The Brave Pill: Porsche 911 (996)


Until now Brave Pill has lived on a steady diet of big, brawny V8s that live in the part of the Venn Diagram where interesting, affordable and risky get together. The only prior exception to this love of eights was the glorious V12 Mercedes S600 that featured last month. So this week marks two firsts: the fewest cylinders so far and the first Pill to have its engine in the back. It's also proof of how affordable the 996-gen 911 still is.

While cheaper 996s do turn up - some that have fallen into four figures - these tend to be cheap for very good reason. In the cold light of day, or the bright inspection light of a mechanic's pit, a low-cost 911 can quickly reveal itself to be a less sensible investment that Venezuelan penny stocks. The good news is that you only need stretch a little further to find some far more appealing bets, like this 2001 Carrera being offered for £11,950.

Remember that "treasure island" jibe about the supplement Brits have to pay for new cars? The opposite is true when it comes to elderly exotics. Continental Europeans are massively jealous of how little we have to pay for cars like this; in Germany only real wrecks and terrible specs drop below €15,000 and if this 911 had its steering wheel on the other side and was in Cologne rather than Kent it would be worth twice as much. Our Pill is about as MOR as an early 'noughties 911 can be, a manual coupe in Sensible Silver with an equally inoffensive black interior. It also shows evidence of proper care and, although slightly modified, comes with everything to take it back to standard if that's what the next owner wants to do.


The market still seems to regard the 996 as the plague-bearing leper of the 911 family. It's really not long since the values of earlier ones were overlapping with those of the air-cooled 993. In 2007 I wrote a story comparing Carrera 2 versions of both generations and concluded - ready the wet fish - that the newer car was the one to pick. At the time prices were pretty much identical spec-for-spec; now you'd need to spend three times as much for the 993. There's a reason I'm not a financial adviser.

Yet I stand by my core conclusion: by any objective standard, the 996 is a far better car. Before it arrived in 1997 the 911 had evolved at the gentle pace common to most apex predators. But the 996 was a huge leap forwards. Contemporary reviews tended to fixate on the switch to water-cooled powerplants, but from the driver's seat some other differences were much more obvious. Switches in the 993 were stuck wherever there were spaces, and with little reference to where you'd naturally expect to find them. By contrast the 996 is an ergonomic masterpiece, and a much more comfortable place to spend time.

It's the same with driving, with what has to be the greatest leap between any two 911 generations. While doubtless tamer than earlier cars, the 993's thrown hammer weight distribution still defines the way it handles. On slippery surfaces, or corners that tighten unexpectedly, there's a strong sense that things can get very back-endy very quickly. The 996 still feels like it carries most of its mass at the back - it wouldn't be a 911 if it didn't - but it is grippier and much more dynamically secure, allowing liberties that would result in a sudden overdose of hedge in the earlier car.

The 996's position as the least-loved 911 shows no signs of changing. 993 and (especially) 964 values have shot up and those of early 997s seem to have stopped falling. Some 996s have moved upwards, you no longer find the Turbos wearing the low-£20s pricetags that used to set the internet drooling, and a sub-£60K GT3 is a cheap one. But the basic Carreras remain the cheapest way into rear-engined Porsche ownership.


There are risks, of course - this isn't Sensible Pill. Yet these are much lower than the anti-hype suggests. Believe the doubters and a cheap 996 is like playing Russian Roulette with an automatic pistol, it's not a question of if various hard-to-reach engine internals will fail, but when. But while there is a huge amount written about failures of both the engine's rear main seal (RMS) and intermediate shaft (IMS), the word from marque experts is that the bork fairy only waves her wand at a small percentage of cars. The vendor also reports that this car's RMS was replaced at the same time as a new clutch 12,000 miles ago, and that the IMS was checked at the same time.

While no concours winner our Pill looks to be in good, honest condition. The carbon mirror caps and sill plates are the most obvious modification, the car also having carbon strut braces and a stainless rear exhaust box; it's also lost its rear wiper at some point, although that comes boxed with the car. Servicing includes a recent visit to an Official Porsche Centre and the replacement of most of the cooling system in 2017. The recent MOT history is clean enough to eat a bratwurst off, it last had an advisory in 2014. It also confirms that the mileage has been creeping up very slowly, this 911 having gone through the 100,000 mile barrier as long ago as 2010, but having accumulated just 21,000 in the subsequent nine years.

There's another advantage of stagnant 996 values: you don't need to fear using them. Owners of earlier 911s are often careful about adding miles to what have become wheeled investments. You could stick 50,000 miles on this one and it wouldn't be worth significantly less. You'd enjoy doing it, too.

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Comments (125) Join the discussion on the forum

  • Dale487 18 May 2019


    I wish I had the spare cash to be brave with - as it looks like a lot of car for less than £12K

  • Global Nomad 18 May 2019

    about those venezuelan penny stocks.....

  • hammo19 18 May 2019

    Personally I think the 996 is the best looking 911 and driving one would give you a certain smugness knowing the Porsche purists shun you....this is a very tempting weekender

  • humphra 18 May 2019

    I was just looking yesterday at higher mileage 911s because of SOTW...... it's like you're in my head!! spin

  • Fittster 18 May 2019

    How much will Hartech charge to rebuild the engine?

    And the answer appears to be that there isn't going to be much change from 10K for a full rebuild: https://www.pistonheads.com/gassing/topic.asp?h=0&...

    Could I spend 10K on a car I bought for 12K?

    Edited by Fittster on Saturday 18th May 08:04

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