If you currently own, or are considering the purchase of, a 1999-2004 Porsche 996 Carrera 2, Carrera 4 or Carrera 4S, good for you, because this series of the Porsche 911 represents one of the best performance/$ ratios in the used sports car market.
The Porsche 996 was an all-new design and didn't carry over significant components from previous 911 models. It received new bodywork, a contemporary interior and fresh powertrain that included the 911's first water-cooled engine, all of which weren't well received...
Some enthusiasts don't consider the 996 as beautiful as other 911s, and that's one reason why they fetch bargain prices.
But for savvy European car enthusiasts like us, there are very good reasons to own a Porsche 996: Firstly, they have excellent power, brakes and handling. Secondly, the inherent problems are well documented. And thirdly, there's an abundance of aftermarket products available, making it easy to maintain or modify these cars.
Our Performance Buyer's Guide will cover 996 models (C2, C4 and C4S Coupe, Cabriolet and Targa) with the 3.4-litre flat-six naturally aspirated engines. Porsche produced 296hp (1999) and 300hp (2000-01). We'll also cover the 320hp 3.6L (2002-on).
Searching the internet will quickly reveal a cluster of Porsche 996 Carrera models, ranging in price from $15000-25000 for high-mileage 1999-2001 examples. While you can expect to pay $30000-45000 for lower mileage 2002-2004 cars.
There are plenty of Porsche options to choose from, so take your time. A thorough pre-purchase inspection (PPI) by a qualified shop is recommended for any used Porsche. And if you're concerned with future resale value, we recommend a car with a full service history and no accidents. You'll thank us later.
With that said, the 996 has some problem areas you should be aware of. The first is intermediate shaft (IMS) bearing failure on the M96 engine. It's prone to failure, although the later 3.6L motors were less susceptible. It gives little warning before it fails, and will destroy the engine when it does. To avoid this problem, we suggest pre-emptive IMS bearing replacement using a revised part from LN Engineering ($650).
Another common problem with this type of Porsche 911 is rear main seal (RMS) oil leaks. Hopefully, your 996 has already received the new RMS part to solve this issue, but check first.
The water-cooled M96 engine was also prone to cracked cylinder heads, porous engine castings and water pump failures. While it didn't affect all cars, you should check the service history to see if such items were repaired under warranty a few years ago.
In any case, it's generally recommended that water pumps be replaced every four years or 50K miles. And specialists recommend flushing the coolant system every two years, although this is rather excessive for "lifetime" coolant, in our opinion...
A lower temperature, 160°F thermostat from LN Engineering ($99) will also help protect your engine.
As with any European car, its care and maintenance is key to longevity and trouble-free driving. Using the best products goes a long way to keeping your Porsche at its peak.
ECS Tuning is a great place to start for high-quality European products such as Mobil 1 oil, Pentosin PAS fluid, Motul gear oil, ATE brake fluid and OE Porsche coolant. They also offer repair kits (using OE parts where possible) containing every necessary part for brake system and control arm repairs, plus a whole lot more. The prices are excellent, too.
Stage 1 Easy Does It
A Porsche 911 is a different animal than most other cars, with far more performance. For this reason, we believe the best place to start upgrading is the chassis.
Assuming your 996 is in great shape, you can make big improvements to handing and braking by changing a few basic items. Start with adjustable sway bars from H&R, Eibach or GMG Racing to reduce body roll and adjust the handling balance. Prices start around $420 a set.
If you want to stiffen the ride or lower the center of gravity of your Porsche 911, a set of coil springs from H&R, Eibach or ECS might be worth considering from $330.
In the braking department, provided your hydraulic system and rotors are up to snuff, we suggest brake pads from Hawk, PFC, Pagid or Endless (from $192 per axle). Also flush your system with Endless 660RF superfluid; the best DOT4 fluid availalbe at $42.
New high-performance tires will also improve your handling and braking beyond measure. This is a very important area with many brands to consider, but don't skimp on the rubber.
If you insist on starting to modify the engine, start with a K&N filter from $123 and have your stock exhaust mufflers modified by FD Motorsports for $280 plus core (or supply yours). They add an external stainless steel partial bypass pipe to the muffler, giving a good tone without drone, but an aggressive sound under hard acceleration.
Still looking for more? Try engine software from APR, Evolution Motorsport or GIAC. It should provide a mild 15whp or so in the mid-range, with about 10whp up top as well as improved throttle response and drivability. It costs from $999.
Stage 2 Getting Serious
Porsche brakes are excellent, but to improve them further you can choose a more aggressive pad material and upgrade to stainless steel lines (from $120 at ECS Tuning). This will give you a firmer pedal but if it's not enough braking power or heat capacity for your needs, then upgrade to a StopTech big-brake kit (from $2795 per axle).
It's also time to get more serious about suspension. Many of the link joints have rubber bushings that wear out. Fortunately, GMG has a complete solution, starting with solid rear toe- and dog-bone links ($795 and $1050). This will tighten the rear-end but you can additionally replace the control-arm thrust bushings ($595), front toe-links ($545), or swap your control-arm end bushings for mono-ball units ($595) and install adjustable thrust arms ($895).
Elephant Racing also produces solid links, including complete control arms with solid weather-sealed joints and a double-adjuster to make fast and precise camber changes ($990).
When you move to solid joints, it's time to consider coilover suspension. The top performers would be Bilstein, H&R and KW, with fixed rate and adjustable damper units available for your needs and budget.
Once you can generate more g-force in the corners, we'd suggest a deeper 0.5-liter ($349) or 2L ($849) oil sump from LN Engineering. They comes baffled with a pick-up extension and will protect your engine from oil starvation.
Squeezing more power from the 3.4L or 3.6L motor is possible. Start with an IPD plenum ($895). The larger Y-shaped piece channels intake air, reducing turbulence and increasing velocity to improve power and torque throughout the rev range. Expect 20-25whp in the mid-range and 10-15whp up top.
Their IPD Competition plenum mates to a larger 82mm GT3 throttle body (74mm stock) for another 5-7whp when combined with exhaust mods. Speaking of which, you'll need high-flow catalytic converters to unleash significant power, such as the Speedtech 200-cell Sport Cat and X-pipe ($1495) that should avoid a Check Engine Light.
Stage 3 Hardcore
If you want extreme performance, we'd first suggest a half-rollcage such as the one from GMG Racing (from $1795).
You're then ready to look at the VF Engineering VF425 or VF470 supercharger kits for the 3.4L or 3.6L Carrera (from $7800). The kits include a Vortech V3 blower, CNC brackets and a proprietary serpentine belt system utilizing the OEM tensioner. There's also a liquid-to-air intercooler, OEM third radiator, high-flow injectors, associated plumbing and engine software. Expect gains in the region of 120whp and 80 lb-ft.
If you're looking to rival the 997 Porsche 911 Turbo, however, you'll want to consider the TPC Racing CT520 turbo system for the 996 3.4L (390-405whp) or 3.6L (420whp). The kit will cost $9999 and includes a TPC turbo, blow-off valve, stainless steel cat-back exhaust, bigger injectors, liquid-to-air intercooler, spark plugs, associated brackets and plumbing plus software. Cars with the manual transmission will also require the OEM third radiator package ($757).