Philip Raby Specialist Cars By Philip Raby Specialist Cars 1 month ago

Porsche 996: how the fifth-gen 911's story follows the 964

Porsche writer, commentator and specialist Philip Raby studies the changing perceptions of the 996 over its 25-year lifespan, and the striking similarities with another 911 generation before it…

“Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” Wise words from the great Ferris Beuller. And it’s true; it doesn’t seem five minutes since I was a fresh-faced youngster contacting a glossy new magazine called 911 & Porsche World to ask if I could be a contributor. That led to a great relationship with the publication and to me becoming Associate Editor.

Back then, there was great excitement over an all-new Porsche, one which was causing much controversy and splitting the Porsche community. That car was the 996, a complete reimagining of the legendary 911; larger, more modern and with – shock, horror – a water-cooled engine. At the time of its launch, the 996 was generally well-received and hailed for getting the 911 ready for the 21st century.

I, like many others, was enthralled by the new 996. It had pure, uncluttered lines, which I compared to those of the original 911 of 1963, free of bulging arches and spoilers, and the car was an absolute joy to drive, with a modern, stylish interior. Fast, refined and with astonishing handling, it seemed to me that Porsche’s designers had very much met the brief to drag the 911 kicking and screaming into the new millennium. It was, in a word, brilliant.

However, not everyone agreed. I always remember a card-carrying member of Porsche Club GB, resplendent with beard and middle-age spread, and puffing a pipe (well, ok, maybe not the pipe, but you get the picture), shaking his head in dismay at what Porsche had dared to do to his beloved 911. “Oh, it’s far too big and complicated,’ he told me sadly, shaking his head. “In twenty years, enthusiasts just won’t be able to run them and they’ll be worthless.”

How wrong he was! Here we are, more than 25 years later, and the 996 has become very much a modern classic, with prices on the rise, and remains, in my view, just as much a joy to drive. It’s looks and feels small enough to throw around English country lanes, is remarkably simple compared to newer Porsches, and is the car of choice for enthusiasts (some of whom weren’t even born when the 996 was launched) who want a 911 that’s easy and affordable to run, can be driven every day, yet remains a true 911 in spirit. 

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It’s not been plain sailing, though; jump on any forum and the pipe-puffing experts will tell you that all (yes, all) 996 engines suffer from bore scoring and IMS bearing failure (they don’t). Go back a few years, though, and those same experts (or maybe their parents) would have warned you to watch out for air-oil separators which, apparently, failed on every 996 engine yet, today, it’s a problem you rarely hear about – and when and AOS does happen, it’s an easy fix. Which just goes to show that you shouldn’t believe everything you read on the internet (well, apart from this column, maybe). Then there are the miseries who complain, unfairly in my view, about the looks of the 996.

When the 996 was new, similar things were being said about the 964, which was also a radical departure for Porsche when it came out in 1989. At its launch, the 964 was touted as being a technological tour de force and a huge step forward. Yet by the late 1990s, it was very much the ugly duckling of the 911 family and considered notoriously unreliable, with tales of oil leaks and disintegrating flywheels being hawked around bulletin boards, so prices were rock bottom. Today, the 964 is a much-sought after classic and prices have gone through the roof, exceeding values of the evergreen 993, which my bearded enthusiast (probably) drove.

The Porsche 996 has very much followed the way of the 964. Hailed as a new beginning, then dismissed as ugly and troublesome with prices plummeting and cars becoming neglected, before finally being embraced as a classic in the making. If only I’d kept my Forest Green 964 Carrera 4, which some of you may remember me running as a project car in 911 & Porsche World. I think I sold it for £13,000! Now, I’m not suggesting that 996 prices will reach those of the 964 – there are just too many out there – but good ones are getting hard to find and values are rising.

Maybe I should tuck a few 996s into a pension pot because, after all, life moves pretty fast…

Phil runs Philip Raby Specialist Cars, a Porsche sales and service centre based near Chichester, West Sussex. He was previously Associate Editor of 911 & Porsche World, founder and Publishing Editor of Total 911, and a columnist for GT Porsche, as well as the author of various Porsche books.