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Porsche 911 History

1999-2001 Porsche 911 GT3

Icons reinvented usually stir controversy, and so it was with the 996-series in its first two model years. Though most everyone respected its ability, the new rear-engine Porsche was, for many, not a "proper" Porsche 911. Too quiet, they said. Too civilized. Too safe. Heck, anyone can drive it. You can hardly hang the tail out anymore, so where's the challenge? Where's the bragging rights?

Britain's Autocar summed up the debate this way: "[T]he 911 is more grand tourer than sports car now. And that can be regarded in two distinctly different ways: as a positive step forwards that will stand the model in fine stead...or as a crying shame that one of the most characterful and evocative cars of our time has all but disappeared. In reality, of course, it is both. Porsche tried to replace the 911 with a GT car in the '70s [the 928]. Now it has succeeded. Perhaps it should have changed the name, after all."

Porsche 911
The 2000 coupe has the elegance of the original 911 design.

On the other hand, consider this take from Frank Markus, writing for Car and Driver: "In the final analysis, most enthusiasts will agree that having a new better than having no 911 at all. And even if the new car is a less tactile grand tourer, can we really argue against a bigger, more comfortable, but similarly priced GT that outperforms its purebred sports-car forebear in every objective contest? Not really. The 911 is dead. Long live the 911!"

It was all rather like the way people react to a cast change in a long-running TV show. Some can accept a new actor in a role, some can't. A one-time Porsche engineer and contributing writer for AutoWeek might have had that in mind when asked to evaluate the 996: "No doubt the old 911 hands will decry it as less of a car than whatever flavor 911 they fell in love with. But this is one fine car. To me it looks like the logical evolution of the 911, owing nothing to any other car."

Porsche carefully listened to all the comments while happily counting receipts from higher sales. It hoped North American deliveries would break the magic 20,000 barrier in calendar 1999, and they did, rising by some 20 percent to 21,915. The new Boxster was a big factor, but so were the new 911s.

The tally was 23,698 in calendar 2000 and 24,143 in '01, despite the tragedy of September 11th. Global volume also kept rising, reaching nearly 49,000 units for fiscal 1999-2000, then jumping to 55,782 in 2000-2001.

And Porsche had an answer for those who thought the 911 had gone soft: the GT3. A spiritual descendant of the sports-racing Carrera 2.7 RS, the rear-drive GT3 was built for the like-named class in the LeMans 24-Hour race, which it won in 1999 while finishing an impressive 13th overall.

This was also Porsche's latest "customer" race car, with a lightweight Club Sport version available for weekend racers and contestants in the International Porsche Cup series. Class eligibility rules specified a minimum 500 be built, but Porsche ended up making 1,856 GT3s between June 1999 and December 2000.

The GT3 used a special 3.6-liter engine based on that of Porsche's 1998 LeMans-winning GT1 racer -- water-cooled, like the production M96 unit, but with the same cylinder dimensions as the old air-cooled M64 engine. With a high 11.7:1 compression ratio, horsepower was 355 at 7,200 rpm; torque 273 pound-feet at 5,000.

An adjustable biplane spoiler and perimeter aero skirting provided visual distinction from ordinary 996s. So did a 1.2-inch-lower ride height, reflecting a beefed-up suspension with adjustable antiroll bars. Brakes were stout 13-inch discs with four-piston calipers, enclosed by 10-spoke 18-inch alloy wheels wrapped with fat Pirelli P Zero Asimetrico tires (225/40 front, 285/30 rear).

Unlike the recent 993-based RS and GT2, the roadgoing GT3 was not so stark as to be tiring on the road. Even air conditioning was available, for free, though you had to ask for it.

Unfortunately, only the race-ready Club Sport came to America -- and not many of those -- because the dropped suspension made the bumpers too low by U.S. requirements. But those who drove the GT3 in Europe were dazzled by its acceleration -- 0-60 mph in a tick over four seconds, 0-100 in just 10.2 -- and predictably raceworthy handling.

"Turn-in is brisk, faster than the 911's," said Peter Robinson in Car and Driver. "The steering is instantly responsive and alive. The levels of adhesion are enough to suck out fillings. The tires bite, the GT3 turns. At sane speeds, it's benignly neutral." Which meant that under the right conditions you could again power-slide a Porsche 911 without too much effort.

So enthusiasts could rest easy. The 911 hadn't lost its old fun factor, after all. Even better, Porsche would answer pleas from U.S. hotshoes with a completely street-legal "Mark II" GT3 for 2004.

Check out the complete story of Porsche cars, including these fabulous models:

Porsche 356
Porsche 911
Porsche 914
Porsche 924, 944, 968
Porsche 928 Porsche 959
Porsche Boxster Porsche Cayenne Porsche Cayman

For Porsche prices and reviews from the auto editors of Consumer Guide, see:

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  • 2007 Porsche 911
  • 1999-2006 Porsche 911
  • 1995-1998 Porsche 911