The worst form of displacement activity for the inveterate car buyer in a time of unprecedented market activity is trawling through prices you paid for metal before the boom.
For obvious pain-related reasons I try not to do this very often, but on the subject of the Porsche GT3 it is impossible not to keep one eye on the marketplace.
For those of you not in the know, the 996 and 997 GT3 models have become very valuable cars. Prices have rocketed in the past eighteen months and are now at a level where they are looking like investment opportunities rather than usable road and track machines.
“There are not many myths surrounding this iconic model which need de-bunking, but the suggestion that the very first 1999 model year car was somehow a bastion of purity lost in later models is completely wrong”
This situation seems a little odd to a chap who lost the thick end of £10k in one year on a 997 GT3 gen 1 between spring 2010 and 2011. The cars were still quite pricey back then – I think I paid mid-60s for mine and, when I needed to trade it in against a new GT3, the trade bid was depressingly low. The model was less desirable than the 3.8-litre, second generation car, and everyone knew there was a new GT3 lurking in the wings.
What they didn’t know was that Porsche would only sell that new car with a paddle-shift gearbox, and I think if anyone was looking for a single reason why the 996 and 997 GT3 models have appreciated in value so much, it’s that they are viewed as an unrepeatable moment in automotive history.
And it’s not as if many of us didn’t recognise that at the time. I can remember the launches of each of the GT3 variants, all the way back to the very first generation 996, and they all felt significant. Some sage voices played the default ‘the new car has lost something’ card, but that didn’t rub. Or rather it didn’t rub after that first generation car was updated.
There are not many myths surrounding this iconic model which need de-bunking, but the suggestion that the very first 1999 model year car was somehow a bastion of purity lost in later models is completely wrong. I have some insightful quotations from the development team about it which I’ll dig out for a book one day: ‘Didn’t produce enough power, poor brakes, weak gearbox, we had much to improve for 2003’. The list went on. They were and are genuinely baffled that people think it’s more desirable than the second generation 996 GT3, which is ‘Just a much, much better car.’
But other than that, they’re stunning machines. They embodied the driver-centric sports scratcher of the late 2000s better than anything else because they were so fast, so durable and so much fun to drive. Does that mean they are worth the crazy prices people are asking for them?
“Porsche isn’t stupid. It must view the flurry of activity around the older GT3s and know it proves a case for a new manual version”
On the whole, I think so. Viewed simply as a driving experience and an object, the car doesn’t actually have a modern equivalent. It is quite clear that Porsche’s decision to only sell the 991 GT3 with a PDK auto-box hasn’t harmed sales at all, but there would appear to be many thousand people who want a stick, and view these older GT3s as the only place to find that experience. Actually, I think there is a hardcore minority who still want to drive these cars as intended but also the inevitable majority who have spotted a trend and decided to buy GT3s as investments.
I think this might be a little dangerous. As values keep rising, so the cars will be used less-and-less. As they disappear from circuits, their reason for existing will subside and people will look around and realise that Porsche made many thousand GT3s. This pinch point will be critical – I suspect values are now topping out, which still marks a meteoric rise because a good 3.8 gen 2 997 RS will command more money than the new 991 GT3 RS when it is launched at the Geneva show this year. Imagine a 430 Scuderia being more valuable than a 458 Speciale this time last year? It just wouldn’t happen because their basic format is the same – you don’t need the older car to gain the purer driving experience. The new 991 will be way more powerful, more dynamic, faster, and probably better looking. But it won’t have three-pedals, a stick and a heady marketplace stirring-up values.
The unicorn 4.0 RS probably deserves to be fetching the £300k-plus prices attached to it. Yes, I know I sold mine for much, much less, but it really doesn’t worry me. I owned the car of my dreams for a year, I could barely afford the finance payments, and I still made a profit. What other potentially ruinous hobby allows you to do that! And to those who question why a 4.0 should be worth so much, I simply point you to the narrative behind the car, the tiny production volume and the driving experience. For the last point alone, it could be argued that the car is undervalued.
Which could in turn form the basis of a view that points to all GT3s (except the one I mentioned) being undervalued. I’m still willing to consider that as being true. But it scares me.
So we must now recall what it is that has made these machines so valuable – beyond all else, the lack of a modern equivalent. In which case anyone considering a 996/997 GT3 as a pension should heed a recent utterance from Porsche R&D boss Wolfgang Hatz. After years of stonewalling questions (many of them from me) on the subject of a manual transmission for the 991 GT3, at the Detroit show, he suggested it might not be an impossibility.
Porsche isn’t stupid. It must view the flurry of activity around the older GT3s and know it proves a case for a new manual version. If it was to make such a car, how many people would chuck-in their £150k 3.8 997 RS models? I’d suggest quite a few. That could trigger an interesting adjustment in the marketplace.
For now, and despite all the warning bells going off in my head and in the marketplace, I struggle to begrudge these fine cars their newfound monetary value. They are consistently the best cars I’ve driven in my professional life, and that above all else is what counts. Just be careful out there.