GT3 Diaries

Which 911 to buy?

Photo credit: Porsche

So I’ve made the decision to buy a 911; the question then becomes: which one?

One of the unique aspect of the Porsche 911 is the unrivaled breathe of capability within its extensive model range. Want a plain, no nonsense sports car? A base Carrera fits the bill very nicely. Fancy something with a a little more speed? There’s the Carrera S. Drivers in northern climates can opt for four-wheel drive. The 911 Turbo is an all-out speed monster and a fabulous grand-touring machine. Those seeking the ultimate in driving stimulation can find it in the modern ‘GT’ cars, be it GT3 or GT2.

There’s even convertible 911s, not that you should buy them.

Once you’ve figured out which model most fit your particular persuasion, the conundrum turns to which generation of 911 to buy. Of course, it would be most convenient (and commensurately expensive) to simply buy the latest 991.2 model brand new off the dealer lot, but the distinctive allure of previous generations also deserves consideration (and save some money). Perhaps the nostalgia of classic air-cooled 911s of the G-body, 964, and 993 eras will prove too irresistible; a constant stream of clean, low-mileage samples crops up on Bring a Trailer on a daily basis.

Or maybe the final incarnation of analog driving thrill is what’s most important, then the 996 and 997 generations - especially in GT3 trim - are the ones to get. Manual transmission, hydraulic-assisted steering, and the naturally-aspirated engine: these are automotive endangered species in a world of electric this and turbocharged that. 997 cars have held their value so well precisely because it offers an experience that’s largely extinct in new sports cars.

And obviously, the size of your budget has an enormous affect on the decision. The less there is to spend, the lower in the range and/or further back the generations you must to go.

After giving all of the above proper consideration, I arrived at the selection: the 991.1 Porsche 911 GT3.

I love sports cars; the more focused, the better. When thrill of driving is at the top of the criteria list, the only option within the vast 911 range is the GT3. Indeed a Carrera S can also be quite handy going round a turn, but if I had bought that, the GT3 would continually haunt me like a bad dream: why didn’t I just saved up a bit more for it? In my previous cars, I bought the best model within the Subaru WRX range - the STI, and the base poverty-spec model of the Mazda MX-5 - the Sport; the juxtaposition taught me to always go for the best model possible, because otherwise there will always be pangs of regret.

Having owned the turbocharged WRX STI and the naturally-aspirated MX-5 also informed me that atmospheric engines are infinitely cooler and more special than forced-induced units. Crucially, 911 GT3s have always been naturally-aspirated; for now, anyways.

In picking the GT3, there’s three generations of 911s to choose from: 996, 997, and the present 991. While for sure I wouldn’t kick any of these three models out of bed, the 996 GT3 got knocked out of contention fairly quick. I can stomach the 996’s notoriously weird styling, but it’s far too old of a car, and even though its handling capabilities are still world-class, the engine is low on power compared to what’s possible these days. The 996 GT3 is also bit of a rare bird, being the first generation of the GT3 and not many units made it over to our shores. Therefore the prices of suitable samples are relatively high, and the value proposition just isn’t there.

The 997 GT3 is far trickier to judge. As mentioned, it’s widely recognized as the last of the analog 911s, with its hydraulic steering and sweet manual gearbox. Behind the rear-axle sits the famed Mezger flat-six engine that’s straight out of motorsport; a sort of motor you won’t find in the preceding GT3. There’s really not much, if at all, to fault with 997 GT3: it’s one superbly compelling package, and with production 997.2 models extending to early this decade, the interior appointments are still modern enough to not annoy me (you really get spoiled by the latest cars).

If I were still in my mid-twenties, I would’ve easily picked the 997 GT3: the utmost in raw, analog, and focused driving experience; ride comfort should not even be a consideration. Manual gearbox in traffic? Only chumps complain about such trivial rubbish.

Not that 25 year old me could remotely afford a 911, much less a GT3. Indeed as I sit here in my early thirties, priorities in what I look for in a sports car have changed. I’ve done the most hardcore version of a car before in the WRX STI, and while it’s incredibly fun under the right circumstances (it’s unbeatable in the wet), the realities of living in a metropolitan city meant there were certain moments where the super stiff suspension was decidedly intolerable.

Which answers the question of why I’m not looking at GT3 RS cars: much too brutal for everyday street driving, and also becauseI can’t afford one. Non-RS GT3s offer a sublime blend of road-holding talent and urban usability; the 997 GT3, while excellent, lacks that last smidge of grand-touring ability when compared to the 991 GT3.

I’ve been mesmerized with the 991 GT3 ever since I saw the video of Porsche GT program boss Andreas Preuninger giving an intensive walk-around of the car when it was first introduced back in 2013. It was hook, line, and sinker as I listened to the man give point-by-point details on the new car: a 475 horsepower flat-six engine that revs to 9 thousand RPM, a slick PDK-S automated gearbox replacing the old manual, rear-wheel steering, and 20-inch forged alloy wheels; just to name a few. Compared to the 997 the new GT3 is more grown-up and less hooligan, but promises to be faster and equally as engaging.

I haven’t lusted after a car like this since I saw the tail-end of a WRX STI blast away from a stoplight, giant wing and all.

Some would disagree, but I think the 991 generation to be the most beautiful of the modern 911s, and the GT3 package adds on an appropriate amount of aggression, without being too shouty about it and ruining those iconic curves. More importantly, by the virtue of the stretched wheelbase inherent in 991 chassis, the latest GT3 doesn’t bludgeon the driver on bumpy roads as previous generations did. It’s the perfect super sports car for all occasions - even in inclement weather, provided you’ve got proper tires.

Right, the 991.1 GT3 it is; but why not the 991.2? Simple: it’s out of my price range. If I want a 991 GT3, my only option is a used sample of the first-generation model produced between 2014 to 2016.

Thus began the search.