Rise of the 997

Move over, 996: the 997.1 is lead­ing the charge for best-value 911 right now…

Total 911 - - Contents - Writ­ten by Kyle For­tune Pho­tog­ra­phy by Louis Ruff

Think the 996 is the 911 to buy? Wrong. We show you why the 997 is the best 911 for your money right now

The clas­si­fieds can be a dan­ger­ous place to spend time. It never used to be so easy, ei­ther. As a kid I’d scour the Sun­day Times, lat­terly Auto Trader and Top Mar­ques, though the in­ter­net’s killed that. I don’t look too of­ten, but writ­ing here it’s an oc­ca­sional, oc­cu­pa­tional haz­ard. A po­ten­tially dan­ger­ous one, too. I’ll hap­pily ad­mit

I’d missed how much of a bar­gain the 997 is th­ese days. As a strong ad­vo­cate of the 996, I’d pretty much ruled its suc­ces­sor out. Not be­cause I’m not a fan – quite the op­po­site – just that I was un­der the im­pres­sion it is still too new to be af­ford­able, at least in my world. Edi­tor Sib­ley’s call to write this some­what changed that.

As I type this, on my other screen there’s an ad­vert for a 2005 997 Car­rera 2 man­ual Coupe for a fiver un­der £22,500. When did that hap­pen? That’s the first one I’ve found, and I’ve not even looked that hard. While I and plenty of oth­ers have been bang­ing on about hoover­ing up 996s while they’re still cheap, the de­pre­ci­a­tion curve’s turned the 997 game on its head. Want one? I sure as hell do.

Not to take away from the 996, but the 997 moved the game on sig­nif­i­cantly. The 996’s close as­so­ci­a­tion, both vis­ually and tech­ni­cally, with the Boxster did it no favours among many. That it in­tro­duced wa­ter to the mix only made its task more dif­fi­cult. The 997 re­asserted the 911 as a more dis­tinct of­fer­ing after the 996 had soft­ened the blow of the man­ner by which the 911 is cooled (tech­ni­cally by wa­ter, but then that wa­ter is cooled by air…).

The 996 was a ne­ces­sity, cre­at­ing the for­mat from which the 911 line would fol­low to this day. That the 996, and in par­tic­u­lar 996.2s, have been creep­ing up in value in re­cent years un­der­lines a grow­ing ac­cep­tance, though we’re at a point now where the 996 and 997 prices are con­verg­ing, and in many cases the 997 is cheaper. It’d be a staunch 996 owner who’d as­sert their pref­er­ence over the newer car. On looks alone the 997 has the 996 licked, but un­der­neath it’s a sig­nif­i­cant step up tech­no­log­i­cally.

With the 997, as with any 911 gen­er­a­tion, the fo­cus was to im­prove on what had come be­fore it. Be­ing a 911 that means evo­lu­tion­ary looks, though to write off the 997 as a re­vised 996 is to do it a se­ri­ous dis­ser­vice. The body is sim­i­lar, though the 997’s re­quire­ment to ride on big­ger wheels, and not just width but di­am­e­ter, meant sig­nif­i­cant chas­sis re­vi­sions. In­deed, the 997 shares no sus­pen­sion com­po­nents with its pre­de­ces­sor due to the dif­fer­ing mount­ing points as a re­sult of those larger wheels. The body that the sus­pen­sion hung off was stiffer, a re­sult of the Cabri­o­let be­ing engi­neered along­side the Coupe, the stiff­en­ing struc­tures from it used in the Coupe.

Au­gust Ach­leit­ner, head of the 911 model se­ries, said at the 997’s launch that the 997 was al­most 80 per cent new, the 20 per cent carry-over at­trib­ut­able to the base Car­rera’s 3.6-litre engine. Porsche launched the 3.6-litre 997 along­side the 3.8-litre S, the larger engine of­fer­ing 30hp over the ‘en­try’ Car­rera. Both revved to 7,300rpm, the Car­rera’s max­i­mum 370Nm of torque peak­ing at 4,250rpm, the S’s 400Nm at 4,600rpm. The Car­rera would ac­cel­er­ate to 62mph in 5.0 sec­onds, the S shav­ing two tenths off that, the top speeds be­ing 177mph and 182mph re­spec­tively. Within a few months Porsche fol­lowed with the Car­rera 4 and 4S mod­els, which ap­por­tion be­tween 4 and 40 per cent of the drive to the front axle when re­quired, the Car­rera 4 tak­ing 5.1 sec­onds to reach 62mph and the S match­ing its rear-wheel-drive re­la­tion’s 4.8 sec­ond time.

The 997 would also in­tro­duce equip­ment now fa­mil­iar in the 911 to­day, in­clud­ing Porsche Ac­tive Sus­pen­sion Man­age­ment (PASM) as stan­dard on the Car­rera S, the op­tion of Sport Chrono, Porsche Sta­bil­ity Man­age­ment (PSM) and, lat­terly with the 997.2, the PDK au­to­matic twin-clutch trans­mis­sion and di­rect in­jec­tion from 2009 on­wards.

We’ve two 997.1 Coupes here to­day: a Car­rera

2 and a Car­rera 4S. Both are man­ual, and both are driven fre­quently by their own­ers. Max New­man bought his Gen1 Car­rera Coupe in 2012, its odome­ter just shy of 50,000 miles, though in the past six years he’s al­most dou­bled that. There’s some­thing sat­is­fy­ing about sit­ting in a car that that’s ac­tu­ally used as in­tended, New­man’s hav­ing been op­tioned orig­i­nally with PASM, 19-inch wheels and Sport Chrono, as well as the stan­dard man­ual trans­mis­sion. As spec­i­fi­ca­tions go it’s pretty much spot-on, though in the six years since he picked it up from Paragon he’s added an IPS high-flow plenum, BMC air fil­ter and a Paragon re-map, which adds around 35hp.

That ex­plains my ini­tial dou­ble-check­ing of the spec­i­fi­ca­tion with New­man after a quick first drive. I know it’s a Car­rera, but it feels more mus­cu­lar than the stan­dard cars I’ve driven. It sounds fan­tas­tic too, overt but sub­tle, with enough in­take and ex­haust sound to ap­peal rather than dis­tract, all of which al­lows it to re­tain its us­abil­ity. And that’s ex­actly what New­man has done with it; in the first year of own­er­ship it cov­ered nearly 17,000 miles, fol­lowed by 12,000 the year after be­fore re­al­is­ing he might be bet­ter sav­ing the mun­dane daily and busi­ness miles for some­thing a bit less spe­cial.

If you didn’t read the odome­ter you wouldn’t know it’s cov­ered 100,000 miles, it wear­ing them well, feel­ing fresh and im­me­di­ate, the in­te­rior look­ing im­mac­u­late save for a bit of paint com­ing off the door han­dles. That alone un­der­lines the 997’s rep­u­ta­tion as hav­ing an in­te­rior that was a huge step on from

“It’s peak 911, cer­tainly in the mod­ern, wa­ter-cooled era”

the 996 that pro­ceeded it. That’s thanks in part to Porsche’s ap­point­ment of Franz-josef Siegert from Mercedes-benz dur­ing the 997’s de­vel­op­ment, who in turn brought along many col­leagues from the Mercedes-benz in­te­ri­ors depart­ment.

I re­mem­ber sit­ting in the 997 for the first time when it was launched. The fa­mil­iar­ity of the lay­out from the 996 was car­ried over, yet with a depth of qual­ity and de­sign in­tegrity that moved the 911 into a dif­fer­ent sphere. The in­te­rior, like the rest of the car, engine aside, is all-new, it said that only the rear seats bear any re­la­tion to the 996 be­fore it. Both cars here have ex­tended leather on the dash­board, a worth­while op­tion even in the sig­nif­i­cantly im­proved in­te­rior of a 997, the in­stru­ments clear, only the dig­i­tal screen in the cen­tre con­sole dat­ing both cars. If I’m be­ing picky I’ve never liked the stan­dard steer­ing wheel in the 997, its boss be­ing rather large, though I’m pre­pared to for­give it that as the mes­sages it trans­mits are so clear – hy­draulic power as­sis­tance help­ing its case – that it re­mains very much a high point in the 911’s evo­lu­tion.

New­man’s car feels won­der­ful on the coun­try roads around Lam­bourn. Last time I was here I was in a pair of 991s, and as good as they were the 997’s giv­ing me a lot more in­for­ma­tion at my fin­ger­tips as to the road sur­face. There are few bet­ter gear­boxes ei­ther, the six-speed man­ual in the 997 so beau­ti­fully weighted, its ac­tion crisp and ac­cu­rate, it an ab­so­lute joy to slot through its gate. If you’re a man­ual Car­rera 911 fan the 997 is peak shift; the 991’s bas­tardised Pdk-based seven-speed is no match for it. The 996 C4S here for a quick com­par­i­son is good, re­ally good, al­though it’s been fet­tled a bit with coilovers, but like for like the stan­dard 997 is bet­ter still.

In­deed, I would hap­pily add an­other 50,000 miles to the odome­ter in New­man’s Car­rera given the chance, some­thing he might just do as he plans on keep­ing it, not see­ing any rea­son to change it. He’s pon­dered a GTS or GT3, both cars well wor­thy of con­sid­er­a­tion, but the leap from his car to that is a size­able one fi­nan­cially, while any gains are os­ten­si­bly dif­fi­cult to ra­tio­nalise. Cer­tainly I don’t need to drive any­thing any faster. The 3.6-litre’s ea­ger­ness, the chas­sis’ fine balance, the 997’s nose that lit­tle bit more faith­ful than 996s, the turn in be­ing more pre­dictable… the Car­rera is all the sports car you could ever want. Even so, New­man might in time fet­tle it a bit more, adding even more en­gage­ment to the mix as his use of it be­comes more for pure en­joy­ment than one of reg­u­lar trans­port.

Louis Ruff is point­ing the cam­era to­day, and at a fa­mil­iar sub­ject. The Car­rera 4S here is his, a car he’s known about for a while, hav­ing been brought into the Porsche Cen­tre he works at. It’s beau­ti­ful, and un­usual in red, Car­reras typ­i­cally, in the 997 era at least, a bit more soberly coloured, Ruff’s stand­ing out for all the right rea­sons. There’s a back­story be­hind the black wheels, too: they were fac­tory painted for a 997 Cabri­o­let, but when the owner saw them on the black car they thought it was a bit too much. Use­fully, the Car­rera 4S’s owner was pick­ing up their car at the same time and they agreed to swap.

The spec­i­fi­ca­tion, like New­man’s C2, is sen­si­ble and de­sir­able. There’s Sport Chrono, a man­ual trans­mis­sion, leather dash, Sports ex­haust and lit­tle

else to dis­tract. That’s ar­guably the ap­peal of the 997: it’s got ev­ery con­ve­nience you might need, with­out fall­ing into the trap of moder­nity that fes­toons cur­rent cars with tech­nol­ogy that more of­ten than not is more dis­trac­tion than help. Ruff, like so many en­thu­si­ast buy­ers, was ini­tially look­ing for a C2, but this 45,000-mile car was so per­fect that hav­ing an­other driven axle wasn’t an is­sue. It shouldn’t be ei­ther, as for the most part it’s rear-wheel drive, the Car­rera 4’s trick be­ing that if you re­moved the badge on the engine cover you’d do well to no­tice that it’s able to ap­por­tion drive to the front axle. Then, of course, there’s that wider body, 22mm added each side for a 44mm in­crease over its C2 re­la­tion.

There are sub­tle dif­fer­ences to how it drives. If

I’m be­ing hy­per-crit­i­cal the steer­ing is in­finites­i­mally less sharp, but if it were per­cent­ages it’d be sin­gle dig­its. I’m talk­ing one or two per cent here. The 997 C4S is a sen­sa­tional car to drive, its launch re­main­ing one of the most vivid mem­o­ries I have of driv­ing any 911 ever, any­where.

That was in Monaco; Wal­ter Röhrl drove a C4S up and down a closed sec­tion of the Col de Turini, a rib­bon of chal­leng­ing tar­mac where the Monte Carlo rally runs. In his hands it was sen­sa­tional, though even in mine its fine balance and ut­ter pre­dictabil­ity al­lowed ex­u­ber­ant power over­steer ex­its from the count­less hair­pins, the four-wheel drive aid­ing the tran­si­tion as it pushed drive to the front to pull the car straight. I re­mem­ber it like it was yes­ter­day.

There’s no such silli­ness to­day, but I know just how in­cred­i­ble the 997.1 C4S can be, and a few miles be­hind the wheel bring that back into sharp fo­cus. It, like the C2 here, is so rich in feel, so en­gag­ing and ex­cit­ing, and all at rel­a­tively or­di­nary speeds. That re­mains core to the 997’s ap­peal: if the 996 in­tro­duced the world to a mod­ern 911, the 997 fi­nessed it to the point of per­fec­tion. It was right when it was launched, and re­mains so to this day. That so many were built demon­strates that, and cre­ates enor­mous op­por­tu­nity, as there are plenty to pick from. It’s peak 911, cer­tainly in the mod­ern, wa­ter-cooled era, and cur­rently an ab­so­lute bar­gain – though it won’t re­main so for long. As­tound­ing value and a bet­ter car than the 996, the time to buy a 997.1 is right now…

ABOVE Per­haps the best value for money 911 right now, the 997.1 C2 of­fers plenty of us­able per­for­mance for a lit­tle over £20k

BELOW FROM LEFT 997.1 proved a pop­u­lar 911, with 100,000 made be­fore its third birth­day; Targa went AWD only; Sports Chrono and switch­able Sport map­ping added to the 911’s reper­toire for the first time

THANKS To Louis Ruff and Max New­man for sup­ply­ing the 997s in our pic­tures. You can fol­low them on In­sta­gram: @ruf­f_s­naps, @maxrip­cor

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