Type 996 Porsche 911
Max Larsen's picture

Proof That The 996 Porsche 911 Is Just As Good As Any Other Porsche

The 996 gets a bad rap from purists, but underneath, it’s the same 911 you know and love.
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The last 10 years have been timely validation of Porsche’s recipe for the last 60 years. People enjoyed the 911 for decades since its release in 1963 and it gathered a large enough following to stay popular, but in terms of supercars and sports cars, it was always overshadowed by the Italian stuff.

But what was once a small cult following has become a globally known religion among old and young. Any low-mile example of an air-cooled 911 has gone for big bucks and we’re hitting all-time high price tags right now. But there is always one 911 that gets left out of the bunch. The 996.

Type 996 Porsche 911

Why People Don’t Care For Them (Unjustly)

The 996 debuted in 1997 as the 5th generation of the 911 and right off the bat, it lacked a design element that all 911s had showcased in the past, the rounded pontoon headlights. Instead, they decided to combine the headlights with the blinkers and create a “fried egg” look, with the orange side indicator lights spilling in towards to middle of the car like an undercooked egg yolk.

This turned the 911 community off and certainly hurt their sales. They were only selling around 30,000 cars a year by the 996s first production year and let’s just say it didn’t get any better until the Cayenne came along.

Type 996 Porsche 911

Another criticism of the 996 was its interior, and we have to give it up on this one. It was puke-inducing for the lack of a better term. Imagine a 1999 Dodge Stratus interior with slightly higher quality leather, that’s the 996. And there was also the notorious IMS bearing failure that the 996 owners still struggle with today. The IMS bearing is a small part that supports the “Intermediate Shaft”. The intermediate shaft is what keeps the camshafts running indirectly off of the crankshaft. So, when that IMS bearing shreds itself apart or breaks, your camshafts starts spinning willy-nilly and your engine makes a wallet shattering kaboom.

But let’s be honest, there are few engines in existence with no common failures, and the 996’s 3.4 and 3.6 Liter flat sixes are no angels.

That being said, those same engines are also very reliable aside from the IMS failure, and they sound as smooth as a 911 can be, which takes us further into this conversation.

Type 996 Porsche 911

Why The 996 Is Not The Worst 911, And Why It’s Probably Your Best Option

The “don’t judge a book by its cover” saying has been used on the 996 since the first journalist drove one in ‘96, so I will say “don’t knock it ‘til you try it.” A 996 Porsche is not a bad egg just because its headlights look like they came from a chicken, in fact, it is a wonderful time machine to the ‘90s. The simplicity that owned this generation is encapsulated within the 996 perfectly.

The base 3.4 Liter engine made 296 hp and only had to carry around the 996s 2,900-lb body. That’s like if the current base 2020 Subaru WRX made 30 more horsepower and weighed 600 lbs less. That’s quick. Then you get to the Turbo models - for the year 2000, the Turbo model got an all-wheel-drive system, an aero package, and a twin-turbo 3.6 Liter that made 414 hp.

The numbers don’t matter though. Just like in any 911 across all generations, it is about driving it on a long backroad. The newer GT 911s do care about lap times (more than I would like), but they still provide the experience of a near-perfect sports car. The 996 is no different.

You still get that “surgeon’s scalpel” precision from the steering wheel and the body control that is so familiar to people who have driven 911s in before. The 911 has always been the everyday sports car, it invented the segment.

But here’s why you should buy one as soon as possible: they’re cheap! A low-mile, well-taken care of 996 that has had the IMS bearing done recently won’t crest the $50,000 mark. Most of the 996s sold in the private sector are sold between $15K and $40K. Wanna buy a 930 Turbo? You better have at least $70K for a nice example. And maybe you even want a 993 - after all, they are the last air-cooled examples. Well, that’ll cost you $50K-$60K easily.

I’ve driven 996s before. One example I drove had 90,000 miles, the base engine, a manual transmission, and an aftermarket exhaust. Nothing else. It was magical. I didn’t need any more power or suspension stiffness to destroy some of the best roads in my area and you could take it on the highway and forget you were even driving a 300 hp sports car. It was versatile to the point where I wanted to buy it, but the owner loved it more than I did. So, go out and buy a 996 if you can. My crystal ball says they won’t get cheaper, so act accordingly.

Max Larsen is the Porsche reporter at Torque News. Since he was 15 years old Max was building old cars and selling them for profit, spawning his love for cars. He has been around Porsches his entire life. His grandpa had several 911s and he owned a Porsche 944 when he was younger, which made the auto-shop class cars a lot simpler. Reading old car magazines and seeing press cars at shows gave him the passion to write and pursue the industry. He is currently studying for Journalism at Western Washington University and writing for the racing team there locally. Follow Max on Torque News Porsche and on Twitter at @maxlarsencars. Search Torque News Porsche for daily Porsche news coverage by our expert automotive reporters.


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Comments

"The last 10 years have been timely validation of Porsche’s recipe for the last 60 years." Except when they introduced the 928 in 1978 to replace the 911. The 928 was the opposite of the 911 in being large, heavy, front engined, and water cooled with (heaven forfend!) a V-8. The 924 had signaled Porsche's interest and objectives with regard to front engine alternatives to the 911. The blowback from the move was strong but also added to the Porsche base. The Boxster and Cayman were the outgrowth of the interest in variations on the rear engine boxer formula (yes, I know they are mid-engined, don't @ me). Meanwhile the 928 really provided the conceptual base for the Panamera which really opened up the line to broader interest. Of course the Cayenne really signaled to the world that Porsche was targeting well moneyed soccer moms. The Macan added their private school sons and their salesmen uncles.
I was referring more to the popularity of the older 911s in how they have never been more desirable than in the last 10 years and currently. Your points are valid nonetheless.
If you think a 928 is "large", check it out next to a 992. Amazing growth of Porsche.
Hurt in sales ?? .. that its still the best selling 911 generation ever.... About interior, it was a big change again from predecessors, and still going strong compared to after 997 that console buttons melt.. Its not perfect yet, but the best bang for the bucks about all 911, whether NA or turbo
Max, Great article I have a 2003 996 3.4 ltr. All I did to it was change the IMS bearing and regular maintenance changing the oil religiously at 3000. It has 300,000 miles and going strong.
To have that hand grenade under the bonnet would freak me out. You just can't ignore the ims failure with such a dismissive statement re "all engines have some issues". That is a crazy thing to write when yours supposed to be driving a bullet proof weapon like a Porsche And to make matters worse, just remember how Porsche dodged any responsibility for the poor design of that engine. The low resale of the 996 is proof that the public do care and won't forget. Sorry, not for me!
To have that hand grenade under the bonnet would freak me out. You just can't ignore the ims failure with such a dismissive statement re "all engines have some issues". That is a crazy thing to write when yours supposed to be driving a bullet proof weapon like a Porsche And to make matters worse, just remember how Porsche dodged any responsibility for the poor design of that engine. The low resale of the 996 is proof that the public do care and won't forget. Sorry, not for me!
The 996 is my 16th Porsche since 1967 and my favorite. I upgraded the headlights to 997 type and upgraded IMS bearing. I also change the oil 3x more often than Porsche recomends. Amazing supercar even today.
I'm so tired of reading about egg headlights, bad interior and IMS bearings only to end with a single paragraph on how we should consider buying a 996. Let me give your readers something worth knowing about the 996 911. I bought a 40 Jahre 4 months ago. It's GT Silver, has an X51 powerkit, and 350bhp. When I get in this 911 I sit low and tight in the seat and more comfortably than the reading chair in my home library. It's like sitting in a cockpit. The Mezger flat six is a jewel. The sound is pure as is the acceleration. I've owned 5 BMW's, but none were anywhere near as responsive as my 996 911. Everything is tight. As for Max's comment on interior design, most of the interior is wrapped in exquisite leather. My 2004 Jahre 911 is'n't filled with electronic junk. It's mostly analog, but the engine is supported with reliable technology and software that informs the engine and informs me of what's most important for me to know. When I get in it, I become part of it, and when I'm driving it, I'm fully engaged with it. It's a jewel of an auto and a jewel of a Porsche. I didn't buy it because it was, as Max put it, "cheap"> There's nothing cheap about it. I bought it because it's iconic, because it's a true 911, because it had 15,000 miles, because it was owned by a collector and well cared for, because of its design, it's feel, its power, because it's a classic. because it's a 911 Porsche in every way, shape, and form. I'm tired of BS articles like this one written by Max Larsen that's nothing more than a regurgitation of so many others that focus on the same old stuff. Buy a 2004 911 because of the experience it gives and because it's iconic. You'll love every minute of being in this auto.