Pinky Lai exclusive interview

Since we last spoke with Pinky Lai, the 996’s perception among enthusiasts has shifted. The generation is enjoying something of a renaissance in popularity: much like the 964 did seven or eight years ago, the 996 has been thrust into the spotlight as a 911 with a thriving, dedicated culture behind it.

No longer seen as merely the ‘first’ 911 you could buy, for some the 996 is the go-to modern Neunelfer, if you favour a water-cooled 911 that’s light, nimble, and devoid of any technologies such as switchable mapping and damping. It seems the game-changer 911 is once again changing the game in Porschedom. 

Lai seems relaxed, perhaps as a result of this, but really his place in history is cemented: his 911 design clearly played a crucial part in turning around Porsche’s fortunes. The 996 alone (across Gen1 and Gen2 Coupe, Cabriolet, C4S and Turbo) received, from 1998 to 2003, no less than 11 international design awards (five from Italy, five from Germany and one from Chicago, USA).

Pinky Lai stayed at Porsche for 25 years, working on projects as diverse as the Boxster, Cayman and Cayenne. Before retiring in 2014, he was responsible for all the external OEM projects from China, Japan, Korea and Germany (operating within The Porsche Engineering Services). But he’s still designing, now for his own consultancy business. He won’t say what his latest project is but promises it’ll be eye-catching. “It’s really great,” he says. “The sum of all my career put together.” For now, we’re going back to Porsche and the birth of the 996…

T911: The 996 is nearly 25 years old. How does it feel to describe the car as a classic?

Pinky Lai: The 996 belongs to a different size category of 911 compared to modern-day generations. Of the water-cooled era, for me the 996 is the only one which captures the classic philosophy of the original 911, the original flavour of what a 911 is about. It’s about staying small: no big engine, no big proportions. 

What’s it like to design a 911?

It’s an outrageous experience. It was a 24-hour job at times – some days I was turning off the studio lights at one o’clock, two o’clock in the morning, and then I was the one who switches on those lights at 6am the next morning! It was a time of hardship at Porsche for sure but I would have done it again, if I had the chance. It got the…

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