Porsche 911 997, the car that brought quality back

Porsche has always had at least one unique selling point over its opponents, being sheer quality. In a typical German way, the 911 is a product of evolution rather than revolution. Less informed people tend to state that brands like Ferrari are much more prolific in their line-up, building front-engined, mid-engined, GT, semi-racecar, spiders and coupes in the same era. This probably has to do with the fact that Ferrari is known for many models, where Porsche, that had at least an equally versatile line-up was mostly know for….. the 911.

Originally called 901, Porsche had to go for the 911 nomenclature over Peugeot claiming all names that sported the zero in the middle. Nowadays, it’s probably the best know sportscar around. The youngest of children distinguish it from any other car, the elderly remember the glorious victories the 911 booked for Porsche. The car sold incredibly well, volumes other brands can only dream of. This also spawns the downside that they are quite the common car on roads today.

The handling of the 911 hasn’t always been as straightforward as one might desire from a sportscar on the edge. It’s quite convenient for American owners that the emergency phone number can already be found on the rear of the car, this saves time when the car is mated to a tree.

However, it’s also popular talk among semi-connaisseurs knocking 911’s over this impediment. Sure, the engine is far in the back making for a less than desirable weight balance, but of you dial this in whilst driving you get used to it pretty fast. The fact that the engine is so far back also helps a lot with traction. Therefore, on a track one is wise to find the perfect entry speed and urge the first steering move whilst still braking, and then leave the car at perfect pace untill throttle can be applied. This opposed to say, a BMW, where the balance is better during the steering allowing for more corrections mid-corner. The downside of this is that a BMW can’t apply its full comparable power a 911 can. A 911 is perfectly balanced during braking. So, hard to tell which is faster but if one uses a different approach there’s really no problem.

The car shown here is the 2004 997 guise, a car that superseded the 1997 996. The 996 was the replacement for the 1993 993, a car who’s body was largely based on the 1988 964, and being considered the most valuable semi-classic 911 nowadays. One drive in a 19 year old 993 and you know why, a good example feels exactly like the way it left the factory. With a more advanced suspension than the 964 and still the 80’s spare-no-expense build quality, it’s the ultimate 911.

There are some downsides to a 993 though in the comfort-area. The dashboard line-up and overall interior looks very 80’s and it must be said that it might be a bit utilitarian for a luxury sportscar. Enter the 996, a car that Porsche made aiming at the USA market. The car sported the dreaded non-oval headlights but performance was clearly a notch-up from the 993. Build quality took quite a hit and working on a 996, one clearly finds Porsche had to do some cost-cutting. This doesn’t result in a bad or unreliable car, but the things you love as a mechanic on older 911’s were really gone. The 996 is known for being the most comfortable, easiest or most mellow 911.

Then, in 2004 Porsche reverted into oval headlights and took the interior quality to BMW/Mercedes levels. Solid controls, a rattle-free cabin and looks to die for, the 911 had made its comeback in the quality department. The first time I drove a 997, it struck me that everything was better than the 996 bar one thing, the comfort in ride was better in the 996. The turn-in of the 997 is astonishing though, especially once Porsche found out that wider front wheels made it much more neutral. Keeping things simple, the trick suspension, steering rack and geometry on the GT3 or Turbo models are all nice, but the increased track found the car turning in like crazy. Of course, feeding the power during a fast corner will induce initial understeer, once you know the car it’s easy to oversteer even in daily situations, simply using the throttle to point the nose in the right direction. As Walter Röhrl said, “Driving a car only becomes interesting from the point where I can steer it with the rear wheels”.

Today, the 997 has run its course breaking a lance for Porsche’s quality. The 996 quality days are forgotten, and steady values on 997’s show it might just go down the 993 path. For daily use, one doesn’t desire much more than a normal, standard 997 911. Quick enough for most fast action urges, reliable as an old Toyota and comfortable in traffic jams. Also, the image suits anyone, perhaps a reason why Porsche had its most successful year in 2011. Even with the parting 911 model, they never had higher numbers on paper than last year. This goes to show that the sensible sportscar to buy in a recession, remains the 911.

Wout

pictures by Hendrik

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