LIKE ELEVEN TENTHS?
Fried egg headlights, crappy interior, strangely amorphous shape, chocolate engine ... I've heard it all a million times before. The 996 is, apparently, The Worst 911 Ever. Except it's not. Well, I don't think so. It's small and narrow, it feels light and responsive and – apologies for breaking into cliché here - it has steering feel and all the old 911 foibles that make them uniquely exciting to drive: the gently bobbing nose, the almost surreal traction and the ability to reward technique and punish apathy. The 996 was the first 911 I ever drove and from that moment onwards I knew I was a Porsche guy. It was sort of inevitable that a 996 would one day find its way into my life on a more permanent basis.
That day came back in May 2013. I was having a crappy time with a sick family member and to take my mind off it all I was usually watching grainy Best Motoring videos on Youtube (go and search. And sorry for making you lose days of your life to Tsukuba track battles) or looking at 996s on Autotrader and Pistonheads. For some reason this one stuck out. In some ways it was all wrong. It was wearing 19-inch ‘Lobster Claw’ rims from a 997, it had the Aerokit (and I knew I’d be subjected to endless ‘fake GT3’ teasing) and it looked beaten up as hell. But I loved the colour, the engine had been rebuilt and it also had GT3-style seats, Bilstein adjustable PSS9 suspension and a few other goodies. I spoke to the owner and he ran a company preparing Porsche Cup cars and V10-era F1 cars…
I couldn't get over to see it so sent my friend Richard Meaden along to have a poke around (he drives just like me and knows what a 911 should feel like). The report back was that it looked like it had done a few 24-hour races... but that the engine felt great and it was huge fun. A small video clip of it revving out to the limiter on the good old B660 - a famous road tester's route - sealed the deal. I paid the princely sum of £10,500 for my very own 911. Since then it's been pure bliss. I've had it resprayed, put on some lovely lightweight 18-inch OZ Racing Alleggerita wheels and had the suspension referred by Bilstein UK and then set to GT3 height and geo by the guys at Litchfield. But mostly I've just driven and enjoyed it. For me it delivers a pure 911 experience but without the crazy expense of an early air-cooled car. Not to mention the rust and the worry about damaging a rapidly appreciating piece of history. I actually prefer driving it to a lot of the air-cooled stuff, too. So much so that I think I'll start a 996 Appreciation Society Tribe asap. We can all get together and laugh at 993 prices and poke fun at the polishing brigade who are now erasing all character from their old 911s with nut and bolt restorations.