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“It started over a year ago when I visited Porsche specialists Autofarm in Oxfordshire and drove their 996 Carrera. That’s code for the fourth-generation 911 often deemed the runt of the litter, but it didn’t seem so runty to me: it felt light and compact, and its steering, engine and chassis brimmed with fizzy energy.” Car magazine, September 2018.
Ah yes, the 996. From pretty much the day it was launched it has been the whipping boy of the 911 dynasty. Tales of 996 owners desperately trying to swap back to their recently part exchanged 993s abound and the ‘barstool experts’ have been lining up to give it a good kicking for years now. We know, we were there and until recently still saw their point – sort of. In the words of the Fast Show’s Jesse, “This week I have mostly been very pleasantly surprised” and the couple of 996s that we have been lucky enough to auction have been something of a mini-epiphany. There have been rumblings for a while now (e.g. Octane magazine’s front cover, October 2017) which have confirmed that the tide has finally and firmly turned in favour of the black sheep of the 911 family. Yes, the spotlight has hit the first of the water cooled cars partly because the last of the air cooled cars’ values have taken off like a Harrier Jump Jet in the past six years and their being worth just 30% of the previous generation machines was simply nonsensical and not sustainable. Revisited due to their bargain status people have found that the years have treated them well and now they can be appreciated without recourse to justifications such as, ‘Yes, but it is the cheapest 911 bar none’; these are great cars in their own right and this became blindingly obvious to us when we evaluated and experienced this fine example on the superb roads of Anglesey. The 996 is not half the pantomime villain it once was and it is now being elevated into the Classic Porsche family.
An original Porsche ‘C16’ code UK right hand drive machine, this 911 Carrera was delivered to the Porsche Centre East London in Stratford and registered on 22nd November 2002. Well specified, apparently as part of the ‘what the customer wants, the customer gets’ Porsche Exclusive Program, it was delivered with electrically adjustable sports seats, Porsche Stability Management, rear wash wipe, top tinted windscreen, aluminium gear and handbrake lever trims, stainless steel ‘Carrera’ logoed door entry guards, rear parking sensors and a five speed gearbox with Tiptronic controls on the steering wheel. All these goodies were of course in addition to the generous standard UK ‘kit’ which included niceties such as air conditioning and an alarm/immobiliser in case the whole package became rather over-appreciated by someone else...
Being a 2002 machine it is a ‘post facelift’ example with a more aesthetically pleasing redesigned front end and enlarged 3.6 litre engine which took power up to 320 BHP (or 325 according to some sources) and the Carrera to sixty-two MPH in 4.9 seconds, interestingly, 0.1 quicker than its heavier four wheel drive sibling so it clearly doesn’t give anything away in the traction department.
The bodywork on the Carrera is exceptionally good with excellent panel fit and no evidence of even a supermarket carpark dink never mind anything more serious. There is the odd isolated stone chip and light scratch here and there on, for example, the protective finish on the sills (please see the photo gallery), though this is as one might expect on a car of this age and mileage. Aside from these tiny blemishes, the rare Orient Red (Code L8A3) paintwork is still in superb order and it suits the classic yet contemporary shape of the 996 admirably. A depth test has confirmed that the Porsche is still sporting the paint it left the factory with. The glass and exterior plastics are all in virtually unmarked condition, though the owner was keen to get some appropriate polish on the bi-xenon headlight lenses as we were concluding our inspection.
The Factory 18” 3.6 Carrera 5 spoke alloy wheels are not only a very attractive design but in this instance they are in excellent un-kerbed condition, complete with Porsche crest centre caps. The brand-new (as in two month, eight hundred miles ago) N Rated Bridgestone tyres fitted all round are a good indication of a no expense spared attitude to maintenance.
Under the 911 the engine appears oil tight with no visible leaks, doubtless aided by the precautionary replacement of the rear main oil seal but more of that later. There are just one or two light brushes to the car’s under-shields. Topside the unit is very clean and again dry while thankfully showing no evidence of having been ‘enhanced’ with cosmetic preparations.
The VIN label still in place on the underside of the luggage lid would seem to confirm the panel’s originality and the spare wheel and tools in this usefully deep compartment (another win over the Carrera 4) are unused.
Inside the ‘Savana Beige’ full leather trim and alcatara headlining are in very good condition indeed with no apparent wear even to the driver’s seat which has just the lightest of creasing and a slight additional sheen to it in comparison to the other chairs, which all appear to be virtually un-sat in. The optional extra aluminium trim shows no evidence of major scratches or scrapes and the carpeting is for the most part admirably mark free. The standard Harman sound system has a CD changer in the luggage compartment and drives an impressive array of speakers for such a relatively compact cabin. Nit picking, there is a small mark to the passenger seat back where the safety belt has caught it but this looks superficial and may be removable with the correct solvent. Slightly more obvious is the trim at the base of the windscreen which has been refinished and would definitely benefit from further attention, perhaps triming in leather; again, please see the photo gallery.
As one might expect, the Carrera starts without hesitation and immediately settles into a 650 RPM idle which when ‘cold’ gives an oil pressure reading right at the top of the scale – 5 bar. I think we have done well to get this far without mention of the IMS bearing and for those rightly concerned about this yes, the appropriate retrofit has been carried out at 48,000 miles. While this work was being undertaken the rear main oil seal was changed as a precaution along with the critical exhaust manifold bolts. The Tiptronic gearbox engages smoothly and works perfectly in either fully automatic mode or when controlled manually. It is small wonder that the system is considered to be more mechanically sympathetic never mind, dare we say it, quicker than the flesh and blood operated version. With a suspension overhaul carried out just 14,000 miles ago which included the fitting of Spax coil overs and Bilstein B6 dampers supplied by model gurus Design 911 UK, along with a four wheel alignment check, the Carrera drives exceptionally well over some pretty challenging roads. The owner describes the suspension as ‘to GT3 specification’ and the 911 certainly rides very well, rolls negligibly and grips tenaciously with not a squeak, rattle or clonk to be heard. Throughout the test drive, the Sports Seats option proved to be a wise selection providing exceptional comfort and outstanding support.
The all-important Service Book has no fewer than nineteen stamps as shown in the photo gallery. The majority are from Official Porsche Centres with attention lavished on the 911 annually despite not being due on a mileage basis. All this is accompanied by Official Porsche Centre stamps for the relevant air bag checks, Long Life Guarantee inspections and a number of brake fluid changes. These stamps are backed up with detailed invoices for work carried out, confirming the comprehensive service history. Photographs of the ‘engine out’ IMS bearing upgrade along with the associated attention to the rear main oil seal and manifold bolts mentioned above are on file. Notes in the Service Book and invoices attest to additional non-Official Porsche Centre work such as the suspension rebuild and four wheel alignment, new coil packs, battery, timing belt and brake servo along with a calliper overhaul. In the past four months alone, the Porsche has been treated to a new set of Brembo brake pads, air conditioning condensers and the aforementioned new Bridgestone tyres.
Remarkably the Carrera has never failed or even missed an MOT in its life and the only advisories have been for tyre wear or damage and some slight suspension play that was eradicated when this was rebuilt; an advertisement for preventative maintenance if ever there was one. There is a raft of certificates on file including the current one, valid until November 2019.
Used regularly throughout its life, as Porsche intended, and with some 12,000 miles being covered between MOTs just a couple of years ago, this fine example ably demonstrates the sense in doing just that, so long as maintenance is carried out diligently. It is fair to say that 911s thrive on this sort of use and this machine remains wonderful to drive, taught and tight in all areas and feeling totally un-burstable. Lightest of the 996s, GT3 included, the Carrera 2 acquits itself very well and makes a good case for being the drivers’ choice of the range. Being narrow of hip relative to the 4S and Turbo, never mind the latest generation of 911, only adds to its appeal, particularly to the driver who understands that ‘turning it up to eleven’ is not always the answer. Eminently usable as an everyday car, particularly in Tiptronic form, the 996 Carrera is definitely living up to its “Best used 911 you can buy” label and with the price guides already adding significantly to its value over the past year or so, it may also prove to be a good financial move too, especially given its 993 predecessor has now cleared the £40K barrier by some considerable margin.