Porsche 911 (996) Pre-Facelift – The Time is Now

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By Chris Pollitt

The supercar is something we associate with beach-side properties, the rich and famous and of course, mad stacks of cash, as the kids say. And these associations don’t generally go away once a supercar gets older. A Ferrari or Lamborghini from the ‘90s still easily bonds with the aforementioned imagery. They are cars that us mere mortals can only park in pipe dreams. We can never own such a machine, not with our normal lives and our normal income. Right? 

Well, no, actually. That’s not right. Porsche is a brand that has its name hanging in the supercar hall of fame, but unlike the Italians, Porsches have a habit of dropping down into the reaches of us before climbing up again. There was a time when you could get a 944 for £1,000, with tax and MOT. You can go out today and buy a 2004 Cayenne for about three grand. You’d be utterly mad to do so, but you can. The 924 was so undesirable, it was given away for free for a short time. The 928? In the ‘90s, people would pay you to take them away. But what about the flagship car from Stuttgart; the mighty 911. 

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You might not believe it, but the 911 is not exempt from the depreciation trend set by other Porsche models. Think we’re mad? In the late ’90s, you could get a 964 for very little, the same for a 993 in the early ‘00s. Remember Wheeler Dealers buying one for about £12,000 and selling it for £20,000? That’s £40,000 now. That was 2014.

The 911 always dips, and then it climbs. And right now, the pre-facelift 996 generation of Porsche 911 is at the bottom of that dip. This is a sure thing if you want a car that you can enjoy and make a couple of quid on. The time is most definitely now. 

An introduction to the pre-facelift 996

The 996 is a 911 with more negative stigma than most, but it’s stigma that should be ignored. The predominant ‘issue’ was that the 996 was the first 911 to be water-cooled, not air-cooled. This sent the purists into a furious bout of rage, but more fool them. If there is one thing that works well in the 996, it’s the cooling system.

Anyway, the 996 was introduced in 1997 as a 1998 model year, and took over from the 993. The first cars were coupe flat-six 3.4 300bhp Carrera 2 models with either a six-speed manual ‘box or a five-speed Tiptronic auto. The cabriolet followed later in the year. This was followed up in 1998 by the impressive Carrera 4, which boasted all-wheel drive, Porsche Stability Management (PSM) and a barky exhaust. 

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The same year, we got the mighty 360bhp GT3 version, though this was overshadowed a year later by what is arguably the most desirable 996; the 420bhp Turbo. Then, there was the 462bhp twin-turbo model in 2000, followed by a major facelift in 2001. The facelift brought with it a bigger base engine, this time a 3.6 with 320bhp. Still water-cooled of course. 

We’re looking at those pre-facelift models, as they are the cars with the most attractive price tags. Plus, we’re applying logic here. Early cars have been around the longest, and that means that if they’re running around today, the chances are that all the known issues have been dealt with. We’ll get to those in a moment. 

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Start searching online for a 996 and you’re not going to have to look hard for horror stories. IMS (intermediate shaft) bearings fail, due to the cylinders being poorly lined, they tend to score their own bores, the electrical system often has a mind of its own and rear main oil seals can fail. It all sounds terrifying, especially when shackled to the Porsche name. It’s not exactly Aldi. But here’s the thing; early cars that are still running today should be fine. With the exception of the rear main seal, all of these issues are life-ending for the car if ignored. So, if that ‘98 996 you’re looking at still works, it’s probably had the work done. Certainly, it’s almost become a badge of honour to list having the work done in the advert. 

Keep your head about you, buy the car with plenty of history – dealer or specialist, but the car that hasn’t been modified and buy the car that hasn’t had thirty-five owners. The key to buying a good 996 is to shop about, be careful and buy from a source you trust. There are plenty of enthusiast owners who are selling to upgrade, they’re the people you want. 

And always, always drive the car. The 996 in rear or all-wheel drive is a treat, but it’s not for everyone. Buy a 996 because you want a 996, not because you want to tell people you have a Porsche. 

What are prices like? 

There are cars out there for under ten grand, and while they might have you reaching for your wallet, we’d encourage you to exercise caution. There is no such thing as a cheap Porsche 996, so cars with four-figure price tags are usually hiding something, unless of course a seller is being brutally honest. 

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The sweet spot for an early, pre-facelift 3.4 is around £13-16,000. These cars represent the enthusiast-owned, unmodified versions. You’ll have plenty to choose from; coupe, convertible, auto or manual. And don’t be scared of cars with high mileage. One big selling point of the 911 has always been its usability. It’s nowhere near as fragile as its Italian counterparts. You can use a 911 every day, and people do. As long as you have the service history to back everything up, you should have nothing at all to worry about. 100,000 miles for a 996 is nothing at all as long as it’s been cared for.

Why should I buy one? 

You’re going to buy one because it’s a Porsche. It’s a poster car, it’s the type of vehicle that will have the neighbour’s curtains twitching when you bring it home. Owning a Porsche is real, proper, bucket list stuff. But more than that, you should buy one because it’s a supercar that you can use. As we mentioned above, daily use isn’t too much to ask of a 911. In fact, they welcome it. This isn’t a car you’ll buy and then barely drive, it’s a car you’ll have to be dragged out of! 

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Then, there is the enthusiast culture behind the Porsche brand and the 996 in general. Some will still lament the very existence of the 996 due to it being water-cooled, but ignore them. The 996 is finding a following now, and with impressive clubs like the Porsche Club GB, fellow enthusiasts, events, parts and knowledge is never far away. 

For us, the 996 represents the best of both worlds by being usable. It’s a car to be proud of, a car that will always make you smile when you drive it, and it’s also a car that has settled into its looks wonderfully. It’s a clean, simple, unfussy design that still earns many an admiring glance. 

Just remember though, that while the 996 is cheap now, it’s still a Porsche, and sadly, Porsche parts aren’t cheap. What you need to do is ask yourself whether or not you can afford to run it. It might be used Fiesta money to buy, but it’s not used Fiesta money to run. Independent specialists will take some of the sting out of dealer prices, but it’s still going to be more than a ‘normal’ car. For example, you can expect to pay around £400 for a basic service from a specialist, exhaust systems can run into the thousands, tyres are £200 a corner. You get the idea. 

How long until I see a return? 

Going off the trends set by past Porsche models, we’d say not long. The cheapest cars are starting to be thin on the ground already, which will push values up. Looking at the data we have here at Car & Classic, we can see that the more exclusive models have been increasing in price dramatically over the last three years or so. On that basis, it’s only a matter of time before the early, lower specification cars start to catch up. 

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Buy a good, honest 996 with history and minimal owners, keep it for five years, keep it maintained in the way it’s accustomed and enjoy it. After that, you should be in a position to make your money back if not make a tidy profit. By how much, we can’t say. But when you consider that some 993s gained twenty grand in ten years, it’s all to play for.

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