GT3 vs. 993 (RS)
From some of the emails i've been getting I know that some folk out there are keen to hear about this comparison. First of all I say 993 RS because my 993 is way closer to how a 993RS drives and not very much like a standard narrow body car at all. This is not a 993/GT3 comparison and it would be a very very different one if it were.
Going back to my 993 mods .... spring rates, bushings, brakes, uprights, gearshift, ride height, geometry, engine mounts, unsprung mass, anti roll bars, these are all exactly the same as on a real 993 RS. Then after that, there are a few small areas where my car is actually a little more focused: harder poly bushes in the front A arms, EVO solid tie rods at the front, solid rear side section bushes instead of rubber and the quicker stock rack of the 993 rather than the slower RS one. So if anything, my 993 is a little sharper, a little more precise, faster lock to lock, and a wee bit more hardcore than a true RS. It's got no aircon either, no airbox, no heater blower assembly and no catalyst so the back end is fairly light as well. More modern dampers as well, much much more modern.
Moving onto the Mk1 GT3, well that's completely standard. The only thing non factory stock is the gearshift where it has a manthey quickshift fitted, only 15% shorter throw than the standard affair and nowhere near as short as the porsche 996 quick shift. I'll be changing this soon but more on that later.
During my 4000 mile Euro trip through Spain, France, Austria, Italy and Germany the GT3 revealed its full character to me. First of all, my main surprise is that the Mk1 is not without criticism. Like all the GT cars of old, it's a weapon that will shine very very brightly for certain tasks but then less so for others. Comparing it back honestly to my road trips last year in my 993 I have to concede that the 993 was fun to drive MORE of the time.
Let's examine that a little closer. The 993's limits and outright capability are lower so it entertains at lower speeds in any given scenario and needs less speed and lower forces to make it feel alive. The GT3 on the other hand needs to be going so much faster to get that adrenalin flowing. Because the 993 is less capable, it also demands to be worked a little harder and kept more on the boil for any given pace; it encourages you to really wring out every last hp, every last square mm of tyre contact patch and brake pad surface. You find yourself at the extents of its abilities more of the time and this 'wringing out', extracting the total of a car's potential, is personally for me, the most satisfying facet of driving.
In addition, the 993 has a lot of low speed exhaust chatter and soundtrack, lots of popping and crackling on the overrun and generally just a ton of character and old school mechanical charm. All of its controls are also that little bit more delightful with a more resistance, weight and texture. Sure, the 996 GT3 is right up there for feel and feedback especially when compared to its peers and more modern cars, but you don't quite savour the exquisite feel of everything in the same way you do my 993 and because its a more modern chassis there is not quite so much going on. The 993's steering feels a lot heavier, the gearchange more mechanical as if your hand is reaching into the very cogs themselves and once on the move the aircooled car bounces and dips and bumbles around in a very entertaining fashion.
The bouncing around, the slightly haphazard relationship with the road, the malleable rubbery quality to the car is an indication of its older age and limited ability but also an endless source of delight. When you are really on it, it can mean you are required to give very small corrections here and there, pause on the throttle for a moment, wait for something to settle, anticipate a dip in the road, hustle and cajole the chassis this way and that. It's a never-ending stream of chatter, of fumbling and fidgeting and its all rather soft, benign and elastic. These sensations, as well as the controls and feedback are the very heart of the 993's fun. In a sense, its the very limitations of the car's ability and technology which make it so entertaining.
The GT3 with the same less than ideal weight distribution moves around and keys into the road in a similarly colourful way but the movements are smaller, tighter and more quickly damped or extinguished. The chassis is a lot stiffer and the whole car just a lot more adept and stable. You don't find yourself savouring the constant chassis mumurings in quite the same way, nor the controls which are just lighter and less textural. More specifically I would say the gearchange on my GT3 warrants particular criticism in thie area. Whilst the throw and action is fairly tight, it can be pretty notchy but worst of all, it feels very light and completely disconnected from the actual physicality of the car. Suffice to say that it's one area of my Mk1 that is crying out for improvement and probably the biggest disappointment so far.
What about the overall personality rather than the finer points ? Well the 993 has a high dose of quirky charm. In a restrained German way it almost has a certain sense of flamboyance and individualism. The upright windscreen, the vertical slab faced dash, the pedals into the floor and offset driving position, the big round dials, it's all highly unique, extremely human and almost slightly humourous. The Gt3 though feels more clinical, teutonic and almost sexless, like more of an no frills means to and end, fashioned in the most unpretentious, unflamboyant way possible. When Clarkson said the 996RS was like a fresh green salad it was definitely one of his better metaphors. There is something very pure, purposeful and instrument-like about the GT3. Folk searching for theatrics and flamboyance need not apply, the very serious GT3 is for driving through and through.
What other criticisms do I have for the Mk1 ? Well I also discovered in Europe that it has a slightly lazy quality about it. The clue I guess is in the name; compared to the 993 with its little stumpy wheelbase the 996 variant does feel like a "GT" car that has been made into a race car. The gearing is very long, it takes a while to wind up the engine with very little punch low down and if you are a little bit tired and lacking in mental commitment then it's a car that can take on an almost cumbersome, languid character. On the motorway it needs more concentration than most other cars. In fact it's a car that needs concentration most of the time and doesn't really do much by itself.
Truth be told, in an ideal world I think the Mk1 GT3 needs a little bit more power to better match the excellence of the chassis and this is coming from someone who is a confirmed non-straight line junkie and has rarely ever wished for more power in any car. Whereas the 993 never feels like it really needs more oomph, the more modern chassis and sheer ability of the GT3 comfortably contains the straight line performance on offer and on occasion you find yourself wishing for another 30bhp or so more and another 500rpm to make it feel a little bit more alive and vivid. Some of this though could be noise related. I have long been a believer in the notion that the engine sounds you hear change your perception of speed and it might just be that once the GT3 is made to sound a bit better, it will help it feel more alive and a little quicker too.
Going back to the core driving experience, the other big difference between the two models is that there is a lot more actual car there in the GT3, a thicker dash, thicker doors, longer wheelbase and more sense of 'stuff' whereas when you sit behind the wheel of the 993 all you are aware of is a tiny dainty windscreen frame, a skinny little dash and very little in the way of actual 'car'. In this way the aircooled 911 reminds me more of the caterham or elise experience with its stubbier wheelbase, more sense of intimacy, cruder dynamics and lower speed fun.
Let's move onto the GT3 positives though. Having said all that about low speed fun, aircooled noises, chassis chatter and beautifully agricultural controls, the bottom line is that the GT3 is dynamically superior in every single way. The moment you get into it you know that its ability is of a completely different order. The bigger footprint, greater rigidity, longer wheelbase, it feels like it came from a whole different epoch. And once you press on you realise that it stops, goes and steers way better than the 993. It is far more precise, more accurate, more delicate, far far stiffer, better wheel control, is cleaner and purer in its response, is more settled and adept in a corner, has more mechanical grip through all phases of a bend and just feels like it was made a whole decade later rather than just 3 years. The engine is more linear, much more grown up and gives you far more precise throttle control. Wheeling the 993 out is like moving off in a clumsy, heavy footed piece of farm machinery. Jumping into the GT3 is like gliding delicately over a road made of silk.
Not only is the GT3 a much better car but when you get the right road - something very large, very fast , wide and sweeping - you find that it is more rewarding too. Because it's more precise, more instrument like and not ham fisted in any way like a 993 can sometimes be, it requires you to be the same. It praises methodical, measured, technical driving. in contrast to the 993 it demands more economy of input and a gossamer touch at the wheel. Manhandle it, overdrive it, foolishy react to everything that it's chassis relays to you and it will soon become a quite unruly beast. To discover its true poise there are messages, movements, and feelings that you need to ignore. By loosening your grip on the wheel, building up faith and giving some of the command of the dynamics back to the car you should soon get beyond all that hustle and bustle and instability, and hook into one of the most wonderful chassis you've probably ever encountered. When you discover that, and when you drive it correctly, in sequence, in perfect time, with not one unecessary or incorrect input, you then achieve a feeling of control, a sense of man machine interrelatedness that is comfortably beyond anything a 993 can serve up. The more like a circuit the road is, the more the GT3 comes alive and makes sense and this is the way it reveals to you the its ultimate DNA: the 996 mk1 is unashamedly a raw circuit car at its core.
To go back to my earlier criticisms I found that on that right road, when the GT3 hits its element and you make it live out what it is, you forgive it for the other times when it's perhaps not quite as engaging, too capable or a little taxing. The way it effortlessley slices through bends, squats down out fires you out the other side with immense traction, the neatness and precision of it all, the intense howl of that beautifully responsive engine, the incredibly surefooted 'rollerskate bolted to the road' feeling; in contrast, it's not the GT3's foibles and limitations which make it fun but its dazzling ability, sheer pace and the way in which it commands your respect, commitment and full concentration. No doubt about it, point to point the GT3 is monumentally rapid and the feeling of it deliciously settling and digging in, its rear outside shoulder purposefully squatting down, with your body supported and connected to the whole bodyshell by the buckets, is surely one of motorings all time great sensations. I'll also add that the GT3 surprised me on some of the tighter sections and the rougher tarmac on my Euro trip. Badly worn roads didn't affect it nearly as much as I would have imagined and it tends to just thunder over poor surfaces once up to speed. Despite it's larger bulk it is deceptively nimble as well through the sharp stuff. The A1604 in the Pyrenees proved that beyond any doubt.
So with 5000 miles under my belt how do I feel about the Gt3 ? Well quite simply I can only admit my love for the car. From mostly brief test drives of various 911's it was always my second favourite and it has certainly lived up to that. There are areas for improvement though and although I wish to keep my car as close to factory standard as possible, I will be attacking a few key weak areas. First of all the sound has to be improved. That is one glorious engine in there, one of the best drivetrains of its day but in stock trim you just can't even hear it.
The second weak area is the gearshift and my manthey unit, whilst probably optimum for clean safe shifts on a trackday, needs changing to something with a lot more weight and feel. Some more ouright power would be nice as I touched on before as the car is just so capable. If I wasn't hell bent on preserving originality then I would seriously consider the manthey K410 upgrade but its not going to happen no way so the most that might take place is a single mass flywheel to help inertia and the feeling of free revving. Everything else though is spot on. My car had its dampers refurbished just before I purchased it and brand new OE springs as well and we know on the Mk1 they are fairly soft at the back compared with the Mk2 and the RS so no grumbles here and no grumbles with the handling either. The nose turns in very positively and reassuringly and not once in Europe did I ever felt I suffered from some of the handling gremlins levelled at the Mk2 such as a vague and untrustworthy front end or an unsettled nervous rear. My car seems to inspire huge amounts of confidence through all phases of a bend and I personally would not wish to alter anything there. Whilst I have always coveted the 996RS I have to say that I would not want my car to be any more focused or firm than it is for road driving.
So who wins, which is best ? First of all let's say that they are actually very different cars. Much much more of a contrast than say between 964 and 993 or 996 and 997. Between the time they were built, 1996 to 2000, the factory underwent the single biggest metamorphosis of its lifetime, as did the production and pipeline metods contained therein. Clearly the GT3 is the better car but the 993 scores back in equal measure with its charm, character, the bespoke 'hewn from granite' fashion of its construction, and that timeless sense of being a classic. One blip from the throttle and one clunk of the drivers door shutting and you know that it has something that the 996 is totally devoid of. The Gt3 does everything in a superior manner but the 993 inspires a stronger emotional connection and dances, jiggles, moves around and entertains more at lower speeds.
So which would I choose if I could only have one though ? Well, I suspect the best answer is to say that the one i'd pick is the one i'd been driving the most prior to having to make that decision. When I get into the GT3 after the 993 it feels too modern, too cold, aloof, too appliance-like and and too big as well. When I get into the 993 after enjoying the GT3 it feels leaden footed, clumsily suspended and a little too flexible in the chassis department. Let's just say that I don't see either of them leaving my ownership any time soon. They are both rear engined 911s full of feel feedback and aliveness, they both key into the road in a way far more interesting than just about 99.9% of other cars, they both make the driver a central part of the equation and when you're on it, they are both utterly magical.