Many traditionalists call it “the end of the true 911” – but for those who are willing to look, there’s value to be found in the Porsche 996 market. We break it down for you.
So you are looking for your first Porsche investment, and in your search for a bargain you have come across the 996. Here’s what you need to know about the history of the 996, and the market value of the various sub-markets. Overall, the 996 corrects many of the quirks of the earlier 911 cars while not (usually) being as bad as the few internet horror stories tend to embellish. Over 175,000 cars were built over nine model years – which means there are plenty out there to choose from. The perceived negatives of water-cooling and chassis styling (which we’ll get into later), combined with some mechanical maladies that can be quite costly if not corrected, have worked to keep values of the 996 somewhat low, particularly for the 996 Carrera and 996 Carrera 4 variants.
Why did Porsche create the 996?
In the late 1990’s, Porsche had slowly evolved their traditional sports car, the 911, for over thirty-five years, with only gradual changes to the same basic rear-engined, air-cooled six-cylinder essence. So when they announced the arrival of the 996-chassis 911 for the 1998 model year, it was a shock to Porsche enthusiasts and traditionalists. The biggest changes: the adoption of water cooling and the shared styling with the entry-level Boxster roadster.
Porsche was in serious financial trouble in the mid-1990s. Their traditional, hand-built methods of making cars was not efficient. Porsche hired consultants from Toyota to help revamp the Zuffenhausen factory into a modern, mass-production facility. Part of these changes included the 996-chassis 911 sharing development with the lesser-priced Boxster model to be released for the 1997 model year. Some parts were interchangeable between the two models, which helped improve profitability across the board by spreading development costs across more cars, but seemingly diluted the desirability of the new 996 among 911 aficionados.
At the same time, increasingly stringent emissions laws, alongside higher expectations of engine power, were signaling the end of the traditional air-cooled flat six. Porsche developed the M96 water-cooled flat six to be used in both the Boxster and the 996-chassis 911, in a variety of displacements to suit the varied needs of both cars. The base Carrera and Carrera 4 used a 3.4-liter six producing 296 horsepower – up from 285 horsepower in the outgoing 993 generation. The same engine was later upgraded to a 3.6-liter six producing 315 horsepower.
The M96 engine was not used in all of the 996 cars. Every turbocharged model, as well as the naturally-aspirated GT3, used a different engine that, while water cooled, used a crankcase derived from the earlier air cooled cars. Indeed, this engine, often called the “Mezger” engine after the designer Hans Mezger, is closely related to the water-cooled engines found on the legendary Porsche 962 race cars that dominated IMSA sports car racing.
Styling of the 996 is another sticking point for purists. While the car is clearly related to the original 911, it’s a bigger car with generally softer details. The car is nearly seven inches longer and one inch wider than the previous 993. However, despite the addition of radiators, coolant, and the additional piping required for the new water-cooled engine, the 996 ends up over 100 pounds lighter than the equivalent 993. Aerodynamics were improved as well – the drag coefficient dropped from .33 to .30 with the new design.
The wider body gives plenty of additional elbow room, whereas earlier models tended to be quite cozy if not claustrophobic for larger drivers and passengers. The new platform had a complete break with 911 tradition on the dashboard – no longer did a long array of round dials spread across the dashboard, spilling in front of the passenger. The new dash put the primary five indicators in a single binnacle immediately in front of the steering wheel, in full view of the one person who needs to know exactly what is going on with the car.
For buyers first coming to Porsche after having spent time among other marques, the 996 may be appealing for one simple creature comfort – effective heating and air conditioning of the cabin. All previous 911 models relied upon the exhaust heat to heat the cabin, while air conditioning was generally not up to the task of cooling a sweaty driver. The 996 uses an electronically-controlled automatic air conditioning system with temperature sensors to keep the driver and passengers comfortable in all conditions.
Two Generations – Porsche 996.1 and 996.2
When it comes to identifying a 996, you’ll usually hear people call it a “996.1” or a “996.2” – also known in auto shorthand as Mark I and Mark II, or Mk.1 and Mk.2, respectively. The earliest cars, from 1998 through 2001, are considered the Mk.1 – while the later cars, 2002 through 2005 are known as Mk.2 (Note that the 996 Turbo and GT2 are generally considered 996.2 cars and were introduced in 2001).
The easiest way to visually distinguish a 996.1 from an 996.2 is via the headlamps. On an .1, the lamps have an abstract teardrop design that some refer to as a fried-egg – due to the yellow indicator at the bottom resembling a yolk on a sunny side up egg. As with other styling, the headlamps are very similar to those on the Boxster. The .2 headlamps were more distinctive, introduced with the 996 Turbo models with a less pronounced “yolk” to the egg.
Mechanically, the standard 996 received an upgrade to a 3.6-liter engine with the changeover from Mk.1 to Mk.2, versus the previous 3.4-liter. The extra displacement bumped horsepower to 315. On the interior, the Mk.2 gained a glovebox. Minor styling differences were found on the bumper covers front and rear.
Choose your favorite – there won’t be a significant difference in how many are available. Roughly 85,000 Mk.1 cars were built, while around 89,000 Mk.2 cars were sold. They aren’t rare – especially considering only around 60,000 of the previous generation 993 were built. It seems that Toyota’s assistance in ramping up mass production was fruitful.
Deciphering the Different Porsche 996 Models
When shopping for a 996, one must recall that Porsche tends to overlap model years and even platforms between various sub-models. For the 1998 model year – the first full year of production for the 996 – the 993 generation was still available as well. For 1998 and 1999, only standard, naturally aspirated Carrera and Carrera 4 models were offered, while the 996 Turbo was introduced for the 2001 model year. So let’s try and sort out the confusion with some definitions, as well as production numbers for each individual model where possible.
Naturally-Aspirated Porsche 996 Models
Carrera / Carrera Cabriolet
The 996-generation Carrera is the standard-engined, standard suspension model – for lack of a better term, the base model. The Carrera was offered as both a hard top and convertible/cabriolet model from 1998 (some charts show a few 1997 models that are likely all early production units) through 2004 – thus covering both the Mk.1 Carrera and Mk.2 Carrera variants. Approximately 85,150 Carrera 996’s were produced, with 46,315 being the coupé version (hardtops), and 38,835 being cabriolets (convertibles).
Carrera 4 / Carrera 4 Cabriolet
The 996.1 Carrera 4 and 996.2 Carrera 4, both in hard top and cabriolet form, were externally nearly identical to the standard 996 Carrera – with the addition of all-wheel drive to add all-weather, year-round traction. Engines were unchanged from the standard Carrera models. Approximately 32,670 Carrera 4 were produced, of which 16,719 were the cabriolet (convertible) version, and 15,951 were coupés (hardtops).
The 996 Carrera 4S is, as one might guess, a slightly-uprated version of the 996.2 Carrera 4. Mechanically quite similar to the standard Carrera 4 with a naturally-aspirated M96 and all-wheel drive, the Carrera 4S used the wider bodyshell of the 996 Turbo for a more aggressive look. The Carrera 4S used a stiffer suspension than the standard Carrera 4 model, which led to better handling. The Carrera 4S was offered as a Mk.2 from 2002-2005. A total of 23,055 were produced, of which 17,298 were coupés and 5,757 were cabriolets.
The 996 Targa is the rarest bodystyle in the series – only 5,152 were produced (all Mk.2 generation) between 2002 and 2004. The Targa used what has become genericized as a “targa” roof – a single, lift-off panel to offer an open-air experience while giving rollover protection not afforded by a traditional convertible.
The 996 GT3 is more of a track-focused sportscar, using the naturally-aspirated Mezger engine as mentioned above. The GT3 was stripped of some weighty options in the service of weight savings – and used the body of the 996 Carrera 4 for additional front-end stiffness that had been added to handle the front drivetrain. The GT3, however, was rear-wheel drive only. The powerful GT3 offered between 355 and 375 horsepower, depending on the model year – it was offered between 2000 and 2005, spanning both generations, although only for model years 2004 and 2005 in the US. Larger brakes, a lowered, re-tuned suspension, and lightweight wheels gave the car better handling performance to match the power.
The 996 GT3 R was a one-year-only (2000 model year) special of which only 63 were produced. The car took the basic GT3 bones and amplified it for motorsport. The Mezger engine produced over 400 horsepower, while factory-fitted adjustable shock absorbers gave better handling. Most notably, the GT3 R wore carbon-fiber bodywork meant for ultimate light weight in motorsport.
The 996 GT3 RS was a sharpened version of the Mk.2 GT3, again meant for track use. Never sold officially in the US or Canada, the 400 horsepower Mezger was controlled by an adjustable suspension and a special high-downforce rear wing. Between 2003 and 2005, fewer than 1000 of the GT3 RS specials were built.
To commemorate the 40th year of 911 production, Porsche built 1963 of the Porsche 911 40th Anniversary for model year 2004. Painted only in a GT Silver Metallic finish, the 40th Anniversary (or 40 Jahre in German) took a standard 996.2 Carrera and added the front fascia of the 996 Turbo, side skirts and luxury features for the cabin – including a luggage set that matched the special grey leather interior. Mechanically, the standard X51 Powerkit pushed horsepower to 341, while a sport suspension and limited-slip differential put that power down a bit more effectively than the standard car.
Turbocharged Porsche 996 Models
The 996 Turbo was introduced for the 2001 model year, wearing a revised, wider stance to manage the wider tires meant for the additional horsepower. The standard Turbo offered 414 horsepower from the turbocharged Mezger engine, driven through all four wheels. An optional package (known as the X50 Powerkit) added larger turbochargers, among other changes, to bump horsepower to 444. Although the Turbo continued through to the 2005 model year, a 996 Turbo S version was introduced that year to commemorate the end of 996 generation.
The 2005 Porsche 996 Turbo S was available as both a coupe and cabriolet – it was basically a standard Turbo model with the X50 Powerkit and carbon-ceramic brakes fitted, alongside a few luxury features for the interior. Approximately 1558 Turbo S models (split between coupe and cabrio) were sold in 2005.
Unlike the standard all-wheel drive Turbo models, the 996 GT2 was a rear-wheel drive model as GT2 class racing prohibited all-wheel drive. 476 horsepower were on tap from the retuned Mezger 3.6-liter flat six. In a concession to the light weight needed for racing, the GT2 did not have a rear seat or air conditioning. Around 1287 of the GT2 model were sold between 2002 and 2004.
Do Your Research Before Buying a Porsche 996
While Porsche did indeed work with Toyota in the process of developing the 996, don’t think that you can buy a used 911 like you might a used Camry. There are a few maladies that need to be considered before shopping. For any Porsche, we highly recommend having a pre-purchase inspection (PPI, for short) done at a reputable marque specialist. The PPI can tell you about any expenditures that are likely to come your way after driving for a while. Further, any Porsche really should have a comprehensive set of service records – close perusal of the service history can show if the car you’ve spotted has been properly cared for.
One big source of concern with the 996 generation (as well as the 986 version of the Boxster) is the intermediate shaft bearing within the engine. The IMS bearing, as it is widely known, tends to be a problem with the M96 engine. The Mezger engines, both turbocharged and non-turbo (in the GT3), are not susceptible to the IMS bearing issues.
One can spend hours researching the IMS bearing issues, so we won’t rehash the entire saga here. Know that Porsche was subject to a class-action lawsuit over the problem, so it is significant. Basically, Porsche used a few different types of bearings within the engine that can fail, causing catastrophic damage. Internet rumors being what they are, there can be the impression that these failures are more widespread than they really are – or, conversely, that the failures are extremely uncommon. Anyhow, this is where a full service history is critical – there are aftermarket solutions available that seem to effectively correct the IMS bearing problems before they destroy the engine. If these solutions have been implemented properly, then conventional wisdom dictates that the car should be good to go.
Which 996 is worth buying?
We believe there’s value across many of the 996 model variants. If you’re looking for a solid driver quality vehicle – a car to be enjoyed – the Carrera 996 is the place to look. Vehicles with anywhere between 30,00 to 60,000 miles seem to trade between $20,000 to $30,000 giving you a ton of mileage runway for enjoyment (a concept we call mileage inelastic). When it comes time to sell, the market has sufficient liquidity with over 400 samples sold in the last 5 years. The same can be said about the 996 Turbo. Although you’re paying about twice the entry price, liquidity is strong and mileage is also relatively inelastic. For investment grade vehicles, keep your eye on the 996 GT2: with rear wheel drive, 476 horsepower on tap, and low production numbers, this one will surely be many an enthusiast’s dream for decades to come. But unfortunately, watch out for those miles!
Of course, when it comes to knowing what you should pay for your 996, we highly recommend checking out the Porsche 996 sales comps on CLASSIC.COM – you can explore past auction sales, and Follow the market to get alerts when we detect new listings of your favorite model.
At the end of the 996, Porsche introduced the 997 generation for model year 2005. Considered an evolution of the 996 from a mechanical standpoint, the 997 brought back much of the beloved 911-styling when it released the 997. Learn more in our 997 Market Guide.
Written by Chris Tonn. Market insights and opinions by CLASSIC.COM.