It is a general fact that many Porsche purists and enthusiasts view the 996-generation Porsche 911 as the lowest point in the 911’s lifespan. Their reasoning for this verdict stem from the hideous headlights, the infamous intermediate shaft’s ball-bearing failure, and the sacrilegious swap to water-cooling. The release of the Cayman slightly before this new generation and the rise of mass production do not help the car’s case for perfectionists; compared to the 911’s of yore, this was the ugly duckling.
Such a comparison is exact in that the 996 Turbo has become the racing swan of the family. Not only does it have the capability to corner well, but it also makes the most of its 415 Stuttgart horses through a flat-six stuffed in the rear with two coconut-sized turbochargers, granting the power to whoosh to all four corners of the car.
Why, however, is the ugly duckling the swan?
1. The Aesthetics Matter Naught
The problems people have with the car begin by locking eyes on the car’s eyes. Images of running eggs are conjured by the bizarre design that extends the traditional oval with an awkward parallelogram in the lower-left corner. This is the one exterior blemish that people fault, despite there being a wider rear, intakes just above the rear wheels, unique, Turbo-only wheels, and a fancy, automated rear spoiler.
The interior, which does not wear in the best manner, is painted in the same light as a horror story. Due to mass production being utilized on Porsche’s rear-engined sports car, everything was, as Bradley Brownell, a co-host at The Cammed & Tubbed Podcast, elaborated, “built to a price point.” He further lambasted the plastic and leatherette by exclaiming that “the buttons fall out of the dash, there isn’t a single comfortable place to put an elbow, and early cars didn’t even have glove boxes.”
When one goes racing on the track, none of the looks matter. It does not matter if the interior is of superb or terrible quality, because in either case, it is going to be binned in the pursuit of simplifying and adding lightness. It does not matter if the car’s headlights are ovals or fried eggs, because in either case, it is important that headlights of any kind are equipped to clear darkness from a track. It does not matter if it is comfortable and beautiful or stiff and ugly, because in either case, function trumps form. While it is important for a track car to have some degree of comfort, its form should be a byproduct of its function.
2. Bearing Issues are Nonexistant
The 996 generation of 911’s are reviled for the chance of an IMS bearing failure. What the IMS does is that it drives the camshafts indirectly by using the crankshaft, also turning the oil pump at the same time. When Porsche was experimenting with different bearing designs, some of the bearings that were produced were low-capacity bearings, with some of these being used in the 996 engines. This resulted in engines suddenly and catastrophically failing, requiring a complete heart transplant to resolve the issue.
With that being stated, there is good news for the 996 Turbo: this issue cannot occur in their turbocharged flat-sixes. This is because the engine used in the turbocharged variants is not the same as those in the naturally-aspirated variants. Instead, the one used is a Mezger engine, equipped with certain road-going Porsches up to the 997 generation’s swansong, the GT2 RS. Originally designed to power the Le Mans-winning Porsche 911 GT1, it forgoes the “integrated dry sump system” found in the naturally-aspirated M96 and M97 engines so a real dry-sump system could be equipped.
To reduce the oil surge and a possible drop in pressure that would occur during hard cornering, oil is harvested from the crankcase by two scavenge pumps. It is then transferred to a separate and engine-mounted oil tank before six oil pumps (one for each cylinder) send the fluid into the engine’s oil galleries. Despite the Mezger engine using an intermediate shaft, the six pumps are operated by the crankshaft, reducing the chance for a bearing failure. Along with that, the GT1-based engine has a different gallery design which keeps the IMS bearings lubricated at all times.
3. Water Cooling Improves Performance
Not only is oil needed in the 996 to keep the bearings lubricated, but water is also needed to keep the engine cool. The switch from air cooling to water cooling is a deadly sin that many purists believe the 996 broke. Air cooling does have its benefits; not only does it lighten a car’s load, but it also produces an unforgettably aggressive rasp that cannot be mistaken.
Despite the choice to move from one fluid to another based on emissions and noise regulations, water cooling brings a needed boost to performance. Water cooling would allow the flat-six to be redesigned such that it could accommodate a valvetrain of four valves per cylinder. Invariably, this would allow the motor to bolster power, increase fuel efficiency, and reduce emissions. Furthermore, the development curve for Porsche’s flat-six would be extended; where a zenith was being reached in the air-cooled power plants, Porsche would be able to further innovate the engine many years into the future with water cooling.
One cannot dispute the successes that Porsche attained with water cooling. The aforementioned Mezger engine utilized water cooling and powered the Porsche 911 GT1, which clinched Porsche’s sixteenth win at 1998’s running of Le Mans. Porsche’s 962, whose water cooling system, two turbochargers, twenty-four valves, and six cylinders were inherited by the GT1, proved to be even more successful with this system. Spewing 780 horsepower and 524 lb-ft of torque, the 962 would win a total of twenty-one Constructors’ Championships.
4. Plentiful Power Provides Propulsion
The 962 is a full-flight race car, and the 911 GT1 is also a full-flight race car. Both Porsche beasts pack an engine that is built for endurance, performance, and efficiency. That engine’s architecture is inherited by the 996 Turbo, a road car. Technology from the upper echelons of the Stuttgart manufacturer’s racing ambitions has trickled down to public in the form of this 3.6 L Turbo engine, which unleashes from 415 horsepower and 415 lb-ft of torque (in the standard Turbo guise) up to 450 of the former and 450 of the latter (in the powerful Turbo X50 and elusive Turbo S trims).
Such a powerful engine can send the Turbo from zero to sixty miles per hour in an impressive 4.2 seconds, with the Turbo X50 dispatching the target speed in 4.0 seconds and the Turbo S doing so in a scant 3.9 seconds. In all three trims, it is guaranteed that the speedometer’s needle can surpass 300 kilometers per hour (186 miles per hour). With a six-speed stick shift, these figures are fun to toy with, but one should not underestimate them. The base 996 Turbo has thirteen more horsepower than the 993 Turbo; despite the former having better performance, it is the latter which is valued so significantly that it’s over twice as much as the former’s cost.
5. All-Wheel Drive Grants Traction
415-450 aggressive pferde will certainly get one far, but they are unusable if a car cannot effectively land their hooves on the road. To ensure that every wheel applies this power, an all-wheel drive system is employed. The system confers the privilege of being able to drive in any weather and on any road to the 911, along with providing traction. The combination of a rearward engine and an all-wheel drive system allows 38% of the weight to sit frontward, while 62% of it sits behind the driver.
Despite these figures, the Turbo can brake and grip well because of this system. It makes use of a viscous clutch that is in series with the driveline to the front differential. Typically, it transmits approximately 15% of the six-cylinder’s torque to the front differential, but this can increase to up to 45% if the system detects that the rear tires have lost grip for an extended amount of time (the system does not react immediately). There is also a “virtual” limited-slip differential that acts on the rear wheels; the rear brakes are applied differentially to the wheel with the least amount of traction. Furthermore, in the case that both rear wheels lose their grip on the asphalt, a traction control system is enabled, being part of a suite of technologies that are collectively known as Porsche Stability Management.
6. Low Prices Make it a Bargain
The most incredible aspect of the 996 Turbo is that one can gain everything - the racing-derived Mezger mill, the future-proofed water cooling system, and the suite of technologies - for a relatively reasonable price. With the 996 generation, the lack of appreciation from purists causes the Turbos’ prices to sink to the point where mortals can take hold of Zeus’s greased lightning. With spectacular performance, an aversion to the IMS bearing issue, and a spirited driving experience, the Turbo sells within the five-figure range’s middle ground.
Such a price point offers the chance to modify the car with whatever money remains in the track car’s budget. To optimize it for racing about a circuit, one could purchase stickier tires to make the wheels stick to the road, install a different suspension or adjust the alignment to mitigate any understeer, install larger turbochargers to unleash more power, or stick a big wing on the rear to increase downforce. The aftermarket for these cars is large, offering a variety of parts at cheap prices; as a result, one can modify a 996 however they wish.
Stock, the Porsche 996 Turbo is a highly capable car that provides world-class performance for a wallet-appealing price. Its potential is further discovered upon modifying it, along with gaining skill in racing with it. While there are people that dislike it, it cannot be disputed that this car, when built correctly, can race with excellent results. The strong engine, a significant drivetrain, and stellar performance make whatever “sins” it’s committed forgiven in the eyes of a racer. With the car’s performance and potential as clear evidence that it proves its credentials, the 996 Turbo is now a swan where it once was an ugly duckling.