The year 1999 seems like an eternity ago now. The 996 was still box fresh, though Porsche took very little time to offer something special for customers wanting something a bit more focused. The GT3 brought a new, now familiar, badge to the range, adding sharpness for those wanting their 911 with a hint of homologation about it. It allowed Porsche to fulfil the wishes of the motorsport rule makers, creating a tangible link between road and track versions of the 911. Porsche’s answer with the GT3 wasn’t the usual lightened route it had taken with RSs, the GT3 actually heavier than its standard Carrera relation (by around 30kg).
The addition of a high-revving naturally aspirated, dry-sumped, 3.6-litre Mezger flat six, with its DNA directly traceable to Porsche’s GT1 endurance racer, arguably injected the GT3 with more credibility than thinner glass and lighter panels ever could – those lightweight bits, inevitably, coming with the return of the ‘RS’ sticker with the later Gen2 GT3 model. Arriving at RPM Technik and seeing a Gen1 996 waiting for me reminds me of the excitement when driving them new. A well-known car in Porsche circles (owned by car photographer Antony Fraser) say what you like about Pinky Lai’s interpretation of the 911 in 996 form, I have time for the flat flanks it presents. 996 deniers would do well to remember that early 911s did without shapely hips, the 996 very evocative of the earliest cars. Even with the aerodynamic addenda that demarks the GT3 (and a host of aero-kitted Carreras) it’s a compact car.
It’s dwarfed when someone parks a new Boxster alongside it! Sitting some 30mm lower on split-rim 18-inch alloys, behind which sits 13-inch ventilated and cross-drilled brakes pinched by four-piston aluminium calipers, the uninformed could miss its significance. Compared to later and current GT3s with their overt aero, the Gen1 GT3 is very pure, the rear wing’s only betrayal to its motorsport intent being the sharp-edged gurney flap on the lower portion’s trailing edge. Clambering in highlights how far Porsche has come with interiors.
The 996’s cabin hasn’t aged particularly well, even if, fundamentally, it’s correct in its function. The steering wheel is pleasingly unadorned, the GT3’s dash and door cards shared with the standard Carreras, airbags and all, air conditioning and electric windows, too, with Porsche customers, however intent on engagement and speed, still appreciating such modern-day necessities.
Turning the key reveals immediately that Fraser’s car is not running as it left the factory; there’s a Cargraphic exhaust, which combined with a DMS remap, helps that 3.6-litre engine push out 403bhp, in comparison to the standard car’s 360bhp. The revisions don’t stop there; a racing flywheel and Sachs clutch, rose-jointed Rennsport control arms, Eibach springs and Bilstein dampers are among Fraser’s list of changes. The result is a GT3 closer in character to the car that followed it; more track based and – crucially – used. They were built for driving after all. It’s engaging, enjoyable and, despite its track pretensions, the suspension is supple, the performance sensational and the brakes never in question.
There’s the beautiful steering feel that’s apparent in all 996s, heightened by the GT3’s more aggressively set-up suspension. The engine is a free-revving masterpiece that’s as addictive in its acceleration as its note, remaining one of Porsche’s finest engines, mated to a six-speed manual that’s long been a highlight in the Porsche line-up. If the Gen1 car is GT3 genesis then Gen2 represents its first obvious evolutionary step. Visually, it’s a sharper looking GT3, the later cars, arriving early in 2003, benefitting enormously from the revised headlights that came with the Gen2 996, and the simpler looking but more aerodynamically effective rear wing.