GT3 Diaries

Front plate or no front plate? That is the question

This has never been an issue for me, until now.

I’m not the type of car enthusiast who frets over having holes in the front bumpers of his cars. Obviously I concur with the viewpoint the styling of the front end gets absolutely ruined by having to fit a license plate, and drilling holes into a pristine bumper is a complete antithesis to my obsession with vehicular perfection, however Sisyphean that may be. But rules are rules, and California is a state that requires a front plate. I much rather follow the law, suffer that slight bit of blemish to the front end of my cars, and lessen the probability of getting pull over by highway patrol.  

In my two previous cars, the decision to run front plates was made for me: both the WRX STI and the MX-5 Miata was purchased new, and the dealership have already drilled holes onto the bumper before delivery. With the deed having been done, using a front plate was the only option, because otherwise having two holes out front where the plate should be is even more unsightly. 

The GT3 presents a conundrum: I bought it used, and the previous owners have elected to not run a front plate. Therefore there aren’t holes in the front bumper, no provisions at all for me to affix a plate. The selling dealership didn’t even have the original plate holder that screws into the bumper, figuring buyers of 911s and its ilk aren’t wont to run front plates anyways. They would be correct, but I guess I’m not the typical 911 owner.

My full intention was to put the front plate on the GT3, to avoid as much extra attention as possible in a car that innately grabs attention. However, for the first time ever I have a vehicle with an unmolested front bumper, and I wasn’t exactly keen to drill fresh holes into it; another solution was required. After some research, I decided the best non-destructive method to run a front plate was via the tow-hook, in the form of a specialized mount. $100 dollars later, I had a CravenSpeed Platypus mount ready for the actual plates to arrive.

Well, it’s been three solid weeks since the plates came in the mail, and yet I’ve only had the rear license plate mounted to the GT3. When it came time to actually put on the front plate, I can’t seem to be bring myself to do it, and there are reasons. Primarily it’s because I don’t commute in the car, only pleasure driving on the weekends, so the chances of running into cops hunting for plate offenders are very slim. No meter-maid is ever going to ticket me because I hardly ever park the GT3 in a metered spot.

Praying on the fact there are fewer cops on the weekends, and those who are out there aren’t bothered enough to stop cars for lowly plate violations, I am willing to risk not having a front license plate. Indeed, the GT3 looks immensely better without it, the purity of the iconic styling preserved.

I’ll put on the front plate when I go on road trips, but for now, I shall live on the edge…

Intro: 2015 Porsche 911 GT3

Well, that didn’t take long at all. Introducing my very own 2015 Porsche 911 GT3, named ‘Spirit’.

Armed with information on what I am looking for spec-wise in a 911 GT3, the search began in earnest on the Internet. While I was entirely prepared to scour the whole country for the appropriate used sample, my fingers were definitely crossed that something local would crop up. The GT3 is expensive enough as is; if I can avoid having to pay for a flight and or a car shipped to me, that would be most ideal.

I had planned to start on Autotrader, it being the biggest online car shopping site, but I found out Porsche itself has a pre-owned website of its own, showing the used inventory within its dealership network. This is just as well because the terms of my LightStream loan stipulates that I can only buy the car from a dealer, no private parties. So, I input the parameters - a 2015 911 GT3 - into the portal and hoped for a good result.

A quick sidebar on why in particular a 2015 model year car: the engines in 2014 GT3s have a small tendency to catch on fire, so it’s best avoided. On the other hand, the 2016 GT3s have yet to depreciate down to my price range.

As luck would have it, the first result that popped up on the search is the blue beauty pictured above. This GT3 was located at Porsche Fremont, which is just across the Bay from San Francisco. On first impression, this certified pre-owned 2015 GT3 ticked-off a few big wants on my list: steel brakes, satin platinum wheels, and a color that isn’t black/gray/brown. It was looking good thus far.

Next, I did a search of the car’s VIN. Services like VIN Analytics can reveal which month/year a car was made, exactly how it is specced, and the exact date it was sold to the first owner. It’s an invaluable tool when shopping for Porsche cars because of their typically immense options list. Before making the trip to Fremont, I needed to know precisely what’s fitted to this GT3.

Turns out this Sapphire Blue Metallic car is optioned rather nicely, without too much ostentatious items to inflate the price. The rest of my must-haves and must-not-haves were immediately satisfied: extended range fuel tank, front axle lift, and Sound Package Plus; no lightweight bucket seats, and no Sport Chrono Package. In addition there’s some fluff options that I wouldn’t have paid for, from the nice to have: full LED headlights, factory navigation, and aluminum pedals; to the superfluous: full leather/Alcantara interior, grey seatbelts, and leather-wrapped steering wheel.

This 2015 car is in as perfect a spec as I can wish for; the only way it could be better is if the exterior was in Guards Red or Carrera White. But beggars cannot be choosers when it comes to used car shopping, and I was somewhat desperate to find a suitable car as quickly - and nearby - as possible, so I can move on to other things. This Sapphire Blue sample will suffice nicely.

Since the car is certified pre-owned, I did not push for an independent inspection. Porsche Fremont is well known amongst Bay Area Porsche owners for its trustworthiness, so I took their CPO inspection checklist on their word. Still, one must never buy a used car without first putting eyes on the actual vehicle, so a visit to the dealership was next.

I was happy to see the car parked inside the showroom and not outside against the elements. With nearly 24,000 miles on the clock, this blue GT3 was a bit of a driver, considering it was produced rather late in the model year - February 2015. This didn’t bother me at all: these type of cars are meant to be driven, and the examples that get regularly exercised tend to visit repair shops far less frequently. I’d rather buy this than some other 2015 GT3 with mileage still in the four digits.

The whole front-end of the GT3, including the mirrors and A-pillars, were wrapped in paint protection film, which is a nice bonus. I took my time looking at all aspects of the car inside and out, and found it to be solid overall. There’s no overt paint blemishes I could find on the paint, and all four wheels are free from curb damage. Inside, the driver seat bolster does look a little worn for the mileage than I’d like, perhaps the previous owners were more rotund than my 5’10” 170 pound frame. The leather isn’t broken through, though, so it’s something I can live with. Besides, the rest of the interior is in mint condition.

The only thing left was the test drive. The goal wasn’t to flog the car mercilessly - there will be plenty of time for that once I’ve bought a GT3, but instead it’s to check for any unusual noises, mainly interior squeaks and rattles. I’m happy there were none to be found. I did take one opportunity - as you do - to rev the 3.8-liter flat-six all the way to its 9,000-rpm redline. It was, in a word, intoxicating. That high pitch, wolf-like howl to a brilliant crescendo was everything I’ve ever wanted.

The brief drive allowed me some initial impressions of the car, too. The steering is surprisingly heavy, considering 60% of the weight at the back, and the 245 section front tires are relatively small compared to the massive 305 section rears; it does feel great to the hand, though. There’s plenty of low speed chatter emanating from the gearbox, and the engine rumbles quite steadily at idle - the feel is pure motorsport. When cold, the steel brakes are alarmingly lacking, but stops with an expected vengeance once warmed up.

Satisfied the blue GT3 checks all the right boxes, I decided to go ahead with the purchase. One hour later, I drove away from Porsche Fremont piloting my dream car. These are the sort of days when car enthusiasm is at its most magical.

And thus brings to a conclusion the journey from deciding to buy a 911 GT3 to actually acquiring the car. In the coming months and years the GT3 Diaries will consist of my ownership experience with this GT3 (will I get ruined by the Porsche tax?), and the roads and locales I will be driving it to. At the end of every month there will be car magazine-style long term updates. Stay tuned!

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Date acquired: January 2019
Total mileage: 23,775
Mileage this month: N/A
Costs this month: N/A
MPG this month: N/A

My alternatives to a GT3

In the wide and varied world of automobiles, it’s very difficult to be completely fixated on one single car. No matter your inspiration or taste, there's a smattering of options to at best, distract you from reality, or worse, entice you into bad decisions concerning the wallet.

My goal was singular and unwavering: buy a Porsche 911 GT3, but that doesn’t mean my eyes did not wander towards other possibilities. The question of “What if I weren’t getting a GT3, what would I buy instead?” presented a good pondering exercise. Even as the automotive industry rapidly migrates towards turbocharging and electrification, we are still living in a golden era of performance cars. Massive speed and superb handling have never been so accessible and so abundant.

It’s always good fun to dream about buying and living with certain cars, so here are five I would happily purchase if the 911 GT3 was not a thing:

Photo credit: BMW

BMW M2 Competition

The BMW M2 have been an intriguing prospect since its launch. The car is a mea culpa to those unlucky to have missed the opportunity to buy the rare limited edition 1M. The M2 largely follows the same formula: a heavily shortened 3-Series chassis in two-door guise, a reworked turbo inline-six from the lesser 35i model, and a heavy dose of flared fenders. In total the M2 is a lithe and rapid package reminiscent of old M3s, and if you’re part of the crowd that reckons modern M3/M4s have grown too large and unwieldy, the M2 represents a true lineage to BMW’s glorious past.

Brand new for the 2019 model year is the Competition package, which is BMW-speak for mid-cycle refresh, and I think it makes the M2 the M car to buy. Borrowed from the bigger M3 is the S55 inline-six, now making 400 horsepower in the Competition. Brakes have increased in size and piston count, and the unsightly wheels (in my opinion) on the old M2 have been replaced with a delicious set of mesh-style alloys. Just look at it in the picture: the car’s stance cannot be more athletic.

Photo credit: Ford

Ford Mustang Shelby GT350

In many ways, the Shelby GT350 ticks all the boxes in what I look for in a sports car: high-revving, naturally-aspirated engine, manual gearbox, and drive to the rear wheels. The fact that it’s wrapped underneath a Ford Mustang is at once surprising and worrying at the same time. The reputation of performance Mustangs is an all-out bruiser in the name of straight-line speed (because America!), and also a nasty tendency to spin out and hit things/people at the local Cars and Coffee. Can a Mustang really be a world-class handling machine?

It most certainly can. Since launch, the GT350 is roundly acclaimed for its superb chassis and handling precision, an icing on the cake made by the glorious sounds from the 5.2-liter V8 spinning to 8250 rpm. At around $60,000 brand new, it’s bit of a bargain, too. The GT350 has been called the ‘poor man’s GT3’, and indeed there are many wealthy Porsche owners who have bought one to supplement their 911 fix. In my view that’s as high a commendation a sports car can receive.

Photo credit: Porsche

Porsche 911 Carrera T

Hang on a minute, if I weren’t getting a 911, I’d get another 911? Makes sense, doesn’t it? If the GT3 trim didn’t exist, why not entertain other variants of the sports car icon?

The Carrera T came out in the 2018 model year as an homage to 911 Ts of old: a stripped-down, poverty-spec 911 with only the go-fast and lightweight options fitted. The pursuit here is the utmost in driving fun, for significantly less money than a GT3. I do the like the prospect of that.

The T formula in 2018 guise is quite intensive: Porsche starts off with a base Carrera and adds the 20-inch wheels from the Carrera S. Sport Chrono Package and PASM becomes standard equipment, so is a mechanical limited-slip differential (on manual cars only, sadly). The final-drive ratio gets shortened, because chasing velocity maximum is not the point, the joy of shifting gears is. In the name of lightness, there’s thinner rear glass at the back and fabric door-pulls on the door cards. Enterprising Colin Chapman fanatics can optionally spec carbon-ceramic brakes, and lightweight bucket seats straight out of the GT department.

Fans of atmospheric induction might complain of the turbochargers in the Carrera T, but the intrinsic beauty of the flat-six engine cannot be muffled. By most accounts, the 3.0-liter unit in the Carrera T remains a sweetheart of an engine, devouring revs with that signature Porsche eagerness. Absent the GT3, the Carrera T is no consolation prize: it’s one of the best 911 variants ever made.

Photo credit: Mercedes Benz

Mercedes-AMG GT S Coupe

Of the cars listed here, the AMG GT S is the most evocative. I’ve always been a fan of the long-hood, short-deck coupe look, best exemplified by the legendary Jaguar E-Type. The GT S carries on that illustrious tradition with a bonnet that appears to take up half the car’s entire length. The driver is sat just in front of the rear-axle, while the engine is completely behind the front wheels. It’s an absolute stunner, a car you can’t stop looking back towards as you walk away from it after parking.

The engine in this AMG busts the myth that turbocharged engines cannot sound good. Whatever voodoo magic the engineers at Affalterbach did to make the 4.0-liter V8 sound just as angry and violent as the atmospheric 6.3-liter predecessor, please let other automakers borrow it (looking at you, BMW). The GT S shows you can indeed have it all: torque, power, and proper noise.

It steers well, too. Mercedes Benz have targeted the vaunted 911 with the GT S, and according to car magazines, it has succeeded in matching the Porsche for driving thrill. The car did win Motor Trend’s Best Driver’s Car award for 2015 - over a Cayman GT4(!). That’s a job well done, AMG.

Photo credit: Nissan

Nissan GT-R

It’s difficult to believe that it’s been a whole decade since the R35 GT-R came on the scene and completely destroyed the competition. Sports cars many times more expensive than the Nissan were forced to justify how they could charge so much money for less performance. So thoroughly beaten was the Porsche 911 Turbo at the Nurburgring lap times that Porsche resorted to accusing Nissan of foul play.

Godzilla is undefeated. Except against time.

Indeed the preceding 10 years have no been kind to the mighty GT-R. At launch it may have forced other manufacturers to go back to the drawing boards, but go back they did. Modern machinery from the likes of Germany and Italy have since eclipsed the R35, and by decent margin. Today the GT-R is far less of a bargain, with MSRP having grown some $25,000 during its production span.

But it’s still an incredibly fast car, a pound-for-pound hero in the used market. As a car enthusiasts who grew up on the JDM craze, the Nissan GT-R remains a high watermark worth considering. I can only hope that it isn’t a plateau.

Financing a 911 GT3

Buying a Porsche 911 GT3 of any vintage is an expensive endeavor, especially if you’re like me and prefers a model made in this decade. Spending six figures on a fun sports car is far from the usual automotive purchase, and I’m most certainly not well enough financially to carelessly drop such amounts of coin. The GT3 represent the prototypical car enthusiast “dream car” for me, and as such it does involve some monetary juggling in order to purchase it.

As mentioned, I am not made of money, I do not come from money, and my salary from employment is solidly middle-class, so long as you discount that I live in San Francisco, one of the most expensive region on this planet. The reason I can afford a car like the GT3 is two fold: one, I’ve been saving religiously ever since I started working, and two, I don’t spend much on other items materialistic.

When you love cars as much as I do, there’s zero qualms with spending such exorbitant sum on the hobby. I just have to cut back on other parts of my budget to bring about the proper balance. Honestly, if that money isn’t spent on cars, it’ll probably be something else; I’m not any different than people who choose to go traveling all over the world; they have their passion, I have mine.

Indeed it’s much easier to hate on the person who’s got the super nice car, isn’t it? Oh, isn’t this some rich douchebag. Few would see a Lamborghini driver and and think the guy must have worked tirelessly for years to afford his dream machine. No, it’s far easier to jump to the conclusion that it’s a silver spoon, or yet another rich tech bro.

I don’t put stock in the perception of me by others; I can’t control their feelings, only me own.

Even with the money I’ve diligently saved, I’m going to need additional financing to buy the GT3. Contrary to popular belief, even rich car folks, who presumably can pay the full cash amount for a car no issues, finance their purchases. It’s the logical thing to do: if interest rate on a loan is lower than the rate of return possible elsewhere, any extra cash beyond an appropriate downpayment is better served not tied up to vehicle.

I of course don’t have such “extra cash”, but nevertheless I need a car loan. How exactly does one go about borrowing money for a used car selling for six figures? The same as any normal car.

If I were buying a brand new car, the process would’ve been easy: get a loan at the dealer. They usually have the best deals because manufacturers tend to subsidize loans on new cars with low interest rates. Obviously I am buying a used car, so rates a dealership can get me will be the same as I can get privately at a bank or Credit Union. To make things worst, the Fed raised interest rates three times in 2018, so the cost of borrowing money have gone up commensurately for everyone.

Credit Unions were where I started my search. From the bit of sleuthing online, the name that came up most often was PenFed. It seems lots of car guys have financed their purchases through them, and particularly, Youtuber Doug DeMuro borrowed money via PenFed to buy his Ford GT. All this gave me great confidence, and PenFed’s rates are amongst the most competitive, too. I was entirely ready to apply when I perchance saw another option.

LightStream was a name that came up often amongst the Tesla crowd. Like most other banks, LightStream offers loans for automobiles, but with one key differentiator: LightStream does not require collateral. In typical car financing, the bank would keep a vehicle’s title until the entire loan amount is paid in full. The buyer doesn’t really “own” the car outright until that is done - the bank has a ‘lien” on it. The title acts as collateral for the bank so that in the event of non-payment, there’s recourse to recoup money.

LightStream lets the borrower keep the title, and are only trusting on his or her word (and credit history) that the loan agreement will be fulfilled. This was immediately attractive to me because it means I wouldn’t have to wait five years to have the GT3’s title in my hands. Even more impressive is that LightStream will match any rate you are able to secure at other banks/credit unions, effectively costing nothing to switch to them for a loan.

It has to be said that in order to quality for a LightStream loan, you must have superb credit, with a score well into the 700s, preferably 800s. People with not so good credit are too much of a liability to be given an unsecured loan at any interest rate.

Applying for loan with LightStream is fantastically simple: fives minutes filling out an online form, and within a few hours, I got an email stating my application was approved. After that it’s only another five minutes or so on the website to complete the process. Depending on the amount you’re asking to borrow, LightStream might not even ask for copies of pay-stubs and money accounts - they did not in my case.

The process was ridiculously easy, and the loan amount was depositing into my checking account the very next day. With the entire potential cost of the car secure and ready, the game was on to find the suitable GT3 to buy.

My 991.1 GT3 must-haves

First, a quick recap: I’ve decided to buy a Porsche 911, in particular the 991.1 GT3. Now is where the process gets a bit complicated.

You see, buying a Porsche car isn’t as straight forwards as the typical mainline manufacturer, where you pick the color, select from the few option packages you want, and on you go. Porsche does things a lot differently: the company is hilariously notorious for its immense options list, where buyers can spec all sorts of things, from the useful (sports exhaust) to the downright ridiculous (deviated stitching in neon green on the leather-wrapped fuse-box door). The notoriety extends to the option prices, too: you want Apple CarPlay in your Porsche? Hyundai will give it to your for free in the Elantra, but i a Boxster, that will be 360 dollars.

Indeed it’s far too easy - and tremendously fun - to spec a Porsche car and have the options alone cost more than a well-equipped family sedan.

Obviously, I haven’t got the sort of monetary reserves to concern myself with special seatbelts and Alcantara sun-visors. However, there are some key options that I reckon are absolutely essential for the full 991.1 GT3 experience. To investigate, I bought myself a brochure (which alone cost 100 dollars used on eBay - the Porsche tax is real) to survey the possibilities back in 2014.

First and foremost in the decision process is the exterior color. Being that I am buying a used sample, I figure I cannot be too picky; I really want to avoid spending months on end hunting down just the correct colored car with the appropriate options. I guess I’m an impatient millennial after all.

So it became a matter of eliminating colors, rather than picking only one. It was rather quick: the only colors taken off the list were any variety/shade of black, gray, and brown. Black was an easy elimination because it only looks good for that one split-second after you’ve just finished detailing. Drive it down a road for a minute and it looks dirty again. I didn’t want gray because having seen a GT3 in that color, all the special lines and curves of the car gets muddied and overshadowed (same is true in black).

Brown got tossed because, well, it’s brown. A GT3 is a thoroughbred sports car, not a diesel station wagon. Anyways, my color preferences are, by order of desire: red, white, silver, yellow, blue.

The next big item after paint is actually the brakes. The 991.1 GT3 comes standard with fabulously large six-piston front, four-piston rear brakes clamping down on iron discs. For just a hair over 9,000 dollars, the car can be fitted with even larger carbon ceramic discs. I’ve always loved the looks of beefy brakes nestled behind alloy wheels, so I wouldn’t have objected to paying more for the carbon stoppers, but for one huge problem: the PCCB calipers are yellow, while the stock steelies are a proper shade of red.

Indeed it’s only aesthetics, but I’m paying a relatively enormous sum of money for the GT3 and I really hate yellow-colored calipers. Other than black, it doesn’t match with any other exterior color - and I’m not buying a black GT3. So the stock steel brakes it is, which also saves me the depreciated equivalent of 9000 dollars. A solid win.

With those two big ticket items out of the way, the rest of the must-have options are as follow:

  • Front axle lift: consists of two hydraulic cylinders perched on top of the front coils, allowing the driver to quickly raise the front-end about an inch at the push of a button. It costs nearly 3000 dollars, but I think it’s worth the massive decrease in chances of scraping the absurdly low front lip. It’s a must-have even considering a replacement lip is only 200 dollars.

  • Extended-range fuel tank: in place of the paltry stock 16-gallon fuel tank (for that all important low curb weight stat) is a 23.7-gallon unit. The GT3 is projected to get around 15 miles to the gallon on a good day, so the stock tank, after discounting the typical 3-gallon reserve, isn’t likely to net over 200 miles on one fill. I plan to road-trip the car quite considerably so the bigger tank is crucial.
    Fun fact: the extended-range fuel tank may be larger but the fuel gauge inside the instrument cluster still acquiesces to the stock tank size. The needle stays at full until level goes below 16 gallons.

  • Sound Package Plus: this option adds a separate amplifier to give the standard nine speakers some extra watts of kick. It’s not remotely in the same league as the Burmeister system found in less sporting 911s, but I do like my sounds, and this package was the maximum possible on the 991.1 (991.2 GT3 offers an optional Bose system). You may ask why spend more for sound when the engine is already so melodious and captivating; to that I say sometimes I just want to cruise and listen to music.

And that is it; not too particularly picky, if I do say so myself. More importantly these are common options that most GT3 buyers do spec, so the potential number of suitable cars should be fairly decent. However, next to my must-have list I also have a must-not-have list, and unfortunately that’s going to constrict the list of cars:

  • Lightweight Buckets: while I have no doubts that these option bucket seats are fabulous on a race track, for daily comfort I don’t find them to be optimal. The GT3 will be a weekend only car, and there will be stints of multiple hours; seating comfort is therefore immensely important. The standard 4-way adjustable seats or the optional 18-way adjustable units are what I am looking for.

  • Painted wheels: the standard 20-inch wheels come in a beautiful satin platinum finish, a hue that looks like a muted variant of my favorite wheel color ever: bronze. Obviously not everyone shares my taste, and Porsche provides the option for GT3 wheels to be painted in either silver, satin black, or gloss black. I absolutely do not want a car with wheels in those colors, and no, I’m not paying more to have a set painted back to satin platinum.

  • XM satellite radio: Internet radio is a feature I’m certain I will never use. A GT3 specced with this option wouldn’t be a bother if not for the fact in order to get reception, a small rectangular nub is required on the center rear of the roof - like a ‘shark fin’ antenna on a BMW. Exterior appendages that ruin lines and serve zero purpose? Hard pass.

  • Sport Chrono Package: in the “regular” 911, Sport Chrono Package is quite compelling in that in addition to the stopwatch/clock module on top of the center dash, there’s also extra software components (Sport Plus mode, for instance) to make the car that little bit faster. In a GT3 that’s already maximized for sport, all you get is the clock and connection leads for a lap timer that’s sold separately. The car itself won’t go any quicker, and since I don’t plan to visit a track at all, the Sport Chrono Package is definitely an appendage that serves zero purpose.

Right, so the plan is this: within the suitable price range for a 2015 991.1 GT3, I shall search for cars that isn’t black/gray/brown, with steel brakes, and with my must-have options and none of the must-not-haves. If the original owner decided to pay for superfluous accoutrements like full leather dash or a fire extinguisher when they ordered the car new, then that’s simply a bonus for me.

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.

Why the 911?

Photo credit: Porsche

It all started some twenty years ago.

I was barely into my teens, at the very nascent of my fascination with the automobile. Back in those days there weren’t rapid Internet access to endless streams of multimedia (kids these days have it so good), so to perform any sort of sleuthing on cars, the 10 year old me resorted to visiting a historic institution: the public library.

Once I had exhausted through the latest monthly car magazines, I ventured to the automotive section of the library, a shelf full of various repair manuals and books on specific models. A particular book that caught my attention was the Consumer Reports guide to every single car on sale for that specific model year. What better way to learn about all the cars than such an encyclopedic source?

It took me a while to alphabetically reach the P section, and when the (993) Porsche 911 came into view, the visuals arrested me profoundly. To the naive 10-year old mind, cars were suppose to look the traditional three-box fashion: engine in the front, passenger compartment at the center, and trunk in the rear. Scattered amongst those commonalities were wedge-shaped mid-engine exotics such as the illustrious Lamborghini Countach.

The idiosyncratic shape of the 911, then, proved to be quite the counterpunch to those preconceived notions. I can still remember the picture in the book: a ruby red 993 Turbo from the rear quarters view, similar to the photo above. I thought it an interesting shape to form the basis of a car, not having yet read that the engine is entirely behind the rear-axle, and that it’s flat. The intensely sloped rear-end and the bulbous rear haunches was all it took to captivate me onto the 911 to this very day.

It’s a really special car.

As I read on I got to pricing, and it dawned on me then the 911 is but a dream and an aspiration. As a poor immigrant kid whose first language isn’t English, cars within the pricing stratosphere of a Porsche 911 was not a reality you ever thought possible at that age. But the allure of the 911 remained ever constant: I always did a double-take on the rare occasion I spotted one on the road, taking the scarce opportunity to take in that beautiful shape once more, all the while thinking to my young self that I’d never make the amount of money needed to afford one.

Car enthusiasm doesn’t wane, but financial proclivities had me focused on cars more attainable. Like most of my peers, the video game Gran Turismo introduced me to the world of Japanese sports cars. Relative to the Germans, cars from Japan were much cheaper, and together with the influence of tuning culture, culminating in the first Fast and Furious movie, turned my automotive attention squarely on cars with a VIN starting with a J.

But as any proper petrol-head, I kept tabs on motive metal from countries outside of Japan; the spread of online media made that task supremely easy. So while I was having my fun driving around in a Subaru WRX STI and then later a Mazda MX-5 Miata, cars like the 911 was not far from my purview. I grew to learned about Porsche’s hallowed air-cooled heritage, which thanks to the likes of Magnus Walker, cheap, decade old sports cars have suddenly turned into pricey unobtanium.

There was the 911’s much-maligned evolution to the 996 generation, with its water-cooled engine and funny headlamps, which I have to say I never really despise as much as others did. In fact, the 996 Turbo S, in GT Silver color, was the poster car of my youth. It looked so cool, and according to the stats, so unimaginably fast. Of course, modern 997 and 991 era of 911s have since eclipsed the 996, where even base model Carreras offer supercar-like performance.

This much was clear: the Porsche 911 is the quintessential sports car with a legendary lineage, and any car enthusiast should have it as a checkbox on their car bucket-list.

For whatever reason, owning a 911 was not my list at all until 2018. I’d never thought of myself as a person capable of purchasing one: six-figure sports cars are far too cavalier of a financial move given my modest monthly income. That said, coming off selling the MX-5 in May of 2018, I naturally and immediately gravitated to the question of what my next car would be. As a single person in his early 30s with a bit of savings, the possibilities of a 911 came into naughty and delicious prospect.

Indeed it would be a bold move, but I’m rationalizing it as this: if a 911 is an experience not to be missed, then I don’t see any purpose in purchasing more “stop-gap” cars in between. A BMW M2 would just feel like a faster Miata, while a rear-engined 911 would be fantastically unique. Let’s concentrate all material power into buying a 911 as the car to succeed the lovely Mazda.

Thus began the plan.