Modern classics

After 25 years, the 996 Porsche 911 has come of age

by Steve Bennett
3 February 2022 6 min read
After 25 years, the 996 Porsche 911 has come of age
Photos: Antony Fraser

Pity the Porsche 996. While other Porsches are castigated for not being a 911, the 996 perversely gets it in the neck for being exactly that. Its crime? For being the ‘new’ 911, the 911 that Porsche had to build in order to survive.

It was, if you like, Porsche’s difficult second album. From the 911’s inception in 1965 right through to 1995, Porsche had effectively re-mixed the 911 concept in a serious of evolutions, culminating with the 993. The 996, launched at the Los Angeles motor show in 1997, was the revolution that had to happen. And the purists didn’t like it.

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They didn’t like the fact that it was water-cooled, they didn’t like the fact that it shared its modular construction and numerous parts with the Boxster and, over time, they really didn’t like the fact that the ‘new’ 911 (like the Boxster) appealed to a far broader customer base.

We’ve been here before with the 911. The 964 fell in to disrepute and decrepitude, its reputation tarnished by multiple oil leaks that plagued early cars. Fixes were engineered, but it took a long time for the 964 to recover, its renaissance probably dragged along by the re-emergence of the 964 RS and more recently, arguably, the impact of Singer choosing to base its reimagined Porsches around the 964. 

Porsche 911 996 and 993

But the plain fact is the 996 was – no, is – a better car than the air-cooled 993 that it replaced, in every respect bar those that are largely subjective. I am not alone in making such a statement. In 1998, the 996 Carrera 2 won Evo magazine’s prestigious and (still) influential Car the Year award, and within the rationale was this telling line: “You would have to be perverse to declare that the old car was better.”

I was one of those 911 virgins. With no air-cooled 911 prejudice – sorry, experience (although I soon made up for that and am fond of them too) – the 996 was the first 911 I ever drove, in 1999. I was blown away. Dynamically it was like nothing I had ever experienced before and I made the most of my week behind the wheel, including a return run to the Nürburgring all within a 24-hour window.

This was a car that I knew that I would have to own in the future. Indeed, it would be fair to say that it had quite a profound effect on me. It was a long time coming, but I finally – thanks to a small windfall – bought a basic Carrera 2 in 2015 and ran it for five happy years. And I’m not the only motoring scribbler to have made such a 996 purchase. Heck, I even I made a modest profit, when I came to sell it last year.

If, in 1999, you had told me that the 996 was going to fall from grace so drastically, from car of the year winner to the point where today more than £30,000 can separate a 996 Carrera 2 and 993 Carrera 2, I would have considered you one cylinder short of the full flat-six.

Porsche 911 996 and 993

It was the first mass-produced 911, or should that be the first 911 that was designed to be mass produced, thanks to the arrival of Wendelin Wiedeking, the executive credited with saving Porsche by introducing Toyota development and manufacturing processes. That wider customer base was attracted by a car that no longer had the associated baggage of 911 quirkiness, machismo and a required deep understanding of the laws of physics. They saw a sports car, that came in all sorts of guises, that would be perfectly drivable and practical in everyday use.

And it worked. With more than 175,000 built, sales more than doubled the 993’s. But some Porsche fans didn’t feel comfortable seeing so many on the road. And then there were the ‘issues.’ A handful of exploding engines did for the 996’s reliability and reputation. In turn, a whole micro industry of fixes and snake oil sprung up. It’s a subject for another story, but all the engines that were ever going to blow up have now probably done so, and the ‘fixes’ that are worthwhile are easily retro-fitted during bouts of routine maintenance.

All of this has kept the 996 in the doldrums, but that is starting to change. It’s a 911 after all, and as surely as night follows day it will have its time in the sun. Not every 996, obviously. The Targas and the Cabs and Tiptronics have an appeal, as do the 4s in narrow and wide-body form. Oh, and we’re not really counting the GT cars here, although the 996 GT3 is still arguably undervalued.

So which 996? As is often the case, it has to be the simplest specification, the one that attracted praise originally, and that’s the standard Carrera 2. Preferably in the silver paint that was its signature colour at the time of being launched, and the earlier the better, so a 3.4-litre version with a six-speed manual gearbox. You probably think that there are loads of these around, but actually, there aren’t. Don’t believe me? Hit the classifieds and once you’ve sifted through all the other variants, the penny will drop. The basic, manual 996 C2 is a rare car.

The 996 C2 is the right modern Porsche for petrolheads. It is the lightest water-cooled 911, lighter than even than a 996 GT3 – 1320kg versus 1350kg – and lighter than the 993 C2. Yes, really. It is largely free of electronic chassis controls and gizmos, the ’98-2000 cars having just a basic traction control system and even a cable actuated throttle. In other words, despite what some may imagine, it offers an analogue driving experience.

Porsche 996 engine

The 3.4-litre engine is just fab-u-lous darling, mixing torque and revs to produce a more than adequate 300bhp. Many hot hatches have that sort of power these days, but they don’t have the soundtrack. It’s still fast, achieving 0-60mph in 4.5 seconds and going on to near-as-dammit 180mph. In fact, as Autocar discovered, a Carrera C2 will pip a 996 GT3 to 60mph and be right with it to 100mph, each getting there in 10.9sec. Sure, the GT3 Mezger engine has an extra 60bhp, but an additional 30kg and drag-generating aero kit works against it.

Talking of aero kit, the GT3’s bodywork additions were a 996 option before the GT3 was launched. And if you want your Carrera 2 to handle like a track star GT3, then all the bits are easy to find and fit.

But having said that, when you do track down an early 996 C2, you will find that the equally early adopters were quite enthusiastic with the options. Uprated ‘MO30’ suspension, with 18-inch Turbo twist wheels and a limited-slip differential, plus hard-backed Sports seats, were desirable options and worth holding out for. That said there is a certain basic charm to be had with a bog-standard C2 on 17s.

Porsche 911 996 review

And to drive? Oh my, just sublime. Unlike so many German cars or indeed modern sports cars full-stop, the 996 C2 is just perfect on Britpop roads. Crucially it’s the right size (modern 911s are too big) and the suspension works efficiently, flowing and dancing with the undulations and ragged topography. Porsche’s engineers settled on a ride and handling balance that has seemingly been lost on modern sports cars with 20-inch wheels and iron-fist damping. You can drive a C2 up to its limit and then just hold it there, revelling in the feedback from the steering and animated chassis. Back in the 996’s day, the only contemporary that could keep up with a well driven C2 on a Brit B-road was a Subaru Impreza. A 993 C2 wouldn’t have seen which way it went, then or now.

So don’t dither. The 996 C2 boat is about to leave the harbour. The ever-reliable Hagerty Price Guide puts a 1999, 996 C2 at £18,600 in condition 2, which is to say a very tidy, original and well-presented example of the type. It’s been holding steady for a couple of years, but John Mayhead, Editor of the Hagerty Price Guide, feels change is coming: “The 996 C2 fits the description of Hagerty’s ideal starter classic,” says Mayhead. “Good performance, a prestige manufacturer, and values are reasonable compared to many other 911 models. Given the trajectory of the 964 and the 993, values of the 996 are unlikely to drop and Hagerty forecasts they will continue to rise steadily.”

Porsche 911 996 review

A 1998 993 C2 in similar condition will set you back £48,500. Near as makes no odds, that’s a £30,000 difference. It’s unlikely the 996 C2 will never reach such dizzying heights, but that’s a good thing, surely? You’ll probably be less precious about driving it and enjoying it as much as possible.

Specialist car dealers are already starting to raise the price of 996 stock beyond £20,000. Yet away from forecourts and showrooms, there’s still no shortage of considerably cheaper cars still out there.

If you owned one of these from new, perhaps you already knew all of this. That despite what people may say, Porsche created a terrific sports car. If you haven’t, then we’d suggest that, after 25 years, this would be as good a time as any to get to know the car that helped save Porsche.

Read more

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Porsche: Benchmark on the road and in the market
The shifting history of Porsche’s PDK transmission

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Comments

  • Ray L. says:

    I had both a 964 Porsche and a 996 and after retirement I decided to sell one. Sold the 964. I loved the daily driveability of the 996. I’ve had 16 Porsches since 1967 and this as my favorite. Mine had ceramic bearing upgrade and I change the oil 3x more often than Porsche Recomend. Very trouble free and and and absolute bargain 9 years ago when I bought it.

  • adrian keith gammon says:

    To what extent does a rare and desirable colour add value to a 996 ? I have a March 1998 3.4 Carrera manual in Guards Red.

  • Si says:

    Ah that’s my 996!

  • Paul says:

    A Boxster 986 2.7 is even better, the engine is in the right place 🙂

  • DAVID FINLAY says:

    About 15 years ago I had to recover and repair a 996 Carrera S 4 tiptronic, the driver had went over a slight crest (very fast) and bottomed out resulting the bellhousing completely shearing off and cracking the box, the road had to be closed for hours until the oil got cleaned up!! Lovely car, when I got it sorted, he took it from my garage straight to a dealer and traded it in.

  • JB says:

    First 911 drive was a 996 when I had a 2.7 Boxster (which I loved). What a step up. Now own a 997 gen 2 pdk – fabulous!

  • Andrew Komosa says:

    I have owned several 911s from a 66 2.0l, through all air cooled versions to a 2000 996 3.4l, but I was mighty thankful of the 996’s freezing air con at Le Mans one year. Off topic, but I’m trying to trace my old 66 911 registration (TBN 71), is anyone can help please? Andrew

  • Nigel wales says:

    Hello Steve,
    Great article.Thankyou. I have a 1998 996 Tiptronic Carrera coupe with no optional extras .It has the 4 spoke steering wheel,17inch alloys and the less body hugging seats with no porsche emblem on them.
    Exzactly the same runny egg headlights as pictured in the article. Its a 3.4 litre.
    I have never heard a Gen 1 996 being referred to as a Carrera 2.I understand the 996 carrera 2s to be the Gen 2 996’s.
    The one pictured in the article looks like and is spec as a gen 1.
    Maybe there titled/branded differently in the UK? Writing from Australia 😊✌

  • Ryan says:

    Carrera refers to the base 911 and the 2 is for RWD, the Carrera 4 is AWD. Gen 1 is usually referred to as 996.1 and 996.2 for Gen 2.

  • Mike H says:

    I have owned a 2002 C2 50,000 in Arctic Silver for 12 years.

    Failures…….. Indicator stalk switch and a pair of window winder mechanisms……that’s it.

    I enjoy driving it as much now as when I first experienced it’s superb characteristics.

  • Jay C says:

    I have always been a fan of Porsche for as long as I can remember. Back in 2003 I placed a bid on a manual Forest Green C2 with 12k miles. To my surprise I won the auction and bought the car for $35k. My intention was to turn around and sell it for a tidy profit. So I flew down to Phoenix to pick it up and drive it home. That was the first time I ever drove a Porsche. Well you guessed it, I couldn’t sell it and still drive to this day. I have tried the newer 911s but their bulk has stopped me from updating. I am however eyeing a 718 Spyder and plan to keep my 996.

  • Fernando Bautista says:

    I purchased my 1999Carrera 2 at the height of the world shut, knowing it would make a great project to sort DIY style foe the time being. I always knew I would own a 996 C2, first test drive years ago. I’ve owned a 964 C4 for around 4 years, also another great Porsche. When I sold it I knew it was time for a C4 996, I purchased a 996 car cover and body parts, deck lids misc tune up goodies years before I purchased my 996. Wonderful vehicle so easy to work on. Never selling this one.

  • Tim Brink says:

    I own a 2001 996.1 C4.
    That’s the narrow hip Carrera 3.4lt.
    62500km and it’s as good as out of the factory. Annual oil changes see it maintain its integrity. It’s spirited revs offer a focussed driving experience, the shocks do an excellent job keeping the wheels and tires firmly placed regardless of driving style.
    You can drive it like a gentleman or a cowboy, it’s prone to deliver either way.
    It’s tight, light and invigorating to drive.
    My 8th 911. It’s diminutive in size compared to my other large cat, a 991.1 C4S. The bigger one is a precise exacting machine, while the 996 keeps my eyes peeled and my smile wide.
    Best of both to carve out tarmacs in glorious South Africa.

  • Richard Clegg says:

    This article certainly put a smile on my face, an expert confirming everything I’ve always thought about my 1999 silver C2 996… admittedly, felt I was “settling” for budget reasons when I first bought it, now I chuckle when I see what all the “haters” are paying for their overpriced, overhyped air-cooled models… pretty sure this is my “forever” car, never thought I’d feel that way the day I bought it, never been happier to be so wrong

  • michaeljordan says:

    I own a 2001 996.1 C4.
    That’s the narrow hip Carrera 3.4lt.I enjoy driving it as much now as when I first experienced it’s superb characteristics.

  • Jack D says:

    2004 c2 40th anniversary, 3.6 x51, 6 speed, LSD, sport seats, turbo frontend, bead blasted 5 spokes,natural grey full leather, and m030 suspension. I love this car, low production and sounds amazing! Starting to escalate in value

  • Matt says:

    Someone tell this guy about bore score. Known mine since new, 121k mi and she popped. Timing chain guides were completely trashed too.

  • Robert Frost says:

    My 996 Turbo Tiptronic S is a wonderful car to drive. Nothing I’ve ever driven eats up miles like it. It’s completely planted on the road, the cabin is wonderful and handling and performance are astonishing. Bose stereo is second to none. The Tiptronic isn’t as fast-changing as a modern PDK but of course it’s lighter and it suits the Turbo engine beautifully.

  • Luciano Brambilla says:

    I own 2004 C2 Cabriolet since 2006 great car to drive especially round country roads 4 stars not 2.5. Also have 997 GTS, but manual C2 is more fun to drive.

  • Kenji Sawada says:

    I have owned the 996C4 for 5 years and am now on my 6th year with the 996C4S. Both cars are wonderful cars that give you the feeling of wearing them like clothes. Also, my life has been enriched by owning two of these 996s. That is, I was able to experience many things that I could not experience before, and a new network expanded by having communication with many Porsche fans. I think Porsche is a car that enriches life.

  • lloyd dall says:

    I own a artic silver 996 C4s with 32 oooo on the clock I have had it for 16 years now it looks like it’s come out the showroom and love it

  • Sam Zam says:

    Have a 2000 C2 with the GT3 Aero kit, lowered the car and aftermarket wheels.. the thing goes like a stabbed rat!! now has 53k km on the clock and no issues. My biggest complaint of the car are the seats, the car came with Sport Seats.. they are awful so I switched to the comfort seats,, marginally better.. I have now installed aftermarket Recaros, NOW we are talking comfort..
    doubt I would sell this car anytime soon,,,

  • Albert Heingman says:

    Porsche (ownership) virgin until last year, been lurking at every possible model within my budget for about 5 years, never made the jump. Test drove 996.1 and 2, 997.1 and 2, 991 and bought a 2002 C4 Cab. The combination of size, throttle response, tight natural steering and engine sound/power usability was my favorite and the biggest departure from today’s modern powerful yet often boring sport hatches . For half the price of a similarly equipped 997.2, it gives me a ton of joy and smile on my face. And with the money I saved over the 997.2, I can buy a certified Base Macan or Golf R for the worst winter days. What’s not to like!

  • Ray b Lancaster says:

    My experience exactly with the 996. I have had 14 aircooled Porsches since 1967. At the time of my retirement I had 964 Porsche and my 996. I had to choose one and I kept the 996. Just too nice a car that does everything better than my 964.

  • Diogo says:

    996.1 silver 1999, 17 wheels and âmbar.
    Manual
    Lsd

    Perfect I love this car it’s my 4° Porsche

  • Edward Snow says:

    Those with the egas rather than cable throttle have (for those who drive in low emissions zones) better emissions profiles. Cable throttles C2s (like 993s) fail Euro 4 from what I can see (needed for London’s gigantic ULEZ), my egas C4 passes Euro 6 (data from Porsche’s CoC)

  • Edward Snow says:

    and you can always turn off PSM for ‘pure pleasure’ as Porsche point out in their brochure of the time

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