Launched exactly a quarter of a century after the original 901, the Porsche 964 was meant to be “the 911 for the next 25 years”. Printed in the press material at the 964’s unveiling, these were the words of then Porsche AG Chairman, Heinz Branitzki. As corporate claims go, it was simultaneously extravagant and conservative. Despite numerous small updates (and the continuous upsizing of the flat-six engine), the 911 had, technologically, seen few major changes between its Frankfurt unveiling in 1963 and the 3.2 Carrera’s exodus from the line-up in 1989.
The lack of wholesale development had nearly been the undoing of the 911 – declining sales in the late 1970s led Ernst Fuhrmann to the brink of axing the 911 – so to expect similar endurance from the 964 seemed optimistic at best. The Zuffenhausen board boldly claimed that 87 per cent of the 964’s componentry was new though, suggesting that, in their eyes, die neue Neunelfer would be able to survive a similarly protracted product cycle. Like Branitzki’s audacious assertion, the reality of the 964 Carrera was both contemporary and conventional. The 3.6-litre M64/01 engine was Porsche’s first flat six that could be offered unaltered around the world, however, it found itself mated to an upgraded version of the five-speed G50 gearbox seen in the 3.2 Carrera. Aesthetically, it cut a familiar silhouette (smoothed slightly front and rear with integrated bumpers, a hallmark of Benjamin Dimson’s design) yet, under the metal sat a full-length undertray reducing the drag coefficient to an all-time low. After 26 years, the torsion bar springs finally bowed out too, replaced by coilover dampers, but the general suspension layout remained the same: a MacPherson strut out front with a semi-trailing arm at the rear. The automotive dichotomy of the 964 didn’t deter buyers from placing an order for the new 911 however.
On average, the 964 Carrera (if C2 and C4 figures are combined) sold nearly as well as its 3.2-litre predecessor – one of the most popular Porsche models of all time. Making the 964’s sales success even more remarkable was the fact that the world economy was suffering a major recession in the early 1990s too. Fiscal frugality or not, enthusiasts were enamoured with the new 911. But, in an ever-changing automotive environment, faced with the impending age of digitisation, Porsche realised that it couldn’t afford to let its iconic sports car stand still again. Just four years after the 964 Carrera’s launch, it found itself replaced by a new generation: the 993. Styled by Tony Hatter, you’d never guess that the doors, bonnet and roofline of the 993 Carrera were left unchanged from the 964 generation. Overtly inspired by the 959, the 993’s curves were much smoother, while the previously upright front wings were canted back to a much shallower angle (a feature used on modern water-cooled 911s). Under the sleek metal, the 993’s underpinnings were similar to its predecessor, although there was barely a single component carried over unchanged from the 964. The front and rear track of the 993 were both wider, with a more modern multi-link suspension used at the latter end.
The M64/05 flat six fitted to early 993 Carreras was a development of the 964’s power plant. The pistons and con-rods on the new car were lighter though, and Porsche implemented a new hydraulic system to control valve lift. The engine was mated to a six-speed version of the venerable G50 transmission while, at the front, the drilled and ventilated discs were enlarged to 304mm. Across the C2 and C4 variants (the latter getting a new four-wheel-drive system that utilised a viscous coupling, reducing the weight penalty over the standard Carrera), the 993 outsold the 964 by over 60 per cent. In a similar four-year production cycle, Zuffenhausen shipped nearly 70,000 993 C2s and C4s, compared to just over 43,000 964s. Although helped by an ever more buoyant economy during its lifetime, the 993’s success would suggest that it is the more loved iteration of the two late air-cooled cars. And when the air-cooled market began to appreciate rapidly four years ago, it was the 993 that rose faster, the 964 initially languishing behind (not helped by its reputation for unreliability, a status earned by the early Carrera’s penchant for leaking oil from its cylinder heads).
Yet, a few years ago, I wrote an online article claiming that the 964 Carrera was a better car than its successor, the 993. To this day it remains one of the most discussed topics on Total 911’s website, with a reasonably even distribution of 964 advocates and 993 supporters commenting on this post more than any other. What was most surprising though, as the social media debate developed, was how many of the comments verged on the vitriolic. Air versus watercooling seemingly had nothing on this particular 911 dispute, as fans of both cars proved to be particularly passionate. Looking back, my judgement was hardly fair, drawing conclusions from drives of two cars on different days in different locations. So, with the help of Autofarm and Total 911 contributor, Kyle Fortune, we’ve decided to do the test properly, assembling near like-for-like 964 Carrera and 993 Carrera examples on the same roads, at the same time. And don’t worry; there haven’t been any bungs from our Scottish road tester extraordinaire (and 993 owner) to sway the vote… In fact, if this were an aesthetic contest, the 964 would, in my eyes, take the title.
Closely related to the classic 911 bodyshell, its evocative lines still sit well today, the rounded valances helping to very slightly modernise Ferry Porsche’s original Neunelfer design without losing the affinity to its ancestors. Even Kyle agrees that the older of today’s two test cars shades its successor in the style stakes, but his 993 isn’t without its own visual flourishes. With nearly three inches of extra track width to cover at the rear (and an extra inch at the front), the 993’s flared arches drape seductively over each corner as if constructed from a silk sheet. While it’s tradition that provides the 964 with its charm, the 993’s comes from its curves. But, while many collectors treat 911s as objets d’art, we’re ultimately more concerned with the experience of the car as it was intended: from behind the wheel.