Porsche 996

Porsche 996 – The Pivotal 911

Once quite controversial and unloved for long, Porsche 996 911 has now reached a make-it-or-break-it age as a collectible. While the 996 is highly unlikely to reach stardom among the Porsche enthusiast, it’s a car that shouldn’t be completely written off in the future years, albeit more as a rewarding usable classic than an investment material.

Superficially, the 996 is a flawed car as far as 911 goes, but underneath, it hides more than a few virtues. Between the air-cooled legends and universally embraced modern 911s, is there any love left for the 996? We think there is, so let’s begin the journey and see why.


Background

The early nineties were pivotal for both Porsche as a brand and 911 as its trademark product. Both popular, both respected, but both visibly aging. The Stuttgart-based company and its legendary car were in dire need of a complete overhaul.

Then, Porsche was recovering from the financial failure of the 959 and the crippling economic recession, but at the same time, it enjoyed cult status among enthusiasts.

Porsche 959
1987 Porsche 959 Komfort 
Darin Schnabel ©2020 Courtesy of RM Sotheby’s

Still, despite all novelties like the new aluminum LSA chassis, twin-turbocharging in the 911 Turbo version, and rear multilink suspension, the 911 was reaching its limits. The 993 generation 911 still used air-cooled engines, which were on the verge of non-compliance with increasingly strict emission regulations, especially in the USA, Porsche’s most aspirational market.

In addition to being faced with financial hardships leading to many industry giants looming around waiting for the perfect moment for a takeover, Porsche was in another trouble. The company grew just enough to seriously start considering cost-cutting to increase profits, eventually enduring this tough period.

The first step towards reinventing the 911 was reinventing Zuffenhausen. Amidst takeover rumors, Porsche CEO Wendelin Wiedeking executed a plan to save the company by reaching to Toyota for much-needed just-in-time, lean manufacturing know-how.

Porsche 996
Source: Porsche AG

Time, energy, and cost efficiency were crucial elements for a new, better, and more progressive Porsche. They were able to reinvent its manufacturing process and employ part-sharing technology that the Japanese giant embraced long ago. This program started in 1992, and the Zuffenhausen plant was under Toyota’s supervision in the following years.


Development

The development of the 996 started alongside another model, the entry-level 986 Boxster, which already took the automotive world by storm when a concept version was introduced at the 1993 Detroit Motor Show.

Boxster Sports Concept at 1993 Detroit Auto Show
Boxster Sports Concept at 1993 Detroit Auto Show. Porsche AG

Taking notes from Toyota, Porsche decided for the new 911 to share several vital components, alongside some body panels, with the upcoming Boxster. To save both development and manufacturing costs, the new water-cooled engine was present in both cars.

At first, Porsche officials explained this move was purely motivated by emission standards. Still, the fact of the matter was that developing each new air cooled engine cost more money than developing an all-new water cooled engine and improving it for the future.

Additionally, Porsche made the most of the fact that the 996 would be mass-produced rather than handbuilt to streamline production efficiency by sharing the whole front and the doors with the Boxster. The design of the Boxster was executed by Pinky Lai and later finalized into the new 911 under supervision from Harm Lagaay.

In addition to these technical aspects, the philosophy of the 911 for the new millennium was also something that had to change. The new Neunelfer didn’t only have to look different, but it had to radiate a whole new aura. To that end, Porsche decided to give it a size increase, making it a step closer towards a plush rear-engined grand tourer.

The Porsche 996 made its debut at the 1997 Frankfurt Motor Show, while the Turbo model was introduced at the Frankfurt Auto show in September 1999. In 2002, Porsche updated the range to 996.2, adding a new Targa body style and the wide-bodied Carrera 4S and 911 Turbo headlights for the whole range.

911 Millennium Edition
911 Millennium Edition. Source: Mecum

The 996 had two commemorative editions, the 911 Millenium Edition, a Violet Chromaflair Carrera 4 with Turbo Twist wheels limited to 911 examples, as well as the 40 Jahre produced in 1963 copies, with a 996 Turbo front end, numerous cosmetic changes, and X51 power pack pushing the 3.6-liter’s output to 341 horsepower.

As far as non-standard 996 go, the GT3 was introduced in 1998, the GT2 came in 2000 for the 2001 model year, while the GT3 RS followed in 2003. The Turbo Cabriolet arrived in 2003, while the Turbo S was introduced in 2005.

So, what made the 996 so controversial, what made it great, and which one of these cars are the ones to look for now that most of them have hit their lowest price point? Bear with us, and you’ll find out.


Chassis

The 911 996 was built on a steel unibody construction, 2 inches wider and 7 inches longer than its predecessor and with a 92.6-inch wheelbase, 3.15 inches more than the 993.

Thanks to clever engineering, the unibody was 45% stiffer than the 993’s construction while also incredibly light, an important feat for a vehicle engineered to get the added weight of the new cooling system.

As a final result, the 996 weighed 2,904 lb. Impressively, that was 116 lb lighter than the 993 911, especially given its growth in size and water cooling paraphernalia, including radiators and 5.2 gallons of water and coolant.


Body and Interior

The look of the 996 911 was the most polarizing one ever created to the date for Porsche purists, especially due to the unorthodox headlights and the fact that many elements were shared with the 986 Boxster.

Porsche 996 headlights
Porsche AG

The press was quick to denounce the new design by naming the design ‘fried egg,’ adding fuel to the fire on the already controversial switch to water cooling. But, the headlight assembly was, in fact, just another clever time-saving design as Porsche was able to significantly save time spent on the assembly line by integrating turn signals into one housing. This controversial design was changed in 2002 when the 996 911 received a mid-cycle overhaul.

Moreover, the new 911 was sleeker and more slippery, as confirmed by numbers. Extensive wind-tunnel testing reduced the drag coefficient to .30 from .33 from the 993 911.

 car's designer Pinky Lai

Talking about aerodynamics, the car’s designer Pinky Lai carried out his intention to include the active rear spoiler as standard, enabling additional downforce at high speeds. The spoiler was deployed at 76 MPH and lowered at 36 MPH, but it could be operated via a button in the footwell.

Initially, the 996 911 was introduced as a coupé and a convertible. Completing the range was the 2002 Targa variant, featuring a sliding glass roof similar to the 993 Targa.

911 Targa 3.6 (MY 2002), Porsche AG

Depending on the trim, the 996 had two major body variations, narrow and wide-body, introduced with the Porsche 996 Turbo. Apart from turbocharged models, only the naturally aspirated Carrera 4 S sported a wide body, albeit without air inlets specific to the Turbo, Turbo S, and GT2 variants.

In addition to sporting a wide body kit, the 996 Carrera 4S had a distinctive feature harking back to Porsches of the past. It was a red reflector strip placed between the rear lights.

Seat

Even the interior of the 996 911 underlined a substantial change for Porsche’s staple sports car. Gone were the days of the 911’s simple dashboard and flat door cards, and what came was a complete overhaul of the cockpit.

Although it kept the 5-dial layout, the instrument cluster shrunk in size, now featuring overlapping circular elements dominated by the central rev counter. More intricate and more organic, the whole dashboard was radically different than ever before on a 911, signifying that the 996 is a whole new direction in every aspect.

Interior of Porsche 996
Source: Bonhams

Moreover, rather than walking a thin line between a Spartan sports car and a grand tourer, the interior as a whole oozed more comfort.

Courtesy of the car’s increased wheelbase and width, this was no illusion: the 996 was truly more spacious too. Yet, despite all radical moves, there was a small and significant detail bringing tradition and innovation under one roof: the ignition lock on the outer side of the simple three-spoke steering wheel uncluttered by any buttons, at least if a car’s equipped with manual transmission.

steering wheel of Porsche 996
Source Bonhams

Engines and Transmission

Another reason the 996 generation was ill-received was its M96 3.4-liter flat-six engine, more specifically its flawed intermediate shaft bearings (IMS bearing) and possible cylinder cracking. But, once Porsche sorted these unwanted byproducts of mass production, the M96 was in fact quite an advanced powerhouse.

For the first time in a regular 911, the heads had four valves per cylinder and the M96 featured Variocam adjustable camshaft timing and integrated dry sump, which was in fact a modified dry sump.

The water cooling system was derived from Porsche’s racetrack experience, namely water-cooled cylinder heads from the 935/78 and water cooled engine of the 962C and the 911 GT1.

Initially, the 996 911 was introduced with a 3.4-liter M96 generating 296 horsepower at 6,800 RPM and 258 lb-ft at 4,000 RPM. In 2000, the base Carrera and Carrera 4 got a power bump to 300 hp.

In 2002, following the overall restyle, the engine displacement grew to 3.6 liters, leading to the Carrera and Carrera 4S getting 315 horsepower at 6,800 RPM and 273 lb-ft torque at 4,250 RPM.

Turbo ‘Mezger’ engines

Apart from the M96, the 996 range offered another family of engines, the Mezger 3.6-liter. This engine group is rooted in Porsche’s motorsport heritage and was named in honor of Hans Mezger, who developed this flat-six unit’s basic architecture.

In the 996, the M96 Mezger engine was derived from the Le Mans-winning 911 GT1 hypercar and was used to power the performance-oriented 996 models, both turbocharged and naturally aspirated. Being a race-engineered powerhouse, this engine features true dry-sump lubrication.

Engine of Porsche 996
Source: Bonhams

The 996 911 Turbo was aided by a pair of KKK K16 parallel turbochargers placed on an M96.70 3.6-liter Mezger flat-six with the newly introduced VarioCam Plus. It produced 414 hp at 6,000 RPM and 415 lb-ft of torque from 2,700 to 4,600 RPM in standard form.

But, with the optional X50 pack introduced in 2002, the 996 Turbo could get larger KKK K24 turbochargers and new intercoolers, upgraded quad pipe exhaust, and revised engine management unit, all resulting in an increase to 444 horsepower at 5,700 RPM and 457 lb-ft from between 3500 and 4500 RPM.

quad pipe exhaust
Source: Bonhams

Finally, the 911 996 Turbo S was an X50-optioned 996 Turbo with model-specific upgrades regarding the PCCB brakes and various creature comforts.

Transmission

Throughout the 996 Carrera range, there was a choice of three transmission units. Initially, the Getrag G96/00 6-speed manual or the ZF 5HP19 5-speed automatic, while the 2002 Carrera 4S and Turbo models got 5G-Tronic sourced from Mercedes-Benz, enabling quicker response during gear shifting.

The 996 Carrera 4, 4S, and Turbo models had Porsche’s all-wheel-drive system first introduced on the 959 proto-hypercar. This system uses a viscous coupling unit placed between the gearbox and the front differential, splitting up to 45% torque to the front wheels if needed.

Providing additional stability, especially to tail-happy Turbo models, was Porsche Stability Management torque-vectoring system which came as optional on naturally aspirated cars but was standard on turbocharged models.


Suspension and Steering

The 996 owes superb road holding to carefully engineered suspension comprising front MacPherson struts and multi-link rear suspension, both derived from the 993. For the 996 911, aluminum alloy suspension was refined and perfected, giving the car more direct and stable handling.

Porsche 996 steering

In respect to steering, Porsche 996 utilized power-assisted rack and pinion steering.


Brakes, Wheels, and Tires

The naturally aspirated Carrera and Carrera 4 models drove on 17×7-inch and 17×9-inch wheels, wearing 205/50ZR-17 front and 255/40ZR-17 rear tires. The stopping power was provided via 4-piston front and rear calipers grabbing ventilated, cross-drilled steel discs, measuring 318 mm front and 299 mm rear respectively.

wheels of porsche 996
Source: Bonhams

The 996 Turbo sported larger and hollow spoke Turbo Twist 18×8-inch front and 18×11-inch rear wheels wrapped in 225/40R-18 front and 295/30R-18 rear high-performance tires, respectively. Providing increased stopping power were ventilated, cross-drilled steel discs measuring 330 mm front and rear with 4-piston front and rear calipers.

The Carrera 4S was a unique offering as it shared both the wheels and the brakes with the Carrera Turbo.

As the ultimate non-GT, the 911 Turbo S included an X50 pack with 6-piston front and 4-piston rear calipers and lighter and more durable 350mm ventilated cross-drilled Porsche Carbon Ceramic Brake (PCCB) discs developed jointly by Porsche and SGL Carbon.

Special 996 Variants

911 996 GT3 & 996.2 GT3

The Porsche Supercup car’s road version, the 996 GT3, brought track-focused technology to the street legal 911 range in 1999.It was built on a regular body shell donned in a specific aero kit, it had a larger fuel tank and a 3.6-liter naturally aspirated M96.76 Mezger engine producing 355 horsepower at 7,200 RPM and 273 lb-ft of torque at 5,000 RPM. The M96.76 was mated to 6-speed manual transmission with no choice of automatic transmission.

911 996 GT3
Remi Dargegen ©2016 Courtesy of RM Sothebys
engine of 911 996 GT3
Remi Dargegen ©2016 Courtesy of RM Sothebys

The 996 GT3 had track-ready suspension lowering the car by 30mm, and it rode on lightweight model-specific 18×8-inch front and 18×10-inch rear aluminum alloy wheels wrapped in 225/40/R18 front and 285/30/R18 rear Michelin Pilot Sport rubber.

The 996 GT3 utilized cross-drilled and ventilated steel discs measuring 350 mm front and 330 mm rear with 4-piston front and rear calipers for stopping power.

wheels of 911 996 GT3

With a curb weight of 3,034 lb, the 996 GT3 could sprint from 9 to 60 MPH in 4.8 seconds and a top speed of 188 MPH.

996.2 GT3

The updated 996.2 GT3 was made available on the North American market, and the upgraded M96.79 3.6-liter flat-six got a beefy power increase to 381 horsepower at 7,400 RPM and 284 lb-ft of torque at 5,000 RPM.

The wheels also got bigger, now measuring 18×8.5-inch front and 18×11-inch rear, dressed in 235/40ZR-18 and 295/30ZR-18 Michelin Pilot Sport high-performance rubber.

The brakes received a substantial upgrade as well, with the 996.2 GT3 getting drilled and ventilated 350 mm front and rear steel discs with 6-piston and 4-piston calipers, respectively. As an option, Porsche offered its advanced PCCB carbon composite rotors.

The bump in power got the 996.2 GT3 from 0 to 60 MPH in 4.5 seconds and a top speed of 190 MPH. Put in track conditions, the 996.2 GT3 lapped the Nürburgring in 7:56.3, courtesy of Walter Röhrl.

Both the 996 GT3 and the 996.2 GT3 were offered in track-focused Clubsport package with side airbags removed, Nomex-covered Recaro buckets and a full roll cage.

996.2 GT3 RS

The ultimate naturally aspirated Porsche 911 996 was the 996.2 GT3 RS, a focused, distilled, and uncompromising track weapon built in only 682 copies, 4 in 2003 and 678 in 2004.

996.2 GT3 RS
Dirk de Jager © 2019 Courtesy of RM Sotheby’s

The 996.2 GT3 RS is easily identifiable thanks to a specific rear wing, and it only came in two color combinations: white with either blue or red graphics and wheels and blacked-out side mirrors.

Whereas the M96.79 engine retained its ratings, albeit with slight alterations to the cylinder head intakes, Porsche went to great lengths to upgrade every other aspect of the GT3 RS, making it truly worthy of its RennSport moniker.

rear of 996.2 GT3 RS
Dirk de Jager © 2019 Courtesy of RM Sotheby’s

To make the GT3 RS lighter, Porsche used carbon fiber for its rear aero wing and hood, ditching the glass rear window in favor of a polycarbonate one.

Porsche equipped the GT3 RS with stiffer, progressive springs, redesigned wheel carriers, and adjustable suspension top mounts and control arms for a more track-dominating performance.

At 187 MPH, the 996 GT3 RS engine gets an additional 15 horsepower thanks to ram air induction forcing cold air into the intake, pushing this track monster to a top speed of 190 MPH. The lighter weight also granted it a faster 0-60 sprint of 4.3 seconds. All aerodynamic and suspension adjustments also made it the fastest 996 on the Nürburgring with a time of 7:43, faster than the ultimate turbocharged 996, the GT2.

GT3
Dirk de Jager © 2019 Courtesy of RM Sotheby’s

Rarity and trackside prowess have already made the 996 GT3 RS into a coveted collector car, and it has an immense potential to grow in value in years to come.

911 996 GT2

Unlike the non-GT 996 Turbo which had all-wheel drive, the 996-generation GT2 was a twin-turbocharged rear wheel drive monster for the most daring drivers.

911 996 GT2
Remi Dargegen ©2016 Courtesy of RM Sotheby’s

The 996 GT2 had several changes from the outside, including the deeper front bumper and lip spoiler and a prominent rear wing.

The 3.6-liter twin-KKK K24 M96.70S produced 456 horsepower at 5,700 RPM and 472 lb-ft from 3,500 to 4,500 RPM, all thanks to more boost, bigger intercoolers, and free-flowing mufflers. In 2002, the power output was later increased to 476 thoroughbreds at 5,700 RPM.

rear of 911 996 GT2
Remi Dargegen ©2016 Courtesy of RM Sotheby’s

Its top speed was 198 MPH, with the 0-60 sprint taking 4.1 or 3.9 seconds, depending on the engine’s power output.

On the 996 GT2, the PCCB brakes were fitted as standard, it featured adjustable camber and ride height, and it had rose-joint support bearings.

The 996 GT2 was built in 1,287 examples from 2001 to 2005, making it another ideal candidate for a future classic.

911 996 GT3 Cup

The 996 911 was an official Porsche Supercup car from 1998 to 2004, and it raced in two distinct generations following the redesign of the road car. The Type I raced from 1998 to 2001, and among other aerodynamic and mechanical improvements, it featured a 3.6-liter Mezger flat-six based on the 911 GT1 hypercar and a sequential manual gearbox.

For the inaugural season, the engine was rated at 355 horsepower at 7,200 RPM and 266 lb-ft at 6,250 RPM, but it was tweaked to produce 365 horsepower at 7,250 RPM and 273 lb-ft at 6,250 RPM in 1999.

The second generation debuted in 2002, sporting various changes throughout, including a new headlight design, aerodynamic tweaks, and improved cooling. The Mezger engine produced 375 horsepower at 7,250 RPM and 280 lb-ft of torque at 6,500 RPM and was bumped to 385 horses at 7,200 RPM and 288 lb-ft at 6,500 RPM for the 2004 Porsche Supercup season.

911 996 GT3 R

In 1999, Porsche introduced another turnkey race car for its customers, but unlike the GT3 Cup, it was aimed at competing in international racing series, namely FIA GT and A.C.O. Le Mans.

911 996 GT3 R
1999 Porsche 911 Carrera Cup 
© 2020 Courtesy of RM Sotheby’s

The 911 GT3 R featured a 400-horsepower 3.6-liter engine mated to a six-speed sequential manual gearbox, sending the power to the rear wheels via a limited slip differential.

Upgrades included specific aerodynamics, carbon fiber body panels, center-lock wheels, and race-ready adjustable suspension.

rear of car
© 2020 Courtesy of RM Sotheby’s

The GT3 R scored numerous racing victories globally, the most prominent being back-to-back class wins at the 1999 and 2000 24 Hours of Le Mans.

911 996 GT3 RS & GT3 RSR

Built in just 20 and 37 examples from Porsche Motorsport, the GT3 RS and the GT3 RSR the GT3 RS and the GT3 RSR are the rarest and the most prominent racing cars from the 996.

911 996 GT3 RS
2001 Porsche 911 GT3 RS 
Tom Gidden ©2019 Courtesy of RM Sotheby’s

The 996 GT3 RS was an evolution of the 996 GT3 R built between 2001 and 2003, which famously won an overall victory at the 2003 24 Hours of Daytona.

Finally, the 2004 GT3 RSR was the final evolution of the racing 996 range, as it produced 450 horsepower from the 3.8-liter flat-six.

911 996 GT3 RSR
911 (996) GT3 RSR, eigth Porsche Sound Night, Porsche Arena, 2018, Porsche AG
 911 GT3 RSR
2005 Porsche 911 GT3 RSR 
Kevin Van Campenhout ©2017 Courtesy of RM Sotheby’s

Legacy

Although initially ill-received by die-hard Porsche fans, the 996 911 was a much-needed evolutive step for the company. It provided Porsche with financial stability crucial for its exponential growth and the 911’s transformation into a car still relevant today.

driving the car
Source: Porsche AG

Porsche’s leap to water cooled flat-six engines enabled the 911 to develop further, ultimately creating several modern icons under the 997, 991, and 992 generations. That being said, the 996 might not have been the perfect car per se, but it was a perfect move for Porsche at that given moment.

As a collector car, Porsche 996 911 is definitely on its way to become one, at least in its rarest and most powerful variants. The Turbo and Turbo S will walk a thin line between a collectible and a usable classic, while the GT3, GT3 RS, and the ultimate GT2 will peak the 996 911’s collector car echelon. On the other hand, a naturally aspirated 996 can easily become your next usable modern Porsche classic. A well-sorted Carrera 4S with a 5-speed manual transmission is perhaps the most balanced.

For years, the 996 911 was harshly criticized for largely irrational reasons, but it holds great importance for the world’s most renowned sports car maker. For that reason, this pivotal 911 will hold a place in Porsche’s history, and this is the perfect time to own it and experience all its qualities firsthand.

Show Comments (3)

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  1. The 996 GT3 did not have the wide body of the 4s. It used the basic tub, utilizing the space the 4S used for driving the front wheels for a larger gas tank.

  2. I have trouble with the 996 haters that are still plentiful, with that particular car founding the financial stability for Porsche to continue to exist. Yes, I own one, and it’s likely that I will never let it go. It represents an amazing blend of looks, performance, and should be recognized as the M96 foundation that allowed Porsche to remain as a driver to many, hold its competitive edge on the racetrack, and to evolve into the 997, 991, 992, and whatever comes forth beyond.. Sharing some body parts with the Boxster and Cayman shouldn’t allow anyone to degrade the car, but rather be viewed as a survival technique, keeping Porsche a mainstay brand.