Light, reasonably powerful, and hopelessly underrated, there’s a lot going for the Porsche 996 Carrera. Because of its lack of popularity, it’s also very affordable these days with nice examples running from $15,000 to $20,000. While it might appear ugly in some eyes, and though its water-cooled engine keeps it from being the “purest” of Porsches, those who want a performance bargain need not look any further. As Speed Academy’s Dave Pratte shows us, the 996 is an involving, communicative car that offers huge thrills for relatively little money.
Disproving its Reputation
For the cost of a 996, it’s hard to find another car with ~300 horsepower, a sub-3,000-pound weight, and curves which give it some distinction and a bit of exotic appeal. Pratte appreciates these nicely budgeted assets, as does the ebullient owner of this example, Steven. With the addition of the factory GT3 aero kit, the 996 Carrera has plenty of features that can distract the detractors from the oft-derided broken-egg headlights. Splashed with a fresh coat of paint, this “Silver Shark” is far from the eyesore of which the 996 is often described. However, it’s how it corners and communicates which makes it such a bargain.
Mild Modifications Bring Out the Best
More than just eye candy, this Carrera 4 has plenty of OEM-plus upgrades to maximize the potential of its capable chassis. To make it more reassuring on the track, Steven fitted Apex wheels and 996 Turbo brake calipers, which are improved upon with a GT3 master cylinder, stainless lines, and Hawk pads. These footwork modifications are enough for this approximately 2,900-pound machine to run full sessions with plenty of feedback, without any brake fade.
To sharpen the handling, Steven added Feal 441 coilovers, swaybars, and Falken RT615K tires measuring 235- and 315-wide. This stagger is intended to dial out any snap oversteer, but as it turns out, the combination of massive rear tires and the four-wheel-drive system makes putting the added power to the ground easy without any fuss. With this stable Carrera 4, it is understeer the driver needs to manage.
The 3.4-liter M96 engine benefits from a GT3 throttle body, IPD Competition plenum, catless x-pipes, and an Evolution Motorsports ECU flash to tie all the modifications together for an estimated 310 horsepower at the wheels. Given it sends power to all four wheels, that might be a generous estimation. Nevertheless, it’s a punchy, tractable, and rewarding motor with has gobs of torque for hairpins and top-end power for straights — both of which leave Pratte giggling like a teenager (9:11).
Sharp and Reassuring
It’s these simple modifications that help bring out the playfulness and power that lies underneath the scrubbed and polished exterior. Yes, it has its idiosyncrasies. But, once Pratte gets around the car’s tendency to throttle-understeer in mid-corner (the rear traction is so good, it’s misleading), he learns to rotate the car nicely. Whether by a tap of the confidence-inspiring brakes, lift-off of the throttle, or even a whiff of the loud-pedal at the right moment, the cheerful Canadian quickly learns how to get the Porsche pointed before firing out of corners with staggering traction.
Since that agility and communicative chassis are complemented by that famously informative steering of an older Porsche, it’s not hard to understand how Pratte is able to get on top of this 996 in just a few laps. It is a car which speaks to its driver loudly and clearly.
“Surprisingly, you can trail brake this car and it’s not unhappy about it!” Pratte exclaims in a semi-surprised tone. In fact, its capability everywhere at Toronto Motorsports Park has Pratte waxing lyrical. “It feels stable, it feels grippy, the motor feels strong throughout the rev range — it’s really, really good man!”
Maybe it’s time to start browsing the classifieds for unloved 996s before this video skyrockets their value.