Lee’s 996 Carrera diary: springing into summertime with Bilstein
Things are progressing rather nicely with my project 996. I’ve had no mechanical horror stories yet to tell with my Gen2 Carrera 4 (touch wood that continues!), which has allowed me to focus instead on simply making my 911 even better – the chief topic here being handling.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing particularly erroneous about the current handling characteristics of my 996 – and yes, that’s even with it being an all-wheel-drive Carrera, for those sniggering at the back. It’s just that, on the day I collected my Carrera 4 from RPM Technik, I was treated to some seat time in their esteemed 996 CSR, which altered my mind somewhat as to the handling potential of a 996.
I don’t want to wield the oft-used term ‘go-kart’ when assimilating the characteristics of a car (you’ll find that sort of clichéd, sloppy journalism elsewhere) but to date I have not driven a Porsche 911 that’s so direct, so feelsome and so nimble as the steer of that CSR, and that includes M030-specced cars. Simply put, it was sublime. Thus, as I climbed into the C4 and made the first ever journey home in ‘my’ 911, I promised myself I’d ensure that same feeling at the wheel would transcend on to this very 996.2. No big task, then…
Anti-roll bars and coffin arms will come later but shocks and springs were rightfully going to be my starting point, and I looked no further than Bilstein for this. The sight of Bilstein’s yellow shocks sitting under the arches of some of the world’s greatest cars is ubiquitous with motorsport for me and, with over half the teams taking to the starting grid for the Nürburgring 24-hours using Bilstein products, there’s surely no higher praise needed.
I opted for Bilstein B16s (PSS10s), which in layman’s terms is a manually adjustable damping monotube gas shock absorber with ten-stage compression and rebound settings, rated from ‘Comfort’ to ‘Sport’. The coilovers are height adjustable, too, which I found favour with as the factory ride height in Carrera form is a little too high for my liking. The kit also comes with new drop links for the front struts, which are noticeably shorter by approximately 20mm and have a slightly different design to the straight-armed factory item.
I took the car to Regal Autosport in Southampton to fit the coilovers, the whole process taking approximately six hours to complete (including tracking once the kit was installed). During installation we discovered that I needed new front top mounts due to large splits in the bushings, perhaps a surprising discovery for a car with only 76,000 miles on the clock. My insistence on using Porsche-only parts here proved an expensive model to follow, setting me back some £400 including VAT for the pair, which I sourced from Porsche Centre Bournemouth.
That meant the total bill for my suspension overhaul reached north of £2,000, which at face value is a huge amount of money when you consider the average 996 Carrera is currently trading for £15,000. However, let me tell you this: if you’re considering even one modification to positively transform the way your 996 behaves, this is it. The handling of my 996 has been revitalised: from its pin-sharp, nimble nose to its planted rear, the car’s steer is now so direct, so positive, it simply eats corners. There’s much less body roll owing to stiffer springs and the whole 996 feels like it’s glued to the Tarmac right through each turn, no doubt helped by its lower centre of gravity and faster bump and rebound damping.
Speaking of which, you may have previously read I also took my 996 on track for the first time, where I was able to stiffen up damping at the rear by simply by turning the nozzle at the top of the Bilstein struts by a few clicks. I was incredibly impressed by the performance of the Bilstein kit, which yielded far greater chassis control at high speeds – perfect for helping my 996 maintain a natural balance for corner entry. I’ve since dialled down the damping to a softer, middle-of-the-road setting for road use and, while the ride is noticeably firmer over the factory setup, it’s by no means uncomfortable around town. Besides, I’m still on the lookout for the twistiest roads I possibly can – cornering has never been so fun.