Ed: Want to know what the petrol heads at UpShift drive? Fear no more, one by one we’ll give you the background, impressions, experiences and plans that we all have for our rides! First up is Ant. Enjoy.
X51 kitted, Gemballa Modified Porsche 911 (996) – Should I have bought a GT3?
It’s been about 18 months now since I fulfilled a lifelong ambition of Porsche Ownership. The dream evolved from the Bad Boys ’94 Turbo to a slick 996 – as it was around the time I managed to Con the authorities into giving me a licence, it’s the ambition that stuck with me.
But looks are in the eye of the beholder. Personally, I fell in love with the removed-from-tradition looks of the 996 and to me, perhaps controversially, it is still one of the best looking road cars to come out of Stuttgart – in it’s own way. Often seen by many as the unloved cousin, Porsche’s first foray into the world of water-cooled engines although successful, wasn’t without its dramas. Intermediate shafts letting go, bore scoring; issues to do with oil supply running short in heavy track work to name the most severe.
Then there’s the fact that many don’t like the fact that the 996 shares headlights with the budget range Boxster of the time. Not that the Boxster wasn’t a good car in its own right (especially the S variant); and they have come a long, long way in recent years, but back in 2000 they were very much the ‘poor man’s Porsche’. This dampened many’s view of the 996 front lights. But then, you have to remember, the same lights also found themselves in to the 911 GT1. And I severely doubt anyone can argue with that!
Originally out to take home a 500bhp M6, a quick drive in the lesser powered Porsche (approximately 365bhp) grabbed me in a way that I always hoped it would. This example started life as a Carrera 2. Again, a matter of preference.
Many would jump to state the ‘obvious’ choice of a Naturally Aspirated 911 as being the Carrera 4 or GT3
. But budget becomes a consideration when looking at the climbing values of the GT3 (currently sitting at $150k+); and the all wheel drive Carrera 4 just doesn’t tickle the rear-wheel-drive preference that I inexplicably have. Something about the balance and twitching that you get at the limit in a rear powered vehicle that an AWD vehicle just scrubs out. It should be a good thing, but it’s a case of preference.
What many overlook is that the Carrera came with a little option known as the X51 or Carrera Power Pack.
The X51 was developed in tangent with the GT3, just in case the GT3 didn’t make reliability or racing requirements needed to suit racing Homologation purposes. The GT3, of course, was a success rendering this backup plan a seldom purchased $17,000 option.
If you are lucky to find a 911 optioned with the X51, you will be treated to more than a few simple bolt on mods and sticker packs. The kit consists of revised extractors which optimise the flow of exhaust gasses. High lift valves also feature, buried in revised ported and polished headers. Up-revved swirl pistons, similar to those found on the later 997 models are installed deep in the engine’s block, and the package is cooled by an additional radiator installed up front, which is also found in the 40th anniversary model. IMS and bore scoring issues have tarred the 996’s reputation when it comes to reliability; and the x51 addresses these matters somewhat by means of an additional oil pump and oil extraction plumbing to cylinders 4-6 to promote additional lubrication. Additional oil baffles are installed in the sump with metal apertures and valving to stabilise the oil payload and prevent ‘leaning out’ encountered during hard track work. A remap raises the rev limit by 200 and shifts the peak power higher up the rev range.
If the extra refinements weren’t enough,
I was fortunate to find that this example was breathed on by the mad men at Gemballa.
Adjustable coilovers, Gemballa exhaust system and further tuning wrings the extra few bhp out of the motor, while the bodykit and lightweight Speedline alloys not only give the 996 a fresh lease on life, but keep it cruising at a rapid pace.
That’s all a lot of words, what does it mean? Well. The end result is a Carrera which fights as hard as a GT3 on paper and in the ring, and dances away from some newer 997 911’s. 3 passes at the 0-100 sprint show a best speed of just under 4.4 seconds which is impressive given it is .5 seconds under the much touted turbo. Lightweight seats bring the weight down from to an estimated 1,190kg. That’s almost as light as any serious hot hatch of the 2000’s or today with GT3 matching power.
The tweaked suspension whilst posing a risk where local speed humps are concerned, significantly dials down the 911’s inherent understeer followed by snap oversteer characteristic on the limit whilst maintaining the already sublime balance of the car. The suspension is more than a little on the stiff side so riders with back complaints might not enjoy the ride, but the trade-off is a great amount of increased composure at every turn. The 275mm rear tyres are tough to upset even in the wet, and the car grips around corners nice and flat.
The first drive was our favoured route which you may recognise from some test runs. It’s a great combination of twisties, straights and long sweeping bends and she did not disappoint. There is a splatter of backfire at low revs owed to the K&N filter (to be replaced with something a bit more fitting) but on roll, holding the revs at around the 3-4k mark is optimum for ensuring accessible grunt whilst maintaining revs to play with. Tussled from end to end the front wheels communicate exactly what is going on. Where the wheels are pointing, how much grip they have, how many bits of road kill you are skipping over, how many cats-eyes you’re kissing. There’s no lean to speak of and as I tip in to some of the more severe apexes with confidence, you begin to feel the slight hint of sideways drift. Shift up just shy of the limiter, the slick gear change slots into the next gear and you’re hurtling out the other end. Brakes are sharp. Very sharp, and the drilled surface area helps keep them cool and fade to a minimum, but will eat through the pads nice and quickly long-term.
It all feels a very much analogue way of doing business.You know exactly what surface you’re skating across at any given time and nothing seems to take you by surprise. Squeeze the trigger at around 2-3,000 rpm and you’re hurtled along. The car feels much more alive than a bog standard 996.
As you make progress one of the bug bears of the 911 of this era will have you pull over and take the keys out to lock the centre cubby space – the centre console’s release button is exactly where your elbow falls which will mean you constantly click the cover open. The 996 has deep door pockets that said so the loss of this centre tray isn’t a huge deal. The Dash feels thoroughly functional. Some complain that the 911’s driving position isn’t comfortable but ergonomics always split opinion and again at least for my measurements it fits perfectly – give co-writer Ben the driver’s seat and he awkwardly intermingles in the cockpit like a sock chucked on to a clothes basket.
Back seats have been removed which is just as well – the 911 was anchored as an everyday sports car, but in reality you wouldn’t want to slot an adult into the back seats on a regular basis – it would just be cruel. Having them however means that visibility is very good in the cabin. The Front Trunk, or Frunk is surprisingly spacious, easily catering for a weekend away or two or a shopping spree. OK You wouldn’t want to go as far as go on an expedition but you’ll be surprised how practical the car can be. Gloveboxes were optional which this car does not have and the plain but accessible dash layout has an older but functional feel to it.
All in all my venture into Porsche has been unplanned but un-regrettable. It may not be as flamboyant as a Ferrari, or as Punchy as the M6. But what it brings in spades is driver involvement, an arguably captivating exterior and a certain sweetness in the engine characteristics that is un-quantifiable. I had specifically avoided fulfilling my 911 goals until a suitable GT3 or Turbo turned up; and arguably the same budget could have more or less landed a turbo with some kms under its belt, presenting high power with low effort; but there’s something about the N/A Wail of that flat 6 through some throaty pipes that will have you chasing the redline at every opportunity. Whereas the experience wasn’t the same as a run-of-the-mill Carrera 2, if anything it highlights the potential of what even a basic 911 could become. Long term it may well become the next Upshift Build if the hallowed supra is ever completed (get a move on, Ben!) but that’s a story for another day. The quest of power may see a turbo conversion of some sort in the future, but a stroked race build with that N/A Scream is what the heart wants, but sometimes it isn’t just about Power, it’s about that connection, that feel, all that stuff that we’re all familiar with that lives outside the limitations of statistics and practicalities.