It seems to be a common theme that I start with a simple idea which, over time, becomes a different thing altogether. Having done the baby thing, the time was ripe for some kind of two- or four-wheeled project.
Two wheels were ruled out immediately because I already have one unused motorbike sat gathering dust, so how about a road-going track toy? Something like an MX-5? Nah, I'd need rear seats for Fred and Toby. What about an RX-8? Not really track-suited. What about a Boxster? Nope, seats again. What's a Porsche that's got four seats?
I bought the first 996 I saw. That sounds like a recipe for disaster, but I was well aware of what I was getting into. This was the cheapest C4S in the UK for a reason; oil weep from (probably) the RMS, a front-end paint job that looked like it had been done by a rattle can, a complete list of service stamps but zero evidence of any of the jobs people like to see done before buying a 996. The car dealer I bought it from told me his MOT place had told him it was one of the best they'd seen. It was all I could do not to laugh in his face.
Perfect - here was my project. First on the list was getting some miles done, which initially worked quite well. I bought the car in December 2019, so I did a bit of driving and it seemed pretty good, really. A bargain, perhaps. The engine was fault-free and I had a lot of fun.
Meanwhile, the list of minor jobs started growing but it didn't really snowball until spring when I took the front bumper off to clear out the usual detritus from the rads. It then spent three weeks on jack stands while I replaced both sets of rads, fixed a fan thermostat and had my first attempt at fixing the air con, which worked (mostly). I also changed the engine mounts and just in time too, because one had started leaking.
All that work was pretty easy and this project Porsche thing was going quite well. It was also a pretty cheap year, all in all. Not many miles done, but no problems apart from the local indie remarking it was a bit of a struggle to get through the emissions test at MOT time. Well it passed, so it's okay. Right?
Winter brought the prospect of getting some jobs done with an eye on events and other social gatherings starting up again. Thoughts turned to the Classic in August and what I might do before that. Changing the RMS seemed obvious given the annoying oil patches on my drive, which necessitated a trip to my indie - I have my limits on what I'll do without a ramp. Good job too, because the list of 'while we're in there' and 'that needs sorting' turned into an engine removal, replacing the IMS, a new propshaft doughnut and seals, new AOS, air con pipes (finally, air con without a leak!), new starter and associated wiring (fixing a hot start issue) and a few other 'minor' bits. Still, big job done and roll on 2021.
A few minor jobs were done over the course of the next year, some suspension arms and tuning forks among those, but it was a really enjoyable driving year topped off with the Classic in August. It was while I was at the Classic and comparing the frankly appalling paintwork against the lovely other 996s there that I decided I had to bite the bullet and get the paint sorted.
Sorting the bodywork took way longer and was far more time-consuming than I thought. Get some recommendations, choose one, agree the work, leave them to it, pick it up when done -how hard can it be? Months of being let down finally took me to a local bodyshop that did the "odd Porsche" alongside their day-to-day accident repair work. The chap doing most of the work had his 944 in alongside mine, so I checked the work out and it looked pretty good. The front and rear arches got replaced and a small front bumper repair was made. There wasn't much else to do on the rust and repair front; it's thankfully solid. It got a full respray and it looked great. I was a very happy man.
Then I noticed that, now the paint looks amazing, it was let down by the brake calipers. Covered in overspray from the previous rubbish front end paint work, they were really letting the car down. The wheels got refurbished early on in my ownership and, as I have a local brake specialist, why not? Of course, while they were in for painting, they needed new seals and a couple of the bleed nipples snapped, so that escalated. Anyway, I now have four very shiny calipers to match the shiny paint. You can hardly see them behind the wheels, but that's not the point!
Finally, all done, all working. A new stereo had given me Waze and CarPlay and a new stainless exhaust gave me some music when the radio was off. What's left to do but drive and enjoy it now that all the big jobs are done?
That takes us up to MOT time at the end of 2022. I joked with my indie that he might be going three for three on the emissions failures. He did, only this time it wasn't lambda sensors or an air leak, or anything else easily fixable. Bad times, in fact. A lot of investigation work later, we're currently in the planning stages of what to do with cylinder one. It's really down on compression, albeit not enough for a misfire, and it might not be the actual cause of the emissions failure but it needs sorting before we chase that any further. Engine drop imminent, again. At least it'll come out without a struggle.
Aaaaand, while it's out, maybe I will replace the exhaust manifolds because I really should have done that last time. All bets are off if it needs a full strip down. Who knows what I'll end up with -a 3.9?
In this small tale of painful 996 ownership, I have had a lot of fun and learned loads. I don't want to think too hard about the cost per mile, though. About 5,000 miles in the last three years isn't great value for the amount that has been spent on this car. It's not going anywhere, though, so that should even out (ish!).
After this latest problem is sorted, there's literally nothing else I can think of that needs doing to the car. Well, except the suspension. And it hasn't been on a track yet, which really was the whole reason I started this in the first place. And the kids don't like the back seats; they can't call shotgun fast enough. Maybe I should have bought an MX-5?
Words by Mike Buckley