The original 911 GT3 was average | Thank Frankel it's Friday

22nd December 2023
andrew_frankel_headshot.jpg Andrew Frankel

Can it really be 25 years? Next year it will be – 25 years since a whole new breed of Porsche 911 was born and has gone onto be one of the most outrageous success stories among modern sportscars. For it was in 1999 that the first 911 ever to wear a ‘GT3’ badge was produced; it was based on the still new ‘996’ series with its new water cooled engines, and the whole motoring press duly went nuts for it. Or almost the whole of it.


I didn’t. While some motoring hacks get sweaty when they commit an opinion to print that turns out to be at significant variance to that of their colleagues, for some strange reason I never have. Call it arrogance, call it delusion, call it what you will, but I’ve always been reassured when this happens to me. Rightly or wrongly it makes me think my critical faculties remain intact and that I’ve spotted something everyone else missed. Or maybe I just force myself to believe that.

But the first GT3 was one of those cars. While everyone else was raving about it being the new Carrera RS (remember, the GT3 RS didn’t even come into existence until the second generation of 996-era 911 was launched, of which more in a minute), what I saw was not a bad car, but one that could and should have been so much better. Because for all the weight saving that appeared to have gone on, including the removal of the rear seats, it was considerably heavier than a standard, common or garden Carrera. And while the famed Mezger engine was only too delighted to really sing for its supper these lofty standards were not met by a chassis that felt like it had set off in a certain direction that led to hardcore road warrior status, but stopped halfway, fearful it might have gone too far.

And I came at this from then position of actually owning a 993 Carrera RS at the time, so I knew precisely just how good a road racing 911 could be. And it just wasn’t. It was faster than my car for sure, but handled nothing like as well, lacked its visual sense of occasion and design purity. I was left wondering why Porsche, of all companies, pulled the punch.


But of course it was a very different Porsche back then, a company still fighting for its survival before the Cayenne SUV came riding to the rescue so, with the benefit of a quarter century of hindsight, it is perhaps understandable why Porsche chose to be cautious. At least at first.

It is hard to describe just what an improvement the ‘gen 2’ 996 GT3 was over the original. Launched in 2003, it looked better and went faster – a great deal faster – but the facelifted body and additional engine power were mere headline grabbers. It was as if Porsche had realised it had undercooked the first GT3 and determined to put it right. So everything in the engine that could be lightened was lightened, resulting not only in a higher 8250rpm redline but the most delicious desire to spin up to such speeds as soon as possible. Complemented by lowered, stiffened suspension, the car finally and suddenly made sense. I can remember driving one in North Wales and having to have a quiet word with myself. I was nearly 40 but so addictive was this driving experience I got to that stage where my inner-addict was in danger of taking over. And that’s rarely a good idea on a public road. So I pulled over by an entrance to a farm and told myself to get a grip, which I duly did.

It was a fine car, the GT3 I’d hoped for all along, even if it still wasn’t quite RS material. But of course it was never intended to be, for plans already existed to return Porsche’s most hallowed acronym to the bootlid of a 911. Yet when very first 911 to wear GT3 RS decals appeared in 2004 I thought Porsche had actually gone a bit too far. It is an astonishing thing to say, but I believe it to be true: the next time Porsche produced a more track-hardened GT3 than this was when the current GT3 RS was introduced earlier this year.


Indeed and at first I didn’t much like that first GT3 RS. It brought back memories of the first 964 Carrera RS I drove and how its utterly uncompromising ride near enough ruined the driving experience by forcing you to identify and drive around every bump in the road. But actually the GT3 RS was better than that: while the 964 would skip and ping off road imperfections, threatening the car’s very stability, the GT3 RS sort of bludgeoned them into submission. It was a car you could drive with confidence in a way I never could that 964.

Even that was nearly 20 years ago, but only a few weeks back I got to drive another 996 GT3 RS and it is amazing how the passage of time affects one’s perspective of such cars. Although standard in every respect, the ride, while definitely and correctly firm, did not interfere with the driving experience at all. And as the lightest GT3 of any generation, it changed direction like a fly dodging a swat. And even though I drove it in often difficult conditions, it never scared me, never brought me to the point where I’d had enough. I just drove and enjoyed it. I didn’t even have to pull over and have a quiet word with myself.

What had changed? Well not the car, clearly. But perhaps me. Is it possible that after all these years I’m starting to grow up? Hope not.

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