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Porsche 911 (996) Turbo | The Brave Pill

Why a leggy example of the fastest 996 might actually be a sensible choice...

By Mike Duff / Saturday, January 11, 2020

While we often like to select strange and exotic candidates for Brave Pill, this column does found itself drawn repeatedly to the watering holes where the most attractive beasts congregate. This week's offering marks the third time a Porsche 911 has featured here in slightly under a year, which may well be too much. But on the available evidence, the steering committee couldn't resist it. As on the two previous occasions, our Pill is from the least-loved 996 generation, but it also comes from the top of the pile. Yep, it's a Turbo, one wearing both an adventurous odometer reading and a seriously attractive pricetag.

Granted, 996 Turbos have been cheaper. About five years ago a few slipped beneath the twenty grand barrier, something that triggered a wave of stories celebrating the fact and encouraging readers to sell internal organs or mortgage their kids to buy one. Anybody who heeded such advice has subsequently enjoyed a modest increase in values, although one that won't have done more than offset some of the sizeable running costs of a typical example: most cars now sit somewhere around the £30K mark.

But thanks to a highish mileage our Pill is available for a substantial saving on that, the vendor asking just £25,000. Considering this is a car that can almost hit 200mph and has an all-wheel drive chassis enabling it to run rings around most supercars of the same era it's still hard to see that figure and not use the word bargain, even if it used to be cheaper. Compare the 996 Turbo to the generations on either side of it and the contrast is even more marked; you'd need to spend at least three times as much for even a shabby 993 Turbo (if you could find one) and the minimum buy-in for an early 997 Turbo is still in the low forties.

Our Pill's 140,000 miles - and a combination of purplish Cobalt Blue paint and grey trim - will lead many to see it as a less desirable specimen. But it's not hard to muster a counter argument. As commenters frequently point out - doubtless while surrounded by pink soft furnishings and wearing argyle sweaters - colour is all about personal choice. Nor is the mileage cause for undue alarm, rather proof this Turbo has lived its best life in a way it was designed to do, and has obviously been looked after well to do so. There's even a head-over-heart case to be made for the range-topper, which may well turn out to be a more sensible choice than its less powerful siblings.

Because while the move to water cooling saw Porsche switch the regular 996 Carrera to an all-new M96 engine, one that has since become notorious for scoring its bores, eating its IMS bearing and creating the sort of bills that create both welts and tears, the Turbo didn't. Instead it uses a twin-turbocharged 3.6-litre version of what became known as the Mezger flat-six, one that is closely related to the motor of the naturally aspirated 996 GT3, and more distantly to the GT1 racer. This doesn't suffer from either of the M96's common failings, and is generally held to be about as bullet-proof as something making 420hp can be.

While that output might not sound outrageous by modern standards, this was one of the quickest cars in the world when it was launched, especially given how often it allowed drivers to deploy its full firepower. Even now we're living in the future of 2020 a 4.2-second 0-62mph time and a 190mph top speed isn't exactly hanging around.

The 996 Turbo was also a radical departure from earlier boosted 911s. Before it the quickest members of the clan combined their performance with handling traits that would often result in either sweated-through underpants or the purplest of prose in those considered manly enough to review them. The original 930 Turbo was one of the first cars to earn the 'Witwenmacher' nickname in its homeland - widowmaker in English - a term adopted from the highly lethal Lockheed F-104 Starfighter that killed an alarming percentage of its pilots in Luftwaffe service. While the 930's successors became progressively less scary, the 996 Turbo was the first that could be fairly described as friendly.

After securing compromising pictures of my then editor I was assigned to a comparison that involved both a then-new 996 Turbo and a Ferrari 360 in the early 'noughties, this involving time on both road and track. In the dry the Ferrari was definitely the one: more agile, more exciting, better sounding and fractionally faster at full fang. But when it rained the 911 left it for dead, seemingly regardless of the relative amounts of driving talent piloting each car.

Beyond its mighty engine the Turbo's star feature was its all-wheel drive system, and the ability this had to find grip to match the huge output. This used a viscous coupling and wasn't as smart or quick acting as more modern systems, but back then it felt like a Get Of Jail Free card, sending torque forwards to counteract the Turbo's thrown hammer weight distribution under big loads. It wasn't a big, fluffy pussy cat - but it would allow liberties I wouldn't have dared attempt in earlier cars. Like the R34 Nissan Skyline GT-R, it seemed impossibly accessible for something so quick.

While engines are strong, any 911 Turbo is going to be expensive to keep in fettle; if it was a restaurant the online review would have £££££ written next to it. Routine servicing is pricey, although most owners will use specialists these days, but age and use will also bring plenty of non-routine costs to keep even the sturdiest credit card exercised. But the very fact this Turbo has racked up such a high mileage is proof that somebody has been paying substantial bills throughout its long lifetime; it's certainly not been getting stale under a sheet in a dusty garage.

The vendor reports that our Pill has recently been given treated to new wastegates - a common failure point - as well as fresh brake discs and pads all-round, plus various bushes. He or she also points us to an MOT history which, by Pill standards, is pretty much clean enough to eat your dinner off. The official record also supports the seller's assertion that mileage accumulation has slackened off recently, but proves the car is still being used. For much of its earlier life this Turbo was doing some serious travelling; full credit to whoever owned it in 2009 and managed to do nearly 25,000 miles between two MOTs. Oh, and it's a manual, too - which is definitely a better choice than the slushy Tiptronic.

Will the 996 ever ascend to the desirability of other generations of 911? Probably not - but does that really matter? Here's a well-proven, usable example of one of the most desirable members of the clan that looks entirely capable of reaching a double century if looked after properly, all for an amount it would be easy to spend on options on a new 992. Who's game?

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