If you’re a car enthusiast of any degree the chances are you’ll have an opinion about Porsche, not just about the cars they make but about the 911 and if you’re a real enthusiast you’ll have a lot of opinion on many aspects of Porsches history and choices they made.
Love it or not the 911 is a motoring icon. In 1963 Porsche debuted the 901 at the Frankfurt motor show. Because Peugeot had registered cars with a middle ‘0’ classification Porsche changed the number to 911 for the public and there began a love affair that has continued for over fifty years. Can you name another car that has been in continuous production for that length of time?
It hasn’t all been plain sailing along the way, issues with handling, meeting american and then more modern safety and emissions regulations have all had an impact on the design and shape of the iconic silhouette.
Porsche were apparently concerned about moving away from the equally iconic 356, their sole model. This was the vehicle that built Porsches reputation and helped begin a racing history that ensured that the marque stole young men and women’s hearts everywhere and Porsche was a company that thought of women as customers early on. If you get a chance to flick through some of their early advertising take a look at issue Nr1 / 1952 of Christophorus, their customer magazine. There’s a great image of a young woman with her 356 parked up in the mountains, she is there putting on her skis and she’s alone, not the sort of imagery you’d expect from a sports car manufacturer of that era.
The 911 wove itself into motoring legend early on and now arguably, although Porsches model range has grown significantly, if anyone mentions Porsche it is an image of the 911 that comes instantly to mind.
Would it surprise you to know then that Porsche nearly stopped producing the 911 and in fact the 911 isn’t technically the 911, the current incarnation is the generation 2 991. Confused?
Those who love the 911 all have their favourite model. Classic Porsche prices are escalating at alarming rates in most cases and believe it or not buying a brand new 911 turbo S for around £150,000 can still be cheaper than buying a classic RS from the 70’s.
But the Porsche story isn’t all about love and success. Thankfully Porsche didn’t consign the 911 to history, a consideration that rocked the motoring world momentarily and had fans baying for blood. Production continued but a more dastardly decision in many eyes blotted the development of the 911, water cooling.
The Frankfurt motor show of 1997 debuted the new Porsche 911, the 996 model and to purists disgust the company had eschewed the famed air-cooled engine for a more modern water-cooled set up.
Whatever you read about Porsche at that period tends to discuss some common themes. Profitability was down, exchange rates were working against them and new legislation covering emissions were going to make it almost impossible for the air-cooled engine to continue. I’m no expert and won’t profess to be but the end result was Porsche entered a new era and one that divided their followers.
The advent of the 996 may be referred to as the point where Porsche began to claw their way back from the brink. This new 911 was more user-friendly, a daily driver, it performed incredibly well and drove like a Porsche, did it sound like one? There is a different sound to the older air-cooled engines and you can understand when you’re sat in one at full chat, as the hairs on the back of your neck rise, you’ll know just what the fuss is all about.
The 996 was about streamlining costs and selling numbers and that it did in grand fashion. Read the marketing material for the new launch and there is no doubt that the car was meant to be the flag bearer for the Porsche experience, a full blooded creation with a snarling pack of 6 hounds at the rear to propel the driver into driving heaven.
Personally I would suggest the Boxster is the car that really helped save Porsche. Launched in late 1996 it was an amazing machine, more affordable, drove like a dream and performed admirably, a proper Porsche in many senses it has been dubbed the poor mans 911 and looked upon with derision by some. Drive one and you’ll fall in love. Mid engined it has front and rear boot space for storage, it looks great and fixes a smile to your face every time you take one out. From the front it looks a lot like the 996 and oh dear there is part of the problem for 911 fans.
It was deemed fine for Ford or Vauxhall or Audi et al to make the fronts of their model ranges uniform but not so for Porsche. If you paid sixty or more thousand pounds for your new 911 you weren’t really expecting people to mistake it for a Boxster as you drove towards them. Buying second-hand and that feeling holds true one of the reasons second-hand prices are so attractive.
The 996 boosted Porsches sales considerably and the company grew on the back of it and the Boxster’s sales. The 911 has the accolade of being the more profitable car for Porsche.
Today the 996 is the affordable way to get into Porsche 911 ownership. Tagged as a cheap build, it is a child of its time and i have just jumped from a 2003 BMW 3 series to a 2003 996, the Porsche is built better. Yes the interior trim is a little prone to marking but no more so than the BMW, it is a child of its time. The 996 is water-cooled and that isn’t cool in 911 circles. Pre 996 is dubbed classic and 996 onwards modern. There are lots of anecdotes of faults with the engine etc, show me a twelve year old car that hasn’t seen a few issues amongst its’ brethren. They aren’t all problematic.
Sadly I recently came into a little inheritance. At a point where I should be changing my car I decided to take a calculated risk. Most cars I looked at will depreciate by the minute. The 996 is not free of this but when all other models are rising in value around it I have taken the gamble that fact will help stall if not halt the flow of cash downwards. The 996 is the unloved Porsche and that is wonderful for me because I get to step into a superb performance car for less money than most affordable daily drivers will cost new.
Admittedly it will cost more to run than your average Ford or Toyota but I can live with that, especially when the depreciation should be negligible. That’s at least what I hope, I keep telling myself.
How does it drive? One word – Amazing.
Each time I drive the car I fall a little more in love. I didn’t think I’d forgive myself for saying farewell to the BMW, for me the e46 3 Series, production run finished around 2006, is one of the best cars made. I still love its looks and the drive is superb but it isn’t a Porsche.
I trust there will be lots of good times ahead with the 996, I’m sure there’ll be trouble too but that’s car ownership. This is one vehicle that will most likely have me forgiving the little hiccups quite readily.
The 996 as a water-cooled 911 was a milestone for Porsche, it may be looked down upon by many but it marks the point from which Porsches fortunes improved and it ensured the 911 would continue onto its fiftieth year and beyond. Don’t knock it, applaud it and enjoy it.