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Please don’t buy a Porsche 996.

Chris Haining January 18, 2018 All Things Hoon 22 Comments

By all accounts, readers of online automotive blogs are growing tired of endless Porsche 996 investment guides. Pretty much every website is crowing that “The 996 is the last great Porsche investment” as if nobody had thought to say it before.

And now it’s our turn, except I can’t pretend to offer any sage advice in buying one. What I can do, though is explain why the 996 is the only 911 I really lust after, and why you should, too.

I arrived on the planet in 1981, and it wasn’t long before I was familiar with the Porsche 911. It was an elementary, unmistakable shape – one so singular it could go in a child’s picture book (“This is a cow, that’s a house, that’s a Porsche 911”). I was turning nine when the 911 had its first real redesign and morphed into the 964 generation.

When that happened, there was still enough of the original shape left to reassure me, and life went on as normal. 911s were still 911s. In 1994, when I was a fully functioning teenager, the 993 arrived – and I remember thinking it remarkably boring.

It was inescapable, plastered on magazine covers for seemingly months on end, but I felt that I’d heard it all before. Of course, a huge amount of its content was new and cutting edge, but it was somehow just a ‘new 911’. And in truth, it was yesterday’s recipe but cooked with today’s ingredients. There was still quite a lot of 964 in there.

This was a time when some truly great new shapes were appearing at motorshows and on the road. Audi had unveiled the A8, which had clean lines that seemed somehow to have come from a time beyond. There were stylish rumblings from America, too, where the Oldsmobile Aurora was the most interesting shape to leave Detroit in a long time. And lets not forget Ferrari. The Angular, slatted excesses of the ‘80s were fast disappearing, and new, tapered, elegant forms like the 456GT were taking over.

Yet the 993 was, well, just a new 911. This was unquestionably the right thing to do – their oldest model was something of a sacred cow and, as proven by the 928’s failure to supplant it, not a formula to be messed with. But hormone-fuelled Haining, who was wading through a decidedly awkward phase at the time, wanted progress above all else. In every sense.

As I approached college, the 996 finally gave me what I wanted. At that time I was beginning to really focus on getting the grades I needed to get into car design at University, and my life pretty much revolved around concept cars.  I was inspired by all the great ‘what ifs’ of recent years, the Ford GT90, the Chrysler Chronos and the Renault Vel Satis (the concept, not the ‘oops’ production model), and with the 996 it seemed that Porsche was finally risking a bit of creativity.

The biggest gamble of all was those ‘fried egg’ headlamps, which society quickly decried as hideous, but I always rather liked them. They neatly integrated several illuminative tasks, and still suggested the ages-old 911 aesthetic. They also mirrored the Boxster, which was my favourite Porsche of the era – simply through being the first all-new idea from Stuttgart in a long, long time.

The image at the top of this screed shows the 996 off to its best advantage, and somehow captures why it was the first 911 to truly excite me. Yes, the old preserved-in-aspic styling tropes were still there, but somehow the 996 had a taste of the concept car about it. It looked like a 911 that was ready for the future.

Handy, too, that it was probably the most indifferently received 911 of all. While 993 values soar and 997 values remain firm, the 993 sat in the doldrums for ages. Nobody much likes how they look, everybody’s terrified by their documented mechanical riskiness, and being ‘the first of the water-cooled 911s’ isn’t really the sexiest epithet a car can carry.

So they’ve remained cheap. Well, ‘for a 911’. This is great news for me – the one 911 I’ve always liked just happens to be the one I have the best chance of affording. Except, it won’t be.

Owing to spectacular underachievement on my part, I’m still some way short of being able to afford a 996, and – with every bloody blog on the planet now encouraging all and sundry to buy one, the prices are sure to stiffen in short order. So that’s that.

(All images stolen from various corners of The Internet. Please let me know if this upsets you in any way, and I’ll steal somebody else’s instead)

  • Stephen

    To me, the near perfect alignment with Boxster styling was unforgivable. It’s incredibly surprising to hear that someone who’s the same age as me (I was born in 80) liked the Boxster of that era so much. It was a fresh idea, yes, but it was lacking in features and power for such a premium brand name. I recall seeing first gen Boxsters with opaque, burned or even missing rear “windows”. While even Mustang and Camaro had a glass rear window on the soft tops by then (as I recall. I might be mistaken there).

    Nevertheless, I myself wonder if this will be the only 911 I can afford. It’s not my favorite, but it’s still a 911, and that’s good enough for me.

    • smalleyxb122

      I am of a similar age. I agree with your take on the 996. My first reaction to Chris’s take is that he has convinced himself that the 911 he wants is the 911 he can (or can reasonably dream to) afford. I do this, too. Prices affect desirability. I can understand lusting after a 996, but if the 993 and 997 were priced similarly, I cannot fathom choosing the 996 over either.

      However, I can also understand the timing argument making it his favorite. For instance, my favorite M3 is the E36. That it is the currently the cheapest M3 one could buy is of no concern, since I don’t plan to buy one. I like it the best because it was the M3 when I came of age, automotively speaking. It was the M3 populating the glossy mags when I started stealing my dad’s issues of C&D in middle school.

      • Rover 1

        E36 for me, four door.

    • Maymar

      I don’t buy the low power argument – there have been plenty of slower Porsches (just look at the 912E that one HCOTY), and at the time, the O.G. Boxster’s straight line performance was about on par with contemporary sports sedans.
      For that matter, Porsche has never been great on standard features either, as it’s part of their strategy to separate you from your money.
      I’d say the primary issue was that the Boxster preceeded the 996, but even then, the 924 beat the 928 to the front engine punch, and we don’t think about that much.

      • wunno sev

        i recall, though, hearing the 912 derided as a shitty wannabe-911 for people who couldn’t swing the real deal. then the air-cooled Porsche bubble hit and now everyone’s all about the 912. same with the 914 and 924. maybe those In The Know appreciated all those cars, but generally the market did not value them highly until recently.

        i suspect the same will happen to the 996 and 986 very soon.

        • Maymar

          https://www.caranddriver.com/comparisons/porsche-912-coupe-page-5

          For what it’s worth though, a contemporary review of the entire 911/912 lineup doesn’t have much negative to say about the 912 – just that it’s a slower entry level model, but the low power also makes it less guilty of a lot of the 911’s handling weirdness.

          • wunno sev

            no doubt, no doubt. i don’t think the 912 was actually a bad car – i think it’s super cool – but it hasn’t had the same level of snob appeal of the 911 until recently, or at least i can recall hearing some trash-talk it.

            digging through older Porsche board posts, i can’t really find much 912-bashing, so maybe it was an isolated incident that stuck with me, or it was my imagination.

    • Rover 1

      While they’re still relatively unpopular, you wouldn’t feel so guilty doing one of these…
      http://www.renegadehybrids.com/996/LS-1.html

      http://www.renegadehybrids.com/996/Customers/SamKorper/Pic05.jpg

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cTwOOBzo0hk

      It’s surely preferable to giving up on the car and letting this happen…

      “After the owner decided not to sink $20,000 into repairing the engine of his Porsche 911, he donated it to pro-gun non-profit Commonwealth Second Ammendment”

      http://cdn3.lostateminor.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/07/porsche_911_shot.jpg

  • Cash

    “While 993 values soar and 997 values remain firm, the 993 sat in the doldrums for ages”. I think you mean “While 993 values soar and 997 values remain firm, the 996 sat in the doldrums for ages”

  • wunno sev

    the 996 is the only Porsche that lets me be a curmudgeonly contrarian anymore. i’ve never felt much for the 911, and the 911 price bubble has had me rolling my eyes for some years now, but now that it’s extending into the “transaxle Porsches” – a good 944 is now out of reach – there’s no Porsche that i don’t have heavy played-out-itis against besides the 996. somehow it has come to this: a bunch of bandwagon-hopping rich fucks have made me want a 996 Turbo.

    okay, but this Porsche thing. i was struggling to explain this to a friend today. i’m just sick of em. the glowing praise, the breathless whispers of “legend” any time a goddamn 914 rolls up to Cars and Coffee. i like the cars just fine, but the dripping adulation, the polished shows on neatly-clipped lawns, Magnus fucking Walker. every third article on [insert any car blog besides Hooniverse] is about how some West Coast tech douche’s custom 911 is “a fresh take on a timeless classic”. and Porsche is making bank – it sells literally twenty-three variants of the 911 and they have two things in the USA called “Porsche Experience Centers”.

    all this enthusiasm funds something called an Experience Center? how enthusiastic can we be about such a Lifestyle Brand™?! ugh! buy literally anything else instead!

    i will temper my rant with this: went to a PCA track day and it was awesome. well-organized weekend, fantastic instructor, cool people with neat cars (P-cars and otherwise), etc.

    • kogashiwa

      I think at this point the only Porsche I want is a Panamera.

  • Maymar

    That qualifier, cheap *For a 911, is important – however cheap 996’s are, Boxsters are still even cheaper (and Caymans will likely still depreciate more), and are still a great drive. Even more blaspemously, Cayennes are getting ridiculously cheap (most importantly, there are half-decent Turbos for roughly the same money as cheaper 996’s – I want to see how much further those can fall

    • Zentropy

      The air-cooled 911s and 912s (especially early ones from the 60s/70s) really appeal to me, but I’d much rather have a Cayman than any 911 from the 996 on. In fact, the Cayman probably tops my most-wanted modern sports car list.

  • Alff

    Deal. I won’t buy one if you leave underappreciated Caymans for me.

  • “Please don’t buy a Porsche 996.”

    Okay, I won’t. You got to me just in time.

    • Vairship

      We know you like those air cooled rear-engined cars…

  • Rover 1