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1996 Porsche 911 993 Rewind Review: Still Holding Its Own

Apr 30, 2023Apr 30, 2023

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Some objects require a generation or more to pass before they achieve Citizen Kane Rosebud status in a population's collective consciousness. Most material items never get there at all, and in terms of automobiledom, there's no shortage of four-wheeled conveyances consigned deservedly to the far corner of history's junkyard. Porsche's 1990s-era 993-series 911, however, needed only a few years—if even that many—to reach the heights of reverence and desirability, not only from Porsche acolytes but a significant cross-section of car enthusiasts who inherently recognize a classic in the making.

The 993 went on sale in the U.S. in early 1994 as a 1995 model, replacing the 964 that for the previous five years served as the company's flagship. It arrived carrying various overdue upgrades to the relatively ancient underlying mechanicals that at their core defined the 911 platform since the original model arrived in the first half of the '60s. Period reviews generally praised the 993's improved drivetrain, suspension, and more. If you were around at the time and cared about cars, you know a sighting of "the new 911" was something you and your friends would get excited about—and something you'd recount to those who weren't with you. And once it became clear the Carrera's M64 3.6-liter flat-six engine and its derivatives employed in other 993s would be the last of Porsche's air-cooled series-production engines, these cars' long-term values were assured, even if roughly two decades would pass before secondhand transaction prices shot past anything resembling reasonableness.

Value and collectibility aren't on my mind today, though, as I'm about to get behind the wheel of this 1996 Porsche 911 Carrera. The 993 is the more intriguing car, bridging eras far more so than its water-cooled 996 replacement, and I wonder how it holds up in the context of now—not as an investment or device with which to impress the car nerd and auction-watching crowd, but as a vehicle for someone who simply likes to drive.

Its owner fits the latter description, and then some: This 911 was kindly provided by Patrick Long, native Californian, Porsche brand ambassador, Luftgekühlt co-founder, and recently retired (from full-time competition) Porsche factory racer whose résumé includes two Le Mans class wins, two IMSA championships, a Blancpain GT World Challenge title, and wins in the Nürburgring 24, and 12 Hours of Bathurst. He bought the 993 about three years ago, and the odometer displays just more than 42,000 miles.

Delivered to and sold by the famous Vasek Polak Porsche in Redondo Beach, California, the 1996 911 carried a base price of $64,495, or about $126,100 in 2023 dollars. (A new Carrera today starts at $116,050.) The final price on this one checked in at $67,309. The full list of options: Beautiful Polar Silver Metallic paint ($1,036), floormats ($110), 17-inch Cup Design wheels ($1,444), and wheel caps featuring the Porsche crest ($224). Long, like many owners looking to personalize their cars, made a few subtle upgrades, including a factory short-shift kit and lightweight flywheel, Big Red Brembo brakes, a Borla exhaust, KW Clubsport shocks, and manually adjustable Recaro Sportster seats finished in cloth and featuring a light camouflage pattern you need to inspect somewhat closely to spot. The flat-six remains untouched. None of Long's modifications alter the car's fundamental character, and each is easily reversible back to stock.

The 993's diminutive footprint registers immediately as you stand near the car, and it really hits home when you slide into the cabin. It's nearly 11 inches shorter overall than the modern Carrera and 4.6 inches narrower, with a 7.1-inch-shorter wheelbase. These figures represent massive differences in size, and the skinny pillars dividing the glass convey a lightness and perceived fragility to the entire thing. The short distance from the dashboard's face to the windshield is a stunning contrast versus today's deep dash designs that may as well be coffee tables in comparison. And if you actually want to drink coffee while on board, you'll need to source an aftermarket solution to hold your cup.

In retrospect, I don't know quite what I expected when driving this car nearly 30 years after it was built, but immediately it feels like home. You quickly forget about its size and focus on the road around you, the latter made satisfyingly informative thanks to the great driving position and visibility afforded by the upright windshield, driving position, and even the side and back glass. If you've driven modern Porsches, you may be borderline amazed to find just how much of the old 911's character has carried forward through today. I wondered if I would discover creaks and rattles and general signs of chassis flex, but there is none. The body rolls and leans slightly through corners, but not by anything approaching an amount that makes you think "old car," and the steering feel varies between light and just right as you string together a section of country-road-style corners.

Putting the power down while exiting those corners or while executing a freeway pass is when you realize how much the performance-car norm has gone ballistic in the intervening years. No one of the time defined the 993 as a "momentum car," a term still used for something like a Mazda Miata, and it certainly wasn't slow. Its engine produces 282 peak horsepower (up from 270 in 1995) and 251 lb-ft of torque, good for 60 mph in 5.3 seconds. Consider: The original Dodge Viper from the same era managed a whole 400 horsepower from its 8.0-liter V-10. It reminds instantly of what performance driving used to be, of the dance and true rhythm involved in flowing quickly over the road. It's much the opposite of what you get in many of today's ubiquitous nutso-limit sports cars that sledgehammer you with their wares and encourage you to brake as late as possible, point the front end at something marginally resembling an apex, and rifle out the other side with foot down as traction and stability control keep everything together.

There are no such driver assists here, and I don't push the car hard enough to worry about the well-documented lift-off oversteer fears, but Long assures that the 993's revised rear suspension with lower control arms replacing the semi-trailing-arm setup of previous 911s does its job well, with better rear toe-control eliminating much of the notorious characteristic. "These cars really don't get sideways," he says. "The only thing that makes them go sideways is a fool that goes into a corner with way too much speed and still keeps winding steering on it, past the slip angle, and slows down to the point where the [understeering] front wheels reconnect suddenly, and then it spins." In other words, the same mistake you can make in any car today. Some things, especially physics, never change.

Specific to Porsche, I note two other items familiar in its modern cars: The six-speed shifter's action is better and more positive in its throws and engagement than most manual gearboxes that have come along since. Likewise, the brake pedal is incredibly firm, a trait that still not every sports car maker has gotten correct. The bottom-hinged pedals take a moment to get used to but feel natural after just a few miles. The only gripe I have about the driving ergonomics and feel is the steering column doesn't telescope forward and back, placing the wheel a smidge farther away than I'd like when I position the seat so my feet properly meet the pedals.

There's nothing, though, in the 993's outright performance or character to prevent you from enjoying it every time you belt yourself in, even if you have plenty of seat time with the latest and greatest performance cars. Its relative lack of power and absence of downforce producing aerodynamics mean you must revert to a more classical driving style, requiring more delicacy than does a modern car to extract more of its point-to-point speed as you sail along a twisting road. I won't go as far as saying it's more fun than a new sports car, but neither is it much less. It's different, but the same. All of this is why the 993 is a classic, air-cooling and market values be damned.