993 Carrera v 996.1 Carrera: which is the better driver’s 911?

Manchester Free Trade Hall, May 1966: Bob Dylan casts aside his acoustic guitar and plugs in an electric Fender Stratocaster. The folk faithful look nonplussed. There are boos, and one heckler famously shouts “Judas!” as the feedback fades. 

Porsche had its own ‘Judas’ moment in 1998, when it replaced the 993 with the 996. In doing so, it called time on 35 years of the air-cooled flat six. This was progress but it felt like a revolution and, like those diehard Dylan fans, many 911 aficionados saw it as a retrograde step.

Fast-forward two decades and the 996 is viewed as an emerging classic: the start of something new, rather than the death of everything we held dear. Prices are edging upwards, yet the first water-cooled 911 remains a poor relation to its forebear in terms of values. Typically, you’ll pay twice as much for a 993 Carrera as an equivalent 996.1.

Myth-busting time, then. Is the 993 really a better car? Objectively, no: the 996 is faster, stiffer, safer and more efficient. Surprisingly, it’s actually lighter too. However, sports cars are subjective; a Porsche should feed the senses and stir the soul. So forget worn valve guides or failed IMS bearings, this latest Total 911 comparison is purely about driving.

The cars lined up are a 1996 993 Carrera and a 1998 996.1 Carrera, owned by Hugh Harvey and James Hunter respectively, and kindly supplied by RPM Technik. I’ll drive them back-to-back on some of Hertfordshire’s best A- and B-roads to distil the differences and pick a winner, straight up. Air or heir? This could get controversial…

It seems sensible to start with the 993 and it’s the car I’m more excited about driving – such is the mystique of the air-cooled 911. It’s smaller than its successor, but not to the degree you might think: overall width and height are almost identical. Even so, a narrower body (the extra width comes from those curvaceous wheel arches, which stylist Tony Hatter likened to bulging muscles) means its cabin feels ‘cosy’ if I’m being kind, ‘cramped’ if I’m not.

The 993’s dashboard is hardly an object lesson in ergonomics either. The steering wheel rim obscures the outer gauges and heater controls, and there’s precious little stowage space. My main issue, though, is with the pedals, which are skewed awkwardly towards the centre of the car. They’re floor-hinged (an original 911 design quirk expunged in the 996), and their height and spacing are perfect for heel-and-toe work. However, their alignment – or lack of – makes it all too easy to push the throttle instead of the brake in those first few miles.

To read the full feature of our comprehensive 993 v 996.1 Carrera test, pick up your copy of Total 911 issue 160 here or at any good booksellers. You can also download the digital edition to any device via Apple or Google newsstands. 

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