Air versus water with the Porsche 911 964 and 911 997
In terms of engineering and construction, the 964 and 997 are chalk and cheese on the 911 pantheon. Thanks to their individual attributes, however, both command a similarly powerful fan base. If you have a mind to, these Porsches can also be significantly modified, as we discovered on an Essex airfield shakedown… Words Johnny Tipler Photography Dan Sherwood.
BRAVE THE ELEMENTS
Air versus water with the 964 and 997.
964 AND 997: THE BEST OF AIR AND WATER?
The 964 and 997 are consistently cited as optimum incarnations of the air-cooled and water-cooled 911. Having owned a 964 and 996 – and now a 987 – I’ve walked a similar walk, and now, I’d like to introduce you to Stanley Leask, who’s done likewise. In fact, he’s gone one better – he currently owns a 964 and 997, both positively personalised.
THERE’S DEFINITELY SOMETHING TO BE SAID FOR NOT BEING AFRAID TO USE A PORSCHE, ENJOYING ITTHE WAY THE MANUFACTURER INTENDED
Before we delve into what makes his cars so special, let’s see how these icons stack up. The 964 represents the transition from classic to modern 911, combining traditional looks and ergonomics with more sophisticated running gear, making it one of the most significant models in the entire 911 saga. In production for four years, from 1989 to 1993, it was primarily marketed as the Carrera 2 and Carrera 4, and was the final evolution of the quarter-century-old air-cooled body shape, before the design was softened by the incoming 993. As well as Targa and Cabriolet variants, the 964 also spawned more sporting derivatives, including the 964 Carrera RS and 964 Turbo.
Stanley bought his 964 from Portiacraft in North London’s Mill Hill back in 2008. He paid £14k. We remark how, today, you wouldn’t get much change out of £30k for a 964 project car, let alone a good ’un like this, which benefited from an engine rebuild before Stanley’s name appeared on the car’s logbook. Cue tears from the writer. For a thirty-year-old 911, this radiant red road rocket is in fabulous condition. “The body hasn’t been resprayed,” Stanley declares, “though it’s had bits taken care of over the years, such as a little bit of rust around the screen and the rear window.” It wears an RS rear bumper centre section, a glassfibre engine lid and a Cult Werk Cup 3.8 RS-style front splitter. Here’s the kicker: this gorgeous 964 actually started life as a Carrera 4 and, as we’ll discover, it’s now a Carrera 2. I’ll tell you why in a moment. First, a bit more about the original specification.
STEVE AND HIS TEAM TOOK OUT THE FOUR-WHEEL DRIVE SYSTEM AND CONVERTED THE CAR TO REAR-WHEEL-DRIVE
The 964 embraced several new technical features hitherto unfamiliar in 911 territory. ABS brakes, wishbone front suspension, four-wheel drive (in the Carrera 4 launch model) and displacement increased from 3.2- to 3.6-litres were new features. Several previously hit-and-miss creature comforts were introduced, such as dependable cabin temperature and heated seats, plus an on-board computer as a token right-of-passage into the modern age. The model was overlooked for some years, dismissed by aficionados because of a reputation for mechanical shortcomings when compared to the Carrera 3.2, which had a reputation for being bombproof thanks to years of solid attention to build quality. In fairness, the 964’s failings were addressed by Porsche and largely overcome in a mid-1991 makeover. In any case, thirty years down the line, any latent problems will have almost certainly been rectified.
Production of Porsche’s first commercial four-wheel-drive offering, the 964 Carrera 4, began in January 1989, with UK deliveries starting in August that year. The fourby layout employed in the model was less complicated than that of the exotic 959, providing a 31/69 torque-split front/rear. The electronically controlled system sensed individual wheel speed differences and compensated accordingly, improving traction and cornering ability, particularly in bad weather. Here was a Porsche to rival the best of the quattro brigade. There was still a place in the market for the traditional 911, however, which is why it was a logical step to offer the rear-drive-only 964 Carrera 2 in 1990, superseding the Carrera 3.2. This was a critical time for Porsche – by 1989, sales of new sports cars from Zuffenhausen had tumbled dramatically with the onset of recession and threats to the European sports car market from the increasingly popular output of Japanese manufacturers. The 964 was thus a gamble, seen as a car which could resuscitate the company and its traditional model line. There were no guarantees it would do so.
The Porsche design department was tasked with updating the 911 body and, externally, the main differences between old and new were the 964’s all-enveloping bumpers, merging more fluently with the shell and replacing the deformable rubber bellows of the seasoned G-body. The traditional Fuchs wheels gave way to Design 90 alloys, though many 964s were fitted with Cup (as in Carrera Cup) five-spokes.
Although the new car’s familiar flowing lines remained essentially the same as what dealer showroom visitors were used to seeing, Porsche claimed the 964 to be eighty-five percent new when compared with the outgoing Carrera 3.2. Engine capacity was increased to 3,600cc, developing 250bhp at 6,100rpm, and 310Nm of torque at 4,800rpm.
The dash to 60mph from rest took five seconds, progressing to a top speed of 162mph (12mph up on the previous 911). Twin-spark ignition brought more efficient combustion and, from 1990, a dual-mass flywheel was fitted. Additionally, the 964 featured power-assisted steering and wishbone coilsprung front suspension. The result was a machine much easier to handle, lighter to drive, more refined and deploying the traditional characteristics of the 911 in a subtler way. The 964 also received an undertray beneath the engine, improving aerodynamics and reducing drag from Cd 0.4 to 0.32. Integral to the design was a speed-sensitive rear spoiler – gone was the whale-tail fixed wing of Sport Equipment Carrera 3.2s. The new spoiler emerged from the engine cover at 7mph and extended above 50mph to improve downforce at high speed.
Below 7mph, the part folded away to integrate with the engine cover to ensure, in static mode, the curved beetle-back of the original 911 design was maintained. In 1990, the Carrera 2 was also available with a Tiptronic gearbox endowed with manual override, though the Carrera 4 stuck with a manual cog swapper. A mid-term update in 1991 brought redesigned heads and barrels and a more efficient and lighter plastic induction system. These modifications were highly significant in consolidating the 964’s performance and, more crucially, sorting out oil leaks, which had become so notorious the plastic underbody section beneath the engine was being referred to as ‘the drip-tray’. A LUK flywheel replaced the problematic Freudenberg dual-mass component in 1992. Then, at the end of 1993, the 964 Carrera 2 was phased out by the 993 model, which retained the former’s 3.6-litre powertrain.
The lack of front driveline means the Carrera 2 is 100kg lighter than the all-pawed Porsche, which has obvious performance advantages. In general, the Carrera 2 has a sharper, nimbler feel, while the steering of the Carrera 4 weights up exiting bends, when torque is applied to the front axle, slightly numbing feedback.
TAKE YOUR PICK
The brakes also have a different feel, primarily because the Carrera 4 runs a high-pressure system. Naturally, if the roads are damp or icy, the Carrera 4 is a safer and more secure proposition. If such qualities don’t bother you, but you still need convincing, the 964 Carrera 2 has a slightly more agile touch and the steering is a bit more sensitive, while initial turn-in is sharper. By comparison, the Carrera 4 has slightly less sensitivity due to the extra weight in the front and, as speed increases, the model will understeer at turn-in and through the corner, but generally feels very planted. The Carrera 2 turns in more precisely and can be balanced on the throttle through the corner, making it quicker on a dry track, but wet conditions favour the Carrera 4, making it overall an easier drive.
And, although the four-wheel-drive model carries the extra weight I just mentioned, it isn’t noticeable in acceleration, top speed or fuel economy. I’d take the Carrera 2, just for the slightly more acute feedback. Stanley has replaced his 964’s fog lights with RS-esque air scoops, channelling cool air to the brakes. More fundamentally, he talks of the switch to two-wheel-drive. “I bought an eBay-listed 993 six-speed G50/21 early short-ratio gearbox, which had a crack in the casing. I took the unit to Steve Winter, head of JAZ Porsche in St Albans, who rebuilt the engine and who services the car to this day.
CHANGE THE GAME
Steve and his team took out the fourwheel drive system and converted the car to rear-wheel-drive, utilising RS gearbox mounts and RS short-shift linkages, as well as a raised gear lever.” In terms of chassis dynamics, the steering feels less heavy than standard and, despite not sending power to all four wheels, the car feels a lot more planted to the asphalt. Everything seems much firmer and there’s no tramlining, though it’s worth noting JAZ also installed a limited-slip differential and a GT3 lightweight flywheel to the car.
There are a number of well-tried methods for extracting more power and handling from the 964. Several specialist tuning firms offer a variety of engine and suspension componentry to lift the model a notch or two in the performance stakes. The most basic modifications include fitting a K&N air filter, removing the catalytic converter, swapping the rear transverse silencer with a Cup pipe and adding a G-pipe to replace the side silencer. On a pre-1992 engine, you can replace the alloy intake system with the later plastic version and fit a single-flap or largerbore throttle body.
You’re in ECU re-chip territory by now, but this is simple enough to get done, providing you don’t mind subjecting the car to a full-out blast on a tuning shop’s rolling road.
The 993 inherited the upgraded induction system, but incorporated a hot-film mass airflow sensor (MAF) instead of the flap-type meter. This can be retro-fitted to the 964 in association with the plastic intake, a 70mm throttle body, the previously mentioned air filter and modified exhaust. All this can lift output by around 25bhp. Alternatively, you can fit 102mm barrels and pistons from the later Carrera RS and boost displacement to 3.8 litres. Stanley’s 964 flat-six features a Rennline engine carrier, WEVO engine mounts, ARP head studs and rod bolts, a Specialist Components ECU kit with MAF, uprated injectors and Cup-specification camshafts from Nick Fulljames at Redtek, a motorsport-oriented Porsche specialist with experience in touring car, Formula One and supercar engine development.
“The Redtek parts deliver extra top end,” Stanley says, citing around 5bhp above 5,000rpm without losing anything in the lower end of the rev range. Power output on the dyno is a very reasonable 305bhp at 5,800rpm, blaring through an exhaust from M&M in Germany. “M&M work on a fair number of Cup cars,” he continues. “Steve at JAZ recommended the system, which consists of equal length headers, 200-cell sport catalysts and a final silencer which goes across the back. This was the only twin-exit system I could find which retains cabin heating,” he says, referencing the tendency for aftermarket exhausts of this nature to do away with heat exchangers.
The braking system is equally impressive, making use of 964 Carrera RS discs at the back, slotted into 993 calipers. The front calipers and their accompanying cross-drilled discs are from the 993 Turbo. In fact, JAZ has recently applied a broader 993 conversion on the front of this 911, which is now running 993 front suspension with alloy hubs and adjustable track control arms, allowing more tailored geometry, resulting in a more stable drive. The ride height is dropped accordingly, while a strut brace adds extra stiffness to the front end. It goes without saying the car rides and handles beautifully when pressures are at the correct 2.5bar pressure in each corner.
Stanley describes the running gear.
“The wheels are replicas of the 3.6-litre 964 Turbo’s eighteen-inch Speedline three-piece split-rims. You’d struggle to tell the difference between these and the real deal. I’ve got a set of Cup wheels for occasional use, but they weigh exactly the same as the Speedline reps.
Behind the wheels reside Bilstein PSS10 adjustable dampers and polyurethane bushes. JAZ carried out all the work. Steve even supplied special custom springs for the front. They carry the same spring rates as the Bilstein-supplied parts, but drop ride height a little lower.” Rounding out the suspension updates are Rennline monoball top mounts, Elephant Racing bump-steer correcting tie-rods and H&R adjustable anti-roll bars.
The standard 964’s interior is similarly upholstered to the older Carrera 3.2, with leather in all UK cars and pinstriped fabric in other markets, where hide wasn’t specified. Going to town, Stanley has made some major changes to his 964 cockpit. “The Recaro Pole Position seats were another eBay purchase,” he reveals. They’re joined by RS door cards and a three-spoke Clubsport steering wheel. The bolt-in half-cage is a genuine Matter assembly. Meanwhile, Stuart Quick at Quickfit Safety Belt Services installed the body-matching red seat belts and re-trimmed the triple silver leather inserts, adding new seat foams to the mix. “The seats are much more comfortable and supportive following Stuart’s work,” Stanley attests. “They fit my size and shape perfectly.”
Clearly, we’re dealing with a true petrolhead. I recall first meeting Stanley at Spa-Francorchamps around 2014, when a bunch of us 964 owners went over for a couple of trackdays, me in The Peppermint Pig. “The 964 is a happy medium,” he muses. “It’s a fast road car, but it’s perfectly at home on a race circuit. I’ve enjoyed a few track days with my 964 and I’m hoping to participate in even more this year.” He namechecks Bedford Autodrome. “I like that particular track because it’s flat. Also, if you want to test the limit of your driving ability, it’s relatively safe to do so at his venue thanks to there being plenty of run-off, meaning you don’t need to worry about having a smash.” In contrast, Spa is fast, with minimal run-offs. Put it this way, you can seriously hurt yourself and your car if you unintentionally leave the track.
He’s sanguine about condition and usage. “I don’t want my 964 to be perfect. If it was in mint condition, I wouldn’t use it. It’s better to own a 911 just a little bit rough around the edges. I’m always trying to make the car better, of course, but it’s covered 133k miles.” This isn’t a lot in the grand scheme of things, especially when you consider the fact his is a three-decade-old 911, but there’s definitely something to be said for not being afraid to use a Porsche, enjoying it the way the manufacturer intended. Does he feel the same about his water-cooled 911? The first thing we need to find out is why he keeps a 997 alongside his 964.
“It was a cunning plan dreamed up with my wife,” he laughs. “I was thinking of selling the 964 to pay for my child’s school fees and bought the 997 as a stopgap. I ended up with two cars. My wife quite rightly observed that once the 964 was gone, it would be gone, and I was highly unlikely to get it back or buy another. Our idea was to buy a 997 and keep it alongside the 964 for a little while, enough time for me to determine which 911 I liked most.” That was eighteen months ago. “I’ve come to the conclusion I’m going to keep both cars!” he roars. The Basalt Black beauty is a 2005 first-generation non-sunroof Carrera S, complete with manual transmission.
Here’s a reminder of the 997’s chronology. First mooted in late 1998 as the next phase in the 911 saga, the 997 was actually in the design process as early as February 1999, with full-sized clay models being created in the Porsche styling studio in 2000 and 2001. The closeness in date to the introduction of the 996 raises eyebrows, since one might imagine that more time would have elapsed before Porsche got stuck into developing the next model in the water-cooled 911 line-up, but those are the bare facts. Based on an in-house design by Porsche styling supremo, Grant Larson, the standard 997 was broader at the rear by 3.5in (88mm) than the 996 but, more dramatically, the headlights were much more reminiscent of the air-cooled era, realigning the 997 with the characteristic 911 appearance. Things moved quickly: prototypes of the 997 were under test by late 2001, with the first public unveiling in September 2004.
In production for the 2005 model year and a big seller until the arrival of the 991 in 2012, the 997 is arguably the best water-cooled 911 Porsche has produced. Solid, yet dispensing enough feel and feedback to satisfy the most discerning driver, the 997 is superior to its predecessor in terms of build quality, yet of lighter touch and responsive feedback than the bulkier-feeling 991. At first glance, it was hard to grasp the 997 was eighty percent new when compared to the 996, but you don’t have to spend long with a 997 (or its 987 Boxster/Cayman sibling) for the penny to drop – overall build quality and many of the materials used are way better than what you’ll find on preceding 911s.
The second-generation 997 arrived in 2009. Principal upgrades included direct fuel injection, whereby fuel was fed directly into the combustion chamber via an engine-driven high-pressure fuel pump, enabling better throttle response and improved fuel economy. The much talked about intermediate shaft (IMS) bearing was notable by its absence.
Without having to justify its existence in the same way as the 996, the 997 became universally accepted and respected in similar fashion to the 964 and 993, representing an superb blend of performance, style, usability and quality. Along with fit and finish, the 997’s switchgear also raised the game, although today, this translates as outdated sat-nav and almost incomprehensible radio selection and volume/tone controls. In Stanley’s car, the steering wheel rim has been retrimmed and thickened, the handbrake and gearknob have been recovered and the leather seats refurbished and reconnolised by automotive interior specialist, GP Leather Tech. Mirroring the 964’s cabin, red seat belts have been installed by Quickfit Safety Belt Services. Externally, Stanley’s Carrera S sports a lowered ride height and a Rinspeed lip.
The 997 Carrera S featured uprated suspension and Porsche Active Suspension Management (PASM) with electronically adjustable settings. This model also came with ‘Lobster Claw’ nineteen-inch alloy wheels as standard, bigger brakes with red calipers and, at the nose, dazzling Xenon headlights. The all-wheel-drive Carrera 4 and Carrera 4S variants were announced for the 2006 model year, featuring wider shells and fatter tyres. The 997 Cabriolet was actually designed before the coupe versions, on the basis the necessary chassis strengthening for the open-top car could be pared down for the coupé. Subtle upgrades for the second-gen 997 in 2009 included a larger air intake in the front valance, new headlamps and rear lights, Bluetooth mobile phone connectivity and, far more crucially, new common-rail direct engines married to a dual clutch PDK gearbox, replacing the capable Tiptronic S transmission. The earlier 997 does have a few known issues, including bore-scoring in the 3.8- litre motor, though the total number of affected cars is quite small, despite what you might read online. Nevertheless, Stanley’s Carrera S was one of the unlucky ones, but has since been treated to a complete engine rebuild.
His 997 is categorised as ‘Cat S’, which means it’s had an accident and then been put back on the road, having been an insurance write-off. You wouldn’t know as much, looking at the car now. “There was no structural damage to the shell. Front bodywork and the suspension arms were the only affected parts,” he confirms. “The car was on the market for £17,750 at a dealer not far from where I work. I was bowled over at the immaculate condition of the paint and body. There were no bills to accompany the vehicle, but somebody I know who works at Porsche told me this was a 911 with really good history, though he couldn’t reveal any of it until I was the registered owner. In the end, I took a punt and paid just £14k.”
A visit to Porsche Centre East London followed. “One of the service managers told me the previous owner had been one of the Centre’s best customers. He was able to supply me with all the car’s known history, which included details of extended warranty cover for ten years from the original point of sale, as well as full main dealer service history, right up until two years ago.” Pleasingly, the documentation highlighted the no-expense- spared engine rebuild, taken care of at 55k miles back in 2012.
Under his watch, Stanley has treated this fantastic Carrera S to a Superchips remap and a Gundo hack exhaust bypass, resulting in a wonderful rasp. He’s also eliminated play from the gear shifter by adding an ‘Alex Mod’ short-shift linkage. This is a sophisticated drive. Here, in the gently undulating Essex countryside, the Porsche is a highly efficient ground coverer, totally untroubled by any twist or turn, no matter how quickly I’m going.
Indeed, on these undulating cross-country B-roads, the ride is controlled and composed. The car turns in and sticks to its line. Thanks to Bilstein B6 PASM-compatible dampers and Eibach lowering springs, plus all new suspension arms, mounts and bushes, this 997 is equally as taut and positive as Stanley’s hunkered-down 964. Truth be told, standard or lightly modified, the rear-drive 997 Carrera S provides optimum steering feel and the ride is agreeable. It’s as secure a driving platform as you could possibly wish for.
If it’s exclusivity you crave, you’re in the right place: Porsche assembled 34,398 964 Carrera 2s between 1990 and 1994, along with 20,395 examples of the Carrera 4. As for the 997 Carrera S, there were 12,427 first-gen coupés and 20,508 second-gen tin-tops. Although there’s no shortage of attractively priced 997s on the market today, this won’t necessarily always be the case – such is adoration for the 997, there’s every chance values could go the way of the 964. Get one and you’ll be hooked for good. Don’t believe us? Just ask Stanley Leask.
Above First-gen 997 rear end has stood the test of time much better than the later 997 and its redesigned front and back light clusters.
Above Are the 964 and 997 the best of the air-cooled and water-cooled 911 line-up? Contact us with your thoughts on the subject. Above 997 cabin space is seriously well designed, though many owners complain about the standard steering wheel rim thickness, leading to a retrim. Above Full main dealer history and a recent engine rebuild made this 997 a real bargain, despite the Cat S designation caused by superficial front-end damage. Above Wheels are convincing replicas of the eighteen-inch Speedlines fitted to the 964 Turbo 3.6.
Above Interior benefits from a wealth of upgrades, including Recaro Pole Positions with new seat foams and gradient-grey leather.
Above Stanley’s 964 started life as a Carrera 4, but was converted to RWD by Steve Winter at JAZ