guide Porsche 911 Turbo S 996
When compared to earlier and later 911s making use of forced induction, the 996 Turbo represents one of the Porsche's scenes best buys...
TECH: BUYING GUIDE PORSCHE 996 TURBO S
More than twenty-five years have passed since the 996 debuted, yet talk of the model’s radical departure from previous 911 architecture fails to quell. Arguments for and against the first water- cooled Neunelfer rage on, but whichever side of the fence you find yourself sitting, there can be no doubt regarding the merits of the 996 Turbo, a model respected as one of the best production sports car of its era.
Equipped with four-wheel drive and a 3.6-litre, twin-turbocharged, dry sumped. water-cooled flat-six, the 996 Turbo is no slouch, but where previous turbocharged 911 s were considered aggressive, the 996 Turbo feels altogether more refined. Yes, you get 414bhp and 415lb-ft on tap, and anyone thinking about buying a 996 Turbo will almost certainly be aware of the fact this particular boosted Porsche makes use of a flat-six with a direct link to Porsche’s GT1 racing programme, but with the arrival of the 911 GT3, the 996 Turbo felt more of a grand tourer in stock trim, even if it was capable of delivering monstrous pace.
Emphasising the 996 Turbo's superb cruising potential, the model was offered with either a six-speed manual or a five- speed Tiptronic transmission. Both options proved popular, meaning it’s worth holding out for the right car — there are plenty of available examples to choose from. Those of you able to exercise patience may even be rewarded with the opportunity to buy a 996 Turbo kitted out with Porsche's desirable X50 performance package, comprising larger K24 turbochargers, updated ECU software, revised intercoolers and a strengthened gearbox. Introduced in 2002, the X50 option bumped power to 444bhp.
Eighteen months later, 911 fans looking for a combination of a turbocharged flat-six and open-air motoring were offered the 996 Turbo Cabriolet. The first model of its kind since the 964 Turbo Cabriolet in 1989, the newer 911 proved to be a big hit, encouraging Porsche to release the Turbo S in both coupe and cabriolet formats for the 996’s final stint of production. More or less a 996 Turbo with an X50 performance package as standard, the Turbo S also featured upgraded audio gear, model-specific cabin trim and super-effective Porsche Ceramic Composite Brakes (PCCB).
Unlike earlier and later force-fed 911s, the 996 Turbo represents something of a bargain on today’s used car market, arguably as a result of negative press concerning the 996 Carrera’s mechanical robustness. Tarring the Turbo with the same brush is a mistake, but one which has kept ownership of a 911 equipped with forced induction accessible to those working with a modest budget — a Tiptronic 996 Turbo Cabriolet can be yours for less than thirty grand. That’s a huge amount of Porsche for the money. Across the following pages, we highlight what you need to be aware of when shopping for a 996 Turbo.
IDENTITY AND SERVICE HISTORY
As ever, let's address the basics first. The 996 Turbo you’re looking at should display a matching Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) on its V5 registration document and on the identification stamp located under the battery compartment cover. The VIN is also visible on the base of the windscreen (passenger side) and on the label stuck to the driver's door jamb…
Elsewhere on the V5 document, you’ll see the engine number. Unless you've got the car on a ramp, this will be difficult to spot in the metal, but it's located on the bottom of the engine. You might be able to see it with the aid of a flashlight if the car is on the ground and you get on all fours. Spend a couple of quid at mycarcheck.com, where you can download a history report outlining any insurance claims, change of registration number, recorded mileage and whether there’s any outstanding finance on the car. You should also enter the vehicle’s details into the DVLA’s free-to-use MOT history database, which can be found at bit.ly/dvlamot. The service will return all test passes, failures and advisories registered as far back as electronic records are stored (which is helpful in identifying any ongoing mechanical or safety issues). If you have the V5 document number at your disposal, you can even see which test centre carried out the inspection.
Damage may have been inflicted upon any 996 Turbo driven in anger, so check panel gaps are straight. Look for signs of mismatched colour and don’t be afraid to ask questions. You might be eyeballing a Porsche which has simply been tapped with a trolley in a parking lot, but then again, the car might have been stacked into a tyre wall at a race circuit. Either way, Porsche body repairs shouldn’t be done on the cheap. Ask to see receipts relating to the work, if applicable. A paint thickness gauge will help you to determine if you’re looking at quarters full of filler.
Full service history, ideally accompanied by invoices for any work undertaken, is desirable when buying any used 911. These cars should be maintained by specialists with depth of model knowledge. General service garages are not likely to know the ins and outs of the 996 Turbo's mechanicals. Moreover, servicing at a general garage is a clear indication the seller (or previous owners) has probably skimped on spend, meaning the car is unlikely to have been cared for correctly. Lack of Porsche Centre or trusted independent specialist stamps in the service book will likely cause you problems come resale time. It is far better for you to buy a 911 which has been looked after by businesses well-versed in the care of these cars.
Pay special attention to the most recent paperwork in the car's history file. This should indicate which jobs are imminent, affording you the opportunity to negotiate a lower purchase price. Additionally, take advantage of an online VIN decoder, which will provide you with a Porsche-specific build sheet in exchange for a small fee. This document will let you know exactly how the car left the factory, including standard model specification, whether it is a Turbo with X50 kit and/or was optioned with any individual equipment. Your nearest Porsche Centre may be prepared to provide the same information without charge.
«We’ve yet to see a 996 Turbo with heavy bodywork corrosion roll through PIE Performance’s workshop doors,” muses Chris Lansbury, owner of Suffolk-based independent Porsche servicing, maintenance and sales specialist, PIE Performance. “The metalwork on these cars was fully galvanised at the factory. With the exception of door catches on the earliest of 996 Turbos, rust is rare, but it’s worth keeping an eye out for signs of accident damage and poorly executed repairs.” To this end, he recommends checking the floor pan, as well as the exterior bodywork. A paint gauge depth reader may prove beneficial in determining whether factory paint remains, although any respray work should be documented in the car's history folder.
Headlamps can discolour. They can also attract surface imperfections through stone chips. Replacement lights are expensive, so consider purchasing a headlamp restoration kit as your first attempt to rectify the problem. Rear lenses can crack. The light clusters are sealed, meaning a full replacement is the only solution.
“If you're looking at a 996 Turbo Cabriolet,” continues Chris, “check to make sure the roof fully retracts quickly and without signs of stuttering. Also, test the active rear spoiler, which should raise when the car hits 70mph, but can be manually activated. The part’s rams and pump can wear over time. Most owners of affected Turbos don't realise the problem has occurred — you can't see the spoiler in the rear-view mirror.» He also recommends buyers remove under-bonnet cowling and check the bulkhead for signs of damage. “You shouldn’t find anything untoward, even on the earliest of 996 Turbos."
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 Turbo was related to its GT3 sibling by virtue of the hugely desirable (and largely bulletproof) ‘Mezger’ dry-sump flat-six. This revered powerplant, which is by common consent a much stronger unit than the boxer used in the 996 Carrera and its derivatives, 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 expense spared — to serve as a 3.2-litre chain-cam twin-turbocharged powerhouse for the GT1-98, winner of the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
It was a bold (if somewhat pragmatic) move to shoehorn a 3.6-litre evolution of this particular six-cylinder engine into the rear quarters of the 996. “Providing oil changes have been carried out regularly and in accordance with manufacturer instruction, the 996 Turbo’s engine is generally bulletproof,” confirms Chris. “The main concern with these powerplants is the potential for over-revving at the hands of previous owners, where poor gear selection at speed causes the engine to exceed the constraints of the factory rev limiter. The only way to determine if this is the case with the 996 Turbo you’re thinking about buying is to link the car’s ECU to a genuine Porsche diagnostic interface and examine the provided data."
Service intervals are listed as being every 12,000 miles (minor), 24,000 miles (intermediate) and 36,000 miles (major). Check the car’s paperwork to verify these jobs have been carried out in a timely fashion.
“It’s not unusual for the 996 Turbo to drink a litre of oil every three thousand miles,” Chris remarks, before citing alternators and starter motors as parts known to be problematic. The front radiators are also prone to failure thanks to the large open intake apertures situated in the front bumper. Combined with the Turbo’s low ride height, the lack of effective grilles proves irresistible to debris and small stones flicked up from the road by vehicles ahead. These flying missiles can easily perforate radiators and air-conditioning condensers, while moisture held by leaves and dirt sticking to the parts can cause corrosion to set in, resulting in an expensive repair bill. Fortunately, easy-to-install stainless steel mesh grilles for the 996 Turbo are available to purchase direct from aftermarket manufacturer, Zunsport (visit zunsport.com).
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 a 996 Turbo is perfectly 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 — you won't necessarily 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. In fact, the X50 version can almost be construed as a lazy 911 on account of it having 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. Ask it for a slug of grunt and it delivers with aplomb, prompting a glorious sensation of indomitability.
We asked regular 911 & Porsche World contributor, Johnny Tipler, to sum up the 996 Turbo driving experience. «Sliding into the Turbo’s cabin, the electrically adjustable seats quickly locate a favourable driving position,» he says. «All the mechanisms, from steering and pedals to six-speed shift and switchgear levers, are precise and brilliantly designed. Steering is fluent into and out of corners. The ride is more relaxed than that of the GT3, as you’d expect. To put it another way, the chassis is less playful, though it’s hugely competent, reassuring and confidence-inspiring on country belters. On back roads, of course, the Turbo's towering pace isn’t so evident as much as the car's multifaceted ability.» And of the 996 Turbo X50? «Hit a dualled section for a short distance, where you can floor the throttle with impunity, and you'll enjoy instantaneous turbocharger kick-in, the X50 squaring its shoulders and hurling itself forward with the velocity of a howitzer shell. Haul it back down with those ultra-efficient brakes.»
On a quick two-lane road, with the Turbo rev-counter reading 4,000rpm in sixth gear, the wow factor kicks in. «The car's 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 four-wheel-drive traction,» Johnny continues. «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, with or without the X50 beef-up, the 996 Turbo is a truly fabulous car. 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. Four-wheel drive, huge top speed and the brilliant 'Mezger' engine amount to a rock solid investment. The Turbo is far more civilised than a GT3, a characteristic helping determine this to be possibly the safest 911 to swap for your cash right now. It’s the unsung supercar hero, awesomely capable, robust and reliable. It's a trans-continental express par excellence. And that engine! What a legacy.»
«Only the rear-drive 462bhp 996 GT2 and run-out Turbo S, which was fitted with the 450bhp-aiming X50 performance upgrade kit as standard, are more powerful examples of the 996,» he concludes. «In other words, the Turbo is worth investigating if you seek a greater surge factor. And the availability of a full drop-top 996 Turbo is a no-brainer if you’re a sun worshipper.»
TRANSMISSION AND TUNING
The 996 Turbo's ‘Mezger’ engine is a strong unit capable of big miles without complaint if treated as the manufacturer intended, but clutches on 996 Turbos with manual transmission can take a pasting. “The slave cylinder can fail,” Chris tells us. “It’s a complaint you’ll be able to detect through pedal creep.” Despite this frustrating fault, he doesn’t think it enough of a problem to favour Tiptronic over a manual transmission. “Turbos with manual gearboxes are in higher demand, as indicated by their higher values. If you’ve got enough cash to be able to buy a manual Turbo over Tiptronic, then do so. You’ll be rewarded with a more engaging driving experience and you’ll have made a far better investment.”
The 996 Turbo's manual gearbox can feel on the notchy side, which might make you think a Turbo is less pleasant to use than a GT3, but settle in, 'work' the transmission and you'll find a 996 Turbo can be almost as much of a hooligan as a 996 GT3, but with a bit more all-wheel drive security in the mix.
What about modifying? “It sounds like a cliché, but unless you’re preparing the car for track work, I’d recommend leaving everything in standard specification," advises Chris. «Replace worn parts with new components, of course, but the 996 Turbo is such a capable car in factory guise, there really is no need to change anything. That said, ensure alignment is configured for your driving style and the highways you intend to travel along. A 996 Turbo with compromised road manners is a 911 far from fulfilling its role as a capable sports car.»