Beyond a Gateway

WHEN RESEARCHING MY FIRST PORSCHE, of course I also learned about the 996 as the best low-cost entry into 911 ownership. I thought that meant the idea was to start with a 996, before eventually “upgrading” to a better model. However, since then, I’ve driven more 911 varieties and have changed my tune.

The 996 finds its strongest suit in the sweet-spot balance of being a simple analog machine with very few electronic nannies while incorporating some basic modern enhancements, like ice-cold air conditioning, an engine that stays cool in stop-and-go traffic, a low drag coefficient and — if you have a cabrio as I do — a powered top that drops in 10 seconds.

It is well-established that the 996 has a significant performance advantage over the 993, being lighter, stiffer and more powerful. And while the performance curve keeps improving in the spec sheets of the 997, 991 and now 992, each successive generation has gotten more electronic and refined, leading to a less visceral road feel for the driver.

Now don’t get me wrong. In every molecule of my body I believe every 911 is a beautiful machine, and I would be happy to own any one of them. I fully understand the draw of the simple essence of the air-cooled models, as well as the appeal of the innovations and über-performance of the modern models. And this isn’t meant to be a face-off, implying that the 996 is better than the other models in every aspect. Each model has its strengths and represents the technology available in the era they were produced, and I personally appreciate them all.

If you’re a 996 owner, you don’t have to view it as a low-priced gateway to another model. You can rest assured that you have a solid 911 platform — ready to race on Sunday and drive on Monday.

What I am saying is that the 996 deserves to be on the same mantle as every other 911 model. If you’re a 996 owner, you don’t have to view it as a low-priced gateway to another model. You can rest assured that you have a solid 911 platform — ready to race on Sunday and drive on Monday.

Chris (right) with PCA UCR member Peter Bleakney at the Porsche Canada Classic Cars Parade in 2020 (photo: Dan Proudfoot)

Speaking of which (segue!), I’ve had a few great experiences since purchasing Petra (the name of my 2002 C2 Cabrio). I did the UCR Intro Driving School in April 2018, which happened to be the day of a big ice storm that made it “interesting,” a few DE weekends in 2019, and a couple of autocross sessions in 2020.

My first full DE weekend is where I felt the tip of the performance iceberg and began to understand the potential of a Porsche on a racetrack. While I was nowhere near the limits of the car, it was orders of magnitude beyond street driving, and the car (and the driver) felt alive. My next eye-opening occurred the same day when my very experienced instructor took me out for a session in his 2000 Boxster. It was enlightening (and heart-rate-raising) to see what that car could do with a great driver at the wheel.

I think of my cabriolet as a total compromise car. It’s not 100-percent track-focused, as the coupe is better for that. While the sport suspension means it’s not amazing for the road either, as you can feel your teeth rattling when going over bumps. But the upside to the compromise means I can drop the top on a nice day and enjoy the open sky and have a competent car at Mosport for DE weekends.

Petra’s also my daily driver, as I want to spend as much time as possible behind her wheel. Whether it’s on the street or the track, she goes way beyond a gateway to any other 911. </>

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