Porsche 911 GT3 996.2 vs. 911 Turbo X50 996.2
Two of the headiest incarnations of the 996 came in the form of the GT3 and Turbo X50. Either one dishes up euphoria, but which would you belay? We sample both… Words Johnny Tipler. Photography Dan Sherwood.
Comparing the 996 GT3 and Turbo X50.
Every era of Porsche production has included a rarefied top-line model, usually with competition aspirations or descended from a race car and, sometimes, badged as an RS. For the first couple years of its life, the brave new water-cooled 996 lacked such a standard bearer, but this was addressed in 1999 with the introduction of the GT3, named after the FIA race category it was eligible for. The 996 GT3 blended a higher performance, normally aspirated engine with a lighter body and sportstuned suspension, resulting in track-focused demeanour. Hey presto! We had an RS in disguise. Soon enough, predictably, the GT3 was massaged into an RS in its own right.
The GT3 is the most sublime evolution of the basic 996 model, created using the narrow-body Carrera 4 chassis — in rear-drive only format — and powered by an unburstable version of the 3.6-litre water-cooled flat-six. There’s no artificial boost and no extraneous ducting about the bodywork, just pure aerodynamic functionality to the splitter, side skirts and biplane rear wing, hence the sublime aesthetic, which has aged well.
As much as any other model, the 996 GT3 epitomises Porsche’s design and manufacturing philosophy. A perfect blend of road-going sportscar and track-oriented elaborations, it’s a direct manifestation of a philosophy going back way beyond the much-vaunted 1973 Carrera RS 2.7 to evolutions of the 356, such as the 356 Carrera of 1955.
THE FIRST-GENERATION 996 GT3 IS THE LAST ROAD-GOING PORSCHE BUILT ON THE FACTORY’S MOTORSPORT PRODUCTION LINE
The company has always sought to implant its roadgoing models with lessons learned at the track and, at the Geneva Motor Show in April 1999, the 996 GT3 was announced. It certainly looks the part, with its deep front spoiler and airdam, aerodynamically configured sills and fixed double-decker swan neck wing on the engine lid (in first-gen guise) instead of the retractable wing of the then standard 911.
CUP RUNNETH OVER
The 996 GT3 was immediately seized on as the vehicle of choice for Carrera Cup and Porsche Supercup and, from 2000, the N-GT class of the FIA GT Championship, as well as international races, including the 24 Hours of Nürburgring. The model was an immediate sensation. Manthey Racing’s 996 GT3 won the GT class at the 1999 24 Hours of Le Mans with drivers Uwe Alzen, Patrick Huisman and Luca Riccitelli at the wheel. Shortly afterwards, Porsche’s tame test driver, Walter Röhrl, took a GT3 around the fourteen-mile Nürburgring Nordschleife in a seven minutes and fifty-six seconds, notably under the then crucial eight-minutes, the first time for a production car, much to the glee of the Porsche PR department. The 996 GT3 is the offspring of Andreas Preuninger, head of Porsche’s GT series production department and manager of Porsche High Performance Cars. Are now ned purist, he designed specification to encourage maximum driver involvement. For this reason, Tiptronic and PDK transmissions were off the menu. The Carrera 4’s body shell (incorporating front-end stiffening) was adapted to house the GT3’s dry-sumpoiltank, different engine mounts and a larger fuel cell. At the time, standard 996 Carreras were powered by a 3.4-litre flat-six, but in order to stand the strains and stress esofon-track use, the GT3 was equipped with a new six-cylinder unittakingtheformoftheaforementioned3.6-litre boxer. This flat-six unit was based on the crankcase of the 964, allied to a pair of water-cooled cylinder banks and camshafts in a configuration similar to that of the 959 supercar, 956/962 and the GT1 Le Mans winner. Heady stuff indeed. This iteration of the ‘Mezger’ engine (named after legendary Porsche motorsport design engineer, Hans Mezger) was developed free of forced induction to ensure wider race homologation potential. The engine came with a higher 11.7:1 compression ratio, Vario Cam timing adjustment and four-valves-per-cylinder, and its plasmanitrided crankshaft and titanium conrods allowed the unit to rev significantly higher than the standard flat-six.
The six-speed G96/50 transmission, dual-mass flywheel and forty-percent limited slip differential were sourced from the 993 GT2 and, with 360bhp at 7,200rpm and 273lb-ft torque at 5,000rpm on model launch, the 996 GT3 was the most powerful normally aspirated 911 ever made.
NO NEED TO VENT
The zero-to-60mph rush took 4.7 seconds, while top speed was 187mph. Counting on engine upgrades rather than turbocharging to accomplish higher performance, the GT3 body lacked Turbo or GT2-style vents in its rear wheel arches, enabling a coherent overall neatness of design. There’s handling to match the power and looks, too. The GT3 sits 30mm lower than standard and its suspension consists of adjustable dampers, shorter, stiffer springs and adjustable anti-roll bars, with crossdrilled and ventilated 330mm disc brakes slotted into red-painted four-piston calipers assisted by ABS 5.3. Porsche inserted five-millimetre spacers for slightly wider track and fitted lightweight ten-spoke Speed Design eighteen-inch rims (eight inches wide at the front, ten at the rear, shod with 225/40 and 285/30 tyres respectively). On the assumption owners would want to take their GT3 on track at some point — let’s be honest, why else would you buy one? — two trim levels were offered: Comfort, with lighter sports seats and no rear seats, but otherwise virtually identical to the 996 Carrera, and Club Sport, equipped with a single-mass flywheel (allowing revs to rise and fall more rapidly), race seats and a bolted-in rear roll cage tied in to the rear shock towers for added chassis stiffness. Along with rear seat deletions, side airbags are also absent.
The first-generation 996 GT3 is the last road-going Porsche to be built on the factory’s motorsport production line and is the last Porsche to have a throttle cable. Aside from ABS, there are no other driver aids. Although it’s a heavier car than the standard Carrera, the second-gen 996 GT3 is heavier still, adding thirty kilos. That’s what we’ve got here. You’re looking at a Speed Yellow 996 Gen II GT3, an immaculate example of the model and the personal Porsche of Mick Pacey, founder and proprietor of independent classic Porsche restoration specialist, Export 56. The car was sourced through nearby Porsche sales, servicing and tuning outfit, RPM Technik.
The second-gen GT3 appeared on the scene in 2004, coinciding with the launch of the GT3 RS. Model buffs reckon the GT3 was somewhat ‘toned down’ to provide more of a contrast with the hardcore GT3 RS. Check out the GT3’s cup holders and go figure. For the first time, the GT3 was available in the USA, a market historically wary of hotter evolutions. The Gen II presents several stylistic changes, too: the teardrop headlights are sourced from the Turbo — and applied to the rest of the 996 range — to replace the original model’s ‘fried eggs’ and further differentiate it from the Boxster, while the front and rear PU skirts have revised slope angles to the inlets and air ducts, with subtly different curves and splitter. It’s the same at the back panel, which also displays revised contours. The ten-spoke rims are simplified, side skirts are moulded to enhance aero and the rear wing configured as a platform on a pair of struts (essentially an ‘ironing board’ in place of the earlier GT3’s swan-neck biplane).
In the performance stakes, power rises to 381bhp with torque up to 284lbft (available from 2,000rpm) and it’s also shorter geared in fifth and sixth. The suspension is further lowered and firmed, brakes beefed up with six-pot calipers at the nose and Porsche’s ceramic composite brake system available to original purchasers as a £5,356 optional extra. Bespoke semi-slick Michelin Pilot Sport N1 tyres were developed specifically for the 996 Gen II GT3. In both versions, the space-saver spare is replaced by a puncture repair kit and inflator.
Before squaring up to the 996 Turbo X50, it’s worth differentiating the two incarnations of the 996 GT3. The first of the breed is a wonderfully lithe car. There’s so much torque it needs minimal accelerator pedal pressure to get going. At 4,000-5,000rpm, it’s really starting to zing, pelting along the straights and soaking up the undulations with ease. On fast corners, it’s effortless, with completely smooth turn-in and faultless handling. It’s a very elegantly balanced chassis, making it a better compromise as a road car. The Gen II GT3 is tauter, more planted, and less balletic. It turns in sharply, but bobs about on the bumps, with a bit more of a tendency to tramline. The Gen II delivers a harder, more uncompromising ride, while the older GT3 is a sweetie on a winding B-road, quick enough in acceleration and cruising, a tad less torquey than its younger sibling. From my perspective, the quirkier aesthetics of the original GT3 over the Gen II are also more intriguing.
Production of the first iteration of 996 GT3 totalled 1,868 cars, including Comfort and Club Sport variants, against 2,300 Gen II GT3s. Porsche Cars Great Britain imported 103 early GT3s and 246 Gen IIs, while more than nine hundred of the later variant were exported to the USA. Porsche’s press office tells us the respective numbers of Club Sport and Comfort models were never recorded.
I asked Mick Pacey what he makes of the current GT3 market. “I think GT3s are built to be driven,” he responds. “Low mileage garage queens are on a desert island, washed off with no place to go, but it doesn’t seem to stop people with an investment head from purchasing them. These 911s are there to be driven, thrashed and enjoyed, but they’re also the cars people are putting in little bubbles. To me, this seems back to front. You’ve got a race car. Guess what you should be doing with it? Get out there and hit the track! In reality, many people are parking money. They pick a low-volume production, top-spec Porsche and want every box ticked: history, provenance, condition, mileage and so on. What I find with the collector category is how these owners are very fussy. In other words, any car they buy has to have everything going for it: low mileage, first paint, all that stuff. The other category of buyer is someone like a 911 & Porsche World reader, the kind of enthusiast who fancies driving one of these Porsches. It’s a completely different scenario, where different values apply. It’s why higher-mileage GT3s and examples which have seen plenty of action at the track tend to stick or go for much lower purchase prices.”
Based on the 996 GT3, the RS began life in 2003 as a homologation model, a competition car with its sights set on the FIA GT3 category, pitching it against rivals like the Dodge Viper and Ferrari 360 Modena, as well as providing rolling stock for the Carrera Cup race series. Its RS suffix also endowed it with the iconic trappings of the Carrera RS 2.7, hence the obligatory white bodywork with red or blue graphics. Output of the 996 GT3 RS totalled 682 units, with just 140 configured in right-hand drive, and 113 of those officially imported into Great Britain. The RS simply wasn’t available in North America. While the GT3 Club Sport version weighs in at 1,380kg, the RS tips the scales, fuelled up, at 1,360kg, a four percent improvement on its power-to-weight ratio. The RS develops 381bhp at 7,300rpm, officially identical to the regular GT3, though 400bhp is rather more likely. As a measure of its greater performance potential, look no further than pedal-dancing demon, Röhrl, who lapped the Nordschleife with the 996 GT3 RS in seven minutes and forty-three seconds, an amazing thirteen seconds quicker than he managed in an ‘ordinary’ 996 GT3.
The 996 Turbo was launched at the Geneva Motor Show in 1999 and available from 2000, replacing the air-cooled 993 Turbo. The water-cooled car was related to its 996 GT3 sibling by virtue of its ‘Mezger’ dry-sump engine. As hinted at earlier, this revered powerplant, which is, by common consent, a stronger unit than the normally aspirated 996 flat-six makes use of, originated in the aluminium-cased flat-sixes powering the 911 Turbo (930), SC and the partly water-cooled 962 four-valve engine, with cylinder heads derived from the 959. It was then engineered, no expenses spared, to debut as a 3.2-litre chain-cam twin-turbocharged unit for the 1998 GT1. Some legacy, and it was a bold, if somewhat pragmatic move to shoehorn it into the rear quarters of the 996.
The 996 Turbo can deliver near 420bhp at 6,000rpm, enabling genuine 190mph performance and acceleration to 62mph from a standing start in 4.2 seconds. Only the rear-drive 462bhp 996 GT2 and run-out Turbo S (fitted with the 450bhpaiming X50 performance upgrade kit as standard) are more powerful examples of the 996. In other words, the Turbo is worth investigating if you seek a greater surge factor. A full drop-top Turbo is available if you’re a sun worshipper.
The 996 Turbo S, launched in 2005 as coupe or cabriolet, cost an extra ten grand over the stock Turbo when new. What we have here, in Mick Pacey’s tenure at Export 56 and finished in stunning Guards Red with full black leather interior, is a 996 Turbo which served as a Porsche Car Great Britain’s press car and is endowed with the X50 package, an option from 2002. What exactly is X50, though? This desirable factory power kit consists of larger KKK K24 turbochargers, bigger intercoolers, a revised ECU and a quad-pipe exhaust. The power hike is considerable, bringing an X50-equipped Turbo close to the 996 GT2’s 462bhp at the same revs, the only penalty being a Turbo with X50 equipment is a thirstier 14mpg. Top speed? 192mph, with the dash to 60mph from rest despatched in four seconds.
Mick’s car has covered a mere 31,200 miles and comes with a fully documented service history. History? Okay, if you buy this Porsche — and the £65k price-tag is very reasonable, all things considered — you’ll be wanting to create history with it. The mileage suggests this terrific Turbo must have lived a cloistered life. Whatever, maintenance records show the car was first serviced at Porsche Centre Wilmslow and, thereafter, independent specialists, MGS, SP Autobahn, Diablo Engineering and, of course, Bedfordshire’s own Export 56. Sliding into the Turbo’s cabin, the electrically adjustable seats quickly locate a favourable driving position. All the mechanisms, from steering and pedals to six-speed shift and switchgear levers, are precise and in excellent shape. On the road, you’ll ideally need an unrestricted Autobahn to really light up the blue touchpaper and head like a rocket ship for the vanishing point, but they’re good enough for a scenic point-and- squirt, as it were. The Turbo X50, with its short shift, goes amazingly well, of course. Although it eclipses the GT3 in power, the manner of delivery is far less dramatic — I don’t sense the ‘aliveness’ of the rear-drive GT3. The Turbo X50 does have more to say for itself than a regular Turbo, though, which is relatively muffled. The X50 car can almost be construed as a lazy 911 because it’s got so much torque and grip, whereas the GT3 is nearly as fast, but you have to use the gears much more. A different animal, in other words. In this six-gear manual-shift mode, the Turbo X50 may have a close-ratio transmission, but it is on the notchy side, and less pleasant to use than the GT3. However, by working the ’box, it can be almost as much of a hooligan as the GT3, with a bit more all-wheel drive security thrown into the mix. The Turbo X50 steers very nicely, and the front-drive constituent of the powertrain is not as dominant as it can feel in a Carrera 4 driveline. Steering is fluent into and out of corners, and the ride is the more relaxed of the two, as you’d expect. Put another way, the chassis is less playful, though it’s hugely competent, reassuring and confidence-inspiring on some of these country belters. On back roads, of course, its towering pace isn’t so evident, as much as its multifaceted ability. The compliant ride, fluent steering, easy shift, awesome brakes, sure-footed fourby traction and grip around corners combine to provide an easy, almost languid ride.
Ask it for a slug of grunt and it delivers with aplomb, prompting a glorious sensation of indomitability. I hit a dualled section for a short distance, where I can floor the throttle with impunity: instantaneous turbocharger kick-in, the Turbo X50 squares its shoulders and hurls itself forward with the velocity of a howitzer shell. Haul it back down with those ultra-efficient brakes.
SYNERGY IN SPEED
On a quick two-lane road, with the Turbo X50’s rev-counter reading 4,000rpm in sixth gear, the wow factor kicks in. Power-assisted steering enables total accuracy of line through corners, and effortless turn-in to tighter bends, facilitated by unshakable grip from the low-profile rubber and its four-wheel-drive traction. Negotiating fast turns, the whole car bucks and heaves, just like a classic 911, and, to a degree, it can be given its head without any wheel-wrestling.
In slower corners, hairpins, even, I can wind it effortlessly round. It’s the all-round competence of the Turbo that’s the making of it: surfeits of power, finely honed handling and all-wheel drive competence, governed from the supremely comfortable and efficient 996 cockpit.
Make no mistake, the 996 Turbo is a truly fabulous car — with or without the X50 beef-up — and you forgive the massive road noise because of the performance and handling pleasure this Porsche returns. That’s what this car is all about: high-speed touring.
Given the dosh, if I was looking for a 911 right now, I would buy a 996 Turbo, no question. Head in the clouds? I don’t think so: this X50 with its Porsche provenance is a no-brainer. Four-wheel drive, 192mph, the Mezger engine, rock solid investment. More civilised than a GT3. This is possibly the safest 911 to swap for your cash right now. It’s the unsung supercar hero, awesomely capable, robust and reliable, a transcontinental express par excellence.
Above Which special 996 would you choose to take home?
SURFEITS OF POWER, FINELY HONED HANDLING AND ALL-WHEEL DRIVE COMPETENCE, GOVERNED FROM THE EFFICIENT 996 COCKPIT
Above and below All the trappings of a 911 capable of making you grin from ear to ear, but also to ferry you across Europe in style and comfort. Above The 996 Turbo is clearly a gorgeous 911, but it doesn’t scream about its performance credentials the way later Turbos would.
Above Rear quarter intakes give away the presence of snailshaped bhp boosters Below Punchy in standard trim, but a prime candidate for big power through aftermarket tuning.
Above and below Considering its race car origins, a surprising amount of comfort is offered by the 996 GT3.
Above It might not be as wild as later 911 GT3s, but the 996 variant is fast rising in value as collectors and enthusiasts wake up to the model’s brilliance and its significance in the Porsche product line.
Above Many GT3 owners opted for silver paintwork, but the simple lines and clutter-free bodywork are truly enhance by a kick of solid yellow.
Below ‘Mezger’ flatsix free of forced induction is still regarded as one of Porsche’s all-time great powerplants.
THESE PORSCHES ARE THERE TO BE DRIVEN, THRASHED AND ENJOYED, BUT THEY’RE ALSO THE CARS PEOPLE ARE PUTTING IN LITTLE BUBBLES