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Is there such a thing as a bar­gain 911? We think so, and this 996 Car­rera, 997 S and 996 Turbo trio would be top of our list

Think the clas­sic car boom has pushed used 911 prices be­yond reach? Think again. We look at three en­tic­ing op­tions in the £13,000‑35,000 range

AMONGST CAR EN­THU­SI­ASTS, I reckon there are three main groups when it comes to the Porsche 911: those who have al­ways wanted a 911; those who pre­tend they hate 911s but se­cretly re­ally want one any­way; and those who are bliss­fully un­aware of what they are miss­ing out on, but who of­ten – al­though not al­ways – suc­cumb when they try one. This rear-en­gined in­sti­tu­tion of com­plex con­tra­dic­tions may not be for ev­ery­one, but there aren’t many who can avoid fall­ing un­der its spell at some point. The trou­ble is, the words ‘ value’ and ‘ Porsche’ have be­come in­creas­ingly dis­tanced of late, as you may have no­ticed. No mar­que has ben­e­fited more – or suf­fered, de­pend­ing on your viewpoint – from the clas­sic car boom. Aren’t old Porsches all about in­vest­ment val­ues and clas­sic car shows now? All those rusty 911 SCS, once £10,000, now po­si­tioned as bril­liant clas­sics by spe­cial­ist ven­dors de­ter­mined to give you a his­tory les­son of the type at the start of their ads be­fore you get to the nitty gritty about the car it­self. Those 964s, those same 964s that leaked oil like the Exxon Valdez and were re­ceived with lukewarm in­dif­fer­ence by the press at launch, no longer sub-£15,000 cars but fifty thou’ and ris­ing. And let’s not even men­tion the GT3 mar­ket; it’s too de­press­ing if you’re of mea­gre means. Cars de­signed and built for track work, now of­ten too valu­able to risk on the track.

Yet here’s the thing: the ten-grand 911 is alive and well (see page 115), and for a lit­tle more there’s a plethora of choices – as long as you’re pre­pared to go wa­ter-cooled. Twenty years on from the first 911 Car­rera to fea­ture a ra­di­a­tor, these are now ter­rific evo cars to be had at re­al­is­tic prices. So if that new 991.2 GT3 RS has whet­ted your ap­petite, but your bank ac­count is firmly an­chored in the real world, then read on.

Where to start with the 996 Car­rera? One half of the dou­ble­act that saved Porsche the com­pany; a com­plete re-imag­i­na­tion – bar the rear sus­pen­sion – of the then 35-year-old 911, yet still un­mis­tak­ably a 911 to the very core. A smooth, de­cep­tively com­plex col­lec­tion of radii and form that aged rapidly un­til it be­came ’90s passé, yet now looks as pure as a High­land spring. A car, let’s face it, with a rep­u­ta­tion for, er, blow­ing its en­gine to pieces.

Do your home­work and you’ll come to re­alise that the 996 isn’t the most sus­cep­ti­ble of the wa­ter-cooled 911s for en­gine is­sues, al­though they all be­gan with this car. They range from rel­a­tively harm­less oil leaks – the RMS is­sue (rear main seal) – to the po­ten­tially much more de­bil­i­tat­ing IMS prob­lem, where the bear­ing on the in­ter­me­di­ate shaft (tak­ing drive from the crank to the cams) fails, de­posit­ing swarf into the en­gine, with ter­mi­nal re­sults. It’s more likely to hap­pen on later 996s, and there are ways and means to pre­vent it. Fi­nally, and most trou­blingly, there are the is­sues with the bores them­selves on the M96 en­gine. A few early cars ex­pe­ri­enced cracked blocks, but the real is­sue is scor­ing and ovalling of the lin­ers. There are a mil­lion the­o­ries why this might hap­pen, with no de­fin­i­tive an­swer, but a com­bi­na­tion of Lokasil lin­ers and a cool­ing cir­cuit that should never be com­pro­mised have a lot to do with it. Treat­ing the en­gine kindly from cold and mak­ing sure it never over­heats is a good place to start, and there’s an old adage that says if it hasn’t failed by now, then it’s un­likely to do so.

The trou­ble for the 996 – and the 997 for that mat­ter – is that its en­gine frail­ties have come, in many ways, to de­fine it – cer­tainly on the in­ter­net. That’s un­der­stand­able in a way, be­cause it’s a Porsche and ex­pec­ta­tions are al­ways sky high, but most high-value/high­per­for­mance cars have en­gine or ma­jor com­po­nent weak­nesses at higher mileages that can be hideously ex­pen­sive. More­over, few in-pe­riod ri­vals will have amassed the same level of mileage as

the av­er­age 911. So you need to take a view: be scared off by the scream­ing head­lines, or do some home­work and then buy one of the very best cars evo has ever tested?

Given you’ll no doubt grav­i­tate to­wards a coupe, not a con­vert­ible, and a man­ual gear­box is a must, not the slushy old Tip­tronic, then it is only just still pos­si­ble to buy a car like Henry Pow­ell’s R-plate 996 you see here for around £13,000, and prob­a­bly for not much longer. This isn’t any old 996 ei­ther – it’s a piece of his­tory. One of only 14 996s brought into the UK late in 1997, be­fore any cars had reached cus­tomers, it is a true sur­vivor.

The won­der­ful thing about the 996 is its Ger­manic prag­ma­tism. It pre­dates the era of Lane Change As­sist and pro­grammed-in ex­haust bur­bles on the over­run. It’s gim­mick-free, light (1320kg), com­pact, and al­most en­tirely fo­cused on driv­ing plea­sure. While the type grew phys­i­cally over the 993, it re­tains the shal­low dash­board, rel­a­tively up­right wind­screen and nar­row width that are such a part of the 911 – and are di­luted in the 991 – yet still feels like a mod­ern car with all the us­abil­ity and re­fine­ment that en­tails.

To be fair, it has tested Henry’s pa­tience. Not long af­ter he bought it the very worst hap­pened with the en­gine (al­though not, oddly, one of the usual is­sues), and it’s been a com­pli­cated and ex­pen­sive road to get where he is to­day. But then I glance in the rear-view mir­ror of the car I’m driv­ing, and clock the broad grin on Henry’s face as he uses a healthy dose of revs to stick on my tail, and I know he feels that ev­ery penny was worth the re­cov­ery price.

Driv­ing it, I can see why. The 3.4-litre en­gine is revvy and po­tent (300bhp). Ev­ery con­trol has that pol­ish and uni­for­mity of weight that’s the hall­mark of a Porsche, and you soon find your­self picking cor­ner­ing lines with the fin­ger­tips and savour­ing ev­ery gearchange. And that hy­draulic steer­ing… oh man. When you drive a car like the 996 you re­alise that Porsche’s cur­rent elec­tri­cally as­sisted systems, how­ever good they are for their kind, sim­ply don’t im­part the same sense of con­nec­tion with the road’s sur­face.

So, it’s a great 911: purrs and yelps where a sim­i­larly pow­er­ful

718 Cayman sounds like a fair­ground gen­er­a­tor, of­fers that everuse­ful 2+2 seat­ing and rea­son­able lug­gage space, yet man­ages to feel like a proper sports car. It’s un­likely to be hot-hatch cheap to run, but it is at least ris­ing in value, not de­pre­ci­at­ing, and it doesn’t feel like a lot of money to ac­quire a def­i­nite mod­ern clas­sic.

Dou­ble our cash and we’re in 997 ter­ri­tory, and you’ll no doubt be drawn to the de­lec­ta­ble shape of the Car­rera S, with its meaty, 350bhp 3.8-litre mo­tor (a close re­la­tion of the M96 known as an M97), big­ger wheels and quad ex­hausts. These first-gen­er­a­tion 997 Ss are per­haps the most likely to suf­fer bore is­sues of all the Porsches in this era, pos­si­bly be­cause there’s sim­ply less metal in and around the en­gine with the big­ger bore size.

But be­yond its po­ten­tial to bring fi­nan­cial hard­ships, the Gen 1 997 has so much go­ing for it. For many, the re­turn to a more tra­di­tional ex­te­rior style was just what the 911 needed, and the car still looks glam­orous to­day to my eyes. The in­te­rior is more con­ven­tional but ob­vi­ously more ‘pre­mium’, though it wears no bet­ter than a 996’s, if even at that. For taller driv­ers the er­gonomics are im­proved, too, with the seat drop­ping lower, more ad­just­ment on the wheel, and the ped­als fur­ther away. It may be largely the same as its 996 pre­de­ces­sor un­der the skin, but the 997 is such a thor­ough evo­lu­tion that it feels like a dif­fer­ent car. Those die-hard 911 fans still had some­thing to moan about, though: back in 2004, the 997’s switch to a vari­able-ra­tio rack was a ma­jor topic for fo­rum debate, just as ev­ery new gen­er­a­tion of 911 up­sets the faith­ful some­how. It’s a heav­ier car than the 996, too, by 100kg.

This par­tic­u­lar example, an early S in the de­fault sil­ver ex­te­rior/ black leather in­te­rior com­bi­na­tion, was sourced from Porsche spe­cial­ist RPM Tech­nik. It’s a car RPM bought just prior to our pho­to­shoot, on be­half of a cus­tomer as a donor ve­hi­cle for one of its CSR con­ver­sions. As such, it’s by no means ‘re­tail’ qual­ity, but rather is an in­ter­est­ing win­dow on to what you might find if you buy a ‘cheap’ 997 S pri­vately. Hav­ing given it a safety in­spec­tion prior to our col­lec­tion, RPM reck­oned wear to the sus­pen­sion and brakes was sig­nif­i­cant – the CSR con­ver­sion will re­place all those bits any­way – and you can feel that from the mo­ment you’re un­der way. The magic that means the 997 usu­ally breezed a group test back in the day is still there, but it’s hid­den un­der a veil of lazy damp­ing, im­pre­ci­sion from

worn bushes and gen­eral tired­ness. At 13 years and 120,000 miles old this 997 needs a thor­ough ren­o­va­tion if the magic is to re­turn, which is very ex­pen­sive if you do it all in one go. You can find out the sort of fig­ures we’re talk­ing about in Fast Fleet over the com­ing months…

That’s the re­al­ity, but look past the neg­a­tives and I still think it’s hard to find a car that re­wards on so many lev­els like a 997. It’s just so… right. From the way it looks to the way it sounds – all sonorous, chesty, then wail­ing at higher rpm – to the way it drives, the driv­ing po­si­tion… Heck, ev­ery­thing! I sim­ply adore it. For the same money as a new Peu­geot 208 GTI it is in­de­scrib­ably tempt­ing, even if the pur­chase price won’t be the last cost.

The later Gen 2 997s are hold­ing up well in terms of value. They use the com­pletely dif­fer­ent MA1 en­gine also found in the back of the Gen 1 991, which doesn’t suf­fer from the same is­sues as the M97. How­ever, they’re also much more rare and con­sid­er­ably more ex­pen­sive. And if you do have that bud­get – let’s say £35,000 up­wards – then for sim­i­lar money we can head back in time again to the mighty 996 Turbo, which is where things get re­ally se­ri­ous.

The 996 Turbo is one of the clas­sic su­per­cars. There have been louder, flashier, big­ger 911 Tur­bos since, but it only takes a mile at the wheel of this lovely example bor­rowed from Har­ring­ton Fi­nance to feel the magic that made it such a crit­i­cal and com­mer­cial suc­cess at the turn of the mil­len­nium. Sadly, the days of the twen­ty­five grand Turbo have long gone. You’ll need £35,000 up­wards for a higher-mileage man­ual Turbo (don’t even think about a Tip­tronic – it blunts the car’s per­for­mance USP), and around ten grand more for a nice car with un­der 60,000 miles. Go for the run-out Turbo S, with its 450bhp ‘X50’ power up­grade fea­tur­ing big­ger tur­bos for the 3.6-litre mo­tor, and ce­ramic brakes, and you’ll be look­ing at over £60,000 for the very best.

The cor­ner­stone of the Turbo’s ap­peal is ‘ The Mezger’. Named af­ter famed Porsche en­gi­neer Hans Mezger, it is one of the great in­ter­nal com­bus­tion en­gines, with its roots in Porsche’s rac­ing units of the 1970s, and more re­cently, the 911 GT1. De­signed for use in the 996 GT3, but adopted in adapted form for the Turbo (where it was coded, con­fus­ingly, M96.70), it brought economies of scale and en­abled pro­duc­tion of both mod­els, right the way through to the 997.2 GT3 RS 4.0 and the 997.1 Turbo. Like the RB26 in the

Nissan Sky­line GT-R, the Mezger’s rac­ing roots mean that it’s as hard as nails and ca­pa­ble of be­ing sub­stan­tially tuned: with up­rated tur­bos you can get over 600bhp be­fore you need to open the en­gine up for strength­en­ing.

While there’s more lag than you get with a mod­ern Turbo, there’s an aw­ful lot less than with an orig­i­nal 1970s/’80s 930. Con­nected to a man­ual gear­box, the more tra­di­tional boosted de­liv­ery of the 996 Turbo ac­tu­ally makes it more ex­cit­ing than its mod­ern equiv­a­lent, more of a driv­ing chal­lenge. In fact, it’s per­fectly pos­si­ble to drive around with­out wak­ing the tur­bocharg­ers at all, and still keep up with traf­fic. (An­other rea­son to seek out a car with the man­ual gear­box.) There’s a de­lec­ta­ble kind of seren­ity from driv­ing around thus, fi­ness­ing the weighty but re­ward­ing ’box and clutch, savour­ing all that feed­back from the steer­ing wheel, but know­ing at any mo­ment a squeeze of throt­tle will cat­a­pult you past slower traf­fic. And yes, the Turbo still feels mas­sively fast, even with the stan­dard 414bhp this car has. You see a gap, open the taps, and whoosh, there’s that weight­less feel­ing that’s so ad­dic­tive.

Nat­u­rally, the four-wheel-drive, wide-arched Turbo is heav­ier than the lit­tle rear-drive Car­rera bob­bing along be­hind ( by 220kg). It’s a more se­ri­ous, mea­sured sort of driv­ing experience, but with nar­rower rub­ber than a mod­ern Turbo, it man­ages to com­bine im­mense se­cu­rity and trac­tion with a lower ul­ti­mate thresh­old of grip, so when it does start to over­steer – which it will – it hap­pens in a more pro­gres­sive, man­age­able way. It’s not a car that feels ‘ four-wheel drive’.

The Turbo was a car de­signed and built for the well­heeled who de­manded that ul­ti­mate GT per­for­mance car from Porsche: a car equally ca­pa­ble of lap­ping the Ring, blast­ing across Europe for hours on end in ter­ri­ble weather, or com­mut­ing into the city. That’s all yours for the same price as a new BMW 420i M Sport. Sure, the ‘Turbo tax’ on parts and the fact that it’s a 15-year-old su­per­car mean it’s still ex­pen­sive to run – the in­ter­cool­ers and pipework need look­ing af­ter, and as with the Car­reras, healthy bushes and dampers are key to a Turbo driv­ing as you’d hope – but at least you don’t have to worry any­thing like as much about its en­gine.

So there you have it. The clas­sic 911 ship has not sailed with­out you. It’s sim­ply avail­able now with an­tifreeze.

With thanks to Henry Pow­ell, RPM Tech­nik, and Alex Read at Har­ring­ton Fi­nance.

‘There’s a plethora of choices – as long as you’re pre­pared to go wa­ter-cooled’

A F F O R DA B L E 9 1 1 s

Above and right: early 996 Car­rera is the most af­ford­able of our trio, with prices start­ing around £13k for a coupe man­ual; it’s worth that en­try price for the steer­ing feel alone

Top and above: 997-gen­er­a­tion Car­rera S still looks, and feels, sur­pris­ingly mod­ern, and re­wards like few other per­for­mance cars; prices start at around £20k

Above and right: 996 Turbo com­bines com­pact pro­por­tions, a gutsy en­gine and four­wheel drive for stonk­ing all-weather, all-roads pace; yours from just £35k

A F F O R DA B L E 9 1 1 s

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