a 911 is a 911

April 13, 2020 /// issue no. 104

It seems like when automotive enthusiasts are really bored they start to write articles about how the “unloved” 996-generation Porsche 911 is still a great 911. I guess it’s time for me to do the same. I took a poll this week of close friends to ask who gets excited about vintage 911s. I wasn’t surprised that I was the only one. I won’t be surprised if you aren’t either so you will have to be a little patient this week. All I want to do when I get out of here is buy a Porsche.

As someone who has always wanted a 911 it is perhaps a little embarassing that I have only ever driven two. The latest was a 991.1 GT3 RS. On track. In anger. The first was a 996 C2 with BBS LM wheels and an aftermarket GT3 wing for a weekend road trip. That roadtrip was to wine country and not exactly the type you would find the latest trend of overlanding 996 Carrera 4S drivers going on.

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I have wanted a 964 or 993 since childhood. If non-911 owners could be purists I guess that would be what I aspire to be. I remember being disappointed in the 996 when it was released, as if it mattered to a high school kid. The 996 seemed bloated. It had a radiator. The headlights weren’t round. What in the world was Porsche doing?

I found this particular 996 on RelayRides (now Turo) and trekked across San Francisco to bring it home. It displaced the family SUV from the garage for an evening just so I could pretend it was mine. My wife was pregnant at the time which was not ideal because: (a) we were going to Napa, and (b) a sports car isn’t exactly the most comfortable place to be as a pregnant woman. She didn’t notice the aftermarket wheels but certainly thought the wing was gaudy.

As we headed out for our trip I drove it as if it were a Civic commuter. There isn’t much excitement to be had in a 911 as you trek through San Francisco and make your way over the Golden Gate Bridge. Plus this wasn’t my car. When we finally got to Highway 12 it was time to open it up. It didn’t have the push you back in the seat torque of my WRX but it had two extra cylinders and the same horizontally opposed orientation. The driving was more connected, the audio more visceral, and the experience more exciting than an econo-box turned up to 11. I took every opportunity I could to mash the gas.

At the same time, I found the car to be mildly annoying. I have owned cars with lowered suspensions for the last two decades, but being a true sports car the 911 required the same care stock as a slammed stanced hard parker. The interior felt dated, but not in a classic way. The materials did not exude quality and the design was quintessentially 90s. The gearbox also felt sloppy. Given the clutch pressure I expected precision, but what I got felt like a VW Passat.

We returned to the city and I went on my own to take a couple of quick runs through local backroads before I returned the car to its owner. My pregnant wife put the kibosh on any purchase plans. She said it was uncomfortable and the back seats were fine for wine bottles but good luck getting a rear facing car seat in there. I was relieved that I didn’t love the 996. It was a 911. It felt like a sports car. It felt like a grand tourer. It felt mildly special even in pedestrian C2 trim.

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Porsche made about 175,000 996s in its 6 years of “real” production. That’s about how many first generation pop-up headlight Mazda Miatas were made in its first real 6 years. That means they are everywhere. A base model 996 C1 can now be had all day for about $15,000. Sure basic maintenance isn’t the same as a Honda Fit, but you’ll be buying a hell of a lot of car for the money. And it’s still a 911. Would it be my first choice? Not a chance in hell. Would it make an interesting track car? Let’s talk about that tomorrow.

Coffee time,
Steven


daily automotive addiction.