We’ve had 51 years of brilliant 911s leaving the Werk II factory at Zuffenhausen, but which generation is the greatest? Many say it is the 993 as the pinnacle of automotive engineering with air cooling. Others say it is now the 964 (marking some turnaround from only five years ago. Where did all those oil leaks disappear to, I wonder?).
Then there’s the school of thought that suggests the pre-impact bumper era should rightfully be lavished with the crown due to the sheer purity offered by these wholly mechanical classics. Of course, there is a case for every 911 generation as the greatest, but I have difficulty in looking past the 997. Here’s why:
I’ve said before that we should forever be grateful to the 996 as the saviour of Porsche, but the reality is it’s still the marmite era of the entire 911 spectrum. The M96 engine is far from bulletproof (IMS, RMS, and scored bore horror stories should suitably confirm that one) and those runny-egg headlamps were a kick in the stomach for those who had long admired the simple, elegant vista of every single 911 pre-1998. Then there’s the 996’s interior, which fell short of Porsche’s usual high standards of luxury and opulence as cost-cutting became the new buzzword.
However, the 997 brought a much-needed return to traditional 911 aesthetics – admittedly through borrowing styling cues from the 993 – without the bulbous evolution of the longer and heavier 991s. The interior was completely overhauled with luxury once again in mind, too. Even better, 997 interiors have stood the test of time since, unlike the dated 996.
Engines also improved for the 997: despite suspect revelations about the early M97, it doesn’t suffer from the same reputation as the M96, while the DFI engines fitted to Gen2 997s are considered bullet-proof.
Make no mistake, the 997’s role should not be underestimated: if the 996 saved Porsche, the 997 saved the legacy of the 911 as we know it.
Sure, the 997 was bestowed with an entire catalogue of electronic driving aids such as PASM, VTG, PTM and PSM to name a few, but the takeover of the ECU only intensified under the subsequent 991. Most significantly, electric steering in all 991s plus PDK-only transmission and rear axle steering in the new GT and Turbo models have since boosted the profile of the purer 997.
3) It’s the pinnacle of the ‘Mezger’ engine
The GT3 RS 4.0-litre was released as the ‘last hurrah’ of the 997 era, and it lived up to its reputation as one of the finest 911s ever built. With a huge 3,996cc engine capacity (you’ll struggle for bigger bores for the flat six than with the RS 4.0) helping to produce nearly 500bhp without a turbocharger in sight, this represents the finest road-going iteration of the famous ‘Mezger’ engine.
Its legacy is protected, too: the 991 GT3 has already ditched the ‘Mezger’ in favour of a reworked DFI Carrera S unit, perhaps an acceptance from Porsche that the engine had reached its maximum capabilities in RS 4.0 guise.
You can quite easily count over 30 different variants of the 997 before getting into difficulty, but don’t let that put you off the provenance of some variants in the generation. Despite this being the most mass-produced 911 to date, a selection of rare gems were made to keep you on the edge of your seat.
Only 356 Speedsters were made courtesy of the Exclusiv department, for example, while only 250 of the brilliantly nostalgic Sport Classic were produced. Meanwhile, all 918 units of the 997 Turbo S 918 Edition were reserved exclusively for those who had paid a deposit on the new Porsche 918 hypercar. Get your hands on any of these, not to mention a GT2 RS or GT3 RS 4.0 and you’ve got yourself a rare 911 indeed, more exclusive than even the 2.7RS.
Sure, historical geeks will point out the Turbo RSR racer from 1974 to try and usurp my point here, but the 997 GT2 RS represented the first time Porsche had given the Rennsport badge to a road-going turbocharged 911. Moreover, it didn’t disappoint. The 997 GT2 RS is revered as one of the most extreme 911s ever to grace the road, and if you want one for your collection now, you’ll already need to pay considerably more than book price from first release.
The first generation 997 Turbo was introduced with a new technology: Variable Turbine Geometry. In layman terms this effectively gives the best of both small and large turbochargers thanks to electrically-operated guide vanes in each turbo helping to achieve optimum gas-flow characteristics at all times.
The result is noticeably reduced turbo lag and a wider band of peak torque. This gave turbocharged 997s unrelenting, savage performance right through the rev range, transforming the personality of the Turbo. The technology is still used by Porsche on the 991.
Twice, in fact. After the 997 GT2 powered on to a confirmed 204mph in 2007, the GT2 RS beat it by 1mph three years later. No other factory 911 has passed the double-ton mark before or since.
To refine my point, I’m not suggesting every 997 model was the best of its kind. Far from it. However, it’s hard to deny that the 997 generation played a vital role in bringing the 911 at large back to form, all the while reaching a pinnacle in blending such blistering performance with modern purity, something no other past, present or future 911 generation is likely to be able to match.