The Porsche 996 is the first water-cooled generation of the 911, and it was not well received by enthusiasts. First introduced to the United States as a 1999 model year car, it was a revolutionary change from the previous air-cooled 993 model that ran from 1995-1998.
If you haven't read our last blog about the best looking BMW ever, be sure to check it out. Do you agree?
Exterior design of the 996 was led by Pinky Lai, who was tasked with creating an all new design that still had 911 bones and heritage, yet was modern enough for the 21st century. Porsche worked with Toyota to start a lower cost, higher volume approach to manufacturing the 996 which was a great idea that helped keep Porsche alive. However, one tactic was to use existing parts from the lower powered, convertible Porsche Boxster which launched 2 years before in 1997. The Boxster and 996 were virtually the same car from the doors forward. 911 fans at the time were not amused.
The 996 was the best selling 911 to date and Porsche sold 175,262 units between 1999-2004. Thats a lot of sales for what was considered to be the most unloved Porsche. The biggest complaints about the 996 were its oddly shaped, "fried egg" headlights that were from the Boxster, the strange interior, specifically the gauges that were all smashed together instead of separate, and the lack of an exciting engine sound and exhaust note.
The 996 produced from 1999-2001 was powered by a 3.4 liter flat 6 water-cooled engine that produced 296 horsepower. This is about 20 more than the previous 993 model. In 2002 the 996.2 generation cars were bumped up to a 3.6 liter engine that produced 320 horsepower, and the cars had headlights from the Turbo.
Transmission choices included a 6-speed manual or a 5-speed tiptronic automatic with shift buttons on the steering wheel, with the 6-speed being the heavily preferred way to go.
Now with some basics out of the way, I must admit I am a bit biased about the 996, as I currently own a 2003 Carrera. My 4 years of ownership have been mostly stress free and really enjoyable. I would now like to give my thoughts about these wonderful cars that so many people hate, and a little history of what my experience has been.
Like everyone else, I began my search online, and after a few days had a short list of cars I wanted to see and test drive. I found the Grey 996 pictured above in completely stock form at a Land Rover dealership near the LAX airport. It had a good carfax history report of previous dealer maintainence, and was in good general condition inside and out. At the time 81,000 miles were on the odometer.
After some talks and a deposit was left, I took the car to my independent mechanic who had lovingly cared for my previous 2002 Boxster S. First order of business was an interrogation of the computer to check for any over-rev history of the engine, no issues there. Next the car was hoisted into the air and an inspection of the engine, brakes, suspension, and cooling system was conducted. All good.
My gold standard piece of advice to anyone thinking about buying a 996, is to have a complete pre purchase inspection (PPI) done on any car you are considering. The small cost to have one done can save you thousands of dollars and millions of curse words.
Once my prospect had checked out, I took it back to the dealership and worked a price that was agreeable. If my memory is correct I paid 24,000 for the car in 2016. It took me 2 hours to limp the car back to Anaheim in the brutal L.A. evening traffic. Below are images of the car the day I bought it.
Since I'm a bit of a worry wart, I was well aware of the infamous IMS bearing issue that is solely responsible for the affordability of the 996. I estimate without this known problem the cars would be worth 10-15% more than they are currently.
To put my mind at ease an EPS direct oil feed IMS bearing kit was installed. It's a roller type bearing that is fed with fresh oil by tapping into the oil pump.
Since the transmission and engine had parted ways for the install, we went ahead and replaced the clutch pressure plate, disk, throw out bearing, and slave cylinder. The flywheel was still well within spec. Its tough for me to give advise on this one, as opinions and online forum debate are crazy. Will your factory IMS bearing fail? Odds say no. Its ultimately up to you, but in my opinion replacing it during a clutch job just makes sense.
Next I addressed the suspension to make the car handle even better than factory. After 81,000 miles most of the bushings were bad and starting to squeak and cry. I replaced all 8 lower control arms with fresh, direct replacement units that made a huge difference on their own.
The next upgrade was a set of H&R street performance coilovers that are height adjustable. The lower stance and firmer ride and handling were transforming to the cars character.
After that I ordered a bunch of parts from Tarett Engineering. Sway bar drop links, rear toe arms, front tie rods, rear upper control arms, and strut mounts were installed. I can't believe how well the car corners and handles.
I thought the car looked a little bland with the factory silver wheels, so I ordered a set of 18" OZ racing allegerrita wheels in satin black to finish the look. At the lower stance, 15mm and 10mm wheel spacers were applied to push the wheels out to the fenders.
The last thing I did to the car was to ship my factory mufflers off to Fister to be modified. A bypass pipe is simply welded between the inlet and outlet pipes on each muffler keeping about half the exhaust from going to the mufflers boring party. For me the exhaust note is perfect. It has a nice growl and rumble at idle, sounds divine between 4500-6500 RPM, and best of all, there is little to no drone at cruising speed.
A shift console from a 997 generation 911 was installed to replacing my aging, sloppy original one. Throws are about 15% shorter and the install was pretty easy. A GT3 center console delete kit was installed for more leg room, I didn't think I would ever need a useless 4 CD storage tray!
And that's about it. All these modifications were done within a year of buying the car and it has been trouble free and a blast to drive all the way up to the current 112,000 miles she has today.
Some small common issues were also fixed or replaced such as:
- Air/oil seperator
- water pump
- coolant overflow tank
- engine mounts
- frunk release switch
There are a few things that annoy me about the car too:
- rattles from the headliner, doors, and dash
- the horrible BOSE stereo that doesn't work anymore
- the amount of water that gets in the frunk and doors when I wash it
- The amount of brake dust it creates
- Easy hazing of the headlights
- Junk that builds up between radiators and condensers
The worst (and perhaps best) thing that has happened during this time is that my 996 was vandalized in the driveway with something that ate through the paint and primer. Every panel of the car had to be repainted, and the headlights, some trim pieces, and the windshield needed to be replaced.
My final thoughts and advice to anyone thinking of buying a 996 is to be diligent and get an inspection done before you buy. You dont need to modify the 996 like I did to enjoy one, just keep it maintained and running well and you will get years of enjoyment out of it. These cars are probably the most car for money out there, a well kept secret I like to think. Right now in 2020 is the time to find a clean example, as they are being wrecked and neglected as we speak, and they are actually increasing in value slightly.
Will the 996 ever be a highly sought after, valuable classic? No. But that's the best reason to buy one! Drive the hell out of it and have a smile on your face the whole time.
If you need suspension parts for your 996 please visit us at MGC Suspensions
Here are a few more images of my car
The best suspension upgrades for Porsche 996 are here at MGC.
Porsche 996 coilovers for any budget.