The Porsche series 996 marked the beginning of the modern watercooled era for the 911, which was embraced by some and completely shunned by others. It is interesting that this same sentiment still exists 13 years after the 996 was first introduced in 1999, the proof being that an equivalent model Porsche 993 (the previous generation 911, and the last of the legendary aircooled models) fetches a significantly higher price in today’s used car market. We fully concede that the 996 is not quite as beautiful as the 993 (or even the current 997); its “fried egg” lights up front, lines that were somewhat less sexy than the previous generation, and questionable interior styling definitely take some points off. But for savvy european car enthusiasts, there are indeed some very good reasons for selecting a 996 as your first or next project car buildup. The top incentives being: 1) amazing bargain base prices; 2) very good power, brakes, and handling (it is a real Porsche after all); 3) all inherent problems are now very well documented; and 4) there is an abundance of aftermarket products available.

We decided to back up our claims by starting our own 996 project build. After reviewing the 996 market, we felt that the best bang-for-the-buck model, and the one that had the greatest potential for the type of performance machine we were looking for (i.e., flippin’ fast and slot-car handling) was the 996 Turbo. A 7- to 10-year-old 996TT can be purchased for anywhere between $25,000 and $45,000, depending on age and condition. And it is representative of a true budget supercar, as it once cost some poor (rich) soul well over $100,000.

When purchasing a used 996TT there are a few minor mechanical things to look for. Wheel bearings, rear spoiler hydraulic leak (leading to the wing failing to rise at speed), and both the clutch accumulator and slave cylinder are prone to failure and are all known weak points. Also, we recommend a full pre-purchase inspection (PPI) by a well-respected Porsche technician when considering the purchase of any used Porsche.

We began by addressing all outstanding maintenance and repair items, and gave our car a good once-over for both safety and peace of mind. After that formality, we got to know our new friend both on the street and at the track. Getting some seat time will allow you to learn the car and, more importantly, help you decide what direction you want to go in terms of future modifications, if any. As mentioned, our goal will be all-out performance, so most certainly driving the car at the track will red-flag the high-performance deficiencies that we will document in our project car series.

Our subject is a 2001 996 Turbo, which was purchased for $32,000 in California. The “new to us” machine is gloss black with a full black leather interior and adaptive sport seats. As luck would have it, this car came with a few aftermarket upgrades already installed by a previous owner. These goodies include Bilstein PSS9 coilovers, aftermarket engine ECU programming—believed to be Evolution Motorsports (EVOMS), due to the EVOMS air intake box system also installed. The factory exhaust and turbo system are still in place, and with a maximum measured boost 1.1bar, it is highly probable that the car currently has, give or take, 500 hp at the flywheel (note that the factory 2001 996TT was rated at 420 hp at 0.8bar boost). It is comparably as quick or quicker in a straight line than the current 997 GT3, GT3 RS and Turbo models, with the exception of the latest 997.2 Turbo S and the GT2 RS. Essentially, it’s a great place to start our project car build.

Our track time uncovered the fact that the older (and likely worn out) Bilstein PSS9 coilover system was too softly sprung and too weakly damped for our kind of serious track use; note that this setup is more of a street performance upgrade. Also, the existing OEM factory suspension, rubber bushings and so on allowed for far too much suspension movement in toe/caster changes. This well-used suspension combination caused imprecise handling nuances and destructive tire wear (all four tires needed to be replaced after just a few track outings). In addition, a major issue with the 996TT AWD system is the lack of a limited-slip differential (LSD) in the rear; the system is fairly unsophisticated in that the viscous coupling simply transfers power to the front wheels when there’s a difference in wheel speed from front to rear (up to 30 percent of the max power can be transferred to the front). This works nicely on the street, but at the track when accelerating out of corners, the car will push like a pig when the inner rear wheel loses traction and power transfers to the front wheels. We also tried our 996TT in RWD mode (a la GT2), by simply removing the center driveshaft (about 30 minutes of work underneath the car), as this modification is highly touted for track use in some online forums. However, without a rear LSD, this resulted in drastically slower lap times due to inner wheel spin on corner exits. But on the other hand, it did allow for some seriously cool drift action. Regardless of RWD or AWD preference, we believe there will be marked improvement in handling with the addition of a rear LSD.

In the next series article, we will install a new aftermarket LSD, pick up a new set of tires, and collect an official baseline lap time at the test track using our Traqmate GPS data acquisition system. Our budget supercar will then be ready for future tweaks and refreshing of its already-excellent brake system, a full suspension makeover, and numerous other go-fast additions… and deletions.

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By Doug Neilson
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