Porsche's First GT3 is a Huge Hit : Porsche 911 GT3 (996 Mk 1) [review]

Car Specifications
Engine: 
3600 cc Normal Aspirated
Cylinder Layout: 
Flat-6 Boxer, 24-valves, VarioCam
Top Speed: 
302 km/h
Transmission: 
6-speed manual
0-100km/h: 
4.8 sec
Power: 
360 bhp at 7200 rpm
Torque: 
370 Nm at 5000 rpm
Features: 
  • Porsche's practical cult car
  • Brilliant engine and chassis

Hindsight they say is 20:20 and by the time Porsche attempted the 996 GT3 for the first time they had already three generations worth of RS (Porschespeak for Renn Sport) versions. The original 2.7 RS was the true stripped down racer and back then Porsche was certainly not in the luxury game, all their cars being serious driving machines.

The next two RS versions allowed owners to order "high spec" versions which meant most of whatever the engineers had stripped out to save weight were ordered as extra cost options. Things like the air-conditioner power windows, comfortable seats and stereo systems added to both kerb weight and cost.

With the 964 and 993 RS models the body in white was siphoned off the line and then suitably re-welded to strengthen the already stiff chassis further. To this chassis, they add specially calibrated spring-damper units that change the gentleman’s 911 into something special.

The original RS concept merely used blueprinted engines or engines that marginally exceed the original specifications when tested on their dynometer which meant outputs may not exceed 5% from specifications. The original RS was also very spartan and devoid of any sound deadening material in order to save weight. The main crux was the weight reduction and improved chassis rigidity but the time-consuming production was deemed too inefficient for what Porsche had in mind for the future.

For the 996 version, Porsche carefully introduced the GT3 name for the first time obviously holding in reserve the RS moniker for the ultimate hardcore version. Thanks to a no additional cost option list the 996 GT3 has the same luxury spec as most 911 Carreras complete with power windows, air-conditioning and with suitably lowered (-30mm) and stiffened suspension.

However unlike the typical RS theme where the engine had the same basic output, the GT3 engine gets a hefty 60 bhp lift in power to 360 bhp, meeting the magical 100 bhp per litre benchmark. The engine not only feels special it sounds special too, much like the air-cooled 964 engine. These 100 bhp/litre engines are a unique breed. They possess a powerband that seems so pure. 

For the new 996, Porsche had developed a new simplified alloy flat-six engine but the Motorsport division would have none of it. It decided to create a hybrid of sorts using the M64 alloy block combining it with the latest water-cooling tech Porsche was using for the 996.

Because of its phenomenonal strength, this block would also become the basis for all the high powered 911 engines in the future. It would end up in the GT1, GT2 and 911 Turbos apart from all GT3s and GT3 RS's.

The chassis strength of the 996 rose to 30,000 Nm per degree and at this level was much better than even the rewelded 964 or 993 chassis. This allowed the 996 GT3 to be made entirely on the Zuffenhausen production line saving time and costs. In essence the GT3 added another model that would satisfy most Porsche enthusiasts and the future RS versions would cater to the true hardcore drivers.

Well, the corollary of all this is a sports coupe with the disposition of a tightly tensioned athelete just waiting to spring into action at the merest hint of the starter’s gun. It will sprint to 100 km/h in a scant 4.8 seconds and in 15.8 seconds pass 200 km/h on its way to a top speed of 302 km/h.

However the most facinating aspect of this car is not about speed alone but more about how it attains it and how well it responds to the helm. The steering is so sharp, one will find the first few corners, prematurely clipped, requiring one to back off almost the instant after you have turned-in.

Steady hands are required for high speed driving for a sneeze might send the car into the next lane. The responses are razor sharp and definitely not for the faint hearted. The whole character of the 911 is changed in the GT3. The normal 911 almost feels soft in comparison. However it should be stressed that it is response we are talking about because ride quality is seemingly unaffected(firmer but no more harsher).

In fact it seems better for it combines iron-fisted control and comfort in a way that the normal 911 could not. Rough roads are traversed with a soft step while the body does not float at all over washboard roads.

It is during cornering that the GT3 become a challenge. While the basic 996 steadfastedly refused to oversteer, the GT3 definitely has no such inhibition. One will feel the rear suspension work hard for grip and at the limit tends toward oversteer. The stiff suspension has more weight transfer than the normal 911 and so reacts far more vividly to the driver’s attitude and conversely inaptitude as well.

The steering is very positive and perfectly weighted so proved a superb instrument to pilot the GT3. Communication is the hallmark of any excellent sports car and the GT3 is among the best. So much so its rear-engine trait is clearly revealed. There is a slight sidways shuffle when negotiating long sweepers that can be unnerving to the uninitiated but the GT3 will hold the line as long as you keep your wits.

Alas, the GT3 is a limited production model with just 250 right-hand drive examples around the world and most of these gems have already found owners including the four delivered here which were sold within the week. Brilliance it seems is a much sought after commodity, even if it means having to shift six gears yourself but if you do not already know, it does have its rewards.

SPECIFICATIONS


ENGINE: 3600cc, Water-cooled flat six. 24 valves, DOHC per bank, VarioRam, VarioCam, Twin catalytic converters, Digital Motor Electronics engine management. Max Power: 360 Bhp @ 7200 rpm. Max Torque: 370 Nm @ 5000 rpm.

TRANSMISSION: Six-Speed Manual

STEERING: Power Assisted Rack and Pinion System

BRAKES: Ventilated Discs front and rear. Four pot aluminum monobloc calipers. ABS

SUSPENSION: Front: MacPherson Struts. Rear: LSA, Multi-Link Independent coaxial spring and damper.

ACCELERATION: 0-100 kph: 4.8 seconds

TOP SPEED: 302 kph

FUEL CONSUMPTION: Combined Cycle: 12.9 Litres per 100 km. Highway: 8.9 Litres per 100 km

STANDARD EQUIPMENT: 4-AirBags, Immobilizer, Central Locking with remote arming, Heated Mirrors, Alloy wheel with 18 inch tyres, Cup Holders, Power Steering. Leather option

PRICE IN 1999: $ 558,888 incl GST, 12 months Road Tax, Registration Fee, excludes COE. 2-yr unlimited mileage.
 

Summary
Although Porsche didn't go the weight reduction route with the GT3 it did put in a brilliant engine. The 996 chassis is a great starting point because it is incredibly rigid without needing a re-weld. The GT3 created a new niche and also became the basis for the even wilder RS version. Without a doubt a cult car. - AL
Photos: 
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