Would you like fried eggs with your bratwurst?
A water-cooled engine, a front end with the same headlights as its cheaper mid-engine sibling the boxster. A totally new chassis, the first since the timeless Butzi designed car which lasted for over 30 years in all it guises. Its 1998 and this is the hated 911.
In 1998 the new 996 911 had a lot to live up to. We all know the story about the failed attempts to super cede the 911 with the 928 failing due to so much love for the rear engine 911 icon.
Whichever way Porsche was going to evolve the 911 it was going to be tricky. Porsche needed to consign the air-cooled 911 to the history books. Survival of one of the world's greatest car brands was at stake. The 911 needed to evolve for emissions, safety legislation and a whole load of other boring reasons. Continuing to hand build a sportscar on an ancient chassis with an air-cooled engine would not power Porsche into the millennium. Change was inevitable.
The famous 'fried egg' headlights
Porsche tackled the challenge. Manufacturing over 9,000 996 cars in 1998 within production quickly rising to over 20,000 units per annum. This was double that of the previous 993.
However, an elephant in the room quickly emerged. The 996 headlights and indeed the whole front end was exactly the same as the much cheaper Boxster. This meant if you were cruising the M3 motorway in your E36 M3 and suddenly a new Porsche appeared in your rear view mirror, rather than kow-tow and let the 911 icon Porsche pass you would assume it was a Boxster and stay firmly ahead of it.
Eventually Porsche realised their error. Not as big an error as believing the air-cooled fans would swallow a water-cooled front engine 928 as a 911 replacement but an error none the less. The 996 headlights were changed during a 2001 restyling to a more obscure more un-911 shape.
Now over the years apart from continued remodelling the of the 911 shape into an odd looking 4 door hatchback I have always been a big fan of all things Porsche.
My first proper sports car was a 1990 944 S2, purchased in 2000. Back then being a member of PCGB was an interesting time and I was with the majority on not liking the fried egg 9996 and Boxster headlights. Until 2005 when a milestone birthday necessitated a newer, better car. After 5 years of 944 ownership and £9,000 running costs. It was time to buy a new Porsche. The only one I was able to afford at the time was a base model 2.7 car in rain forest green metallic. Yes, a green Porsche. Rainforest green no less. Do not get me wrong I had some great memories of that car as it was very capable, but I never got on with it.
British Racing Green? Uh uh. This is Rainforest Metallic Green. Mmmm
The reasons? Well there were two actually. You can probably guess them. The colour and the styling, mainly the fried egg headlights.
Times change though. Car design changes. My Dad would joke about the indicator stalks and door handles on his Lotus Excel being borrowed from the Morris parts bin. But in 1993 Morris cars had largely died out so it did not matter. The same thing is happening now with the Elise, it had Rover wing mirrors and 90s GM indicator stalks, but nobody cares because those cars are not around anymore.
So, it seems to be the case with this “the hated 911”. It was widely known at the time to look like a Boxster but times move on. People forget. Styling changes. As does people’s perception of styling. Mine included. I now look at this car differently. I quite like it. When I’ve looked for 911’s in the past I’ve always negated the fried egg models. I’m sure lot of other people do. But this is a mistake.
This was the 911 that outsold its air-cooled predecessor. That moved Porsche away from its reliance on an aging chassis and air-cooled engine. This is the 911 that now will not be younger than 20 years old and that means classic car insurance. This is the 911 that can still be had for as little at £8,000. It has back seats, a lovely rasp, and an engine out back to surge you along. Nothing drives and feels like a 911 not even a Boxster.
If you are in the market for a classic 911 on a budget you could do a lot worse than look at the first generation 996, the hated 911. Fast becoming the loved 911. If I were a betting man their value will only be going one way.