With the advent of the water-cooled 996, Porsche needed to find a way to continue the lineage of its motorsport-focused 964 and 993 RS models (and to provide engineers at Porsche Motorsport something other than finger-twiddling to do). The answer was the Mk1 GT3. Built by hand away from the main 996 production line, the GT3 enabled the homologation necessary for Porsche to provide cars for a wide range of GT racing series (including Le Mans) as well as a one-make series.
The significant differences between the mainstream 996 range and the GT3 reflect the built-for-the-race-track mentality. The dry-sumped engine uses a completely different block from most of the rest of the range (being the same as that in the GT1) and, thanks to its trick titanium and plasma-nitrided internals, generates 100bhp per litre from its high-revving, high-compression, normally aspirated 3600cc six-cylinder boxer engine.
The body is based on a modified Carrera 4 bodyshell, suspended on lowered, fully adjustable suspension and anti-roll bars, with beefier brakes and a limited-slip differential to complete the package. No traction control or stability management driver aids are fitted, with ABS being the only concession to computer-controlled driving.
Rear seats aren't generally required in motorsport - and add unnecessary weight. These were therefore removed which, together with the deletion of other fripperies, brought the weight down to 1350kg. The final package, clothed in a bespoke body kit for the front, the rear and side sills, is capable of hitting 62mph in 4.8 seconds and going on to 188mph.
For the really keen, and as confirmation for those who were unsure of this car's raison d'etre, the no-cost-option Clubsport package added a roll cage, Nomex-covered bucket seats with six-point racing harnesses, fire extinguisher and battery kill switch, and deleted the side airbags. On the mechanical side the Clubsports had a single-mass flywheel to minimise inertia and hence assist in spinning up the engine.
The pearlescent orange example here (well, Zanzibar Red officially) shares the bucket seats of the Clubsport (though leather-covered) but otherwise is a 'comfort' model. Snuggling into the firm grip of the seats - which are surprisingly comfortable yet intimately connect one's derriere to the chassis - you can see the dashboard ahead is the familiar Porsche five-dial arrangement with the large GT3-labelled rev counter straight ahead offering the enticement of a 7500rpm red line. Fire up that fantastic engine and it settles into a slightly lumpy, loud idle that signifies this is no relaxed cruiser.
On the move the GT3 exhibits the usual 911 'bobbing nose' traits, but relax your hands on the wheel and there is huge confidence to be found in its ability to change direction in response to any input. Turn-in is pin-sharp and seemingly instant, with plenty of feedback through the helm. This super-pointy feeling might not be to everyone's taste for driving on the road, and it does mean that you have to keep your wits about you to avoid blindly following camber changes and ruts, but it makes for a fantastically connected experience. A slow-in, fast-out technique for bends can mean the rear moves around underneath you, but it is progressive and predictable; those huge rear tyres ultimately offer up immense grip to catapult the car out of the corner.
Once an opportunity to open up presents itself then the GT3's party trick is revealed: above 5000rpm that engine screams with a finely tuned, normally aspirated howl that causes the hairs on the back of your neck to stand up (and the mouth to assume the widest possible grin); it flies seamlessly towards the limiter, demanding that each of the next gears be grabbed in a flurry of cog-swapping. This if nothing else is what will keep bringing you back to the GT3 - no petrolhead will tire of fully exercising that power plant and the infectious noise it makes.
Naturally, such activity usually means that speed is acquired at a prodigious rate and - thankfully - the brakes are more than man enough to cope, providing a firm and progressive pedal with good feel and a generously high limit before the ABS cuts in.
As befits the racing heritage, driving a GT3 is a raw, loud and utterly visceral experience. Every journey is an event that rewards concentrated effort to wring the best from the car: don't be shy in using the full rev range, delight in feeling the response to every steering input and feel completely connected as the chassis is allowed to move around under power unencumbered by electronic nannies. It isn't a relaxing drive (though it is comfortable enough), but if you like your motoring red-meat-raw then it is nigh-on perfect. Of course many will consider me a heretic for not focusing on the GT3's on-track capabilities, and it is perhaps the ultimate weapon for driving to and from track days as well as around the circuit once there, but it also makes a good case for itself as an involving road car.
The Mk1 GT3 is a true hero, differentiating itself from even future models of the same name thanks to being the last built by the Porsche Motorsport Division, and being only available in limited numbers - just 1868 were delivered worldwide. It offers a race-car-for-the-road experience in a thoroughly rounded, good-looking, package.