In early S form it wa s our 2004 Car of the Year, and today prices start below £ 25k, but it’s essential to approach this 911 with caution by Peter Tomalin
THE FIRST THING WE NOTICED when the new Carrera went on sale in September 2004 was the lights. Design boss Harm Lagaay wanted to re-establish the 911’s identity after the economically enforced similarity of the 996-generation version and the original Boxster. So out went the last vestiges of the fried eggs and in came oval lamps that harked back to the earlier 993-generation 911, along with an overall look that was broader, cleaner, chunkier, tighter.
Another key change was a choice of two engines. The basic Carrera got a 3.6-litre 321bhp version of the watercooled flat-six from the outgoing 996. For the Carrera S – instantly identifiable by its quad exhaust tailpipes – it was mildly uprated, bored out to 3.8 litres and delivered a wholesome 350bhp.
Chassis-wise, there was a Sport variant, which was 20mm lower, stiffer, and came with a limited-slip diff. Then there was PASM or Porsche Adaptive Suspension Management, with its adaptive damping, standard on the S and an option on the basic car. Other new tech included variable-ratio steering as standard, and an optional Sport Chrono pack which, in addition to a dash-mounted stopwatch, came with a Sport button that sharpened throttle response, loosened the PSM stability control and tensed the damping.
So the new car was more sophisticated than any ‘regular’ 911 we’d seen before – and more capable, too. Stable, poised, with fewer than ever of the old, scary 911 handling traits. But still fun and engaging.
All-wheel-drive Carrera 4 and 4S versions arrived in November 2005 and there were also Targas and Cabriolets, but it’s the rear-drive Carreras we’re focusing on here, and the next major development came in late 2008 with the launch of the second-generation 997.
The gen-2 engine was completely new, now boasting direct injection and Variocam Plus valvegear, and power was up – 340bhp for the Carrera, and 380bhp for the S, cutting its 0-60mph time to the low-4s. The optional Tiptronic auto was replaced by a nifty twin-clutch PDK ’box.
A gen-2 S has become the ‘one to have’, but any 997 is a truly great car, blending genuine everyday useability with real driver engagement. Scare stories about the engines in early cars have deflated values, so there are bargains to be had. You just need to know what you’re potentially getting into.
There are lots of scare stories on the internet, but the first thing to understand is that gen-1 and gen-2 cars have completely different engines. Most problems are with gen-1s and, according to Grant Pritchard, MD of leading independent Hartech, a lot have been exaggerated. ‘It has really depressed prices,’ he says. ‘The gen-1 engine does have shortcomings, but if you understand and can work with them, they’re good value cars – and fantastic to drive.’
The weak spots are crankshaft bearings, timing chains, the intermediate shaft bearing and cylinder liners. ‘Some issues are mileage-related,’ says Grant. ‘Crankshaft bearings wear over time, and cylinders become more oval, but this tends to be from 90,000 miles upwards.’
More random issues are timing chains that snap – ‘very rare, but it does happen’ – and IMS bearing failure, which is more common ‘but nowhere near as common as internet chit-chat suggests’. From late 2005, Porsche doubled the size of the bearing, which helped considerably.
The biggest gen-1 issue is scoring of the cylinder bores. The problem was the material used – Lokasil – and the only fix is replacing the cylinder liners with a harder-wearing replacement. Clues to scored bores include excessive smoke on start-up and blackened tailpipes. A number of specialists offer checks by endoscope, but scoring could start at any time. So if you’re looking for a gen-1 car, either buy one that’s had a rebuild by a specialist, or keep funds in reserve – from around £6k up to about £10k to replace all six liners and do the crank bearings and chains at the same time.
‘ We advise buyers to factor-in the probability that they are going to have to rebuild an engine at some point,’ says Grant. ‘If you’ve done that and picked up a car for £25k, it’s not such a drama. It’s people who stretch themselves to buy a car for £22k who finish up in trouble…’
Meanwhile you can reduce – but not remove – the risk by lowering the operating temperature of the engine by installing a low-temp thermostat and using high-quality low-friction oil.
Gen-2 cars (from late 2008) have a much better reputation. One of many changes was a switch from Lokasil to Alusil for the cylinder material, another was doing away with the intermediate shaft, and the crank was redesigned, too. ‘Overall gen-2 engines are massively more reliable,’ says Grant, ‘though we are starting to see some issues with higher mileage cars. Personally, I would have a contingency fund even for a gen-2.’
‘All the transmissions – manual, Tiptronic, PDK – are very strong in our experience,’
says Grant. ‘ We very rarely see any problems.’
SUSPENSION, STEERING, BR AKES
‘All of these things wear, just as they would with any performance car,’ says Grant, ‘and gen-1 dampers are getting prone to corroding now, but you’ve got to remember some of these cars are 13 or 14 years old. On high-mileage cars we often find the suspension is getting a little tired, so you may be looking at renewing dampers and bushes.’
BODY, INTERIOR, ELECTRICS
‘No significant corrosion issues as yet. Even on early cars, it’s usually just things like exhaust fixings,’ says Grant. The grilles at the front tend to suck in damp leaves and other crud, which leads to corrosion of the air-con condensers and coolant rads. Some owners fit fine-mesh inserts to prevent ingress.
Above left: engine is your main area of concern with 997 Carreras, particularly first-gen examples. Above: bodywork should be corrosion-free. Below: PCM infotainment system adds value