Porsche 911 996
What better way to celebrate the first water-cooled production 911's twenty-fifth anniversary than buying an example of this game-changing Porsche to call your own?! Words Dan Furr, Danny Kaye, Emma Woodcock, Russ Stanley. Photography Dan Sherwood.
1997-2004 Porsche 911 996 BUYING GUIDE
What to look for when considering a buy.
Owning a 911 has never been a more attainable dream, primarily thanks to the current low prices and easy availability of the 996. With the help of careful checks, you should be able to pick up a bargain, but get too excited about that sub-£10,000 price tag and your new 996 could turn out to be an expensive headache. To find out what you should be looking out for when buying a 996, we paid a visit to Revolution Porsche, an independent marque specialist based in Birstall, a large village in West Yorkshire. With qualified Porsche technicians taking care of all ages of 911, from early air-cooled cars to the very latest models rolling off the Porsche production line, the company has forged a firm reputation for offering friendly, expert advice, repair, servicing and restoration on all things Porsche.
While we were chewing the fat with Workshop Manager, Danny Kaye (a time-served Porsche technician who spent six years with Carlton Porsche before joining the Revolution team), he revealed his love for all-pawed 996s. «I've driven every kind of road-going Porsche you can think of, including regular stints in a 959, but when set up correctly, a four-wheel-drive, normally aspirated 996 is a truly excellent sports car. They handle well and drive brilliantly, but they don't jump out at you, even in Carrera 4S guise, complete with Turbo styling and the red rear reflector panel, which is a clear nod to the air-cooled era.»
He sees now as a great time to buy. «All 996s are rising in value, but it's difficult to lose money on a Carrera 4 or Carrera 4S if bought sensibly in the current climate. These are appreciating modern classics and can still be bought for sensible money.» Read on to find out what you need to be aware of before taking the plunge.
SERVICE HISTORY AND MILEAGE
Manufactured between 1997 and 2004 (two further years for Turbo S, GT2 and GT3 models), the 996 was the first 911 to feature a water-cooled engine. Despite grumblings from Porsche purists, the model proved a hit with the wider motoring public — worldwide sales figures of more than 175,000 units made the 996 one of the company’s most popular products. Lofty sales figures means there are presently plenty of 996s available for those delving into the used car market. Despite the 996’s healthy reliability record, however, not all of the available examples are sound buys. Choose a 996 which has been properly maintained and you can look forward to years of enjoyable driving, but pick one neglected by its owners and you can expect sizeable repair bills. A comprehensive Pre-Purchase Inspection at Revolution Porsche’s Birstall workshop will pick up any imminent problems and give you peace of mind, but it’s useful to know what you should be looking for when you head out for a test drive.
Despite the low cost of buying a 996 right now, repairing a 911 is a specialised job and should only be undertaken by trained Porsche technicians. A full service history demonstrating the 996 you're looking at has been subject to the correct service regime (and work has been carried out by Porsche experts) is a good sign, but be wary about cars maintained at non-specialist garages. This is particularly true of the complex GT2 — a complete mystery to non-Porsche specialist mechanics. Also ask to see the last service invoice, which will feature a list of advisories. If the recommendations have been acted on, the seller should be able to produce invoices for the work. If not, the information will give you an idea of what maintenance costs are likely to be during the first twelve months of your time with the car.
The 996 is practical enough for everyday use. There is no reason to worry about high mileage, as long as the car has been well maintained. In fact, low mileage examples may require extra checks — under-use can lead to problems, such as rust on the brake discs. One other thing to consider is that a 996 with very low mileage may well have been used primarily for track days and regularly driven close to its maximum potential. If this is the case, the car should have been serviced more regularly than the recommended mileage-based schedule.
ENGINE AND GEARBOX
Cracked cylinder heads were a problem on some early 996s. Reading forum posts may lead you to conclude there has been an epidemic of cracked cylinder heads and liners on M96 engines. In reality, the issue is relatively rare and the prominence of horror stories published online is due to unlucky owners venting after being on the receiving end of large repair bills. Unless you have access to specialist equipment, the problem is very difficult to spot in its early stages. Given the price of a replacement engine, it's well worth investing in a borescope inspection before buying a 996, thereby helping you to establish if expensive failure is imminent. A claim heard often is that cracked cylinder heads and liners occur between 25,000 and 50,000 miles. In truth, the problem can strike on higher mileage cars, too. A more relevant piece of information is to keep in mind early 3.4-litre engines have proved much more prone to this problem than the post-2001 3.6-litre units. The rear main oil seals (RMS) were a weak point on Porsches of this era and leaks are not uncommon. Although the seal itself is an inexpensive part, labour for the work can be costly, primarily because the seal is very difficult to access. If you spot an oil leak on the 996 you plan to buy, ask a Porsche specialist to take a look. A leak doesn't always mean the RMS needs to be replaced immediately — the work can often be delayed until a bigger job (such as changing the clutch) needs to be carried out, but it's certainly something to note as likely to need attending to in the future.
As we've discussed elsewhere in this magazine, one of the most serious issues on the 996 flat-six is failure of the factory-fitted IMS bearing, which can lead to catastrophic engine problems. The failure rate on models manufactured between 2000 and 2005 is around eight percent (according to various published statistics), so find out whether the car you are interested in buying has had a replacement part fitted before you make an offer.
Many 996 owners opt to have a stronger IMS bearing and seal retrofitted as a precaution. It's a job regularly undertaken at Revolution Porsche's Birstall workshop. If you need any advice about this work, give the team a call on 0113 468 6020. A misfiring engine (or one that sounds rough when running) may be a sign of problems with the ignition coil packs. Over time, heat from the engine and exhaust can cause the coils to expand and the insulation to crack. The only solution is to replace the parts. Thankfully, it will be relatively inexpensive to have the work completed by an independent Porsche specialist. The packs are likely to have to be replaced several times during the car’s lifetime. Radiator corrosion can be a problem on 996s. The coolant radiators in the front bumper (and the air-conditioning condensers located directly behind them) are susceptible to stone chips and corrosion resulting from dirt, salt and leaves coming in through the air scoops. In an ideal world, the debris would be regularly cleaned away, but as the job involves removing the bumper, most 996 owners never attempt it, leaving plenty of time for damage to develop between services. Suspect radiators and/or condensers will need to be replaced to avoid overheating or the loss of air-conditioning. The 996’s manual gearbox has proved to be reliable and light on the clutch, but the clutch is a wear and tear item and will eventually need replacing. Heavy pedal action is usually the sign the part is coming towards the end of its life, but a specialist will have no problems replacing it. The Tiptronic gearbox has also demonstrated itself to be very reliable, but the cooling pipes have a tendency to rust after a few years of being exposed to dirt and salt from the roads. Replacing these parts is relatively inexpensive.
BRAKES, SUSPENSION AND EXHAUST
This incarnation of the 911 is much lighter on its stoppers than most sports cars of the same vintage, but as with all cars, the brakes do need to be replaced every few years. Make a visual check of the discs for signs of rust and warping, and also see if the car shakes or pulls one way when braking — these are signs the brakes will need replacing in the near future. If the pads and discs have been changed previously, ask to see the receipts for the work. It should have been undertaken by a Porsche specialist using high-quality parts.
The 996's suspension was superb for its day and has proved to be very durable. The only problem you are likely to encounter is creaking or rattling from the front and rear corners, which is a sign the control arms are either worn or have been damaged on speed bumps. Replacing them is a simple and relatively inexpensive job, which will probably need to be done every three or four years. Parts are cheap and readily available.
Corrosion of the exhaust fasteners, bolts and nuts is a common problem which can lead to exhaust leakage. A visual check of the underneath of the car will pick this up, but you will need access to a lift to get a proper view. There is no alternative to having the parts replaced.
Plenty of 996 owners chose to upgrade the factory-fitted exhaust with a sportier alternative promising additional noise. It’ll sound great on a one-off test drive, but you may not find increased volume quite as pleasing to listen to every day. As with any modification, you should ask for details of the parts fitted and check that the work was carried out by a reputable Porsche specialist.
Incidentally, Turbo versions of the 996 are fantastic to drive, but you should carry out extra checks for corrosion before buying one. Various elements of the turbocharger installation (and supporting equipment) are susceptible to rust even at relatively low mileage, which is why it's sensible to ask a Porsche specialist to carry out an inspection before you agree to part with your money.
IDENTITY AND BODYWORK
The easiest way to correctly verify the identity of the car you're looking at is to check its Vehicle Identification Number (VIN). Make sure it matches what’s printed on the V5. Elsewhere on the same document, you’ll see the car’s engine number. Make sure it checks out.
Spend a tenner at mycarcheck.com, where you can download a history report outlining any insurance claims, change of registration number, recorded mileage and whether there is any outstanding finance on the Porsche you're looking at. You should also enter the vehicle’s details into the DVLA’s online MOT database (visit bit.ly/dvlamot), a service which will return all passes, failures and advisories registered as far back as records are stored. Additionally, take advantage of the Suncoast Parts Porsche VIN decoder (check it out at bit.ly/suncoastvin), which will provide you with a Porsche-specific build sheet in exchange for just $10. This document will let you know exactly how the car left the factory, including model specification and any Individual Equipment items optioned. We've lost track of the number of Porsche owners who have discovered their car makes use of a special feature they only found out about after ordering this report, though your local Porsche Centre or the car's original dealer may be able to furnish you with the same information without charge.
The bodywork on the 996 is of the highest quality (Porsche provided a ten-year anti-rust warranty). With the exception of the area below the door catches (primarily early 996s), rust is rare and may therefore be evidence of a badly repaired smack. Check the bodywork carefully for dents and signs of repair. Also check underneath the car for a misshaped floorpan, another sure sign the car has been involved in an accident. Ask for details of the accident damage and repairs, and to see receipts for the work. Make sure you're happy with the explanation and the quality of repairs before making an offer.
WHEELS, SOFT-TOPS AND TARGAS
If you look forward to cruising through the countryside with the roof down in your 996, you’ll need to make a couple of simple checks when you inspect the car. Problems with the Targa roof mechanism are unusual, but make sure you check it works properly as repairs can be difficult and expensive. The roof panels have a tendency to be a little rattly, but this can often be fixed relatively easily. Seek expert opinion if this is the only thing putting you off buying the car.
The Cabriolet roof is generally durable. Simon Walters, founder of Essex-based vehicle detailing company, Cambridge Concours (cambridgeconcours.com), recommends a soft scrubbing brush to remove debris without scuffing the material. “Never jet wash,” he says. “You’re likely to draw dye out of the roof.” Recommending stock hose pressure, he suggests getting into every crease and seam (“especially around the rear window”) before drying with soft towels.
A Renovo recolouring agent will rejuvenate a sunweary soft-top, but be patient with drying time. Test with a swab of kitchen towel before applying a sealing agent. Expect waterproofing to last three to five years, depending on whether your 996 Cabriolet is left exposed to the elements. For further help, contact Simon via the Cambridge Concours website.
The 996’s alloy wheels are susceptible to kerbing damage and expensive to replace. If you can’t find a car with wheels in a good condition, remember to consider the cost of replacement or refurbishment when you're working out how much you're prepared to pay for the Porsche catching your attention.
CARRERA 4 AND CARRERA 4S
Back in 1989, the introduction of the 964 first brought the Carrera 4 moniker to market. Making use of a planetary centre differential, this air-cooled 911 was a simple-yet-effective first step which — all-wheel drive aside — differs little from its rear-drive Carrera 2 sibling. The subsequent 993 Carrera 4, introduced in 1994, follows the same approach: tiny details like brake caliper colour and indicator glazing are the only visual differentiators from the standard Carrera. The current 911 Carrera 4 and Carrera 4S are equally modest, both using the same body shell as the 992 Carrera. Subtlety suits some buyers. In between these generational extremes, however, Porsche took a chance on something different. Sitting just above their respective stablemates, the 996 and first-generation 997 Carrera 4S are the most aggressive early water-cooled 911s this side of the Turbo and GT3. Both eschew the standard body of a two-wheel drive car, flexing extra muscle in their rear quarters. Both offer more power and more displacement than a base Carrera and spring to 60mph in less than five seconds. Both provide trademark four-wheel drive surety in slippery conditions. Best of all, these boisterous machines can be yours for less than £20k. Four-wheel drive is key to the 4S philosophy, but the primary transmission hardware underpinning these 996 and early 997 models is identical to that used by Carrera 4 machines of the same generations. The arrangement acts as an addition to the rear-drive system used by all 996 and 997 Carreras — two and four-wheel drive variants — and uses a Cardan shaft to bring power forward into a ZF assembly driving the front wheels. The construction contains two major components: an open differential and a viscous coupling. It’s the latter of these which gives the fourby 996 and 997 their ability to vary the percentage of power sent to the front axle.
An entirely automatic process, these changes are brought about by any speed difference between the front and rear driveshafts, which are connected to a dense collection of vanes within the viscous coupling, rotating inside a bath of heat-sensitive fluid. As driveshaft speed increases, the liquid begins to warm, becoming increasingly firm and sending energy forward from the faster-spinning rear vanes to the front. The Porsche system always transfers a minimum of five percent power to the front wheels, but this slowly rises with speed, reaching thirty percent at 155mph and spiking to forty percent when the rear tyres lose traction.
The coupling’s front axle location is a change from the centre-mounted all-wheel drive systems used in 964 and 993 Carrera 4s. This alteration allows the 996 and 997 system to dovetail with both a six-speed manual and five-speed Tiptronic gearbox. Current values vary little between the two transmission types, showcasing the adaptability of the Carrera 4 and Carrera 4S platforms.
With the fundamental technology explored, we can dive straight into what makes the these machines so special. To answer this question, we have to backtrack to the late 1990s and hear howls of complaint over the new 996-generation 911 and its ‘fried egg’ headlights. The work of 924, 968, 993, Boxster and Cayenne designer, Harm Lagaay, early examples of the water-cooled model exhibit flowing lines and share front end styling with the first-generation Boxster, much to the annoyance of many reviewers, marque enthusiasts and, of course, early adopters of the 996.
When the time came to design the range-topping Turbo, Porsche would take a very different route. Out went the soft shapes, replaced at the front by angular front headlights, a redesigned front apron (with three deep, distinct vents and a lip spoiler) and, at the rear, tweaked taillights and a low-slung arrangement with triple slatted vents. Better still are the sides, which combine sculpted skirts with rear wheel arches a full six centimetres wider than those of the Carrera. From 2002 onward, Porsche fans didn’t have to fork out top dollar for the new, aggressive look. Retailing for just £2,610 more than the everyday Carrera 4, the Carrera 4S adopted almost all of the Turbo’s styling changes.
Visually, only the electronic Carrera spoiler, the full-width rear light bar and the loss of both rear wheel arch vents differentiate this imposing, naturally aspirated machine from a full-blooded Turbo. Even now, twenty years after its introduction, the Carrera 4S looks like it means business. Styling isn’t the only similarity between the Turbo and Carrera 4S. The naturally aspirated car also borrows the eighteen-inch wheel styling of its force-fed cousin. The twisty five-spokes measure eight inches wide at the front and eleven at the rear with Turbo-equalling 225 and 295-section tyres respectively. 330mm drilled discs and four-piston monobloc calipers also occupy the corners, while the suspension uses Turbo parts to sit firmer and 10mm lower than any other Carrera. Power comes from a 316bhp version of the familiar 3.6-litre flat-six. While both this engine and the restyled headlights feature on every 996 Carrera built for and after 2002, only the 4S has the hardware and hips to claim a legitimate relationship to the Turbo. Offered as a coupe beforehand, 2004 saw the arrival of the Carrera 4S Cabriolet. This four-wheel drive drop-top would act as swansong for the 4S, as well as the entire 996 range.
The 911 is dead, long live the 911! By late 2004, global attention had focused on the new 997 and its sophisticated technology, a feature which still defines conversations about the model. Variable ratio steering (which gets ever faster when input angles exceed thirty degrees) is standard across the range. Porsche Stability Management (PSM) appears on all models. A hugely desirable Sport Chrono option — look for the dashboard-mounted stopwatch — allows access to a driving mode bringing sharper throttle response and more relaxed safety systems. Chatter about the newer model’s looks can’t be avoided either. The divisive modernism of the 996 is gone, replaced with an almost entirely new shape prioritising sharpness. It’s the work of Porsche design hero, Grant Larson (he of 981 Bergspyder and new 935 fame). Spread hips and oval headlights join other audi-encepleasing changes, ranging from rhomboid brake lamps to daintier door mirrors and a more angled roofline. It all adds up to a Porsche which still looks fresh today.
Carrera was once again the name of the basic coupe, now with 321bhp, but the Stuttgart brand had a high-performance ace to play in the form of the 355bhp 997 Carrera S. The single letter shift brings a bored-out, 3.8-litre engine, Porsche Active Suspension Management (PASM), a ten-millimetre suspension drop, Xenon headlights, nineteen-inch alloy wheels and the 330mm front brakes from the 996 Turbo. The result is explosively fast and remains achingly desirable. A little over a year later, four-wheel drive entered the 997 range with the Carrera 4 and Carrera 4S. Basic engines, running gear and interiors are identical to the respective two-wheel drive cars, but 44mm wider rear arches hint at the all-weather ability within, gifting the 997 shape some pugnacious weight. Other changes are less visible, but just as important. To fit the four-wheel drive system, for example, Porsche pushed the front bulkhead forward, swapped the spare wheel for a tube of tyre repair foam and designed a new fuel tank saddling either side of the front driveshafts. The four-wheel drive machines also put more rubber to the road than their rear-drive counterparts, the 4S gaining ten millimetres to boast a pair of 305/30/ZR nineteens. Combining four-wheel drive with chunky displacement, extensive standard specification and quad tailpipes first seen on the two-wheel drive Carrera S, the first-generation 997 Carrera 4S wears a winning formula. It didn’t take long for Porsche to apply the concept to other body shells. The 4S Cabriolet arrived mere months after the hard-top, while 2006 brought the glassroofed Targa. A rare choice even when new, the semi-convertible was only available as a Carrera 4 or 4S and has now become a delightful collector curio, owing much of what makes it great to the earlier 996 Carrera 4 and Carrera 4S.
THE SYSTEM ALWAYS TRANSFERS A MINIMUM OF FIVE PERCENT POWER TO THE FRONT WHEELS, BUT THIS SLOWLY RISES WITH SPEED
Corporate pilot and Flyer magazine columnist, Matt Dearden, is the owner of the fantastic 2002 3.6-litre Speed Yellow 996 Carrera 4 (originally optioned with the factory MO30 sport suspension package, BOSE audio, full leather, the Porsche crest embossed in head rests, electric seats, that fabulous colour and no sunroof) featured in our photos. He tells us he's never driven a car with such communicative steering, despite owning a variety of German sports cars from different manufacturers. «Anything modern with electrically assisted power steering feels completely dead by comparison,» he tells us, before considering the 986 Boxster S he owned previously. «The 996 is noticeably quieter than the mid-engined Porsche, which is to be expected, but even with a Dansk sports exhaust in place, my 996 doesn't overwhelm with additional noise.»
He reasons the Boxster is a more «playful» Porsche, but says the grip provided by his 911's four-wheel-drive system takes the not-so-mellow yellow 996 to another level. «The way this car picks up around corners is nothing short of epic,» he continues. «Of course, you really need to drive a 911 at silly speed to explore its full potential. This isn't behaviour suitable for the public highway, but even when not trying to reach ten tenths, the 996 Carrera 4 delivers steering feedback like no other car I've been in charge of, including similarly aged and much newer BMWs. Don't get me wrong, these cars are sporty, but trying to pitch them alongside a 996 is like comparing chalk and cheese.»
Where the 996 Carrera 4S carries full Turbo styling (unlike the later 997 Carrera 4S), the 996 Carrera 4 is less shouty about its abilities, even in the stunning coat of colour Matt's car wears. For many Porsche owners, less is sometimes more, and the Carrera 4 ticks this box handsomely. What's more, dropping the S gives you an even cheaper four-wheel-drive 996 on the current used car market, with prices starting around £15k for a manual coupe. That's three grand less than you'll need to budget for entry into 996 Carrera 4S ownership. Carrera 4 Targa and Cabriolet prices are even lower, hovering around the £12k mark at the time of writing. That's a huge amount of Porsche for the money.
Matt bought his Carrera 4 two years ago and has loved every minute of ownership since. «I've had absolutely no issues with the car,» he confirms. All servicing and maintenance work is carried out by Revolution Porsche under the company's celebrated Protection Plan. Unlike aftermarket warranties rejecting many claims as ‘wear and tear’, Revolution Porsche's programme gives you real peace of mind. No need to worry about large repair and servicing bills: all labour is covered for critical items, including IMS, RMS, brakes, clutches and suspension faults. Even labour for full engine rebuilds is taken care of. In fact, any labour costs related to repairs undertaken during the cover period are covered, customers only having to pay for parts, though all labour, consumables and materials for servicing is included, as is annual MOT costs and air-conditioning system recharging. For further details, visit the Revolution Porsche website.