In praise of the Porsche 996 Carrera

‘Thank goodness for the 996’. Granted, it’s not a sentence you’re likely to hear too often from a Porsche enthusiast, if ever at all. In fact, you only need take in a brief observation of the internet to stumble across a plethora of forum threads and articles dedicated to defaming the virtues of Porsche’s first water-cooled 911. So is the 996-generation of 911 really that bad a catastrophe for Porsche? The answer, emphatically, is no.

996 Carrera: the very reason for the 911s existence today.
996 Carrera: the very reason for the 911s existence today.

History tells us the 911 has had a few close shaves with mortality. In the Seventies, impact bumpers had to be incorporated for the G-series cars in order to comply with US road safety laws, and engine adjustments in the 911 range were necessary to meet stringent Stateside emissions tests – all undertaken by Porsche to help safeguard a huge export market for the model. Then there was that oh-so famous meeting between incoming CEO Peter Schutz and lead developer Helmut Bott in the latter’s office at the time of the flagging SC. After ingesting the wall-mounted production timeline of the 911 that stopped abruptly the following year, Schutz promptly picked up a pen and continued the line not only to the end of the graph, but all along the wall and even around the corner. Thanks to Schutz, the 3.2 Carrera was hastily introduced shortly after, and the 911 lived on once more.

However, if the 3.2 Carrera can lay claim to being the model that saved the 911 (see our 16-page celebration in the current issue of the magazine for more) then the 996 can take the credit for being the car that saved Porsche.

By the turn of the Nineties, Porsche were widely reported to be in a near-perilous financial state. Great sportscars were still leaving the factory floor (read ‘the 993’), but profit margins were strained. Something needed to be done.

The 996 Carrera is the very reason the 911 has kept on motoring today.
The 996 Carrera is the very reason the 911 has kept on motoring today.

Step forward the 996: a new-era 911 designed by Pinky Lai, complete with an engine cooled by water and built in tandem with the new 986 Boxster platform. Many parts were shared, keeping labour and outsourcing to a minimum while, crucially, maximising profits. Sales of both cars were healthy (nearly 79,000 996 Gen1 Carreras were sold compared to 38,000 993 Carreras before it) and the company, as we well know, duly turned a corner. A facelifted 996 was released to satisfy those who lamented those admittedly divisive front headlamps, and Zuffenhausen’s premier sportscar has since evolved further and still lives on today (so too does the Boxster).

It’s sad then that Porsche’s saviour 911 has to put up with an unfair legacy full of hyperbolic scored bores and failed IMS bearings alike.

For sure, a small proportion of 996s have suffered here, but nothing like the scale that forums will have you believe. Contrary to that, most run fine: we’ve even taken a drive in a 173,000-mile 996 Carrera for a recent feature and reveled in its ability to still delight – without any form of engine rebuild in sight (Total 911 issue 113).

Think a 996 Carrera won't last? Think again, as we showed you in issue 113.
Think a 996 Carrera won’t last? Think again, as we showed you in issue 113.

Better still, the 996 Carrera now makes for a phenomenal entry-level foray into 911 ownership, with examples readily available for as little as £10,000. There’s not much else in the contemporary market that can offer such rewarding performance for so little cash.

So, next time you come across undue slander against the 996, remember there’s an awful lot about that particular 911 that we Porsche enthusiasts must be forever thankful for.

Do you agree? Comment below or tweet us @Total911 with your thoughts.

Comments (37)

  • LP

    It was Evo Magazine’s Car of the Year when it was launched and is still regarded by the majority of motoring press as one of the best 911s. Sadly too many judge it on its reliability issues and not on its merits as a drivers car – more fool them.

  • Ed Turner

    Great cars i ve had 5. 3 x Turbo’s a GT3 and a GT2. I’ve also had a host of air-cooled cars and i’d say the 996’s are better driving cars far quicker and better handling. Sure they don’t have that famous clunk when you shut the door like an old air-cooled car but they also don’t rot like them either

  • John Moore

    I own a 1998 Carrera 2 Tiptronic and it is a supurb car that I bought last year in the Netherlands for 15.000 pounds. Dealer history and 80.000 miles. It is Indian red with18 inch Carrera wheels, a Carnewal GT Exhaust Upgrade and sport seats. Every mile I enjoy the unique 911 experience and smile at every corner. This car fills my driving need. And my Porsche Specialist made it possible that the cooling fans start working at 194 Fahrenheit in stead of 223 Fahrenheit. So the problem of bad engine cooling is tackled. I make 10.000 miles a year and the 996 is the best 911 to do that.

  • Donald Burger

    Recently watched an old Top Gear Episode. 1998 Porsche 996 vs. Corvette vs. Nissan GTR vs. Acura NSX The Porsche 996 wins. Other Porschephiles may turn their noses up at it but that isn’t bad company it just beat out.

  • Stuart M

    Unfortunately my 52k mile, 2003 3.6 c2 went pop – catastrophic engine failure, despite full service history and rigorous oil changes. No warning at all.

  • Still love my 2001 996 after ten years and 70,000 miles. Routine maint and resurfaced wheels and she is great fun to drive roof up or down.

  • enriver

    Fast, agile and solid like a rock, my 2000 Carrera is easily the best Porsche I have ever owned! More spacious and comfortable than any predecessor, the 996 marked real progress in the 911 line. The water cooled engine was a must if the line was to survive, and it did not only survive, it prospered all the way to the 997 and 991, a formidable sports car, which one day I hope to own. If we look at the 996 with an intelligent and dispassionate approach, we can see that a $75,000 tag for an automobile that rivaled the Ferrari 338 at more than $300,000, and keeps its value, unlike Ferrari, is not only a good deal, it is a great deal.

  • I like the 996 Carrera, but my personal favorite Porsche is the 993.

  • To >>>> Lee Sibley. Very well written, Lee. I didn´t know about your fine magazine with a contentious attitude, quite a rare thing to find nowadays. Back in the days in the early 90s in Weissach, it was nothing but dark and clowdy days as the 986/996 came to being.. in such a finacial meltdown inside Porsche..a couple of my designers had to be sent home dispite voluntarily offering my salary cut. It wasn´t about a choice of doing the 996 as it is, it was a daily struggle especially with the controlling which was equivalent to bean-counter, the design of the initial 996 wasn´t even allowed to have any moving spoiler, becaus ethere was not enough budget in its development, amidst many other minor downside conditions which could be summed up at a very design-hostile environment. Nobody really care and nobody wanted to know once the 996 was launch…fast forward to what I wanted to say here, it was aboutcreating the maximum bang for the buck and I was allowed to play tricks to win back the moving rear spoiler in order to safe the typical 911 silhouette, could you inmagine
    trying to get a decent laptime without a spoiler? A fix spoiler would kill instantly the 996, because the slope-back silhouette is holy for any base 911 – the bread and butter model of Porsche… the sleepless night and every agony paid off once the 996 kicked started the yearly record sale eversince and the first year of the 996 Turbo production had to be doubled up because the order-book was piling up when it was launched at the Frankfurt motorshow back in 2000…and the rest is history and the 996 body-shape established the legacy for all the replacements that follow.. until 991 .. that is a no comment from my end ..

  • Maciej

    The 996 is a true 911, a true Porsche. Fullstop. Most negative comments come from those who have never ever driven a 911 996. So, as Magnus Walker says ” don’t talk, drive, drive, drive and have fun!” Amen.

  • Bansheestethoscope Brazeel

    Thankx Pinky Lai for the insight , and thankx for designing such a magnificent car!!

  • David Grinstead

    I presently have a 996 cab and a 996 C4. Having owned and/or driven a multiplicity of Porsches to this point, I can attest to the 996 being a true (and awesome) Porsche.

  • Marcos Larkman

    This is a great article. Having owned a 996 Carrera 4 cabrio 911 for about a year now, it is one of the favourite cars that I own. Not only that, it can be used all year round. How many ‘high end’ cars are capable or practical enough to be used as an everyday car… not many. The service I get from the main dealer is also excellent, and at 120K miles, it has just sailed through the MOT (through non main dealer to double check it’s health) with no observations whatsoever. Stick to routine (main dealer) servicing, with people that know these cars, then they’ll spot any issues way before they become your issue! Like any other car, every car has it’s own set of issues, and the 996 is no exception. Perhaps at some point people will start to realise or appreciate this iconic model.

  • Kevin Ladin

    I’m with Pinky. The 996 was most certainly revolutionary, and that was precisely what was needed at the time. While many lament the cosmetic idiosyncrasies of the car, particularly the headlamps, They fail to acknowledge just how credible a sports car it was, focusing only on the relatively rare instances of engine failure, a problem that has been far overblown. As owner of a low (10,000 miles) 996.2 cabriolet, I couldn’t be happier. I love driving it and have no complaints whatsoever. I’ve even come to love its headlamps!

  • npr

    According to the Eisen IMS class action lawsuit, the rate of IMS failure in MY 98-99 dual row bearing is 1%.
    A lot of articles and opinions have been written saying how the early 996s where the ones more prone to failure. Now we can see these opinions for what they really are: just opinions without any evidence support.

    The world will come to realize that the 996 is a great 911. There are some items one has to be careful about, but afaik this is the case with any 911 generation.

  • My 996 4S is magnificent. I’ve had a 964 C4, a 996 C4 and a classic 81 SC Targa. My 4S drives with stability, and purpose when I floor it, or domestically when in the burbs.
    Its a wolf in sheep’s clothing. I replaced the Main Bearing as a precaution and never looked back. With under 50000 Kms on the clock its still new. Ill take a 991 Targa 4S, for its design and looks, but my 2003 996 4S remains dear. (Johannesburg)

  • Damien McGrath

    The 996’s design is more in keeping with the original 911, no massively flared wheel arches just a beautiful flowing silhouette. The 997 may have been heralded as return of the 911’s curves but early 911’s didn’t have them. I even love the headlights, though there was no way the purists were going to accept them and water cooling. People are always surprised when I tell them mine is 15 years old. Future Classic!!!

  • Thank you for the 996, and for what you did for Porsche and Porschephiles.

  • Namakabrood Abrood

    I agree. Scaremongering and bashing sells other products and services. People have a greater chance of getting cancer than a 996 engine failure. There are 2 types of Porsche owners, the ones with extra cash and the DIYs. If you don’t belong to the 2 groups, then buy a Toyota Corolla the best selling, most reliable but boring car in the world. 2002 996 with 88000 miles still original ims and clutch and drives like a dream.

  • Mohammed Smith

    I have decided to buy a late 2003 996 2S tiptronic. I have to say, your magazine scores this car very low compared to other similar models. Your comments above and those of Pinky P Lai do not reflect your low score. I have read all the comments posted by people who own a 996 and cannot find any major issue or a majority offering negative feedback. Quite the opposite I think. A car that was responsible for giving a new life to Porsche should be given 4 out of 5 and not 2.5.

  • Jeff Phillips

    I just bought my first Porsche, a 1998 996. Thanks to all the bad press this model received I was able to pick one up for a price that I can afford. I now own a real Porsche 911 that is very rewarding to drive and looks great. The price i paid means I can upgrade the IMS bearing and change the water pump which will eliminate those two failure points for at least five years, thats not to say it will be immune from any other issues, but what vehicle is totally immune from failure? Any Porsche no matter what model, needs to have money spent on maintenance to keep it performing the way you expect. At least the 996 can be purchased at a price that allows you to deal with the know issues before they become a problem and then enjoy a rewarding high performance car for relatively little money.

  • chris barrett

    I have a 1999 C4 cabriolet. Manual, base. It is a wonderful car. It’s a true Porsche. The weirdness of the IMS problem fetish is particularly ironic when contrasted to all the various problems of the cars that preceded it. I really really like it anyway. I liked the earlier ones too of course. Pinky did an amazing job, it channels the speedster, resets the 911 palette but doesn’t abandon the family at all. It’s is a visceral mechanical experience, not much between machinery and driver really; very elemental. And it goes. And it lasts. Haters gonna hate.

  • Morgan

    It’s apparent to me my first 911 will have to be a 996. I’m at peace with that now.

  • Karin White

    I’ve been a Porsche fan for so many years, a driving fanatic but I am not afraid to say that I am not a well versed mechanic or aficionado technically. So here is where I ask for the assistance of the greater well versed public! I want to buy my first Porsche, what are your thoughts on a 2000 Porsche 911 carrera 4? Mileage around 120k km. Be gentle guys we all had to start somewhere!

  • Marco

    For Karin: i’ve been dreaming of the 911 since I Was a child.
    I’m 38, and I remember like yesterday the first sighting: it vas a 3200 SC red…Love…
    Last year The dream comes true (not an SC cause it’s too expansive for me right now!!!) and Now I drive a 2000 996 black C4 cabrio with 110k km. I’ve payed it like a WW golf (quinte funny isn’t it??) but it’s a dream to drive it. If you take care you’ll be repayed…
    I had MB Kompressor and BMW M3 before. Porsche is Porsche. When You look at it, when yuo drive it, ok even when you take care of it, but it gives you back all that she promises: emotions, feelings…and if you belive in it, love for a car, for a brand, and for the story.
    So Karin I hope you’ll have the chance to drive a part of a story that never ends…that’s fine, and great. With all the respect for boxster 986…it’s not enought the fact to have pieces and parts in common (I agree, too much in common) with 996 to state that 996 is a Bseries 911…It happends today…you buy SLK and you aspire to have SL, You drive X4 but you wish you have X6…So in my opinion people should say thanks to the eggs beam, to the water cooling…because if they enjoy 997 and 991 si thanks to the 996 too.
    Many greatings from Italy

  • Alessandro Fiori

    Ciao Marco, sto per comprare anchio una 996 cabrio, hai suggerimenti su cosa guardare?Grazie!

  • Marco

    Ciao Alessandro! Innanzitutto complimenti per l’acquisto futuro…Io non sono un super maniaco espertissimo…ma ti dico cosa ho trovato io prima di prendere la mia: libretti manutenzione in ordine sparso, cruscotti che iniziavano a staccarsi per il sole, cappotte ricucite alla meno peggio, macchine già calde quando le andavo a vedere…
    Fa molto (come sempre) il numero proprietari e se la prendi da privato o comunque tramite che canale la trovi. Sui km, se il motore e’ manutenuto e curato, ed ha fatto gli interventi anti rotture scomode, non aver paura di chilometraggi alti…la mia è a 116.000 ma il motore e ‘ ancora il suo: quindi, no non esplode per forza.
    Provala e sentì il cambio, senti se si impunta, e occhio che tanti ti dicono “ho messo i rapporti corti per bla bla bla”, ma dietro possono esserci problemi. Pretendi il libretto tagliandi, e ti consiglio di spendere qualche migliaio di euro in più ma su una macchina che ha storia “tracciabilie”…lascia stare le 4 proprietari e lascia stare i “l’ho usata una stagione ma non mi piace la guida…”
    Se da fredda e’ un po’ irregolare, non preoccuparti…lo fanno. Se è irregolare e fuma molto e’ già diverso, ma se è un pelo irregolare e fa odore di benzina, può succedere.
    Infine controlla bene la cappotta in chiusura: la zona sopra il montante, piegandosi vicino al traliccio durante la detrazione può succedere che sia lesa o peggio prossima a strapparsi: occhio.
    Detto questo, personalmente preferisco C4, ma è puro gusto personale…
    In bocca al lupo per l’acquisto!!!

  • Atlas_Smokes

    Just bought a 2003 C2 71k mi, California garaged car. In heaven with the gearing and sound in particular. The look alone, mine is arctic silver, seems destined to be a classic. Slender, wide rear wheels to put down >300hp, excellent profile and low weight.

  • Provotrout

    bravo !

  • Keith Schaal

    Like many, I’ve always dreamed of owning a Porsche. I happened across, merely by chance, a beautiful 2001 996 in great condition and low miles (50k). I’ve since put 24,000 immensely enjoyable miles on it. I, also like many, am not mechanically inclined so I found a friendly, helpful, and affordable independent Porsche trained mechanic. The car has been flawless, just routine maintenance to this point. In short, I got the thrill, quality, and pride of owning a Porsche for the cost of a Volkswagen. What more could one want! If you yearn to own a Porsche this is model is the perfect place to start!

  • Jim Kastama

    Purchased a 2004 996 4S for $28,000. Even when the water pump went out, I felt like I was having a great day. I love this car! My friends think I paid a bomb for it — I think I got the steal of the century. My advice: Take your time researching the background of the car. Past owners tend to be pretty good about maintenance, so you’re bound to find a good one. 911 drive like new. Don’t let the 996 headlights bother you. The car is a rush to drive and only Porsche-officionados care. The only regret is that I didn’t buy one sooner.

  • Willem Dolder Van

    I owned a 1987 Targa, a 1988 Cabrio, a 964 cabrio Carrera4 1992, a 993 S 1997 (still own it) and now also a 996 Targa 2002 238.000 kms. Motor items done like the cooling etc, all moving parts of the motor renewed and this 996 is the very best Porsche I did ever drive even after all those kms. Thank you lord.

  • Haakon T. Nordli

    Got our 996 two months ago. Happiest time in our life, so far. A beautiful everyday-car. Drive to work every morning with a smile on my face – a new experience! She is a bit thirsty, I know. But then again: Who isn’t?

  • Jeff DharmaMan

    I’ve had a 2003 C4S 42,000 mi now for about 8 months. It is an absolutely fantastic car. I look forward to driving it every day. And stunning to look at after all these years–“THAT car is 14 years old??” Is a common comment. Even from a Porsche parts guy who sees new P’s everyday “Man, the design of that car just does NOT get old.” Thank you Pinky.

  • Michael Berning

    Aircooled ICE engines are a thing of the past … Electric vehicles are the future and the current water cooled vehicles (996, 997, 991, etc) are a transition towards an electric future. Electric vehicles do not have exhaust systems, oxygen sensors, water pumps, RMS, IMS bearings and AOS to go out on them. Unfortunately that means we won’t have as many issues to complain about on these boards

    Until then I will enjoy my 996 and miss my air-cooled Porsche and VWs Bugs and Buses not too much.

  • Michael Berning

    I love the headlights on the 996.2 generation. It makes the vehicle unique and they actually are brighter than the old 993 headlights.

  • Michael Freedman

    Just found this thread: I have what seems to be the least popular 911 / 996 – a Targa; and guess what? I love it.
    131,000 miles, looks and drives like new. keep them well maintained and they will give you years of pleasure. My roof has recently gone ‘a bit slow’ so I may need to spend a bit there, but it’s a keeper for sure, and boy, does it look good; and it’s a proper sports car. The latest 991, whilst very very fast, seems more of a cruiser, without the ‘feel’ of a 996 – Yes, I have driven one, and there’s the cost of course, you could have 8 of mine for a new 911!
    There are plenty of good 996 out there; don’t worry too much about the mileage, just look carefully at the maintenance and history. Manual or Tip? Mine’s a manual, but buy what you like. The best one is the one you like best!