The 996 is a tale of two generations, despite the nomenclature “996” being used as a blanket term to describe a variety of cars that range from very average to absolutely brilliant.

 

Porsche purists with budgets that stretch to 993 and 964 air-cooled cars don’t like the 996 terribly much. That’s useful, because it makes the 996 a far more affordable option for many sportscar enthusiasts.

A recent increase in values suggests that this market anomaly may be correcting. Although 175,000 996s were sold (far more than any prior Porsche 911), the reality is that finding a good one is still difficult.

At Carbs and Coffee, we look at the 996 through a different lens. We were only teenagers when the Gen1 996 was launched in 1998. Instead of sharing in the general behaviour at the time of lamenting the demise of the 993, we now look back on the 996 as an attainable, attractive sports car.

Anyone who has read about Porsche’s financial strength in recent years would probably be shocked to learn that Porsche was nearly bankrupt whilst producing the celebrated 993 that the 996 replaced. Since then, Porsche has walked an incredible tightrope of producing some of the best supercars on the planet, alongside diesel-powered family cars.

An extraordinary marque indeed, with one of the best business models in the industry.

A 996 stars in the ever-popular Disney-Pixar Cars franchise as Sally, Lightning McQueen’s love interest. The first Cars movie was launched in 2006, during the early days of the 997 (successor to the 996). Porsche paid nothing for this huge advertising boost. It seems to have given the 996 shape a special place in the hearts of a generation of car enthusiasts.

With prices similar to fast Golfs rather than starter apartments, they even seem plausible as daily drives. Is this the sportscar bargain of our time?

The debate today of 996 vs. 993 almost feels pointless to us. Whilst there was a time in the world where you could buy either car for a similar price, those days are long gone. Porsche collectors have driven the values of air-cooled Porsches into the stratosphere, while the water-cooled 996 has been (almost) forgotten.

The passage of time has shown us that Porsche had no choice. There are no air-cooled cars to be found on modern showrooms. Even the Porsche 962, the iconic racing prototype, had to switch to water-cooling in 1988. Air-cooling only survives on bike and quad engines, due to their smaller capacities.

However, comparing the Gen1 996 to the Gen2 996 is a highly relevant discussion.

The Gen1 shared headlights with the far cheaper Boxster, which was never going to be a very popular move with 911 fans. Would the Audi R8 have been a success if the front-end looked identical to an A3? No.

Gen2 saw a switch to the lights used on the Gen1 Turbo, which have aged extremely well, just like the rest of the car. In a world of bloated modern cars, the Gen2 is clean and beautiful. The lines exude sophistication and class.

This particular Gen2 996 Carrera 2 is a rear wheel drive, normally aspirated, manual sports car. Good luck finding a modern equivalent at a decent price with performance figures anywhere close to this Porsche. The 3.6l (Gen2 upgrade from the 3.4l Gen1 engine) produces just under 240kWs and propels this beautiful car from standstill to 100km/h in 5 seconds. At under 1,400kgs, the 996 is nimble and rewarding in the twisties.

Perhaps with the benefit of hindsight, this car is every bit a Porsche 911. Anyone who has hoped in vain for a substantial increase in the values of the 924, 944 or 928 will confirm just how important this is. But, whether or not the Gen2 996 will prove to be an excellent investment is actually not the point.

Unlike older cars, the 996 is an entirely practical daily driver. Instead of stashing the car away for club runs only and hoping for an increase in value, the buyer can obtain the dual benefit of utility along with a reasonable prospect of investment value.

Water-cooling means traffic doesn’t have to be a terrifying experience of wondering whether the car will overheat. The interior is modern enough to have everything you really need, without many of the electronic gimmicks that you don’t.

This isn’t a Sunday Porsche. It’s a Monday to Friday Porsche that is highly rewarding on Saturdays and Sundays too. This might not be a Porsche purist’s dream car, but it is certainly one of ours.