Chris Pluch’s 996

ALTHOUGH MY MOTHER WAS AND IS probably a better driver than my father, both lovely people being 90, it was my father who put the car bug in my head from an early age.

Whether engaging in the ubiquitous, driving on daddy’s lap or driving in the shotgun seat while my mother took the back seat, while teaching me how to drive when I was age 10, cars and driving found a way into my blood.

My best friend growing up was Gordie, also a car nut, and together we were able to operate motor vehicles and motorcycles without actually owing any of them — simply by using a combination of boyish charm, which typically garnered lawn-tractor or moped rides, and ignition-key location, such that one might find tucked behind a sun visor. Regardless of the means, the thrill was in the speed.

My parents tell the story of them having the serial number 58 VW Beetle in North America when they got married. It was basically the grandson of the 911, was fun to drive, reliable, easy to work on and, provided you had a horse blanket to spread across the front seat occupants’ legs, warm in the winter.

My family seemed to always drive Volvos, as many as up to 16 over the years. They were reliable and evolutionary vehicles that you could stack mileage on with little change in operation or performance. I loved that my father bought standard gearshifts for his cars, my mother getting the more sophisticated automatic. I’m reasonably sure that my dad’s 1979 244 GL had 106 horsepower and eight pound-feet of torque (sorry to Volvo purists). Didn’t matter. That wonderful sedan was like glue on the asphalt and had such a balanced feel to it.

Gordie’s father had purchased a 1980 Volvo 264 and he and I used to find ways to race our fathers’ cars in and around the middle east GTA, when it was still known by neighbourhoods. We generally had these competitions without passengers.  But, one night, man, did I get dressed down by the poor bastard that called shotgun.

It was about this time, in the early 1980s, that I started paying attention to Porsche. The first one that really caught my eye, particularly because it was space age and the 911 wasn’t, was the 928. With its long hood, boat-tail transom, wrap-around glass and the engine in the front. I loved it. It was the first car, period, to adorn my bedroom walls. I remember thinking that the car looked sexy.

Gordie and I had the opportunity to drive across Canada in 1986, to both see the country of our birth as well as to experience and World’s Fair, in the form of Expo 86 in Vancouver. We had a perfect trip, with Bruce Springsteen and The Northern Pikes singing about freedom and adolescent angst and love. We had little infighting and generally agreeable fellowship — not bad for five days on a bench seat of an LTD Ford (we called it the “92-Ford,” an homage to Porsche). We still talk about it today.

Once in BC, we went to Richmond to see Gordie’s cousin. A gentleman who would spoil us with his generosity and educate us with his stories. And a man who, to both Gordie and my amazement and, frankly, incredulity, owned a brand-new Porsche 928. It was black with burgundy leather everywhere. On the ceiling, on the dash, on the glove compartment — everywhere. It had the best smell. The smell, I remember, was actually calming. Good thing. That was the last tame or calm thing about that car.

Gordie and I took turns driving and just staring at each other, laughing at our good fortune at being able to drive this seemingly perfect car. When Porsche discontinued it in 1995, I wondered how long it might take to find a decent one for the Sunday special.

Gordie was first to get an S4 Audi convertible, with a crazy eight-cylinder engine and over 330 horsepower. He was almost daring me to do the same. I remember doing the research and finding out that the 928 was simply not as reliable as the 911. I started to do my digging on the fabled one.

Realistically, I knew that my first 911 was going to be either a really desperate fixer-upper, from the 993 series or an ugly-duckling 996. Frankly, after owning one for more almost five years, there’s little ugly about it and this bird can fly.

It took me almost four years to find the car that I have and it has been reminding me, ever since, that patience is rewarded. When I made the purchase, it was February and the temperature was about minus-10 Celsius. I parked the car in an underground garage and just hoped all of the good things that I had read about the 996’s reliability was true. And those aspects that had plagued the 996 were not.

The 996 was the cutting edge of German sports-car engineering and to shun it does a disservice to the badge.

It took me three months to find a mechanic who seemed universally fair, if not universally trusted. However, I believe I did and I gave the car over to them for two days. I was actually losing sleep over the fear of the potential lemon I had purchased, only to get a call suggesting, “You have a really good, really clean car, here.” I was elated. They changed all of the standard stuff, including the plugs, oil filter, engine-oil filter and cabin filter and the car just purred when I picked it up.

One of the purchase criteria was a car with under 70,000 kilometres. Mine had 69,593 (yes, of course I remember) and since I picked it up, I have put on 30,000 more — joyfully, excitingly and respectfully. This car is as reliable as a Franklin stove and between 3,500 and 5,500 RPM there is nothing that I have experienced that can captivate as this 996 does.

Haters will hate the 996. Purists can never not hate the 996, however, those who get a chance to drive a 996 should and must take it. The 996 was the cutting edge of German sports-car engineering, while it was on the market and to shun it does a disservice to the badge. </>

Story and photos courtesy of Chris Pluch | Porschephile Editor: Jillian Weir

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