The Sweet Spot

A powerful yet civil tuned 996 Turbo

The Sweet Spot 1
July 1, 2016

The 2001-2004 996-generation 911 Turbo is without a doubt one of the best used Porsche bargains right now. Though its performance figures are easily overshadowed by the latest Turbo, the boosted 996 still boasts some impressive performance stats: 415 hp, a 0-60 mph run of 4.2 seconds and a top speed of 189 mph. All-wheel-drive, a relatively nimble chassis, and impressive brakes added to the equation make this one of the most well-rounded performance cars available in its price category. After all, there is no shortage of 996 Turbos available for between $30,000 and $40,000 on the used-car market.

But even more impressive than the incredible value that the 996 Turbo offers in stock form is the ease with which it can be transformed into a supercar that can hang with the latest generation of Porsche Turbos and a whole slew of supercars from other manufacturers. The 996 Turbo’s ease of tuning and relatively bulletproof GT1-based Mezger engine makes it a tuner’s dream come true.

That latter fact is what attracted Arizona enthusiast Eric Pasia to the 996 Turbo in the first place. “Originally I had my heart set on a (2005-2012) 997 Carrera,” says Pasia. “Conventional wisdom says to buy the newest Porsche you can afford.” The only problem was that, after driving a few different models that were for sale in the local market, he realized that the best car for him wasn’t necessarily the newest one he could buy.

“I wanted my first Porsche to be what I thought it would be like when I was eight years old: an unrelenting, violently fast yet precise, refined yet special piece of car history.” He even took a look at the 997 Turbo, but after a stint behind the wheel of one Pasia came to the conclusion that a 996 Turbo was not only cheaper but also a little more Spartan and raw, which he liked. The model may be considered very luxurious when compared to older generations of Turbos like the 993, 964 and impact bumper examples, but compared to what’s currently available in Porsche showrooms, the 996 Turbo is relatively simple.

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Buying & Building a Beast

In July 2013, Pasia spotted the perfect 2002 911 Turbo for sale in Northern California. “It had been owned by an older enthusiast who had several air-cooled Porsches in his collection,” he says of his Lapis Blue Porsche. “The 996 Turbo was just the one that he drove the least, so he was looking to get rid of it.”

Once Pasia took delivery, however, he was initially a bit underwhelmed. “I admit that out of the box the 996 Turbo can be quite a sterile car,” he says. “Start it and it doesn’t sound particularly special. The turbos muffle any sort of hint of sportiness one would expect it to have.” He saw unrealized potential in the rest of the car, too. “You feel secure and planted due to the all-wheel drive, but the fact that it understeers reminds you there are electronic driver’s aids preventing you from doing anything foolish.”

Pasia wasted no time in remedying the 996’s relative lack of excitement and involvement. The first area he tackled was the 996’s suspension. Pasia swapped the stock springs and shocks for fully adjustable Bilstein PSS10 coilovers, allowing him to easily change the stiffness of the chassis to suit the desired need. There are also thicker H&R anti-roll bars at the front and rear of the car. These are attached to the chassis via adjustable Tarrett drop links. Pasia rounded out the suspension upgrades with a GT2-spec alignment.

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With improved grip and agility around corners, it didn’t take long for Pasia to start looking around at ways to increase the power from the car’s water-cooled flat six. At first, he had the engine control unit (ECU) reflashed for more boost from the turbos. “The flash tune on the stock K16 turbos was a big change initially,” he says. “However, I got used to it fast. 80 more horsepower on a simple tune left me wanting more.”

Pasia had ambitious goals for the build. The more time he spent driving his 996, the more he could envision the potential of it. “I wanted to build the perfect daily-driven street and track car that I could also show at weekend car shows and meets,” he explains. “I wanted to build a car that appealed to me first, but also garnered positive attention from old school Porschephiles and modern day enthusiasts alike.”

What he didn’t want was a car so extreme that it was not streetable. “1,000-hp sounds great to have and is relatively easy to achieve on the 996 platform, but it’s way too much power for how I use the car.” It needed to be fast but also accommodating enough to shuttle Pasia and his wife to dinner in comfort.

Taking it Up a Notch

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For a solution to his overriding need for more speed, he turned to Robert Boreham of Boreham Motorsports in Phoenix, Arizona. With the goal of around 750 hp at the crank, Boreham began by swapping the relatively small stock turbos for a pair of K24/18G units.

“This is typically a stock 996 GT2-framed K24 turbo that AMS Performance has upgraded to a hybrid turbo with the addition of a larger compressor wheel,” says Pasia. “The result is power delivery that is similar to stock with excellent low-end spooling but with great top-end breath.”

The original ECU reflash that Pasia had used with the stock turbos was replaced with software from COBB Tuning. “The car features eight custom map files that I can switch to based on the type of fuel I am running,” he says. The Porsche’s electronics have been set up so that they do not deliver too much boost at low rpms, which Pasia says prevents damage to the internal components of the motor.

“The fuel system has been upgraded to compensate for the new volume of air being pushed into the engine,” he adds. “80-lb fuel injectors and new fuel rails were installed as well as an additional fuel pump to handle the fueling needs.” There are also Evolution Motorsports inlet pipes, Forge boost hoses and 4.5-inch intercoolers from 911 Tuning. The latter modifications are particularly helpful in the hot desert climate of Arizona where the car is regularly driven.

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When tested on a dyno, the 996’s reworked 3.6-liter flat-six engine produced 640 hp to the wheels and an equally impressive 600 lb-ft of torque. Needless to say, Pasia is happy with the added performance. “With these modifications, the car feels engaging and visceral. The boost hitting at 3,400 rpm is neck snapping, and brings a sense of occasion to the experience that was missing before,” says Pasia. “It will surprise you if you’re not ready for it, but the best part is that you want to hit boost and run it out from every stoplight and on-ramp. That one-two punch of boost followed by a high-rpm GT3-like howl gets you addicted and makes every drive special.”

The 996’s stock six-speed manual gearbox is a pretty strong unit and is generally able to handle far more than Pasia’s modified example puts out. It follows that the only change here was the installation of an upgraded Sachs clutch to deal with the additional power. On the driver’s side of the equation, the stock shift mechanism has been replaced with an aftermarket adjustable, ball-bearing unit.

Pasia swaps between a set of Fikse wheels and CCW wheels for the 996. For our photo shoot, the car was wearing Hyper Black CCW alloys that measure 18 × 9-inches and 18 × 12-inches, respectively. Both sets are wrapped in 245/40-ZR18 and 315/30-ZR18 Toyo R888 tires. The already impressive brakes that the 996 Turbo left the factory with are largely stock.

Visually, Pasia was pretty happy with the Turbo, but in an effort to help the car stand out from the sea of other 996s he added a few exterior upgrades. At the front is a more aggressive-looking TechArt GT Street Type II bumper. At the back is a TechArt spoiler and uprights that have been custom-fitted to the stock decklid. He also took a couple of cues from newer 911s. The 996’s controversial “fried egg” headlight design has been toned down with custom painted covers that make the front end look more 997-like. Another 997 design cue are the GT3 RS flag graphic decals fitted to the rear quarters.

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“Most people who come up to chat with me about the car have great things to say about what I’ve done to make the car more appealing,” says Pasia. “I get different comments about how they never thought a 996 could be made to look so good. Some even say they’d now buy a 996 and do the same mods. While I didn’t build my car for public approval, I take these backhanded compliments as compliments nonetheless. In fact, I actually really like 2002-2005 996 headlights, but I was curious how they would look with the more traditional oval look. I think it works.”

Let’s Drive

In person, Pasia’s 996 is a stunner. The dark, Lapis Blue hue lends it an understated presence while the minimal aesthetic upgrades make it look very purposeful. When I swing open the driver’s door for a test drive, I’m greeted with stock seats that are both easy to get into and comfortable. The OEM steering wheel has been swapped for a much smaller, suede-covered Nardi race wheel. “The stock wheel is too large and needs more thickness and a smaller diameter to match the sportiness of the car,” says its owner. Other notable changes to the interior are a Porsche Tequipment roll bar behind the front seats as well as a scattering of Alcantara-covered trim.

At idle, the 996 is on the quiet side, which is a little refreshing since most big-power 996 and 997 Turbos that I’ve driven err on the side of too much volume. That in turn leads to borderline flatulent sounds spilling from the exhaust. In this case, though, there is only a muted growl that’s a little louder than stock to let you know that this isn’t a normal Turbo.

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The upgraded clutch is very light when I depress it, which is a testament to the progress that has been made in making even a 640-hp car like this perfectly streetable and easy to drive. Any octogenarian capable of driving a manual would likely have no problems with this car. Likewise, the shifter is light and precise when I slot it into gear.

At lower rpms, below say 3,000, Pasia’s car drives virtually like a stock 996 Turbo. Press the right pedal to the floor, though, and things start to happen fast. As the tach swings past 3,500, the turbos put out all their boost and this Porsche practically rockets toward the horizon. The length of time that it takes the engine to go from the mid-range to redline feels like a matter of milliseconds, and then it’s time to grab an upshift. Where the stock turbochargers in a 996 feel somewhat strangled, this one is much more free-breathing and powerful.

640 hp is still a lot of power in a street car, and Pasia’s 996 is extremely quick. But it’s also very easy to drive and even an average driver like myself feels confident behind the wheel. The Bilstein coilovers are adjusted on the soft side for street driving, but Pasia stiffens them up when he’s driving on track or during a high-speed event. But right now, the softer settings make the car easier to handle over bumps and ruts that you encounter during street driving, not to mention that it’s just more comfortable.

The Turbo’s handling feels light and nimble thanks to the coilovers and larger anti-roll bars. Anyone who has ever complained about a 996 Turbo being heavy and overweight needs to drive one that’s set up like Pasia’s. We lack a proper road to really explore the car’s handling, but it’s apparent after even a brief drive that the car has cornering abilities commensurate with its towering straight-line speed.

Rather than just create a high-powered but difficult-to-drive Porsche, Pasia has a real driver’s car with his 996 Turbo. The combination of generous power and ease of drivability really hits a sweet spot of tuning and proves very effectively that the 996 Turbo is an enthusiast-worthy 911.

Also from Issue 239

  • First Drive: 2017 911 (991.2) Carrera 4S
  • The all-new Panamera
  • Market Update: 912 & 914
  • APAL-Porsche 1600 GT
  • 1983 Gruppe B Concept
  • 1976 Carrera 2.7 MFI
  • Interview: Fritz Enzinger
  • Handling Problems & Solutions
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