Gardner, whom you’ll recognize in the pictures as our very own ‘ask the expert’ from the front of the magazine. Scott had the discs, pads, wear sensors and anti squeal shims (I had to buy the latter separately) swapped over in three hours without a hitch – you do always assume with a 996 that there is going to be a hitch, be it something as simple as a sheared bolt or ripped thread, which can delay even the most simplest of tasks.

Heritage Parts Centre are new to the Porsche industry but I was very pleased with the quality of the brakes, which all married up absolutely fine into my calipers and onto my hubs. Again it sounds obvious but I’ve had wrong parts turn up from other suppliers in the past and this only leads to a frustrating scenario when work has to be stopped because the part doesn’t quite match up. This wasn’t the case here though, and Heritage Parts Centre come highly recommended from me. The brakes will take a bit of time to bed in but already I’m noticing much sharper response to brake pedal applications, which has already inspired me to push the car a little harder.

I also addressed the worn rear Continental tyres by replacing them with a set of Michelin Pilot Sport tyres all round. N4 rated (a higher ‘N’ rating means more recent tyre technology has been used), I was recommended them by a Michelin representative when I told him the car is used for shopping runs, plenty of fast road driving and the occasional track day. I’ve never actually ran Michelin tyres on any of my own cars before but have always enjoyed them on other 911s (Pilot Sport Cup 2s are surely the best road tyre ever to grace a 911) and am really looking forward to exploring their limits in the coming weeks. More on their performance will be found in a coming update.

It’s standard procedure for Porsche to health check your car while it’s on the ramps, so Scott and I had a good look around underneath the C4S once all the work was done. I was very happy with Scott’s exemplary comments as regards to its overall health and condition – he was shocked when he found out I’m the 11th owner – and his remarks has only further endorsed my decision to purchase this cracking 911 in the first place. Thanks to the guys at Porsche Centre Bournemouth for stellar service as always – now, I can’t wait to wrack up some miles with my new toys courtesy of Heritage Parts and Michelin!

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Lee’s 996 Carrera diary: upgrading to a Carrera 4S

There has been quite a change in the Sibley household since my previous 996 Carrera diary earlier this year. That’s because After 14 months of happy ownership, I decided to sell my 996.2 C4. I felt I’d come to a crossroads with the car: its new paintwork meant the bodywork was way too nice to be spoiled by the rigours of track days, something I enjoyed immensely in 2016 and was keen to continue this year. With 88,000 miles on the clock, I was also conscious I’d introduce a sixth digit onto the C4’s odometer within the next twelve months and, even though the 100,000-mile barrier is immaterial really, I prefer my cars under that threshold. My good friend Alex at Apsley Cars agreed to sell the car for me and five days later it was gone.

I was sad to see the car go, yet absolutely delighted to know the C4 is to remain within the Total 911 family: Andrew, a subscriber to this fine Porsche publication, had read about the car’s escapades for the last year and wanted to write its next chapter. Andrew, you already know you’ve got one of the best 996.2 C4s in the UK, and if you have half as much fun with the car as I’ve had, you’re in for an amazing time.

My replacement 911 came about quickly indeed. Truth is, it was a road test of a 996 C4S back in January 2015 that alerted me to the 996s incredible value for me. I really fell for the C4S and, put simply, had to own one. I’d kept an eye on the market for the last year though by the time I had cash from the C4 in my pocket, the choice at my price point was altogether more limited as the market had moved on. I had, however, found a Seal grey example with 66,000 miles and an absolutely gorgeous spec. The drawback? The car had no less than ten previous owners.

I’d spoken with numerous Porsche friends and dealers who all had differing opinions on high owner cars but a common theme nevertheless came to fruition: condition is key. With that in mind, I arranged to view the car, which was being sold privately. Its condition was exquisite inside and out, and was one of the best C4Ss I’ve ever driven (they ALL drive differently).

I should have bought it there and then, but I didn’t. Perturbed by its high owners, I delved into the car’s history, intent on finding clues to an unscrupulous past. I took pictures of the service book (its history appeared perfect, with services every year at various Porsche Centres part from two at well-known specialists) and called up every single Porsche Centre to verify the job date and mileage. Everything checked out, as did the sizeable wad of paperwork detailing much of the expense undertaken by previous owners.

The car has had several private ‘plates adorning its face and rear too, and a little digging revealed these now resided on a GT3 and Macan, showing previous owners were all dyed-in-the-wool Porsche guys. The last owner even commissioned an independent, 230-point check by Peter Morgan back in 2015, which detailed no crash damage (but paint to nearside front) or significant over-revs. Put simply, there wouldn’t be another car out there with as much information on it as this.

Yet still I waited. Remaining undecided for a couple of days, I couldn’t shake the high number of owners from my mind, my main concern being a difficulty to sell the car myself should the time come. In the end, it was none other than Total 911 magazine that prompted me to buy the car. Reading Kyle Fortune’s 996 C4S v Turbo article in issue 153, I began to sigh as Kyle waxed lyrical about the merits of the C4S. What was I doing?! If somebody else bought that car, I reasoned, I’d be distraught. I had to act.

There was one last twist, though. As I was due to make the call to buy, I had an urgent email from my local Porsche centre, who knew I was on the hunt for a C4S. They had a late-build, one-owner example in. I went to view it but left soon after: despite being a one-owner car, it’s history was limited, its condition far worse, with rust all over the car (I’ve never seen so much on a car so new). The escapade well and truly made my mind up: if you put the high-owners car next to the one-owner car, many would say the immaculate car would surely be the one-owner car every time. But, as has been proven here, this is most certainly not always the case, and I left the Porsche Centre content I was making the right decision. I was to be the 11th owner of A911 HCM, and was absolutely delighted about it.

As for real-world differences between my old 996.2 Carrera 4 and latest 996 Carrera 4S purchase, there are quite a few to be had. The first is the most noticeable, which for me is the C4S’s wider track. Its Turbo chassis means the car has a 17mm wider front and 28mm rear track width than the narrow-bodied C4, which correlates most vividly to a better balance on initial turn-in to a corner. The car feels so planted and so much more stable through all manner of turns, and the extra grip available from those wider tyres means I can learn to carry more speed into turns.

Stopping ability is also markedly improved in the 4S, those Turbo-spec ‘Big Red’ brake calipers pinching the pads together to scrub speed with more intent than the C4. However, the lavishing of this Turbo-spec onto the C4S is to the detriment of its weight, a 65-kilogram penalty over the C4 keenly felt under hard acceleration. It’s not that the C4S feels sluggish per say, more that the C4 just seemed quicker off the mark. This would no doubt have been helped by single-mass flywheel I had fitted to my C4, which helped give me razor-sharp throttle response.

Lastly but by no means least is the sound, and here the C4S asserts itself as a clear winner. It has an advantage over the C4 in being fitted with PSE, which gives a louder, more bassy bark, flipping to a gutteral growl the moment the crank spins past 5,000rpm. There’s even a beautiful crackle when letting off the gas in the mid range. So, the C4S not only blows the standard C4 out of the water (I had a throaty Milltek system on mine), I don’t actually think there’s a better sounding Carrera out there outside of a 991 with PSE.

I’ve put over 5,000 miles on the C4S in four months, which has included summer road trip as well as day-to-day driving. It hasn’t missed a beat and I’m so pleased with my decision. Recently I took the C4S to Porsche Centre Bournemouth for a complimentary health check, too. I’ve mentioned before I think the results of these tests should be taken with a pinch of salt but its nevertheless a good way to get a second opinion on what sort of project I’ve undertaken. As it happens the test only brought up a couple of points for my attention, namely the worn brakes and tyres, which I’ll look to put right in the coming weeks.

 

 

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