THERE HAS BEEN a lot of bad news about societal issues stemming from social media these days. Having taken root in our daily lives, we’ve started to see the possible damage this technology can do to people, for instance through the culture of comparison. It’s real, I promise, there’s even been a TED Talk about it. Though it should be noted when social media is used properly, it can serve as a platform to link up those who would not have necessarily had the opportunity to connect otherwise.
Case in point, the virtual interview forming the basis of this article, was made possible entirely by a couple of cold-call Instagram messages.
Our interview guest, Lee Sibley, wears many hats: award-winning editor at Total 911 magazine, YouTube personality on the channel That Nine Eleven Guy, and most importantly for this Provinz issue, the founding organizer of a 996-specific cars and coffee meet. Dubbed “Fried Eggs”, the meet’s name draws reference with tongue-in-cheek to the nickname the automotive community has given to 996 headlights, in a largely negative connotation. Sibley has organized two iterations of the meet in the UK where he resides, and by the time this article goes to print, he will have also hosted Fried Eggs III, slated for the end of August.
When approval was granted for a 996 platform-specific issue of Provinz, “That Nine Eleven Guy” was the first name that came to mind. To me, Lee Sibley is the quintessential authority figure on Porsche 996s, based on both his personal passion for the specific 911 platform and his background as an automotive journalist. I have always been a fan of his articles on Total 911, and as one of Sibley’s many followers on Instagram, I have had a few brief conversations with him through direct messages regarding 996s in the past. I think kids these days call it “sliding into DMs” (direct messages)? I felt just comfortable enough in reaching out with a request to interview him virtually, but did not keep my hopes up in receiving a response. Imagine my astonishment when Sibley graciously accepted the invitation to speak with us! The positive power of social media at work, right there.
ROAD TO PORSCHE AND JOURNALISM
Lee Sibley’s introduction to the Porsche brand was in the late ‘90s, when he was barely even 10 years old, in the form of a nearly-new Guards Red 964 Carrera cabriolet. His father’s best friend had acquired said C2 and brought it around to his house one day. The bright red paint and shape of the vehicle naturally drew young Lee’s attention. As he recalls, “I was poking around the car when he offered to take me out, so he put the roof down and the two of us (went) bombing through these country lanes in Essex, along the east coast of England.”
What sounded like a great starting point for a young enthusiast was not actually the most positive of experiences after all. “My overriding memory of (the drive) was, rather than being enamored with the car, I was actually scared of it…What I remember was this piercing noise of the air-cooled engine that was coming from behind, which (for a first-timer in a Porsche) is weird right, it’s usually meant to come from the front of the car!”
With the top down, young Lee got quite concerned of being “whooped out from underneath (his) seatbelt and over the seat into this raucous noise behind!”
Around the same time as this somewhat scarring but most definitely impressionable event, Sibley was already quite certain that he wanted to be a journalist. He always liked writing and enjoyed the buzz of going out and finding worthwhile stories, but most importantly he relished the responsibility of delivering news and stories to an audience “that expects of you to deliver.”
Sibley reflected that his career has been fully based in automotive journalism, which was exactly what he had hoped to do to the chagrin of his university professors. Eighteen months or so into his first journalist role at Fast Car magazine, Sibley applied for and landed the role of editor at Total 911. A quick progression and big jump, which he humbly attributed to it being the right timing and “the company being keen on trying someone younger in the position.” He has held the post ever since.
“Getting that job was a gateway into a whole new world to me, meeting so many fantastic people and dealing with this awesome product (that is the Porsche 911).”
Safe to say that at this point, Lee Sibley is no longer terrified of the 911.
FOR THE LOVE OF 996s
So what led Sibley to become a devout 996 supporter?
“I’ve been very lucky to experience all manner of 911s, transcending the full 57 years of the car’s existence…a lot of them are worth a lot of money.” This formed quite the interesting contrast to Sibley, juxtaposed with 996s.
“I specifically remember a twin test that I did five to six years back, comparing the gen one and gen two 996s. The gen two car was in Guards Red, quite striking as there are not too many Guards Red 996s on the planet.” The car reminded him of his first Porsche experience in the Guards Red 964, both from equivalence in colour and where the test drive was conducted, on roads not too dissimilar to the ones he bombed down with his dad’s best friend as a child.
“Zipping through these roads just had me thinking, ‘Oh my, this is incredible!’”
A couple of weeks later, he tested yet another 996, this time a 40th Anniversary edition that was pristine and low-mileage (around 12,000 miles) as a piece written for the 911 Buyer’s Guide. The way this car drove was even tighter and more impressive than the 996s in the last comparison, absolutely worthy of the 911 nameplate.
These experiences collectively resulted in a celestial moment for Sibley, where he realized that, compared to other generations of 911s, the 996 represents phenomenal value for money.
“The 996 gen one at the time was around 13 to 14,000 GBP (British pounds) and I think something tweaked in my brain where I realized the RS cars that we drive and test (at the magazine) are likely 10-times-plus the price (of the 996), but you know, it’s not necessarily 10 times the car.”
This theme, Sibley reckons, carries right up the ladder.
“The 996 GT3 RS… is easily one of the best 911s I’ve ever driven, definitely in my top five 911s of all time. It’s also one of the rarest water-cooled 911s you could buy with only 682 made worldwide (compare that to the 600 from the 997 GT3 RS 4.0).
“So as one of the best and rarest 911s, it is still the cheapest GT3 RS that you could buy.”
From Sibley’s perspective as an automotive journalist, the 996 has in recent days transcended beyond the “gateway 911” status and is gaining wider appeal. Many people who own older air-cooled or motorsports-derivative Porsches and purchased their cars originally to be driven hard on the track, are now deterred by their rising values and collectability status. These same owners have now turned to the 996 as a basis for building up a track car or a driver’s car to be used guilt-free. In doing so, these owners are immersing themselves and experiencing the merits of the 996, with many of them even spreading the gospel about the platform.
That said, we probably shouldn’t expect 996s to become investment-grade 911s in the near future. Despite seeing many other previously unloved 911s reach those stratospheric prices such as the 964 and SC, the difference in those with the 996, Sibley points out, is in availability. The high production numbers and lack of factors that would reduce clean examples — not many companies would take a 996 to “reimagine” them, for instance — is sure to keep lots of 996s on the market.
In my mind, this is not a bad thing at all. The current level of accessibility allows more people to pick up clean and solid examples of the 996, which they may enjoy with abandon. I certainly do with mine!
NINE ELEVEN GUY’S PORSCHES
Lee Sibley has been the proud owner of two 996 variants — a 996.2 narrow-body C4 and a 996.2 wide-body C4S — and is now actively refreshing his third and most recent 996, a gen one narrow-body C2. I was curious to know, from an ownership perspective, what were his thoughts on each, what led him to go from one car to the next, and what his ultimate verdicts were on each example.
“Each car had coincided with life choices that I had to make, which goes to show the versatility of the 996 as a platform… you can take the 996 on the journey of life with you.”
When hunting for his first 911, the 996.2 C4, it came down to a choice between that and a 996.2 C2. Both were Basalt Black and manual but the C2 was a bit tatty, with big repair bills potentially looming on the horizon. The C4, while by no means perfect, was a car he could jump into, drive and just enjoy.
“I always tell people that there are three crucial criteria when buying a 911: condition, condition, and, most importantly, condition!” And he bought his first 911 following that premise.
Ownership of the C4 naturally resulted in opportunities to go for spirited drives. One time, he was in the C4 driving down some fantastic roads in Wales with his friends, who were all in far superior cars in terms of both performance and price.
“I found myself way ahead on that drive, without a care in the world, sewing the corners together and wringing the neck of that 3.6-litre motor. I absolutely loved it!”
The next step on his Porsche ownership journey was an opportunity for him to sell the C4 and get into a Carrera 4S. The 996 Carrera 4S was a 996 variant offered after the mid-cycle refresh, therefore only available as a 996.2. Built with the same formula used in the C4S variant of the 993, the drivetrain of the all-wheel-drive Carrera is placed into a wide-body chassis from the Turbo, but without a factory wing. The 996 C4S in particular has a unique rear design to any other 996, with a reflector strip on the rear lid, connecting the red portions of the tail lamps on either side.
“The C4S just has the most beautiful rear end of any 911, full stop. I think it’s unbeatable. I also love the wide-body stance and Turbo look.”
Once again, Sibley chose between two cars. The first one had just arrived at his local Porsche dealership but the car came from Scotland where the weather is quite harsh and it was unfortunately very badly rusted despite being a single-owner example. The other C4S he considered was an immaculate example with rare options like carbon-fibre trim but had a whopping 13 previous owners. He ultimately followed his principle of “condition first” and went with the high-owner car, which was a rule that he would break, to his own disgruntlement, on his next purchase.
The C4S was well-enjoyed but ultimately had to be sold due to another big life decision, albeit one unrelated to cars, to free up cash flow for a house.
Once the dust had settled on the house purchase, he could finally look towards getting back into another 911, his current car, the 996.1 Carrera. The car was picked up for around 14,000 GBP, at the low end of the price range for a 996.1 nowadays. However, this wasn’t exactly the “deal” he thought it would be.
Sibley concedes that what he paid “was too much for that specific example…It was in a bad way, and I didn’t realize how bad until I got the car home on my drive.” He learnt a big lesson that day, and it’s the same lesson he has always preached to others, always get an inspection and verify the crucial criteria of “condition” on any 911 purchase.
The transformation of Sibley’s 996.1 Carrera, now dubbed “Little Irish” for its fresh Irish Green paint, is well-documented on his YouTube channel. Aside from the paint, it has gone through a suspension-arms and bushings refresh, a new KW coil-over system and brand-new Fuchs wheels. For those who are interested to see the step-by-step transformation, refer to his YouTube channel, That Nine Eleven Guy, for videos and illustrations on the entire process.
From his ownership experience to draw comparison between the first and second sub-generations of 996s, Sibley offers two major points of assessment.
The first: Starting with a negative towards the 996.1, the interior and general build quality is noticeably lower and less consistent than 996.2 cars. The fact that there were no cupholders or glove box in the 996.1 was incredulous to him as well.
The second: The redeeming quality of the 996.1 comes from its low curb weight and the 3.4-litre engine, which is peakier than the later 3.6-litre in the 996.2 which delivers more low-end torque. This makes the 996.1 much more of a momentum car, hitting a sweet spot in power-to-weight at 1,370 kilograms and 300 horsepower.
In the end, it boils down to what you’re looking for in a 911. If you’re searching for a 996, the trade-offs weighed are somewhat personal, and Sibley recommends trying both before deciding.
FRIED EGGS BY DESIGN
It’s hard to talk about the 996 without mentioning the man who is credited — or loathed, by the purists — for designing it: former Porsche Chief Designer Pinky Lai.
Knowing that Lee Sibley had conducted a very informative interview with Lai, I was curious to learn what he thought was the biggest takeaway.
Sibley pointed to how much Porsche as a company has grown, almost exponentially in fact, since the creation of the 996 more than 20 years ago. The contrast in available resources is stark: Pinky Lai was able to count his team with one hand when he was helming design at Porsche, as compared to Michael Mauer, the head of Porsche Design today, leading a team of 60 people working on the 991 and 992 generations. Of course the lack of resources was not by design. The reality of the time was that Porsche was in truly dire straits.
It sounds kind of cliché, but the car is undoubtedly the savior of the company. Porsche has made so many awesome cars since, and has given us all such fantastic experiences and memories. This was all made possible by Pinky Lai’s 996.
“I think more than anything, (what struck me was) just how close (Porsche) got to collapse. It’s gone down in folklore and the story has been embellished at cars and coffee through the past 20 years, but the decisions Pinky had to make in trying to keep his colleagues in the job (were impossible).” Pinky Lai was known to have suggested a pay cut for the design team, himself included, and for having to let people go almost on a weekly basis to trim the wage bill back, just enough to keep the company going.
“How he and his team managed to create (the 996) with the complete lack of resources at the time is beyond me.”
If you consider beyond the oft-lamented visuals, the 996 is a truly impressive feat of design and engineering. It was lighter, it was faster, it was more approachable with modern amenities, and, most importantly, it was more economical to build and to buy when compared to the 993 it replaced. The roll-out and sheer sales success of the 996, undeniable just by comparing production numbers to that of the 993, can be considered a prime catalyst towards the turnaround of Porsche.
“It sounds kind of cliché, but the car is undoubtedly the savior of the company. Porsche has made so many awesome cars since, and has given us all such fantastic experiences and memories. This was all made possible by Pinky Lai’s 996.”
IT’S NOT JUST THE CARS, IT’S THE PEOPLE
In celebration of this platform that Lee Sibley is passionate about, he created a series of model-specific cars and coffee events exclusively for the 996 in the UK, now known worldwide as the Fried Eggs Cars and Coffee Meets.
Cars and coffee has always been big in North America but has only recently taken off in the UK over the past five years.
“My decision to do (Fried Eggs meets) really resided in the rise of exclusive cars and coffee meets.” Many of these cars and coffees in the UK have developed into gatherings where a guest list is generated through online registration. The organizers find out what you drive and oftentimes decide whether your car is cool enough to join the event.
“Porsches are about inclusivity rather than exclusivity… obviously the 996 suffered under that sort of rationale.” The marginalization of the 996 and its owners did not sit well with Sibley. “It’s not a corporate responsibility (which I have none towards Porsche) but a social responsibility, everyone has to start somewhere.”
In corroboration of this thought process, he recounted another childhood event that influenced his interest in motors and it all started with a phone call his father made to their local Ferrari dealership. Growing up, the family car was always a van but young Lee had a Ferrari F40 poster up on his wall. When the dealer picked up the phone, his father asked if they would mind if his son had some seat time in one of the cars. The Ferrari dealer graciously said “no problem.” If he was left without these memories of himself standing on the seat, holding the wheel of an exotic sports car, Sibley reflected that there would be a real possibility he might have grown up with zero interest in cars.
“This is why I feel it’s important not to shut down these opportunities and present (chances to engage with) everyone. It was under this ethos that the idea for doing a 996-only meet (came about). I wanted to give 996 owners their day in the sun.”
I have always drawn a comparison between Fried Eggs and Luftgekühlt, an air-cooled-only event organized by Porsche Works driver Patrick Long. While arguably “just another cars and coffee” as well, there is a level of celebrity attention to events publicized in such a way. Lee Sibley’s Fried Eggs is the closest that a 996 owner would have to that sort of a spotlight.
According to Sibley, the growth of Fried Eggs has been quite organic, with the first one humbly hosted in the UK on a Sunday morning at a pub. He prepared around 25 goodie bags based on his expectations of the number of attendees. “If (the goodie bags) all go and 25 people turn up to this, that’s a great success.” In the end, the number of attending 996s, and available goodie bags, to the dismay of the late arrivals, far exceeded Lee’s expectations.
“I didn’t realize just how popular it would be.”
The popularity of Fried Eggs may have coincided with the crest in popularity of the 996 platform as well. From what Sibley gathered through conversations with attendees, there are, of course, plenty of them who are like me and Lee, with only the 996 as their pride and entry point to the brand, however, there are also attendees who are big Porsche fans and happen to have a 996 among their collection of 911s, yet they still enjoy getting out and driving fried egg car, and mixing with other like-minded people. “And that is exactly what this is all about.”
Not too dissimilar from the PCA motto of “It’s not just the cars, it’s the people,” now is it?
On behalf of PCA UCR and the 996 Special Interest Group, I took the liberty to ask Sibley whether he would be interested in hosting a Fried Eggs Ontario, Canada Edition, once international travel resumes.
“I’ve had messages similarly from people around the world, saying ‘I would love to do one here!’ and to my mind, great!” The 996 being marginalized is something that has happened everywhere, so Sibley believes we should absolutely celebrate the 996 around the planet. In fact, he was in the midst of organizing something on the east coast of the United States until the pandemic lockdown hit.
Regarding setting up Fried Eggs UCR specifically, he reckons, “Let’s do something where you are… as soon as it’s safe to do so.” He also encouraged us to form our own gatherings and that 996-specific meets should not require his specific presence to happen. “If there are enough 996 owners and enthusiasts in the area who want to do something, then they absolutely should.”
So to all PCA UCR members and 996 enthusiasts, please stay tuned in the future for some 996 love right here in Ontario, Canada!
To me, a couple of themes stuck out through this interview experience with Lee Sibley. The first was how universal the feelings for the Porsche 996 carry across the world, both the marginalization and the growing support for the platform alike. The second, and most prominent, is the generosity that Sibley exhibits, which in my mind, is representative of the broader automotive and Porsche community.
Both Sibley’s YouTube channel and Fried Eggs were created from a humble perspective of perpetuating the passion for the marque and the 996 platform. In the short hour spent with Lee on the interview, the genuine passion and desire to give back to this community rings through. He spent time and shared his passion for the 996 with us, and agreed to come and host Fried Eggs halfway across the world with us too, as a way to perpetuate the passion in something he himself is passionate about. It was done in the same spirit as when the UK dealership agreed to allow van-driving Mr. Sibley to have brought his son to sit in a showroom car all those years ago.
Christopher Hebert, our very own editor of Provinz Digital and lead advocate of the UCR 996 Special Interest Group, was coordinating the recording of the interview and video creation for the digital magazine. He had popped in with a final thought for Sibley not captured in the interview recording. While the appeal that many find in the 996 is the value for money compared to other 911 generations, to Hebert it may be argued that the 996 is equal or in fact superior to many. It has more power than any of its predecessors, but has great modern amenities with just the right amount of analog tactility when compared to its descendants. (For those interested, see Chris Hebert’s 996 profile. —Ed.)
What transpired was a discussion about what we love about our own 996s, the same fun conversations that you would have expected to hear at a cars and coffee, with our 996s parked next to each other. It goes to show that there is a true bonding effect that can break barriers in culture, language and even geographical distance, linking people together through sharing a common passion. I remain hopeful that social media, and the world that is increasingly reliant on digital means to communicate, can effectively sidestep the perils of technology. With the right people — of which there are plenty, Lee Sibley included — exhibiting energy, passion and connecting with folks through social media in a positive way, we stand a chance to further break down the negatives such as comparison culture, and instead focus on generating meaningful bonds. </>